MISSOULA — Nickey Charlene Davis loved ceramics, gardening, crochet and, late in life, Montana.
Montana didn't love her back.
The 67-year-old Davis of Salina, Okla., was found frozen to death Jan. 13 in a mountain shack near Helmville after she and her common-law husband were marooned by a winter for which they weren't prepared.
"None of us wanted her to go to Montana," said Ann Campbell of Langley, Okla., Davis' half-sister. "She'd talked about it for quite some time, about how she liked it up in the mountains and everything, and that they wanted to move up there, but we tried to talk her out of it." Jack McWhorter was near death and delirious, with only a handful of bouillon cubes in his pocket, when he was found huddled inside the unheated shanty, sitting against his wife's body. Powell County Sheriff Scott F. Howard estimated Davis had been dead for 12 to 14 days.
Two small dogs and a cat had also succumbed to the cold, Howard said. The lone survivor other than McWhorter was a wolf hybrid that, according to Campbell, was Davis' beloved pet named Lady. Based on tracks in the snow, Howard said no one had been outside the shack for more than a month.
They'd been marooned for weeks, apparently since shortly after the day in early December that Campbell last talked to her half-sister by telephone.
"She said they had gone into town to get some stuff, that they'd just had a snowstorm. … I don't understand the whole thing," Campbell said Monday in a telephone conversation. "Supposedly one snowstorm had hit just before Thanksgiving. Then I guess they went back in and there was another one." McWhorter, 44, has recovered from the ordeal and is on his way back to Oklahoma. He was either unable or unwilling to give authorities Davis' next-of-kin information, according to Howard. The sheriff and a deputy likely saved McWhorter's life with a midnight rescue after snowmobiling searchers discovered his plight earlier in the day.
Campbell described her relationship with Davis as "not only sisters but close friends." Despite efforts by Howard and his office to locate relatives, she didn't learn of the grisly death until after the story appeared in the Missoulian last Thursday and was picked up by wire and Internet services.
"My cousin heard it on TV last Thursday and called me," said Campbell, who is four years younger than Davis. "She said, ‘I cannot believe this but they're saying Mickey is dead,' and that they found her in Montana. I couldn't believe it. I just went to pieces." Campbell said she contacted the local sheriff's department in Oklahoma, which put her in touch with Howard in Deer Lodge that same night.
Campbell's home in Langley is roughly 25 miles from Salina. Both towns are in Mayes County, in northeastern Oklahoma.
Campbell said Davis was named after her father, Michael Charles. She had three half-brothers and another half-sister. Two of the brothers live in Oklahoma, in Salina and Inola. The other siblings live in California.
"It was really bad," said Campbell. "I couldn't get hold of the other kids because I didn't have all their telephone numbers, and the one here in Oklahoma had changed her cell phone, so I didn't have it either. They just found out on the Internet (Monday), the older boy." Howard said he talked to three of Davis' siblings on Monday by teleconference call to tell them of the circumstances of her death.
"They were shocked that's how it came to them, but they understood we tried everything known to mankind to contact them," the sheriff said. "They understood that she wasn't up there against her own will, that she had wanted to be there." Campbell and Davis weren't raised together, but they went to the same grade school in Turley, on the outskirts of Tulsa. Davis' family then moved to California, where Mickey graduated from high school.
"After I was married and had two children, that was when Mickey and I got together and got to know each other. It was just really a blessing, for me and for her," Campbell said.
Davis was divorced once and widowed once before she got together with McWhorter some 11 years ago. They'd been coming to Montana for the past couple of years, Campbell said, most recently last spring. The couple had made a down payment on the 20-acre lot on which the cabin was located and on which they intended to live year-round.
But when found, they had no means of transportation out of the snowy mountains, insufficient clothing, no firewood and little food, the sheriff said.
That mystifies Campbell.
"I just don't understand why, if they didn't have wood and stuff, they didn't come down off the mountain before the snowstorm?" she said. "It's hard to believe that this really happened to Mickey. I can't understand her not understanding and not being prepared, because I always thought she was prepared for anything." Campbell said Lady, the wolf hybrid, was 2 or 3 years old and Davis had raised it from a pup.
"I wasn't surprised when she got it. I was around it quite a bit. It was a loving dog, very loving and very protective of her," said Campbell.