Marilyn Lewis as a young woman.

Marilyn Lewis as a young woman.

PAT NEAL: She died with her boots on

In last week’s episode, we were celebrating the life of the Hoh Tribal woman Tsi-hos-tub. Called Pansy Martin Snell by the Europeans, she is the subject of the newly published book, “Daughter of the Olympic Wilderness.” This week we mourn the passing of another daughter of the Olympic wilderness, Marilyn Lewis.

Her life story is part of the history of the Olympic Peninsula.

Marilyn’s father, Charly Lewis, came to the Peninsula shortly after World War I. He joined the Forest Service and was assigned as the first ranger at Olympus Guard Station on the upper Hoh River in 1919. Charly married Marie Huelsdonk, youngest daughter of John Huelsdonk, who was known as “The Iron Man of the Hoh,” a legendary packer, trapper and varmint hunter who homesteaded the Hoh River in 1892.

Charly and Marie had a daughter Marilyn. She grew up as another daughter of the wilderness, learning survival skills that would last a lifetime and earning a living running a pack string into the Olympics, raising Angus cattle and working at various jobs in Olympic National Park. Along the way, she became a legendary outdoorsperson, hunter and sage who knew more about the Hoh Rainforest and the creatures that live there than most any person alive.

Marilyn Lewis as a small child.

Marilyn Lewis as a small child.

Marylin had a sense of humor. She was known to be outspoken and opinionated. You always knew what was on her mind. Marylin was a passionate defender of the culture, resources and history of the Hoh River. She was a generous repository of history and more than willing to share her vast knowledge. She loved the Hoh River. She was the last of a long line of homesteaders, like the last of the Mohicans.

She died with her boots on, deer hunting at the age of 82 high up on Willoughby Ridge with her Model 70 Winchester 30-06. She died doing what she loved, hunting in the Hoh Rainforest.

She had a passion and expertise for hunting that was uncanny.

For example, the November elk hunting season has always been a special time on the Hoh River. That’s when storms roar in from the Pacific Ocean with wind and rain to pound the rainforest, making survival difficult and elk hunting almost impossible. One year, there was a big camp of elk hunters at the Lewis Ranch. Over dinner, one of them related how he had shot an elk and it had run away, leaving no trace of its passing. The hunter had searched for the elk until dark then found his way out of the woods and back to the ranch.

That night at dinner, Marilyn questioned the hunter as to where the elk was, how far away, which way it was facing when the hunter shot, where the hunter hit the elk and on and on in intimate detail. In the dark and in the storm, Marylin walked out into the woods and found the elk.

It is important to find an elk as soon as possible after it is shot because elk is the fastest spoiling meat we have. If an elk is killed and not immediately processed, with the guts out and the hide off, it will bloat up and sour, making the meat inedible. These were not trophy hunters. Getting elk meat was the whole point of going hunting in the first place.

That is only one story about this amazing woman. We are hoping to share some more Marylin Lewis stories this Saturday.

There will be a Celebration of Life for Marilyn on Saturday, Nov. 18, at Allen’s Bar, located at Highway 101 milepost 176, just across the Hoh Mainline, at 12 p.m.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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