Memorial created 12-31-2013 by
Skyler August Gabel
August 26 1995 - October 26 2013
See skylergabelgroup.com to support projects in Skyler's name.
This online memorial was created in loving memory of Skyler Gabel, whose life story is told throughout the website. Please sign Skyler's guest book, share a memory if you have one of him and let us know you came to visit. We will remember Skyler forever.
Videos of his memorial service, a Native American ash scattering ceremony, and a traditional Chinese service held for him are on the Video Links page. Videos of Skyler guiding, wrangling, and building snares are found there.
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Skyler was born August 26, 1995, in Cody, Wyoming. He lived with his mother and two sisters and enjoyed regularly spending time with his grandparents, uncle, and cousins.
He graduated from Wyoming Virtual Academy in 2013 where he accumulated a number of academic awards including the Wyoming Historical Society Jr. Historian Award (2008, ’09,’10, ’11, ’13), first-place in the Wyoming Fish and Game Essay Writing Contest, first-place in the national NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund Youth Essay Contest, and was a creative non-fiction national semi-finalist in the National Association of Teachers of English Norman Mailer Writing Awards.
He was honored to work for Dave Strike Construction where he began to conquer the construction trade during his high school years and was proud of the beautiful home in Red Lodge, MT they were constructing.
Skyler’s love of shooting began early in his babysitter's backyard. He later thrived in 4-H Shooting Sports in both the Sharp Shooter and Sure Shots Clubs where he earned state titles in .22 rifle, outdoor skills, .22 moving target, air-pistol, and class D archery. He was also the Jr. Champion at the Wyoming State Youth Hunter Challenge in 2009. His leader not only taught him to shoot; but taught him to hunt and invited him into his family.
Skyler did love shooting, but discovered his passion as a 10-year old sitting cross-legged on the floor at the county library listening to a seasoned outfitter share tales about the Thorofare. That outfitter became his first mentor in the craft of outfitting. From there he wrangled with professional outfitters who also took him in as a son, sharing their knowledge and passion for the outdoors. Passing his guide test the week after his 18thbirthday, he thoroughly enjoyed his first season as a guide this year with Pass Creek Outfitters.
An avid trapper, Skyler was introduced to the art and ethics of trapping furbearers at the 4-H/MTA Youth Trapper Camp in Havre, Montana, and honed his skills with his partners and brothers. He treasured their companionship. The highlight of his trapping career was the time he spent being mentored by professional trappers in the WY Trappers Association.
He loved his extended and "adopted" family with his heart and his actions.
In memory of Skyler, order a Wrangler for breakfast at Our Place and eat prime rib at the Irma. Take a family member out to eat at least once a week and be sure to pick up the tab. Help someone who is stalled on the highway, buy your mom roses, stop by your grandparents’ to visit, and take your sisters fishing.
Skyler died October 26, 2013, beneath the Cathedral Cliffs of Windy Mountain following a truck accident on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway. He was checking his trap line - stop and go, stop and go. Took a curve too fast or there was an animal in the road as there were heavy skid marks. His truck rolled. He was hit in the head by a loose object in the truck (cast iron skillet? gun? camp griddle?) or on the truck as he was ejected.
by Skyler Gabel
Leading two pack-horses up the trail along Bald Ridge, I take in the wild Wyoming mountains, skyline then dip deeper into the Absaroka Wilderness. Glancing back, I feel the haunting presence of seven-plus generations who had ridden in awe beneath the same sunrise. Three hours later I appear from the edge of a grove of willows like a ghost gripping my Winchester. Looking at the dead cow elk, I feel a little lonely and think of my great grandfathers, my mountain brothers and the forever-wild bond we share. Wyoming’s outdoor heritage means more than pretty pictures and fresh air. It’s about a wildness that courses through our state and through the veins of those lucky enough to get mud on our boots stomping around it. We are forever united with the wild of Wyoming.
A 7th generation Wyoming native, that wild blood runs deep in me, uniting me with my great-grandfather who died taking an elk on Carter Mountain, whose ashes speak from the Absaroka Range. They speak of the freedom of the wilderness and the rejuvenation that can only be found on a ridge beneath an evening lightening storm where they call me to the wild in the mountain and the wild in me. I am united with my grandfather when I pull into a rancher’s yard who long ago quit allowing hunters and I say, “I’m Ol’ Swede’s grandkid,” right before they let me on and I drive the same roads that Ol’ Swede made in his Model A 60 years ago. After bagging my goats, I dunk the skinned and cleaned carcasses in the same creek my ancestors did. This bond will keep me coming back to the hills I love religiously for years to come.
Six years of mountain wrangling unite me with my Great Grandpa Russ who was a guide and other old time local guides as wild as Ned Frost and Mel Stonehouse. Every time I ride into camp and tie my pack string to a hitching pole built by one of these mountain legends, I get an awesome rush. When I share a fire and the silence of The Thorofare with hunters on the same ridge where my great-grandpa shared the wild with clients, I see his spirit rise from the smoke to sit beside me.
As a man, that wild blood runs deep in me uniting me with adventurers like August, who set off for the marines more than two years ago, but whose wild spirit rides with me on every hunt. It unites me with Dion who I skipped school with, so we could cook lunch over a fire by a secret waterfall. He just had a baby boy, and I can see the wilderness in that baby’s eyes as well. These men are more than friends, they are my brothers because of the wilderness bond we will always share.
Wyoming’s outdoor heritage is rich with memories. The ridges and streams whisper all of our stories and a thousand only known to the wildlife that has drank and bathed, fought and mated, given birth and died by their shores. Then there are my memories rich with the heritage of a state, a wilderness, a family, and a band of brothers that are all forever wild.
A COWBOY'S LAST RIDE
In keeping with tradition, Skyler's mountain brothers paid homage to him by leading his horse on one last trail ride.
After the morning vigil, Young Wesley led Skyler's riderless horse (Buddy) from the church parking lot, around the Buffalo Bill Statue, and back to the Memorial Gardens to start the funeral service. Buddy carried Sky's saddle, some traps and furs, and his boots were symbolically placed in the stirrups backwards (to indicate that he has moved on but is looking back at us). This is one of the most honorable tributes a wrangler/guide can receive from his mountain peers.
JACK OF ALL HOUNDS
by Skyler Gabel
He stood hard and fast next to the bushes where I had cached the elk I had killed a few days earlier. Determination was deeply set in my hound’s eyes. It must have been a hard three days he’d spent out there alone, and who knows how he escaped the pack of wolves he got into when we were separated by snow that first night. But somehow he still knew I would be coming back for him. He also knew the meat on that elk was important enough to protect. Somehow he had escaped wolves twice his size and protected my game while surviving in thirty below weather with a full white-out blizzard that kept me from getting to him. As I rode into the drainage, I spotted my dog and watched him run off a coyote. As I drew closer I saw that the tracks showed it wasn’t the only one he had kept off that elk. This is just one story of many in the legacy of Jack.
Jack was bred in northern California for big game hunting. Randy, the breeder, particularly used them for hunting black bear but has also caught a lot of lions, bobcat, grey fox, and coons with them. The breed has a long history that toughened them in the deserts of Africa, on those transatlantic slave ships, and along the Westward wagon trails that crossed our country. My bond with that smart hound started when I first laid eyes on him, his brown eyes welling up with curiosity as he peeked out from a box in the back of a flatbed truck at a gas station in Trout Creek, Montana. That blue merle puppy was stuck to my legs from that night till the day he died four years later.
Jack was a natural trail and tree dog. My little sister had these two odd colored kittens she picked up at the animal shelter. One day we were playing outside and heard the most serious baying and hissing coming from the girls’ room. We rushed into the house, threw open the door and laughed. That hound was baying up my sister’s cats. He had them angry and treed on the bunk bed. Besides being expert at finding my sister’s cats, I got him started on coons early, and he treed his first coon at three and a half months old. I loved the sound of his deep bay echoing across the night as he crisscrossed the riverbed trailing a coon. The excitement of treeing a coon and watching me bring it down nearly drove the poor dog into a happy fit.
I found out how tough he was before he even turned one when he got separated from me on a desert trail. I drove up and down and around the area where I lost him for hours listening for his voice, calling his name, waiting in the silence for a sense of where he was. It was a dry, desert kind of place sparsely covered with sage and cactus but was mostly dust and loaded with rattlers, coyotes and mountain lions. And it was dark. I camped out by the trail, but he didn’t return. I gave up, believing the dog to be lost forever, but three days later my mom heard a ruckus out by the fence and looked out the back door to find that hound jumping the fence and lying down in the grass. He was thin and dehydrated but the confidence in his eyes and prance in his step showed that he was pretty darn proud of himself as well.
That hound would also help me wrangle horses and mules on backcountry hunting and fishing trips. Jack could do anything I asked him to and more. On one spring horn-hunting trip, he jumped on a charging grizzly’s head. I looked up from my camp and saw the griz come up over the hill beside my camp. She looked around a bit and then lumbered back into the woods. A few seconds later, she came over that hill in a full charge. I got behind a tree, chambered a shot and realized that she was too close for that shot to even stop her. As I reached for my .45, Jack finally got her attention jumping on her head and gnawing at her ears. She shook him off and he bit at her heels and butt all the way back over the hill. I would have had to shoot that bear and would have more than likely still been chewed up a bit before it died from the gunshot wound if it hadn’t have been for that dog. He fearlessly stopped the bear and walked away without a scratch.
Jack didn’t get the Where the Red Fern Grows kind of death he deserved. That darn dog died beneath the speeding tires of a Ford truck out of Canada that appeared out of nowhere on a sparsely driven road we ran every day for four years. I ached in places inside that I didn’t know could ache when I buried him near our favorite camping spot and my sisters decorated his grave with all sorts of leaves and wild flowers.
Jack was my first hound and, although I love all my hounds, none will ever really take his place. We had a tough soul bond pounded out on lonely mountainsides where I still sense his presence and hear the echo of his bay as I dearly miss the comfort of his loyal step walking the dirt trail beside me.
by Skyler Gabel
The towering Thorofare Buttes seem to engulf us at our last stop on our 15-day pack trip, the camp on the Borner Fork of Butte Crick. This is one of my favorite places in the mountains because it is next to the Thorofare Buttes, the most beautiful place on earth. The maze of crumbling granite cliffs rise 11,500 feet above sea level and loom 2,500 feet above us. The distant wolf howls ricochet off the Buttes echoing throughout the basin. Below the majestic cliffs, Butte Creek quickly trickles from its head, widening as it moves towards its junction with the Thorofare River. The cool air lightens the load of dirt weighing heavily on our bodies and enlivens the mules as they run in a pack, roll in the dirt, and eat grass next to camp. I’d rather be at the camp on the Borner Fork than anywhere else on earth.
as told to Mom by Skyler Gabel
Why get a Crazy Horse Tattoo? "Even the most basic outline of his life shows how great [Crazy Horse] was, because he remained himself from the moment of his birth to the moment he died; because he knew exactly where he wanted to live, and never left; because he may have surrendered, but he was never defeated in battle; because, although he was killed,he was never captured;...he was free. His dislike of the oncoming civilization was prophetic...yet, when he met white men he was not diminished by the encounter." — Ian Frazier
"There are few resistance figures in American history as noble as Crazy Horse... his ferocity of spirit remains a guiding light for all who seek lives of defiance." -Chris Hedges
Skyler defied all that was not honest, all that was not free, all that was not "right." He loved tradition ... preserving and passing on tradition. Born 200 years too late for the lifestyle that he loved, he honored the spirit of Crazy Horse by knowing exactly where and how he wanted to live and pursued that life with a relentless passion. That's why Crazy Horse was on his forearm to signify the spirit of noble defiance and righteous justice that burned in his heart.
by Skyler Gabel
It was 4:00am one Saturday morning in the middle of November when August, Joe, and I were in the truck heading to Bald Ridge. August and I both had area 54 late season elk tags. The air outside was silent and cold with a temperature of about 10 below zero.
As we started up the switchbacks of Sunlight Pass, the sun was just starting to rise over the never-ending mountains. I was busy watching the multi-colored sunrise when I felt the truck slow down and start to turn. It was time to start hunting. I reached in my bag and felt for my box of 30-06 cartridges then dropped the magazine out of my Remington 710, loaded four shells then replaced the magazine. While checking to make sure I had my hunter orange, knife, and tag, I set my Nikon Trailblazer 10x50 binoculars next to me. We started glassing the drainages off Bald Ridge. We weren't seeing anything so we got out and walked a ways to glass one more drainage. At the bottom of the drainage in a little clearing we finally saw four elk. We were sure there were more so we went back to the truck to grab our packs with water, food, knife sharpening tools, and a lead rope for dragging dead elk out.
As we stepped over the ridge, the freezing wind hit us seeming to shoot straight through our bones. We pulled our coats on a little tighter and started a stalk on the right wall of the drainage. As we approached the elk, we could see about nine head. August got first shot, so he picked a fat cow at about 250 yards. He got out his shooting sticks and moved to the side of the boulder we were behind. Chambering a round in his 300 Winchester Short Mag, he got into a sitting position, put his rifle on the sticks and nestled in for a shot. The suspense was overwhelming with the adrenaline so strong I thought the elk were about to hear my heart beating and run off. A thundering rifle shot broke the still mountain silence and my thoughts at the same time. About 75 elk appeared out of nowhere, stopped for a glance back, disappeared over the other side of the drainage and then re-appeared on a distant mountain a moment later. There were so many elk that rose out of the ground that we couldn’t see if August’s shot connected or not. We started walking a grid in the area he had shot and found his cow with a nice shot behind the shoulder.
HOW TO BECOME A TRAPPING LEGEND
by Skyler Gabel
Tracks Don’t Lie,
The Stars are your Friends
Everything else is Questionable
~ Randy Blackburn
Rough, weather-beaten and work-hardened men circle seasoned wood tables and booths and slouch on stools along the cherry wood bar with a large, aged mirror behind it. Lingering cigarette smoke leaks into the dining room from the bar. As I swallow the bitter, strong black coffee, I feel at home surrounded by old cowboys in the western diner and bar at the Irma hotel nestled in the northwestern Wyoming mountains. Wool style caps and worn cowboy hats bob in rhythm to the old country music and cussing coming from the bar. There’s also no shortage of Wranglers and Carharts with Copenhagen rings.
An old man with a dark, weather beaten face, a slightly hunched back and huge grizzled hands hunches over a plate of ham and eggs. The vulgar, tough sounding old timer chews Copenhagen religiously and drinks several thermoses of coffee every day and is looked up to as kind of a legend and a man of knowledge. As I slide into the seat beside him, I notice a smell of old leather mixed in with the smell of horses, livestock, dirt, and wood smoke. It was an honor to shake that hand and swap secrets with the man.
Me, being a young kid that has been working for outfitters, running hounds, and trapping, made a lot of old guys in the business want to reach out and help me. Him - being one of the old guys in the business - made him interested in teaching somebody from the next generation but still skeptical about trusting any of those “damn kids these days.” The best-known trapper in our area, he is very secretive with all his tricks and areas. He knows my family fairly well and knows I am always wandering around trying out new things. He’d heard about me walking to different old timers houses in our area to swarm them with questions for hours. One day it would be on how to catch a fox and the next day on how to forge a knife. This old timer was particularly secretive and closed mouthed. You could ask him if he had ever set a trap, and he would tell you no even though everybody knew he made a living trapping his whole life.
Finally, I got a break with a phone call asking me to go dig some fence post holes for him because his back was “just no good anymore.” He wanted me to do it the next day because he figured it would be an all day job. Needless to say, I was there in fifteen minutes and had all the holes dug before dark. He came out and said, “You’re a hard worker, that’s good.” After that day, he started calling me for all sorts of odd jobs. I would show up and go out to the shed to get a shovel and there would be a bottle of trapping lure set near the shovel where you just wouldn’t leave something like that. I, of course, let it be and the next day it would be gone. One afternoon, I walked into the shed to grab the digging bar and go to work when I spotted a twenty-dollar bill. I guessed what the old timer was up to, so I grabbed the twenty and brought it to him, saying I didn’t want it to blow away.
“Oh thanks must ‘a left it there this morning,” he said and walked off.
After that he started giving me different types of trapping and hunting information. Because he shared just a little bit at a time and never the whole process, I would have to connect the dots. He wouldn’t tell me how to put up a fox skin the best way possible; he would make me go catch a fox then bring it to him so he could show me. After I would make a mistake and come tell him what happened, he would say, “Now you’re ready to learn how to prevent that,” and he would show me. For example, one day at work I got a call from local game warden, Travis Krane, while I was at work. He said that he needed to meet with me. I was amazed when I found out that I had accidentally snared a golden eagle.. Of all the varmints running around up there, who would have figured I could accidentally snare one of those? I called Randy up and explained my situation to him and he told me to come over so he could show me how to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. That’s how he operates and I couldn’t wish for a better person to learn from.
As I pushed my cup towards the waitress for a refill, I hoped that Ole Randy might have an odd job for me this morning, so I could follow him out to his shop and lure a tale or two out of the mind of a local legend with the hope of becoming one.
Dear Mr. Dingman,
I am a 12 year old boy named Skyler Gabel and my dad lives in Missouri and no one in my family hunts. Last year was my first year hunting big game and Joe Desson brang me hunting antelope and deer. My mom tried to take me hunting in the super mini van but that story’s too embarrassing to tell. I had an elk tag, but I broke my foot so I wore a hole in my cast trying to get an elk but I still couldn’t go very far. My great grandpa was a hunter, but he died when my mom was in 4th grade. He actually had a heart attach elk hunting, so I’ve wanted to get an elk really bad since I heard that story. So I was pretty excited when I heard about the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation youth elk hunt.
I'D BE A COWBOY
by Skyler Gabel
If I lived in the 1880s and had an opportunity to travel West, I would be a cowboy because of the many different opportunities in the booming cattle markets of the late 1800s. As a cowboy I would have many opportunities. With all the new land for the taking and prime cattle country for that matter, every man had a fair opportunity to eventually own a cattle outfit. Ranchers in the late 1800s were prominent members in society and were generally successful. With the free prime cattle land for the taking, a man could work for a large cow outfit and with enough sand, could learn the ropes and start his own ranch. Also I love that kind of lifestyle. In modern days the lifestyle I hope and dream about is limited by the laws and the government. In those days, a man could truly live free and an adventuresome person that had grit and determination could find a personal heaven in the vastness of the western lands.
It wouldn’t all be easy though. I would have many difficulties and strong determination would be a necessity. Many areas with no law were also a place for dishonest men to flourish. Indians that were now cornered after being driven from their land were beginning to fight harder as they were the last of their people. Unexpected attacks would be common on a weekly, even day-to-day basis in some areas. Also with more cow outfits becoming common, there would be huge fights over water rights, and as a new rancher larger outfits wouldn’t want any competition and surely didn’t want to lose any access to water. With no law there was nothing to stop them from getting rid of me by any way they felt easiest.
The opportunities would outweigh the difficulties because a man who lives for freedom and was born with bone-headed determination would do anything to live free of society’s laws and “political correctness”. Also a man who had learned the ropes and been over the mountain and down the river might have enough know how and self-confidence to be sure that he could beat the odds. If a man did beat the odds, a good home for his family and a respectable place in society would be one of many benefits. His children could grow up healthy and strong unlike they would in big cities. This is why I would be a cowhand if I had the option in 1880s.
August 26 by Mom
My baby's 18 ...again ...today.
Frozen at the trailhead he struggled to reach
One weatehred boot stepping over the threshold
One calloused hand grasping his dreams
Looking back with a cock-eyed I-got-this smile.
Forever on his way.
Always just beginning.
Beyond the horizon is a quiet piece of land
tucked in the hils on the edge of nowhere
with a cold-as-a-snowbank-at-11,000-feet creek
and no electricity.
A would-have-been dream is miraged in the dusty haze:
A made-wth-my-own cabin
A kennel of cat-baying hounds
A corral of sturdy mountain horses and sure-they're-gentled mules
A rotting-wood shed covered in footholds, conibvears, and snares with stretched hides hanging like streamers from the beams
The beckoning croon of Waylon and Willie and the Boys
The dream that is frozen
because you are frozen at 18.
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