A group shot of some of the Bill Williams Mountain Men on last year’s ride shows the typical buckskin shirt and fur cap dress members must adorn. The one in the middle not wearing a uniform is a guest rider. Members observe guest riders — who must be sponsored by a current member — for at least one ride before inviting them to formally join the group.
In the past, the group traveled yearly to Phoenix to participate in the annual Phoenix Jaycee’s Rodeo. In recent years, including this one, the trip has been to participate in the Cave Creek Rodeo and parade north of Phoenix. In fact, the group is so unique that they have been invited to many other events, such as the 1998 Fiesta Bowl Parade and five different presidential inauguration parades — including John F. Kennedy’s in 1961.
The mountain men dress and travel — often raising scholarship funds for Williams graduates — in the tradition of the famous fur trapper Bill Sherley Williams, of whom the city of Williams was named after, often with little or no modern conveniences.
This year, 18 of the group’s current 28 members and 10 camp helpers — or support crew — made the trip which, according to this year’s trail boss, seven-time rider Jason Letner, started just west of Williams on a forest road near Devil Dog Road.
The 18 then made their official trek south, riding an average of about 20 miles per day, and usually stopping at various ranches to camp out for the night. Letner says the trail took them through areas like Perkinsville, Bumble Bee, Black Canyon City, and finally to Cave Creek.
Though group members usually enjoy the ride and have a raucous time, 40-time rider Bob Dean says it’s an all-day job.
“It’s six days, so we pretty much have to ride all day long,” Dean said.
Since one dropped out and two got ill along the way, 15 of the Bill Williams Mountain Men finally made it to the Cave Creek rodeo. Once there on April 10, the group participated in the event parade that morning, kicked off the rodeo show at 1 p.m., made another showing at 7 p.m., then one final display at about 1 p.m. on Sunday.
While some of the riders chose to trailer their horses and travel conventionally back toward Williams, some made the trek on horse both there and back — an exercise that was especially tough for Letner, who experienced an unusual mishap on the way.
Apparently, the group had stopped for a rest-break. As Letner began to get off his horse, it got “spooked,” forcing him to land on his knees. Letner was then immediately struck in the chest and shoulder by the horse’s hind legs.
The first-time trail boss wasn’t sure if he’d broken any bones at the time, but said he knew he had at least bruised quite a bit.
“I was sore, but I made it all the way,” Letner added.
As trail boss, Letner’s duties included management of everything on horseback, hiring of the help, choosing the trails, and leading in the parade(s).
“This year — being a trail boss — it was a real pleasure,” Letner stated. “It’s an experience that’s like no other. It’s an adventure.”
Mountain Men must provide all their own gear — including the horse — to be able to ride, and joining the Bill Williams Mountain Men is not unlike joining a civic organization. First, a current member must sponsor you as a guest rider. Current members then observe Guest riders for at least one ride and, if they think you can handle it, you’re invited to join. The group meets on the first Saturday of each month and dues are required.
Contact the Bill Williams Mountain Men via regular mail at Post Office Box 187, Williams, AZ 86046.