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July 3, 2019

13 Fallen Smokejumpers - A Young Montana Boy's Mission to Remember

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Colt Barnard from Fromberg, Montana



Remembering 13 Fallen Smokejumpers

The Mann Gulch Mission 

Part Two


Happy 4th of July!


The Town of Ennis will be rocking on the 4th.  We have an enormous parade, a two-day rodeo, BBQs and food galore, and our little town on the Madison River grows from 1,000 residents to nearly 8,000 in just a few hours.


Two days later (Saturday, July 6), the bell rings to start the 8th Annual Madison Duathlon.  This is a bike/run race from Ennis to Virginia City.  Come one, come all.  You can sign up on race day.  Just show up!  If you need more info, download the race packet on the left menu bar of this newsletter or send me an email.


There's a very good reason why you should consider traveling to Ennis, even at the last minute, to do this race.  The very good reason is the mission of an 11-year old Montana boy.  As described in last week's newsletter, the Greater YellowstoneAdventure Series is honoring all Montana Wildlands Firefighters.  We even have a very specific project that we are going to support.  You can be part of this project by signing up to participate in any of our GYAS races as well as placing a bid on the painting by Sarah Morris - Montana Wildlands Firefighter.  The original is on display in the Chamber of Commerce office in Ennis.  Come by and take a look.


One of the greatest benefits of being a race director is meeting incredible and interesting athletes from around the world.  They are remarkable individuals with remarkable stories.  To celebrate America's birthday, I am honored to introduce to all of you just such an athlete.  He has a mission.  We're behind his mission.  I hope you will be as well.  Please read about his project below.


Stay Happy, Healthy, Always Keep Running Forward, and have a wonderful 4th of July.





My Mann Gulch Mission


My name is Colt Barnard. I am 11 years old and from Fromberg, Montana.  My Mom is a wildlands firefighter. She is gone for most of the summer, and does a very dangerous job. Sometimes I get scared. She told me she became a firefighter because of a smoke jumper her family knew who died in Colorado in 1994.


Because my Mom is gone so much, I wanted to learn as much as I could about wildlands fires and firefighters. I learned that there are many different kinds of wildlands firefighters. There are engine crews, hand crews, hot shots, and smokejumpers. I really got interested in the smokejumpers. 


On YouTube, I found a video called Mann Gulch Fire Tribute.  It told the story of Mann Gulch.  You can see it here




The first thing I noticed was the "haunting" picture of Joseph B. Sylvia.  He was one of the firefighters that died. There was something about his military picture that made me want to know more. The video also said "we will never forget."   However, the problem is that almost everyone has forgotten even though 13 firefighters had died.


I read Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean. I watched the movie Red Skies of Montana.  I also watched a movie that the History Channel did about the Mann Gulch fire. I wanted to learn as much as I could. 


I found out that getting to the site of Mann Gulch was very tough. There are no roads and you had to take a boat and then hike.


I also learned that many people blamed Wag Dodge for his men dying.  He was the crew boss on the fire.  I have a different opinion. They just didn't listen to him. I have been to a lot of trainings with my Mom and know about the 10s & 18s, LCES, and the importance of setting back fires as an escape route. Wag Dodge created that.  I also learned that because of Mann Gulch the Forest Service created the Fire Science Laboratory in Missoula and the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. 


Every year before my Mom goes out on fires for the season, we take a trip. She lets me pick where we go and so this year I chose Mann Gulch.  I wanted to see the place where 13 firefighters had died.


They said the hike would be about 2.5 miles. By the end of the day, my Mom and I had hiked over eight miles.  We traced the paths and visited every cross for each of the 13 firefighters that died on the Mann Gulch fire. I brought white flowers to put on each of the crosses.  I also ran up the steep slope which the two survivors, Walter Rumsey and Robert Sallee, used to escape the main fire.  It was a backfire corridor set up by Dodge.  I beat the clock (the amount of time that Rumsey and Sallee had before the main fire consumed them).  My Mom almost made it.   On the Mann Gulch fire, there were just three survivors - Rumsey, Sallee, and Dodge.









Hiking the Mann Gulch Site










Placing flowers on the crosses


We also played the song Cold Missouri Waters which was written about Wag Dodge and Mann Gulch.  When we did, two eagles flew overhead. I think they were the jumpers who were happy we were there to honor and remember them. I love the place, and think that it's very important. 


I noticed that many of the crosses were broken and falling down. It made me sad that people had forgotten about these men.  I don't think anyone destroyed the crosses, but the weather and the slope probably ruined them. I asked my Mom if we could do something to fix them. She said she would help me to set up a fund to replace the crosses.   So that's what I'm doing and I hope you can help.


I have also been frustrated because a lot of people don't know that the Miss Montana plane that flew to Europe for the 75th year anniversary of D-day was also the plane that dropped the Mann Gulch smokejumpers. People have forgotten, and they have forgotten that those men died and we now have much better safety programs, training, and equipment for firefighters like my Mom. 


In January 2020, I will be playing in an elite East vs West football game for kids my own age. I am a nationally ranked receiver for my age.  I will remember and honor the Mann Gulch firefighters at this game by having football sleeves made with the names of all the jumpers.  Those that survived and those that died.  I want people to remember these men. 


When I grow up I want to be a smokejumper and a history teacher.  I want to be a jumper like Wag Dodge and honor the smokejumpers before me. I also want to teach history so that people WILL always remember Mann Gulch. 


I have never done anything like this before, but I think anyone who has ever had someone they cared about would want them to be remembered. These men were very brave, these jumpers and other firefighters like my mom, protect our land, mountains, trees and plants.  These men and women are often gone for months at a time; away from their families. They are heroes; we need to remember them. Every time you see smoke or fire in the trees remember that the people who are fighting the fire are someone's Mom, Dad, brother, sister, and friend. 


August 9, 2019 will be the 70th anniversary of the Mann Gulch fire. I want to make sure that these crosses and this area is preserved for people to remember that people died defending Montana's outdoors.


I hope that you would be willing to help by donating money, time, materials, or something to make the project happen.  I will put in the hard work of getting the crosses up. 


Will you consider helping me to get to that point?

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The John Colter Club

The John Colter Club is a members-only club for athletes who are or have been:

  1. An inaugural athlete in one of the six GYAS races. 

  2. Earned a podium finish (top three) in the overall men and women's category of any GYAS race. 

  3. Are a three-time returnee to a GYAS race. 


We want to recognize those who went first, those who finished well, and those who just keep coming back.  For a membership fee of $30 per year and immense bragging rights for getting in, members receive the following:

  1. personalized water bottle with the GYAS logo, your name, and the club's name. 

  2. Early access.  Members get to sign up for the GYAS races before the March 1 opening. 

  3. discount of 15 percent off the entry fee of the race you sign up for. 


Do the math and you can figure out that your $30 comes back to you pretty quick.   If you qualify and if you want to join an exclusive club of athletes named after Montana's most famous total bad ass, send me an email.  Tell me how you qualify.  I'll confirm it all and send you the application. 

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