James was Floyd Mansell’s oldest son, with the woodsman’s heritage and ability one might expect. Perhaps even in extra measure; he was one of the best woodsmen and elk and turkey hunters I ever knew in his youth. I believe he was also a Golden Gloves boxer, as many of Floyd’s kids and proteges were. But he had a problem. Before such things were diagnosed properly, at least in rural districts, he was utterly dyslexic and never did learn to read. It was no lack of intelligence or dedication; he spoke Spanish, “Burqueno”- accented English , and Navajo; people tended to think he was Spanish, but he was a quarter Navajo, a quarter Choctaw, a quarter Scots- Irish, and a quarter Lebanese; with his handsome vaguely Asian features he would have looked quite at home in Almaty or any of the Stans…
James worked hard, played hard, and walked more than anyone I knew (he once broke his back in an accident, and was walking three days later!), and he drank. It finally killed him. He was nothing if not realistic about it, and made jokes about it until his last days. I would ask him why he had done something uncharacteristically dumb, and he would look at me and say “Steve… I was drunk!” It reached its peak of heartbreak and hilarity when he insisted on narrating, in a loud voice, in the supermarket at 10 AM, how he had managed to get bitten two times by a big diamondback, which he normally could have controlled with ease, as he was a serious snake collector. In each stage of the narration — anaphylactic shock from the antivenin, and getting bit again when he released it; I would say “I know James, I know”. He kept on going “You know WHY?” I said “Yes, James” in a quiet voice. “PUTA, I was drunk!!”
He remained incorrigibly cheerful, even as his horizons narrowed. After being lost in the Gila Wilderness for three days,he stopped going on extended hunts. Breaking his back, though he walked through the pain, made it still harder than it was. He still came by almost daily, pointing out birds and other creatures he had seen on his walks. Toward the end, his wife Bernice was trying to get me to write about him, saying “You don’t know him — he’s Floyd Mansell’s son!” James, sitting at a table a few feet away, kept saying “Bernice, he’s my friend Steve. I saw him this morning! Leave him alone!”
He left behind an enormous amount of good will and love, many brothers and sisters, his mother Wanda, and a grieving wife, and a wonderful bunch of children and grandchildren, some of them already accomplished naturalists and outdoors people. Although he lived his life on the margins, he’ll be missed by many,including me.
James and grandchildren.