Following 'The Way'
Barry Thomas, the ‘Bear’ of Gould Mesa, keeps his eye on the spirit
By Christopher Nyerges 11/25/2009
Locals who hike the Arroyo Seco might recall the resident of Gould Mesa, Barry Thomas, aka “Bear,” who lived there with his wolves from 1992 through 2004, acting as campground host and a docent for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and school groups, sharing historical information and natural history.
As well as being responsible for maintaining six campgrounds — from Teddy’s Outpost north to Shangri La — he was also a first responder for medical emergencies. During his first few years, he also did animal counts (of owls, bighorn sheep and deer) with the forest biologists. When Bear left Gould Mesa, he moved to the Rocky Mountain area — first to the eastern plain of the Rockies and, after a year-and-a-half, to the 10,000-foot level on a 36-acre property with four wells.
“When I first got into the mountains, of course, it was important to get myself and my children acclimated to the altitude,” he explained. “Most of my neighbors were about a half-hour’s walk away.”
Though Bear had up to five wolves during his Gould Mesa years, only two were left by the time he moved to the Rockies. “Two died from old age,” says Bear, and sadly adds that the two he took with him were killed by ranchers in Colorado.
“My lifestyle remained pretty much the same in Colorado, except that I lived deeper in the mountains, and I would have sporadic electricity,” he explained, adding that winters would get down to 12 below zero.
Currently conducting educational tours at Monrovia Canyon Park, teaching students about wildlife and plant life, Bear, who is part Kiowa, is also creating educational programs that include aspects of Native American history and what he calls “The Way.”
I recently spoke with Bear about the lessons learned from his 12-year stay at Gould Mesa. “One of the biggest things,” says Bear, “was that I had no modern conveniences and no electricity. This was good, since it forced me into finding alternative ways of doing things and making living without electricity second nature.”
“I used candles. I even learned how to make candles because I didn’t want to keep buying them. I had to live what I believed,” he explains.
His “running water” was the stream for his first few years at Gould Mesa. Eventually he started getting 50-gallon barrels that he kept filled. “If I wanted hot water, I just had to heat it on the fire. I would use the outdoor fire to heat water for a bath.”
If he needed hot water for tea, he’d use his propane stove. His bathroom was the outhouse. He had no electricity, so no refrigerator. In the first few years, he used ice. He also purchased dried or canned food. Eventually, he built an evaporative cooler to keep certain foods cool. Later, he got a refrigerator which could operate from either 12-volt batteries or propane. “The big problem with the food was to keep the mice out,” he explained.
During his time at Gould Mesa, Bear sponsored three Native American gatherings there. “Musician Jon Sherman played there, using his solar panels to charge the batteries that powered his music. That gave me the idea to get batteries to operate a radio, a small TV, and a few battery devices,” he said.
When a battery got low, he would swap it out with the battery in his van, so when he drove that day he would be charging that battery. After five years, he purchased a generator to keep the batteries charged.
We had met up at Pasadena’s Hahamongna Watershed Park to talk about Gould Mesa. Bear was sporting a deerskin bag he had made, decorated with a traditional Kiowa design that he saw on a knife sheath belonging to a man from his great-grandmother’s clan. “The symbol on the bag,” he said with a smile, “means to keep your eyes on the Spirit.”
Christopher Nyerges is a field guide, editor of Wilderness Way magazine and author of “Self-Sufficient Home” and other books. He can be reached at PO Box 41834, Eagle Rock, Calif., 90041, or ChristopherNyerges.com.