tommy jefferson
[Photo courtesy of Susan Bobb]

Tommy Jefferson
Mt. Whitney Pack Trains' Packer, Co-Owner and Operator
My Boss, My Friend, My Mentor and My Away-From-Home Dad

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tommy jefferson
Tommy Jefferson on a commercial photo shoot at Mt. Whitney Portals - 1954
(Photo courtesy of Mary Jefferson)
tommy jefferson
1947 - Mono Pass
L to R: Fred Simpson, Wendell Gill, Tommy Jefferson
[Cedric Wright photo]
(Photo courtesy of Mary Jefferson)



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Memories of Tommy Jefferson by Ray DeLea: aka - "Romance" and "The Pigmy Packer"


I'm not quite sure where to begin my adventure with Tomm.y. I suppose it should start in the summer of 1965 when my parents dropped my brother and I off at this remote location in the Sierra Nevada called Whitney Portals, run by this outfit called Mt. Whitney Pack Trains (MWPT). Our family had been up the eastern slopes of the Sierra many years camping in such places as Lundy Lake, June Lake, Mammoth etc. I'm still uncertain of the circumstances that led my folks to quite literally dump us off at Whitney Portals. At any rate I was introduced to the store owners Tommy and Barbara Jefferson. It was obvious that they were not your typical couple since the wife was cacuasian and the husband was, as I later discovered, Paiute Indian. This turn of events thoroughly flabbergasted me since my stepmother was so prejudiced when it came to mixed couples, let alone marriages. Up to this point in my life, the closest I had ever gotten to an American Indian was on the television westerns. I still had this vision of the American Indian as a "red man" wearing next to nothing with a bow and arrow riding a "painted" horse. Tommy wasn't red and had more the complexion of a Hispanic person; and, what was he doing wearing a cowboy hat? Talk about a confused teenager! One other point of importance, up 'til now, the TV was also the closest I had ever gotten to a horse, or any livestock for that matter.

Tommy reminded me much of my dad, an ex-marine, stocky, tough, and someone who expected to be listened to and his instructions followed. Tommy turned out to be so much more than that. Over the course of six summers, he became a trusted friend, confidant, compassionate instructer (to a real city slicker), mentor, and "life guide." I am still reaping the awesome benefits of my experiences with Tommy in my life today.

Tommy taught me so much about livestock. He taught me how to repair pack saddles and leather rigging as well as shoe horses and mules. How to tell stock apart, especially mules from mules. Wow, that was so difficult to grasp for the longest time. He taught me the fundamentals of saddling both horses and mules; and, most importantly, since I was shortly to be a packer (the very next summer), how to pack mules and be sure the load would stay on. Perhaps the most harrowing thing about packing that he taught me was how to throw the hitching cinch over the top of the mule without hitting anyone, including myself, and catching it as it came underneath the mules belly. That was quite the feat to accomplish. While performing the operation one was supposed to yell out "heartache" as a warning to anyone who might be on the other side of the mule. Some things, which I'm certain he had to have taught me, but which was either quickly forgotten or totally overlooked, was re-cinching your riding horse after a cold morning saddle. This was an embarrassing lesson once when pushing stock from Whitney Portals to the Elder Ranch. As we were trotting down the mountain road, me and another packer in the rear, with Barbara and one of the Portal cooks in the pick-up truck with her, my saddle slowly became loose until my saddle and I fell off the side of the horse. Let's not forget learning how to wrangle loose stock in the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada. Tommy taught me how to literally become a Native American tracker that paid off many times on my wrangling days.

mt whitney pack trains

Tack shed and one of the original offices of Mt. Whitney Pack Trains just west of Lone Pine on Whitney Portal Road
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea
]

Tommy, in jest I'm certain, was quick to NOT point out the idiosyncrasies of some stock until after the event occurred. Like a horse named Judy who was prone to bite you when you cinched her up, or a mule named Strawberry who was famous for kicking off shoes that you had just labored to put on. And then there were the riding stock, like QuarterBoy, who loved to trot and/or gallop giving you the sorest behind ever. Or the Ojai Thacher School horses which loved to buck you off. Then there was the "burro adventure" of pushing the burros from the Moffet Ranch on the north end of the Alabama Hills to the Elder Ranch on the south end of the Alabama Hills. He only casually mentioned that they might scatter a bit when the gate was opened at the Moffet Ranch. I should have figured there was more to this push then met the eyes because we had six packers on the burro move. On the other hand, Tommy was quick to point out features in the trail to avoid or pay close attention to when you took your stock over it. Loose herding stock over Trail Crest, or other dangerous passes, was a must. Since nearly every place we packed was a trail of rocks, it was important to make certain your stock always had a good set of shoes on them. Making sure your mules were saddled properly and the loads properly lashed down so the stock did not develop any sores. Tommy was a true stock person and took pride in the stock that the Lord entrusted him with. Nothing would rile him up more than a packer mistreating his stock.

Tommy was full of pithy witticisms that made absolutely no sense unless you were aquainted with where they came from. Such as: this weather is like a pretty girl's leg, you'd like to see it clear up; or this is Mexican weather, hot today - chilly tomorrow; or put the lemonade in the shade. And then there were the one word exclaimations such as: heartache, drainage, and dunnage. How places such as the Golden Staircase got their names - at least his version of it. Then there were the names if gave some of us packers. He called me "Romance," Gene Harlan he called "Adventure," and Norman Livermore he called "Sophistication."

Another of my memorable moments with Tommy was gathering pine nuts with his family and a host of other Paiute relatives at the head of Nine Mile Canyon one fall - I believe around Thanksgiving. This was one of those Paiute cultural events that he introduced me to that I always remember when I buy pine nuts in the grocery store. What an outing that was. The sawmill in Rose Valley (Pearsonville) was still in business spewing out smoke from the sawdust burner as we headed up the long drive to the summit of the Nine Mile Canyon Road to Sherman Pass. Once at the pass everyone grabbed a bunch of poles, buckets, and tarps. The tarps were layed on the ground underneath the pinyon trees and the trees beat with the poles to force the pinyon nuts out of the cones. After spending most of the day beating pine trees, we came home with quite a few buckets of pinyon nuts which we roasted in a frying pan that evening and for many more evenings to come.

It was always a pleasure to work for Tommy. He demanded your best and demonstrated, through his own actions, how to deliver it. When serious accidents occurred he was always quick to help out and not brow beat you. There was the time I rolled three of my packed mules near the summit of New Army Pass with all of the Trail Riders of the Wilderness on horseback watching the entire event unfold. And the time when my lead mule yanked my horse (Judy) and I over and we rolled over each other down a volcanic embankment until we landed in Golden Trout Creek. Judy had a big flap of skin, about one foot square, hanging off of her belly that Tommy sewed back on. I faint at the sight of blood, so it was not small miracle for me to assist Tommy in the "operation." I thanked God for the pair of chaps Tommy and Barbara had given to me the year before. It was the only thing that save my hide from that volcanic rock.

Some of my least favorite tasks were shoveling snow on mountain passes, pick-axing manure in the Whitney Portal corrals and wrangling. I must mention one thing here, Tommy would not tolerate laziness. When he asked you to do something, he expected it to be done. Most of our days began at sun-up and often lasted until after dark. And, you couldn't use weather as an excuse for not doing your job. Some of these jobs were beyond ridiculous. I'll never forget my first year (1965) with MWPT when Tommy told Ed Brown, Tom DeLea, and myself to shovel out Trail Crest Pass. We camped at Outpost Camp, in the pouring rain for one utterly miserable week. Every day we would pack up our lone mule and ride to Trail Camp at 12,000 feet, hike a mile with our shovels and pick axes, and then attempt to clear the trail of snow at over 13,000 feet. We were quite the scene - Ed (the chain smoker) and my brother and I (two city slickers who had never ridden a horse) shoveling snow in a blizzard at 13,000 feet for a week. A keen playwright could make this adventure into one amusing play. Then there was the time Tommy scheduled Ed Brown, another packer (possibly Sam Livermore) and myself to clear the Whitney Portal corrals of manure. Now the manure was decades deep and the day we had to do this job on was another rainy day. Is it even possible for anyone to picture the scene we were involved in. Three packers using picks and shovels to break up and shovel manure that was probably twenty years deep, in the pouring rain, into a pick-up truck for hauling to the Lone Pine dump. Finally there was that age old task of wrangling stock that had been turned loose in the Sierra Nevada backcountry the night before. It is impossible to relate the number of miles I walked in those Justin work boots looking for stock. Or the few times I had to nearly undress to ford a stream that was nearly waist deep because the stock was on the other side and refused to be amused by a nose bag with some oats in it. Or the fifteen mile wrangle that had me walking all the way out to the Horeseshoe Meadows roadend, thankfully to find the stock corraled by our friends at Cottonwood Pack Station. The wrangle forced me to spend the night at Golden Trout Camp where I unexpectedly found Sam Livermore. Sam was gracious enough to help me push the stock all the way back over Mulkey Pass through Mulkey and Ramshaw Meadows all the way to the far end of Templeton Meadow where Tommy, Barbara and the entire Trail Riders of the Wilderness party had been left stranded because half of the stock was missing. Of course it was the hobbled Thacher horses that ended up leading half of all of the stock out to the Horseshoe Meadows roadend.

If I could change any of my experiences with Tommy, I wouldn't change one thing. Tommy was truly the boss of a lifetime. He literally helped me grow up, develop character, and prove to myself that I could do almost anything the outfit asked me to do. During those last two years of high school and four years of college, Tommy mentored me, challenged me and, if I might say, forged me into someone worthwhile. He was God's gift to me during those years, even though I did not recognize it. And what the gift Tommy and his wife Barbara were. They shall never be forgotten by this packer.



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packers
L/R (back row): Joe ?, Clyde Poncho, Skip Parker, Bobby Douglas
L/R (front row): Tommy Jefferson, Nancy Droubay, Roberta Morgan
1954 Sierra Club High Trip
[Photo courtesy of Nancy Droubay
]

tommy jefferson
Tommy Jefferson, guitarist and balladeer
1954 Sierra Club High Trip

[Photo courtesy of Nancy Droubay]

tommy shoeing
Tommy shoeing at the Carroll Creek Pack Station
[Photo courtesy of Bill Smart/Paul Lamos]




tommy at sage flat
Tommy Jefferson at the Sage Flat corrals
[Photo courtesy ??]

tommy jefferson
Tommy Jefferson leading his string of mules through Outpost Camp on the Mt. Whitney Trail - 1961
[Photo courtesy of Mary Jefferson]

tommy jefferson
Tommy Jefferson
[Photo courtesy of Mary Jefferson]


tommy jefferson
Tommy Jefferson
[Photo courtesy of Mary Jefferson]


tommy jefferson
Tommy packing up the Sierra Club stoves
[Photo courtesy of Mary Jefferson]

tommy jefferson
Arlene Brierly and Tommy Jefferson - 1948/49
[Photo courtesy of Mary Jefferson]


tommy jefferson
Tommy Jefferson dressed for a television commercial - 1955

[Photo courtesy of Mary Jefferson]


tommy jefferson
Tommy Jefferson at Whitney Portals - 1955
[Photo courtesy of Mary Jefferson]

tommy jefferson
(L to R) Susan, Norman, Barbara, and Tommy Jefferson on the Mt. Whitney Trail - 1966
[Photo courtesy of Mary Jefferson]

tom jefferson
Tommy Jefferson
[Photo courtesy of Mary Jefferson]

tom jefferson
L/R: Norman Jefferson, Tommy Jefferson - Shoeing at Diaz Lake
using the "Big Green Shoeing Machine" - 1972
[Photo courtesy of Mary Jefferson]
tom jefferson
Tommy Jefferson shoeing
[Photo courtesy of Kathy Jefferson-Bancroft]
tom jefferson
L/R: Don Felix and Tommy Jefferson at Whitney Portal - 1953

[Photo courtesy of Kathy Jefferson-Bancroft]

tommy and susan
L/R: Susan Jefferson, Tommy Jefferson
[Photo courtesy of Kathy Jefferson-Bancroft]
tom and mary
L/R: Mary Jefferson, Tommy Jefferson, ?
[Photo courtesy of Kathy Jefferson-Bancroft]
tommy jefferson
L/R: Tommy Jefferson, Richard Morgan
1995 Mt. Whitney Packer's Reunion

[Photo courtesy of Nancy Droubay]
tom, norman, susan
L/R: Norman Jefferson, Tommy Jefferson, Susan Jefferson
[Photo courtesy of Kathy Jefferson-Bancroft]

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On the occasion of Tommy's 86th Birthday on May 04, 2013

group
L/R (Back Row): Jim Dittmer, Jon Dittmer, Ed Turner, Ray DeLea, Eddie Mike
L/R (Front Row): Richard Morgan, Tommy Jefferson, Reif Kipp
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]

packers
L/R: Jim Dittmer, Eddie Mike, Reif Kipp
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]


duck bobb
Duck Bobb removing roasted meat from the fire pit.

[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]

tommy jefferson
L/R: Tommy Jefferson, Ed Turner
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]

ed turner
Ed Turner
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]



jim dittmer
Jim Dittmer
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]


richard morgan
Richard Morgan
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]


eddie mike
Eddie Mike
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]


jon dittmer
L/R: Ed Turner, Jon Dittmer
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]

Reif Kipp
L/R: Reif Kipp, Norman Bobb
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]
group
L/R: Susan Bobb, Tommy Jefferson, Ed Turner, Jim Dittmer, Jon Dittmer
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]

group
L/R: Ed Turner, Jim Dittmer, Richard Morgan, Jerry Noland, Jon Dittmer,
Reif Kipp, Robert Morgan
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]


group
L/R: Ray DeLea, Jim Dittmer, Richard Morgan, Jerry Noland, Jon Dittmer,
Reif Kipp, Robert Morgan
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]

owens lake
Owens Lake and the southern Inyo Mountains from the old Carroll Creek Trail
[Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea]

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A Tribute to Tommy Jefferson by Sara Jefferson

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On the occasion of Tommy's Funeral on November 02, 2013

tommy jefferson
Funeral Program
[Courtesy of Susan Bobb]

casket
Tommy's casket
[photo courtesy Ed Turner]


Sierra Sunset - by Duane Rossi spoken by Duane over Tommy's spirit at the Lone Pine Cemetery



SIERRA SUNSET

When the sun sets on the Sierra,
the last day I'm on earth.
I don't want a lot of cryin' and flowers,
I've been happy since the day of my birth.

I've had a lot of good friends go on down
the line,
and I know when I get there we'll have
a mighty good time.
Now don't get me wrong Lord I like it
here just fine,
but sometimes I get to missin' them
ol' pals of mine.

We'll sit around on a sunbeam,
and lean back on a cloud.
We'll have a drink of heavens brew,
me and that old crowd.

We'll talk about the things we've done,
and the times that we were here.
We'll catch a lot of fish, and
we'll shoot a lot of deer.

We'll talk about the mules we packed.
And the ones that were tough to shoe.
And pard we'll even talk a time
about you.

We'll talk about our traplines.
The ones we ran in the snow,
and how they ripped us off at
the sale.
But that's forgiven now.

We'll talk about our families,
and how tough it was to go.
But they'd feel a lot better,
if they could see us now.

From cradle to grave is such
a very short span.
We're all gonna go there
animal, plant, and man.

So when that sun sets on
the Sierra, and that river runs around the bend.
I don't want any cryin' and flowers,
I'll be with a bunch of my friends.



[From the book The Monache Rodeo by Duane Rossi]





Eulogy Delivered by Duane Rossi

Thomas N. Jefferson was born near Lone Pine Creek to Harmey Jefferson and Annie Bellas Jefferson in 1927. At the age of 4 years, he was taken to a Presbyterian Mission in North Fork, California where he lived until he was 14 years old. His father was Mono from this area, so it was required by law that his parentss take him and his seven sisters there to live. After a brief time at Sherman Indian School, Tommy came home to Lone Pine where he attended Lone Pine High School.

It was during this time that he met Charlie Gilmore, who was packing mules and tught him to do the same. Tommy and Charlie quit school after 10th grade and went to cowboying full time. They packed in the mountains all summer and worked for the local cattle ranches the rest of the year.

Tommy had learned to play the guitar while at the mission and perfected his talent throughout his life. He played for everything from local dances to radio and television. He also had the honor of playhing with Merle Travis and several other well known performers.

While serving in the U.S. Army from 1951 - 1953, Tommy was stationed on the island of Enewetak in the Marshall Islands. On the trip across the ocean, he played guitar with the ships orchestra. He was a driver for the dignitaries who toured the island in the Bikini Atoll immediately before they detonated the atomic bomb.

Tommy married Barbara Morgan and they raised three children - Norman, Kathy, and Susan, while operating the family business, Mt. Whitney Pack Trains. He later learned to make western saddles and cowboy boots and began his own business called Jefferson Saddles.



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L/R: Richard Morgan, Jim Dittmer, Kathy Bancroft, Ray DeLea, Reif Kipp
[Photo courtesy of Ed Turner]


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L/R: Ed Turner, Kathy Bancroft
[Photo courtesy of Ed Turner]


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L/R: girl, girl, boy, boy, girl, girl, boy
[Photo courtesy of Ed Turner]

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L/R: Kathy Bancroft, Richard Morgan
[Photo courtesy of Ed Turner]

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L/R: Reif Kipp, Kathleen New, Jim Dittmer
[Photo courtesy of Ed Turner]

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L/R: Eddie Mike, Ed Turner, ?
[Photo courtesy of Ed Turner]

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L/R: ?, Duane Rossi, ?
[Photo courtesy of Ed Turner]

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L/R: Reif Kipp, Ray DeLea, Jim Dittmer
[Photo courtesy of Ed Turner]

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L/R: Richard Morgan, Ed Turner, Jim Dittmer
[Photo courtesy of Ed Turner]

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L/R: Ed Turner, Jim Dittmer, Reif Kipp
[Photo courtesy of Ed Turner]

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L/R: Richard Morgan, Mary Jefferson, Ed Turner
[Photo courtesy of Ed Turner]

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L/R: ?, Susan Bobb, Kathy Bancroft, baby
[Photo courtesy of Ed Turner]
   


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This page was last updated on 28 December 2016