Small Frye episodes - Small Frye Gets Cooking

Leonard Lea Frazer

Stories by Mike Frye - edited by Leonard Lea Frazer

Mike gets hooked cooking for a forest crew on a big fire and later, in another story, near dies of ptomaine poisoning from his own mulligan.

I had been working for Kamloops Lumber Company at Kamloops, B.C., and unloading logging trucks into the yard at the Old Red Bridge just east of town. Sometimes I would dump the logs into the Thompson River, sometimes it would be out in the yard and it was hot work!
I had ten trucks coming at me all day long and I had to keep the yard and boom clean for more logs, and I had no time to get into trouble at that job!
I was paid so much a truck and I did my best to unload as many as I could. But, many days as I worked in the hot sun, I wished I could get a job working in the woods away from town. As it happened, my wish came true. One morning on the news I heard that near town and up the Barrier River, a terrible forest fire was raging completely out of control, and it was on the Kamloops Lumber Company's holdings.
So, as I was the only one working for them at the time that had any experience with forest fires, I was picked to go up and represent them as camp cook. I had heard that I would be supervising 5-6 camp cooks and we would have to cook for three hundred or more men and this meant I would be on call twenty four hours a day to see that all meals were cooked and plenty of food ordered for four hundred men in an emergency.
I knew I could handle the job all right, but I also knew that I would have to forget about sleeping.
As I climbed into the crummy that would take me up to the front lines, I could see a huge, angry red cloud that covered at least eight miles or more and smoke that seemed to reach to the skies for miles, up near the headwaters of the Barrier River. I did not like it one little bit! I was, more or less, getting out of the frying pan and into the fire. Sure I was at last getting out of the hot town, but as I gazed at the smoke and flame emanating from the Barrier, I could see that it would be hot there too. In the crummy with me were about fifteen more recruits for fire fighting and before we reached the end of the road, we were near suffocated and were damn glad to get out of that stuffy vehicle. We soon realized that the situation we were now in was not going to be a picnic. Grub was piled in huge heaps all over the ground, hauled there by trucks and dumped any place where there was room to pile. It was a regular shambles. Men were swearing and shouting orders, and pack horses were being packed with food to take up to the extreme front lines of the fire. That’s where I was to go with seven men to help me set up camp and get a cook tent ready.
So, off we went with a small pack, up a pack-trail made in a hurry, to the main conflagration of the huge eight-mile front of a fire that literally blew huge trees down ahead of it as it raged along. I found our trail to be on the opposite side of the river from the fire, but before we got two miles up the trail, the smoke was almost unbearable. It was all we could do to bypass that terrible demon on the other side of the river from us.
Our idea was to get around the fire and get a camp set up and the fire-fighters could come back and build wide swaths through the forest ahead of the huge fire. This sounded like a good idea but, as it turned out, it failed to halt the fire.
Well, I found a good spot behind the fire to make camp, but all we had with us was an axe, shovel and some small hay wire in our light packs. This I had figured to use instead of nails to build my long tables, and the tents and food for some two hundred people that would be right in behind us on the string of thirty pack horses and, of course, some tents, but they were optional. The main thing was the grub, tools, nails and some blankets.
I had just set the men to cutting long small poles to make a table out of, when I heard the pack horses coming in. Now I was in real trouble, trying to keep the food from being trampled on by horses and men, getting supper cooking for two hundred men and getting the camp set up. It was a mad house! I sweat lots of blood getting things under control but somehow we got them all fed. Of course we had no tables or chairs to sit on. So, I fed the men as they came to the big campfire I used to cook on, and the food was served buffet type. I had the eating tools spread out on the ground and the men filled their plates from the huge cooking utensils right off the fire and then sat on stumps or any place they could find.
There was a lot of complaining at first, but I never even listened to them, and by the time they had put in a twelve-hour day fighting fire there was no more complaining. They just grabbed what they could and wolfed it down. The first four days were hectic ones for us cooks and supervisors.
It was some chore having three hundred men coming at you looking for something to eat, and we had to put up lunches for the ones going ahead of the main crew.
Eventually we had the camp in very good shape, had tables made out of small poles, laid on stumps and all in a semi-circle so that each man could serve himself right from the fire. When they finished their meal, they would throw the dirty dishes in a wash tub full of hot water sitting on a fire nearby.
I had ten dishwashers and six flunkies and five cooks and myself. Besides helping with the cooking, I had to order all the food and keep enough ahead in case we got marooned by the fire and could not get in or out with the horses.
If I were to describe the entire episode on the fire, it would fill a book, so I will get down to just the most exciting parts.
One little bit that was sort of humorous, was concerning a two-way radio we used to order food and more fire fighters. One night I forgot to turn it off, and you can very well imagine what sort of conversations a bunch of men in the bush would have. Some were telling smutty jokes and some were singing, while others were praying, and all this went over the radio to headquarters in Kamloops, and finally, when I found the two-way still turned on, I at once got my ears burnt from the girl in the office.
That same night that the fire jumped the river and we all had to run for our lives, and we did our best to save what we could. Just the same, we lost 27 tents and all the bedding, but saved a lot of the food by throwing it in the river.
As huge a fire as it was (an eight mile front) we had only one casualty. A boy got hit by a huge rock that tore down the mountainside and killed him. The accident was caused by a tree burning and a falling stump.
Many of the men did a lot of praying, crying and swearing when the fire surrounded us and we had to desert the first camp, but as luck would have it, two cat men made it right over the mountain from Birch Island, in behind the fire, and brought us more grub and blankets. But, even at that, many had to flee to the timberline above the fire and we thought they had been burnt to death but one night they all came in to our camp and one was my own brother, Charlie Frye. We celebrated this event and we all sang and thanked God for their return.
The fire continued burning until late fall. It smouldered in many places and I and my brother were the last ones on the fire, killing any small flames that broke out and patrolling the entire vicinity of the main fire area.
When the fall rains came we were allowed to leave. I definitely had my fill of fire-fighting that year.

Small Frye near Dies of Ptomaine Poisoning
Warning: The story in this episode contains graphic hunting descriptions that may upset some readers. The episode is a reprint of personal, actual accounts documented by the pioneer/author considered to be practices of survival.

One winter I had been trapping on the North Thompson, situated at Louise Creek, about twelve miles from Gosnell on the C.N.R.
I was all alone at the time and had not seen anyone for near two weeks. Louie Knutson was trapping on a branch creek, Canvas Creek, about five miles below me and I had not seen him for some time. I knew that he must be doing very well on beaver as I had not seen a sign of any of his camp fires, so he must have been up the creek several miles trapping.
I awoke one morning to see a nice two-year-old caribou feeding along the river bank about two hundred feet below the cabin.
I loaded the rifle and stepped outside to get a better aim at him and as I did he saw me and took off up the river on the ice. I needed meat so I took quick aim and let fly. I made a very poor shot, but knocked one front leg off and this made him turn toward the high bank, and I watched, in horror, as he tried to climb the steep bank. As he pawed to go up, the snow slid from under his feet and down he went through an air hole in the ice along the bank and he disappeared in about ten feet of water.
I ran out to the bank and looked down river and was relieved to find that there was open water five or six hundred feet away. I knew he would come out and, as it was rapids, I would be able to walk right out and pick him up as he came out from under the ice.
I quickly put my snowshoes on and grabbed some more shells and ran as fast as I could go down river, and I had just got to the rapids when out he popped out and made it to his feet. I waited till he got to the bank and up on the snow then I took good aim and down he went. I then snow shoed across the river above the rapids and as I was reaching to cut his throat he made a leap and with one hand I held onto his ear and in my other, the knife.
I stumbled along and was dragged as I hung on with all my strength through the deep snow, and drove the big knife into his side as he ran. I at last made a good jab and let loose of him. I had plunged the long blade right into his heart and as I let loose, I was literally blinded with the blood pouring from his side, and when I got the blood washed out enough to see, I made out his thrashing body as he kicked his last in the deep snow.
He had not gone far after I let loose of him and when I got there I could see that he was dying fast. During all this fast moving I was puffing like a work horse so I lit a smoke and waited for him to die. Getting my breath again I skinned him, cut out the liver and cleaned out the entrails then went back to make my breakfast, thinking of the lovely caribou steak I would soon have.
It took me the rest of that day to get the meat into camp and hung up in my meat house, and did not get to look at any traps at all. So, I was up early the next morning and out on the trap line, and had all I could do to get the fur taken care of and on stretchers to dry. That night I looked into my larder to try to find something to make a mulligan (stew) out of with that lovely meat and I found some old onions and one potato that I could use and then I found a can of tomatoes. Now, I could have a feed fit for a king!
I went out and cut off a good chunk of meat and got the pot boiling, and as I poured the tomatoes out I saw that on the inside of the tin it had some rust on it, but I was too engrossed with the thought of what a fine feed I was going to have that I did not pay any attention to it and I quickly dumped it in the mulligan.
It was not ready in time for supper, so I finished cooking it and set the pot outside to cool for dinner the following day, and went to bed thinking about it till I went to sleep. I heated the mulligan up the next day and had a glorious feed. Then, I took a quick nap, and set it out to cool again in the snow.
I had walked no more than two miles out on the trap line when I took the cramps and was deathly ill. I was so sick that I crumpled up in the snow and I was scared. I made it to my feet and took off back to camp as fast as I could and had three more attacks on the way. On reaching the cabin, I fell into the bed and there I spent the next two days sick as I could be, and many times I was sure I would die.
I vomited till nothing came but a green fluid and then not even that, and I'll tell you, I was sick and I guess I would have died if Louie had not come up to see how I was. He found me nearly dead. At once he knew what was wrong and he soon heated up some butter till he could get it down my throat and this began to work at once. Then I was sick, but after three treatments, I felt better and could take a bit of fresh cooked meat broth.  Louie stayed with me till I was again on my feet. Boy, did he tell me off as he headed back down river, and believe you me, I watched canned food of any kind after that!!!

From September 8th and 15th, 1976 - Robson Valley Courier