The Madison River joins with the Jefferson and Gallatin at Three Forks, Montana where the water continues on to the Missouri. The Madison uncharacteristically flows north through the Madison valley between the Tobacco Root Mountains and the Gravelly Range. Nestled in that valley is a little town called Ennis, which was established at about the end of the Civil War. The current population is about 850 and I think i found that river town’s most interesting resident.
Getting 250 pounds of elk meat from Montana to West Virginia requires the assistance of a meat processor / packer. Sure, you could load up multiple coolers and put them on your airplane but there is no guarantee your protein will land at the same airport you do. The guys from EOTech and I rode into town with my elk and headed straight to Deemo’s Meats; the local butcher shop in town. That’s where I met Harmony Cronin.
Dances with Knives
Elk and deer carcasses were piled waist deep around the receiving door at Deemo’s. The mercury was doing all it could to climb to 10 degrees and in the middle of all that frigidness was a blood covered, knife-wielding woman commanding the operation. I watched her single-handedly drag an elk carcass to her workstation, hook it to a hoist, and proceed to peel off the hide as gracefully as an exotic dancer would slide out of a corset.
Harmony Cronin was originally from Denver and after some wandering settled in Ennis. During those travels she found herself sharing a house with some rats. She set a trap line, caught one, and killed it. That changed everything for Harmony. Dramatically impacted by the experience, she skinned the rat, ate it, and tanned its hide. She become obsessed with the process of using and repurposing animal parts and began to skin and tan every critter she could find. For Harmony, road kill was free entertainment.
While living out of her truck in Ennis, Harmony was tanning hides and making leather goods to sale to tourists traveling to and from Yellowstone. One night, at a local saloon, she managed to secure an elk hide from a visiting hunter. While taking advantage of his inebriation she found herself at Deemo’s Meats and landed a job as an elk skinner. Part of her compensation is elk hides at a discount and elk brains she can use for tanning.
Harmony likes to tan her hides the old fashion way and much of her sewing is done with bone needles. She can professionally skin an elk in about 45 minutes and generally does this about four to six times each day. By the end of season Harmony will have pulled the hide off of more than 250 elk and about half that many deer.
I’ve Seen Fire and I’ve seen Pain
We talked for about 30 minutes and with the elk she was working on stashed in the freezer she hooked an already skinned Montana whitetail to the hoist and reached for a propane torch. One match later and Harmony was coursing the hide with the flame. Perplexed, I asked her what in the hell she was doing?
She put down the torch, pulled out her knife and when to work on the front leg, “Getting rid of the hair. I don’t have the time to pick off all the hair a hunter who does not know how to skin leaves on his carcass. When the flame hits the hairs they evaporate.” And then, like she had done it a thousand times, Harmony put the buck’s front leg in an arm bar and broke it with a snap. A disturbing smile crossed her face and she said, “I love that sound.” As cool as that was, coming from a girl who’s been growing her hair and skinning dead things for eight years, it kind of made my knees hurt.
Go West Young Man
If you’re ever traveling through western Montana take the time to drive through the beautiful Madison Valley and drop by Ennis. Its about 152 miles north of Idaho Falls, ID and about 52 miles southwest of Bozeman, MT. Hunters should check out the Jumping Horse Ranch and enquire about their $ 6500.00 combination elk and deer hunt. (Ask for Jeff Klein) This is an incredible bargain and they have some of the best whitetail hunting you’ll find anywhere. If you’re a knee-deep fisherman kind of guy, go by The Tackle Shop and ask for John Way. He’s Orvis endorsed and can get you the gear and get you in the water too.
But life is really about people and if you really want to see and talk to someone who’s extraordinarily unique and mind-bogglingly talented with a blade, go by Deemo’s Meats and ask for Harmony. Go sober, she has a way with intoxicated hunters.