Tales of Lonely Trails by Zane Grey
Chapter IV. Tonto Basin
After we had unpacked and while the men were pitching the tents and getting supper I took Romer on a hunt up the creek. I was considerably pleased to see good-sized trout in the deeper pools. A little way above camp the creek forked. As the right-hand branch appeared to be larger and more attractive we followed its course. Soon the bustle of camp life and the sound of the horses were left far behind. Romer slipped along beside me stealthily as an Indian, all eyes and ears.
We had not traveled thus for a quarter of a mile when my quick ear caught the cluck-cluck of turkeys. "Listen," I whispered, halting. Romer became like a statue, his dark eyes dilating, his nostrils quivering, his whole body strung. He was a Zane all right. A turkey called again; then another answered. Romer started, and nodded his head vehemently.
"Come on now, right behind me," I whispered. "Step where I step and do what I do. Don't break any twigs."
Cautiously we glided up the creek, listening now and then to get the direction, until we came to an open place where we could see some distance up a ridge. The turkey clucks came from across the creek somewhere up this open aisle of the forest. I crawled ahead several rods to a more advantageous point, much pleased to note that Romer kept noiselessly at my heels. Then from behind a stone we peeped out. Almost at once a turkey flew down from a tree into the open lane. "Look Dad!" whispered Romer, wildly. I had to hold him down. "That's a hen turkey," I said. "See, it's small and dull-colored. The gobblers are big, shiny, and they have red on their heads."
Another hen turkey flew down from a rather low height. Then I made out grapevines, and I saw several animated dark patches among them. As I looked three turkeys flopped down to the ground. One was a gobbler of considerable size, with beautiful white and bronze feathers. Rather suspiciously he looked down our way. The distance was not more than a hundred yards. I aimed at him, feeling as I did so how Romer quivered beside me, but I had no confidence in Copple's rifle. The sights were wrong for me. The stock did not fit me. So, hoping for a closer and better shot, I let this opportunity pass. Of course I should have taken it. The gobbler clucked and began to trot up the ridge, with the others after him. They were not frightened, but they appeared rather suspicious. When they disappeared in the woods Romer and I got up, and hurried in pursuit. "Gee! why didn't you peg that gobbler?" broke out Romer, breathlessly. "Wasn't he a peach?"
When we reached the top of the ridge we advanced very cautiously again. Another open place led to a steep, rocky hillside with cedars and pines growing somewhat separated. I was disappointed in not seeing the turkeys. Then in our anxiety and eagerness we hurried on, not noiselessly by any means. All of a sudden there was a rustle, and then a great whirr of wings. Three turkeys flew like grouse away into the woods. Next I saw the white gobbler running up the rocky hillside. At first he was in the open. Aiming as best I could I waited for him to stop or hesitate. But he did neither. "Peg him, Dad!" yelled Romer. The lad was right. My best chance I had again forfeited. To hit a running wild turkey with a rifle bullet was a feat I had not done so often as to inspire conceit. The gobbler was wise, too. For that matter all grown gobblers are as wise as old bucks, except in the spring mating season, when it is a crime to hunt them. This one, just as I got a bead on him, always ran behind a rock or tree or shrub. Finally in desperation I took a snap shot at him, hitting under him, making him jump. Then in rapid succession I fired four more times. I had the satisfaction of seeing where my bullets struck up the dust, even though they did go wide of the mark. After my last shot the gobbler disappeared.
"Well, Dad, you sure throwed the dirt over him!" declared Romer.
"Son, I don't believe I could hit a flock of barns with this gun," I replied, gazing doubtfully at the old, shiny, wire-wrapped, worn-out Winchester Copple had lent me. I had been told that he was a fine marksman and could drive a nail with it. Upon my return to camp I tried out the rifle, carefully, with a rest, to find that it was not accurate. Moreover it did not throw the bullets consistently. It shot high, wide, low; and right there I abandoned any further use for it. R.C. tried to make me take his rifle to use on the hunting trip; Nielsen and Lee wanted me to take theirs, but I was disgusted with myself and refused. "Thanks, boys," I said. "Maybe this will be a lesson to me."
We had been up since three o'clock that morning, and the day's travel had been exhausting. I had just enough energy left to scrape up a huge, soft pile of pine needles upon which to make our bed. After that all was oblivion until I was awakened by the ringing strokes of Nielsen's axe.
The morning, after the sun got up, was exceedingly delightful. And this camp was such a contrast to the others, so pleasant and attractive, that even if we had not arranged to meet Lee Haught and his sons here I would have stayed a while anyway. Haught was a famed bear hunter who lived in a log-cabin somewhere up under the rim of the mesa. While Lee and Nielsen rode off up the trail to find Haught I gave Romer his first try at rainbow trout. The water of the creek was low and clear, so that we could see plenty of good-sized trout. But they were shy. They would not rise readily to any of our flies, though I got several strikes. We searched under the stones for worms and secured a few. Whereupon Romer threw a baited hook to a trout we plainly saw. The trout gobbled it. Romer had been instructed in the fine art of angling, but whenever he got a bite he always forgot science. He yanked this ten-inch rainbow right out. Then in another pool he hooked a big fellow that had ideas of his own as well as weight and strength. Romer applied the same strenuous tactics. But this trout nearly pulled Romer off the rock before the line broke. I took occasion then to deliver to the lad a lecture. In reply he said tearfully: "I didn't know he was so--so big."
When we returned to camp, Haught and his sons were there. Even at a distance their horses, weapons, and persons satisfied my critical eye. Lee Haught was a tall, spare, superbly built man, with square shoulders. He had a brown face with deep lines and sunken cheeks, keen hazel eyes, heavy dark mustache, and hair streaked a little with gray. The only striking features of his apparel were his black sombrero and long spurs.
His sons, Edd and George, were young, lean, sallow, still-faced, lanky-legged horsemen with clear gray eyes. They did not appear to be given, to much speech. Both were then waiting for the call of the army draft. Looking at them then, feeling the tranquil reserve and latent force of these Arizonians, I reflected that the Germans had failed in their psychology of American character. A few hundred thousand Americans like the Haught boys would have whipped the German army.
We held a council. Haught said he would send his son Edd with Doyle, and by a long roundabout forest road get the wagon up on the mesa. With his burros and some of our horses packed we could take part of the outfit up the creek trail, past his cabin, and climb out on the rim, where we would find grass, water, wood, and plenty of game.
The idea of permanent camp before sunset that very day inspired us to united and vigorous effort. By noon we had the pack train ready. Edd and Doyle climbed on the wagon to start the other way. Romer waved his hand: "Good-bye, Mr. Doyle, don't break down and lose the apples!"
Then we were off, up the narrow trail along the creek. Haught led the way. Romer attached himself to the bear-hunter, and wherever the trail was wide enough rode beside him. R.C. and I followed. The other men fell in behind the pack train.
The ride was hot, and for the most part all up hill. That basin could be likened to the ribs of a washboard: it was all hills, gorges, ridges and ravines. The hollows of this exceedingly rough country were thick with pine and oak, the ridges covered with cedar, juniper, and manzanita. The ground, where it was not rocky, was a dry, red clay. We passed Haught's log cabin and clearing of a few acres, where I saw fat hogs and cattle. Beyond this point the trail grew more zigzag, and steeper, and shadier. As we got higher up the air grew cooler. I noted a change in the timber. The trees grew larger, and other varieties appeared. We crossed a roaring brook lined by thick, green brush, very pleasant to the eye, and bronze-gold ferns that were beautiful. We passed oaks all green and yellow, and maple trees, wonderfully colored red and cerise. Then still higher up I espied some silver spruces, most exquisite trees of the mountain forests.
During the latter half of the climb up to the rim I had to attend to the business of riding and walking. The trail was rough, steep, and long. Once Haught called my attention to a flat stone with a plain trail made by a turtle in ages past when that sandstone was wet, sedimentary deposit. By and bye we reached the last slopes up to the mesa, green, with yellow crags and cliffs, and here and there blazing maples to remind me again that autumn was at hand.
At last we surmounted the rim, from which I saw a scene that defied words. It was different from any I had seen before. Black timber as far as eye could see! Then I saw a vast bowl inclosed by dim mountain ranges, with a rolling floor of forested ridges, and dark lines I knew to be canyons. For wild, rugged beauty I had not seen its equal.
When the pack train reached the rim we rode on, and now through a magnificent forest at eight thousand feet altitude. Big white and black clouds obscured the sun. A thunder shower caught us. There was hail, and the dry smell of dust, and a little cold rain. Romer would not put on his slicker. Haught said the drought had been the worst he had seen in twenty years there. Up in this odorous forestland I could not see where there had been lack of rain. The forest appeared thick, grassy, gold and yellow and green and brown. Thickets and swales of oaks and aspens were gorgeous in their autumn hues. The silver spruces sent down long, graceful branches that had to be brushed aside or stooped under as we rode along. Big gray squirrels with white tails and tufted ears ran up trees to perch on limbs and watch us go by; and other squirrels, much smaller and darker gray, frisked and chattered and scolded at a great rate.
We passed little depressions that ran down into ravines, and these, Haught informed me, were the heads of canyons that sloped away from the rim, deepening and widening for miles. The rim of the mesa was its highest point, except here and there a few elevations like Black Butte. Geologically this mesa was an enormous fault, like the north rim of the Grand Canyon. During the formation of the earth, or the hardening of the crust, there had been a crack or slip, so that one edge of the crust stood up sheer above the other. We passed the heads of Leonard Canyon, Gentry, and Turkey Canyons, and at last, near time of sunset, headed down into beautifully colored, pine-sloped, aspen-thicketed Beaver Dam Canyon.
A mile from the rim we were deep in the canyon, walled in by rock-strewn and pine-timbered slopes too steep for a horse to climb. There was a little gully on the black soil where there were no evidences of recent water. Haught said he had never seen Beaver Dam Creek dry until this season. We traveled on until we came to a wide, open space, where three forks of this canyon met, and where in the middle of this glade there rose a lengthy wooded bench, shaded and beautified by stately pines and silver spruce. At this point water appeared in the creek bed, flowing in tiny stream that soon gathered volume. Cold and clear and pure it was all that was needed to make this spot an ideal camp site. Haught said half a mile below there was a grassy park where the horses would graze with elk.
We pitched our tents on this bench, and I chose for my location a space between two great monarchs of the forests, that had surely shaded many an Indian encampment. At the upper end of the bench rose a knoll, golden and green with scrub oaks, and russet-colored with its lichened rocks. About all we could manage that evening was to eat and go to bed.
Morning broke cool and bright, with heavy dew. I got my boots as wet as if I had waded in water. This surprised me, occurring on October sixth, and at eight thousand feet altitude, as I had expected frost. Most of this day was spent in making camp, unpacking, and attending to the many necessary little details that make for comfort in the open. To be sure Romer worked very spasmodically. He spent most of his time on the back of one of Haught's burros, chasing and roping another. I had not remembered seeing the lad so happily occupied.
Late in the afternoon I slipped off down the canyon alone, taking Haught's rifle for safety rather than a desire to kill anything. By no means was it impossible to meet a bad bear in that forest. Some distance below camp I entered a ravine and climbed up to the level, and soon found myself deep in the fragrant, colorful, wild forest. Like coming home again was it to enter that forest of silver-tipped, level-spreading spruce, and great, gnarled, massive pines, and oak-patches of green and gold, and maple thickets, with shining aspens standing white against the blaze of red and purple. High, wavy, bleached grass, brown mats of pine needles, gray-green moss waving from the spruces, long strands of sunlight--all these seemed to welcome me.
At a distance there was a roar of wind through the forest; close at hand only a soft breeze. Rustling of twigs caused me to compose myself to listen and watch. Soon small gray squirrels came into view all around me, bright-eyed and saucy, very curious about this intruder. They began to chatter. Other squirrels were working in the tops of trees, for I heard the fall of pine cones. Then came the screech of blue jays. Soon they too discovered me. The male birds were superb, dignified, beautiful. The color was light blue all over with dark blue head and tufted crest. By and bye they ceased to scold me, and I was left to listen to the wind, and to the tiny patter of dropping seeds and needles from the spruces. What cool, sweet, fresh smell this woody, leafy, earthy, dry, grassy, odorous fragrance, dominated by scent of pine! How lonesome and restful! I felt a sense of deep peace and rest. This golden-green forest, barred with sunlight, canopied by the blue sky, and melodious with its soughing moan of wind, absolutely filled me with content and happiness. If a stag or a bear had trotted out into my sight, and had showed me no animosity, not improbably I would have forgotten my gun. More and more as I lived in the open I grew reluctant to kill.
Presently a porcupine waddled along some rods away, and unaware of my presence it passed by and climbed a spruce. I saw it climb high and finally lost sight of it. In searching up and down this spruce I grew alive to what a splendid and beautiful tree it was. Where so many trees grew it always seemed difficult to single out one and study it. This silver spruce was five feet through at the base, rugged, gray-seamed, thick all the way to its lofty height. Its branches were small, with a singular feature that they were uniform in shape, length, and droop. Most all spruce branches drooped toward the ground. That explained why they made such excellent shelters from rain. After a hard storm I had seen the ground dry under a thick-foliaged spruce. Many a time had I made a bed under one. Elk and deer stand under a spruce during a rain, unless there is thunder and lightning. In forests of high altitude, where lightning strikes many trees, I have never found or heard of elk and deer being killed. This particular spruce was a natural tent in the forest. The thick-spreading graceful silver plumes extended clear to the top, where they were bushiest, and rounded out, with all the largest branches there. Each dark gray branch was fringed and festooned with pale green moss, like the cypresses of the South.
Suddenly I heard a sharp snapping of twigs and then stealthy, light steps. An animal of some species was moving in the thicket nearby. Naturally I sustained a thrill, and bethought me of the rifle. Then I peered keenly into the red rose shadows of the thicket. The sun was setting now, and though there appeared a clear golden light high in the forest, along the ground there were shadows. I heard leaves falling, rustling. Tall white aspens stood out of the thicket, and two of the large ones bore the old black scars of bear claws. I was sure, however, that no bear hid in the thicket at this moment. Presently whatever the animal was it pattered lightly away on the far side. After that I watched the quiver of the aspen leaves. Some were green, some yellow, some gold, but they all had the same wonderful tremor, the silent fluttering that gave them the most exquisite action in nature. The sun set, the forest darkened, reminding me of supper time. So I returned to camp. As I entered the open canyon Romer-boy espied me--manifestly he had been watching--and he yelled: "Here comes my Daddy now!... Say, Dad, did you get any pegs?"
Next morning Haught asked me if I would like to ride around through the woods and probably get a shot at a deer. Romer coaxed so to go that I finally consented.
We rode down the canyon, and presently came to a wide grassy park inclosed by high green-clad slopes, the features of which appeared to be that the timber on the west slope was mostly pine, and on the east slope it was mostly spruce. I could arrive at no certain reason for this, but I thought it must be owing to the snow lying somewhat longer on the east slope. The stream here was running with quite a little volume of water. Our horses were grazing in this park. I saw fresh elk tracks made the day before. Elk were quite abundant through this forest, Haught informed me, and were protected by law.
A couple of miles down this trail the canyon narrowed, losing its park-like dimensions. The farther we traveled the more water there was in the stream, and more elk, deer, and turkey tracks in the sand. Every half mile or so we would come to the mouth of a small intersecting canyon, and at length we rode up one of these, presently to climb out on top. At this distance from the rim the forest was more open than in the vicinity of our camp, affording better riding and hunting. Still the thickets of aspen and young pine were so frequent that seldom could I see ahead more than several hundred yards.
Haught led the way, I rode next and Romer kept beside me where it was possible to do so. There was, however, no trail. How difficult to keep the lad quiet! I expected of course that Haught would dismount, and take me to hunt on foot. After a while I gathered he did not hunt deer except on horseback. He explained that cowboys rounded up cattle in this forest in the spring and fall, and deer were not frightened at sound or sight of a horse. Some of the thrill and interest in the forest subsided for me. I did not like to hunt in a country where cattle ranged, no matter how wild they were. Then when we came to a forested ridge bare of grass and smelling of sheep, that robbed the forest of a little more glamour. Mexican sheep-herders drove their flocks up this far sometimes. Haught said bear, lion, lynx, and coyote, sometimes the big gray wolves, followed the sheep. Deer, however, hated a sheep-run range.
Riding was exceedingly pleasant. The forest was shady, cool, full of sunlight and beauty. Nothing but fire or the lumbermen could ever rob it of its beauty, silence, fragrance, and of its temple-like majesty. So provided we did not meet any cattle or sheep I did not care whether or not we sighted any game. In fact I would have forgotten we were hunting had not Romer been along. With him continually seeing things it was difficult to keep from imagining that we were hunting Indians. The Apaches had once lived in this country Haught informed us; and it was a habit of theirs to burn the grass and fallen leaves over every fall, thus keeping down the underbrush. In this the Indians showed how near-sighted they were; the future growth of a forest did not concern them. Usually Indians were better conservationists than white men.
We rode across a grove of widely separated, stately pines, at the far end of which stood a thicket of young pines and other brush. As we neared this Haught suddenly reined in, and in quick and noiseless action he dismounted. Then he jerked his rifle from his saddle-sheath, took a couple of forward steps, and leveled it. I was so struck with the rugged and significant picture he made that I did not dismount, and did not see any game until after he fired. Then as I tumbled off and got out my rifle I heard Romer gasping and crying out. A gray streak with a bobbing white end flashed away out of sight to the left. Next I saw a deer bounding through the thicket. Haught fired again. The deer ran so fast that I could not get my sights anywhere near him. Haught thudded through an opening, and an instant later, when both he and the deer had disappeared, he shot the third time. Presently he returned.
"Never could shoot with them open sights nohow," he said. "Shore I missed thet yearlin' buck when he was standin'. Why didn't you smoke him up?"
"Dad, why didn't you peg him?" asked Romer, with intense regret. "Why, I could have knocked him."
Then it was incumbent upon me to confess that the action had appeared to be a little swift. "Wal," said Haught, "when you see one you want to pile off quick."
As we rode on Romer naively asked me if ever in my life I had seen anything run so fast as that deer. We entered another big grove with thin patches of thicket here and there. Haught said these were good places for deer to lie down, relying on their noses to scent danger from windward, and on their eyes in the other direction. We circled to go round thickets, descending somewhat into a swale. Here Haught got off a little to the right. Romer and I rode up a gentle slope toward a thin line of little pines, through which I could see into the pines beyond. Suddenly up jumped three big gray bucks. Literally I fell off my horse, bounced up, and pulled out my rifle. One buck was loping in a thicket. I could see his broad, gray body behind the slender trees. I aimed--followed him--got a bead on him--and was just about to pull trigger when he vanished. Plunging forward I yelled to Haught. Then Romer cried in his shrill treble: "Dad, here's a big buck--hurry!" Turning I ran back. In wild excitement Romer was pointing. I was just in time to see a gray rump disappear in the green. Just then Haught shot, and after that he halloed. Romer and I went through the thicket, working to our left, and presently came out into the open forest. Haught was leading his horse. To Romer's eager query he replied: "Shore, I piled him up. Two-year-old black-tail buck."
Sure enough he had shot straight this time. The buck lay motionless under a pine, with one point of his antlers imbedded deep in the ground. A sleek, gray, graceful deer he was just beginning to get his winter coat. His color was indeed a bluish gray. Haught hung him up to a branch, spread his hind legs, and cut him down the middle. The hunter's dexterity with a knife made me wonder how many deer he had dressed in his life in the open. We lifted the deer upon the saddle of Haught's horse and securely tied it there with a lasso; then with the hunter on foot, leading the way, we rode through the forest up the main ridge between Beaver and Turkey Canyons. Toward the rim I found the pines and spruces larger, and the thickets of aspen denser. We passed the heads of many ravines running down to the canyons on either side, and these were blazing gold and red in color, and so thick I could not see a rod into them. About the middle of the afternoon we reached camp. With venison hanging up to cool we felt somewhat like real hunters. R.C. had gone off to look for turkeys, which enterprise had been unsuccessful.
Upon the following day, which was October tenth, we started our bear hunting. Haught's method appeared to me to lack something. He sent the hounds down below the rim with George; and taking R.C. and me, and Lee and Nielsen, he led us over to what he called Horton Thicket. Never would I forget my first sight of that immense forest-choked canyon. It was a great cove running up from the basin into the rim. Craggy ledges, broken, ruined, tottering and gray, slanted down into this abyss. The place was so vast that these ledges appeared far apart, yet they were many. An empire of splintered cliff!
High up these cracked and stained walls were covered with lichens, with little spruces growing in niches, and tiny yellow bushes. Points of crumbling rock were stained gold and russet and bronze. Below the huge gorge was full of aspens, maples, spruces--a green, crimson, yellow density of timber, apparently impenetrable. We were accorded different stations on the ledges all around the cove, and instructed to stay there until called by four blasts from a hunting horn. My point was so far from R.C.'s, across the canyon, that I had to use my field-glass to see him. When I did look he seemed contented. Lee and Nielsen and Haught I could not see at all. Finding a comfortable seat, if hard rock could ever be that, I proceeded to accept my wait for developments. One thing was sure--even though it were a futile way to hunt it seemed rich in other recompense for me. My stand towered above a vast colorful slope down which the wind roared as in a gale. How could I ever hear the hounds? I watched the storm-clouds scudding across the sky. Once I saw a rare bird, a black eagle in magnificent flight; and so whatever happened I had my reward in that sight.
Nothing happened. For hours and hours I sat there, with frequent intermissions away from my hard, rocky seat. Toward the close of afternoon, when the wind began to get cold, I saw that R.C. had left his stand. He had undoubtedly gone back to camp, which was some miles nearer his stand than mine. At last I gave up any hope of hearing either the hounds or the horn, as the roar of wind had increased. Once I thought I heard a distant rifle shot. So I got on my horse and set out to find camp. I was on a promontory, the sides of which were indented by long ravines that were impassable except near their heads. In fact I had been told there was only one narrow space where it was possible to get off this promontory. Lucky indeed that I remembered Haught telling of this! Anyway I soon found myself lost in a maze of forested heads of ravines. Finally I went back to the rim on the west side, and then working along I found our horse-tracks. These I followed, with difficulty, and after an hour's travel I crossed the narrow neck of the promontory, and back-tracked myself to camp, arriving there at sunset.
The Haughts had put up two bear. One bear had worked around under one of the great promontories. The hounds had gotten on his back-trail, staying on it until it grew cold, then had left it. Their baying had roused the bear out of his bed, and he had showed himself once or twice on the open rock-slides. Haught saw the other bear from the rim. This was a big, red, cinnamon bear asleep under a pine tree on an open slope. Haught said when the hounds gave tongue on the other trail this red bear awakened, sat up, and wagged his head slowly. He had never been chased by hounds. He lay down in his piny bed again. The distance was too great for an accurate shot, but Haught tried anyway, with the result that he at least scared the cinnamon off.
These bear were both thin. As they were not the sheep-killing and cow-killing kind their food consisted mainly of mast (acorns) and berries. But this season there were no berries at all, and very few acorns. So the bears were not fat. When a bear was thin he could always outrun the hounds; if he was fat he would get hot and tired enough to climb a tree or mad enough to stop and fight the dogs.
Haught told me there were a good many mountain lions and lynx under the rim. They lived on elk, deer, and turkey. The lynx were the tuft-eared, short-tailed species. They would attack and kill a cow-elk. In winter on the rim the snow sometimes fell fifteen feet deep, so that the game wintered underneath. Snow did not lay long on the sunny, open ridges of the basin.
That night a storm-wind roared mightily in the pines. How wonderful to lie snug in bed, down in the protected canyon, and hear the marching and retreating gale above in the forest! Next day we expected rain or snow. But there was only wind, and that quieted by afternoon. So I took Romer off into the woods. He carried his rifle and he wore his chaps. I could not persuade him to part with these. They rustled on the brush and impeded his movements, and particularly tired him, and made him look like a diminutive cowboy. How eager, keen, boyishly vain, imaginative! He was crazy to see game, to shoot anything, particularly bears. But it contented him to hunt turkeys. Many a stump and bit of color he mistook for game of some kind. Nevertheless, I had to take credence in what he thought he saw, for his eyesight was unusually quick and keen.
That afternoon Edd and Doyle arrived, reporting an extremely rough, roundabout climb up to the rim, where they had left the wagon. As it was impossible to haul the supplies down into the canyon they were packed down to camp on burros. Isbel had disapproved of this procedure, a circumstance that struck me with peculiar significance, which Lee explained by telling me Isbel was one of the peculiar breed of cowboys, who no sooner were they out on the range than they wanted to go back to town again. The truth was I had not met any of that breed, though I had heard of them. This peculiarity of Isbel's began to be related in my mind to his wastefulness as a cook. He cooked and threw away as much as we ate. I asked him to be careful and to go easy with our supplies, but I could not see that my request made any difference.
After supper this evening R.C. heard a turkey call up on the hill east of camp. Then I heard it, and Romer also. We ran out a ways into the open to listen the better. R.C.'s ears were exceptionally keen. He could hear a squirrel jump a long distance in the forest. In this case he distinctly heard three turkeys fly up into trees. I heard one. Romer declared he heard a flock. Then R.C. located a big bronze and white gobbler on a lower limb of a huge pine. Presently I too espied it. Whereupon we took shot-gun and rifle, and sallied forth sure of fetching back to camp some wild turkey meat. Romer tagged at our heels.
Hurrying to the slope we climbed up at least three-quarters of the way, as swiftly as possible. And that was work enough to make me wet and hot. The sun had set and twilight was upon us, so that we needs must hurry if we were to be successful. Locating the big gobbler turned out to be a task. We had to climb over brush and around rocks, up a steep slope, rather open; and we had to do it without being seen or making noise. Romer, despite his eagerness, did very well indeed. At last I espied our quarry, and indeed the sight was thrilling. Wild turkey gobblers to me, who had hunted them enough to learn how sagacious and cunning and difficult to stalk they were, always seemed as provocative of excitement as larger game. This big fellow hopped up from limb to limb of the huge dead pine, and he bobbed around as if undecided, and tried each limb for a place to roost. Then he hopped farther up until we lost sight of him in the gnarled net-work of branches.
R.C. wanted me to slip on alone, but I preferred to have him and Romer go too. So we slipped stealthily upward until we reached the level. Then progress was easier. I went to the left with the rifle, and R.C. with the .20-gauge, and Romer, went around to the right. How rapidly it was growing dark! Low down in the forest I could not distinguish objects. We circled that big pine tree, and I made rather a wide detour, perhaps eighty yards from it. At last I got the upper part of the dead pine silhouetted against the western sky. Moving to and fro I finally made out a large black lump way out upon a spreading branch. Could that be the gobbler? I studied that dark enlarged part of the limb with great intentness, and I had about decided that it was only a knot when I saw a long neck shoot out. That lump was the wise old turkey all right. He was almost in the top of the tree and far out from the trunk. No wild cat or lynx could ever surprise him there! I reflected upon the instinct that governed him to protect his life so cunningly. Safe he was from all but man and gun!
When I came to aim at him with the rifle I found that I could see only a blur of sights. Other branches and the tip of a very high pine adjoining made a dark background. I changed my position, working around to where the background was all open sky. It proved to be better. By putting the sights against this open sky I could faintly see the front sight through the blurred ring. It was a good long shot even for daylight, and I had a rifle I knew nothing about. But all the difficulty only made a keener zest. Just then I heard Romer cry out excitedly, and then R.C. spoke distinctly. Far more careless than that they began to break twigs under their feet. The gobbler grew uneasy. How he stretched out his long neck! He heard them below. I called out low and sharp: "Stand still! Be quiet!" Then I looked again through the blurred peep-sight until I caught the front sight against the open sky. This done I moved the rifle over until I had the sight aligned against the dark shape. Straining my eyes I held hard--then fired. The big dark lump on the branch changed shape, and fell, to alight with a sounding thump. I heard Romer running, but could not see him. Then his high voice pealed out: "I got him, Dad. You made a grand peg!"
Not only had Romer gotten him, but he insisted on packing him back to camp. The gobbler was the largest I ever killed, not indeed one of the huge thirty-five pounders, but a fat, heavy turkey, and quite a load for a boy. Romer packed him down that steep slope in the dark without a slip, for which performance I allowed him to stay up a while around the camp-fire.
The Haughts came over from their camp that night and visited us. Much as I loved to sit alone beside a red-embered fire at night in the forest, or on the desert, I also liked upon occasions to have company. We talked and talked. Old-timer Doyle told more than one of his "in the early days" stories. Then Haught told us some bear stories. The first was about an old black bear charging and sliding down at him. He said no hunter should ever shoot at a bear above him, because it could come down at him as swiftly as a rolling rock. This time he worked the lever of his rifle at lightning speed, and at the last shot he "shore saw bear hair right before his eyes." His second story was about a boy who killed a bear, and was skinning it when five more bears came along, in single file, and made it very necessary that he climb a tree until they had gone. His third story was about an old she-bear that had two cubs. Haught happened to ride within sight of her when evidently she thought it time to put her cubs in a safe place. So she tried to get them to climb a spruce tree, and finally had to cuff and spank them to make them go up. In connection with this story he told us he had often seen she-bears spank their cubs. More thrilling was his fourth story about a huge grizzly, a sheep and cattle killer that passed through the country, leaving death behind him on the range.
Romer's enjoyment of this story-telling hour around the glowing camp-fire was equalled by his reluctance to go to bed. "Aw, Dad, please let me hear one more," he pleaded. His shining eyes would have weakened a sterner discipline than mine. And Haught seemed inspired by them.
"Wal now, listen to this hyar," he began again, with a twinkle in his eye. "Thar was an old fellar had a ranch in Chevelon Canyon, an' he was always bein' pestered by mountain lions. His name was Bill Tinker. Now Bill was no sort of a hunter, fact was he was afeerd of lions an' bears, but he shore did git riled when any critters rustled around his cabin. One day in the fall he comes home an' seen a big she-lion sneakin' around. He grabbed a club, an' throwed it, and yelled to scare the critter away. Wal, he had an old water barrel layin' around, an' darned if the lion didn't run in thet barrel an' hide. Bill run quick an' flopped the barrel end up, so he had the lion trapped. He had to set on the barrel to hold it down. Shore that lion raised old Jasper under the barrel. Bill was plumb scared. Then he seen the lion's tail stick out through the bung-hole. Bill bent over an' shore quick tied a knot in thet long tail. Then he run fer his cabin. When he got to the door he looked back to see the lion tearin' down the hill fer the woods with the barrel bumpin' behind her. Bill said he never seen her again till next spring, an' she had the barrel still on her tail. But what was stranger'n thet Bill swore she had four cubs with her an' each of them had a keg on its tail."
We all roared with laughter except Romer. His interest had been so all-absorbing, his excitement so great, and his faith in the story-teller so reverential that at first he could not grasp the trick at the end of the story. His face was radiant, his eyes were dark and dilated. When the truth dawned upon him, amaze and disappointment changed his mobile face, and then came mirth. He shouted as if to the tree-tops on high. Long after he was in bed I heard him laughing to himself.
I was awakened a little after daylight by the lad trying to get into his boots. His boots were rather tight, and somehow, even in a dry forest, he always contrived to get them wet, so that in the morning it was a herculean task for him to pull them on. This occasion appeared more strenuous than usual. "Son, what's the idea?" I inquired. "It's just daylight--not time to get up." He desisted from his labors long enough to pant: "Uncle Rome's--gone after turkeys. Edd's going to--call them with--a caller--made out of a turkey's wing-bone." And I said: "But they've gone now." Whereupon he subsided: "Darned old boots! I heard Edd and Uncle Rome. I'd been ready if I could have got into my darned old boots.... See here, Dad, I'm gonna wear moccasins."