I had shot a spike bull late in the afternoon, and by the time I had skinned, quartered, bagged, and hung the meat it was dark. Later that night I was walking the Minam river trail when I saw the flicker from a campfire. I was greeted by Jim Brackenbury and Darrel Belcher. The next day they helped me pack out my elk and that was the beginning of a long and warm friendship with Jim Brackenbury. During the following years Jim and I planned hunts together and roamed the Wallowa Mountains, pursuing elk and mule deer. I enjoyed listening to Jim around the campfire because he had a knack for telling stories that would keep your attention and send you into laughter.
It was around those campfires that Jim first told me he wanted to build a bow. He talked about it for several years. One day Jim called and said "Hey Deacon," (he had labeled me that years before because I had grown a beard and I guess I looked like a Deacon to him) "I've finally built that bow and I want you to come see it." What I had expected to see was what most of us would have built on our first attempt. Instead I found a bow that shot better than anything I'd ever shot. I traded Jim a paint job on his truck for two bows and I've shot Jim's bows ever since. I remember kidding Jim about his bow. I arrived at our predetermined camp and had hunted two days before Jim showed up. I told Jim I wasn't sure I liked his bow because I had a problem with it. Jim became concerned and I explained that I had shot two grouse while on my way to camp, but it had taken me two shots to bag an elk. Of course, Jim had words of wisdom for me about how to shoot a bow.
Jim had begun calling me the "Legend" after reading one of Dwight Schuh's articles about Billy Cruise and myself. Dwight said something like these two men have become legends of the Wallowa Mountains. Of course Jim picked up on that and quickly dubbed me the "Legend." When Jim first brought his bow to me, he asked what he should name his bow. Kidding him, I said you can name it after me, call it "The Legend" and he did. Jim was a legend in my mind, because he was a craftsman, a good friend, a fun guy who enjoyed life and was never afraid to say what was on his mind There wasn't any doubt in your mind where Jim stood. I'll miss my good friend Jim and the legend of Jim Brackenbury will always be in my mind.
By Larry D. Jones
JIM BRACKENBURY-AT FULL DRAW
Although Jim Brackenbury notably crafted laminated recurves and longbows, his spirit was that of a rough-hewn self-wood bow. And considering his resilient nature and tough character, in the world of bows, Jim was born a brash stave of Osage.
His years of romance with bowhunting, real bowhunting as Jim saw it, shaped that tough stave into a rugged thing destined for adventure in wild places. Jim didn't mind if his outward finish showed the gritty grain of his character or the few splinters that raised along the edges here and there. He didn't even mind if the hearty limbs were a bit out of tiller on occasion, as long as they maintained trueness of cast strength in their core, and swept back to the sweet arc of full draw with out fail.
Through life Jim was forever at full draw. He didn't sit slack, waiting for the shot to happen. His life was full of bending to the limits, making the world unfold before him rather than watching it around him. He lived for the thrill of the anticipated release, the surge of the string, the ultimate leap of the arrow into the great unknown. He forever thirsted to be at full draw. And he was.
On July 4, 1991, the taut string of life slipped from his fingers. The shaft guiding his spirit, pointing onward and forever poised, suddenly soared sky ward. It did not arc like most it simply sailed on forever.
In the world of traditional archery, this rugged Osage chunk of a man left his indelible mark. Besides crafting thousands of bows that helped bowhunters across America find a true sense of themselves, Jim Brackenbury gave us a deeper sense--the value of living life at full draw.
JIM BRACKENBURY, THE MAN, THE LEGEND
What can I say? Jim had no way of knowing when he named his mainstay bow "The Legend" how appropriate that would be. Jim was one of those few people who actually was a "Living Legend." I never met a man who was more willing to give of himself than Jim.
I became a close friend of his through archery, but came to respect him because of his untiring persistence to always do his best at anything he attempted. His bows attest to this perseverance. There is not a better bow made. Some come close to being as good but none are better. This is the way Jim lived his life. Taking it to the limit and doing what you want, not what society says you have to. Asking no quarter but always giving it. Giving an opinion whether you like it or not. Always having time to listen.
We shared hunting stories together and hunts. Never have I walked a path with a better man. I will always miss him but never forget him and am grateful to having shared a part of his life.
Rocky W. Chisholm
As Mac and I walked past Ron Fox's fifth wheel trailer and his bow display, Mac turned to me and said, "...too bad about Jim Brackenbury." "What do you mean?" I asked. "He drowned in a river yesterday." With disbelief I questioned Jim Mackintosh over and over. How? When? Even after he repeated himself several times I still kept asking in disbelief. Finally, Mac realized I wasn't completely coherent and asked me if I would be alright. I was fantasizing through tear filled eyes and confused mind how it happened and how I could have prevented it if I had been there. I was certain it was a mistake and a cruel joke. Brackenbury would not have left a perfectly good boat to go swimming after a stupid, worthless oar! Yet, that claim was the story that was repeated.
Moments later Wes Wallace, Jim's bowyer and partner, appeared in the doorway of Ron's fifth wheel. I exclaimed, "Wes, recognize me?" He stepped down from the entrance and again in disbelief I heard it from him. Brackenbury was gone through a mishap on the John Day River in Oregon. Ron told Wes just after Wes had pulled in from the long drive up from Gresham, Oregon, to attend the Longbow Safari outside Calgary, Alberta. And we all agreed Brackenbury should have been with us, not trying out some damn boat on the John Day!
In each of our own ways, many of us who were close to Jim Brackenbury struggle to comprehend the events of July 4th, 1991. How many days had he and I spent in rubber rafts in remote regions of Alaska. He was an experienced wilderness traveler and knew how complacency or dropping ones guard could spell disaster. How often had we reviewed safety on our trips together. How could something like this take his life? He was at the peak of health and prosperity and with Wes enjoyed tremendous success with his handcrafted bows. It just didn't make any sense. What possessed him to leave that boat to retrieve an oar?
In the days that followed, I began to realize how much Jim would be missed. I even wondered if he had any idea how much. Grief turned to anger and then I just seemed to mellow out. I tried to think of something positive from his departure, but only reminded myself how much we all touch each other's lives. I didn't want those who care about me to feel such a loss if something like that ever happened to me. Perhaps this event would serve as a reminder on future excursions and hopefully help me return to my loved ones safely.
Repeatedly I recall those comforting words and inspirational lines from the poet Wordsworth:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.
It gives me hope that one day we'll find answers to perplexing questions and that a reunion with friends and loved ones is imminent. For now, however, I've resolved just to go on.
Well, Jim, it won't be the same, but just as I still recall the sound of your hearty laughter, I'll recall the adventures, discoveries and friendship we had together.
I didn't get the privilege of meeting Jim until 2 years ago. But during that short time we shared several hunts together, enjoyed each other's company and good natured ribbing like we had known one another a lot longer.
Jim had a way of being very straight forward in his thinking and when expressing himself. But what I will always cherish and remember are he and his dogs. He and I had the same basic philosophy about them, that they are people and family, and that they were treated as such. He probably had the most cherished but spoiled hunting dogs in the West. What a fight at night when Jim crawled into the back of his small camper shell, gear and all, while three dogs jostled each other to crawl inside his sleeping bag with him. And it was always a sight in the morning to see who looked the scruffiest, Jim or the dogs, when they all crawled back out of the truck.
The one picture that will always stick in my mind though is when on a chukar hunting trip at one of Jim's favorite spots, we walked up and over a rise to find all four dogs on point, all in a perfect line, one right behind the other. We just looked at each other and grinned. I can't remember if we killed any birds on that covey rise, but I like to think so.
Thanks for the memories Jim.
When I think of Jim Brackenbury I'm reminded of just how great a loss that my immediate family and my larger family, the traditional bowhunters of the world, have suffered.
Traditional Bowyer...Jim Brackenbury, was the definition of that term. He was unmoving in his traditional beliefs and if anything he could be called a fanatic. But, Jim had the rare talent to take his beliefs and convince other people to pick up the recurve and follow him. He once said to me that the technology gap is growing wider daily and that we must do our best to help restrict hi-tech equipment on a state by state basis, Now! As a bowyer, Jim built no nonsense, functional, hunting bows. He took great pride in building as many bows as he could and getting those bows into the hands of new traditionalists across the country. If you have one of Jim's bows don't hang it on the wall to collect dust, but take it hunting so that that piece of Jim can do what he wanted most... enjoy the hunt but, most of all to experience the adventure.
Jim was a mover and a doer. He didn't let the grass grow beneath his feet or a stone go unturned. He saw a problem and he fixed it. He found a man down and he helped him up. Most of all he lived life to the fullest and he achieved his dream of introducing thousands to the joys of traditional archery.
Thanks Jim for being our friend.
Larry Fischer and family.
I was hunting during the late Blacktail season in the Santiam unit last fall. I had been hunting along a skid road all morning. I had just seen two deer about 15 minutes earlier when I heard a whistle behind me. I looked back and saw another hunter walking toward me. We asked each other how the hunting had been and started walking out the skid road.
A little farther down the road we jumped a deer in a real brushy area. After going only a few feet, the deer stopped. I couldn't get a clear view of the deer, but I saw horns. The man I met up with slowly leaned to one side and nocked an arrow at the same time. He slowly drew back his recurve bow and came to full draw. In one slow smooth motion, the arrow was on its way toward the buck.
To make a long story short, we found the four point buck lying on the skid road about 200 yards around the corner. The man showed me how to track it until we found it. It was the biggest Blacktail I had ever seen. It scored around 144 points Pope & Young.
I don't know who was more excited, the other hunter or me. Then we introduced ourselves to each other. His name was Jim Brackenbury. I had been to a couple of Lost Art Bowhunter meetings before, so I knew who he was, but I didn't recognize him until he introduced himself.
Two months later I bought my first recurve from Jim. It was a Brackenbury Drifter. Every time I pick it up, the sight of him pulling back and releasing on that buck comes to my mind. I will always remember that experience and I will always remember Jim Brackenbury.
A TRIBUTE TO A FRIEND
When I first met Jim I thought he was the most opinionated man I had ever met. But as the years seasoned our friendship I came to know Jim as a man of strong principles and ideals. None of which he compromised. His word was his bond and you didn't need a contract. He shared his knowledge of hunting and archery freely. He was very active in traditional organizations. He had deep concerns about where bowhunting was headed, and rightly so.
As I write these words in tribute to Jim I'm in route to New Mexico for an elk hunt Jim and I had planned. We received our tags one week after his death. His presence will truly be missed. Not only was Jim a fellow archer, a hunting buddy, but you see he was also my friend.
Jim was a great bowyer and he shared his talent with some of his friends by teaching them the art of bowmaking.
He always took time to talk to people, it didn't matter if it was a technical problem or if they just wanted to talk about hunting.
Jim loved the outdoors, fishing, birdhunting or bowhunting, he was always ready to go. I feel very fortunate that I was able to share these good times with him. Jim was a very good friend and I will cherish these memories.
Jim had a dream, and he got to see his dream come true, a great bow company. Jim's company will continue and so will his dream.
THE LAST ARROW
The display held the things close to Jim Brackenbury - his favorite boots, hat, bow, arrows and, of course, the half drunk bottle of Southern Comfort. The simple things in life pleased Jim. The only things missing were his two dogs, Brandy and Char...
The arrow was signed by friends and family who attended Jim's wake. A small token of our way of saying we loved him.
The mouth of the John Day river...the arrow launched in love and respect to our comrade.
We will miss you, Jim.
Copied with the permission of Traditional Bowhunter by Larry Fischer 04/03/2008