Wild and free until the end

🕔Sep 22, 2005

This spring, a monument in honour of the late Skook Davidson will be erected in the northern Rockies. But the story of this pre-eminent B.C. hunting guide will travel much further thanks to Prince George author Jack Boudreau’s latest work, Wild & Free: The Story of Frank Cooke and Skook Davidson.

The book was published in early December, just days before Frank Cooke passed away—spending part of his final days with the book in hand, re-living the memories therein. Boudreau, a Prince George outdoorsman and retired forestry worker, took British Columbia’s publishing world by storm six years ago with his first book, Crazy Man’s Creek.

An engaging mix of stories from the mountains east of Prince George, it quickly hit number one on the B.C. bestseller list for non-fiction.

Anyone who thought that this was a one-time wonder was mistaken. In 2000 came Grizzly Bear Mountain, a collection of bear stories set around Red Mountain east of Prince George.

In 2002, Mountains, Campfires & Memories took readers further afield on a rambling journey of backwoods tales. In 2003, Boudreau ventured into biography with his book Wilderness Dreams, the story of a Quesnel-area pioneering couple of the post-World War II era that opened with an epic account of a 1947 snowshoe trek from Hazelton to what is now Sustut Provincial Park.

Now, Boudreau brings fourth the tale of two of this province’s best known outdoorsmen: Skook Davidson and Frank Cooke.

Most of the book is set in the area between Prince George and Watson Lake in the second half of the 20th century, and is centred on the wild and remote Kechika and Turnagain Rivers in the Northern Rockies and Cassiar Mountains.

Skook Davidson began learning the trade that led to his becoming a paramount horse packer while working for the legendary Jean-Jacques Caux, better known as “Cataline.”

Davidson conceived of and established the Diamond J Ranch on the upper Kechika River in the Rocky Mountain Trench around 1940. He lived there, beneath the most northerly peak in the Rockies, aptly named Terminus Mountain, for the next 35 years until his health gave out and forced him to move south, where he died in North Vancouver in August 1977.

The book opens with Frank Cooke Senior, a provincial policeman of some repute in Prince George and Fort St. James in the 1920s and 1930s. Also a tough outdoorsman and a friend of Skook Davidson, Cooke Senior arranged for his son to work for Davidson at Terminus Mountain.

After a demanding apprenticeship under Davidson, the young Frank Cooke established a successful guiding business of his own on the Kechika and Turnagain Rivers. Between them, these men and their employees guided some of the world’s elite in one of North America’s best and wildest hunting areas.

One of them, an Iranian prince, after being hollered at by Skook Davidson “just the same as any other person,” told Davidson that he was the first to have treated him like a fellow man.

Wild & Free is written as a loosely organized stream of interviews, mostly with Frank Cooke relating countless stories of life in northern B.C.’s backwoods.

It was a rough-and-tumble existence, with partying and fights as part of daily life, but with a richness of living in the mountain backcountry that is hard to surpass.

It was a life that everyone of the people interviewed said they would choose to live all over again at the drop of a hat—and one that anyone who has spent any amount of time in the bush can relate to.

Jack Boudreau’s Wild & Free and Crazy Man’s Creek nicely bookend his other three publications; but watch out, as a master of ceremonies said while introducing a famous climber at a Banff Mountain Festival a few years ago: “This man ain’t done yet!”