My celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the recording of “Seekers of the Fleece” enters its third week of tributes to the people who helped record the epic ballad. This week’s tribute is to my old friend and modern-day mountain man, Timberjack Joe Lynde.
Timberjack Joe always told me I would write a book about him and our travels together and one day I probably will; he simply is one of most interesting characters I’ve ever known. When I met “the last of the mountain men” in 1974 he was 63 years old and I was 29. I had been traveling to Wyoming for several years visiting the locations of Jim Bridger and mountain man history to soak up inspiration for recording and performing “Seekers of the Fleece”. I had secured a gig performing six nights a week for the entire summer at the Grand Teton Lodge Company performing a “folk version” of “Seekers” with sideman Roger Bartlett, who was on leave from his regular gig as Jimmy Buffet’s “Corral Reefer Band”. I had just parted ways with RCA Records in Hollywood and was without a recording label for the first time in seven years. Still, I was obsessed with somehow moving forward with the recording of “Seekers” even without label support, yet not sure if that was ever going to be possible.The gig in the Tetons provided the perfect opportunity to try out the form of the epic ballad for tourists from all over America and the world, but also it was a perfect base from which I could expand my research into Jim Bridger and the Fur Trade Era. One Sunday when visiting the location of the many of the historic “Rendezvous” of the Fur Trade Era near the tiny two-building town of Daniel, Wyoming, I found a flyer announcing a Rendezvous in nearby Pinedale, a few miles down the road. There, I quickly realized the Pinedale event was in truth a “town pageant” rather than a bonafide “rendezvous”, but that was wonderful in and of itself.
The audience sat in rodeo bleachers while the citizens of Pinedale dressed in period costume and -portraying characters from the very early 19th century- acted out American history in mime to a script being read by the local veterinarian over a bad PA from an announcers booth. I was enthralled.
Then, what I thought must be an apparition rode into the arena. But I wasn’t hallucinating. The announcer shouted, “Timberjack Joe and his dog Tuffy!" It took a while to actually see him, but the dog was riding on the back of the old man’s Appaloosa horse. Something came over me and I leapt over the fence and into the arena and raced to the old man’s side and blurted, “I’m Bobby Bridger and I need to talk to you!”
“You a-kin a-Jim?” he asked as I walked alongside his horse.
That’s exactly how it all started. Later that day I called my friend Slim Pickens and told him I had met Timberjack Joe and Tuffy. Slim said, “You watch out for that crazy ole mountain man. The last time I saw him he was living with a skunk.”
I said, “Well, he’s wearing it now.”
As soon as Joe and I met after the Pinedale pageant I had to ask if that wasn’t a skunk’s skin he was wearing for a hat. He actually began to shed a few very real tears. “Her name was ‘Sweetness’ because she truly was. Of course she was de-musked. She was precious. When she died I couldn’t stand it, so I skinned her and made her into my sacred headdress.”
At this point I considered taking Slim’s advice and heading back to Texas but his “sacred” description of Sweetness his skunk made me stay. I’m so glad I did. I quickly learned that Timberjack Joe brought joy and happiness to everyone’s life that he touched. I was privileged to soon become his sidekick and for several wonderful years be able to watch people of all ages, races, and nations respond to his unique magic. It is so fitting to begin a tribute to him during Christmas week, 2015 because I always called him the “Santa Claus of the Mountain Men.” Whether in tiny hamlets or large cities, at mountain man rendezvous or American Indian Pow Wows, as we traveled throughout the west together wherever we would pull his rickety old RV to a halt, people would suddenly begin to appear and knock on the door of the traveling tepee within minutes. No one was ever turned away. He would answer every question, autograph picture post cards of himself and give them for free to every single person who asked for one. The children always approached him the way little ones approach Santa Claus; some children were shy and leery of him at first and carefully watched things from a safe distance while their parents patiently encouraged them to nudge closer. Other children ran straight for his lap to ask a million questions about the Indian medicine hanging around his neck and spilling over his chest. Wonderfully, adults behaved the exactly same way as their children and you could always get a glimpse of the little children they had once been; some reserved and cautious, others excited as Christmas morning and ready to ask the old mountain man a thousand questions in five minutes time. Joe would enter any gathering of people with his very, very, loud catchphrase shout, “Turn me loose boys, I’ll never be the same!” So this week I am going to turn him loose and share a few vignettes of the old mountain man’s spirit as a tribute for his help shaping and molding “Seekers of the Fleece”.