Otis Victor “Bud” Synness, a true Montana Mountain Man, passed away on Monday, January 29, of natural causes at the age of 88.
Bud was born on May 29, 1929, the third of six children to Otis and Margaret (Damson) Synness. His grandparents, Andreas and Gurina Synness, immigrated from Norway to the basin just over the north slope of Helena’s North Hill in 1879.
Bud’s grandparents, Ole and Magnhild Synness, homesteaded below Beartooth Mountain -- now known as the Sleeping Giant -- in the early 1890s, neighboring the Sperry and Hilger Homesteads.
Bud was raised in the East Helena Valley, where he and his brother Wes rode horses across the frozen swamp to attend Harmony Elementary School. Younger brother John remembers being pulled behind Bud’s horse Flory when he was 5 years old, down Lake Helena Drive in his red wagon tied to the horse’s tail.
Bud quit school after the eighth grade and began his long career of hard, physical work, equaled only by his passion for the outdoors – a lifetime filled with hunting and fishing escapades, and the tall tales that go along with them.
At the age of 14, Bud was the gardener for Hauser Dam, and built the fishing trail along the river’s east shore to Beaver Creek. He worked at several endeavors, including mining, logging and the potato fields, before hiring on with the clearing crew in 1949 during the construction of Canyon Ferry Dam. At the bottom of what is now Canyon Ferry Lake, Bud helped achieved the daunting task of clearing a 30-mile stretch, 3-miles wide, of all slash, fencing, corrals and structures.
In 1956 he went to work for Wes and John’s wrecking yard business, where he spent the next five decades working the long, hard hours as a mechanic – except for during hunting season – and nearly every weekend (when the road was passable) at his cabin at the Homestead.
Bud’s feats of strength were legendary. In Bryan Hilger’s book, “Building the Herd,” the Lifting Rock next to the Beartooth road was described as “weighing about 600 pounds” and how people riding by would always stop and try to lift it.
“Our neighbor, Bud Synness, he was a great big guy and probably the strongest man I’ve ever known,” Hilger penned. “He could lift that thing off the ground, swing it around, and put it in the back of his pickup. His brother’s got a junkyard and whenever they want to dump a car or turn it over, they call on Bud.”
Bud’s lifetime of outdoor activities included hunting camps, fishing trips, and trapping; mostly in the wilderness, on his favorite horse Joker, or on foot. He seldom missed a rodeo … or the post-rodeo parties. He loved his Mountain Dew and Raineer beer (not necessarily in that order). His favorite music was Hank Williams Sr., Charley Pride, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, and his favorite actress was Marilyn Monroe.
Bud spent countless hours as a steward of the Synness Homestead, and the Silver City Cemetery. During family reunions, he entertained us with his rope twirling and story telling. Bud also tirelessly captured the family functions and hunting camps on film over the years, amassing nearly a thousand photos. He’s also known for his amazing arrowhead collection.
Nicknamed “Old Bear” (and later “Oldest Gray”) by his brother Freddie, Bud will always be remembered as a kind and loving uncle and great uncle to his nephews and nieces, and their children. He was a patient mentor of the outdoors to the family’s next generations, and always thoughtful and generous at birthdays and holidays.
Bud was predeceased by his parents Otis and Margaret Synness, sisters Mary Henry and Margie Smalley, brother Fred Synness, nephew Kelly Synness and niece Deborah Knutson.
He is survived by brothers Wes (Carol) Synness and John (Karen) Synness; sister in law Gerry Oatman; nieces Darlene Stockton, Brenda Synness, Connie Gill, Prudy Grubb, Maggie Sharp, Sheryl Synness, Dee Dee Webster, Kathey Synness and Candace Seliskar; and nephews Dave Wilmer, Art Wilmer, Curt Synness, Trent Synness, Greg Synness, Jay Synness, Wayne Synness, Scott Synness, Tim Synness, Tom Synness, Stacey Synness and Keith Synness; and numerous cousins, grand nieces and nephews, and great grand nieces and nephews.
There will be a funeral service at 2 p.m. on Monday, February 5, at Anderson Stevenson Wilke Funeral Home, 3750 N. Montana Ave. A reception will follow in the social hall and burial will take place at Silver City Cemetery. Along with flowers for the service, memorials in Bud’s name may be made to Masonic Home, 2010 Masonic Home Road, Helena, MT 59602. Please visit www.aswfuneralhome.com to offer condolences or to share a memory of Bud.