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(buck Skin Billy)- Sylvan Ambrose Hart, 1906-1980

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Quigley_Sharps, Jul 16, 2012.

  1. Quigley_Sharps

    Quigley_Sharps The Badministrator Administrator Founding Member

    Local Mountain Man of the day.:
    Sylvan Ambrose Hart, also later known as “Buckskin Billy,” was born 10 May 1906 in a dugout in Oklahoma Territory. He was 18 months old when Oklahoma became a state. His people were the sort of tough, resourceful rural folk who settled the southern Appalachians and the Ozarks. His mother was part Apache.

    Sylvan was the oldest of six children. His father was a rambler and a gambler, and was often away from home. At the age of eight, Sylvan began to hunt for his family, using a Winchester lever-action shotgun that was to heavy for him to hold while shooting. As the man of the house, Sylvan grew up curious, resourceful, and determined to make something of himself.

    He worked his way through Central College and McPherson College, in McPherson, Kansas, and then the University of Oklahoma, where he received a B.A. In English. Then he tried to study petroleum engineering, followed by working in an oil field, but his “exotic temperament” was unsuited to these pursuits.

    It was now 1932, and the Great Depression had settled in. Sylvan and his father got the idea that they should seek out a frontier-style subsistence life where they could hunt big game, catch lots of fish, and enjoy a climate warm enough for growing a variety of cash crops. And if there was gold that could be panned, all the better. So they came to north-central Idaho, and eventually found Fivemile Bar, on the Salmon River, “the River of No Return.” Initially, Sylvan and his father grew and dried tobacco, and bartered it for whatever they needed. When the attractions of city life drew his dad away again, Sylvan stayed on. He remained in the Salmon River Country the rest of his life.

    Sylvan was curious about everything. He read a lot, and was a good student. He could do just about anything if he put his mind to it. He learned to make his own tanned-leather clothes, his own copper pots and cherry-wood dishes, his own mining equipment, his own knives, and his own black-powder weapons. He gave all of these things his own artistic designs. Gradually, he gained fame for these.

    Because he was visited increasingly by river rafters and later by commercial jet-boat groups, he also developed a unique skill at public relations. By the time Harold Peterson published a book about him in 1969, The Last of the Mountain Men, Sylvan had developed a unique ability to utter unforgettable epigrams:

    “For the city man, life is just a jumble, like the facts in a college freshman's
    notebook. But you can ask me anything about nearly anything, and I can answer
    because I've had time to think about it.”

    “The great mistake in making pants is putting the seam on the inside of the leg.
    If it gets wet when you have to walk somewhere, it can take the skin right off.”

    “No mountaineer is worth anything unless he has at least fifteen guns in the house.”

    “If you lived in a place like this and had to work hard eight hours a day, you'd be
    a pitiful incompetent.”

    “Oh, I'm patriotic. Ever' time a bald eagle flies by, I take off my hat.”

    “A guy like Emerson or Thoreau never did come to drips with reality.
    He led too sheltered a life. If he had had a cabin surrounded by grizzlies and
    mountain lions and rabid coyotes and dance hall girls, that would have made a
    man of him. Westerners have had to survive all that.”

    “The good things a person needs – stubbornness, thinking for himself –
    don't make him a 'useful member of society.' What makes him 'useful' is to be
    half dead. On weekends they open all the cemeteries and all those dead people
    march out.”

    “ People from Manhattan, say, don't see how anyone can learn and do and make
    all the things I do. What they don't realize is that in New York, where it's so hard
    just to live, all their energy is spent trying to exist. Then they hurry and rush all
    the really important things.... They're so anxious to complete anything that
    they never plan it out properly or enjoy it right when it's finished.”

    “A man should have some kind of ideal to pursue. Like independent poverty.”

    “Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the
    overcompensations for misery.”

    “Lots of people live a whole lifetime without having a mountain lion in their garden.”

    He was loudly dramatic, but everybody who studied what he did came away impressed by his survival skills, his frontier craftsmanship, and his artistic flair.

    Sylvan Hart – Buckskin Billy – died at home on Fivemile Bar on 29 Apr 1980, at the age of almost 74. He is buried there. Although parts of the bar have been sold by his nephew, Rodney Cox, Sylvan's original home and outbuildings are maintained by the present owners as a memorial and museum.

    To read about Sylvan Hart, begin with Grits Gresham's article in Petersen's Hunting:


    There are two books in particular that give further details:

    Harold Peterson: The Last of the Mountain Men (Backeddy Books, 1969, 1983)

    Chana B. Cox: A River Went Out of Eden (Lexicos, 1992)

    A collection of Sylvan Hart's handmade kitchen items, knives, a sword, guns, and a powder horn can be seen at St. Gertrude's Museum, near Cottonwood, Idaho. There is a much larger collection at the Idaho State Historical Museum in Boise, but that material is seldom on display.

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