A twin-engine plane carrying roughly two dozen Christian missionaries, departed from Chico, California bound for Billings, Montana, when the pilot encountered a storm. In his attempt to re-route, he became disoriented and headed straight for Mount Moran, a member of the Grand Tetons. The small plane crashed into the northeastern side of the snowy peak, killing all aboard.
Mary Kay Walters, a college student, came to Jackson Lake to spend the summer in Mother Nature’s playground.
Along with some girlfriends, they worked, and spent their spare time white water rafting, horseback riding, swimming and hiking. Mary Kay shared the story of the Christian Missionaries, and how they crashed on Mount Moran, and the bodies were buried there – and how she wanted to hike to the site. For Mary Kay, it was personal. Among the lives lost that early November in 1950, was her Aunt Barbara, her uncle, and two small children.
This was family she never had the honor to meet.
In order to hike to the crash site, they obtained a guide to assist with the trek to the top of Moran, approximately 13,000 feet. It was no easy feat, and took two days to reach the crash site on Skillet Glacier (looks like a skillet near the top of Mount Moran.) They were joyous to finally reach their destination, and after some initial investigating, Mary Kay spotted something reflecting the sunlight. She bent down to investigate. It was a wedding ring. The inscription read, “B. Walters.”
The ring belonged to her Aunt.
At the annual Walters Family Reunion, camping at Colter Bay, on Jackson Lake, in the shadow of the Moran, my father-in-law, James Walters, gazed towards the towering peak and said, “That is where my sister, Barbara and her family were killed nearly 50 years ago.”
Before this vacation, I heard the story of the missionary family and their unfortunate demise. Then, it was just another “family” story, until I stood in front of Moran, amongst her Teton members, while the sunlight danced off the glacier that remains. Through the lens of a spotting scope aimed at Skillet Glacier, we caught a glimpse of the legendary wreckage that still rests atop the peak.
While gazing at the shiny piece of twisted metal that shone brightly from its long ago resting place, I learned that a memorial had been erected at the crash site and the bodies were buried in a glacier. In 1950, it was too costly, and too dangerous to attempt to retrieve the bodies. It is where they remain.
Another summer. Another family reunion. Another trip to Colter Bay. It was during a horse-back riding adventure that departed from Jackson Lake Lodge, where I, along with my step-daughter, sister-in-law and two nieces, saddled up – and met head to head with our family’s history yet again.
Just like Mary Kay used to work at this same facility as a college student decades earlier, our wrangler was a college student, spending time out west, entertaining “dudes” and “dudettes” on the trail. Our guide told us stories, and shared insight about the Park, the flora and the fauna, the wildlife, and the most recent bear sitings. When Mount Moran came within view, she began to recite the story of the Christian Missionaries that crashed on Mount Moran back in the early 1950’s. I was stunned that someone was telling “our” story! Immediately, I piped up from several horses away, stating, that my husband’s Aunt was involved in that crash – and our the guide invited me to share the story. I was proud to tell what I knew.
From the first moment I set eyes on the Teton Range, the emotions I felt were indescribable. Quite literally, my breath was taken away, yet I felt drawn to this range in a way I could not explain.
Perhaps it’s their stunning landscape. Perhaps it’s their intrigue. Or perhaps, for me, it’s knowing that they are more.
They are family.