Max Wilde was an itinerant trapper when he alighted on Cody, Wyoming, but was so blown away by the hunting opportunities he encountered here he stayed forever.
Wilde was born in Indiana in 1888 and lived out the 19th century in the Midwest. He did not go West until he trapped in Canada in 1908.
His first pilgrimage to Cody occurred in 1913 and with an outdoorsman’s eye he was mighty impressed.
“When I got here I thought it was the greatest game and fish I’d ever seen,” Wilde said. “I was hooked.”
Cody not only changed Wilde, but Wilde changed Cody.
He became what was called a “celebrity” hunting guide. By that it was meant many prominent Americans came to the area to hunt with him.
McCracken Research Library associate librarian Eric Rossborough recently lectured on Wilde’s life to the Pahaska Corral of Westerners at the Irma Hotel.
Through his work, Rossborough became more and more fascinated with Wilde’s life in the wild.
But also, as someone who is a big baseball fan, Wilde’s experiences outfitting for some of the greatest players in baseball history cajoled him into learning more.
Numerous Hall of Famers made their way to this corner of Wyoming to hunt – and fish – with Wilde using his Lazy Bar F Ranch as their first base.
Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey was at the root of this pipeline. He encouraged and tipped off such legendary players as Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane and Lefty Grove that Wilde would show them a good time on horse pack trips.
Wilde trapped with partner Ed “Phonograph” Jones in the Cody area before turning to outfitting.
Some of the excursions were lengthy journeys. Besides the meat harvested, the men subsisted on coffee, rice, beans and their own baked bread.
The weather and terrain could sometimes combine to make situations hazardous.
Snowstorms sometimes trapped the people instead of the sought-after animals and they were forced to make their way back to town through backwoods areas on narrow trails back on long, old-style snowshoes that do not sell anymore.
“They could have died,” Rossborough said.
Rossborough said indications are one thing that made Wilde a popular guide was his ability to connect with people.
“He was smooth,” Rossborough said. “He had good social skills. He was full of fun and good cheer, a hale fellow well met.”
At the same time, though, in reviewing many photographs of Wilde, Rossborough observed, “He always had a serious look on his face, a look of responsibility.”
Long-time Wyoming game warden Jay Lawson wrote an article about Wilde for the Buffalo Bill Center’s Points West Magazine in 2005.
“The reputation of Max Wilde spread quickly due to the quality of his operation,” Lawson wrote. “As one of the old-time outfitters told me, ‘In those years, Max Wilde had all the top hands guiding for him.’”
Several listeners in the Irma Governor’s Room were old enough to know Wilde.
Some, such as Mick Barrus, whose father Gabby guided with Wilde, helped Rossborough with his research.
Wilde was friends with Milward Simpson, the former governor of Wyoming and father of the Cody brother politician tandem of Pete and Al Simpson.
Rossborough said Wilde and Milward Simpson played poker together.
Al Simpson, 88, recalled of Wilde, “He loved to play cards.”
When he was 24, said Pete Simpson, now 89, Wilde offered him a two-week job as companion to about a dozen middle-school aged young people taking a trip with him into the Thorofare.
“I never asked him what he was paying and it turned out to be nothing,” Pete Simpson said.
On the evening of Rossborough’s talk, Pete Simpson wore a string tie that came to him through Wilde’s family.
Simpson said the boys gained the acquaintanceship of some girls on the outing. About two years ago, out of nowhere, Simpson received a letter from one of those boys, who tracked him down.
The no-longer youthful man wrote, “That summer I learned a lot about the mountains and a lot about romance.”
It was too late to send that thank-you note to Wilde. After retiring from outfitting in the 1960s, Max Wilde died in 1970 and is buried in Cody’s Riverside Cemetery.