Fabulous stories surround the Hermit of Pat’s Hole
There’s little question that Pat Lynch’s life was unusual. He spent most of his last 35 years living in caves near the mouth of the Yampa River in Echo Canyon in what’s now Dinosaur National Monument. But just how extraordinary his life was depends on how much one believes the stories he told.
For instance, did he really have a pet mountain lion that brought dead deer to Lynch’s cave for him to eat? Lynch told that story to several people, and it was repeated in a 1942 Colorado Magazine article about him.
Lynch also claimed he heard voices of spirits much of his life, one urging him to do good and one promoting mischief.
Lynch was born sometime after 1818 in Ireland. He told friends later that he left home as a teenager rather than face punishment for stealing bread. He found work on a merchant ship that headed to France, the Mediterranean and Africa.
He was either shipwrecked off the coast of Africa, or he jumped ship after a fracas with another crew member. He was taken in by a group of African natives and lived with them several years, marrying one of the young women of the tribe. They had several children.
Eventually, Lynch tired of Africa. He found another merchant ship that took him to the United States in 1853.
He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1860 as the Civil War was approaching. However, because he’d been involved in more altercations, he gave his name as James Cooper.
His stories are largely corroborated by military records. His leg was badly injured early in the war when a bomb went off on the deck of the ship on which he was serving. He was hospitalized, but sought to be released to continue serving. Instead, he was honorably discharged. So he re-enlisted, this time as Patrick Lynch, and served on three different ships.
After the war, he enlisted again, this time in the Army, and came west during the Indian wars. It was said by some that Lynch moved west after killing or nearly killing a man in Chicago or Pittsburgh. But a long-time friend, James H. Templeton, disputed that.
“Pat Lynch was not a murderer,” he wrote to a newspaper in 1927.
In fact, Lynch loathed killing so much that he got his meat entirely from animals that had drowned in the river, making jerky from the carcasses, friends claimed. Tame deer, beaver and other animals reportedly hung around his cave.
While living near Hahn’s Peak in the late 1870s, Lynch got lost in a snowstorm and wandered for four days until he found an abandoned ranch, Templeton wrote. He huddled under some old cowhides while the storm raged until he was rescued by ranchers.
“Always of a superstitious nature and a strong believer in spirits, this trip and exposure proved to be too much for his mind, and to a certain extent, unbalanced him,” Templeton said.
Lynch lived at Colorado City (near Colorado Springs), before moving to Hahn’s Peak near Steamboat Springs.
Next, he moved to Ashley, Utah, north of Vernal, where he began to raise horses and cattle. Eventually, he moved into Echo Park, which locals came to call Pat’s Hole.
My wife Judy, some friends and I recently hiked a trail in Dinosaur National Monument (Dinoland.com) that overlooks the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers at Echo Park. Although river rafters frequently float by, it remains an isolated place. It’s hard to imagine someone living there and raising livestock.
Lynch’s horses, sired by his blue-roan stallion, were his pride and joy.
“Pat’s horses were to him as some beloved human being,” friend Fray Baker reported.
As he grew older and incapacitated, the horses became feral. Wild blue roans were seen in the region for decades after.
Lynch died in February 1917 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. W.S. Baker in Lilly Park, Colorado, east of Dinosaur National Monument. They claimed he was then 98 years, 10 months old.
Lynch spent the last few years of his life with the Bakers and became good friends with their son, Fray.
He told Fray that during the Civil War, he accidentally shot a bullet through the hat of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. When Lynch rushed to apologize, “The General’s only reply was, ‘Return to your duty, watchman, and be more careful in the future.’ “
During his time in Echo Park, Lynch often traveled downstream on the Green River to visit friends at Island Park about six miles away.
He would use a homemade raft, or in winter, walk on the ice, then borrow a horse to return home. He rode across the mountains to his home, then he turned the horse loose and it wandered back to Island Park.
In 1893, Lynch began seeking a pension for his Civil War service. But because he had served under two different names, that proved difficult. There were numerous forms, approvals and rejections. Colorado Congressman Ed Taylor joined the effort on Lynch’s behalf, along with Templeton, the Bakers and a friend named F.C. Barnes. He finally received $30 a month beginning in 1913.
Long after he died, a memorial was erected in the Civil War section of the Craig Cemetery. But the Hermit of Pat’s Hole was actually buried in Lilly Park.
Information from: “Patrick Lynch,” by Shannan Koucherick, courtesy the Museum of Northwest Colorado at Craig; “The Story of Pat Lynch,” by Iva Carroll Gray, and “Pat Lynch, Alias James Cooper,” by Mrs. Fray Baker, both courtesy of the Uintah County Library Regional History Center in Vernal, Utah; “The Hermit of Pat’s Hole,” by Edgar C. McMechen, The Colorado Magazine, May, 1942; “Patrick Lynch of ‘Pat’s Hole,’” by James H. Templeton, The Steamboat Pilot, Aug. 24, 1927.