Northern Nevada’s Indian Summer is one of my favorite times of the year. We still have long, hot days, but it gets light a little later and the evenings are cool enough to enjoy a couple hours outside riding or just visiting with the pets and each other. 

The other night, Patrice and I made a sagebrush fire in our backyard pit, and I fried up a couple local trout for supper. Those little moments and smells really take me back. I’m reminded of summers in the mountains of Wyoming, fall cattle drives, camping and hunting trips, all unforgettable times spent around the campfire. 

As a girl, I spent time each summer in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. We camped each year at the edge of a huge meadow at about 7,600 ft. Lodge pole pines were our backstop, our sturdy wall tent our shelter from summer rainstorms, and our campfire, the center of conversion, meals, stories and dreams. 

We’d hobble our horses each night, listen to the coyotes talk just beyond the reach of our campfire’s light, listen to my folks, Uncle Rex and Irma tell stories, and drag ourselves into our sleeping bags only to pop up early each morning to find out what new fishing spot we’d ride or hike to that day. 

My dad loved fishing the wildest stretches of the Popo Aggie river found deep in “the Gorge”. Those adventures took every bit of nerve and skill I had, and I was always grateful to be on one of Irma’s surefooted ol work horses. It may not have been very sexy to ride an old half-draft, but I loved those old guys, and they always took care of us kids. 

If I had to choose my favorite place to ride and fish back then, it was a little place way north of the Gorge called Crooked creek. It was a little snow melt feeder creek into the Popo Aggie, not more than 3 or 4 ft wide, but I thought it was pretty, only a four or five mile ride from camp, easy to walk and usually loaded with little pan-sized Brook trout. I loved getting there mid morning, unsaddling my horse, and taking my time making a little walk upstream. 

I enjoyed looking and listening to the birds, picking wildflowers and occasional wild berries and asparagus. I usually cut a good willow stick, and attached a leader line to fish with. Dad bought us good gear, but I’m simple (and probably a little lazy) when it comes to creek fishing, and if I can get ‘er done with a willow or bamboo stick, I will. I always made sure to dig my worms back at our base camp in the soft, moist ground under a cattle trough or a fallen tree. Within an hour or so of dunking my line into the little under banks and eddies of Crooked Creek, I usually had 4-5 fat little fish caught and I’d make my way back to where we had horses tied up. 

Our lifelong friend and annual guide was Irma Hancock McGuire and she was an amazing lady. She eventually lived to be just two days shy of 100 years, but when we fished Crooked Creek together, Irma was about the age I am now. 

She was born at the east end of Red Canyon just outside Lander, then married off at 14 to a forty-something sheep man/rancher named Sam Hancock (yes, horsey friends, those Hancocks). Her marriage moved her a couple miles up Red Canyon toward the base of the Wind Rivers and that is where she’d spend another 70+ years. She had five babes before her 21st birthday, and she raised 4 to adulthood, acting as mama, teacher and friend to all of them. 

Eventually, she made peace with her husband and situation, mostly by carving out her own niche. She raised horses and added cattle to the ranch. Her “Hancocks” were strong, good minded ranch horses and she made a living using and selling the horses she made. Irma was left alone before her 45th birthday, when her husband passed and her kids moved on. 

To make ends meet, she outfitted some, put up hay, rented pasture and still raised enough cattle to eat, and enough horses to keep her happy. Later in life, she met and married a much younger man (26 years her junior), and she seemed genuinely happy to have a companion and someone to take care of her, although I always thought that Irma could out hustle her 2nd husband any day of the week. 

Together, they got interested in raising Morgan horses and enjoyed that past-time through the end of their days. She continued to live on her ranch in Red Canyon past her 80th birthday. Her little log house had no indoor toilet, and a garden hose piped through the window served as her kitchen spigot. I was never quite sure where she bathed, but I’d imagine it was heated water in a little sitzbath or out in the creek. She was the finest horsewoman I’ve ever seen, smart, nuanced and the perfect combination of gentle and tough. My good friend Jhona Bell reminds me so much of Irma, perfectly capable as any man, but 100% still a lady. 

They look alike too, compact lil gals with pretty blue eyes and easy smiles. Jhona has pretty brown hair, where our Irma was a bright red head, but it’s not often that I visit with Jhona that I don’t hear a little Irma in her. 

Getting back to Crooked Creek, the usual day played out with a couple of us going out fishing and Irma minding our day camp and her horses. I loved being the first one back with my trout strung up on a willow branch. 

Together, Irma and I would clean the fish, she’d make a big deal over the pretty wildflowers and sweet little berries I’d foraged, we’d wrestle a cast iron frying pan out of a saddle bag along with a little grease and our sack of fish flour. It consisted of equal parts flour, cornmeal, and some Lawry’s seasoned salt and pepper. Since my girlhood existed before ziplock bags, we carried it in an old flour sack that we used each year and I’m sure Irma used anytime she was outfitting. 

We’d eat the first little trout to go swimming through our hot grease, just to make sure we wouldn’t poison the rest of the crew. I learned to eat off the end of a pocket knife from Irma, and to open canned peaches with the same tool. Nothing tastier than fresh pan-fried Brookies and canned peaches for lunch. Whether the location is a mountain creek in Wyoming or the high desert of Nevada, good, simple food, and a day spent with warm, loving friends cannot be beat. 

Kris Stewart is a rancher from Paradise Valley, NV