The Story Of Wyoming’s First Life Flight Rescue
Wyoming, 1938, there came the strange sight of horses pulling an airplane high up in the Thorofare area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, just outside Yellowstone National Park’s southeast corner.
During the first high-altitude rescue in Bridger-Teton National Forest, an airplane was used. It was the rescue of 12-year-old Barbara Nichols from a steep and rocky meadow up at 9,500 feet. The pilot, a man named Bill Monday, flew a Ryan single-engine plane.
What about the horses pulling the plane? We will get to that part of the story in a moment. The photo is from the collection of the McCracken Research Library.
The account of this aircraft rescue can be found in J.C. “Kid” Nichols’s own words on pages 143 and 144 of The Candy Kid, a biography written in 1969 by his daughter Lucille Nichols Patrick, Barbara’s sister.
The story begins with an injury at a ranch with a pitchfork. Barbara, the injured person, became ill. "Her lips were swollen and numb." Later, the family feared lockjaw would set in. A doctor was brought in, and you can imagine how long that might have taken in those days. The doctor said that Barbara needed to get to a hospital, immediately.
They decided to call down to Cody where they knew a pilot, Bill Monday, who had a single-engine airplane that he and a friend had flown into the mountains on several occasions.
They constructed a stretcher and brought Barbara up to Borner’s Camp, owned at the time by Colonel Greene. There in a grassy field they made a hasty attempt to mark out a landing strip, filled holes and cleared rocks.
No sooner had they finished, they heard Bill Monday circle the meadow. Prepping the field could only do so much though and it was still a rough landing.
Men on horseback met the plane. They lashed ropes to the plane and pulled it to the top of the meadow.
A man went down to a point at the bottom of the meadow, holding a pole with a red flag on top. If the plane was not off the ground before reaching the red flag, they would not clear the trees.
Once off the ground, it was over Deer Creek Pass and down to Valley Ranch where they borrowed a car to go to town. There was a washed out bridge along the way but locals helped them cross.
Barbara's life was saved because she got to the hospital on time. The meadow at the top of the mountain is, to this day, called Airplane Meadow.