Hiking the trails around Missoula can yield all kinds of discoveries: encounters with wildlife, sights of brilliant vistas, rare wildflowers, and once-in-a-very-freaky-while, even bones from human life lost.
That is what happened to Tony Dorame Jr. last Saturday after making his way up Sawmill Gulch in the Rattlesnake Wilderness. The bleached bones were found 40 yards off trail, near the top of a hill.
“I decided to get off of the trail where I could get a good view of the Gulch,” Dorame said. “In my attempt to do that, I stumbled across the skeleton.”
Dorame, a wildlife biologist who recently moved from New Mexico, originally thought he was looking at an animal skull. When he got closer, he could tell it was human.
“The teeth are still intact,” he said. “Being a Native American, I thought it could be a burial site and left the area immediately. But I knew I had to notify somebody.”
Dorame called sheriff’s deputies, then led them back up to the sight where they recovered the skull and lower jawbone.
“There was no sign of obvious foul play,” Capt. Greg Hintz with the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department said. “But the weird thing was that a Timex watch was near the remains. The clock was still ticking and it was set on the correct time.”
On Sunday, more officers returned to the scene and “filled up two bags” with bones. Hintz said there were no nearby signs of outdoor gear, such as a pair of skis, a bike, or a backpack. The bones have been passed on to the state crime lab for investigation and then will be transferred to the University of Montana’s forensic anthropology department. There, the bones will be tested to determine the age, sex and race of the skeletal body.
“This is by far the most bizarre thing I’ve found hiking in my day,” Dorame said. “I just hope this can bring closure to someone who lost a loved one.”