Hiram Cody Tegart was every inch the last cowboy of the Columbia Valley.
The charismatic, colourful local with an unmistakable trademark bushy moustache, born in 1950, grew up on a Brisco ranch, hunting and fishing every nook and cranny of the Columbia Valley backcountry with his hunting guide father and uncles, worked every bush job imaginable after high school and in his spare time became a high-end amateur bull rider. But it was during the fall hunting season that Cody really made his mark as an unparalleled outdoorsman, taking over and running his father’s guiding territory up the Palliser River with a skill and craft few could match, notching up elk and goat trophies and legendary campfire stories of near-misses and hijinks with equal aplomb. In later years Cody, who passed away last year, became a conservationist and was instrumental in establishing Height of the Rockies Provincial Park, the northern end of which encompasses parts of his beloved Palliser.
Cody’s remarkable story is succinctly told in a brand-new book, Mountain Man: The Life of a Guide Outfitter, published this fall and co-written by Cody and his longtime friend Andy Richards. The formal book launch is coming up on Saturday, October 19th at the Invermere Public Library.
Andy got to know Cody at David Thompson Secondary School (DTSS) and ended up spending plenty of time cutting trail and stocking cabins up the Palliser on the Tegart guiding territory, before moving on to a career in newspaper advertising outside the Valley. Like so many others, Andy was a huge fan of kicking back and drinking in the larger-than-life mountain man persona and true-life tall tales told by Cody, and eventually the two decided to capture it all in a book.
“Cody was a Tasmanian devil in terms of his energy. He was extremely charismatic, and an excellent rodeo athlete — nobody could ride a horse like that — and what a story teller,” Andy told the Pioneer. “Everything he did, he did in a rush. That’s not to say he was sloppy. No, he always did it really well. He just did it faster than anybody else. Even at 60, the last time we went hunting together, he was running up a cut block and left me wheezing behind. And I’m in pretty good shape. One of his (Cody’s) favourite sayings was ‘get tough
According to Andy, Cody was a product of an era that is now long past, and that’s partly what makes him the Valley’s last genuine cowboy.
“You have to understand the Valley was a radically different place then. Sure, there were some visitors coming to the hot springs, but the sophisticated tourism you have now just wasn’t there. Logging and mining were king. There were gun racks on the back of every pickup truck,” said Andy, adding the time he spent helping out with the Tegart guiding territory gave him an appreciation for why the lifestyle was “almost like an addiction” for Cody.
“You’re in these magnificent places that you can only get to by horseback or on foot. There’s nothing as beautiful as it in the world. It’s magical. You’d go walking up in these high alpine areas, where maybe nobody else had ever walked,” said Andy. “I’ll never forget that first vista of Queen Mary Lake: this impossibly clear blue lake sitting below the Royal Group loaded with trout.”
Mountain Man is stock full of good old Cody yarns like the time a grizzly bit him on the knee; or the time he came fifth in the fabled Wickenburg Rodeo in Arizona, as an amateur bull rider going up against professionals; or how his astute guiding gave him astonishingly high harvest rates (85 per cent for elk, nearly 100 per cent for mountain goat). There are also plenty of humorous anecdotes as well.
“Hopefully people will enjoy the excitement and the laughs, because there’s a lot of both,” said Andy. “There’s funny parts, because that’s just who Cody was. He was a positive fellow. He went through a lot of stuff, but his glass was always half full.”
The book also details how Cody teamed up with biologist Bob Jamieson and Cranbrook doctor Allan Askey to turn the Royal Group, Palliser and adjoining areas into a formally designated protected wilderness area (now Height of the Rockies Provincial Park).
“It was a really special area for Cody, and he wanted it save for other people to enjoy,” said Andy
Cody and Andy started work on Mountain Man five years ago, and were closing in on a finished book last year when Cody passed away. Andy continued on, knowing Cody and his daughters would have wanted to see this, the last chapter of Cody’s life, completed. “He (Cody) lived a way of life that has almost disappeared because the valley has changed. It (Cody’s life) was a microcosm of life in the valley as it was,” said Andy.
Andy spent the past year editing, revising, and “getting all the pieces to fit just right,” and this fall the book was published by Caitlin Press.
The book launch at the Invermere library is Saturday, October 19th at 2 p.m. Books will be available for sale on the day of the event at the library, or beforehand at Bacchus Book Cafe and bookstore in Golden, or online through caitlin-press.com.