The Last of the Plainsmen
Part 3 out of 4
Days passed. All the time, in light and dark, the Indians filled
the air with dismal chant and doleful incantations to the Great
Spirit, and the tum! tum! tum! tum! of tomtoms, a specific
feature of their wild prayer for food.
But the white monotony of the rolling land and level lake
remained unbroken. The reindeer did not come. The days became
shorter, dimmer, darker. The mercury kept on the slide.
Forty degrees below zero did not trouble the Indians. They
stamped till they dropped, and sang till their voices vanished,
and beat the tomtoms everlastingly. Jones fed the children once
each day, against the trapper's advice.
One day, while Rea was absent, a dozen braves succeeded in
forcing an entrance, and clamored so fiercely, and threatened so
desperately, that Jones was on the point of giving them food when
the door opened to admit Rea.
With a glance he saw the situation. He dropped the bucket he
carried, threw the door wide open and commenced action. Because
of his great bulk he seemed slow, but every blow of his
sledge-hammer fist knocked a brave against the wall, or through
the door into the snow. When he could reach two savages at once,
by way of diversion, he swung their heads together with a crack.
They dropped like dead things. Then he handled them as if they
were sacks of corn, pitching them out into the snow. In two
minutes the cabin was clear. He banged the door and slipped the
bar in place.
"Buff, I'm goin' to get mad at these thievin' red, skins some
day," he said gruffly. The expanse of his chest heaved slightly,
like the slow swell of a calm ocean, but there was no other
indication of unusual exertion.
Jones laughed, and again gave thanks for the comradeship of this
Shortly afterward, he went out for wood, and as usual scanned the
expanse of the lake. The sun shone mistier and warmer, and frost
feathers floated in the air. Sky and sun and plain and lake--all
were gray. Jones fancied he saw a distant moving mass of darker
shade than the gray background. He called the trapper.
"Caribou," said Rea instantly. "The vanguard of the migration.
Hear the Indians! Hear their cry: "Aton! Aton! they mean
reindeer. The idiots have scared the herd with their infernal
racket, an' no meat will they get. The caribou will keep to the
ice, an' man or Indian can't stalk them there."
For a few moments his companion surveyed the lake and shore with
a plainsman's eye, then dashed within, to reappear with a
Winchester in each hand. Through the crowd of bewailing,
bemoaning Indians; he sped, to the low, dying bank. The hard
crust of snow upheld him. The gray cloud was a thousand yards out
upon the lake and moving southeast. If the caribou did not swerve
from this course they would pass close to a projecting point of
land, a half-mile up the lake. So, keeping a wary eye upon them,
the hunter ran swiftly. He had not hunted antelope and buffalo on
the plains all his life without learning how to approach moving
game. As long as the caribou were in action, they could not tell
whether he moved or was motionless. In order to tell if an object
was inanimate or not, they must stop to see, of which fact the
keen hunter took advantage. Suddenly he saw the gray mass slow
down and bunch up. He stopped running, to stand like a stump.
When the reindeer moved again, he moved, and when they slackened
again, he stopped and became motionless. As they kept to their
course, he worked gradually closer and closer. Soon he
distinguished gray, bobbing heads. When the leader showed signs
of halting in his slow trot the hunter again became a statue. He
saw they were easy to deceive; and, daringly confident of
success, he encroached on the ice and closed up the gap till not
more than two hundred yards separated him from the gray, bobbing,
Jones dropped on one knee. A moment only his eyes lingered
admiringly on the wild and beautiful spectacle; then he swept one
of the rifles to a level. Old habit made the little beaded sight
cover first the stately leader. Bang! The gray monarch leaped
straight forward, forehoofs up, antlered head back, to fall dead
with a crash. Then for a few moments the Winchester spat a deadly
stream of fire, and when emptied was thrown down for the other
gun, which in the steady, sure hands of the hunter belched death
to the caribou.
The herd rushed on, leaving the white surface of the lake gray
with a struggling, kicking, bellowing heap. When Jones reached
the caribou he saw several trying to rise on crippled legs. With
his knife he killed these, not without some hazard to himself.
Most of the fallen ones were already dead, and the others soon
lay still. Beautiful gray creatures they were, almost white, with
wide-reaching, symmetrical horns.
A medley of yells arose from the shore, and Rea appeared running
with two sleds, with the whole tribe of Yellow Knives pouring out
of the forest behind him.
"Buff, you're jest what old Jim said you was," thundered Rea, as
he surveyed the gray pile. "Here's winter meat, an' I'd not have
given a biscuit for all the meat I thought you'd get."
"Thirty shots in less than thirty seconds," said Jones, "An' I'll
bet every ball I sent touched hair. How many reindeer?"
"Twenty! twenty! Buff, or I've forgot how to count. I guess mebbe
you can't handle them shootin' arms. Ho! here comes the howlin'
Rea whipped out a bowie knife and began disemboweling the
reindeer. He had not proceeded far in his task when the crazed
savages were around him. Every one carried a basket or
receptacle, which he swung aloft, and they sang, prayed, rejoiced
on their knees. Jones turned away from the sickening scenes that
convinced him these savages were little better than cannibals.
Rea cursed them, and tumbled them over, and threatened them with
the big bowie. An altercation ensued, heated on his side,
frenzied on theirs. Thinking some treachery might befall his
comrade, Jones ran into the thick of the group.
"Share with them, Rea, share with them."
Whereupon the giant hauled out ten smoking carcasses. Bursting
into a babel of savage glee and tumbling over one another, the
Indians pulled the caribou to the shore.
"Thievin' fools." growled Rea, wiping the sweat from his brow.
"Said they'd prevailed on the Great Spirit to send the reindeer.
Why, they'd never smelled warm meat but for you. Now, Buff,
they'll gorge every hair, hide an' hoof of their share in less
than a week. Thet's the last we do for the damned cannibals.
Didn't you see them eatin' of the raw innards?--faugh! I'm
calculatin' we'll see no more reindeer. It's late for the
migration. The big herd has driven southward. But we're lucky,
thanks to your prairie trainin'. Come on now with the sleds, or
we'll have a pack of wolves to fight."
By loading three reindeer on each sled, the hunters were not long
in transporting them to the cabin. "Buff, there ain't much doubt
about them keepin' nice and cool," said Rea. "They'll freeze, an'
we can skin them when we want."
That night the starved wolf dogs gorged themselves till they
could not rise from the snow. Likewise the Yellow Knives feasted.
How long the ten reindeer might have served the wasteful tribe,
Rea and Jones never found out. The next day two Indians arrived
with dog-trains, and their advent was hailed with another feast,
and a pow-wow that lasted into the night.
"Guess we're goin' to get rid of our blasted hungry neighbors,"
said Rea, coming in next morning with the water pail, "An' I'll
be durned, Buff, if I don't believe them crazy heathen have been
told about you. Them Indians was messengers. Grab your gun, an'
let's walk over and see."
The Yellow Knives were breaking camp, and the hunters were at
once conscious of the difference in their bearing. Rea addressed
several braves, but got no reply. He laid his broad hand on the
old wrinkled chief, who repulsed him, and turned his back. With a
growl, the trapper spun the Indian round, and spoke as many words
of the language as he knew. He got a cold response, which ended
in the ragged old chief starting up, stretching a long, dark arm
northward, and with eyes fixed in fanatical subjection, shouting:
"Naza! Naza! Naza!"
"Heathen!" Rea shook his gun in the faces of the messengers.
"It'll go bad with you to come Nazain' any longer on our trail.
Come, Buff, clear out before I get mad."
When they were once more in the cabin, Rea told Jones that the
messengers had been sent to warn the Yellow Knives not to aid the
white hunters in any way. That night the dogs were kept inside,
and the men took turns in watching. Morning showed a broad trail
southward. And with the going of the Yellow Knives the mercury
dropped to fifty, and the long, twilight winter night fell.
So with this agreeable riddance and plenty of meat and fuel to
cheer them, the hunters sat down in their snug cabin to wait many
months for daylight.
Those few intervals when the wind did not blow were the only
times Rea and Jones got out of doors. To the plainsman, new to
the north, the dim gray world about him was of exceeding
interest. Out of the twilight shone a wan, round, lusterless ring
that Rea said was the sun. The silence and desolation were
"Where are the wolves?" asked Jones of Rea.
"Wolves can't live on snow. They're farther south after caribou,
or farther north after musk-ox."
In those few still intervals Jones remained out as long as he
dared, with the mercury sinking to -sixty degrees. He turned from
the wonder of the unreal, remote sun, to the marvel in the
north--Aurora borealis--ever-present, ever-changing,
ever-beautiful! and he gazed in rapt attention.
"Polar lights," said Rea, as if he were speaking of biscuits.
"You'll freeze. It's gettin' cold."
Cold it became, to the matter of -seventy degrees. Frost covered
the walls of the cabin and the roof, except just over the fire.
The reindeer were harder than iron. A knife or an ax or a
steel-trap burned as if it had been heated in fire, and stuck to
the hand. The hunters experienced trouble in breathing; the air
hurt their lungs.
The months dragged. Rea grew more silent day by day, and as he
sat before the fire his wide shoulders sagged lower and lower.
Jones, unaccustomed to the waiting, the restraint, the barrier of
the north, worked on guns, sleds, harness, till he felt he would
go mad. Then to save his mind he constructed a windmill of
caribou hides and pondered over it trying to invent, to put into
practical use an idea he had once conceived.
Hour after hour he lay under his blankets unable to sleep, and
listened to the north wind. Sometimes Rea mumbled in his
slumbers; once his giant form started up, and he muttered a
woman's name. Shadows from the fire flickered on the walls,
visionary, spectral shadows, cold and gray, fitting the north. At
such times he longed with all the power of his soul to be among
those scenes far southward, which he called home. For days Rea
never spoke a word, only gazed into the fire, ate and slept.
Jones, drifting far from his real self, feared the strange mood
of the trapper and sought to break it, but without avail. More
and more he reproached himself, and singularly on the one fact
that, as he did not smoke himself, he had brought only a small
store of tobacco. Rea, inordinate and inveterate smoker, had
puffed away all the weed in clouds of white, then had relapsed
CHAPTER 10. SUCCESS AND FAILURE
At last the marvel in the north dimmed, the obscure gray shade
lifted, the hope in the south brightened, and the mercury climbed
reluctantly, with a tyrant's hate to relinquish power.
Spring weather at twenty-five below zero! On April 12th a small
band of Indians made their appearance. Of the Dog tribe were
they, an offcast of the Great Slaves, according to Rea, and as
motley, starring and starved as the Yellow Knives. But they were
friendly, which presupposed ignorance of the white hunters, and
Rea persuaded the strongest brave to accompany them as guide
northward after musk-oxen.
On April 16th, having given the Indians several caribou
carcasses, and assuring them that the cabin was protected by
white spirits, Rea and Jones, each with sled and train of dogs,
started out after their guide, who was similarly equipped, over
the glistening snow toward the north. They made sixty miles the
first day, and pitched their Indian tepee on the shores of
Artillery Lake. Traveling northeast, they covered its white waste
of one hundred miles in two days. Then a day due north, over
rolling, monotonously snowy plain; devoid of rock, tree or shrub,
brought them into a country of the strangest, queerest little
spruce trees, very slender, and none of them over fifteen feet in
height. A primeval forest of saplings.
"Ditchen Nechila," said the guide.
"Land of Sticks Little," translated Rea.
An occasional reindeer was seen and numerous foxes and hares
trotted off into the woods, evincing more curiosity than fear.
All were silver white, even the reindeer, at a distance, taking
the hue of the north. Once a beautiful creature, unblemished as
the snow it trod, ran up a ridge and stood watching the hunters.
It resembled a monster dog, only it was inexpressibly more wild
"Ho! Ho! there you are!" cried Rea, reaching for his Winchester.
"Polar wolf! Them's the white devils we'll have hell with."
As if the wolf understood, he lifted his white, sharp head and
uttered a bark or howl that was like nothing so much as a
haunting, unearthly mourn. The animal then merged into the white,
as if he were really a spirit of the world whence his cry seemed
In this ancient forest of youthful appearing trees, the hunters
cut firewood to the full carrying capacity of the sleds. For five
days the Indian guide drove his dogs over the smooth crust, and
on the sixth day, about noon, halting in a hollow, he pointed to
tracks in the snow and called out: "Ageter! Ageter! Ageter!"
The hunters saw sharply defined hoof-marks, not unlike the tracks
of reindeer, except that they were longer. The tepee was set up
on the spot and the dogs unharnessed.
The Indian led the way with the dogs, and Rea and Jones followed,
slipping over the hard crust without sinking in and traveling
swiftly. Soon the guide, pointing, again let out the cry:
"Ageter!" at the same moment loosing the dogs.
Some few hundred yards down the hollow, a number of large black
animals, not unlike the shaggy, humpy buffalo, lumbered over the
snow. Jones echoed Rea's yell, and broke into a run, easily
distancing the puffing giant.
The musk-oxen squared round to the dogs, and were soon surrounded
by the yelping pack. Jones came up to find six old bulls uttering
grunts of rage and shaking ram-like horns at their tormentors.
Notwithstanding that for Jones this was the cumulation of years
of desire, the crowning moment, the climax and fruition of
long-harbored dreams, he halted before the tame and helpless
beasts, with joy not unmixed with pain.
"It will be murder!" he exclaimed. "It's like shooting down
Rea came crashing up behind him and yelled, "Get busy. We need
fresh meat, an' I want the skins."
The bulls succumbed to well-directed shots, and the Indian and
Rea hurried back to camp with the dogs to fetch the sleds, while
Jones examined with warm interest the animals he had wanted to
see all his life. He found the largest bull approached within a
third of the size of a buffalo. He was of a brownish-black color
and very like a large, woolly ram. His head was broad, with
sharp, small ears; the horns had wide and flattened bases and lay
flat on the head, to run down back of the eyes, then curve
forward to a sharp point. Like the bison, the musk ox had short,
heavy limbs, covered with very long hair, and small, hard hoofs
with hairy tufts inside the curve of bone, which probably served
as pads or checks to hold the hoof firm on ice. His legs seemed
out of proportion to his body.
Two musk-oxen were loaded on a sled and hauled to camp in one
trip. Skinning them was but short work for such expert hands. All
the choice cuts of meat were saved. No time was lost in broiling
a steak, which they found sweet and juicy, with a flavor of musk
that was disagreeable.
"Now, Rea, for the calves," exclaimed Jones, "And then we're
"I hate to tell this redskin," replied Rea. "He'll be like the
others. But it ain't likely he'd desert us here. He's far from
his base, with nothin' but thet old musket." Rea then commanded
the attention of the brave, and began to mangle the Great Slave
and Yellow Knife languages. Of this mixture Jones knew but few
words. "Ageter nechila," which Rea kept repeating, he knew,
however, meant "musk-oxen little."
The guide stared, suddenly appeared to get Rea's meaning, then
vigorously shook his head and gazed at Jones in fear and horror.
Following this came an action as singular as inexplicable. Slowly
rising, he faced the north, lifted his hand, and remained
statuesque in his immobility. Then he began deliberately packing
his blankets and traps on his sled, which had not been unhitched
from the train of dogs.
"Jackoway ditchen hula," he said, and pointed south.
"Jackoway ditchen hula," echoed Rea. "The damned Indian says
'wife sticks none.' He's goin' to quit us. What do you think of
thet? His wife's out of wood. Jackoway out of wood, an' here we
are two days from the Arctic Ocean. Jones, the damned heathen
don't go back!"
The trapper coolly cocked his rifle. The savage, who plainly saw
and understood the action, never flinched. He turned his breast
to Rea, and there was nothing in his demeanor to suggest his
relation to a craven tribe.
"Good heavens, Rea, don't kill him!" exclaimed Jones, knocking up
the leveled rifle.
"Why not, I'd like to know?" demanded Rea, as if he were
considering the fate of a threatening beast. "I reckon it'd be a
bad thing for us to let him go."
"Let him go," said Jones. "We are here on the ground. We have
dogs and meat. We'll get our calves and reach the lake as soon as
he does, and we might get there before."
"Mebbe we will," growled Rea.
No vacillation attended the Indian's mood. From friendly guide,
he had suddenly been transformed into a dark, sullen savage. He
refused the musk-ox meat offered by Jones, and he pointed south
and looked at the white hunters as if he asked them to go with
him. Both men shook their heads in answer. The savage struck his
breast a sounding blow and with his index finger pointed at the
white of the north, he shouted dramatically: "Naza! Naza! Naza!"
He then leaped upon his sled, lashed his dogs into a run, and
without looking back disappeared over a ridge.
The musk-ox hunters sat long silent. Finally Rea shook his shaggy
locks and roared. "Ho! Ho! Jackoway out of wood! Jackoway out of
wood! Jackoway out of wood!"
On the day following the desertion, Jones found tracks to the
north of the camp, making a broad trail in which were numerous
little imprints that sent him flying back to get Rea and the
dogs. Muskoxen in great numbers had passed in the night, and
Jones and Rea had not trailed the herd a mile before they had it
in sight. When the dogs burst into full cry, the musk-oxen
climbed a high knoll and squared about to give battle.
"Calves! Calves! Calves!" cried Jones.
"Hold back! Hold back! Thet's a big herd, an' they'll show fight"
As good fortune would have it, the herd split up into several
sections, and one part, hard pressed by the dogs, ran down the
knoll, to be cornered under the lee of a bank. The hunters,
seeing this small number, hurried upon them to find three cows
and five badly frightened little calves backed against the bank
of snow, with small red eyes fastened on the barking, snapping
To a man of Jones's experience and skill, the capturing of the
calves was a ridiculously easy piece of work. The cows tossed
their heads, watched the dogs, and forgot their young. The first
cast of the lasso settled over the neck of a little fellow. Jones
hauled him out over the slippery snow and laughed as he bound the
hairy legs. In less time than he had taken to capture one buffalo
calf, with half the escort, he had all the little musk-oxen bound
fast. Then he signaled this feat by pealing out an Indian yell of
"Buff, we've got 'em," cried Rea; "An' now for the hell of it
gettin' 'em home. I'll fetch the sleds. "You might as well down
thet best cow for me. I can use another skin."
Of all Jones's prizes of captured wild beasts--which numbered
nearly every species common to western North America--he took
greatest pride in the little musk-oxen. In truth, so great had
been his passion to capture some of these rare and inaccessible
mammals, that he considered the day's world the fulfillment of
his life's purpose. He was happy. Never had he been so delighted
as when, the very evening of their captivity, the musk-oxen,
evincing no particular fear of him, began to dig with sharp hoofs
into the snow for moss. And they found moss, and ate it, which
solved Jones's greatest problem. He had hardly dared to think how
to feed them, and here they were picking sustenance out of the
"Rea, will you look at that! Rea, will you look at that!" he kept
repeating. "See, they're hunting, feed."
And the giant, with his rare smile, watched him play with the
calves. They were about two and a half feet high, and resembled
long-haired sheep. The ears and horns were undiscernible, and
their color considerably lighter than that of the matured beasts.
"No sense of fear of man," said the life-student of animals. "But
they shrink from the dogs."
In packing for the journey south, the captives were strapped on
the sleds. This circumstance necessitated a sacrifice of meat and
wood, which brought grave, doubtful shakes of Rea's great head.
Days of hastening over the icy snow, with short hours for sleep
and rest, passed before the hunters awoke to the consciousness
that they were lost. The meat they had packed had gone to feed
themselves and the dogs. Only a few sticks of wood were left.
"Better kill a calf, an' cook meat while we've got little wood
left," suggested Rea.
"Kill one of my calves? I'd starve first!" cried Jones.
The hungry giant said no more.
They headed southwest. All about them glared the grim monotony of
the arctics. No rock or bush or tree made a welcome mark upon the
hoary plain Wonderland of frost, white marble desert, infinitude
of gleaming silences!
Snow began to fall, making the dogs flounder, obliterating the
sun by which they traveled. They camped to wait for clearing
weather. Biscuits soaked in tea made their meal. At dawn Jones
crawled out of the tepee. The snow had ceased. But where were the
dogs? He yelled in alarm. Then little mounds of white, scattered
here and there became animated, heaved, rocked and rose to dogs.
Blankets of snow had been their covering.
Rea had ceased his "Jackoway out of wood," for a reiterated
question: "Where are the wolves?"
"Lost," replied Jones in hollow humor.
Near the close of that day, in which they had resumed travel,
from the crest of a ridge they descried a long, low, undulating
dark line. It proved to be the forest of "Little sticks," where,
with grateful assurance of fire and of soon finding their old
trail, they made camp.
"We've four biscuits left, an' enough tea for one drink each,"
said Rea. "I calculate we're two hundred miles from Great Slave
Lake. Where are the wolves?"
At that moment the night wind wafted through the forest a long,
haunting mourn. The calves shifted uneasily; the dogs raised
sharp noses to sniff the air, and Rea, settling back against a
tree, cried out: "Ho! Ho!" Again the savage sound, a keen wailing
note with the hunger of the northland in it, broke the cold
silence. "You'll see a pack of real wolves in a minute," said
Rea. Soon a swift pattering of feet down a forest slope brought
him to his feet with a curse to reach a brawny hand for his
rifle. White streaks crossed the black of the tree trunks; then
indistinct forms, the color of snow, swept up, spread out and
streaked to and fro. Jones thought the great, gaunt, pure white
beasts the spectral wolves of Rea's fancy, for they were silent,
and silent wolves must belong to dreams only.
"Ho! Ho!" yelled Rea. "There's green-fire eyes for you, Buff.
Hell itself ain't nothin' to these white devils. Get the calves
in the tepee, an' stand ready to loose the dogs, for we've got to
Raising his rifle he opened fire upon the white foe. A
struggling, rustling sound followed the shots. But whether it was
the threshing about of wolves dying in agony, or the fighting of
the fortunate ones over those shot, could not be ascertained in
Following his example Jones also fired rapidly on the other side
of the tepee. The same inarticulate, silently rustling wrestle
succeeded this volley.
"Wait!" cried Rea. "Be sparin' of cartridges."
The dogs strained at their chains and bravely bayed the wolves.
The hunters heaped logs and brush on the fire, which, blazing up,
sent a bright light far into the woods. On the outer edge of that
circle moved the white, restless, gliding forms.
"They're more afraid of fire than of us," said Jones.
So it proved. When the fire burned and crackled they kept well in
the background. The hunters had a long respite from serious
anxiety, during which time they collected all the available wood
at hand. But at midnight, when this had been mostly consumed, the
wolves grew bold again.
"Have you any shots left for the 45-90, besides what's in the
magazine?" asked Rea.
"Yes, a good handful."
"Well, get busy."
With careful aim Jones emptied the magazine into the gray,
gliding, groping mass. The same rustling, shuffling, almost
silent strife ensued.
"Rea, there's something uncanny about those brutes. A silent pack
"Ho! Ho!" rolled the giant's answer through the woods.
For the present the attack appeared to have been effectually
checked. The hunters, sparingly adding a little of their fast
diminishing pile of fuel to the fire. decided to lie down for
much needed rest, but not for sleep. How long they lay there,
cramped by the calves, listening for stealthy steps, neither
could tell; it might have been moments and it might have been
hours. All at once came a rapid rush of pattering feet, succeeded
by a chorus of angry barks, then a terrible commingling of savage
snarls, growls, snaps and yelps.
"Out!" yelled Rea. "They're on the dogs!"
Jones pushed his cocked rifle ahead of him and straightened up
outside the tepee. A wolf, large as a panther and white as the
gleaming snow, sprang at him. Even as he discharged his rifle,
right against the breast of the beast, he saw its dripping jaws,
its wicked green eyes, like spurts of fire and felt its hot
breath. It fell at his feet and writhed in the death struggle.
Slender bodies of black and white, whirling and tussling
together, sent out fiendish uproar. Rea threw a blazing stick of
wood among them, which sizzled as it met the furry coats, and
brandishing another he ran into the thick of the fight. Unable to
stand the proximity of fire, the wolves bolted and loped off into
"What a huge brute!" exclaimed Jones, dragging the one he had
shot into the light. It was a superb animal, thin, supple,
strong, with a coat of frosty fur, very long and fine. Rea began
at once to skin it, remarking that he hoped to find other pelts
in the morning.
Though the wolves remained in the vicinity of camp, none ventured
near. The dogs moaned and whined; their restlessness increased as
dawn approached, and when the gray light came, Jones founds that
some of them had been badly lacerated by the fangs of the wolves.
Rea hunted for dead wolves and found not so much as a piece of
Soon the hunters were speeding southward. Other than a
disposition to fight among themselves, the dogs showed no evil
effects of the attack. They were lashed to their best speed, for
Rea said the white rangers of the north would never quit their
trail. All day the men listened for the wild, lonesome, haunting
mourn. But it came not.
A wonderful halo of white and gold, that Rea called a sun-dog,
hung in the sky all afternoon, and dazzlingly bright over the
dazzling world of snow circled and glowed a mocking sun, brother
of the desert mirage, beautiful illusion, smiling cold out of the
The first pale evening star twinkled in the east when the hunters
made camp on the shore of Artilery Lake. At dusk the clear,
silent air opened to the sound of a long, haunting mourn.
"Ho! Ho!" called Rea. His hoarse, deep voice rang defiance to the
While he built a fire before the tepee, Jones strode up and down,
suddenly to whip out his knife and make for the tame little
musk-oxen, now digging the snow. Then he wheeled abruptly and
held out the blade to Rea.
"What for?" demanded the giant.
"We've got to eat," said Jones. "And I can't kill one of them. I
can't, so you do it."
"Kill one of our calves?" roared Rea. "Not till hell freezes
over! I ain't commenced to get hungry. Besides, the wolves are
going to eat us, calves and all."
Nothing more was said. They ate their last biscuit. Jones packed
the calves away in the tepee, and turned to the dogs. All day
they had worried him; something was amiss with them, and even as
he went among them a fierce fight broke out. Jones saw it was
unusual, for the attacked dogs showed craven fear, and the
attacking ones a howling, savage intensity that surprised him.
Then one of the vicious brutes rolled his eyes, frothed at the
mouth, shuddered and leaped in his harness, vented a hoarse howl
and fell back shaking and retching.
"My God! Rea!" cried Jones in horror. "Come here! Look! That dog
is dying of rabies! Hydrophobia! The white wolves have
"If you ain't right!" exclaimed Rea. "I seen a dog die of thet
onct, an' he acted like this. An' thet one ain't all. Look, Buff!
look at them green eyes! Didn't I say the white wolves was hell?
We'll have to kill every dog we've got."
Jones shot the dog, and soon afterward three more that manifested
signs of the disease. It was an awful situation. To kill all the
dogs meant simply to sacrifice his life and Rea's; it meant
abandoning hope of ever reaching the cabin. Then to risk being
bitten by one of the poisoned, maddened brutes, to risk the most
horrible of agonizing deaths--that was even worse.
"Rea, we've one chance," cried Jones, with pale face. "Can you
hold the dogs, one by one, while muzzle them?"
"Ho! Ho!" replied the giant. Placing his bowie knife between his
teeth, with gloved hands he seized and dragged one of the dogs to
the campfire. The animal whined and protested, but showed no ill
spirit. Jones muzzled his jaws tightly with strong cords. Another
and another were tied up, then one which tried to snap at Jones
was nearly crushed by the giant's grip. The last, a surly brute,
broke out into mad ravings the moment he felt the touch of
Jones's hands, and writhing, frothing, he snapped Jones's sleeve.
Rea jerked him loose and held him in the air with one arm, while
with the other he swung the bowie. They hauled the dead dogs out
on the snow, and returning to the fire sat down to await the cry
Presently, as darkness fastened down tight, it came--the same
cry, wild, haunting, mourning. But for hours it was not repeated.
"Better rest some," said Rea; "I'll call you if they come."
Jones dropped to sleep as he touched his blankets. Morning dawned
for him, to find the great, dark, shadowy figure of the giant
nodding over the fire.
"How's this? Why didn't you call me?" demanded Jones.
"The wolves only fought a little over the dead dogs."
On the instant Jones saw a wolf skulking up the bank. Throwing up
his rifle, which he had carried out of the tepee, he took a
snap-shot at the beast. It ran off on three legs, to go out of
sight over the hank. Jones scrambled up the steep, slippery
place, and upon arriving at the ridge, which took several moments
of hard work, he looked everywhere for the wolf. In a moment he
saw the animal, standing still some hundred or more paces down a
hollow. With the quick report of Jones's second shot, the wolf
fell and rolled over. The hunter ran to the spot to find the wolf
was dead. Taking hold of a front paw, he dragged the animal over
the snow to camp. Rea began to skin the animal, when suddenly he
"This fellow's hind foot is gone!"
"That's strange. I saw it hanging by the skin as the wolf ran up
the bank. I'll look for it."
By the bloody trail on the snow he returned to the place where
the wolf had fallen, and thence back to the spot where its leg
had been broken by the bullet. He discovered no sign of the foot.
"Didn't find it, did you?" said Rea.
"No, and it appears odd to me. The snow is so hard the foot could
not have sunk."
"Well, the wolf ate his foot, thet's what," returned Rea. "Look
at them teeth marks!"
"Is it possible?" Jones stared at the leg Rea held up.
"Yes, it is. These wolves are crazy at times. You've seen thet.
An' the smell of blood, an' nothin' else, mind you, in my
opinion, made him eat his own' foot. We'll cut him open."
Impossible as the thing seemed to Jones--and he could not but
believe further evidence of his own' eyes--it was even stranger
to drive a train of mad dogs. Yet that was what Rea and he did,
and lashed them, beat them to cover many miles in the long day's
journey. Rabies had broken out in several dogs so alarmingly that
Jones had to kill them at the end of the run. And hardly had the
sound of the shots died when faint and far away, but clear as a
bell, bayed on the wind the same haunting mourn of a trailing
"Ho! Ho! where are the wolves?" cried Rea.
A waiting, watching, sleepless night followed. Again the hunters
faced the south. Hour after hour, riding, running, walking, they
urged the poor, jaded, poisoned dogs. At dark they reached the
head of Artillery Lake. Rea placed the tepee between two huge
stones. Then the hungry hunters, tired, grim, silent, desperate,
awaited the familiar cry.
It came on the cold wind, the same haunting mourn, dreadful in
Absence of fire inspirited the wary wolves. Out of the pale gloom
gaunt white forms emerged, agile and stealthy, slipping on
velvet-padded feet, closer, closer, closer. The dogs wailed in
"Into the tepee!" yelled Rea.
Jones plunged in after his comrade. The despairing howls of the
dogs, drowned in more savage, frightful sounds, knelled one
tragedy and foreboded a more terrible one. Jones looked out to
see a white mass, like leaping waves of a rapid.
"Pump lead into thet!" cried Rea.
Rapidly Jones emptied his rifle into the white fray. The mass
split; gaunt wolves leaped high to fall back dead; others
wriggled and limped away; others dragged their hind quarters;
others darted at the tepee.
"No more cartridges!" yelled Jones.
The giant grabbed the ax, and barred the door of the tepee.
Crash! the heavy iron cleaved the skull of the first brute.
Crash! it lamed the second. Then Rea stood in the narrow passage
between the rocks, waiting with uplifted ax. A shaggy, white
demon, snapping his jaws, sprang like a dog. A sodden, thudding
blow met him and he slunk away without a cry. Another rabid beast
launched his white body at the giant. Like a flash the ax
descended. In agony the wolf fell, to spin round and round,
running on his hind legs, while his head and shoulders and
forelegs remained in the snow. His back was broken.
Jones crouched in the opening of the tepee, knife in hand. He
doubted his senses. This was a nightmare. He saw two wolves leap
at once. He heard the crash of the ax; he saw one wolf go down
and the other slip under the swinging weapon to grasp the giant's
hip. Jones's heard the rend of cloth, and then he pounced like a
cat, to drive his knife into the body of the beast. Another
nimble foe lunged at Rea, to sprawl broken and limp from the
iron. It was a silent fight. The giant shut the way to his
comrade and the calves; he made no outcry; he needed but one blow
for every beast; magnificent, he wielded death and faced
it--silent. He brought the white wild dogs of the north down with
lightning blows, and when no more sprang to the attack, down on
the frigid silence he rolled his cry: "Ho! Ho!"
"Rea! Rea! how is it with you?" called Jones, climbing out.
"A torn coat--no more, my lad."
Three of the poor dogs were dead; the fourth and last gasped at
the hunters and died.
The wintry night became a thing of half-conscious past, a dream
to the hunters, manifesting its reality only by the stark, stiff
bodies of wolves, white in the gray morning.
"If we can eat, we'll make the cabin," said Rea. "But the dogs
an' wolves are poison."
"Shall I kill a calf? "Asked Jones.
"Ho! Ho! when hell freezes over--if we must!"
Jones found one 45-90 cartridge in all the outfit, and with that
in the chamber of his rifle, once more struck south. Spruce trees
began to show on the barrens and caribou trails roused hope in
the hearts of the hunters.
"Look in the spruces," whispered Jones, dropping the rope of his
sled. Among the black trees gray objects moved.
"Caribou!" said Rea. "Hurry! Shoot! Don't miss!"
But Jones waited. He knew the value of the last bullet. He had a
hunter's patience. When the caribou came out in an open space,
Jones whistled. It was then the rifle grew set and fixed; it was
then the red fire belched forth.
At four hundred yards the bullet took some fraction of time to
strike. What a long time that was! Then both hunters heard the
spiteful spat of the lead. The caribou fell, jumped up, ran down
the slope, and fell again to rise no more.
An hour of rest, with fire and meat, changed the world to the
hunters; still glistening, it yet had lost its bitter cold its
"What's this?" cried Jones.
Moccasin tracks of different sizes, all toeing north, arrested
"Pointed north! Wonder what thet means?" Rea plodded on,
doubtfully shaking his head.
Night again, clear, cold, silver, starlit, silent night! The
hunters rested, listening ever for the haunting mourn. Day again,
white, passionless, monotonous, silent day. The hunters traveled
on--on--on, ever listening for the haunting mourn.
Another dusk found them within thirty miles of their cabin. Only
one more day now.
Rea talked of his furs, of the splendid white furs he could not
bring. Jones talked of his little muskoxen calves and joyfully
watched them dig for moss in the snow.
Vigilance relaxed that night. Outworn nature rebelled, and both
Rea awoke first, and kicking off the blankets, went out. His
terrible roar of rage made Jones fly to his side.
Under the very shadow of the tepee, where the little musk-oxen
had been tethered, they lay stretched out pathetically on crimson
snow--stiff stone-cold, dead. Moccasin tracks told the story of
Jones leaned against his comrade.
The giant raised his huge fist.
"Jackoway out of wood! Jackoway out of wood!"
Then he choked.
The north wind, blowing through the thin, dark, weird spruce
trees, moaned and seemed to sigh, "Naza! Naza! Naza!"
CHAPTER 11. ON TO THE SIWASH
"Who all was doin' the talkin' last night?" asked Frank next
morning, when we were having a late breakfast. "Cause I've a joke
on somebody. Jim he talks in his sleep often, an' last night
after you did finally get settled down, Jim he up in his sleep
an' says: 'Shore he's windy as hell! Shore he's windy as hell'!"
At this cruel exposure of his subjective wanderings, Jim showed
extreme humiliation; but Frank's eyes fairly snapped with the fun
he got out of telling it. The genial foreman loved a joke. The
week's stay at Oak, in which we all became thoroughly acquainted,
had presented Jim as always the same quiet character, easy, slow,
silent, lovable. In his brother cowboy, however, we had
discovered in addition to his fine, frank, friendly spirit, an
overwhelming fondness for playing tricks. This boyish
mischievousness, distinctly Arizonian, reached its acme whenever
it tended in the direction of our serious leader.
Lawson had been dispatched on some mysterious errand about which
my curiosity was all in vain. The order of the day was leisurely
to get in readiness, and pack for our journey to the Siwash on
the morrow. I watered my horse, played with the hounds, knocked
about the cliffs, returned to the cabin, and lay down on my bed.
Jim's hands were white with flour. He was kneading dough, and had
several low, flat pans on the table. Wallace and Jones strolled
in, and later Frank, and they all took various positions before
the fire. I saw Frank, with the quickness of a sleight-of-hand
performer, slip one of the pans of dough on the chair Jones had
placed by the table. Jim did not see the action; Jones's and
Wallace's backs were turned to Frank, and he did not know I was
in the cabin. The conversation continued on the subject of
Jones's big bay horse, which, hobbles and all, had gotten ten
miles from camp the night before.
"Better count his ribs than his tracks," said Frank, and went on
talking as easily and naturally as if he had not been expecting a
very entertaining situation.
But no one could ever foretell Colonel Jones's actions. He showed
every intention of seating himself in the chair, then walked over
to his pack to begin searching for something or other. Wallace,
however, promptly took the seat; and what began to be funnier
than strange, he did not get up. Not unlikely this circumstance
was owing to the fact that several of the rude chairs had soft
layers of old blanket tacked on them. Whatever were Frank's
internal emotions, he presented a remarkably placid and
commonplace exterior; but when Jim began to search for the
missing pan of dough, the joker slowly sagged in his chair.
"Shore that beats hell!" said Jim. "I had three pans of dough.
Could the pup have taken one?"
Wallace rose to his feet, and the bread pan clattered to the
floor, with a clang and a clank, evidently protesting against the
indignity it had suffered. But the dough stayed with Wallace, a
great white conspicuous splotch on his corduroys. Jim, Frank and
Jones all saw it at once.
"Why--Mr. Wal--lace--you set--in the dough!" exclaimed Frank, in
a queer, strangled voice. Then he exploded, while Jim fell over
It seemed that those two Arizona rangers, matured men though they
were, would die of convulsions. I laughed with them, and so did
Wallace, while he brought his one-handled bowie knife into novel
use. Buffalo Jones never cracked a smile, though he did remark
about the waste of good flour.
Frank's face was a study for a psychologist when Jim actually
apologized to Wallace for being so careless with his pans. I did
not betray Frank, but I resolved to keep a still closer watch on
him. It was partially because of this uneasy sense of his
trickiness in the fringe of my mind that I made a discovery. My
sleeping-bag rested on a raised platform in one corner, and at a
favorable moment I examined the bag. It had not been tampered
with, but I noticed a string turning out through a chink between
the logs. I found it came from a thick layer of straw under my
bed, and had been tied to the end of a flatly coiled lasso.
Leaving the thing as it was, I went outside and carelessly chased
the hounds round the cabin. The string stretched along the logs
to another chink, where it returned into the cabin at a point
near where Frank slept. No great power of deduction was necessary
to acquaint me with full details of the plot to spoil my
slumbers. So I patiently awaited developments.
Lawson rode in near sundown with the carcasses of two beasts of
some species hanging over his saddle. It turned out that Jones
had planned a surprise for Wallace and me, and it could hardly
have been a more enjoyable one, considering the time and place.
We knew he had a flock of Persian sheep on the south slope of
Buckskin, but had no idea it was within striking distance of Oak.
Lawson had that day hunted up the shepherd and his sheep, to
return to us with two sixty-pound Persian lambs. We feasted at
suppertime on meat which was sweet, juicy, very tender and of as
rare a flavor as that of the Rocky Mountain sheep.
My state after supper was one of huge enjoyment and with intense
interest I awaited Frank's first spar for an opening. It came
presently, in a lull of the conversation.
"Saw a big rattler run under the cabin to-day," he said, as if he
were speaking of one of Old Baldy's shoes. "I tried to get a
whack at him, but he oozed away too quick."
"Shore I seen him often," put in Jim. Good, old, honest Jim, led
away by his trickster comrade! It was very plain. So I was to be
frightened by snakes.
"These old canyon beds are ideal dens for rattle snakes," chimed
in my scientific California friend. "I have found several dens,
but did not molest them as this is a particularly dangerous time
of the year to meddle with the reptiles. Quite likely there's a
den under the cabin."
While he made this remarkable statement, he had the grace to hide
his face in a huge puff of smoke. He, too, was in the plot. I
waited for Jones to come out with some ridiculous theory or fact
concerning the particular species of snake, but as he did not
speak, I concluded they had wisely left him out of the secret.
After mentally debating a moment, I decided, as it was a very
harmless joke, to help Frank into the fulfillment of his
"Rattlesnakes!" I exclaimed. "Heavens! I'd die if I heard one,
let alone seeing it. A big rattler jumped at me one day, and I've
never recovered from the shock."
Plainly, Frank was delighted to hear of my antipathy and my
unfortunate experience, and he proceeded to expatiate on the
viciousness of rattlesnakes, particularly those of Arizona. If I
had believed the succeeding stories, emanating from the fertile
brains of those three fellows, I should have made certain that
Arizona canyons were Brazilian jungles. Frank's parting shot,
sent in a mellow, kind voice, was the best point in the whole
trick. "Now, I'd be nervous if I had a sleepin' bag like yours,
because it's just the place for a rattler to ooze into."
In the confusion and dim light of bedtime I contrived to throw
the end of my lasso over the horn of a saddle hanging on the
wall, with the intention of augmenting the noise I soon expected
to create; and I placed my automatic rifle and .38 S. and W.
Special within easy reach of my hand. Then I crawled into my bag
and composed myself to listen. Frank soon began to snore, so
brazenly, so fictitiously, that I wondered at the man's absorbed
intensity in his joke; and I was at great pains to smother in my
breast a violent burst of riotous merriment. Jones's snores,
however, were real enough, and this made me enjoy the situation
all the more; because if he did not show a mild surprise when the
catastrophe fell, I would greatly miss my guess. I knew the three
wily conspirators were wide-awake. Suddenly I felt a movement in
the straw under me and a faint rustling. It was so soft, so
sinuous, that if I had not known it was the lasso, I would
assuredly have been frightened. I gave a little jump, such as one
will make quickly in bed. Then the coil ran out from under the
straw. How subtly suggestive of a snake! I made a slight outcry,
a big jump, paused a moment for effectiveness in which time Frank
forgot to snore--then let out a tremendous yell, grabbed my guns,
sent twelve thundering shots through the roof and pulled my
Crash! the saddle came down, to be followed by sounds not on
Frank's programme and certainly not calculated upon by me. But
they were all the more effective. I gathered that Lawson, who was
not in the secret, and who was a nightmare sort of sleeper
anyway, had knocked over Jim's table, with its array of pots and
pans and then, unfortunately for Jones had kicked that innocent
person in the stomach.
As I lay there in my bag, the very happiest fellow in the wide
world, the sound of my mirth was as the buzz of the wings of a
fly to the mighty storm. Roar on roar filled the cabin.
When the three hypocrites recovered sufficiently from the
startling climax to calm Lawson, who swore the cabin had been
attacked by Indians; when Jones stopped roaring long enough to
hear it was only a harmless snake that had caused the trouble, we
hushed to repose once more--not, however, without hearing some
trenchant remarks from the boiling Colonel anent fun and fools,
and the indubitable fact that there was not a rattlesnake on
Long after this explosion had died away, I heard, or rather felt,
a mysterious shudder or tremor of the cabin, and I knew that
Frank and Jim were shaking with silent laughter. On my own score,
I determined to find if Jones, in his strange make-up, had any
sense of humor, or interest in life, or feeling, or love that did
not center and hinge on four-footed beasts. In view of the rude
awakening from what, no doubt, were pleasant dreams of wonderful
white and green animals, combining the intelligence of man and
strength of brutes--a new species creditable to his genius--I was
perhaps unjust in my conviction as to his lack of humor. And as
to the other question, whether or not he had any real human
feeling for the creatures built in his own image, that was
decided very soon and unexpectedly.
The following morning, as soon as Lawson got in with the horses,
we packed and started. Rather sorry was I to bid good-by to Oak
Spring. Taking the back trail of the Stewarts, we walked the
horses all day up a slowly narrowing, ascending canyon. The
hounds crossed coyote and deer trails continually, but made no
break. Sounder looked up as if to say he associated painful
reminiscences with certain kinds of tracks. At the head of the
canyon we reached timber at about the time dusk gathered, and we
located for the night. Being once again nearly nine thousand feet
high, we found the air bitterly cold, making a blazing fire most
In the haste to get supper we all took a hand, and some one threw
upon our tarpaulin tablecloth a tin cup of butter mixed with
carbolic acid--a concoction Jones had used to bathe the sore feet
of the dogs. Of course I got hold of this, spread a generous
portion on my hot biscuit, placed some red-hot beans on that, and
began to eat like a hungry hunter. At first I thought I was only
burned. Then I recognized the taste and burn of the acid and knew
something was wrong. Picking up the tin, I examined it, smelled
the pungent odor and felt a queer numb sense of fear. This lasted
only for a moment, as I well knew the use and power of the acid,
and had not swallowed enough to hurt me. I was about to make
known my mistake in a matter-of-fact way, when it flashed over me
the accident could be made to serve a turn.
"Jones!" I cried hoarsely. "What's in this butter?"
"Lord! you haven't eaten any of that. Why, I put carbolic acid in
"Oh--oh--oh--I'm poisoned! I ate nearly all of it! Oh--I'm
burning up! I'm dying!" With that I began to moan and rock to and
fro and hold my stomach.
Consternation preceded shock. But in the excitement of the
moment, Wallace--who, though badly scared, retained his wits made
for me with a can of condensed milk. He threw me back with no
gentle hand, and was squeezing the life out of me to make me open
my mouth, when I gave him a jab in his side. I imagined his
surprise, as this peculiar reception of his
first-aid-to-the-injured made him hold off to take a look at me,
and in this interval I contrived to whisper to him: "Joke! Joke!
you idiot! I'm only shamming. I want to see if I can scare Jones
and get even with Frank. Help me out! Cry! Get tragic!"
From that moment I shall always believe that the stage lost a
great tragedian in Wallace. With a magnificent gesture he threw
the can of condensed milk at Jones, who was so stunned he did not
try to dodge. "Thoughtless man! Murderer! it's too late!" cried
Wallace, laying me back across his knees. "It's too late. His
teeth are locked. He's far gone. Poor boy! poor boy! Who's to
tell his mother?"
I could see from under my hat-brim that the solemn, hollow voice
had penetrated the cold exterior of the plainsman. He could not
speak; he clasped and unclasped his big hands in helpless
fashion. Frank was as white as a sheet. This was simply
delightful to me. But the expression of miserable, impotent
distress on old Jim's sun-browned face was more than I could
stand, and I could no longer keep up the deception. Just as
Wallace cried out to Jones to pray--I wished then I had not
weakened so soon--I got up and walked to the fire.
"Jim, I'll have another biscuit, please."
His under jaw dropped, then he nervously shoveled biscuits at me.
Jones grabbed my hand and cried out with a voice that was new to
me: "You can eat? You're better? You'll get over it?"
"Sure. Why, carbolic acid never phases me. I've often used it for
rattlesnake bites. I did not tell you, but that rattler at the
cabin last night actually bit me, and I used carbolic to cure the
Frank mumbled something about horses, and faded into the gloom.
As for Jones, he looked at me rather incredulously, and the
absolute, almost childish gladness he manifested because I had
been snatched from the grave, made me regret my deceit, and
satisfied me forever on one score.
On awakening in the morning I found frost half an inch thick
covered my sleeping-bag, whitened the ground, and made the
beautiful silver spruce trees silver in hue as well as in name.
We were getting ready for an early start, when two riders, with
pack-horses jogging after them, came down the trail from the
direction of Oak Spring. They proved to be Jeff Clarke, the
wild-horse wrangler mentioned by the Stewarts, and his helper.
They were on the way into the breaks for a string of pintos.
Clarke was a short, heavily bearded man, of jovial aspect. He
said he had met the Stewarts going into Fredonia, and being
advised of our destination, had hurried to come up with us. As we
did not know, except in a general way, where we were making for,
the meeting was a fortunate event.
Our camping site had been close to the divide made by one of the
long, wooded ridges sent off by Buckskin Mountain, and soon we
were descending again. We rode half a mile down a timbered slope,
and then out into a beautiful, flat forest of gigantic pines.
Clarke informed us it was a level bench some ten miles long,
running out from the slopes of Buckskin to face the Grand Canyon
on the south, and the 'breaks of the Siwash on the west. For two
hours we rode between the stately lines of trees, and the hoofs
of the horses gave forth no sound. A long, silvery grass,
sprinkled with smiling bluebells, covered the ground, except
close under the pines, where soft red mats invited lounging and
rest. We saw numerous deer, great gray mule deer, almost as large
as elk. Jones said they had been crossed with elk once, which
accounted for their size. I did not see a stump, or a burned
tree, or a windfall during the ride.
Clarke led us to the rim of the canyon. Without any
preparation--for the giant trees hid the open sky--we rode right
out to the edge of the tremendous chasm. At first I did not seem
to think; my faculties were benumbed; only the pure sensorial
instinct of the savage who sees, but does not feel, made me take
note of the abyss. Not one of our party had ever seen the canyon
from this side, and not one of us said a word. But Clarke kept
"Wild place this is hyar," he said. "Seldom any one but horse
wranglers gits over this far. I've hed a bunch of wild pintos
down in a canyon below fer two years. I reckon you can't find no
better place fer camp than right hyar. Listen. Do you hear thet
rumble? Thet's Thunder Falls. You can only see it from one place,
an' thet far off, but thar's brooks you can git at to water the
hosses. Fer thet matter, you can ride up the slopes an' git snow.
If you can git snow close, it'd be better, fer thet's an
all-fired bad trail down fer water."
"Is this the cougar country the Stewarts talked about?" asked
"Reckon it is. Cougars is as thick in hyar as rabbits in a
spring-hole canyon. I'm on the way now to bring up my pintos. The
cougars hev cost me hundreds I might say thousands of dollars. I
lose hosses all the time; an' damn me, gentlemen, I've never
raised a colt. This is the greatest cougar country in the West.
Look at those yellow crags! Thar's where the cougars stay. No one
ever hunted 'em. It seems to me they can't be hunted. Deer and
wild hosses by the thousand browse hyar on the mountain in
summer, an' down in the breaks in winter. The cougars live fat.
You'll find deer and wild-hoss carcasses all over this country.
You'll find lions' dens full of bones. You'll find warm deer left
for the coyotes. But whether you'll find the cougars, I can't
say. I fetched dogs in hyar, an' tried to ketch Old Tom. I've put
them on his trail an' never saw hide nor hair of them again.
Jones, it's no easy huntin' hyar."
"Well, I can see that," replied our leader. "I never hunted lions
in such a country, and never knew any one who had. We'll have to
learn how. We've the time and the dogs, all we need is the stuff
"I hope you fellars git some cougars, an' I believe you will.
Whatever you do, kill Old Tom."
"We'll catch him alive. We're not on a hunt to kill cougars,"
"What!" exclaimed Clarke, looking from Jones to us. His rugged
face wore a half-smile.
"Jones ropes cougars, an' ties them up," replied Frank.
"I'm -- -- if he'll ever rope Old Tom," burst out Clarke,
ejecting a huge quid of tobacco. "Why, man alive! it'd be the
death of you to git near thet old villain. I never seen him, but
I've seen his tracks fer five years. They're larger than any hoss
tracks you ever seen. He'll weigh over three hundred, thet old
cougar. Hyar, take a look at my man's hoss. Look at his back. See
them marks? Wal, Old Tom made them, an' he made them right in
camp last fall, when we were down in the canyon."
The mustang to which Clarke called our attention was a sleek
cream and white pinto. Upon his side and back were long regular
scars, some an inch wide, and bare of hair.
"How on earth did he get rid of the cougar?" asked Jones.
"I don't know. Perhaps he got scared of the dogs. It took thet
pinto a year to git well. Old Tom is a real lion. He'll kill a
full-grown hoss when he wants, but a yearlin' colt is his
especial likin'. You're sure to run acrost his trail, an' you'll
never miss it. Wal, if I find any cougar sign down in the canyon,
I'll build two fires so as to let you know. Though no hunter, I'm
tolerably acquainted with the varmints. The deer an' hosses are
rangin' the forest slopes now, an' I think the cougars come up
over the rim rock at night an' go back in the mornin'. Anyway, if
your dogs can follow the trails, you've got sport, an' more'n
sport comin' to you. But take it from me--don't try to rope Old
After all our disappointments in the beginning of the expedition,
our hardship on the desert, our trials with the dogs and horses,
it was real pleasure to make permanent camp with wood, water and
feed at hand, a soul-stirring, ever-changing picture before us,
and the certainty that we were in the wild lairs of the
lions--among the Lords of the Crags!
While we were unpacking, every now and then I would straighten up
and gaze out beyond. I knew the outlook was magnificent and
sublime beyond words, but as yet I had not begun to understand
it. The great pine trees, growing to the very edge of the rim,
received their full quota of appreciation from me, as did the
smooth, flower-decked aisles leading back into the forest.
The location we selected for camp was a large glade, fifty paces
or more from the precipice far enough, the cowboys averred, to
keep our traps from being sucked down by some of the whirlpool
winds, native to the spot. In the center of this glade stood a
huge gnarled and blasted old pine, that certainly by virtue of
hoary locks and bent shoulders had earned the right to stand
aloof from his younger companions. Under this tree we placed all
our belongings, and then, as Frank so felicitously expressed it,
we were free to "ooze round an' see things."
I believe I had a sort of subconscious, selfish idea that some
one would steal the canyon away from me if I did not hurry to
make it mine forever; so I sneaked off, and sat under a pine
growing on the very rim. At first glance, I saw below me,
seemingly miles away, a wild chaos of red and buff mesas rising
out of dark purple clefts. Beyond these reared a long, irregular
tableland, running south almost to the extent of my vision, which
I remembered Clarke had called Powell's Plateau. I remembered,
also, that he had said it was twenty miles distant, was almost
that many miles long, was connected to the mainland of Buckskin
Mountain by a very narrow wooded dip of land called the Saddle,
and that it practically shut us out of a view of the Grand Canyon
proper. If that was true, what, then, could be the name of the
canyon at my feet? Suddenly, as my gaze wandered from point to
point, it was attested by a dark, conical mountain, white-tipped,
which rose in the notch of the Saddle. What could it mean? Were
there such things as canyon mirages? Then the dim purple of its
color told of its great distance from me; and then its familiar
shape told I had come into my own again--I had found my old
friend once more. For in all that plateau there was only one
snow-capped mountain--the San Francisco Peak; and there, a
hundred and fifty, perhaps two hundred miles away, far beyond the
Grand Canyon, it smiled brightly at me, as it had for days and
days across the desert.
Hearing Jones yelling for somebody or everybody, I jumped up to
find a procession heading for a point farther down the rim wall,
where our leader stood waving his arms. The excitement proved to
have been caused by cougar signs at the head of the trail where
Clarke had started down.
"They're here, boys, they're here," Jones kept repeating, as he
showed us different tracks. "This sign is not so old. Boys,
to-morrow we'll get up a lion, sure as you're born. And if we do,
and Sounder sees him, then we've got a lion-dog! I'm afraid of
Don. He has a fine nose; he can run and fight, but he's been
trained to deer, and maybe I can't break him. Moze is still
uncertain. If old Jude only hadn't been lamed! She would be the
best of the lot. But Sounder is our hope. I'm almost ready to
swear by him."
All this was too much for me, so I slipped off again to be alone,
and this time headed for the forest. Warm patches of sunlight,
like gold, brightened the ground; dark patches of sky, like ocean
blue, gleamed between the treetops. Hardly a rustle of wind in
the fine-toothed green branches disturbed the quiet. When I got
fully out of sight of camp, I started to run as if I were a wild
Indian. My running had no aim; just sheer mad joy of the grand
old forest, the smell of pine, the wild silence and beauty loosed
the spirit in me so it had to run, and I ran with it till the
physical being failed.
While resting on a fragrant bed of pine needles, endeavoring to
regain control over a truant mind, trying to subdue the
encroaching of the natural man on the civilized man, I saw gray
objects moving under the trees. I lost them, then saw them, and
presently so plainly that, with delight on delight, I counted
seventeen deer pass through an open arch of dark green. Rising to
my feet, I ran to get round a low mound. They saw me and bounded
away with prodigiously long leaps. Bringing their forefeet
together, stiff-legged under them, they bounced high, like rubber
balls, yet they were graceful.
The forest was so open that I could watch them for a long way;
and as I circled with my gaze, a glimpse of something white
arrested my attention. A light, grayish animal appeared to be
tearing at an old stump. Upon nearer view, I recognized a wolf,
and he scented or sighted me at the same moment, and loped off
into the shadows of the trees. Approaching the spot where I had
marked him I found he had been feeding from the carcass of a
horse. The remains had been only partly eaten, and were of an
animal of the mustang build that had evidently been recently
killed. Frightful lacerations under the throat showed where a
lion had taken fatal hold. Deep furrows in the ground proved how
the mustang had sunk his hoofs, reared and shaken himself. I
traced roughly defined tracks fifty paces to the lee of a little
bank, from which I concluded the lion had sprung.
I gave free rein to my imagination and saw the forest dark,
silent, peopled by none but its savage denizens, The lion crept
like a shadow, crouched noiselessly down, then leaped on his
sleeping or browsing prey. The lonely night stillness split to a
frantic snort and scream of terror, and the stricken mustang with
his mortal enemy upon his back, dashed off with fierce, wild love
of life. As he went he felt his foe crawl toward his neck on
claws of fire; he saw the tawny body and the gleaming eyes; then
the cruel teeth snapped with the sudden bite, and the woodland
On the spot I conceived an antipathy toward lions. It was born of
the frightful spectacle of what had once been a glossy, prancing
mustang, of the mute, sickening proof of the survival of the
fittest, of the law that levels life.
Upon telling my camp-fellows about my discovery, Jones and
Wallace walked out to see it, while Jim told me the wolf I had
seen was a "lofer," one of the giant buffalo wolves of Buckskin;
and if I would watch the carcass in the mornings and evenings, I
would "shore as hell get a plunk at him."
White pine burned in a beautiful, clear blue flame, with no
smoke; and in the center of the campfire left a golden heart. But
Jones would not have any sitting up, and hustled us off to bed,
saying we would be "blamed" glad of it in about fifteen hours. I
crawled into my sleeping-bag, made a hood of my Navajo blanket,
and peeping from under it, watched the fire and the flickering
shadows. The blaze burned down rapidly. Then the stars blinked.
Arizona stars would be moons in any other State! How serene,
peaceful, august, infinite and wonderfully bright! No breeze
stirred the pines. The clear tinkle of the cowbells on the
hobbled horses rang from near and distant parts of the forest.
The prosaic bell of the meadow and the pasture brook, here, in
this environment, jingled out different notes, as clear, sweet,
musical as silver bells.
CHAPTER 12. OLD TOM
At daybreak our leader routed us out. The frost mantled the
ground so heavily that it looked like snow, and the rare
atmosphere bit like the breath of winter. The forest stood solemn
and gray; the canyon lay wrapped in vapory slumber.
Hot biscuits and coffee, with a chop or two of the delicious
Persian lamb meat, put a less Spartan tinge on the morning, and
gave Wallace and me more strength--we needed not incentive to
leave the fire, hustle our saddles on the horses and get in line
with our impatient leader. The hounds scampered over the frost,
shoving their noses at the tufts of grass and bluebells. Lawson
and Jim remained in camp; the rest of us trooped southwest.
A mile or so in that direction, the forest of pine ended
abruptly, and a wide belt of low, scrubby old trees, breast high
to a horse, fringed the rim of the canyon and appeared to broaden
out and grow wavy southward. The edge of the forest was as dark
and regular as if a band of woodchoppers had trimmed it. We
threaded our way through this thicket, all peering into the
bisecting deer trails for cougar tracks in the dust.
"Bring the dogs! Hurry!" suddenly called Jones from a thicket.
We lost no time complying, and found him standing in a trail,
with his eyes on the sand. "Take a look, boys. A good-sized male
cougar passed here last night. Hyar, Sounder, Don, Moze, come
It was a nervous, excited pack of hounds. Old Jude got to Jones
first, and she sang out; then Sounder opened with his ringing
bay, and before Jones could mount, a string of yelping dogs
sailed straight for the forest.
"Ooze along, boys!" yelled Frank, wheeling Spot.
With the cowboy leading, we strung into the pines, and I found
myself behind. Presently even Wallace disappeared. I almost threw
the reins at Satan, and yelled for him to go. The result
enlightened me. Like an arrow from a bow, the black shot forward.
Frank had told me of his speed, that when he found his stride it
was like riding a flying feather to be on him. Jones, fearing he
would kill me, had cautioned me always to hold him in, which I
had done. Satan stretched out with long graceful motions; he did
not turn aside for logs, but cleared them with easy and powerful
spring, and he swerved only slightly to the trees. This latter, I
saw at once, made the danger for me. It became a matter of saving
my legs and dodging branches. The imperative need of this came to
me with convincing force. I dodged a branch on one tree, only to
be caught square in the middle by a snag on another. Crack! If
the snag had not broken, Satan would have gone on riderless, and
I would have been left hanging, a pathetic and drooping monition
to the risks of the hunt. I kept ducking my head, now and then
falling flat over the pommel to avoid a limb that would have
brushed me off, and hugging the flanks of my horse with my knees.
Soon I was at Wallace's heels, and had Jones in sight. Now and
then glimpses of Frank's white horse gleamed through the trees.
We began to circle toward the south, to go up and down shallow
hollows, to find the pines thinning out; then we shot out of the
forest into the scrubby oak. Riding through this brush was the
cruelest kind of work, but Satan kept on close to the sorrel. The
hollows began to get deeper, and the ridges between them
narrower. No longer could we keep a straight course.
On the crest of one of the ridges we found Jones awaiting us.
Jude, Tige and Don lay panting at his feet. Plainly the Colonel
"Listen," he said, when we reined in.
We complied, but did not hear a sound.
"Frank's beyond there some place," continued Jones, "but I can't
see him, nor hear the hounds anymore. Don and Tige split again on
deer trails. Old Jude hung on the lion track, but I stopped her
here. There's something I can't figure. Moze held a beeline
southwest, and he yelled seldom. Sounder gradually stopped
baying. Maybe Frank can tell us something."
Jones's long drawn-out signal was answered from the direction he
expected, and after a little time, Frank's white horse shone out
of the gray-green of a ledge a mile away.
This drew my attention to our position. We were on a high ridge
out in the open, and I could see fifty miles of the shaggy slopes
of Buckskin. Southward the gray, ragged line seemed to stop
suddenly, and beyond it purple haze hung over a void I knew to be
the canyon. And facing west, I came, at last, to understand
perfectly the meaning of the breaks in the Siwash. They were
nothing more than ravines that headed up on the slopes and ran
down, getting steeper and steeper, though scarcely wider, to
break into the canyon. Knife-crested ridges rolled westward, wave
on wave, like the billows of a sea. I appreciated that these
breaks were, at their sources, little washes easy to jump across,
and at their mouths a mile deep and impassable. Huge pine trees
shaded these gullies, to give way to the gray growth of stunted
oak, which in turn merged into the dark green of pinyon. A
wonderful country for deer and lions, it seemed to me, but
impassable, all but impossible for a hunter.
Frank soon appeared, brushing through the bending oaks, and
Sounder trotted along behind him.
"Where's Moze?" inquired Jones.
"The last I heard of Moze he was out of the brush, goin' across
the pinyon flat, right for the canyon. He had a hot trail."
"Well, we're certain of one thing; if it was a deer, he won't
come back soon, and if it was a lion, he'll tree it, lose the
scent, and come back. We've got to show the hounds a lion in a
tree. They'd run a hot trail, bump into a tree, and then be at
fault. What was wrong with Sounder?"
"I don't know. He came back to me."
"We can't trust him, or any of them yet. Still, maybe they're
doing better than we know."
The outcome of the chase, so favorably started was a
disappointment, which we all felt keenly. After some discussion,
we turned south, intending to ride down to the rim wall and
follow it back to camp. I happened to turn once, perhaps to look
again at the far-distant pink cliffs of Utah, or the wave-like
dome of Trumbull Mountain, when I saw Moze trailing close behind
me. My yell halted the Colonel.
"Well, I'll be darned!" ejaculated he, as Moze hove in sight.
"Come hyar, you rascal!"
He was a tired dog, but had no sheepish air about him, such as he
had worn when lagging in from deer chases. He wagged his tail,
and flopped down to pant and pant, as if to say: "What's wrong
with you guys?"
"Boys, for two cents I'd go back and put Jude on that trail. It's
just possible that Moze treed a lion. But--well, I expect there's
more likelihood of his chasing the lion over the rim; so we may
as well keep on. The strange thing is that Sounder wasn't with
Moze. There may have been two lions. You see we are up a tree
ourselves. I have known lions to run in pairs, and also a mother
keep four two-year-olds with her. But such cases are rare. Here,
in this country, though, maybe they run round and have parties."
As we left the breaks behind we got out upon a level pinyon flat.
A few cedars grew with the pinyons. Deer runways and trails were
"Boys, look at that," said Jones. "This is great lion country,
the best I ever saw."
He pointed to the sunken, red, shapeless remain of two horses,
and near them a ghastly scattering of bleached bones. "A
lion-lair right here on the flat. Those two horses were killed
early this spring, and I see no signs of their carcasses having
been covered with brush and dirt. I've got to learn lion lore
over again, that's certain."
As we paused at the head of a depression, which appeared to be a
gap in the rim wall, filled with massed pinyons and splintered
piles of yellow stone, caught Sounder going through some
interesting moves. He stopped to smell a bush. Then he lifted his
head, and electrified me with a great, deep sounding bay.
"Hi! there, listen to that!" yelled Jones "What's Sounder got?
Give him room--don't run him down. Easy now, old dog, easy,
Sounder suddenly broke down a trail. Moze howled, Don barked, and
Tige let out his staccato yelp. They ran through the brush here,
there, every where. Then all at once old Jude chimed in with her
mellow voice, and Jones tumbled off his horse.
"By the Lord Harry! There's something here."
"Here, Colonel, here's the bush Sounder smelt and there's a sandy
trail under it," I called.
"There go Don an' Tige down into the break' cried Frank. "They've
got a hot scent!"
Jones stooped over the place I designated, to jerk up with
reddening face, and as he flung himself into the saddle roared
out: "After Sounder! Old Tom! Old Tom! Old Tom!"
We all heard Sounder, and at the moment of Jones's discovery,
Moze got the scent and plunged ahead of us.
"Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!" yelled the Colonel. Frank sent Spot forward
like a white streak. Sounder called to us in irresistible bays,
which Moze answered, and then crippled Jude bayed in baffled
The atmosphere was charged with that lion. As if by magic, the
excitation communicated itself to all, and men, horses and dogs
acted in accord. The ride through the forest had been a jaunt.
This was a steeplechase, a mad, heedless, perilous, glorious
race. And we had for a pacemaker a cowboy mounted on a tireless
Always it seemed to me, while the wind rushed, the brush whipped,
I saw Frank far ahead, sitting his saddle as if glued there,
holding his reins loosely forward. To see him ride so was a
beautiful sight. Jones let out his Comanche yell at every dozen
jumps and Wallace sent back a thrilling "Waa-hoo-o!" In the
excitement I had again checked my horse, and when Jones
remembered, and loosed the bridle, how the noble animal
responded! The pace he settled into dazed me; I could hardly
distinguish the deer trail down which he was thundering. I lost
my comrades ahead; the pinyons blurred in my sight; I only
faintly heard the hounds. It occurred to me we were making for
the breaks, but I did not think of checking Satan. I thought only
of flying on faster and faster.
"On! On! old fellow! Stretch out! Never lose this race! We've got
to be there at the finish!" I called to Satan, and he seemed to
understand and stretched lower, farther, quicker.
The brush pounded my legs and clutched and tore my clothes; the
wind whistled; the pinyon branches cut and whipped my face. Once
I dodged to the left, as Satan swerved to the right, with the
result that I flew out of the saddle, and crashed into a pinyon
tree, which marvelously brushed me back into the saddle. The wild
yells and deep bays sounded nearer. Satan tripped and plunged
down, throwing me as gracefully as an aerial tumbler wings his
flight. I alighted in a bush, without feeling of scratch or pain.
As Satan recovered and ran past, I did not seek to make him stop,
but getting a good grip on the pommel, I vaulted up again. Once
more he raced like a wild mustang. And from nearer and nearer in
front pealed the alluring sounds of the chase.
Satan was creeping close to Wallace and Jones, with Frank looming
white through the occasional pinyons. Then all dropped out of
sight, to appear again suddenly. They had reached the first
break. Soon I was upon it. Two deer ran out of the ravine, almost
brushing my horse in the haste. Satan went down and up in a few
giant strides. Only the narrow ridge separated us from another
break. It was up and down then for Satan, a work to which he
manfully set himself. Occasionally I saw Wallace and Jones, but
heard them oftener. All the time the breaks grew deeper, till
finally Satan had to zigzag his way down and up. Discouragement
fastened on me, when from the summit of the next ridge I saw
Frank far down the break, with Jones and Wallace not a quarter of
a mile away from him. I sent out a long, exultant yell as Satan
crashed into the hard, dry wash in the bottom of the break.
I knew from the way he quickened under me that he intended to
overhaul somebody. Perhaps because of the clear going, or because
my frenzy had cooled to a thrilling excitement which permitted
detail, I saw clearly and distinctly the speeding horsemen down
the ravine. I picked out the smooth pieces of ground ahead, and
with the slightest touch of the rein on his neck, guided Satan
into them. How he ran! The light, quick beats of his hoofs were
regular, pounding. Seeing Jones and Wallace sail high into the
air, I knew they had jumped a ditch. Thus prepared, I managed to
stick on when it yawned before me; and Satan, never slackening,
leaped up and up, giving me a new swing.
Dust began to settle in little clouds before me; Frank, far
ahead, had turned his mustang up the side of the break; Wallace,
within hailing distance, now turned to wave me a hand. The
rushing wind fairly sang in my ears; the walls of the break were
confused blurs of yellow and green; at every stride Satan seemed
to swallow a rod of the white trail.
Jones began to scale the ravine, heading up obliquely far on the
side of where Frank had vanished, and as Wallace followed suit, I
turned Satan. I caught Wallace at the summit, and we raced
together out upon another flat of pinyon. We heard Frank and
Jones yelling in a way that caused us to spur our horses
frantically. Spot, gleaming white near a clump of green pinyons,
was our guiding star. That last quarter of a mile was a ringing
run, a ride to remember.
As our mounts crashed back with stiff forelegs and haunches,
Wallace and I leaped off and darted into the clump of pinyons,
whence issued a hair-raising medley of yells and barks. I saw
Jones, then Frank, both waving their arms, then Moze and Sounder
running wildly, airlessly about.
"Look there!" rang in my ear, and Jones smashed me on the back
with a blow, which at any ordinary time would have laid me flat.
In a low, stubby pinyon tree, scarce twenty feet from us, was a
tawny form. An enormous mountain lion, as large as an African
lioness, stood planted with huge, round legs on two branches; and
he faced us gloomily, neither frightened nor fierce. He watched
the running dogs with pale, yellow eyes, waved his massive head
and switched a long, black tufted tail.
"It's Old Tom! sure as you're born! It's Old Tom!" yelled Jones.
"There's no two lions like that in one country. Hold still now.
Jude is here, and she'll see him, she'll show him to the other
hounds. Hold still!"
We heard Jude coming at a fast pace for a lame dog, and we saw
her presently, running with her nose down for a moment, then up.
She entered the clump of trees, and bumped her nose against the
pinyon Old Tom was in, and looked up like a dog that knew her
business. The series of wild howls she broke into quickly brought
Sounder and Moze to her side. They, too, saw the big lion, not
fifteen feet over their heads.
We were all yelling and trying to talk at once, in some such
state as the dogs.
"Hyar, Moze! Come down out of that!" hoarsely shouted Jones.
Moze had begun to climb the thick, many-branched, low pinyon
tree. He paid not the slightest attention to Jones, who screamed
and raged at him.
"Cover the lion!" cried he to me. "Don't shoot unless he crouches
to jump on me."
The little beaded front-sight wavered slightly as I held my rifle
leveled at the grim, snarling face, and out of the corner of my
eye, as it were, I saw Jones dash in under the lion and grasp
Moze by the hind leg and haul him down. He broke from Jones and
leaped again to the first low branch. His master then grasped his
collar and carried him to where we stood and held him choking.
"Boys, we can't keep Tom up there. When he jumps, keep out of his
way. Maybe we can chase him up a better tree."
Old Tom suddenly left the branches, swinging violently; and
hitting the ground like a huge cat on springs, he bounded off,
tail up, in a most ludicrous manner. His running, however, did
not lack speed, for he quickly outdistanced the bursting hounds.
A stampede for horses succeeded this move. I had difficulty in
closing my camera, which I had forgotten until the last moment,
and got behind the others. Satan sent the dust flying and the
pinyon branches crashing. Hardly had I time to bewail my ill-luck
in being left, when I dashed out of a thick growth of trees to
come upon my companions, all dismounted on the rim of the Grand
"He's gone down! He's gone down!" raged Jones, stamping the
ground. "What luck! What miserable luck! But don't quit; spread
along the rim, boys, and look for him. Cougars can't fly. There's
a break in the rim somewhere."
The rock wall, on which we dizzily stood, dropped straight down
for a thousand feet, to meet a long, pinyon-covered slope, which
graded a mile to cut off into what must have been the second
wall. We were far west of Clarke's trail now, and faced a point
above where Kanab Canyon, a red gorge a mile deep, met the great
canyon. As I ran along the rim, looking for a fissure or break,
my gaze seemed impellingly drawn by the immensity of this thing I
could not name, and for which I had as yet no intelligible
Two "Waa-hoos" in the rear turned me back in double-quick time,
and hastening by the horses, I found the three men grouped at the
head of a narrow break.
"He went down here. Wallace saw him round the base of that
The break was wedge-shaped, with the sharp end off toward the
rim, and it descended so rapidly as to appear almost
perpendicular. It was a long, steep slide of small, weathered
shale, and a place that no man in his right senses would ever
have considered going down. But Jones, designating Frank and me,
said in his cool, quick voice:
"You fellows go down. Take Jude and Sounder in leash. If you find
his trail below along the wall, yell for us. Meanwhile, Wallace
and I will hang over the rim and watch for him."
Going down, in one sense, was much easier than had appeared, for
the reason that once started we moved on sliding beds of
weathered stone. Each of us now had an avalanche for a steed.
Frank forged ahead with a roar, and then seeing danger below,
tried to get out of the mass. But the stones were like quicksand;
every step he took sunk him in deeper. He grasped the smooth
cliff, to find holding impossible. The slide poured over a fall
like so much water. He reached and caught a branch of a pinyon,
and lifting his feet up, hung on till the treacherous area of
moving stones had passed.
While I had been absorbed in his predicament, my avalanche
augmented itself by slide on slide, perhaps loosened by his; and
before I knew it, I was sailing down with ever-increasing
momentum. The sensation was distinctly pleasant, and a certain
spirit, before restrained in me, at last ran riot. The slide
narrowed at the drop where Frank had jumped, and the stones
poured over in a stream. I jumped also, but having a rifle in one
hand, failed to hold, and plunged down into the slide again. My
feet were held this time, as in a vise. I kept myself upright and
waited. Fortunately, the jumble of loose stone slowed and
stopped, enabling me to crawl over to one side where there was
comparatively good footing. Below us, for fifty yards was a sheet
of rough stone, as bare as washed granite well could be. We slid
down this in regular schoolboy fashion, and had reached another
restricted neck in the fissure, when a sliding crash above warned
us that the avalanches had decided to move of their own free
will. Only a fraction of a moment had we to find footing along
the yellow cliff, when, with a cracking roar, the mass struck the
slippery granite. If we had been on that slope, our lives would
not have been worth a grain of the dust flying in clouds above
us. Huge stones, that had formed the bottom of the slides, shot
ahead, and rolling, leaping, whizzed by us with frightful
velocity, and the remainder groaned and growled its way down, to
thunder over the second fall and die out in a distant rumble.
The hounds had hung back, and were not easily coaxed down to us.
From there on, down to the base of the gigantic cliff, we
descended with little difficulty.
"We might meet the old gray cat anywheres along here," said
The wall of yellow limestone had shelves, ledges, fissures and
cracks, any one of which might have concealed a lion. On these
places I turned dark, uneasy glances. It seemed to me events
succeeded one another so rapidly that I had no time to think, to
examine, to prepare. We were rushed from one sensation to
"Gee! look here," said Frank; "here's his tracks. Did you ever
see the like of that?"
Certainly I had never fixed my eyes on such enormous cat-tracks
as appeared in the yellow dust at the base of the rim wall. The
mere sight of them was sufficient to make a man tremble.
"Hold in the dogs, Frank," I called. "Listen. I think I heard a
From far above came a yell, which, though thinned out by
distance, was easily recognized as Jones's. We returned to the
opening of the break, and throwing our heads back, looked up the
slide to see him coming down.
"Wait for me! Wait for me! I saw the lion go in a cave. Wait for
With the same roar and crack and slide of rocks as had attended
our descent, Jones bore down on us. For an old man it was a
marvelous performance. He walked on the avalanches as though he
wore seven-league boots, and presently, as we began to dodge
whizzing bowlders, he stepped down to us, whirling his coiled
lasso. His jaw bulged out; a flash made fire in his cold eyes.
"Boys, we've got Old Tom in a corner. I worked along the rim
north and looked over every place I could. Now, maybe you won't
believe it, but I heard him pant. Yes, sir, he panted like the
tired lion he is. Well, presently I saw him lying along the base
of the rim wall. His tongue was hanging out. You see, he's a
heavy lion, and not used to running long distances. Come on, now.
It's not far. Hold in the dogs. You there with the rifle, lead
off, and keep your eyes peeled."
Single file, we passed along in the shadow of the great cliff. A
wide trail had been worn in the dust.
"A lion run-way," said Jones. "Don't you smell the cat?"
Indeed, the strong odor of cat was very pronounced; and that,
without the big fresh tracks, made the skin on my face tighten
and chill. As we turned a jutting point in the wall, a number of
animals, which I did not recognize, plunged helter-skelter down
the canyon slope.
"Rocky Mountain sheep!" exclaimed Jones. "Look! Well, this is a
discovery. I never heard of a bighorn in the Canyon."
It was indicative of the strong grip Old Tom had on us that we at
once forgot the remarkable fact of coming upon those rare sheep
in such a place.
Jones halted us presently before a deep curve described by the
rim wall, the extreme end of which terminated across the slope in
an impassable projecting corner.
"See across there, boys. See that black hole. Old Tom's in
"What's your plan?" queried the cowboy sharply.
"Wait. We'll slip up to get better lay of the land."
We worked our way noiselessly along the rim-wall curve for
several hundred yards and came to a halt again, this time with a
splendid command of the situation. The trail ended abruptly at
the dark cave, so menacingly staring at us, and the corner of the
cliff had curled back upon itself. It was a box-trap, with a drop
at the end, too great for any beast, a narrow slide of weathered
stone running down, and the rim wall trail. Old Tom would plainly
be compelled to choose one of these directions if he left his
"Frank, you and I will keep to the wall and stop near that scrub
pinyon, this side of the hole. If I rope him, I can use that
Then he turned to me:
"Are you to be depended on here?"
"I? What do you want me to do?" I demanded, and my whole breast
seemed to sink in.
"You cut across the head of this slope and take up your position
in the slide below the cave, say just by that big stone. From
there you can command the cave, our position and your own. Now,
if it is necessary to kill this lion to save me or Frank, or, of
course, yourself, can you be depended upon to kill him?"
I felt a queer sensation around my heart and a strange tightening
of the skin upon my face! What a position for me to be placed in!
For one instant I shook like a quivering aspen leaf. Then because
of the pride of a man, or perhaps inherited instincts cropping
out at this perilous moment, I looked up and answered quietly:
"Yes. I will kill him!"
"Old Tom is cornered, and he'll come out. He can run only two
ways: along this trail, or down that slide. I'll take my stand by
the scrub pinyon there so I can get a hitch if I rope him. Frank,
when I give the word, let the dogs go. Grey, you block the slide.
If he makes at us, even if I do get my rope on him, kill him!
Most likely he'll jump down hill--then you'll HAVE to kill him!
Be quick. Now loose the hounds. Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!"
I jumped into the narrow slide of weathered stone and looked up.
Jones's stentorian yell rose high above the clamor of the hounds.
He whirled his lasso.
A huge yellow form shot over the trail and hit the top of the
slide with a crash. The lasso streaked out with arrowy swiftness,
circled, and snapped viciously close to Old Tom's head. "Kill
him! Kill him!" roared Jones. Then the lion leaped, seemingly
into the air above me. Instinctively I raised my little automatic
rifle. I seemed to hear a million bellowing reports. The tawny
body, with its grim, snarling face, blurred in my sight. I heard
a roar of sliding stones at my feet. I felt a rush of wind. I
caught a confused glimpse of a whirling wheel of fur, rolling
down the slide.
Then Jones and Frank were pounding me, and yelling I know not
what. From far above came floating down a long "Waa-hoo!" I saw
Wallace silhouetted against the blue sky. I felt the hot barrel
of my rifle, and shuddered at the bloody stones below me--then,
and then only, did I realize, with weakening legs, that Old Tom
had jumped at me, and had jumped to his death.
CHAPTER 13. SINGING CLIFFS
Old Tom had rolled two hundred yards down the canyon, leaving a
red trail and bits of fur behind him. When I had clambered down
to the steep slide where he had lodged, Sounder and Jude had just
decided he was no longer worth biting, and were wagging their
tails. Frank was shaking his head, and Jones, standing above the
lion, lasso in hand, wore a disconsolate face.
"How I wish I had got the rope on him!"
"I reckon we'd be gatherin' up the pieces of you if you had,"
said Frank, dryly.
We skinned the old king on the rocky slope of his mighty throne,
and then, beginning to feel the effects of severe exertion, we
cut across the slope for the foot of the break. Once there, we
gazed up in disarray. That break resembled a walk of life--how
easy to slip down, how hard to climb! Even Frank, inured as he
was to strenuous toil, began to swear and wipe his sweaty brow
before we had made one-tenth of the ascent. It was particularly
exasperating, not to mention the danger of it, to work a few feet
up a slide, and then feel it start to move. We had to climb in
single file, which jeopardized the safety of those behind the
leader. Sometimes we were all sliding at once, like boys on a
pond, with the difference that we were in danger. Frank forged
ahead, turning to yell now and then for us to dodge a cracking
stone. Faithful old Jude could not get up in some places, so
laying aside my rifle, I carried her, and returned for the
weapon. It became necessary, presently, to hide behind cliff
projections to escape the avalanches started by Frank, and to
wait till he had surmounted the break. Jones gave out completely
several times, saying the exertion affected his heart. What with
my rifle, my camera and Jude, I could offer him no assistance,
and was really in need of that myself. When it seemed as if one
more step would kill us, we reached the rim, and fell panting
with labored chests and dripping skins. We could not speak. Jones
had worn a pair of ordinary shoes without thick soles and nails,
and it seemed well to speak of them in the past tense. They were
split into ribbons and hung on by the laces. His feet were cut
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