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Jack and Sally hard at work.

Ode to the Good Ones

SallySally was found dead with her head in the feeder on March 24, 2023. Jack had to be put down a week and a day later. He had been having trouble getting up for a while but with his sister Sally gone, he apparently lost his will to stand.

When George bought Wild Idaho Outfitters in 2005, included in the purchase was livestock (horses and mules). Part of this livestock was a pair of Percheron mules named Jack and Sally. They were supposedly around the age of 20 at that time. If Jack and Sally had been horses, retirement would have probably been happening back then, but being that they were mules, they were just getting great!

The kids and I moved to Challis in 2014 and that's when we became acquainted with Jack and Sally. Jack had just been retired from the outfitting business because his old bones couldn’t handle the steep country anymore, but Sally was still going strong! My fond memories of Jack and Sally for this reason are mostly of Sally but both were memory makers. They are the unsung heroes of the back country and the outfitting world. Seems like every return or visiting client looked up Jack and Sally to scratch them, feed them a special treat and relay a story of riding one of them, telling how Sally or Jack took good care of them.

Sally had been in that country longer than any of us. She had old-timer wisdom. She knew the country, she knew her job, and she knew each client as soon as they climbed on her back. Although she knew with each individual how much she could get away with, she always took good care of them and got them safely to their destination and back! She also packed a lot of gear; Sally could do it all. Jack and Sally were giants in personality and stature. They stood almost 16 hands and probably weighed around 1400 to 1500 pounds - gentle giants. Sally packed not only all the big guys but kids, too.

Sally was our river crosser. When Camas Creek was raging in the spring, Ole Sally knew her job. She got clients and us across time after time. She’d take a step, get her footing, take another step, get her footing, on and on till she made it across. When we moved to Challis, my daughter Tia was only 8 and my boy Wyley was 10. I remember Wyley, then Tia, hugging on tightly behind George crossing raging Camas in the spring, my heart pounding, Sally taking care of my family as well as all the others.

Sally only stayed in a fence because she wanted to. If we weren’t using her in camp, she had to be tied up when we rode away, or she’d jump out and go along with us. There was no leaving Sally out of the action! Time after time, we'd awake in camp to Sally out peacefully munching hay off the haystack. We finally hauled panels in to corral the hay and to keep her from consuming all the feed! Our bucket of treats had to be in a Sally proof container and the oats had to be tied tight and hid behind saddles in the tack tent. But she figured that out too. We’d go out in the mornings to find her standing in the tack tent, head out the door eating away!

Our hunters often wear big hiking or pack boots. We have oversized stirrups and instruct clients how to safely dismount without hanging up in the stirrups. But clients tend to forget and get in a hurry to dismount for various reasons. An older gentleman hurried off Sally one day and hung his boot up in the left stirrup and landed with a thud under her back legs. Steadfast Sally never moved a muscle while George got his foot out of the stirrup and helped him up.

I’ve seen grown men scared and clinging to Sally on a perceived steep trail like a mother clings to her infant at perceived danger, and Sally nonchalantly reaching down for a tasty morsel of grass on the downhill side, never coming close to missing a step but scaring the ever-living hell out of her rider.

My most vivid memory of Sally was in the November of 2014. Right before the end of the season we had unseasonably cold temperatures and the rivers and creeks froze. We had a remote drop camp we had to get to, to get clients out. We had to go in with waders and an axe to chop every crossing for 8 miles to meet up with our guides bringing them another 10-12 miles from the other direction. For whatever reason that day, Sally was a packer not a rider. After the ice was chopped, the horses still didn’t want to step off the ledges of ice into the freezing water, but it didn’t bother Ole Sally and the others would follow her. After a long day we finally got the clients and the string back to the last crossing on Camas Creek after dark. Creeks just don’t merely freeze; they freeze and swell. Camas Creek was huge that night. It took George somewhere around an hour to chop a path across the creek wide enough to cross the clients on the horses and the mules. George was out in the creek up to his waist, chopping by headlamp. He got a swath chopped, but there was still a hell of a ledge of ice to step off and plunge into icy water in the dark, with steam rising and ice chunks floating. The horses didn’t want any part of it, but Sally never hesitated, stepped off into the water and the string followed. Thanks to Sally it was a great end to a long grueling day!

SallyAnother great mule came with the livestock when George bought Wild Idaho Outfitters. His name was Foster. He is another whole story. He was only about 5 or so and waspy. Finally, after about 10 years of packing and getting to be an “A-team” pack mule, he started getting rode. He took care of clients too but wasn’t that happy about it. Tia started riding him in 2016 and Foster loved her. He loved that she didn’t pull on his mouth constantly with the bit, he loved her scratches and pets and he loved that she had pockets full of treats for him ALL THE TIME! He was a great mule in a quiet sort of way. He didn’t have the fame with the clients like Jack and Sally, but we knew he was one of our best. Sadly, in the fall of 2021, his health suddenly failed and mid-season we had to have him put down.

Foster thankfully went fast. Jack and Sally thankfully had a great retirement home for the last five years of their lives. They got to stay in the family. Larry Oliver started Wild Idaho Outfitters with George. Monica Oliver, Larry’s wife, answers the phones for Wild Idaho Outfitters as well as Castle Creek Outfitters, books all the clients and SO much more. Christina is their daughter and her husband used to guide for Wild Idaho. When we were looking for a retirement home for Jack and Sally, Christina stepped up because she wanted to keep them “in the family”. I will ever be grateful for her generosity even though she says she is the lucky one.

Wyley and SallyThere is a saying that goes something like, “If you have one good horse, one good dog, and one good woman (or man) in your lifetime, you are doing well”. Folks that use a lot of horses and mules are lucky to be blessed with having several greats. Jack and Sally and Foster are past greats. We have more greats out in our pasture right now that are getting older and with their passing, we will be able to relate more stories of greatness. We have little mules and foals arriving this spring that hopefully walk into the halls of fame for us and others, also. A high bar has been set!

Contributed by Kelly Swingruber (Wrangler)

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