Part 2 of 2
For another day we remained at this place, hoping that the dogs would return, but in vain. At last we decided to pack up and go around a ten-mile detour and work up the outlet of the canyon. We left a mess of food in several piles for the dogs should they return, and knew they could follow our horses' tracks if they came to camp.
But our detour was futile. We lost all signs of our pack and returned to our headquarters to await results.
It was on this homeward journey that we saw the lion of Pico Blanco, and had to let him slip.
Ten days later, two weak, emaciated hounds came into camp, an old veteran and a young dog that trailed after him as if tied with a rope. He had followed him to save his life, and for days after he could not be separated without whining with fear.
We fed them carefully and nursed them back to health. But these were all of the five to appear. Old Belle, the greatest fighter of them all, was gone. She must have met her death at the claws of the cougar, for nothing else could keep her. This ended that particular lion hunt.
In our travels over California in search for cougars, we have picked up more tales than trails of the big cats.
Just before one of my visits to Gorda, on the Monterey Coast, a panther visited the Mansfield ranch in broad daylight. Jasper being up on the mountainside after deer, his wife, left at home with the two little children, noticed a very large lion out in the pasture back of the house. It wandered among the cattle in a most unconcerned manner and did not even cause a stir. While it did not approach any of the cows very closely, they seemed to be not in the least alarmed. For half an hour or more it stayed in the neighborhood of the house, where Mrs. Mansfield locked herself in and waited for her husband's return. It was not until evening, and too late to track the beast, that Jasper came home. So no capture was made.
Some time before this, one of the hired hands on the ranch was going to his cabin in the dusk; and swinging his hand idly to catch the tops of tall grass by the side of the path, he suddenly touched something warm and soft. Instantly he grasped a handful of the substance. At the same moment some sort of an animal bounded off in the dark. Holding fast to the material in his hand, he ran back to the farmhouse and found his fist full of lion hair. To say that he was startled, puts it very mildly. Apparently one of these beasts had been crouched on a log by the side of his path, waiting for something to turn up. The hired man took a lantern home with him after that.
At another ranch on the Big Sur River, one of the little boys called to his mother that there was a funny sort of a "big dog" out in the pasture. His mother paid no attention to it, but a diminutive pet black and tan started an assault on the animal in question. The lion and the dog disappeared in the brush. Presently the canine barking ceased and the small boy wondered what had become of his valiant companion. In a few minutes he heard a plaintive whine up in a near-by tree, and running to its base he found that the panther had seized his pet by the nape of the neck and climbed a tall fir with him. The boy ran for his father, working in the fields, who, bringing his rifle, dispatched the panther. As it fell from the tree, the little dog clung to the upper limbs, and stayed at the top. Nothing they could do would coax him down. The fir was one difficult to climb, so to save time the man took an ax and felled the tree, which, falling gently against another, precipitated the canine hero to the ground without harm. Later I had the pleasure of shaking his paw and congratulating him on his bravery.
After many futile attempts, at last our opportunity to get a Felis Concolor arrived. We received word from a certain ranger station in Tuolumne County that a mountain lion was killing sheep and deer in the immediate vicinity, and having the promise of a well trained pack, Arthur Young and I gathered our archery tackle and started from San Francisco at night in an automobile. We traveled until the small hours of the morning, then lay down on the side of the road to take a short sleep; and rising at the first gray of dawn, sped on our way.
We reached the Sierras by sun-up and began to climb. At noon we met our guide above Italian Bar, and prepared for an evening hunt. This, however, was as unsatisfactory as evening hunts usually are.
A morning expedition the next day only brought out the fact that our lion had left the country. News of his activities twelve miles further up the mountains having been obtained, we gathered our bows, arrows, and dogs and departed for this region. Here we found a bloody record of his work. More than two hundred goats had been killed by the big cat in the past year. In fact, the rancher thought that several panthers were at work. Goats were taken from beneath the shepherd's nose, and as he turned in one direction, another goat would be killed behind him. It seemed impossible to apprehend the villain; their dogs were useless.
Equipped for rough camping, we soon planned our morning excursion and bedded down for rest.
At 3 o'clock we waked, ate a meager breakfast, and hit the trail up the mountain. We knew the general range of our cougar. It is necessary in all his tracking to get in the field while the dew is on the ground and before the sun dissipates it, also before the goats obliterate the tracks.
Arrived at the crest of the ridge, we struck a well-defined goat trail, and soon the fresh tracks of a lion were discovered. Our dogs took up the scent at once and we began to travel at a rapid pace.
Here again, one must have a good pair of legs. If automobiles, elevators, and general laziness have not ruined your powers of locomotion, you may follow the dogs; otherwise, you had best stay at home.
At first we walk, then we trot, and when with a leap the hounds start in full cry, we race. Regardless of five thousand feet of altitude, regardless of brush, rocks, and dizzy cliffs, we follow at a breakneck pace. I don't know where our breath comes from in these trials. We just have to run; in fact, we have planned to run on our hands when our legs play out. With pounding hearts we surge ahead. "Keep the dogs within hearing!" "It can't last long!" But this time we come to a sudden halt on a rocky slide. We've lost the scent. The dogs circle and backtrack and work with feverish haste. The sun has risen, and up the mountain side comes a band of goats led by a single shepherd dog--no man in sight. We shout to the dog to steer his rabble away, but on they come, and obliterate our trail with a thousand hoofprints and a cloud of dust.
The sun then comes out, and our day is done. No felis this time.
So we scout the country for information to be used later, and return to camp to drown our sorrow in food.
This was my first knowledge that a dog could be placed in charge of a flock of sheep or goats. It seems that these little sheep dogs, not even collies, but some shaggy little plebeians, are given full charge of the band. They lead them out to pasture, guard them, and keep them together during the day and bring them home at night. They will, when properly instructed, take a band of goats out for a week on a long route, and bring them all safely home again. At least, they used to do this until the lion appeared on the scene.
That evening we asked the rancher to lock his goats in the corral till noon.
Next morning we rose again in time to see the morning star glitter with undimmed glory. Up the trail we mounted, the dogs eager for the chase. An old owl in a hollow tree asked us again and again who we were; all else was silent in the woods.
Saving our strength, we arrived quietly on the upper ridges and waited for the dawn. Way down below us in the canyon we could smell the faint incense of our camp-fire. The morning breeze was just beginning to breathe in the trees. The birds awoke with little whispered confidences, small twitterings and chirps. A faint lavender tint melted the stars in the eastern sky. Shadows crept beneath the trees, and we knew it was time to start.
Just as the light defined the margins of the trail, we picked up in the grayness the track of a lion. Strange to say, the dogs had not smelled it, but when we pointed to the footprint in the dust, which was apparently none too fresh, they took up the work of tracking. It is astonishing to see how a dog can tell which way a track leads. If in doubt, he runs quickly back and forth on the scent, and thus gauges the way the animal has progressed. A mediocre dog cannot do this, but we had dogs with college educations.
Traveling carefully and at a moderate pace, we came to an open knoll in the forest. Here in the ferns our pack circled about us as if the cat had been doing a circus stunt, and they seemed confused. Later on we found that our feline friend had been experimenting with a porcupine and learned another lesson in natural history.
Suddenly the leader sniffed at a fallen tree where, doubtless, the cat had perched, then with a ringing bay, the hound clamped his tail close to his rump and left in a streak of yellow light. The rest of the pack leaped into full cry.
We were off on a hot track. Oh, for the wings of a bird! Trained as Young and I were to desperate running, this game taxed us to the utmost. First we climbed the knoll, deep in ferns and mountain misery, then we dashed over the crest, tore through manzanita brush, thickets of young cedar and buckthorn, over ledges of lava rock, down deep declivities, among giant oaks, cedars, and pines. As we ran we grasped our ready strung bows in one hand and the flapping quivers in the other.
You would not think that at this time we could take note of the fragrant shrubs and pine needles beneath our feet, but I smelled them as we passed in flight, and they revived me to renewed energy. On we rushed, only to lose the sound of the dogs. Then we listened and caught it down the hill below us. Again we hurdled barriers of brush, took long sliding leaps down the treacherous shale and ran breathless to the shade of a great oak.
There above our heads was the lion. Oh, the beauty of that beast!
Heaving and giddy with exertion, we saw a wonderful sight, a great tawny, buff-colored body crouched on a limb, grace and power in every outline. A huge, soft cylindrical tail swung slowly back and forth.
Luminous eyes gazed at us in utmost calm, a cold calculating calm. He watched and waited our next move, waited with his great muscles tense for action.
We retreated, not only to get out of his reach, but to gain a better shooting position. As we did this, he gave a lithe leap to a higher limb and shielded himself as best he could behind the boughs of the tree.
From our position, his chest and throat were visible through a triangular space in the branches, not more than a foot across. We must shoot through this. His attitude was so huddled that his head hung over his shoulder.
Young and I caught our breath, drew our arrows from their quivers, nocked them, and set ourselves in the archer's "stable stand." We drew together and, at a mutual thought, shot together. Because of our unsteady condition the arrows flew a trifle wild. Mine buried itself in the lion's shoulder. Young's hit him in the nose.
He reared and struck at this latter shaft, then, not dislodging it, began swaying back and forth while with both front paws he fought the arrow.
While he thrashed about thus in the tree top, we nocked two more arrows and shot. We both missed the brute. Young's flew off into the next state, and if you ever go up into Tuolumne County, you will find mine buried deep in the heart of an oak.
Just as we nocked a third arrow, he freed himself from the offending shaft in his muzzle, raised his fore-paws upon a limb and prepared to leap. In that movement he bared the white hair of his throat and chest, and like a flash, two keen arrows were driven through his heart area.
As they struck and disappeared from sight, he leaped. Like a flying squirrel, he soared over our heads. Full seventy-five feet he cleared in one mighty outward, downward bound. I saw his body glint across the rising sun, swoop in a wonderful curve and land in a sheltering bush.
The dogs threw themselves upon him. There was a medley of sounds, a fierce, but brief fight, and all was over. We grabbed him by the tail and dragged him forth--dead. The ringleader of our pack, trembling with excitement, effort, and fighting frenzy, drove all the other dogs away and took possession of the body. No one but a man, his master, might touch it.
Our lion was a young male, six feet eight inches from tip to tip, and weighing a little over one hundred and twenty pounds. Later, as we skinned him, we found his paws full of porcupine quills, speaking loudly of his recent experience. The stomach was empty; the chest was full of blood from our arrows.
He was as easy to kill as a deer. We packed him back to camp and added his photograph to our rogues' gallery.
There was no further goat killing on that Sierra ranch.
This was our first lion, and for me so far, my only one. Arthur Young, however, has been fortunate enough to land two cougars by himself on another hunting trip.
Captain C. H. Styles, a recent addition to the ranks of field archers, while on an expedition to cut yew staves in Humboldt County, California, started a mountain lion, ran him to bay with hounds, and killed him with one arrow in the chest. We shall undoubtedly hear more of the captain later on.
But so long as we can draw a bowstring and our legs hold out, and there is an intelligent dog to be had, it will not be the last lion on our list. Wherever there are deer, there will be found panthers, and it is our business to help reduce their number in the game fields to maintain the balance of power.