Mountain Man Bob Dean shows off the group’s traditional outfit of buckskins and fur hat while sitting on his horse Jack. The Mountain Men will leave Williams Sunday morning for their six-day trek to the Valley.
“We get to dress up and get away from real life for a while,” said Bob Dean, a mountain man since 1965. Dean, who has made the journey 38 times, both as a guest and as a member.
Dean’s father, Denton “Diz” Dean, was one of the group’s original 13 members. Today, the group has about 35 members.
“People in Williams wanted something to do in the winter,” said John Girvin, a member of the group since 1955.
The Mountain Men will embark on the group’s 50th ride Sunday just as they have most years since that first ride in 1954.
Dressed in buckskins and fur hats, the Mountain Men model themselves after the 19th century trapper, Bill Williams. From scant written records, it is said that “Old Bill” was born in North Carolina in 1 787 and became a roaming Baptist preacher who lived near or among the Osage Indians for many years.
Drifting further west, he became a member of an Arizona trapping party around 1826. It is believed he was killed in southern Colorado in 1849. During his lifetime, however, he reportedly visited northern Arizona often.
Today, the Mountain Men continue to wear the traditional buckskins and fur hats, though not for the entire ride.
“The buckskins run about $1,000 and are not exactly comfortable,” said Dean. “They’re cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Back then those guys didn’t have anything else to wear.”
The group also has support during the six-day journey. Support vehicles carrying camping and cooking equipment, as well as supplies for the horse, meet the group each night during the trek.
Dean remembers five rides where the group endured rain and snow the entire trip. Weather, however, has never kept the Mountain Men from their ride, he said.
“It’s no place for sissies, let me tell you,” said Dean.
Over the years, the Mountain Men have had a couple of mountain lion mascots, Tuffy and Tuffy II. Rancher George McNelly, who ran across the mountain lions on his land, reportedly took in both cats.
Tuffy II made the train journey to John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961with the group.
“The reporters in Chicago were as interested in Tuffy as they were in us,” Girvin recalled.
While the first Mountain Men were all from Williams, today members are scattered around the state, Girvin said.
“When they’re asked where they’re from, they say they’re from Williams, no matter where they live,” said Girvin.
Preparations begin early for the annual ride as members stop shaving to have the required beard for the winter ride.
In the early days, the Mountain Men rode all the way to Phoenix to take part in the Phoenix Jaycees Rodeo. This year, the journey will end in New River as the group heads for the Cave Creek rodeo.
The Mountain Men will head out Sunday from the Williams Rodeo Grounds between 6-7 a.m. An official send-off ceremony is scheduled at around 7:45 at the Grand Canyon Railway depot in Williams.
A banquet is scheduled Saturday at 4 p.m. at the World Famous Sultana at Route 66 and Third Street. The banquet is open to the public and anyone interested in meeting the Mountain Men are encouraged to stop by.