Restoring forests to former diversity

It was in 1953 that a group of local businessmen gathered at Diz’s Tavern in downtown and formed the illustrious Bill Williams Mountain Men.

“They were looking for a way to promote Williams; and since the mountain was named Bill Williams and the town was named Williams they formed the Bill Williams Mountain Men,” said Bob Dean, longtime mountain man and Denton “Diz” Dean’s son.

Diz was a founding father of the mountain men.

“There have been several men that claimed they started the mountain men, who were only in the club a year or two,” Dean said. “The real founder (my dad) was in the club until his death in 1991.”

Diz was a member for 38 years. Dean said some of the current members are second and even third generation members.

“My son was the first third generation member,” he said. “I was the first second generation member.”

Because William Sherley Williams, Old Bill, was a hunter and scout who lived in this area back in the late 1800s, the Bill Williams Mountain Men decided to dress like the pioneer.

“They decided to do that when they started the mountain man club,” Dean said about wearing buckskins. “Bill Williams wore skins.

“The first buckskins they got, they had to order out of New York — that’s the only place that was making them.”

Nowadays, the group wears their skins when they ride in the Fiesta Days Parade and as the grand entries at the Fiesta Days Rodeo in Cave Creek.

After leaving Williams 7:30 a.m. Saturday, 22 Mountain Men and guests trotted their horses to the Bar Heart Ranch, 30 miles south of Williams.

“From there, we’re going almost due east to Sycamore Canyon,” said Jeff Ashworth, secretary of the club, nicknamed the “Colonel.” “We’re not on any trails or roads on the second day. We’ll be riding from one water tank to the next.

“We’ll end up going down the Packard Trail into Sycamore.”

From there the group will travel to Cottonwood, where they will receive a police escort through town. Then the group will travel the Gen. Crook Trail into Copper Canyon, then into Yellow Jacket Creek, Bloody Basin, Tango Creek, Cartwright Ranch and to Seven Springs.

“The last day we’ll ride from Seven Springs into the rodeo grounds at Cave Creek,” said the Colonel.

Memories of riding with his father are what Dean said he misses about the ride nowadays.

“My dad was really a historian, and he knew a lot about the different areas we passed along the way,” Dean said. “We were really good friends.

“When I got in (the club), everyone was from Williams.”

Over the years, things have changed.

“The last few years the country is a lot drier compared to when I first started,” he said. “There are a lot more people, fences and subdivisions.”

Dean was 25 years old during his first excursion to the Valley of the Sun.

“The ride’s a little harder on a 62-year-old body then a 25-year-old one,” he said.

During his first ride, Dean actually jarred a kidney and was laid up for two months.

“Seeing the country and riding with friends,” is the reason Dean said he continues to ride. That and the fact he wants to continue to add to his total.

“Probably, the main reason I’m still in the club is because I’ve made more horseback trips to Phoenix than anyone,” he said. “I’ll just keep adding to that.”

Bill Evans had the most number of rides at 26 before Dean surpassed him. This year is Dean’s 37th ride.

“I think within another decade we’re not going to be able to make the trip to Phoenix,” Dean said. “We run across a lot more fences and people than we used to.”

Dean said the club itself has also changed.

“The ideas and direction of the club have been lost by the newer members,” Dean said. “The club is still from Williams, but not most of the members hearts are.

“Right now there are only two men from Williams (in the club) and I think now there are a lot of people in Williams who don’t know what the mountain men are.”

Dean added the club doesn’t do the charitable work they did in the past, like visiting hospitals and retirement homes.

“I think anything we do now ó the ride, parade and rodeo ó promote Williams to a certain extent but nothing like we used to,” Dean said.

The Colonel, who teaches aerospace engineering at Emery Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, said remembering the legacy of the true Wild West is a goal of the club.

“This is one of the few organizations where our main goal is to preserve the heritage of the early mountain men,” he said. “There are a lot of people who have lost what America was like years and years ago.”

The Colonel said even though most of the mountain men are from the Valley of the Sun, the spirit of the group is still from town.

“Certainly our ties are to Williams and we try to support this community,” he said. “It’s not just a club. We do support a lot of charities ó most in the Williams area.”

The club continues to give back to local youth.

“That’s something I’m really proud of is giving those two $500 scholarships to Williams (High School) graduates,” Dean said.

The Bill Williams Mountain Man pact, all original members signed, reads:

“The lonely life of a mountain man ó He has braved the peril of the trail in the wilderness and has sought the scalps of his enemies in remote regions and he’s come through with a fine catch of furs.”

The mountain men are holding a steak fry and dance on April 28. The steak fry will be held at the Roadrunner Saloon, 47801 N. Black Canyon Freeway in New River. The steaks will be served from 4-8 p.m. and music will start at 7 p.m. and run until 11 p.m. The cost is $15 at the door and $13 in advance. All the money raised from the event will benefit mountain man charities.

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