Orrin Hanning Bonney, 1903-1976

Publication Year: 1980.


The American Alpine Club and the mountaineering fraternity of the American Rockies lost a staunch supporter when Orrin H. Bonney succumbed to a heart attack on June 28, 1979 as he was preparing for his annual trip from Houston to his summer home in Kelly, Wyoming just across Jackson Hole from his beloved Tetons.

Bonney was born in Idaho Springs, Colorado, May 14, 1903, attended school there and at the University of Colorado, where he graduated in 1926, and then moved to Houston, Texas to practice law. Although he had made some climbs in the Indian peaks in Colorado as a boy, it was not until he moved to Texas that he really took up climbing seriously. Beginning in 1930 he returned to his native state for climbs in the Longs Peak area at first, and then branched out to other regions: the Tetons, the Wind Rivers, the Canadian Rockies, Mexico, and the Alps. In fact it was while climbing in the Canadian Rockies that he met his future wife, Lorraine Gagnon, whom he married in 1955.

The Wind River and Teton ranges fascinated him and he began to bring the existing guidebooks, Henderson’s and Fryxell’s respectively up to date. However, he expanded them greatly and finally brought out a guidebook to the whole state of Wyoming, the Guide to the Wyoming Mountains and Wilderness Areas, which has gone through three editions, 1960, 1965, and 1977. Portions of the guide have been published separately for use by climbers and travelers in some areas as e.g. Field Book of the Wind River Range, and the Guide to the Grand Teton National Park and the Jackson Hole. In his researches into the history of the Wyoming area he discovered many new facts and finally established the authenticity of the Langford-Stevenson ascent of the Grand Teton in 1872 and the Army climb of 1893 before the Owen climb of 1898. His searches also unearthed the journals of Lieutenant G. C. Doane’s travel in northwestern Wyoming, which he published in Battle Drums and Geysers: The Life and Journals of Lt. G. C. Doane’s Exploration of the Early Yellowstone and Upper Snake River, in 1970.

Bonney was the Central Vice President of the Club 1953-55. He was a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He was instrumental in founding the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club in 1965, when he was elected Vice Chairman. A year later he was elected Chairman and held the post for four years. He continued to be active in that organization and conceived the idea of the 100-mile-long Lone Star Hiking Trail and helped greatly in preserving the Big Thicket, the Guadalupe Mountains and the Big Bend Wilderness.

Mountaineering and writing were not the only interests, for he was an active white-water kayaker, leading the fourth recorded trip through the canyons of the Big Bend of the Rio Grande, as well as running the Snake River Canyon.

Many Teton climbers will remember fondly his big teepee at the Jenny Lake Campground, where he played host to mountaineers and although he later had to move it to his home in Kelly, many were the climbers who followed him there. He was actively working on several books at the time of his death and his wife, Lorraine, is carrying on this labor. He is also survived by a son, Roger, and three grandchildren.

Kenneth A. Henderson