The Legend of Glass-Eyed Gus

by Mike Buettell

It was July 1959, and my buddy John Latta and I were serving our fifth consecutive day of “KP” (kitchen police) duty at Wolverton Boy Scout Camp in California’s High Sierras. We’d earned the first two days of KP duty by placing candy bars all around our counselor’s tent and waiting until a bear showed up. Day three was earned by throwing firecrackers at an adjoining troop. On day four we were caught with a cigarette (we never did learn how to inhale). Day five literally took the cake—we served a huge vanilla cake to the other scouts with an old tennis shoe hidden in the middle. We were the bad boys of Troop 106!

“You little punks think you’re pretty cute, don’t you?” snarled Tommy, the camp cook—our newly appointed counselor who we now spent 24 hours a day with. “Little pranks and tricks—bah—Girl Scouts do those. You babies haven’t got the nerve to pull off anything really big."

John and I knew a challenge when we heard one. Our prepubescent male egos salivated at the possibility of true campwide renown. “What are you talking about Tommy?” John asked.

“Give it up, ladies. You haven’t got the nerve!” Tommy had hooks in our mouths and was reeling us in.

“Come on Tommy. Tell us. Were not afraid of anything.”

“Well, if you really had guts, you’d go up to Pear Lake and try and steal Old Gus’ glass eye.”

“Pear Like? Glass eye? Who’s Gus?”

“Old Gus is the last of the mountain men. He camps all summer way out at Pear Lake. Has a glass eye, he does; lives off the land. Legend has it he can take the eye out, hold it in his hand and still see things with it. He hates Boy Scouts. You’d be the true camp heroes if you could bring the eye back to camp.”

That evening John and I were the fastest kitchen helpers Camp Wolverton had ever seen. By seven o’clock our 12-year-old brains had formulated the following imbecilic plan:

1. Run all the way (six miles) to Pear Lake by nightfall.
2. Steal the glass eye while Gus slept.
3. Run back at daybreak in time for breakfast.
4. Become camp heroes.

We went for it.

At first everything ran smoothly. I had two blankets strapped to a pack frame and John had a bunch of paper sacks filled with pilfered food and mess gear. The trail was smooth, the evening cool, and the anticipation limitless. Nothing would stop us. Except, of course, it got dark long before we ever got near Pear Lake.

I vaguely remember both of us falling into a creek, losing all the mess gear, building a fire, and sitting huddled in a tiny blanket when the most enormous man I had ever seen appeared in front of us. It was Glass-Eyed Gus! I was so terrified, I thought my heart would jump out of my shirt.

“You boys eaten yet?” the giant whispered in a calm and gentle voice. We shook our heads. Then without a word he prepared one of the most amazing meals I have ever eaten.

He took a dry paper lunch sack and lined the inside with strips of bacon. Next he took three eggs, shook them, broke them open and poured the yolk and whites into the bag on top of the bacon. He then held the bag about a foot from the fire, watching the bottom of the bag carefully. In about three minutes I could hear the bacon sizzling inside the bag. Two or three minutes later he ripped the bag about half-way down revealing a perfect bacon and eggs meal which we ate using small sticks. After we had finished, Gus tossed the bag and sticks into the Fire. “I hate washing dishes.”

When our clothes had dried, Gus led us back to camp, telling stories to keep us awake. He became our friend and for the next few summers taught us more about the wilderness than any book ever could. Oh, could he really see things with his glass eye when he took it out? Well, let's just say, that’s another story.

NOTE: The author was a Scout in Troop 106 in Pacific Palisades. He camped annually with his troop at Camp Wolverton in the late 1950's and early 1960's. This story is used by permission of the author.