Bear Canyon and Johnny West

In 1967 we moved out to a house in Bear Canyon, about seven miles outside of Bozeman. The house was built by my father and our friend, Darwin Burnett, who was a school teacher at the time. He had gotten a job in Deer Lodge, Montana, and while he was away he asked us to live in his house and take care of it.

Picture this little cabin in the woods. And I mean IN THE WOODS! This place was quaint. A smaller version of the Walton homestead. It sat among the spruce and fir trees, where deer and elk and moose, squirrel and porcupine …and of course, bear, thrived. Bear Creek ran close by, and always in the air was that fresh smell of verdant deep timber that changes subtly with each new season yet never goes away altogether. There were neighbors, but you could not see them from that house, and they were not close enough to want to visit very often. You definitely could not hear them unless they were shooting. We were in the wilderness-at least to a boy of three.


What do I remember about Bear Canyon? Just what I described. That, the Carpenters and Paul Harvey on the radio, Marty Robbins and the Sons of the Pioneers on the phonograph, and James “Jewelry” (we later found out it was “Drury”) as The Virginian on television. I remember it didn’t stay light for very long that deep in the canyon, especially in the dead of winter and at – 48 degrees, but it was hot and humid in the deep timber in the summer. But the creek never failed to freeze your feet, even on my birthday on August 6.


Well, the summer came and went, and snow fell heavily in the canyon. And then Santa Claus came, and with him came that little 7 x 12 x 3-inch box disguised in Christmas wrapping, and that bigger box that held the horse of Johnny’s dreams: a bay “Comanche.” My older brother Jamie received a Chief Cherokee and I believe a black Thunderbolt, and of course, sister Kandy got Johnny’s wife, Jane, and a palomino “Flame,” the Johnny West series’ only cantering horse that’s “loping,” in Western terminology. She also got “Flick,” Johnny’s sleek German shepherd. Oh, and of course this was the first year we were introduced to Hartland’s line of Western toys and Lego Blocks as well. Hey, how could Christmas get better?

And where the heck were the camcorders back then!?!