A Mountain Boyhood
by Joe Mills
WILD COUNTRY AND
CHAPTER SIX. A
LOG CABIN IN THE
OFF THE TRAIL
CITY OF SILENCE
CHAPTER ONE. GOING WEST
Father and mother settled on the Kansas prairie in the early
fifties. At that time Kansas was the frontier. Near neighbors were
twenty miles or more apart. There was no railroad; no stages supplied
the vast unsettled region. A few supplies were freighted by wagon.
However, little was needed from civilized sources, for the frontier
teemed with game. Myriads of prairie chickens were almost as tame as
domestic fowls. Deer stared in wide-eyed amazement at the early
settlers. Bands of buffalo snorted in surprise as the first dark lines
of sod were broken up. Droves of wild turkey skirted the fringes of
timber. Indians roamed freely; halting in wonder at the first log
cabins of the pioneers.
In my father's old diary I found the following:
Drove through from Iowa to Kansas by ox team. Located four days'
drive south of Portsmouth.* Not much timber here.
* Later Kansas City.
Just returned from visit to our nearest neighbor, John Seeright, a
day's drive away. Took the chickens and cow along and stayed several
Father told me that the early settlers did not like a region after
it got settled up. He laughed heartily when he said this. It is quite
true nevertheless; as soon as a region became settled up, the
pioneers were ready to push on again into the unknown. They loved the
frontierit held adventure, hazard always, mystery, ofttimes, romance,
life. They moved ahead of and beyond civilizationeven the long arm of
the law did not penetrate their wilderness fastnesses. Their
experienceso numerous books cannot hold them allhave become
It is not strange that my parents welcomed the gold rush of '59. It
called them once more into the farther wilderness, the vaster unknown.
When news of the finding of gold in the Rockies came across the plains,
legions of adventurers trailed westward. The few roads that led across
the rolling prairies to the Rockies were soon deep-cut. Wagons trains
strung out across the treeless land like huge, creeping serpents moving
lazily in the sun. Joyfully the adventurers wenthappy, courageous.
They were the vanguards of civilization, pushing ever to the West.
To my lifelong regret, my boyhood came after the gold rushes were
over; the buffalo bands had passed for the last time; the Indian
fighting ended. However, these exciting events were still fresh in the
memory of my parents. When neighbors came to visit us, long hours were
spent in talking over and comparing experiences. I thrilled as my
father told of climbing Long's Peak, the eastern sentinel of the
Rockiesof Estes Park, teeming with trout and game. I thought then
that I had been born too latethat all the big things in the world
were past history. I feared then that even the Rockies would lose their
wildness before I could explore them.
Within sight and sound of the farm where I was born, a number of
Civil War skirmishes took place. The eastern Kansas border during the
trying time of the early sixties was perhaps the worst place in all the
world to live. Raiding parties plundered on both sides of the
Kansas-Missouri line. My mother watched the battle of Mine Creek from
the dooryard; saw the soldiers streaming by, and prayed fervently as
the tide of battle swayed back and forth. My father was fighting in
that battle. These frontier conflicts were still the favorite topics of
conversation at neighborhood gatherings when I was a little boy. I
listened breathlessly to them and lived them over in my imagination. Of
all the tales recounted around our fire, I loved that of the gold rush
of '59 bestmy father and mother had participated in itand I'm sure
that story moved me most of all to obey Horace Greeley's injunction.
The wagons, in the beginning of the journey, formed a train, keeping
close together for mutual protection. As they neared the Rockies, they
scattered, each party following its individual route. Late in the
summer, high up in the mountains near Breckenridge, Colorado, my father
fell ill of mountain fever. My mother, who weighed less than one
hundred pounds, alone drove the pony team back across the plains to
eastern Kansas. Many weeks were spent en route. Sometimes they camped
for a night with westward-bound wagons; then resumed the eastward
journey alone. Buffalo, migrating southward, literally covered the
prairieat times, so dense were their ranks, my mother had to stop the
team to let the herds go by.
One experience of this trying trip, often related by my father,
filled me with lasting admiration for my plucky mother.
We were camped one night beneath some cottonwoods beside a wide,
shallow stream, father would say, and I was unable to move from my
bed in the wagon. Your mother cared for the team, started a fire, and
got supper. Shortly after dark, and before supper was ready, a dozen
Indians filed solemnly into our camp and sat down facing the fire. They
said nothing, but followed your mother's every movement with watchful
eyes. If your mother tasted the brew in the brass kettle, every Indian
eye followed her hand, and every Indian licked his lips eagerly. The
brass kettle was about the only cooking utensil we possessed, and your
mother guarded it carefully.
This night the kettle held a savory stew of buffalo meat. When the
stew was done, your mother set it off the fire to cool. During a few
secondswhile her back was turnedthe kettle vanished. From the
shelter of the wagon I saw an Indian reach out stealthily and slip it
beneath his blanket. The next moment your mother was facing the silent
circle with blazing eyes. And there, hundreds of miles from a
settlement, with no help at hand, she defied a dozen Indians. In spite
of the fact that she weighed just ninety-two pounds, she swept around
the circle slapping the surprised braves, pulling their hair and
demanding the kettle. She noticed that the chief was sheltering
something beneath his blanket. At once she gave his blanket a jerk. The
hot brew spilled over the surprised redskin's legs. There was a yell
that rent the stillness. The fellow leaped high into the air, and
vanished into the night, leaving the brass kettle behind him.
Little did my parents realize that their recounted experiences would
eventually lead me, still a boy, to venture into new regions.
At ten years of age I hazarded the statement that I was old enough
to shift for myself; that I was going West to live the rest of my life
in the Rocky Mountains. But my parents, in order to frighten me out of
my plans, told me that Indians still infested the wilds; that terrible
bull buffaloes and horrible grizzly bears roamed the wilderness.
These attempts to frighten me only strengthened my desire for
adventure and my determination to seek it. When all else failed I was
told that I was too young to strike out for myself. At last father put
his foot down firmly, a sign that his patience was at an endso I
postponed my adventure.
The day finally came when I was aboard a train, heading westward,
toward the mountains of my dreams. I possessed twenty dollars, my
entire savings. During the journey I hardly slept, but kept watch out
the window for the first glimpse of the Rockies. I have no recollection
that there were sleeping cars at that time; anyhow, my thin little
purse afforded no such gross extravagance if I had known. I recall that
the individual seat of the chair-car gave me much concern. I had
considerable trouble adjusting itputting it up and laying it down.
Beside me in the companion seat rode a man of middle age, bearded,
roughly dressed, who took keen interest in my destination. He was
located, I learned, over the Continental Divide in that vast region
beyond Grand Lake. He talked of the forests of uncut timber near his
homestead, of the fertile valleys and grassy parks that would
eventually support cattle herds. Some day, he predicted, there'll be
a railroad built between Denver and Salt Lake City; and when it comes
it's bound to pass close to my claim.
At dawn I caught my first sight of the great snow-covered peaks, a
hundred miles away, rearing rose-red in the early morning light. At
first I mistook those misty ranges for cloud banks, lighted by the
rising sun. Then, as we drew nearer and day wore on, I made them out.
Toward noon I reached Fort Collins, Colorado, fifty miles from
Long's Peak, where there was no stage connection with Estes Park, but
Loveland, a town fifteen miles south, had a horse stage that made three
trips a week. The fare, I learned, was quite prohibitive, three dollars
for something more than thirty miles. The walk would be interesting, I
decided. But the old canvas bag, containing all my worldly possessions,
was too bulky and awkward to be carried. After some hours of dickering,
I paid eight dollars for a second-hand bicycle, tied the bag on the
handle bars and started for the Mecca of my dreams.
That first journey to the mountains was filled with thrills. The old
stage road shot up successive mountain ranges, and plunged abruptly
down into the valleys between. There was no Big Thompson route then;
instead, the road ascended Bald Mountain, climbed the foothill range,
crossed the top, then dropped into Rattlesnake Park. It squirmed up
Pole Hill, a grade so steep that I could scarcely push up my wheel. Up
and down, up and down, it seesawed endlessly. The afternoon wore on;
each successive slope grew harder, for my legs were weary. Twice,
braking with one foot on the front crotch and sliding the wheel, I had
pitched headlong over the handle bars. Upon two descents that were too
precipitous to venture unballasted, I tied fair-sized pine trees to the
rear of my craft to act as drag-anchors.
As darkness came on I coasted down a sharp pitch to a little brook.
In the aspens that bordered the road was a range cow standing guard
beside a newborn calf. Across the road, like grisly shadows among the
trees, skulked several coyotes. The calf half rose, wabbled, and went
down. Three times it attempted to rise, grew weaker, and at last gave
up the struggle. With the waiting coyotes in mind, I leaned my wheel
against a bowlder and went to its rescue. Several things happened at
once. The half-wild range cow misunderstood my good intentions. She was
accustomed to seeing men on horseback; and one afoot was strange. She
charged headlong. I dodged quickly aside but not in time to escape
entirely. She raked me with her sharp horns. There was a wild race
through the aspens; I leading, but the cow a close second, her horns
menacing me at every leap, while I doubled and backtracked sharply
about among the trees. I had no chance to tree; though no mountain
lion was ever more willing, for Mrs. Cow was too near. Only Providence
and my agility saved me from an untimely end. At last the cow halted,
for she was getting too far from her calf. She shook her horns after me
menacingly, turned and hurried back toward where her offspring lay.
Each mile I covered impressed upon me more and more that there is
not even a distant relationship between mountain miles and my Kansas
prairie miles. The latter are ironed out flat, the former stand on end,
cease to be miles and become trials. Slowly the shadows filled the
cañons, and came creeping up the slopes. I gazed in awesome wonder at
the beauty of my land of dreams. My legs, cramped almost past pedaling,
still kept onfor my goal, my mountains, were at hand. Exaltation of
spirit overcame exhaustion of body.
At no time had I given any particular thought to what would happen
when I arrived; so far my whole attention had been centered on reaching
the Rockies. Such trivialities as no job, no relatives, practically no
money, made little impression upon my Rocky-bound mind.
Long after nightfall I reached the crest of Park Hill, the last
barrier to Estes Park. The moon shone full upon the valley below, and
upon the snow-capped mountains beyond. The river murmured softly as its
shining folds curled back and forth across the dark green meadow,
suddenly vanishing between dark cañon walls. Coyotes raised their eerie
voices; across the cañon, from the cliffs of Mount Olympus, an owl
hooted gloomily. Before me loomed the Rockies, strangely unreal in the
moonlight and yet very like the mountains of my imagination. I gazed,
spellbound. My dream was realized.
It was midnight when, completely exhausted, I stopped before an old
log cabin. Dogs charged out, barking furiously at the strange thing I
rode and nipping at my legs; but I was too weary to remember distinctly
even now what happened. I must have tumbled off my wheel for I learned
afterward that I was picked up and put to bed; but for hours I tossed
about, my body racked with pain, my thoughts jumbled. But boys must
sleep, and I slept at last.
Next morning, pushing the wheel slowly, I headed for the most remote
ranch in the region, that lay at the foot of Long's Peak. Progress was
slow and painful for my body was stiff and sore; the road I followed
wound upward, climbing steadily to higher altitude. Frequently I halted
to rest, and spent my time of respite searching the mountains with
eager, appraising eyes, planning explorations among them. Toward noon I
came to the ranch I sought, located nine miles from the nearest
neighbor, at nine thousand feet altitude, and surrounded by rugged
mountains. Above it rose Long's Peak, up and up into the clouds, to
more than fourteen thousand feet. The rancher was the Reverend E. J.
Lamb, one of the early settlers of Estes Park. The Parson, as he was
known, was more than six feet tall, straight as a lodge-pole pine
physicallyand even more so spiritually. He wore a long, flowing
beard, rose habitually and unprotestingly at four in the morninga man
of diverse talents and eccentricities.
CHAPTER TWO. GETTING ACQUAINTED WITH
WILD COUNTRY AND ANIMALS
Parson Lamb's ranch consisted of a fenced garden tract surrounded on
every side for miles by high mountains that shut it in. There was heavy
forest on the slopes above the ranch; and out of these came many lively
little streams that were almost as cold as their parent snowbanks.
I hoarded my few remaining dollars. The Parson gave me room and
board, in return for which I helped about the place, doing various
chores, such as wood-splitting and clearing land for more garden, and
occasionally going the nine miles to the village for the mail. My work
took only a small part of my time, leaving me free to explore the
near-by region, with its deep, evergreen forests, and the wild animals
which lived in them.
Many were the tales the tall, rawboned Parson told of his early
pioneer days (for he had lived there since the early seventies, and was
a loquacious old fellow), as he and his wife, Jane, and I sat beside
the granite fireplace, when the coals glowed low and the shadows
scurried here and there over the rough logs of the cabin walls. He had
been shot and nearly killed by a bandit, gored by a bull, dragged by a
frightened horse, and bitten by a bear. Upon one lonely excursion far
from any settlement, he had been followed by a huge, stealthy, mountain
Harrowing as were these tales, the one that made me shiver despite
the radiant pitch knots, was that of his perilous descent of the
precipice on Long's Peak. Time has not changed the character of that
faceit is sheer and smooth and icy now, as then. He was probably the
first man to attempt its descent, and I was always weak and spent when
he ended his story of it, so vividly did he portray its dangers. I sat
tense, digging my nails deep into my palms, living through every squirm
and twist with him, from the moment he slid down from the comparatively
safe Narrows to the first niche in the glassy, precipitous wall,
till, after many nearly-the-last experiences, he landed safely at its
foot. That adventure had almost cost him his life, for he had once
missed his foothold, slipped and slid and had hung suspended by one
hand for a long, terrible moment.
Always I sat with eyes glued upon the story-teller, thrilling as he
talked, planning secretly to emulate his example, proving some of his
statements by daily short excursions. However, the Parson was not
always away on trips. Sometimes he guided visitors to the top of the
Peak or worked on the trail to its summit. He chopped wood, worked in
the garden, hunted stray cattle or horses. Frequently he rode off with
his Bible under his arm, for he was a circuit rider, carrying the
gospel into the wilderness. He gave good, if free, advice, officiated
at weddings and funerals, at barn-raisings and log-rollings. He
preached or worked as the notion moved him; lingered in one place or
rode long trails to fulfill his mission. His own ranch was thirty miles
from the railroad, but many of his calls were made on settlers even
Gradually I extended the scope of my explorations, frequently
spending the night abroad, carrying a pair of worn and faded blankets
and a little food. A number of times I climbed Long's Peak alone. On
these trips to high country I scouted the high-flung crest of Battle
Mountain, Lady Washington, Storm Peak, and Mount Meeker; explored
Glacier Gorge, investigated Chasm Lake, and from the top of Peak and
Meeker looked down into Wild Basin to the south.
I sketched a rude map of the great basin in my notebook and named it
Land of Many Waters, because of the scores of small streams that
trickled down its inclosing mountain sides. The oval bowl I estimated
to be fifteen miles long by about half as wide, its sides formed of
mountain slopes densely wooded up to bleak timberline. Save the murmur
of falling water, or the wind upon the heights, it was a land of
silence. Small streams converged, dropped into deep cañons and reached
the river that rumbled far below. There were vivid, emerald lakes
everywheresome lost in the woods near the river, others pocketed
behind the ridges, while still more could be seen up above naked
I returned, thrilled with the thought of exploring Wild Basin,
sought the Parson and told him my ambition. At first he was much
amused, but when he found I was serious he grew grave.
There's no neighbors over that way, he objected. If anything
happens, you'll be beyond help. Even though he was older and much more
experienced, I thought him hardly qualified, after his own foolhardy
adventures, to discourage me; but I decided to wait until fall before
setting out. This delay would enable me to know more about the
mountains, to add to my experience, and better fit me to cope with the
emergencies of that inviting, great unknownWild Basin.
Everywhere I found strange birds and animals, and began to get
acquainted with them. The handsome, black and white, long-tailed
magpies were much like the crows I had known in Kansas, so far as
wariness was concerned. The Rocky Mountain long-crested jays, quite
unlike our prairie jays, much more brilliant in coloring, their
gorgeous coats of turquoise blue and black flashing in the sunshine,
were continually bickering, and following me through the woods to see
what I was about. Chickadees and nuthatches were always inspecting the
trees for food, running up and down, paying no attention to me and
going about their business with cheerful little chirrups that expressed
their contentment. Occasionally a crow flew up the valley with raucous
calls; and sometimes a raven pursued his way toward the deeper woods.
Meadow larks and robins were everywhere.
Woodpeckers and flickers did their bit to keep vermin off the trees,
and performed daily operations on trunk and limb, removing borers and
beetles that had penetrated beneath the bark, thus saving the lives of
many evergreen monarchs. Around ten and eleven thousand feet there were
campbirds, Canada jays, friendly and inquisitive; on first acquaintance
they often took food from my hands, and helped themselves freely of any
food accessible in camp. They were unruffled, flitting softly from tree
to tree, with little flapping, calling low, and in a sweetly
However friendly I found the birds, the big game animals were
extremely wary. I mentioned the fact to the Parson.
They've been shot at, was his explanation. Every time they've
come in contact with men they've suffered. They know men are dangerous,
always have guns.
In spite of the Parson's observations we always had wild game
hanging in the log meat house; there was never any question about
securing whatever we wanted in that line. Except during the winter
months, deer could be had with little effort. But the elk had
practically vanished; occasionally a lone survivor strayed into the
ranch valley. There were bears, of course, shy and fearful, in the
rough, unsettled country. We had great variety of meat, venison,
Bighorn sheep, grouse, ptarmigan, wild pigeon, sometimes squirrel and,
rarely, bear steaks.
Wherever I went, even in the far-away places where few men had ever
been, the deer and elk and bear were very wild, and I found it
impossible to approach them unless the wind was from them to me, and I
moved forward carefully hidden. I spent many eventful days, walking,
climbing, sitting motionless to watch the scampering chipmunks, or to
invite the birds up close. Thus, a little at a time, I came to know the
habits of the wild folks I met; learned their likes and dislikesthe
things that excited their curiosity, and that frightened them away in
Upon my first climb to the top of Long's Peak alone, I halted above
timberline and stared about in amazement at the wide stretches of
rock-strewn slopes. From a distance these had appeared no larger than a
back yard, but a close-up revealed they were miles across; and instead
of being barren, were a series of hanging gardens, one above another,
each of different shape and size, and all green with grass and with a
hundred different kinds of wild flowers waving in the sunshine. I
counted more than fifty varieties, none of which I knew, and still they
Usually I wandered off the trail to follow birds or animals. In the
arctic-like zone above were birds entirely strange to me, and animals
that never came down to the valley of the ranch. It was not long before
I discovered that nearly all birds and animals live at a certain zone
of altitude, rarely straying above or below it.
Occasionally I heard a queer squee-ek. It sounded close, yet its
maker was invisible. Many times I looked up, searching the air overhead
for the elusive squee-eker. At last I came upon a bunch of grass, no
larger than a water pail, and stopped to examine it. Grass and flowers
had been piled loosely in an irregular heap, resembling a miniature
Something making a nest, I observed aloud.
Squee-ek, denied a shrill voice almost at my elbow.
Ten feet away upon a bowlder that rose above the rest of the rocks,
sat a small animal which at first I mistook for a young rabbit. In
shape and size he closely resembled a quarter-grown cottontail, but his
ears were different from any rabbit's, being short and round. His eyes
were beady; somehow he made me think of a rat. He ran down the rock and
climbed to another perch. Not even so much tail as a bunnynone at
all. In some respects he resembled a rabbit, a squirrel and a prairie
dog. His actions reminded me of all of them. In fact, he is sometimes
called Rock Rabbit and Little Chief Hare. He may have other names
I watched the interesting little fellow for some time and later
found his actions characteristic of his tribe. He literally makes hay
while the summer shines. He is the only harvester I ever saw who works
on the run. He dashed at top speed, without stopping for breath, bit
off a mouthful of grass and again ran pell-mell for his growing stack.
He scampered down its side, then leaped from an adjacent rock to its
top, laden with his bundle of hay. Evidently he found the alpine summer
short and felt it necessary to step lively. Altitude, that convenient
scapegoat of tenderfeet, did not seem to affect his wind or his
endurance. He stacked his harvest in one corner of the field from which
he cut it. He cut flowers along with the grass. Perhaps he used them
for flavor as grandmother put rose-geranium leaves in her crab-apple
jelly. The haycock he built was about the size of a bucketI have
since seen them as large as bushel baskets. His tiny fields lay between
bowlders; some of them were but a few inches square, others a foot,
several a yard, perhaps.
I was interested to learn if the little haycocks were blown away by
the timberline gales, so returned later, not really expecting to find
them. Nor were they in the same location, but their owners, not the
wind, had moved them. Evidently, as soon as the hay was cured, it was
stored for safe-keeping, usually beneath the overhang of a rock, away
from the wind.
I was then curious to see how the cony would transport his hay in
winter. Many of his under-rock passages would, at that season, be
filled with snow, forcing him to appear on the surface where the wind
was often strong enough to blow me over, to say nothing of what it
would do to the little midget in fur with a load of hay attached. He
met the storm situation easily. Whenever he exhausted one hayloft, he
moved his home to another. Thus he solved the transportation question
and gained a new home at the same time. Several times, upon digging
beneath the slide rock, I discovered cony dens, merely openings far
down between the jumbled rocks, beyond the reach of wind and weather.
They were of great variety, large, small, wide, narrow; all ready to
move into. They were the conies' castles, ready refuges from enemies,
their devious passages as effective as drawbridge or portcullis.
The cony is something like the heaver far down on the flats below;
working at top speed when he does work, and then resting for many
months. Outside the brief harvest period I have found him sitting idly
atop a rock, napping in the sun, dreaming apparently; thus for days and
months he is idle, always harmlessa condition that does not apply to
human beings under similar circumstances. He is energetic, ambitious,
courageous, and acrobatic. He is the scout of the mountain top, always
alert and friendly.
The altitude zone of the cony I found to be between eleven and
thirteen thousand feet. He and the Bighorn, ptarmigan, weasels and
foxes are mountain-top dwellers throughout the year. Marmots hibernate
during the long alpine winters. But the cony I have seen on sunny days
in January; his welcome squee-ek, piercing the roar of the wind, has
greeted me on the lonely storm-swept heights when not another living
thing was in sight.
But in spite of his living in the out-of-the-way world the cony has
enemies for whom he is always watching. In summer there are hawks and
eagles, foxes and coyotes. In winter his feathered foes depart, but the
foxes remain, as do the weasels. Sitting motionless in the midst of
jumbled rocks I have faded into the bowlder fields, and thus have been
able to watch the cony and his enemies. Usually his squee-ek
announced the appearance of a foe before I discovered it. Then, if the
enemy was a bird or a beast, he merely hugged the rock, watching
alertly until he was discovered, then flipped out of sight to the
safety of rocky retreat, giving a defiant squee-ek as he went. But if
a weasel appeared...
I sat watching a cony one day in early fall as he lay in the
sunshine upon a bowlder. From somewhere below us came the distant
squee-ek of a relative, followed shortly by the shrill whistle of a
marmot. The cony sat up suddenly, awake and alertly watching. The
signals were repeated. Instantly the little fellow departed from his
outpost and hurried away, circling the bowlder, leaping to another,
disappearing in the rocks and reappearing again. His actions were so
unusual that I wondered what message the signals had carried; to me
they were no different than they were when they announced my
comingyet the difference must have been plain to the wee furry ears,
judging from their owner's apprehensive actions. Indeed, a weasel was
abroad seeking his quarry. When his presence was announced, neither the
cony nor I could see him because of an intervening upthrust of rock.
Soon the weasel appeared, circling the rock where the cony had been
sunning himself, searching beneath it, hurrying along the tunnels
through which the cony had fled. Emerging upon the bowlder, he paused
for a few seconds as he looked in all directions. The weasel was
brownish-yellow in color. I was to learn later that he changed to pure
white in winter.
I sprang to my feet and pursued him, shouting as I ran, throwing
rocks and attempting to scare him off. Losing track of both pursuer and
pursued, I stopped for breath. Suddenly, from almost beneath my feet,
the agile villain reappeared, staring at me with bright, bold eyes,
advancing toward me as though to attack. He was no coward; with amazing
agility he dodged a rock I threw at him, turning a back-spring and
landing at my feet. For a moment we glared at each other, then he made
off as though utterly unconscious of my presence.
I watched the long slender body disappear among the rocks in the
opposite direction to that taken by the cony, standing for a moment to
regain my breath and recover from my surprise.
Suddenly there was a shrill whistle behind me. I jumped and whirled
about. Twenty feet away a marmot stood erect atop a rock, eying me
inquiringly, watching every movement. He had whistled his signal about
me, whether good or bad news I could not detect, but from the distance
came other whistles in reply. He was the cony's ally, broadcasting
information about the skirmish taking place before his eyes; but
whether he was attempting to interfere and divert my attention, I could
not make out. Certainly, though, he was giving information, signaling
my presence to all within hearing. My intrusion upon the heights in
summer has ever been announced by the conies and the marmots.
From another direction came a second whistle; apparently I was
surrounded. Then, as I moved, the second marmot hurried away from his
observation post. He was short-legged, reddish-yellow in color, with a
bushy tail, and he ran with great effort but with very little speed,
like a fat boy in a foot race.
Down in the valley near the ranch were numerous grouse, old and
young, so tame that it was like knocking over pet chickens to kill
them. But there was a strange bird above timberline, the ptarmigan, the
arctic quail of the northfool hens, the Parson told me. These birds
were mottled in color, matching the rocks among which they lived, and
so closely did their color blend with their environment it was
impossible to distinguish bird from rock so long as the fowl remained
still. It was because they depended so utterly upon their protective
coloration, making no effort to get out of the way but acting with
utmost stupidity, that they came to be called fool hens.
The days I spent above timberline were the most wonderful of all.
From high above the world I could see tier upon tier of distant,
snow-capped mountainsghost rangesand southward, at the horizon,
loomed Pike's Peak a hundred airline miles away, a giant pyramid above
the foothills, standing sentinel over the vast, flat plains that
reached to its foot.
As weeks passed and my interest in the wild things increased, I
began to wish for a cabin of my own, a home or a den to which I could
retreat and spend the time as I desired. Wherever I rambled I was alert
for a location for my little house. I was not yet old enough to take up
a homestead and claim land for myself.
Climbing to the summits of various promontories I planned the sort
of cabin I would like to build there; I'd have a dog, and a horse too,
and a cameraI began to doubt whether I'd want my rifle for as I
developed my acquaintance with the animals I found myself less eager to
Hunting and trapping was the habit of everyone I knew; even back in
Kansas the boys and men had gone shooting at every opportunity; and the
few men I encountered upon the trails in the Rockies were for the most
part real trappers and hunters, following the trade for a living. They
gave no thought to the cruelty of their traps or the suffering their
operations occasioned, It is not strange, then, that such men saw no
harm in their actions, for they considered all game fair prey.
Occasionally I left my gun at home and found that I rambled the
heights above timberline in a changed mood from when I carried it. The
animals were more friendly, perhaps my actions were more open and
aboveboard. My rifle naturally inspired a desire to shoot something; a
mountain sheep, a bear, even the fat marmots did not escape my deadly
But, without a gunthere was interest everywhere. Many times I
laughed at the antics of the animals, especially at the awkward,
lumbering haste of the marmots. These animals, while very curious, were
quick to take alarm. They would climb to a lookout post at the top of a
rock, watching me eagerly and whistling mild gossip for the delectation
of their neighbors who could not see me. One day, far skyward, I came
upon an exceedingly fat marmot busily eating grass in a narrow little
hayland between bowlders. He must have weighed more than twenty pounds,
but this fact did not deter him from adding additional weight for the
long, winter sleep. At best his active period was short, his
hibernation long, so he ate and slept and ate again through all the
hours of daylight. At my approach he reluctantly left off eating, crept
up a rock and whistled mildly as though merely curious. For a time I
amused him by advancing, retreating, and circling his rock.
Suddenly I dropped out of sight behind a bowlder. Instantly his
whistle carried a note of warning. So long as I remained in sight I was
merely a curiosity, but the instant I dropped from sight, I became a
suspicious character. Again he broadcasted sharp warning to all within
hearing. From near and far came answering marmot shrillings, and from
near by a cony squee-eked his quick alarm.
My reappearance reassured the marmot. He whistled again, and I
thought I distinguished a note of disgust or of disappointment.
This marmot lived on the south slope of the big moraine that
shoulders against Lady Washington, neighboring peak to the giant
mountain, Long's Peak. Sometimes I found the roly-poly fellow saving
hay by eating it, or asleep in the sun on an exposed rock. Often he
ventured down into the cañon at the foot of the moraine to investigate
the grass that grew down there.
One day as I sat atop the big moraine, I heard his shrill whistle
from the edge of the trees in the cañon below. It was somehow different
from any signal I had heard him give before, but just how it was
different I could not make out. The notes were the same, but the tone
was differentthat was it, the tone had changed. Then the reason for
the difference came out of the scattered treesa grizzly bear stalked
deliberately into the open and sat down facing the huge bowlder upon
which the marmot sat.
The marmot stood erect on his hind legs, eying the bear warily,
prepared to dash for his den beneath the rock the instant the visitor
made an unfriendly move. But the bear was a very stupid fellow; he took
no note of the marmot. Instead, he looked off across the cañon, swung
his head slowly to and fro as though thinking deeply of something a
hundred miles away. He was a young bear with a shiny new coat of summer
fur. He had just had a bath in the stream where ice water gushed from
beneath a snowbank.
The marmot gave a second whistle, carrying less fear. Apparently the
slow-moving, sleepy bear meant no harm. For half an hour the marmot
watched alertly, then slid down beneath the bowlders and started
eating. From time to time he sat stiffly erect, peering suspiciously at
the intruder. But since the bear made no overt move, he continued his
feeding as though he were too hungry to wait until his uninvited guest
At length the bear rolled over on his back with all four feet in the
air. The marmot surveyed the performance for a few seconds, then went
on feeding, gradually grazing out beyond the shelter of the rock
beneath which he had his den. The bear paid him no mind, apparently
asleep in the sunshine. Slowly the marmot fed away from the rock, the
farther he ventured the more luxuriant his feast, for the grass was
eaten off short around his dooryard. For an hour I watched every move
of that silent drama, trying to guess the outcome, wondering if the
bear were really asleep. All at once the little gourmand whistled
reassuringly: All right, it's a friend.
The marmot was not more surprised than myself at what happened next.
The bear lay perhaps a hundred feet from the marmot's home, and the
marmot had fed perhaps forty feet from ita distance he could quickly
cover if the visitor showed unfriendly symptoms.
But there were no symptoms. It was all over so quickly that I was
left dazed and breathless. There was a small bowlder about four feet
high in the midst of a tiny hayfield where the marmot fed. The
unsuspecting whistler fed into the little field, passed behind the
rock, and was out of sight for just a second. At that instant the bear
came to life, leaped to his feet and dashed toward the den beneath the
rock, cutting off the marmot's retreat.
Too late the quarry saw the bear. It made a frantic dash for home
and shelter, its fat body working desperately, its short legs flying.
Ten feet from the den the bear flattened the marmot with a single quick
slap of his paw. Then he sat down to eat his dinner. His acting had
been perfect; he had fooled me as well as the marmot.
CHAPTER THREE. FIRST CAMP
My short trips into the wilds tempted me to go beyond the trails. So
far my rambles had taken me only to the threshold of the wilderness, I
wondered what lay beyond; I wanted to follow the game trails and see
where they led. Above all I was eager to pit my scant skill against
primitive nature and learn if my resourcefulness was equal to the
emergencies of the unknown. Somehow I never doubted my courageI
simply didn't fear.
As the short high-altitude summer began to wane, I grew restless.
September advanced; the aspen trees near timberline turned to gold;
from day to day those lower down turned also until a vast richly
colored rug covered the mountain sides. Ripe leaves fluttered down,
rustling crisply underfoot. Frost cut down the rank grass, humbled the
weeds and harvested the flowers. Forests of spruce and lodgepole were
dark with shadow. A beaver colony returned to its former haunts at the
foot of Long's Peak and was working night and day. Its pond of still
water was glazing over with clear ice.
October came. The nights grew colder. The snow of early winter came
to the high peaks, dusting their bare, bald crowns.
Fur ought to be getting prime now, the Parson said one day. It'll
be better still, higher up.
This was the message I had been waiting for. It set me packing at
once, for I was going into Wild Basin, alone, to hunt, trap and
On a morning near the middle of October, much excited, I set out for
the land of mystery. Ahead lay the unknown, uncharted wilds. I could go
where I chose and stay as long as I wished. Bold Columbus, looking
westward, I could not have been more thrilled. Mountain maple beckoned
with ripe, red banners. The mountains peeked through the autumn haze,
divulging nothing, promising everything!
My outfit consisted of an old, ragged tent, a little food, a camera
that had been through a fire and leaked light badly, a knife, an ax, a
six-shooter, and an old rifle that had been traded about among the
early settlers and had known many owners. In addition I had bought six
double-spring steel traps sufficiently large to hold beaver, coyotes or
wolves. The pair of ragged blankets that had served me on my short
trips about the region had been reinforced with an old quilt, faded and
patched, but sweet and clean.
All this duffle I packed upon a return horse, lent me by the
Parson, one that would return home as soon as it was let loose.
The Parson chuckled at the appearance of my pack, even the horse
turned his head inquiringly, but I was too excited to mind their
insinuations. As the sun topped the mountains, I led the horse slowly
down the old tollroad toward a game trail, and swung up in the
direction of Wild Basin.
Deer tracks showed in the old road and in the game trails; I also
recognized coyote tracks, and puzzled over strange tracks which I could
not make out. The small streams I crossed had many deep pools where
trout were collecting for the winter. I tossed stones into them and the
fish, like rainbow darts, dashed for shelter beneath the rocks. Hourly
my excitement grewa million plans ran through my head. I would become
a mighty hunter and make a fortune trapping; I would turn prospector
and locate a mine: Father and Mother would yet have the gold of which
they were thwarted.
The second evening brought me into such rough country that going
farther with the horse was next to impossible. With excited hands I
unpacked, bade the beast good-by, and started him toward home on the
back trail. He trotted off, neighing eagerly.
Save for the rumble of the river deep down in its cañon, the great
basin was voiceless. The forest showed no signs of man. Above and
beyond rose a circle of snow-capped peaks. I paused in awe; the world
was bigger than I had dreamed. I was a boy without a woodsman's
skilla boy alone in the heart of an overwhelming silence. I turned,
with a pang of homesickness, just in time to see the return horse
disappear. Whistling loudly, I set about making camp. It should be my
headquarters, from which I could explore in all directions, returning
as often as necessary for supplies.
A lake with sandy shores lapped in and out among immense bowlders.
On the west side a cliff rose straight from the water. At the upper
edge a small cataract came leaping down the ledges and plunged noisily
into the pool that overflowed into the lake. Above the water was a
grove of Engelmann spruces, giant trees that rose straight for more
than a hundred feet. I pitched my tent in a small open glade, but had
trouble getting down the stakes, for everywhere was granite. The first
test of my resourcefulness had comeI met it by piling stones around
the tent stakes, bracing them taut for the ropes.
The call of the wild was too loud to ignoreI hastened my camp
making. The sun was going down on a world of splendor. Overhead were
brilliantly colored clouds, while deep in the cañon below the early
darkness was thickening. From somewhere in the distance came the cry of
an animal. Camp was left unfinished; I climbed to a jutting shoulder
that overlooked the cañon. From far below came the noise of the river
as it chugged and sobbed and roared endlessly between its towering
walls. I promised myself I would go down and explore that dark cañon at
an early date.
Of a sudden there came an indescribable, unearthly sound that echoed
and reëchoed among the cliffs. I could not tell the direction from
which it came; a sudden chill crept along my spine, my hair prickled
and lifted. Then the echoes ceased, the silence that followed was
equally terrifying. I bethought me of my unfinished camp. Later I
learned that alarming sound was the bugling of a bull elk. It was the
As darkness came on I ate beans and bread by the light of the
campfire. The beans came out of a can, so were well cooked; but the
bread was my first campfire, culinary concoction. It was a flour and
water mixture, plus salt and baking powder, cooked against a hot rock.
It was smoked black and cooked so hard it nearly broke my teeth,
besides, it had a granite finish from association with the rock oven.
But I ate it with boyish relish in spite of its flaws. My imagination
expanded as I watched ghostly shadow-figures dance upon the face of the
cliff. The shifting flame, the wood smoke, the silent, starry night
swelled my heart to pride in my great adventure. I ignored the incident
of the animal cry that had sent me scurrying to camp. This first camp
was just below timberline, at an altitude of eleven thousand feet or
I had much to learn about altitude, as well as of winds and weather,
woods and mountains. In the mountains the higher one goes the harder
the wind blows. In the Rockies, around timberline, gales often reach a
velocity of a hundred miles, or more, an hour. Here during the long
alpine winters, the wind booms and crashes among the peaks, roars
through the passes, and rips through the shattered trees. That first
night I lay in camp and listened to its unceasing roar, as it tore
along the ridge tops. Occasionally, a gust would scatter my fire. It
raged through the spruces like a hurricane, causing me much uneasiness
lest one of the trees should come crashing down upon my frail shelter.
At last, after dozing before the dying fire, I went inside the tent,
crept between my blankets and fell asleep.
I was aiming at a charging grizzly, when there came a swishing,
banging crash! I sat up, half awake. The tent flapped wildly, lifting
clear of the ground. My stone cairns had been jerked down by the
repeated yanks of the stake ropes. A stronger gust, the tent went down,
or rather up, and vanished into the night. The spruce tree, which was
my tent pole, struck me on the head. I sat dazed. Gradually it came to
me that my clothes, as well as my tent, were gone. I realized, too,
that I had pitched camp on the wrong side of the little stream, for the
mischievous gusts, saturated with water from the falls, spat upon me
and soaked my blankets. I managed to strike a match, but the wind
snuffed it out instantly. I tried again and again to make a lightwith
no success. I crawled dazedly aboutI struggled uprightmy toe caught
beneath a rock, and I pitched headlong. That hour of darkness taught me
never to venture about blindly.
The night was unbelievably cold. During the day, while the sun had
shone brightly, the temperature had been very comfortable, even warm.
But now, with wind blasts from the snow-fields and glaciers and
waterfall, I was chilled through and through. As I felt about for my
vanished clothes, my teeth chattered. Soon I gave up the search and
sought shelter in the spruces; I found a leaning slab of rock and crept
beneath it as a wild animal would have done. Through the remaining
hours of the night I shivered and shook there; my imagination dulled,
my ambition dampened. I decided to break camp as soon as it was light.
But it is marvelous what sunshine will do. When at last the tardy
sun came up, and the wind died down and I had recovered my clothes and
warmed myself at a leaping fire, my heart too leaped up with renewed
courage. All was serene. It seemed impossible that I could have been so
miserable in the night.
As soon as I had eaten I dragged the tent back among the spruces
where I set it up and anchored it securely. Lesson Number One had sunk
in. It would not need repeating.
When camp was at last secure, I climbed slowly to the ridge top
above. Its crest was above timberline. On all sides rose lofty
mountains, many of them patched with snowbanks. Deep cañons cut sharply
between the ridges and shoulders. Ice fields indicated possible
glaciers. I wanted to explore everything at once; wanted to climb the
peaks, and delve into the cañons; hunt out the game and explore the
At timberline I stopped in silent wonder. Broken trees were
scattered about upon the ground like soldiers after a battle. I didn't
quite comprehend its significance, but Parson Lamb had described it to
me. I had seen other timberlines in my rambles, but none so impressive
as this. Here was the forest frontier. How dauntless, how gallant,
these pioneers were! How they strove to hold the advantage gained
during the brief summer respite! Here a canny stripling grew behind a
sheltering bowlder, but whenever it tried to peep above its
breastworks, the wind, with its shell-shot of sand and gravel and ice
bullets, cut off its protruding limbs as neatly as a gardner might have
done. Consequently its top was as flat as a table.
In the open, other trees trailed along the ground like creeping
vines, their tops pointing away from the wind. It seemed as if they
banded together for mutual protection, for they formed a dense hedge or
bush. Here was the deadline established by altitude. The forests were
commanded to halt; this line of last defense was not unlike the
sweeping shoreline of the sea. Here and there were lone scout trees in
advance of the ranks. They were twisted and dwarfed, misshapen,
There were wide, naked stretches bare of snow. Great drifts lay in
the woods; the deep, narrow cañons were piled full of it. Many of these
drifts would last far into the following summer; a few would be
perpetual. At the approach of summer, such drifts turn to ice through
frequent thawing and freezing, since the surface snow, melting under
the glare of the summer sun, seeps down through the mass beneath in
daytime, and freezes again at night. From such drifts flow icy streams
for the leaping trout. Countless sparkling springs gurgled forth at the
foot of the slopes.
Here I had my first lessons in conservation and learned that it is
indeed an ill wind that does no good. Here nature hoards her savings in
snowbanks. To these savings she adds constantly throughout the winter.
Long I sat upon a promontory and marveled. Dimly, only, did I grasp the
significance of what lay before me! The ranks of primeval forest
waiting to aid civilization; snow, that white magic eventually destined
to water crops on the distant plains; and, above all, woods, the final
refuge of the big game; the sanctuary of the birds.
Everywhere were scattered unnamed lakes. These edged out and around
the rock peninsulas, folded back into dark coves and swung out of sight
behind the timbered bends. Some were almost pinched in half by the
crowding cliffs till they formed giant hour-glasses; again they bulged
and overflowed like streams at high water. I began to name them
according to their shape. Hourglass, of course; the one that bulged
out at one end was surely a plump Pearyes, and
Dog-with-three-legs! My imagination was recovering.
For miles I followed the strange, fantastic timberline. Occasionally
I found stunted little trees scarcely knee high, peeping through the
crushing weight of snow that had smothered them, even throughout the
summer. I cut several trees to count the rings of growth. I found trees
growing close together and about the same size, with centuries of
variation in age. One, that had been broken off by a rock slide, had
two hundred and ninety-six annual rings. It had grown in a sheltered
nook. Ten yards away another, much smaller, but growing upon an
exposed, rocky point, was no higher than my head, yet I counted five
hundred and seven rings; for half a thousand years it had stood at its
post. I found the counting of these annual rings extremely difficult,
as they were so dense that it was hard to distinguish them and they
averaged from fifty to a hundred rings to an inch of thickness, but the
small magnifying glass I carried made it possible.
The most striking thing I discovered about the timberline trees was
their irregularity. There was no similarity of form, as prevails among
trees of the deep forest. Each tree took on a physical appearance
according to its location and its opportunities. One resemblance only
did they have in common: none had limbs on the west side. All their
leafy banners pointed toward the rising sun. Thus I learned the
direction of the prevailing winter winds. The west side of the trees
were polished smooth, many cut halfway through. Trees that had reached
maturity, or had died, were stripped almost bare of limbs, which had
been cut away by the constant scouring.
There were abundant tracks of deer, and some of elk, but I saw not a
single animal. Near the spot from which had risen the terrifying sounds
of that first night, a deep-worn game trail led down into the heavy
forests. Sharp hoofs had cut into it recently, yet neither hide nor
hair of an animal did I glimpse. There were no traces of beaver nor any
coyote tracks. There were bear tracks, but the small traps I had
brought would not hold bear, so I did not set them. I was running low
on provisions, for I had counted on the game for meat: I had meant to
have venison steak as soon as I had got settled in my permanent camp.
Here was mystery! My curiosity was challenged; I determined to
How I studied those tracks! Those of the sheep could be
distinguished by the rounded toe marks of their hoofs, worn blunt by
the granite rocks they lived on. This was especially true of the
forefeet. They were also wide apart, while the deer tracks were sharply
pointed, with the hoofs close together. Days passed and the tracks in
the trails grew dim, but not before I had read their story. I followed
the sheep's up above timberlinethey grew plainer and more numerous.
So that was it! The sheep climbed where the wind would keep their
tables, spread with sweet cured grass, swept free of snow, and had
placed the barrier of timberline drifts between them and their enemies!
The other tracks all led down to the valleys. There in the foothills
winter would be less rigorous, and the grass would not be buried for
months beneath the snow. Winter was at hand in the high country and all
but the Bighorn had deserted it. What with them above me, and the rest
below, I found myself in a no-game zone.
There was no repetition of the frightful sound that had sent me
scurrying for camp. I suspected a bull elk had made it, though I
recognized no resemblance between that hair-raising sound and a bugle.
My thoughts turned to other game. I must have meathow about a
bear? If I couldn't trap one, perhaps I could shoot one. I got out my
battered old rifle, so like the timberline trees, and boldly set out
for b'ar. In and out of the dense forest I blundered; crashed through
the tangle at timberline; toiled up the rocky ridges. Up and up I
climbed, paying no heed to the direction of the wind. I found bear
tracks, both large and small, but no sight of Bruin himself.
Discouraged, I lay down to rest and had a nap in the sun. Later,
with the wind in my face, I peeped over a rocky upthrust near a large
snowbank. My eyes bulged, my mouth opened. There was a bear just ahead.
Surely it was madcrazyfor no animal in its right mind would do what
it was doing.
First it would lumber along a few feet from the edge of the snow,
stopping, sniffing, striking out suddenly with its forepaws; it
repeated this performance again and again. I watched, hypnotized,
unaware of the gun gripped tightly in my hands. Anyhow, who'd want to
eat a mad bear?
A slight sound caused me to turn my head. Twenty feet away another
bear stood regarding me curiously.
Not being absent-minded, I have never been able to understand why I
left my rifle on the mountainside after lugging it up there for an
avowed purpose. At any rate I made record time back to camp, glancing
rearward frequently, to see if the flock of bears was pursuing me.
The next day, after surveying the mountainside to make sure that no
bears were lurking there, I went back up and recovered the rifle. The
sand beneath the shelving rock where I had seen the second bear was
disturbed. Claws had rasped it sharply. It appeared as though this bear
had been startled suddenly; had wheeled about and fled for its life in
the opposite direction to that I had taken. The tracks were small, too,
apparently those of a cub. This was my first hear experience. I had yet
to learn that bear are as harmless as deer or mountain sheep; they
attend strictly to their own business, and they never come near man
except through accident. At that time, though, I was willing to give
all bears the benefit of the doubtand the right of way.
While further exploring the ridge above the camp I came upon an old
abandoned tunnel with its dump concealed among the trees below
timberline. The entrance to the tunnel had been timbered to prevent its
caving. There was nothing in its appearance to tell how long it had
been abandoned. Beside the dump was a small selected pile of ore. This
I gloated over happily, mistaking mingled stains and colors for pure
sold. But if it was a gold mine, why had the owners departedand why
had they left rich ore? These and, other questions unanswered, left me
with an uneasy feeling. I wondered if a tragedy had happened here, so
many miles from civilization. With a torch of small twigs I ventured
into the dark hole running straight back beneath the cliff. A short
distance inside the tunnel I stopped uneasily. The silence was intense.
The twig torch fluttered faintly and went out. The darkness was black
beyond belief. Without delay I felt my way out into the sunshine,
leaving further exploration for another day.
For weeks I roamed the forest, circled the scattered lakes, climbed
to the jagged tops of high-flung peaks; and daily, almost, had new and
strange experiences. Everything was intensely interesting, and all was
fairyland. Many times I was torn between timidity and curiosity. Though
I often carried the huge old rifle with deadly intent, I failed to
bring down any big game. Invariably when I had a good chance, my gun
would be at camp.
Before breakfast one morning I made an excursion to a promontory to
watch the sunrise. Deep down in the cañons below, darkness still
lingered. Slowly the world emerged from the shadows like a photographic
plate developing and disclosing its images in the darkroom. Beyond the
promontory a great spire lifted high above the cañon; I climbed to its
top. Above the spire was a higher crag. Again I climbed up. Up and up I
climbed until almost noon. Each new vantage point revealed new glory;
every successive outpost lured me on.
At last the long ridge I followed shouldered against a sheer-topped
peak of the Continental Divide. It was mid-afternoon and hunger urged
me homeward. The way I had come was long and circuitous. There was a
short cut back to camp, but this threatened difficulty, for there was a
deep cañon to be crossed; and even though I reached its bottom there
seemed to be no possible way up the precipitous farther wall.
I did, however, make the homeward side of the cañon very late. The
clouds had shut down over the peaks, leveling their tops to timberline.
All day I had carried the heavy camera with a supply of glass plates.
Besides I carried my six-shooter, with belt and cartridges, buckled
around my waist. Several times I saw grouse and fired at them, but not
once did I get a close-up shot.
As I toiled upward to cross the ridge that overlooked camp, I
entered the lower cloud stratum. The air was biting cold. It was
impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. I regretted that I had
brought no food. Snow began to fall; and the higher I plodded the
thicker it fell. Darkness came rapidly; footing became precarious. The
snow plastered the rocks; the light was ghostly and unreal. I began to
stumble; I slipped and slid, lost my balance, and fell.
Then, as the snow deepened and the darkness increased, I realized
that to attempt the descent of the slope above camp would be folly, for
it was as steep as a house roof, and covered with loose bowlders.
Besides it had many abrupt cliffs fifty to a hundred feet high. There
was only one thing to docamp here, for the night. But I was on an
exposed shoulder of the mountain, above timberline, and it would be
impossible to live through the night without shelter and fire.
I headed downhill without regard for direction. I was becoming numb,
but in half an hour I safely reached the dwarf trees at timberline and
plunged through them to a dense grove of spruce. Occasionally there was
a dead tree, and nearly all trees had dead limbs low down. With such
limbs or small trunks as I could find I constructed a rude lean-to,
with closed ends. With my pocket knife I cut green boughs, covered the
lean-to and plastered the boughs with a coating of wet snow. The green
branches, together with the snow that was streaming down like a
waterfall, soon rendered the shelter windproof.
With a glowing fire in front to light my way, I ranged in
ever-widening circles for fuel to last through the long night ahead.
Within an hour I had collected a fair-sized pile of wood, but I thought
I'd better have even more. My quest took me farther among the trees. Of
a sudden there came a whirr of wings that made me jump and drop my
load, as a number of grouse flew in all directions, their booming wings
fairly exploding with energy.
One of the grouse alighted in a tree overhead and I snatched out the
six-shooter, aimed carefully and fired. It was a new experience for the
grouse; it stretched its head out, and, twisting sidewise, stared down
at me curiously. Once more I fired. The interest of the grouse
increased. Again and again I fired, pausing confidently after each shot
for the bird to tumble down. Three times I emptied the cylinder without
a hit. Then in disgust I shoved the gun back into its holster and
fumbled in the snow for a stone. The first throw was close, the second
hit its mark, and the bird came fluttering down.
The clouds dropped lower, enveloping my camp. The night was inky
black. I lay beneath my lean-to, watching the fire before which the
plump grouse was slowly turning round and round as it roasted. The
turning was accomplished by hooking a green twig into its neck and
tying the other end of the twig with a string that wound and unwound as
the bird alternated directions. I unloaded one of the revolver
cartridges and used the salty powder for seasoning my feast. I saved
some ammunition after all!
It was noon next day before I reached camp. Then the storm shut down
again. Snow began to accumulate. In the woods it lay knee deep, while
the high ridges above the timberline were swept bare by the howling
Quite unexpectedly, in the dead of night, I had a visitor. He was
uninvited, but was determined to make himself at home. Awakened by the
rattle of tin, I sat up, listened and waited. I struck a match and
caught a glimpse of a huge mountain rat disappearing in the darkness. I
had scarcely fallen asleep again before he returned, and when I struck
a light he stared at me with villainous, beady eyes. By the uncertain
light of a match I took aim with the faithless six-shooter and fired.
When I sprang up, expecting to find the mangled remains of the
intruder, I discovered a gaping hole in my only frying pan.
After an hour the pest came again, satisfied, no doubt, that my
marksmanship was not dangerous. This time I was prepared for his
coming. I had a lighted pine torch to see to aim by. I tried another
shot. The rat kept moving while in the open and only stopped when
behind shelter, peeping out with one eye. At last he left the tent, and
I followed him into the woods. Beneath the overhang of the cliff he
stopped, his piercing eyes flashing in the darkness as I advanced with
the torch. Patiently he waited beneath a leaning tree trunk. Ten feet
from him I knelt upon the velvet needles of the forest, and with torch
held aloft, steadied the six-shooter, aimed carefully, and fired.
At the shot the rat disappeared. I pressed forward confident that at
last I had scored a hit. The torch had gone out. I was feeling among
the dead needles for the rat's mangled body when my fingers touched
something wooden. Instantly the pest was forgotten. By the light of a
match I saw that I had uncovered the corner of a little box. It flashed
upon me that I had stumbled upon the cache where the old prospectors
had hidden their gold. They were gone; the gold was mine!
I tugged and tugged till I dragged it from its concealment beneath
the rotting log. In trembling haste I tore off its cover. Then...
I staggered back with a cry of dismay! The box was filled with old,
crystallized dynamite. An inch above the top layer of the deadly stuff
was a fresh hole where my bullet had crashed through. A little lower
and it would have hit the powder crystals!
The next morning snow lay deep about the tent. It was impossible to
make my way through the woods. I was marooned far from civilization.
The wind rose; crashing among the peaks, tearing along the ridges,
roaring through the passes. Blinding clouds came sifting down from the
After days of patient waiting, I started the laborious climb upward,
for it was impossible to make progress downward, where the soft snow
lay. Now, like the sheep, I would take advantage of those wind-swept
stretches above timberline.
Before dawn I was on my way. It required three hours to gain the
first mile. Then, as I reached the cleared stretches, progress became
easier. Though the wind came in angry squalls, that sometimes flung me
headlong, and buffeted and drove me about, the going underfoot was
If I could keep my bearings and head northward, steer out around the
heads of countless cañons, hold my given altitude above timberline, I
would eventually reach a spot some miles above the valley where the
home ranch lay. All day I plodded. The wind did not abate, but came in
a gale from the west. At times it dropped to perhaps fifty miles an
hour, and again it rose to more than a hundred miles; it shrieked,
pounded at the cliffs, tore the battered timberline trees to bits,
caught up frozen snow crust and crashed it among the trees like ripping
shot. At such times I was forced to turn my back, or to feel my way
blindly, head down. I moved with utmost caution lest I walk over a
The time came when I had to abandon the wind-swept heights and
flounder through the soft snow of the cañons. Through narrow passes I
had to crawl, so terrific was the wind that poured through the channel
like a waterfall. Nothing short of a Kansas cyclone can match the
velocity of a mountain-top gale. All day I stemmed its tide, which
sapped my strength, bowled me over and cut my face.
As early darkness came on I reached a familiar cañon that dropped
down toward the valley where the ranch lay hidden. Drunkenly I
staggered homeward, too exhausted to care what happened. The last three
miles required three hours of heroic work. I became extremely weary and
wanted nothing so much as to sink down in the snow and go to sleep; but
I knew what that would mean, so I kept slapping and beating myself to
keep awake. In the end I reached the ranch, pounded upon the door and,
when it was opened, pitched headlong across its threshold.
The Parson gazed down at me from his six feet of height.
Well, he said at length, guess you found a pretty big world.
CHAPTER FOUR. DANCING ACROSS THE
So new was the life, so fascinating the animals and elements of the
primitive world, so miraculous was it that my lifelong dreams were come
true, that I never thought of home-sickness, nor missed the comrades
left behind me, although the Parson and his quiet wife were rather
elderly companions for a youngster. There were, too, the diversions of
going for the mail, either horseback or in the old spring wagon behind
the steady, little mountain ponies, the swapping of yarns while waiting
for the generally belated stage to dash up, its four horses prancing,
and steaming, no matter how cold the weather, from the precipitous ups
and downs of the mountain roads they had traveled. The return journey
in the dusk or by moonlight was never without incident: porcupine,
deer, bear, Bighorn, mountain lionsome kind of game invariably
crossed my trail.
And, as was true in all pioneer regions, the community abounded in
interesting personalities. During the first half of the nineteenth
century, the fame and fairness of the country had reached the centers
of Eastern culture, and had lured the ambitious and the adventurous to
try their skill in hunting and trapping and fishing in this Paradise,
roamed over by big game, crossed by sparkling streams, alive with
trout. Kit Carson was the first white man to look down upon its
beautiful valleys. Others soon followed: Joel Estes, for whom the Park
was eventually named; Rocky Mountain Jim, a two-gun man, living alone
with his dogs, looking like a bearded, unkempt pirate, taciturn, yet
not without charm, as later events proved, unmolesting and unmolested,
enveloped in a haze of respected mystery. There was also that noted
lady globe-trotter, Miss Isabella Bird, an Englishwoman of undoubted
refinement, highly educatedwhose volume, A Lady's Life in the Rocky
Mountains, is one of the earliest and most picturesque accounts of
that timeupon whom Rocky Mountain Jim exerted his blandishments.
Some sort of romance existed between them, how serious no one knows,
for the tragic shooting of Jim, by an irate pioneer father, cut short
In the early sixties, an English nobleman and sportsman, the Earl of
Dunraven, attracted by the wealth of game in the region, attempted to
make it into a private hunting park or preserve. He took up all the
acreage which he could legitimately acquire in his own name, then took
up fraudulent claims in the names of his tenants. But the hardy
pioneers, who were coming into the country in ever-increasing numbers,
rightly doubting the validity of his own ownership of so many thousands
of acres, homesteaded land to their liking and built their log cabins
upon it. Lord Dunraven tried to scare them off, but they would not be
bluffed, and in the contest which followed, he lost out and departed
from the region. Although his coming to the Park contributed much to
its romantic history, in his Memoirstwo thick, heavy volumes,
published a few years agohe devotes only half a page to his Estes
Park experiences. Whether this is because he considered them negligible
or unworthy, would be interesting to know.
The old Dunraven Lodge was the first hostelry in the region, and
about the great fireplace in its spacious, trophy-hung lobby gathered
many of the political and artistic celebrities of that day. The fame of
the mountain beauty spot spreadvisitors came. The settlers added
spare rooms to their log cabins, and during the summer and early fall
took in boarders, thus helping to eke out their living expenses and,
what was even more far-reaching perhaps, the outer world was thus
fetched in to them: they heard of railroads annihilating the long
oxen-traversed distances of covered wagon days, of new gold strikes, of
national politics, rumblings of the Civil War, slavery agitation,
presidential elections, and those other momentous, history-making
events of their time.
The most important and regular social occasion of that day was the
community dinner and literary. Imagine the picturesque company,
congregated from miles around, each contributing whatever he could
muster of food and drinkthe old Earl of Dunraven, as well as others,
had a bar!and seated at a long, single table. What genuine, home-made
fun! What pranks, what wityes, what brilliance! Some one, usually
Parson Lamb, sometimes gaunt old Scotch John Cleave, the postmaster,
rarely some noted visitor, who either from choice or ill-health
lingered on into the winter, made a speech. There were declamations,
debates, the interminable, singsong ballads of the frontier, usually
accompanied by French harp or fiddle. Families were few, bachelors much
in the majority; I remember that at one of the community affairs there
were eighteen bachelors out of a total attendance of thirty persons!
But as the region settled up, the bachelor ranks dwindled. They, like
the big game, disappeared, as though in their case open season
I had attended several of these pioneer festivities and had enjoyed
them greatly, and was much impressed with their importance, for
underlying all the fun was an old-fashioned dignity seldom found
nowadays. But Parson Lamb told me these dinners were tame compared to a
real mountain dance. Just you wait till you see a real shindig he
said. Then you'll have something to talk about. In January, there was
a letter in the mail from Jim Oss, my acquaintance of the train on
which I came West. We had been carrying on a desultory correspondence,
but this message was momentous.
I am giving a dance Monday, he wrote, to celebrate proving up on
my homestead. Come ahead of time so you can see all the fun. His
hundred and sixty acres lay on the western slope of the Continental
Dividefifty-five miles away. Snow lay deep over every one of those
intervening, upstanding miles! The Parson was concerned about my going
'Tain't safe to cross that old range alone any time of year, let
alone the dead of winter. Hain't no one else agoing from here?
I inquired, but it seemed there was not. Secretly I was well pleased
to have it so. I was young enough to thrill at the chance of so
hazardous an experience.
Parson Lamb agreed that Friday morning would be a good time to
start. We were not superstitious, and it wasn't the thirteenth. The
trip had to be made on snowshoes, with which I was not very adept, but
that only added to its attractions. In order to cross the Divide, it
was necessary to descend from my lofty nine thousand feet elevation to
seven thousand five hundred, before starting to climb Flattop trail,
which led over to Grand Lake, the last settlement before reaching Oss's
place. By sundown I reached a deserted sawmill shack, the last shelter
between me and Grand Lake. It was six miles below the top of the
Divide, and twenty miles to the Lake. There I spent the night and at
dawn was trailing upward, in the teeth of a sixty-mile gale!
The first two of those uprising six miles were fair going, and took
only a little more than an hour. Thereafter the trail grew more
precipitous. The third mile required one hour, and the fourth, two
hours of exhausting work. The sun rose, but not the temperature;
powdery snow swirled around the heads of the peaks; clouds swept above
the ridges, flayed and torn; from above timberline came the roar of the
Dark glasses protected my eyes from snow and wind; and I was warmly
dressed. I left my bedding roll at the sawmill, to be picked up on the
return trip, for shelter could be had at Grand Lake. The light pack I
carried contained peanuts, chocolate, and a change of socks.
The higher I climbed the wilder became the wind. From timberline I
surveyed the prospect ahead and hesitated. Clouds and snow whirled up
in a solid mass, blinding and choking me. The cold penetrated my heavy
clothing. I went on. In a few minutes I was in the midst of the
turmoil, utterly lost, buffeted about. I tried to keep the wind in my
face for compass, but it was so variable, eddying from all directions,
that it was not reassuring. Near the top of the mountain a blast
knocked me down, and half smothered me with flying snow. I arose
groggily, uncertain which way to head; it was impossible to see even a
step in front. The staff I carried served me well, with it I went
tapping and feeling my way like a blind man. There I was on the top of
the world, thirteen thousand feet above sea leveland overlooking
Flattop mountain is shaped like a loaf of bread, sloping off steeply
at the ends, its sides guarded by sheer cliffs. It was these cliffs I
feared and strove to avoid. I had heard startling tales of the effects
of high altitude on one; how the atmosphere was very rare and light.
Had it been any heavier that day, I could not have survived. Violent
blasts of wind frequently bowled me over. After one of these falls, I
arose uncertainly, drifted with the wind for a moment's respite,
neglected to feel ahead with my staffand walked out upon a snow
cornice that overhung the top of the cliff. The cornice broke away!
Amidst an explosion of snow I plunged downward, struggling frantically
as I went!
[Illustration: I plunged downward, struggling frantically.]
I landed in a snowdrift featherbed which, while it broke my fall,
almost buried me alive. The wind reached me only in occasional gusts,
so I realized that I must be sheltered by the cliff wall. In the first
brief lull I took my bearings. I had landed upon a narrow ledge a few
feet wide. Below me yawned the gorge. It was a terrible half hour's
work with a snowshoe as a shovel to extricate myself, but a few minutes
later I was once more on top.
Again I struggled upward. I reached the pass and started down the
western slope toward timber. My fingers and toes were frosted, I was
numb with cold, and so battered by the gale I could only pant. My
careful calculations had come to naught, as I was far behind the
schedule I had planned. I decided to make up time by abandoning the
trail and taking a shortcut to timber and shelter through an unknown
cañon which I thought led to Grand Lake.
But the cañon was hard going. Thick, young evergreens, entangling
willows and fallen logs impeded every step. I could make no headway and
darkness was coming on. Disgusted, despairing, I took to the frozen
stream, only to skid over icy bowlders and at last to break through the
ice crust into the frigid water.
Long after dark I staggered down the single street of Grand Lake
toward a dim patch of light. It proved to be the window of a store.
Within was a glowing stove, surrounded by a group of men.
The proprietor eyed me with suspicion. Where'd you drop from?
I waved vaguely toward the Continental Divide.
Must 'a' bin something urgent to make you tackle the Flattop trail
He awaited my explanations curiouslybut I had slumped down near
the stove and was half asleep.
Next morning I looked back up the way I had comelow clouds,
tattered to shreds. Even at that distance I could hear the roar of the
wind among the loft crags. I was thankful that I had crossed the Divide
the day before. It was still thirty miles to the cabin of my friend,
but they were fairly easy miles compared with those I had just
traversed. Even so, so spent was my strength, it was pitch dark when I
dragged wearily up the broken road to where that cabin nestled in its
grove of spruces.
The dance was not until Monday night, so I took it for granted that
I should be the first to arrive, since I was a full day ahead of the
function. But no! Many were already there! They were eating supper and
made room for me at the long table before the open fire. They were
cordial and made me feel at home at once, marveling over my making the
trip alone, and praising my pluck. I was much too weary and hungry to
protest, even though I had been becomingly modest. Seeing this, they
filled my plate and let me be, turning their nimble tongues on our
hostWhat handsome whiskersla! la! He'd better be careful with those
hirsute adornments and a cabin with a plank floor! He couldn't hope to
remain a bachelor long! So the banter ran.
Supper over and the dishes cleared away, the candles were snuffed
out and the company (visitors were never called guests) sat around the
flickering hearth and speculated over the possible coming of the Moffat
railroad. What an assorted company it was! Young and
grizzledtrappers, miners, invalids seeking health, adventurers,
speculators, a few half-breeds; all men of little education, but of
fascinating experience; a few women of quiet poise and resourcefulness.
Their clothes were nondescript and betrayed the fact that they had come
from the East, having been sent west by condoning relatives, no doubt
after having lived in more fashionable circles. There were two little
children who fell asleep early in the evening in their parents' arms.
The company was put to bed in Oss's one-room house by the simple
means of lying down upon the floor fully dressed, feet to the fire.
All were up early next morning, and each found some task to do. Some
of the men cut wood and piled it outside the door; the women folks
assisted Oss with breakfast which was cooked in the fireplace; for he
had not yet reached the luxury of a cook stove, which would have to be
fetched in over sixty miles of mountain roads and would cost a tidy
Some artistic soul, with a memory of urban ways, made long ropes of
evergreens and hung them in garlands from the rafters, a flag was
draped above the fireplace, lanterns were hung ready to light.
Distant neighbors kept flocking in all day, each bringing a
neighborly offering; fresh pork from the owner of an only shoat; choice
venison steaks; bear meat from a hunter who explained that the bear had
been killed months before and kept frozen in the meat house. Wild
raspberry jam, with finer flavor than any I have ever tasted before or
since, was brought by a bachelor who vied with the women folks when it
came to cookery. The prize offering, however, were some mountain trout,
speared through the ice of a frozen stream.
Dancing began early. The music was supplied by an old-time fiddler
who jerked squeaky tunes from an ancient violin, singing and shouting
the dance calls by turns. Voice, fiddle and feet, beating lusty time to
his tunes, went incessantly. He had an endless repertoire, and a talent
for fitting the names of the dancers to his ringing rimes.
Some of his offerings were:
Lady round lady and gents so low!
First couple lead to right
Lady round lady and gents so low
Lady round gent and gent don't go
Four hands half and right and left.
The encores he would improvise:
Hit the lumber with your leather
Balance all, an' swing ter left.
All swayed rhythmically, beating time with their feet, clapping
their hands, bowing, laughing. The men threw in their fancy steps,
their choice parlor tricks. A few performed a double shuffle; one a
pigeon's wing; a couple of trappers did an Indian dance, twisting their
bodies into grotesque contortions and every so often letting out a yell
that made one's hair stand on end.
There was little rest between the dances, for the old fiddler had
marvelous powers of endurance. He sawed away, perspired, shouted and
sang as though his life depended on his performance. He was having as
good, or better time, than anyone. With scarcely a moment to breathe
he'd launch into another calland not once the whole night through did
Ole Buffler BillBuffler Bill!
Never missed an' never will.
Then as the dancers promenaded he'd switch to a new improvisation,
ending in a whirlwind of wit and telling personalities, which sent the
company into hysterical laughter. I joined in the dance, rather gawkily
no doubt, for my mother's father was a Quaker preacher and we had never
been allowed to dance at home. The ladies regarded my clumsiness with
motherly forbearance, and self-sacrificingly tried to direct my wayward
feet. But either because I was not recovered from my trip or because
the strangeness and confusion wearied me, I could not get the hang of
the steps. Presently an understanding matron let me slip out of the
dance, and I sat down by the fiddler and dozed. Clanking spurs,
brilliant chaps, fur-trimmed trappers' jackets, thudding moccasins,
gaudy Indian blankets and gay feathers, voluminous feminine flounces
swinging from demure, snug-fitting basquesall whirled above me in a
[Illustration: I sat down by the fiddler and dozed.]
A wild war whoop awakened menothing but a little harmless
hilarity! It was two o'clock in the morning. I wished the dance would
end so I could sleep undisturbed. I envied the two children asleep on
the floor. But the dance went on. The fiddle whined, its player
shouted, heavy shoes clumped tirelessly on the plank floor. There was
still energetic swing and dash to the quadrilles, still gay voices were
raised in joyous shouts. Those hearty pioneers were full of wim, wigor
Dawn broke redly over the Divide; still the dance continued.
Daylight sifted over the white world, and yet the dancers did not
pause. At last as the sun came up, the old fiddler reluctantly stood on
his chair and played Home Sweet Home.
All-night dances were at that time the custom of the mountain folk;
the company assembled as far ahead of time as was convenient, and
remained, sometimes, a day or two after the close of the festivities.
There was no doubt as to one's welcome and there was no limit to the
length of his stay. Isolation made opportunities for such social
intercourse rare and therefore everyone got more kick out of these
occasions than is possible in our swiftly moving, blasé age.
Weather conditions changed while we danced: the wind eased off and
the mountain tops emerged from the clouds and drifting snow. I trailed
up the cañon I had struggled through in the darkness; and except for
the final stretch of the steep mountain above timberline the
snowshoeing was nothing except plain hard work. In some places the wind
had packed the snow hard; again it was soft so that I sank knee deep at
every step. In the soft snow, where there was a steep slope to
negotiate, each snowshoe had to be lifted high, until my knee almost
touched my chest. The webs accumulated snow, too, until each shoe
weighed many additional pounds.
But the fairyland that I found on top of the Divide was worth all
the effort required to reach it. It was the first time I had found the
wind quiet; every peak stood out sharp and clear, many miles away
seemed but a few minutes' walk. There were none of the usual objects
that help estimate distance; no horses or cattle, no trees or trails,
nothing but unbroken space. The glare of the sun was blinding; even my
very dark snow glasses failed to protect my eyes.
The silence was tremendous. Always before there had been the wind
shrieking and crashing. Now there was not a sound, not a breath of
wind, not even a snow-swirl. I shouted, and my voice came back across
the cañon without the usual blurring; each word was distinct. I
whistled softly and other echoes came hurrying back. Never have I felt
so alone, or so small. As far as the eye could reach were mountains,
one beyond the other. Near by loomed the jagged Never-summer range,
while farther down the Divide Gray's and Terry's peaks stood out; then
the Collegiate rangeHarvard, Yale and Princeton.
In the midst of my reverie there came a creaking, groaning sound
from almost beneath my feet. I had paused on the brink of the same
precipice over which I had fallen on my way to Grand Lake. Before I
could move, the snow-cornice broke away and several hundred feet of it
crashed down the cliff. In places it appeared to be ten to forty feet
thick. It must have weighed thousands of tons. It fell with a swishing
roar, with occasional sharp reports, as loose rocks dropped to the
clean-swept ledges of the cliff. It seemed to explode as it struck, to
fly into powder which filled the gorge between Flat top and Hallett
The wind had drifted the snow over the edge of the precipice where
some of it had clung. Farther and farther it had crept out, overhanging
the abyss, its great weight slowly bending the cornice downward until
it had at last given way.
I shuddered a little at the awfulness of it; felt smaller than ever,
backed away from the rim of the cañon, and headed for home.
CHAPTER FIVE. TRAPPINGMOUNTAIN-TOP
Gold and fur have ever been beckoning sirens, luring men into the
unknown. As I have said, the famous trapper, Kit Carson, was the first
white man to look down upon the picturesque, mountain-guarded valley,
later known as Estes Park. From the foothills, he had followed up one
of the streams, seeking new fur-fields, until, after crossing the last
barrier range, he looked down upon a broad, river spangled park set
like a gem in the midst of the encircling peaks of the Divide, with
that sheer, pyramidal face of Long's Peak dominating all. We like to
think that these early adventurers appreciated the beauty of the
primitive lands they explored, but whether or not Carson thrilled at
that exquisite alpine panorama, he noted keenly the profusion of tracks
criss-crossing its green and white expanse, promising an abundance of
game, for he moved down into the region and at the foot of Long's Peak
built himself a rude log cabin. There he spent the winter trapping
beaver, and the following spring bargained with the Indians to help
pack out his catch. The walls, the hearth, and part of the stone
chimney still mark the site of that first cabin.
I selected the top of a high cliff overlooking these storied ruins
for the location of a cabin which I planned to build as soon as I could
manage it. I, too, would be a trapper, and though the beaver and other
fur-bearing animals were not nearly so numerous as they had been that
day, sixty years gone, when Carson first beheld their mountain
fastness, there still remained enough to make trapping interesting and
profitable. Game tracks still abounded, and notwithstanding that I was
a mere boy, inexperienced in woodcraft, I could distinguish that they
differed, even though I could classify only a few of them; coyote
tracks, I found, were very like a dog's; sheep, elk and deer tracks
were similar, yet easily distinguished from one another; bear left a
print like that of a baby's chubby foot. Yes, there was still a chance
As soon as I returned from the dance at Jim Oss's, I set about
carrying out my plans. I mushed over deep snow back into Wild Basin, to
recover the six traps I had abandoned there on that memorable first
camp alone, and found my tent crushed under six feet of drifted snow
and the region still deserted by game. I set the traps out in the
vicinity of the home ranch. Every few days I inspected them, only to
find them empty. Indeed, over a period of long weeks I caught but one
mink, two weasels and three coyotes. The Parson kindly said the country
was trapped out; still, I suspected my lack of skill was responsible
for my scanty catch.
One morning in following up my trap line, I found a trap missing. In
the sand about the aspen tree to which it had been anchored were coyote
tracks. Ignorantly fearless, I set out to track down the miscreant. The
trail led down toward a forest, where dense thickets of new-growth
lodge-pole pines livened the stark, fire-killed trees. As I neared the
forest, the tracks were farther apart and dimmer, but here and there
were scratches on fallen logs as though a trap had been dragged across
them; moreover, there were occasional spots where the earth was greatly
disturbed, showing that the animal had no doubt threshed about in his
efforts to dislodge the trap, caught on the snags or bowlders.
No denying I thrilled from head to foot over the prospect of meeting
Mr. Coyote face to face! If he showed fight I'd snatch my six-shooter
from its holster (forgotten was its faithless performance in Wild
Basin!) and show him I was not to be trifled with. Of course, I'd aim
to hit him where the shot would do least damage to his fur; it would be
more valuable for marketing.
Just then I heard the clank of the trap chain. Heart pounding, hands
trembling, I shakily drew my gun, and cautiously advanced. Around the
corner of a bowlder I came upon a large coyote, with a black stripe
running along his back, squatting in an old game trail, apparently
little concerned either at my presence or at his own dilemma. As I
stumbled toward him, he faced about, and without taking his eyes off
me, kept jerking the trap which was wedged between a root and a
bowlder. Twenty feet away I stopped, and with what coolness I could
command in my excitement, took aim and fired. The bullet only ruffled
the heavy fur at his shoulder. Determined to finish him next shot, I
edged nearer. My target refused to stand stillhe sprang the full
length of his chain again and again, striving to dislodge the trap.
Finally it jerked free and he was off like a rabbit, despite his
dragging burden, leaping logs or scuttling beneath them, zigzagging
along the crooked trail, dodging bowlders, tree limbs and my frequent
but ineffective fire. For I madly pursued him though hard put to keep
up his pace.
Suddenly the trap caught again and jerked its victim to an abrupt
stop. He whirled about and faced me defiantly, eyes blazing, fangs
bared. I reloaded my revolver, aimedfired, aimedfired again and
again, until the cylinder was empty, without once hitting him.
I began to think that, like old Tom, he led a charmed life. Just
then he jerked loose, and once more the chase was on. I reloaded my
six-shooter and fired on the run, shouting excitedly. He ran on with
tireless, automatic motion, apparently as unperturbed as he was
impervious to bullets.
All at once I discovered my belt emptyI had exhausted my
cartridges! Disgusted, I shoved my gun back into its holster, and,
picking up a stout club, ran after the coyote. Several times I was
close enough to hit him, but he deftly dodged or else sprang forward
beyond reach. Once when the trap caught and prisoned him an instant, I
swung my club, sure of ending the race, but it collided on a limb
overhead and went wide of the mark! Again I overtook the coyote as he
struggled through hindering bush, and, reaching forward, swung my
bludgeon with all my might and fell headlong upon him! I gave a
terrified yell; my battered hat flew off; I dropped my club. The coyote
was out of sight before I gained my feet!
Suddenly we popped out of the forest on the edge of a cañon; its
sides were smooth and almost bare. On this open ground, my quarry
gained on me by leaps and bounds. I spied a rock-slide belowgreat
slabs that had slid down from the cliff abovebetween openings amply
large to admit almost any animal. Once the coyote reached that slide,
he would escape. Panting loudly, I sprinted forward to overtake him.
The trap chain wedged unexpectedly, the coyote changed ends, and
came up facing me. I could not put on brakes quickly enough and skidded
almost into him. He sprang at my throat. As he launched upward I
glimpsed his flaming eyes and wide-open, fang-filled mouth. I do not
know what saved me; whether my desperate effort to reverse succeeded,
whether I dodged, or whether the restraining trap chain thwarted him.
As it was, his teeth grazed my face, leaving deep, red scars across my
chin.... His was the handsomest skin that adorned the walls of my cabin
when that dream eventually became a reality. I did not sell the skin as
purposednot, however, because my bullets had ruined it for marketing!
[Illustration: I glimpsed his flaming eyes and wide-open,
In common with all small boys, I was the hero of my dreams, and in
my fancy saw myself growing into a magnified composite of Nimrod, Robin
Hood, Kit Carson, and Buffalo Bill, all molded into one mighty man who
dwarfed the original individuals! I confess reality was retarding my
growth considerably. It looked as though Kit Carson would go unrivaled
by me as a trapper; certainly the shades of Nimrod and Robin Hood had
no cause to be uneasy lest I win their laurels from them, and as for
Buffalo Billboth the Buffalo and the redskins, whose scalps had
always dangled in fancy from my belt in revenge for their plaguing my
mother on her brave drive with my sick father across those long
unsettled miles, were far beyond my puny vengeance.
The Parson told me that the Utes, a nomadic tribe, had once roamed
the mountains and valleys around Estes, but that it was not generally
believed that they had permanent settlements here. It was thought they
made temporary or seasonal camp when hunting or fishing was at its
height, and that they used the alpine valley as a vast council chamber
when they met to discuss inter-tribal matters. Certain it is, I puzzled
over curious, dim, ghostly circles, or rings, in the valleys, where
neither grass nor any other vegetation had gained root even after all
these years. The old-timers told me these had been made by the Indians
banking dirt around their lodges. A few scattered tepee frames still
stood, here and there, in sheltered groves along the river.
Occasionally I picked up arrowheadsonce upon a high-flung ledge I
came upon a score or more. How my imagination soared! Here, no doubt,
an Indian had stood, in eagle-feathered war bonnet and full regalia,
guarding this pass; he had been wounded sore unto death, he fell! His
bones, and all his trappings, the wooden shaft of his arrows, had
disintegrated and disappeared. Only these bits of flint enmeshed in the
clinging tendrils of Indian tobacco, or kinnikinic, were left to tell
the tale of his heroism.
Of course, I didn't give up hunting or trapping or even my hope of
finding a gold mine, altogether. I continued to exercise my
six-shooter, though repeated failures to find my mark made it easy for
me to depend more and more on my camera for shots. I still inspected
my trapline, with mental resolutions against trailing trap-maddened
My trip over the Divide gave me a keener appreciation of winter upon
the heights. When, from the window of our snug log cabin, I looked up
toward Long's Peak, and saw the clouds of snow dust swirling about its
head, I pictured just what was happening up there far more accurately
than I could ever have done before I had that experience. I made
frequent trips above timberline, sometimes to find arctic gales that
filled the air with icy pellets which penetrated like shot, cutting my
face; gales that drove the cold through the thickest, heaviest clothes
I could put on; gales that blew the snow about until it enveloped me in
a cloud-like veil, making vision impossible. On such days, retreat was
the only possible, if not valorous, course. To have remained would have
been foolhardy, for blinded and buffeted by the storm, I might easily
have stepped off a precipice with less fortunate consequences than had
attended my experience on my journey over the Divide.
But sometimes, the conditions on the heights were astonishing. Once
I left our valley chill and gloomy, all shut in by lowering clouds, and
climbed up toward the hidden summits of the peaks, to emerge above the
clouds into bright, warm sunshine. Another day, at an altitude of
twelve thousand feet, I found it only twelve below freezing, while, at
the same time, as I learned later, it was twenty-four degrees below
zero at Fort Collins, a town forty miles away on the plains. Strange
freak of weather! The explanation lay in the difference between the
winds that blew over the respective sections, a blizzardly north wind
was sweeping over the low, exposed plains, while up on the
peak-encircled heights a balmy chinook gently stirred from the west.
Mountaineers know that as long as the west wind blows no severe storm
is to be feared. It is the chill east wind that comes creeping up the
cañons from the bleak plains and prairies of the lowlands, which bring
One rare, windless day upon the heights, my little hay-making
friend, the cony, greeted me with an enthusiastic squee-ek. He was
sunning himself upon a rock and looked so sleek and plump I knew his
harvest had been bountiful. He lay gazing off into space, apparently
contemplating the Divide. But when, a few minutes later, a beady-eyed
weasel challenged my right of way, I wondered whether little
Squee-ek's thoughts were so remote as those distant peaks! In both
storm and sunshine, I saw weasels abroad on the heights. They were
bold, fearless little cutthroats, approaching within a few feet to
stare at me wickedly. I saw them below timberline pursuing snowshoe
rabbits many times their size.
Occasionally I came across fox tracks. These sly fellows seemed
indifferent to cold or wind. They stalked the ptarmigan above
timberline, and the grouse that had migrated up the slopes to winter,
below it, and accounted for the death of many. One moonlit night, as I
prowled upward, I heard an unearthly, uncanny squall. I couldn't help
the shiver that ran down my spine. All the pent-up anguish and torment
in the world broke forth in that sound. But perhaps it was only his
foxy protest because his prey had outfoxed him.
But by far the most interesting mountain-top dwellers were the
Bighorn sheep, which adopted those frigid regions as a winter resort. I
had often wondered about those lofty-minded animals I had tracked over
in the Wild Basin country. Were they still on those wind-blown heights?
It seemed incredible that they could stand a whole winter of such
bitter buffeting. Yet, on the days when I climbed above the timberline,
no matter the weather, they were always there, contentedly feeding on
the sweet, early-cured tufts of grass that the raging alpine gales kept
uncovered. It was fascinating to watch them; neither wild winds nor
blinding snow seemed to disconcert them; their thick wool coats were
impervious to the keenest, most penetrating blasts. True, on terribly
stormy days they sought the shelter of giant upthrusts of rock,
towering cliffs or sky-piercing spires that faced eastward, away from
the prevailing winds. There they probably stayed for days at a time, as
long as the worst storms prevailed. Such days I did not dare venture
upon the heights, but I often found signs of their bedding down among
And such nerveless or nervy creatures as they were! From the top of
a cliff, one day, I watched a band of them go down a nearly
perpendicular wall. I could not follow, though I did go part way down
to where the wall bulged outward. There the ledges had crumbled away,
leaving sheer, smooth rock. It did not seem possible that anything
could go down that smooth face. But half a dozen sheep in succession
made the descent safely, as I watched, breathless, from above. They
seemed to defy the laws of gravitation in walking over the rim rock;
for, instead of tumbling headlong as I feared, they went skidding
downward, bouncing, side-stepping, twisting and angling across the wall
like coasters on snow; they could not stop their downward drop, but
they controlled their descent by making brakes of their feet, and
taking advantage of every small bump to retard their speed. By foot
pressure they steered their course for a shelving rock below. One after
another, in quick succession, they shot down, struck the shelf and
leaped sidewise to a ledge a dozen feet beneath. In spite of their
efforts to retard their speed, they had gained tremendous momentum
before reaching the ledge and landed with all four feet bunched beneath
them. It seemed that their legs would surely be thrust through their
bodies. Their heads jerked downward, their noses threatened to be
skinned on the rock! Yet that rough descent neither disabled nor
unnerved them. They recovered their balance instantly and trotted away
around a turn of the wall.
One young ram thought to escape by leaving the cliff and making his
way across a steep, snowy slide to another crag. In places he struck
soft snow and plunged heavily, breaking his way through. Midway between
crags, however, he came to grief quite unexpectedly. An oozing spring
had overflowed and covered the rocks with a coating of ice. Then snow
had blown down from above and covered it. The ram struck this at top
speed, and a moment afterward was turning somersaults down the slope. A
hundred feet below he nimbly recovered his balance and proceeded on his
way, carrying his head haughtily, as though indignant at my burst of
Part way down the cliff I found the tracks of the big ram leader of
the band. I had long since named him Big Eye, which an old trapper
had told me was the Indians' expression for extraordinary eyesight. Not
that Big Eye was exceptional in this respect, not at all! Every one
of his band possessed miraculous eyesight. But he was always alert and
wary. It was unbelievable that he could detect me such a long way off,
around bowlders, through granite walls, in thick brush, but it seemed
to me he did. No matter how carefully I concealed my approach, he
always discovered me. This day he had left his band and had turned
aside upon an extremely narrow shelf and made his way out of sight. I
followed his tracks, curious to learn where he had gone. Many places he
had negotiated without slacking his speed, whereas I was forced to make
detours for better footing, to double back and forth, and generally to
progress very slowly. Apparently he was not much frightened, for his
tracks showed that he had frequently halted to look behind him.
So intent was I upon overtaking him, that I ran into a flock of
ptarmigan and nearly stepped on one of the fool hens before it took
wing and got out of the way, so utterly did it stake its safety on its
winter camouflage. The whole flock had been sitting in plain sight but
their snow-white coats made them hardly distinguishable from their
background. They faded into the landscape like an elusive puzzle
picture. In summer they had depended on their speckled plumage, so like
the mottled patches of sand and snow and grass and granite whereon they
lived, to protect them. They certainly put their trust in nature!
Around a turn, I came upon the old Patriarch. He was standing with
his back to the wall, facing out and back, for here the ledge he had
been following pinched out, and even he, champion acrobat of the
cliffs, could neither climb up nor find a way down. For several minutes
we faced each other, ten yards apart. I had heard that mountain sheep
never attack men, and that even the big leaders never use their
massive, battering ram heads to injure anyone. With this in mind I
moved up to within ten feet when a movement of his haughty head stopped
me. Somehow in his action was the suggestion that he might forget
tradition. One bump of his huge head would knock me overboard. There
was nothing but space for a hundred feet below, then sheer wall for
several hundred feet more.
Arrogantly he faced me, unflinchingly; his eyes of black and gold
never wavering; statuesque, his heroic body set solidly upon his sturdy
legs, his regal head high, his lodestone feet secure upon the sloping
rock, he was a handsome figure. He outweighed me about three pounds to
one; so the longer I looked at him, the less desire I had to crowd. At
length I mustered up courage to try him out. Slowly, an inch at a time,
I edged forward, talking quietlyassuring him that my intentions were
good, and that I merely wanted to learn how near a fellow might go
without his lordship's taking exceptions.
Suddenly he stiffened; half closed his eyes and lowered his head. At
the same instant he shifted his feet as though to charge. As I backed
carefully away, I recalled again that his kind had never harmed anyone,
but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and left him in undisputed
possession of the ledge.
On many a windy winter day thereafter, I saw Big Eye and his band.
Always I laughed a bit at my experience upon the ledge. The ram
appeared so dignified, so quiet, so harmless! Still, I had no fault to
find with my retreat that day.
One day there came a change over the world. Signs of spring came
creeping up the valley. The pussy willows put on their silvery furs,
the birches and elders unfurled their catkin tassels. Bands of deer and
elk began to drift back into the valley; the Bighorn eagerly forsook
the heights. The few coyotes that had remained throughout the winter
were joined by more of their kin; fresh bobcat tracks appeared daily.
The mountain lions that had trailed the deer and elk down to warmer
climes, returned close on their heels as their red records testified.
On my rambles I often came upon the scenes of their kills; deer, elk
and even wary sheep were their victims.
The wet, clinging, spring snows lent themselves readily as recording
tablets for the movements of all the woods folk. Not far from the
proposed site of my dream cabin, the story of a lion's stalk was
plainly told by tracks. He had climbed to the top of a rock that stood
ten feet above the level floor of the valley, a huge bowlder that had
rolled down from a crag above, torn its way through the ranks of the
trees and come to rest at last in the grassy meadow. There he lay in
wait for the slowly advancing, grazing deer.
As they approached the rock, the band had split; a section passing
on either side of the bowlder. Out and down the lion had leapedten
feet out and as far down. His momentum had overthrown his victim which
had regained its feet and struggled desperately. The turf was torn up
for thirty feet beyond the rock. I found only the tracks of the hind
feet of the lion; it was not hard to imagine that, his front claws were
fastened in the shoulders of his prey, and that his terrible teeth had
reached an artery in his victim's neck. Many such slaughters the soft
snow revealed! Aroused by them, I determined to revenge the shy,
innocent deer family. At every opportunity, I have taken toll of the
lion tribe. As soon as the first new grass painted the meadows pale
green, the sheep flocked down from their lofty winter resort: the
sunshine in the hemmed-in valley was hot; they still wore their heavy
winter coats, they grew lazy; hours on end they lay dozing, or moving
tranquilly about, feasting on the succulent young shoots. For six or
seven months,it was at least that long ago since my discovery of
their uprising migration in Wild Basinthey had been living on dried
fareunbaled haywith no water to wash it down, for there were no
flowing springs about their airy castles. Snow was the only moisture to
I was all eagerness to shoot them with my camera! I had watched
them so often I felt we were at least acquainted. But out of respect
for their tremendous dignity, I decided to keep my plans secret from
them, to approach under cover, to creep forward cautiously,
soundlessly. To my dismay, as soon as I got within a quarter of a mile
of them, some busybody of a sentinel would see me, and if I continued
advancing, no matter how stealthily, the flock would move away. It
seemed offish, not to say unfriendly; time and again I tried the same
tactics, with the same result. I was disappointed and puzzled.
I came to the conclusion that I had presumed too much on our
previous friendship, that such regal creatures could not be expected to
capitulate after a brief winter's acquaintance. I would visit them in
their little valley, learn their peculiaritieswho would do less to
gain a friend worth whileand gain their confidence. Accordingly,
every day I strolled casually in plain sight, over toward their feeding
ground. They gradually lost their nervousness at my advances and
eventually let me come within a hundred feet of them.
One morning, after several weeks of this chivalrous conduct, I set
out with my camera, to spend the day with them. Not that they had
extended an invitation, but they unconsciously invited me. There were
thirty-two of them, including two huge old rams, grazing at the edge of
the valley. I approached them from the windward side, so they would be
doubly sure of my identity, for I knew that with their telescopic eyes
they would recognize me while I was still a long way off.
I halted first while about a hundred yards distant. Pausing a few
moments, I advanced again, until I cut the distance between us in half.
I affected the utmost indifferenceI lay down to rest, I got up and
prowled about. They left off feeding, and bunched together, the wary
old rams on the far side of the flock. They gallantly let the ladies
and children be first to meet me!
For an hour the game went on. Little by little I cut the distance to
thirty feet. Some of them even forgot themselves so much as to lie down
and doze, others were discourteous enough to resume feeding, but a
canny few continued to watch my every movement sharply. Several times I
tried to circle round them; each time they edged away towards the
mountain slopes. At last they bunched together beside a jutting rock
and made such a beautiful picture, I could no longer control my desire
to photograph them. Setting my camera at forty feet, I again slowly
advanced. At thirty feet, the sheep still being quiet, I shortened the
range. My greediness threatened to be the end of me!
Below my subjects was a smooth rock slope. Having set my camera for
twenty-five feet, I ventured across it. If I could only reach the edge
of that sloping rock before they took fright what a wonderful picture
I'd get! Slowly, inch by inch I crept toward them. My eyes were glued
to the finder, my finger trembled at the button, all at once, I stepped
out, on nothing! Boy and camera turned over in midair and alighted,
amid a shower of cones, in the top of a young spruce tree.
After the first instant of astonishment, my exasperation grew. I had
lost my first chance at getting a photograph of the sheepmost likely
the best chance I'd ever have, too. Maybe ruined my camera, my clothes,
and my hide! My disposition was past mending. My second surprise
belittled my first. For when I looked about, expecting the sheep to
have vanished, there they all were, crowding forward, and peering over
the edge of the rock, in friendly solicitude! How often the
unpremeditated exceeds our fondest plans! The picture I finally made
far excelled the one I had first counted on!
After my fall, the game was taken up again. The sheep moved higher
whenever I came too near them. Sometimes I dropped to all fours and
gave an imitation of a playful pup; stopping to sniff loudly at a
chipmunk's hole or to dig furiously with both hands. The sheep crowded
forward appreciatively. Evidently they had a weakness for vaudeville.
No acrobat, no contortionist, ever had a more flatteringly attentive
audience. I laughed at my foolishness, but the sheep were courteously
Toward noon the band set off for a steep cliff, where each day they
took their siesta. The two old rams led the way. After making pictures
of them silhouetted against the sky, I circled the cliff and hid at the
end of a ledge. I counted on getting a good photograph when the old
leaders surmounted the crag and marched forward at the head of their
single-file column. To deceive them, I built a dummy at the spot where
they turned aside upon the ledge. Coat and cap and camera case went
into the sketchy figure, and after it had been propped in place to
block the downward retreat, I hurried around the point and hid in some
bushes behind a granite slab, first setting my camera, well camouflaged
with stones, atop the rock, and focusing it toward the point where the
sheep would pass in review. Minutes passed. Not a sheep rounded the
point! More waiting. I sallied forth to reconnoiter. The sheep were
feeding peacefully in the valley below. They had knocked down the
dummy, trampled over it, and retreated along the ledge the way they had
The joke was on me, but it had been a glorious day for all that. I
retrieved the remains of my down-trodden dummy and started home. I
halted midway down to the valley to study some queer records in the
sand. Surely a crazy man had made them! What would a stranger have
thought if he had happened upon that grotesque trail? But a stranger
had been there. On the heels of my crazy trail were the tracks of a
mountain lion. He had been stalking me!
From my experience with these sheep I made some naïve deductions and
wrote them in my notebook. From it, lying open before me now, I
transcribe these boyish but none the less accurate observations:
Mountain sheep have all-seeing eyestherefore, one keeps in the
open at all times and never attempts stalking them under cover. If you
do, you are acting suspiciously, and they will treat you in the same
They will not permit you to approach from above them. They are
lofty minded; so keep your place beneath them.
If sheep are in the open, and on level ground, they will not permit
a near approach.
Keep in the open, below them, permit them to retreat to the rocks.
If these rocks give way to sheer cliffs the sheep will feel at home.
They will then permit you to approach quite near.
Sheep are tremendously curious. Take advantage of this fact and
offer them something in the way of entertainment. If you want to get on
with sheep, make a fool of yourself.
As spring advanced, the ewes left the flock and sought safety among
the cliffs where they raised their young in partial concealment. While
their lambs were yet mere infants, a week old or so, they hid them
among the rocks. Instinctively the youngsters lay low, remaining
immovable until their mothers returned from feeding near by, to claim
them. Eagles hovered high overhead, waiting to drop like plummets upon
the helpless babies. These great birds accounted for many a bleating
little lamb's passing. Lions, likewise, visited the heights and took
toll of mothers as well as of offspring; even bobcats pounced upon
them. Sometimes coyotes or wolves surprised partly grown sheep, that
had brashly ventured too far from sheltering rocks.
While returning home one day I stumbled upon a very young sheep. The
youngster lay low, like a wounded duck. Several times I walked within a
few feet of him, coming closer each time until at length he sprang up
and fled in terror. He took refuge by climbing an almost perpendicular
cliff wall. Camera in hand, I followed as best I could. Fifty feet up,
he came to a point where even his nimble feet could find no adequate
footing. His retreat ended. He scrambled to a little jutting point not
much larger than a hand's breadth, and took refuge there with all four
feet bunched together.
Carefully I worked up toward him. Several times he bleated for his
mother and shifted his position. Every moment I feared he would lose
his footing and plunge down the rock face. Twenty feet below I stopped
because I could climb no higher. Carefully I turned about and faced the
wall, hugging it as closely as possible. Holding the camera at arm's
length, and pointing it straight up, I sprung the shutter. The click,
slight as it was, startled the lamb. He leaped several feet to another
nub of rock, teetered precariously several seconds, then suddenly his
pedestal broke off. Sheep and rock dropped straight toward me. To avoid
the rock, I sprang sideways. The sheep plunged down upon me as the rock
hurtled past. Together we revolved, that sheep and I, the camera being
abandoned in midair to shift for itself. Together the struggling
youngster and I struck the rock, slid and bounded outward, turning over
as we fell, first one on top, then the other, until at length I
clutched a bush growing out of a crevice in the slide and stopped
myself; but the lamb continued his bouncing fall down the mountain. In
all, he must have rolled three hundred feet before he stopped, his feet
sticking up out of the brush like the legs of an overturned bench.
[Illustration: Sheep and rock dropped straight toward me.]
It was some time before I was able to walk. But as quickly as
possible I went to the rescue of that sheep because I had caused his
downfall. He was still breathing, but unable to stand. With great
effort, for he was heavy and I was shaking from my fall, I carried him
down to the stream and soused him in its icy water. He revived at once.
The camera had smashed to pieces before it finished its bouncing flight
down the mountain.
After all, it was a great experience, and though it cost me my
camera, some of my hide and most of my clothes, I wouldn't have missed
it for all Kit Carson's priceless furs!
CHAPTER SIX. A LOG CABIN IN THE
At last, that long-anticipated day dawned, when my dream cabin
became a reality. High upon a shoulder of Twin Sisters Mountain, a
thousand feet above the floor of the valley, where Parson Lamb's ranch
stood, overlooking the ruins of Kit Carson's own cabin, I built it.
Across the valley, towered Long's Peak and its lofty neighbors. Forty
miles of snowcapped peaks were at my dooryard, and beyond, toward the
rising sun, hazy plains stretched away to the illimitable horizon.
Between its craggy shoulder and the main body of the mountain, lay an
unsuspected, wedge-shaped valley, down which a little brook went
gurgling. There ancient spruce and yellow pine and quaking aspens grew
in sheltered luxuriance.
Silent valley, I named it, though Peaceful, or Hidden, or
Happy might have fitted it as well. About eighty years previously, as
I calculated by the age of the new trees since sprung up, fire had
burned over Silent Valley. Many of the fire-killed trees were still
standing, sound to the heart. These solid, seasoned trunks, I cut for
the logs of my cabin walls. The Parson, almost as excitedly happy as I,
lent me a team to drag them to the spot where the house was to stand.
They were far too heavy for me to lift, so I had to roll them into
place by an improvised system of skids. Construction was a toilsome
work; I was not skilled at it, I handled my ax awkwardly, and
squandered much energy in lost motion. But how I sang and shouted at
the task! Never could Kit Carson nor any other pioneer have exulted at
his building as I did! No wonder the deer paused in the aspen trails
and peered timidly out from their leafy retreat in amazement! No wonder
those sages, the mountain sheep, watched from the cliffs above with
sharp, incredulous eyes. Never before had the ring of an ax echoed in
[Illustration: Never before had the ring of an ax echoed in Silent
My cabin grew, as fast as young shoulders and eager hands could
build it. Log walls snugly chinked, and log rafters boarded and sodded;
two windows, lazy windows we maligned them, because they lay down
instead of standing, one sash above the other, and opened by sliding
past each other. The few dollars I had saved from my original stake and
made from the sale of hides, I spent, extravagantly, it seemed then,
for boards to make a door and lay a floor. That lumber cost nine
dollars per thousand feet on the job, and had to be hauled eleven miles
from a local sawmillan exorbitant price that made a lasting
impression on my thrifty mind and left my old leather pouch flat. That
same lumber sells to-day for fifty-two dollars a thousand! Shades of
Kit Carson! How fortunate I lived near your time!
Built-in furniture is nothing new, we pioneers always used it!
From the odds and ends of planks left from the door and floor, I built
a wall seat, a chimney corner, a shelf cupboard and a bunk. My scanty
furnishings were all homemadea rough, pine-board table, which served
for kitchen, dining and library purposes, and a bench which I always
saved, using the floor before the hearth instead. Aunt Jane
insisted on giving me a featherbed to put on the rough slats of my
bunk, and some pieced quilts; I used my camp blankets for sheets. She
gave me, too, a strip of old rag carpet she had brought from her
The crowning architectural feature of my mansion was the corner
fireplace, raised of the native granite bowlders. With what care I
selected the stones!choosing those most richly encrusted with green
lichens, fitting each into its place, discarding many, ranging afar for
others to take their place. Chimney building is a job for an artisan,
and even then much of a gamble. Imagine my delight, then, when, the
last stone in place, I built a fire on my hearth, and it roared like a
furnace, and all the smoke went up, and out, the chimney! Later, the
eddying winds sometimes shot prankishly down it and playfully chased
the smoke back into the room, but this only blackened the stones,
giving my fireplace an air of antiquity.
My open fire was cook stove as well as heater. I added to my camping
utensils a Dutch oven, an iron pot with a heavy, deep-rimmed,
tight-fitting iron lid, and a tin basin. My furnishings were complete!
Long evenings I sat on the floor before my hearth, dreaming.
Sometimes I read, but the windy days outdoors, tramping and climbing,
left me relaxed and drowsy. I possessed, perhaps, a dozen books; among
them Treasure Island, which I read over and over, with my door
bolted. My imagination gave piratical significance to the sighing of
the pine trees and the scampering of the pack rats over my roof.
Yes, my dream cabin was come true. There it stood on its lofty
vantage, watching over me as I fared forth on my explorations, waiting
faithfully for my return, never reproaching me for my absence, its snug
walls always ready to welcome me like sheltering arms, its quickly
blazing hearth cheering me like a warm, loving heart. So high was it
perched, that I could see it, while on my excursions, from many miles
away. It was a beacon to my wandering spirit, a compass and a guide to
my wandering feet.
From it, as my knowledge of woodcraft, which I came to know was
nothing more than common sense and resourcefulness applied to outdoor
living, increased, I ranged farther and farther, into the wilder, more
remote regions, which, except for an occasional trapper, no other white
man had ever penetrated. The country around my homestead, Long's Peak,
and the adjacent mountains, which have since been made a part of Rocky
Mountain National Park, is itself exceptionally high and rugged. There,
in a comparatively small area, are more than sixty peaks over twelve
thousand feet high, Long's, of course, being over fourteen thousand
feet. As the years passed my wanderings took me along the Continental
Divide, from the Wyoming line at the north to the southern boundary of
The vastness of the Rocky Mountains is beyond comprehension, they
sprawl the length of the continent. No one can hope to see all their
beauty, all their grandeur and awesomeness in a single lifetime. From
the crest of the Divide, north, west, and south, stretches a world of
rugged peaks. Range on range, tier on tier, like the waves of a
solidified ocean in a Titanic storm they roll away to the distant
Always, as a boy, that compelling panorama fascinated me. On
pleasant, sunny days, those rugged slopes, from a distance, looked safe
and plushy, for all the world like deerskin; the dark green cañons
mysteriously beckoned to me, the myriad lakes sparkled knowingly,
intimately, the swift brooks chattered incessantly, urging action,
adventure. On stormy days, when violent winds swept over the Divide and
hid the heads of the peaks beneath the scuttling clouds, that
overwhelming vista, with its tremendous, deep-gashed cañons, its
towering, forbidding cliffs, still challenged even while it repelled
To explore every mile, vertical and horizontal, of that uncharted
sea of peaks! That was my boyish ambition! that was what led me
westward, that was what lured me on and on! And my field of exploration
was limitlessone peak conquered, there was always another just
beyond, a little higher, a little harder, waiting to be climbed. The
wilder the region the greater was its fascination for me. No matter how
difficult, how slow my progress, it never became tediousthere was
always the unexpected, the mysterious, as a guarantee against monotony.
Timberline always interested me and those vast, naked plateaus above
it never ceased to move me to wondermiles and miles of great, granite
desert, up-flung into space. The very tip-top of the world. I used to
marvel that so much of the earth was waste. It was an everlasting
Timberline was not all grotesque trees with bleak winds forever
scourging them. In late summer, it was a veritable hanging garden.
Sweet blue and pink forget-me-nots hid in the moss of its bowlders,
Edelweiss starred its stony trails. King's crown, alpine primrose, and
many other flowers nodded a gracious welcome.
And just below it, what a riot of bloom there was! I had learned,
oft to my inconvenience, that the higher the altitude the greater the
precipitation. Around and just below timberline are many lakes, and
miles of marshy, boggy land. On those first winter excursions to the
heights I marveled at the deep snowdrifts banked in the heavy Englemann
forests just below timberline. Long after the last white patch had
melted or evaporated from the exposed slopes, these sheltered drifts
would lie undiminished and when summer really came, they gave birth to
scores of trickling rills. Vegetation sprang up in that moist,
needle-mulched soil as luxuriant as any in the tropics. From the time
the furry anemone lifted its lavender-blue petals above the dwindling
snow patch, until the apples formed on the wild rose bushes and the
kinnikinic berries turned red, it was a continuous nosegay. Indian
paintbrush, marigolds, blue and white columbines as big as my hand and
nearly as high as my head, fragile orchids, hiding their heads in the
dusky dells, thousands of varieties I never knew or learned. Some few I
recognized as glorified cousins of my Kansas acquaintances. The denser
towering spruce forests sheltered them, conserved the moisture, and
scattered their needles over their winter beds.
In spite of the Parson's experienced advice on my first trips,
boylike, I ladened myself with blanket roll, cooking utensils and an
unnecessary amount of food. I soon found, however, that besides tiring
me early in the afternoon and robbing me of my zest for scenery, my
pack limited the scope of my operations, for with it I did not dare
attempt many precipitous slopes where a single slip might land me in
eternity. I found, too, that without it I could practically double the
length of a day's journey, and arrive at the end of it still fresh
enough to enjoy things. So I soon simplified my camp equipment.
Campfires took the place of blankets, a pocketful of raisins, a few
shelled peanuts, some sweet chocolate bars provided satisfying feasts.
Eventually, when I became adept at snaring game, I made a spit of twigs
and roasted the game over hot coals.
Sometimes this primitive method of camping was inconvenient, but it
was lots of fun. It was pioneering! What boy has not wished himself
Robinson Crusoe? Somehow, in this way I retrieved that early frontier
period passed before my birth. So I met the challenge of the mountains,
met whatever emergencies arose, with such resourcefulness as I could
muster; made my own way with what ingeniousness I possessed, and lived
off the land. Indians could do no more!
Having given up my gun, I learned other, and for me, at least, more
reliable methods of taking game for food. Setting snares was an
intriguing sport, but when I did not have time for it, I resorted to a
more primitive method, stone-throwing. Of course there were days when
neither of these methods succeeded, when the meal hour had to be
postponed, while I whetted my appetite, rather superfluously, with more
miles of tramping. I was surprised to find I could go foodless for
several days and still have strength to plod ahead and maintain my
interest in the scenery.
The cottontail of the Rockies is the commonest and easiest source of
meat, not only to the camper, but to the rabbit's cannibalistic
neighbors. He is a sort of universal fooda sort of staff of life to
the animal world. But for him famine would stalk the big killers.
Fortunately for himself and for his preying foes, he is most prolific,
and holds his own, in numbers at least, despite man and beast.
Occasionally some ravaging disease carries his kind off by the
thousands, then starvation faces those dependent on him for food. The
killers have to seek other hunting grounds, frequently far from their
home range, and often they become gaunt and lank, driven to take
desperate chances to save themselves from starvation and death.
As you can easily imagine, it keeps Bunny Cottontail moving to
outwit his many enemies. He has no briar patches in that rugged
country, though the jumper thickets might serve as such, so he lives
beneath the rocks, usually planning a front and back door to his
burrow. In this way he has a private exit when weasels or bobcats make
their uninvited visitations. A whole Rooseveltian family of bunnies
live in congested districts. Learning this, I usually set a number of
snares in their runways, or at likely holes beneath the rocks.
Part of the game of making nature yield one a living is keeping an
eye out at all times for possible food supplies. If a rabbit scurried
across my path, I marked the spot of his refuge. If he dodged beneath a
certain slab, I set my snare there. Then I poked about, hoping to scare
him into the snare. I did not always succeed in this, though, for my
stick could not turn the corners of his burrow, and he often appeared
out of some other exit, laughing at my stupidity, no doubt. Sometimes,
when very hungry, I tried smoking him out. The stone porch of his
burrow usually sloped, so a small smudge started at its lower side
would travel up-hill, into the tunnel. Mr. Rabbit, thinking the woods
were on fire, would make a dash for the open and fall victim to the
snare. But despite the fact that rabbits are credited with little wit,
I have often known them to nose aside my traps and escape.
Cottontails I found up to eight or nine thousand feet, but even
higher I ran across their cousins, the snowshoe. He quite excelled me
in manipulating his webshis tremendous hind feet with long,
clawlike toes, covered with stiff and, I judged, waterproof hairs. He
made his way nimbly over the soft, deep snow, while I on my webs often
floundered and fell. Like the ptarmigan and the weasel, the snowshoe
rabbit changed to a white coat for winter. In the spring, he was
bluish, though underneath he still retained his arctic snowiness. In
the fall, with good taste and a sense of the fitness of things, he put
on a tan coat, and then, as the winter snows began to drift, he once
more donned his ermine robes.
Grouse were plentiful, except during the winter months. Usually I
found them between six thousand and nine thousand feet altitude, but as
the fall coloring painted the mountain slopes, and the juniper berries
ripened, they moved to the higher, exposed wind-swept cliffs. Above
timberline were the ptarmigan, always easy targets for a well-aimed
Rabbits, grouse and ptarmigan were all available and filling, but
the most abundant and most easily caught food in all the Rockies at
that time were the mountain trout. When I was a boy, every stream, even
as far down as the plains, was alive with them. Like salmon, they swam
upstream till they came to rapids or cataracts which they could not
leap. Those in the lakes were exceptionally large, but too well fed to
be interested in my bait. In the valleys were deep pools made by
beavers' dams and in these the trout holed up for the winter. Fishing
through the ice was common sport years ago. I remember that one of Jim
Oss's neighbors brought a mess of trout to him when he gave his
homesteading dance in January. With fish so abundant and unwary, and
fishermen few, fishing was easy. It took me only five or ten minutes to
catch all the trout I could use. Usually a few feet of line, a hook,
and a willow or aspen rod, was all I found necessary. Sometimes I used
baitgrasshoppers, bugs or worms.
Campfire cooking is an art comparatively primitive and elementary,
but it requires experience and intelligence to master. Like most
accomplishments worth learning, it takes application, and a world of
patience. Since I did not carry any utensils with me, I invariably
roasted or broiled the game I cooked, using hot rocks like the Indians.
I heated stones in my campfire, dug a shallow hole, and when the stones
were hot lined it with them, then put in my meat, covering it with a
hot flat stone. From time to time, I renewed the cooled first stones
for fresh ones, hot from the fire. Sometimes I intensified that heat of
my fireless by covering its top with moss or with pine needles.
If I decided to broil my bunny or grouse, I got out my short fishing
line and tied one end of it to a limb of a tree or to a tripod which I
made by fastening three poles together, setting them over the fire. The
other end I fastened to a green stick, three or four feet long, which I
skewered into the meat. Then I gave my broiler a spin which wound up
the line. When it was twisted tight, it reversed itself, unwinding, and
so revolving my cookery, exposing all sides to the fire. Of course it
gradually lost its spin, then I gave it another twirl. Given plenty of
time, over a slow fire of glowing coals, my bird would be done to a
queen's tastea much too delicious dish to waste on any king!
During dry, warm weather, I raked pine or spruce needles together
for a bed, but in the winter I used green pine or spruce boughs,
putting heavy, coarse ones on the bottom, planting their butt ends
deeps in the snow. Upon these I placed smaller twigs, which gave
spring to my couch, and finally I tufted it with the soft, tender
tips of the branches. Never have I rested better on mahogany beds than
I did on such pungent bunks! Lying there, physically weary, mentally
relaxed, drowsily gazing into my campfire, I lived over the day's
adventures, and would not have changed places with any man alive!
I found making camp in temperate weather was no task at all. It was
when it was cold or wet that the real test of my woodcraft came. I
learned that the first requisite in camp-making was the selection of a
suitable camp site. It had to be chosen with thought of the
accessibility to fuel and water. It had to be sheltered from the wind,
which was not always easy to manage in high altitudes, for though the
prevailing winter wind in the Rockies blows from the west, it swirls
and eddies in the cañons, coming from most unexpected and unwelcome
directions and often from all points of the compass in turn. Usually
ready-made camps, overhanging cliffs, were available. When they were
not, my ingenuity rose to the occasion and I thatched together twigs of
willow or birch, or even spruce or pine, though the latter were stiffer
and more difficult to fit tightly together. Beginning at the bottom, I
worked upward, lapping each successive layer over the one beneath, as
in laying shingles, and pointing the tips of the leaves or needles
downward, so they would shed water.
Sometimes I had difficulty in starting my fire. If there had been
daily showers for weeks, and the needles and the deadwood, as well as
the ground itself, were soaked, or if in winter the deadwood were
buried beneath snow and the dead limbs of standing trees difficult to
break off, it was a discouraging task. Sometimes after what seemed like
eons of struggling, I would get a sickly little flame flickering, when,
puff! along would come a blast of wind and smother it out with snow. I
did learn eventually that pitch knots were so rich in gum or resin that
they would always catch fire, and so I shaved off splinters with my
trusty hunting knife and used them for tinder. One night as I lighted a
candle in my cabin, it came to me that a piece of it would be handy to
tuck in my pocket for emergencies. Ever afterwards I carried several
short, burned-down ends along on my excursions. I discovered that one
of these stubs, set solidly on the ground and lighted, would start my
fire under the most adverse conditions. But for them I would have had
many a cold camp.
I had read of the Eskimo igloos and I tried to make them. But the
snow at hand in my mountains was never packed hard enough to freeze
solid so building blocks could be cut from it. It is blown about and
drifted too much. I did get an idea from Buck in Jack London's Call
of the Wild, that I adapted. On winter explorations I always carried
snowshoes, even though not compelled to wear them at the outset. These
made handy shovels. When ready to make camp I selected a snowdrift
three or four feet deep, and with my web shovel dug a triangular hole,
about seven feet long on each side. In the angle farthest from the wind
I built my fire. It soon assisted me in enlarging the corner. Opposite
it, I roofed over my dugout with dead limbs, thatching them with green
boughs, and finally heaping the excavated snow over all. I had a
practically windproof nest which a little fire would keep snug and
warm. True I had to fire up frequently throughout the night, for a big
blaze is too hot in a snow-hole, but I soon learned to rouse up, put on
more fuel, and drop back to sleep, all in a few minutes.
But the smoke nuisance in my early dugouts was terrible. Pittsburgh
had nothing on me! Many a morning I crawled out smelling like a smoked
ham, my eyes smarting, my throat sore and dry. Years later, my rambles
led me to Mesa Verde and the kivas of the cliff dwellers. Those
primitive people built fires deep underground, with no chimneys or
flues to conduct the smoke outside. They ingeniously constructed cold
air passages down to the floor of the kivas near the fire bowl. These
fed the fires fresh air, causing the smoke to rise steadily and pass
out through a small aperture in the roof. I tried this, and to my
delight, found it rid me of the strangling plague.
I had discarded my gun, but my camera was with me always. Frequent
dashing showers are common in the mountains. Often, too, I had to cross
swollen streams, and sometimes got a ducking in transit. Matches, salt
and camera plates were ruined by wetting, so I had to contrive a
waterproof carrier for them. I hit upon a light rubber blanket, which
added practically no pounds or bulk to my pack, and in it wrapped my
perishables. It saved them more often than not, but even it could not
protect them in some predicaments.
There, was no month of the year I didn't camp out. Naturally I was
caught in many kinds of weather. In severe storms I learned to stick
close to camp, lying low and waiting for the furies to relent. In the
early days, as in my first camp, I attempted to return home at once,
but traveling over the soft, yielding snow only sapped my strength and
got me nowhere. I learned that by remaining inactive by my campfire, I
conserved both food and energy and had a far better chance to reach the
shelter of my cabin without mishap.
Being young and inexperienced, I was the recipient of much free
advice, the most common being warnings about the imminent weather or
the oncoming winter. Most of these prognosticators used the
cone-storing squirrels or the beavers, working busily on their dams and
houses, as barometers. But I found the old adage that only fools and
newcomers could forecast weather to hold true in the mountains. I got
so I didn't believe in signs. I saw the squirrels and the beavers make
preparation for winter every fall. I took each day, with its vagaries,
as it came and made the best of it.
Returning from one of my midwinter trips to the wilds, one day I
coasted down a very steep slope and shot out of the woods into a little
clearinga snug log cabin stood there, buried in snow up to its eyes.
In a snow trench, not far from the door, an old trapper was chopping
wood. As I burst upon the scene he dropped his ax and stared at me.
Then he found words.
See all fools ain't dead yit, he observed with a grin. Then, as I
started on he yelled after me.
But I bet they soon will be!
[Illustration: See all fools ain't dead yit, he observed.]
So I spent the days of my boyhoodtramping, climbing, exploring!
Was ever another mortal so fortunate as I in the realization of his
dreams? Was ever another lad so happy?
CHAPTER SEVEN. GLACIERS AND FOREST
When I first came West, with my imagination fired by the reminiscent
tales of my mother and my father, and our pioneer neighbors, I looked
only for mountains made of gold, for roaming buffaloes and skulking
savages, for fierce wild beasts and mighty hunters. That the mountains
were golden only in the sunset, and the Indians and bison alive only in
the immortal epics of the frontier, somehow did not disappoint me. So
wonderful were those rocky upheavals in the reality, so intriguing were
the traces of redskin and buffalo, I forgot my fantastic
misconceptions. To my enthusiastic youth, everything was extraordinary,
alluring, primitively satisfying. Parson Lamb said the big game were
gone, but there were enough left to give me many a thrill.
Naturally, at first, I saw only the more obvious wonders of the
wilds, but as time passed I discovered other sources of interest,
hitherto unheard of. High and dry upon the meadows and lower mountain
sides were smooth, round bowlders, undoubtedly water-worn. The granite
walls of many of the cañons I climbed were curiously scoredhere and
there were inlaid bands of varying colored stone. Running out from the
loftier ranges were long, comparatively narrow heaps of earth, which
resembled giant railroad fills as flat on top as though they had been
sliced off by a titanic butcher knife. They were covered with forests,
and small, jewel-like lakes were set in their level summits. At the
foot of Long's and many other peaks were more lakes, with slick,
glazed, granite sides. The water in them was usually greenish and
always icy. There were immense, dirty snowdrifts that never
diminished, but appeared to be perpetual.
Following my trapline or trailing the Big-horn or watching the
beaver, I noticed these things and wondered about them. How came those
bowlders, round and polished, so far from water? What made those
scratches upon those granite cliffs? What Herculean master-smith fused
those decorative belts into their very substance? What engineer built
those table-topped mounds? Who had gouged out the bowls for those icy
lakes? Why were some snowdrifts perennial? I puzzled over these
conundrums, until, bit by bit, I solved them. The answers were more
amazing than anything else I encountered in the wilds.
I learned that those sand-coated drifts were not drifts at all, but
glaciers, probably the oldest living things in the world. For they were
alive, moving deposits of ice and snow, the survivors of the ice age.
Eons ago, they and their like had gouged out the huge bowls which later
became lakes, had gashed the earth and scoured its cañon walls, leaving
in their wakes those square-topped dumps or moraines; debris, once
solid granite, now ground into rocks and sand and gravel by their
slow-moving, irresistible force.
Most of the glaciers I found were upon the eastern slope of the
Divide. This is because the prevailing winter winds are from west to
east. Glaciers are formed by thawing of the exposed snow on top of the
huge deposits, the water trickling down through the moss, and freezing
solidly. Gradually, through continued thawing and freezing, the whole
drift is changed into a field of ice. The first sign of movement comes
when the mass of ice breaks away from the cliffs at its upper edges.
There is an infinitesimal downward sagging, as with incredible
deliberation it moves on with its cargo of rock and sand. But, slowly
as it moves, its power is overawing. A glacier is the embodiment of
irresistible force. Its billion-ton roller cuts a trench through the
very earth, with cañon-like walls; these latter turn upon their master
and imprison him. It tears immense granite slabs from the cliffs and
carries them along. It grinds granite into powder. I have seen water
emerging from glaciers, milk-white with its load of ground-up rocks.
By setting a straight line of stakes across the ice, I measured the
movements of some glaciers. Some progressed several feet in a year,
others traveled scarcely more than a few inches. All moved farthest
nearest the center; for, as is true of streams, there the friction of
the side walls does not retard them. They varied in width from a
hundred feet to half a mile, in depth from forty to a hundred feet.
During my first years in the Rockies, the winters were severe, with
heavy snows, and the summers unusually rainy. The low temperature and
great precipitation prevented the usual amount of thawing on the
glaciers. But there came a season as arid as any in the Sahara desert.
It's miserable droughty, grieved the Parson one day when I met him
on top of Long's Peak. Springs are going dry and the streams are
terrible low. See that drift down there? Standing on Long's
overtowering summit he pointed down the Divide. The one with black
rock at its edge. Well, sir, I've never seen that drift so small
beforenot in all the thirty years I've watched it. The glaciers will
be opening up with all this hot weather! the crevasses'll widen and
split clear down to the bowels of the earth. Wal; it's an ill wind that
blows no good. This drought will make it easy for the tenderfoot to get
a good look into 'em.
I took the Parson's tip and next day packed a horse and started for
Arapahoe glacier which lies south of Long's Peak. On the second day
out, having taken my pack-horse as far up as possible, I unpacked him,
hobbled him and turned him loose to crop what grass he could find. Then
I set up camp.
Camp made, I began the last lap of my climb up the glacier. Along
the way, below snowbanks, wild flowers grew head-high, but in the woods
beside the game trails they were scarce and stunted. As I plodded
slowly up the steep slope I heard loud reports, as though some one were
setting off heavy blasts. They echoed and reëchoed among the cliffs. A
roaring stream dashed frothily down the slope, rocks rolled past. I
climbed a pinnacle overlooking the glacier and looked down upon it.
The Parson was right. All the snow which ordinarily hid the icy
surface was melted away. The glacial ice lay uncovered. Its surface was
split by numberless yawning crevasses. Water drenched their sides.
Every little while ice would break away, and then reports, similar to
the ones I had heard on my way up, would nearly deafen me.
I climbed gingerly down and edged out upon the glacier, testing each
foothold. I peeped into the crevasses, and dropped stones or chunks of
ice into them to sound their depths. I ventured into a shallow crack
and followed it until it pinched beneath a wall of solid ice. Then I
tried another, a larger one. Gaining a little courage by these
explorations, I ventured yet farther and climbed down into one of the
deeper crevasses. Water showered down upon me, from melting walls
above. I crept on down until I was about fifty feet below the top of
the glacier. I paused; before me gaped a dark cavern fenced off by
heavy icicles as large as my body. I peered through this crystal
lattice into the darkness beyond. From somewhere came the tinkle of
water, I decided to investigate. A stream pouring into the crevasse
from above, had washed down a stone. Using it for a sledge, I set to
work to break into that barred vault. I shattered one of the glassy
bars and crawled inside. A ghostly blue light filled the place. With
lighted candle I moved away from the entrance, turned a corner and
plunged into the blackest darkness I have ever experienced.
The silence was eerie, frightening. Just then it was shattered by a
muffled report, followed almost at once by another that seemed to rend
my cavern walls asunder. Bits of ice dropped about me. I suddenly
remembered a number of things I wanted to do outside, I turned and
sought the guarded cavern of the ghastly light. I mistook the way and
turned aside into a blind alley for a moment. I grew panickymy flesh
went clammybut that momentary delay no doubt saved my life. As I
reached the opening, there came a rending crash, a splintering of ice,
and broken blocks came hurtling into the crevasse just outside my
cavern door. An inrush of air snuffed out my candle.
My hands trembled as I relighted the candle. Ice still bombarded the
opening. Somewhere water splashed. Before I had descended into the
crevasse I had been perspiring freely, for the sun shone hot upon the
surface of the glacier; now I was shivering, my feet were soaked with
ice water, a dozen little streams trickled down from the cavern roof. I
would soon be warm in the hot sun outside; then... I discovered the
crevasse was blocked with ice.
I lost my head and shouted for help. There were none to hear. I
pushed against the barriers. I pulled myself together and began to
search for a passage among the blocks of ice. The candle gave a feeble
light. Without waiting to feel my way, I edged into a crack, wriggled
forward and stuck tight. Cold sweat oozed as I wiggled backward into
the cavern again. I had difficulty relighting the candle. Again and
again I attempted to squeeze out among the pieces of broken ice; I
climbed up the smooth wall, lost my footing and tumbled back. At last I
found a larger opening among the ice blocks and squeezed into it like a
rabbit into a rock pile. I knew I must hurry because these jumbled
pieces would soon be solidly cemented together when the water pouring
over them froze.
I surged desperately against the pressing ice, held my breath and
squeezed my way through into the sunshine at lastsafe. Late that
evening I reached my camp, my interest in glaciers chilled.
Since that experience I have usually looked long before leaping into
a crevasse and then have not leaped.
The next morning I broke camp. I had had enough of close-ups of
glaciers. I followed the crest of the Continental Divide northward,
satisfied with such distant views of those treacherous juggernauts as
could be had from the rim rocks.
That was how I came to be camped at timberline above Allen's Park
when the big forest fire set the region south of it ablaze. From my
lofty station I watched a thunder shower gather around Long's Peak and
move southward, tongues of lightning darting from it venomously. It was
perhaps ten miles wide. It circled Wild Basin, then faced eastward
toward the foothills, its forked tongues writhing wickedly. Those to
the south struck repeatedly; I counted three fires they started, but
two of these the shower extinguished; the third was miles beyond the
edge of the rain, and began spreading even as I watched. Smoke soon hid
the doomed forest, filling the cañon and boiling out beyond it.
Everywhere in the mountains, I had found burned-over forests;
ancient trees that had stood for centuries, had endured drought, flood,
storm and pestilence, only to be burned at last by a fiendish flash and
left, charred skeletons of their former green beauty.
I hurried down from the heights as the fire spread upward along both
sides of the gorge. Upon a bare, rocky ridge, several miles north,
inside the edge of the shower limits, I deposited my pack and turned
the horse homeward, alone. I hoped that I might be able to put out the
fire before it spread too far.
As I hurried in its direction I saw two deer standing in a little
opening watching the smoke intently. They showed no fear, merely
curiosity. But as I approached closer to its smouldering edge, I met
birds in excited, zig-zagging flight. Along a brook I found fresh bear
tracks. Bruin had galloped hastily from the danger zone.
The fire was confined to the heavy timber near the bottom of a
cañon, but was licking its way up both slopes, the backfire eating
slowly downward while the headfire leaped upward. Trees exploded into
giant sparklers. The heat of the approaching flames caused the needles
to exude their sap, combustion occurred almost before the actual fire
touched them. Black acrid smoke arose visible a hundred miles out on
Not a breeze stirred where I stood, but the fire seemed fanned by a
strong wind, that swayed it back and forth. It did not travel in a set
direction; one moment it raced westward, paused, smoldered, then burst
forth again, running southward. A little later a flood of flame would
come toward the east. These scattered sorties cut narrow swaths through
the forest, flaming lanes that smoldered at the edges, widened and
The smoke cloud grew denser. My eyes streamed with tears, my throat
burned, I began to cough. I descended the ridge to cross the cañonin
the bottom I found little smoke and fairly good air.
Flocks of panic-stricken birds veered uncertainly about. They would
flee the fire, encounter dense smoke, and turn straight back toward the
flames. They circled and alighted at the bottom of the gorge. No sooner
safely there, then they'd take wing again and flutter back into the
trees near the fire. Many dropped, overcome by the smoke, whole flocks
disappeared into the roaring flames to return no more. They lost all
sense of direction, all instinct for self-preservation.
But the birds were not alone in their distress; the animals, too,
were on the move. Down the slopes came deer, does with their young,
bucks with tender, growing horns. To my surprise, they paid no
attention to me. Whether they were unable to get my scent because of
the fumes of burning woods, or whether the fire filled them with a
greater fear, I could not decide. A coyote trotted calmly down a game
trail, eyed me for a moment, and went on his way toward safety. He was
the only one of the wild folk able to keep his wits about him.
Occasionally one of the deer would break away from the refugees,
head up or down without apparent reason, the rest of the band instantly
following his lead. In less than a minute all would return. They feared
to desert their usual haunts in time of trouble. The smoke robbed them
of their sense of smell, the noise of the fire was too loud for their
usually alert, big ears to catch the smaller, significant sounds. As
their confusion grew their terror mounted; they bundled nervously away
in all directions, rushing back together, heading upstream toward the
fire, and leaping wildly over smoldering needles of the forest floor.
The fawns were deserted, their mothers dashed about frantically as
though unable to recognize their own offspring; they snorted wildly to
rid their noses of the biting fumes that robbed them of scent. A fawn
stopped within a few feet of me and stared about with luminous,
innocent eyes. Its hair was singed and its feet burned. It lifted its
left hind foot and stared at it perplexed; then I saw between its
dainty, parted hoofs a burning stick.
Other animals passed. A badger waddled slowly down the trail,
pausing to grin at me comically. Two beavers splashed downstream,
following the water, diving through the deeper pools and lumbering
through the shallows of the brook. Other animals crashed through the
woods, but I could not recognize them.
A little brook sizzled down through the burning land. I stopped and,
cupping my hands, scooped up some water and drank thirstily. The first
swallow nearly strangled me, it was saturated by the fumes of the
burning forest. I drank on nevertheless; it was wet and cooling to my
parched throat. I soused my head in the brook and soaked my
handkerchief in case of need.
A faint breeze sprang up. Circling the fire, I moved up the slope,
with the wind at my back. The needle-carpeted forest floor was a
smoldering massthe squirrels' hidden hoards were afire. Young trees,
just starting from those stored-up nurseries were destroyed by tens of
On raced the head fire, setting the dead trees and stumps furiously
aflame, touching the needles of the living trees with swift, feverish
fingers, igniting insidious spot-fires as it went. Its self-generated
draft roared thunderingly. It snatched up countless firebrands and sent
those flaming heralds forth to announce its coming to the trembling
forest beyond. As it topped the cañon walls it seemed to leap beyond
the clouds that hovered overhead and burn asunder the very heavens.
Of a sudden I was enveloped by one of its serpentine arms. It
writhed everywhere around me, hissing, striking at my face, singing my
hair, scorching my frantic hands that would ward it off. My eyes could
not face that venomous glare. My lungs were choked by its searing
breath. I found a stick and, feeling my way with it, fled, like the
beaver, to the brook for sanctuary. That flaming serpent pursued me.
Its breath grew more acrid, more deadly. I coughed convulsively,
strangled, stumbled, fell: when I regained my feet, I was dazed,
confused. But I retained consciousness enough to know I must keep
moving. I must reach the fire's immemorial enemy and enlist the aid of
that watery ally to escape it. I took leaps over the ground, but
blindly, with no such brilliant eyes as my relentless foe.
The memory of that race for life is still vividly terrifying;
blinded, choking, crashing into trees, falling, struggling to my feet,
fighting on and on and on, for what seemed endless hours. In reality it
wasit could only have beena few moments. I plunged into the brook
and submerged my burning clothes, my tortured body. I hurried on as
fast as I could, downstream, halting now and then to dive beneath the
grateful waters of the deeper pools, but never stopping, until,
staggering, gasping, sobbing, I reached the safety of the cañon.
[Illustration: The memory of that race for life is still vividly
CHAPTER EIGHT. THE PROVERBIAL BUSY
It was my boyish ambition to find some corner of those rocky wilds
where no human being had ever set foot and to be the first person to
behold it. What boy has not felt that Columbus had several centuries'
advantage of him: that Balboa was a meddlesome old chap who might
better have stayed in Spain and left American oceans to American boys
to discover? Oh! the unutterable regret of youthful hearts that the
Golden Fleece and the Holy Grail and other high adventures passed
before their time!
In searching for my virgin wilderness, I saw many spots that bore no
trace of human existence, wild enough, remote enough, calm enough, to
justify my willing credulity.
But I had another notion which even my young enthusiasm had to
acknowledge was in error. I fancied that the animals in such a spot as
I have described, unwise to the ways of man, having had no experience
to teach them fear and caution, would be gentle and trusting, and
approachable. I was doomed to disappointment. I found that no matter
how remote the region, how primeval its forests or how Eden-new its
streams, its beasts were furtive, wary, distrustful.
But after all, though these ideas, like many of my other youthful
dreams, did not pan out in following them up, I found other leads
which yielded rich experiences.
When I first came to the mountains, the beavers were extremely wild.
Rarely did I glimpse one or even see signs of their activities. True,
all along the streams were deserted beaver homes, merely stick frames
with most of the mud plaster fallen off, and through the meadows were a
succession of dams which might easily have flooded them for miles
around. No doubt large colonies had once lived there. Once in a while I
found a fallen aspen, with the marks of a beaver's keen chisels upon
it. But as for the beaver's renowned industryit wasn't!
I thought beavers were busy animals, I complained to the Parson.
I've heard industrious folks called beavers all my life. I don't see
how they got their reputation. Why, it wouldn't be hard for me to be
busier'n these beavers!
The old man laughed.
Now, you're rather hard on the little critters, he defended.
They're not so indolent, considering their chances. Then he went on
A horde of trappers, he said, had followed Kit Carson's successful
trip into the region in 1840. They visited every stream and strung
traps in all the valleys. Beaver fur was taken out by pack-train load.
In twenty years the trappers had reaped the richest of the harvest; in
ten years more they had practically trapped out all the beavers. They
left only when trapping ceased to be profitable; and even so, the early
settlers had found some small profit in catching a few beavers every
The survivors, my old friend said, were wiser if sadder animals than
those the first trappers found. Many beavers had maimed or missing
feet, reminders of the traps that caused their trouble. They deserted
their ponds, neglected their dams and houses and sought refuge in holes
in the banks of streams. Their tunnels entered the bank under water,
thus making it difficult to locate their runways, or to set traps after
the discovery of the runways.
So that was the reason for the beavers scarcity and wariness! Few
were the chances they gave me, on my early rambles, to observe their
habits. But just when it seemed they were doomed to suffer the fate of
the buffalo, Colorado and a few other states woke up to the fact that
beavers were threatened to be classed with the dodo, and feeble
measures were taken to protect them. Slowly their numbers increased,
they returned to their normal habits of living, and rebuilt their dams
Down in the valley below my cabin, within a few rods of the spot
where the ruins of Kit Carson's cabin still stand, are two small
streams along which I early found numerous traces of beaver. At the
confluence of these streams were dams and houses that were not entirely
deserted; for occasionally the beavers did some repair work. Since they
were within five minutes' walk of my cabin I visited them frequently
during all seasons of the year. Five times I saw the beavers return to
the old home site, repair the dams and rebuild the houses. Four times I
saw them forced to desert their home, once because a fire burned the
surrounding trees which were their source of food, the other times to
I discovered that this colony consisted of a trap-maimed old couple
and their annual brood. The male had lost a portion of his right hind
foot, his mate had only a stump for her left front one. I early dubbed
them Mr. and Mrs. Peg, and came to have a real neighborly affection for
them. Their infirmities made it easy for me to keep track of them, and
to keep up with their social activities. Neighborly interest must be
kept alive by the neighbors' doings, you know!
They certainly showed no inclination to become dull from overwork!
About the time the ice on their pond began to break up, they would take
their youngsters and start upon their summer vacation. Upon a number of
occasions I found their familiar tracks along the streams eight or ten
miles below their home site; once more than fifteen miles away. On
their rambles they met other beaver families, and stopped to visit; the
young people of the combined families played and splashed about, while
their more sedate elders lay contentedly basking in the sun.
But late August or early September always saw Mr. and Mrs. Peg back
home; usually without their youngsters. Those precocious paddlers had
set up homes for themselves or had wedded into other tribes. The old
couple at once set to work, toiling night and day, taking no time off
for rest. They repaired their dam to raise the water to the desired
level, replastered their house inside and out with mud, and in addition
cut down a number of aspen trees, severed their trunks into lengths
they could handle, and brought both trunks and limbs down into the
pond. They towed the heavy green wood down first and piled it in the
deep water near their house, the rest they piled upon these until their
larder was full. They ate the whole of the smaller limbs of the aspen,
but only the bark of the larger boughs and trunks. They used the wood
for house and dam construction.
Trappers have told me that the streams beaver live in are poor
fishing places because the furry inhabitants eat the fish. By careful
observation, I proved to my own satisfaction at least, that quite the
opposite is true. For the deep ponds made by the dams they build are
literally spawning pools for the trout, breeding grounds and
hatcheries. They are also pools of refuge, to which the fish flee to
elude the fisherman, and in their warmer depths the finny tribe hole
up when the streams are frozen over in winter. I have lain motionless
upon a bowlder overlooking a beaver-inhabited stream and watched large
trout lazing about almost within reach of a preoccupied paddler,
apparently in no alarm over his nearness. Neither paid the other any
mind. I am sure that beavers eat neither fish nor flesh.
Which reminds me that early in my mountain experience I happened
upon an old trapper's log cabin and stopped to visit him. Mountain
hospitality generously insists that guests be fed, no home or hut is
too poor to provide a bite for the chance visitor. Upon this occasion I
was handed a tin plate with some meat on it.
Guess what it is, my host urged.
I tasted the meat, examined it, smelled it and tried to make out
what it was. It tasted somewhat like venison, yet not quite the same.
It had something the flavor of cub-bear steak broiled over a campfire,
but it was sweeter and not so strong. I guessed wrong several times
before the trapper informed me.
Beaver tail, he laughed, pleased at outwitting me.
Still chuckling he went outside to a little log meat house and
returned with a whole beaver tail for my inspection. The tail was about
ten inches in length, nearly five inches wide at the broadest part and
perhaps an inch thick. The skin that covered the tail was dark in color
and very tough, suggestive of alligator skin. The meat of the beaver
tail was much prized by explorers and trappers, and visitors, such as
I, were often given this meat as a special treat.
The old fellow talked at length about the wise ways of the beaver he
had caught. Though I made note of a number of his observations for
future reference, I was skeptical of their authenticity. As years
passed and I talked with many men, I found that their observations
varied greatly. They were not always unprejudiced observers, their
observations were colored by their personal point of view, under
I early learned that trappers and hunters, as a rule, are not real
nature students. They are killers, and killers have not the patience to
wait and watch, to take painstaking care and limitless time in the
study of an animal. They will spend only a few minutes watching an
animal that a man without a gun might study for days, or even weeks.
They are prone to snap judgment. Then their over-active imaginations
supply ready misinformation for missing facts.
A beaver has as many wives as he can git, my host informed me as
we sat before his fire. There's some that don't have many, and agin
there's some that have a lot, and that's the reason we find some ponds
with only a little house an' others with mighty big ones.
A Brigham Youngish sort of conception of beaver domestic economy!
That same summer another trapper in Middle Park, not many miles from
the first, gave me his version of a beaver's domestic life.
Don't think they mate at all, he told me; they're always working
to beat time or else they're wanderin' off somewhere lookin' up good
cuttin' timber and dam sites.
Now, I am sure that Mr. and Mrs. Peg were mated, and for life.
Indeed, I believe all beavers mate for life. They are by nature
domestic, home-loving and industrious, and provident, storing up food
for the winter, making provision against the time food will be scarce
because of snow and ice. They have the coöperative instinct and often
combine their efforts, constructing a house large enough for the whole
colony in the deepest water of the pond, all joining in the harvesting
of green aspen or cottonwood.
Every fall I watched Mr. and Mrs. Peg at their repairs. Their tribe
increased as the years passed, and the shielding laws of the state
protected them. I called their group the Old Settlers colony.
[Illustration: Every fall I watched Mr. and Mrs. Peg at their
One fall the Old Settlers abandoned their pond and constructed an
entirely new dam above it, thus solving a number of problems. Sand and
gravel carried down by the swift little stream had settled in the still
water of the pool and almost filled it. The ever-increasing family
outgrew the old house. All the near-by aspens had been cut; this
necessitated the dragging of trees too great a distance before they
could be pushed into the water and floated down. Coyotes had surprised
and killed a number of the Old Settlers' kin as they worked on the long
portage to the stream, and I am sure that the moving of their home was
partly to overcome this danger.
Then it was they earned the title, Busy Beaver! How they worked!
That was before the days of ubiquitous automobiles and the beavers had
not become nocturnal in their habits. They swarmed everywhere. Certain
ones were detailed to inspect the dam, make necessary repairs and
maintain the water at the same level all the time. Others worked at the
new house, piling sicks and mud into a heap. It grew, the dam was
raised, so the water was maintained within a few inches of the top of
the unfinished wall. Occasionally I caught a glimpse of some workers in
the deep water or near the shores of the ponds; they were digging
safety-firsts, water escapes for emergency use. These canals led from
the house to either bank and connected with tunnels that had their
openings concealed beneath the surface of the water. Thus, should their
pond be drained suddenly, they could escape by the canals to their
emergency homes beneath the bank.
Other beavers worked in the aspen grove, felling trees and cutting
them into lengths that could be pushed or pulled or rolled to the bank
and floated down the stream. Their work was impeded by the jamming of
the logs in a narrow rocky neck down which they had to be skidded into
Then the engineers decided upon the construction of a canal around
the rocky falls. They started digging at a point upstream, beyond the
troublesome neck, swung outward, away from the water to the fringe of
aspens, then back again to the stream below the rocks. In all the canal
was two hundred feet long, about two feet wide and averaged fifteen
inches deep. For a time all other work was suspended, and night and day
the whole population toiled on the canal. Apparently each beaver had
his own section to dig, and each went about his work in his own way.
With tooth and claw they worked. Often they cut slides or runways down
the sides of the canal giving them roads up which they carried their
For thirty-seven nights they toiled in the dry ditch, then turned
water in, and completed the work of deepening the canal. This
transportation system saved them much labor and delay, and provided a
safe route to and from the grove, for they could dive into the water
when their enemies attacked.
I suspected Mr. and Mrs. Peg directed the storing away of that wood,
for it was piled in the deep water beside the house, now rising
majestically several feet about the level of the pool, just as they
always did theirs. The green wood was almost as heavy as the water, and
required little weight to force it under. Thus they always had some
food in their icebox, where they could reach it handily when the pool
froze over. I have observed other beavers on larger streams come out of
their tunnels in the banks and find food along the shores throughout
the winter months. But the smaller the stream the closer the beaver
sticks to his pond. This I believe is a matter of safety for beavers
are slow travelers, and if they venture far from their pool they fall
easy prey to such enemies as bobcats, coyotes, wolves and mountain
One day while following one of the small tributaries of the St.
Vrain River south of Long's Peak, I heard a loud explosion just ahead
of me, and when I emerged from the fringing woods I discovered two men
busy dynamiting the largest of the three beaver dams in the valley.
Mining didn't pan out much, one of them replied in answer to my
question, so we callated we'd take sum beaver fur to tide us over the
They were prospectors, out of grub, up against starving or getting a
job in the foothills town below, until with their golden promises, they
could again talk some sympathetic listener out of a grub stake. Not
content with obtaining beaver by the usual but slower method of
trapping, they had decided to blow up the dam, drain the pond and shoot
the animals as they sought to escape. Their rifles lay ready to their
For hours I lingered, to see what luck they would have. They set off
three heavy charges before the dam was shattered. When the water was
nearly drained outit took but a few minutesthey grabbed their guns.
Not a beaver did any of us see.
They then set a charge of powder against the house and blew a gaping
hole in its sidebut there was nobody home! Evidently all had escaped
by the canal in the bottom of the pond to the tunnel beneath the bank.
The men would not admit defeat, but set about to dig the beavers out
of the bank. Darkness saw their task unfinished so they camped for the
night at the entrance of the tunnel; they piled heavy stones at its
mouth hoping to trap the animals within.
Next morning I watched them resume their work, feeling sympathy for
the beavers, but not daring to interfere. Shortly after noon the quest
ended quite unexpectedly. The diggers had discovered a hidden exit that
was concealed among the willows, the beavers had followed the canal,
which could not be drained, to their refuge tunnel in the bank; and
when their enemies destroyed the tunnel, they had used the hidden exit,
and had in all probability made good their retreat during the night.
As more people settled in the valleys, there was an inevitable
overlapping of claims. The settlers claimed both the water and the
land, and they had government deeds to back them up in their claims.
But the beaver had prior rights, and gamely adhered to them. A feud
arose that is still unsettled between the Old Settlers and the
newcomers. In my rambles I continually came upon homesteaders striving
to drain the valleys and raise grass for their cattle, while
simultaneously the beavers were working to maintain high water. Many of
them lost their lives for their cause, but rarely did they forsake a
home site once established. In the same sections, where the
homesteaders had used aspen for their fence posts, the beavers, no
doubt mistaking them for trees, cut them down. Sometimes their pluck
and persistence won them the admiration of their enemies. In most cases
they won out.
One day, far up near the headwaters of the Cache la Podre River in
Colorado, I came upon a rancher trying to drain a number of beaver
ponds to secure water for irrigation; it was a very dry season and
water was scarce. During the day he tore gaps in the dams, during the
night the beavers repaired the breaks. When after opening the dams the
rancher hurried down to his fields to regulate the flow of water, the
beavers, even in the daytime, would swarm forth and plug up the holes.
Finally in desperation, the man set traps in the gaps he had opened
in the dams. He caught a few beavers and decided that his troubles were
over. But the survivors met the emergency. They floated material down
from above and wedged it into the breaks, without going near the traps.
At this stage of the struggle an old prospector came down from the
higher mountains, driving his burros ahead of him. Hearing of the
rancher's predicament, he suggested his own panacea for all troubles,
dynamite. Enthusiastically, the rancher accepted his proposal. Soon the
dams were in ruins.
A mile below where the dams had been destroyed an irrigation ditch
tapped the river and carried a full head to the green fields. I saw the
rancher standing in the middle of the field, water flowing all about
him. He looked upstream and chuckled, then leaned triumphantly on his
shovel handle. For a long time, he leaned thus, lost in dreams of
Suddenly he awoke and hurried along his supply ditch. Barely a
trickle was coming down it. The beavers had dammed the intake.
I once worked for a rancher who had a homestead on the North Fork of
the St. Vrain River, which heads south of Long's Peak. He had just
finished clearing a patch of ground to raise truck on.
We've got to get rid of some beaver, he told me the very first
day. He shouldered his shovel and walked down to the dam that sprawled
across the meadow for several hundred feet.
I cut her loose, he informed me on his return. She'll soon dry
out so we can put in the crop.
Next morning, whistling happily, he started out for the meadow. His
whistle died away as he caught sight of the water in the pond. It was
as high as usual. The beavers had repaired the break.
Day after day he cut the dam, night after night, the beavers
repaired it. He trapped five of them before they became trap-wise.
After that they either turned the traps over or covered them with mud.
After trying a number of ruses to frighten them away, the man hung a
lighted lantern in the break he had opened in the dam. The next morning
his whistle piped, merrily, the break was still open. But his joy was
short-lived, for on the following night the beavers constructed a new
section of dam above the break, curving it like a horseshoe.
Hope they appreciated my givin' 'em light to work by, he laughed;
and gave up the contest.
Beavers seem to possess sagacity in varying degrees. The old animals
are wise according to their years; the stupid and lazy die young. They
adapt themselves quickly to changed conditions; they outwit their
enemies by sheer cunning, never in physical combat; rarely do they
defend themselvesand not once have I known one to take the offensive
side of a fray. Watching them waddling along, one wonders how they
accomplish their great engineering feats in so short a time. Of course,
they can move more rapidly in water than on land, but I suspect its
everlasting teamwork that accounts for their achievements. They are
prolific and, unlike the bees, drones are unknown to them. Coöperative
industrythere lies the secret.
I was absent from my cabin for more than a year; and upon my return
at once visited the Old Settlers. Like any other thriving community,
they had made several improvementstwo new ponds and houses had been
built. Tracks in the edge of a small new pond showed that my pioneer
friends, Mr. and Mrs. Peg, had removed to a new home. Whether the
increasing number of beavers in the larger pond got on the old folks'
nerves, I do not know; but whatever the reason, they were living alone.
I walked rapidly toward their home, instead of approaching slowly and
giving them a chance to look me over. As I neared the edge of the road,
one of them, I presume Pa Peg, smote the water a mighty whack with his
tail. Both disappeared. I watched for their reappearance, for I knew
that they were watching me from their concealment among the willows. I
sang, whistled, called to them to come outthat I was their old friend
returned. My persistence was at last rewarded. Shyly they came to the
surface, watching me sharply the while, diving at my slightest
movement, reappearing on the farther shore, cautious and canny as ever.
It was spring. Within a few weeks after my homecoming the Pegs would
permit my near approach as they had done before I went away. Though
they worked mostly at night, they did venture out in daytime. If they
were working at separate tasks, the first to discover me would thump
the ground or give the water a resounding whack.
One morning Daddy Peg was missing from the pond. Downstream I picked
up his tracks and discovered that he was hastening away from home. As
it was springtime, I was not concerned lest he was deserting his
faithful wife. It was his habit to leave home when Mrs. Peg was
expecting. I knew he'd come waddling back in a few weeks to give the
babies their daily plunge.
Sure enough, Mrs. Peg came forth with four midgets in fur; a happy,
romping family that splashed about the pool for hours at a time. Like
all their kin, they had been born with their eyes open and were much
perter then other animal infants. They swam, and ate, and took the
trail at once. If Mrs. Peg showed fear of anything, the youngsters took
quick alarm, and forever afterward shunned the object. Of me, Mrs. Peg
took little notice, merely giving me the right of way if I intruded on
one of her trails, or stopping work to watch me curiously whenever I
came near. The beaver babies accepted me as a friend, permitted me to
sit or stand near them as they played.
One morning, as I approached the pool, I discovered the four
youngsters in great agitation. They were not playing. They swam about
restlessly, circled the pool, visited the dam, swam out to their house,
dived inside it, only to reappear almost at once. I searched around the
pond, and found their mother's fresh tracks leading toward the aspen
grove. Near it she had been overtaken by a coyote.
In vain I tried to catch the motherless waifs, but they eluded me. I
went home, made a rude sort of dip-net from an old sack, and returned
to the pool.
During my absence a strange beaver mother with a brood of five
babies had visited the pool where the orphans lived. She immediately
adopted the wee bereft babies. Shortly the pool was merry with the
rompings of the combined families.
CHAPTER NINE. MOUNTAIN CLIMBING
Mountain climbing is the reverse of the general rule of life in that
the ascent is easier than the descent, and much safer. Most climbers
underestimate the time required to make a chosen trip, and, starting
out with the day before them, ascend at their leisure, making frequent
and unnecessarily long stops to rest, drinking in the beauty of the
prospect from each rise attained, forgetting to allow themselves
sufficient time for the even more difficult descent. Consequently the
return trip is crowded on the edge of darkness, a dangerous condition
on any trail any time, but especially hazardous when the climber is
weary and, therefore, not alert. It is impossible for him to see the
slight footholds or handholds on which he must put his trust, and
One day, as a boy, I came to grief because I was so absorbed by the
interesting things about me that I took no note of the passing of time
or of the altitude to which I had climbed. From my camp at Bear Lake I
had followed the old Flattop trail to the Divide, from which I could
see a hundred miles or more in all directions; to the north the
mountains of Wyoming peeped through purple haze; eastward, the
foothills dropped away to the flat and endless prairies, with gleaming
lakes everywhere. West and south, my own Rockies rose, tier on tier, to
snowy heights. Gay and fragrant flowers beckoned my footsteps off the
trail; friendly conies squee-eked at me from their rocky lookout
posts; fat marmots stuffed themselves, making the most of their brief
summer. A buck deer left off polishing his new horns on a scraggly
timberline tree to look at me. Overhead an eagle swept round and round
in endless circles.
From the rim of the cañon, between Flattop and Hallett, I viewed the
spot where I had blundered over the edge of the snow-cornice on the way
to the dance. Beneath lay Tyndall glacier, its greenish ice exposed by
the summer thaw. I circled the head of the cañon and climbed to the top
of Hallett. From my eerie height, I got an eagle's view of the world
belowa hazy, hushed world where the birds called faintly, the brooks
murmured quietly and even the wind spoke in whispers. From near by came
the crash of glacier ice; falling rocks that thundered down the cliffs.
All the afternoon I traveled along the crest of the Divide,
wandering southward, away from familiar country into a new maze of
peaks and glaciers, deep cañons and abrupt precipices. Suddenly a gale
of wind struck me, blinded me with penetrating snow. In that instant,
without preliminary or warning, summer changed to winter, and forced me
off the heights. It was impossible to thread my way back over the route
I had come; for it twisted in and out, around up-flung crags and
My compass showed that the wind was driving eastward, the direction
in which I wanted to go; so I headed down wind, secure in the thought
that I would soon be off the roof of the world. Lightning and heavy
thunder accompanied the snowstorm, the clouds came down and blotted out
the day; twilight descended upon the earth.
A band of mountain sheep started up from their shelter behind an
upthrust rock and ran ahead of me. I followed them, partly because they
ran in the direction I was going, and partly because they are apt to
select the safest way down the cliffs.
But they turned aside the moment they were out of the wind, swung up
on a protected ledge and there halted to wait out the storm. My compass
had gone crazy. A dozen times I tried it out. It would point a
different direction whenever I moved a few steps. However, the compass
mattered little; the chief thing that concerned me was getting down off
the roof of the world.
Snow swirled down the cliffs, plastering rocks and ledges until both
footholds and handholds were hidden. Still I had to go down, there was
nothing else to do. The hardy sheep, with their heavy coats, could wait
out the storm. But night, with numbing cold, and treacherous darkness
in which I'd dare not move, would soon o'ertake and vanquish me.
For an hour the ledges provided footing. By turning about, twisting
and doubling, there was always a way down. Of a sudden the clouds
parted; a long bar of sunshine touched the green forest far below me,
focused for a moment upon a single treetop, then vanished as though the
shutter of a celestial camera has snapped shut.
At last I came to a ledge beneath which the sheer cliff dropped away
into unfathomable snowy depths. After short excursions to right and
left I discovered that a section of the cliff had split off and dropped
into the cañon, leaving only sheer rock walls that offered nothing in
the way of footholds. Irresolutely, I faced back the way I had come.
Overhead the wind roared deafeningly; the snow came piling down. No
hope of retracing my steps. I was tired; that upward climb would be
slow and tortuous, would require great strength and endurance. I faced
about and began a thorough, desperate search for a downward route. I
stood marooned in the cañon wall shaped like a crude horseshoe. At its
toe water had leaped down and eroded a slight groove in the solid rock.
This was my only chance. It was not inviting, but I had no alternative.
It led me down a hundred feet, then tightened into a sort of chimney.
Just below I could see the swaying top of a big tree. Firewood must be
near at hand! Wider ledges must lay close beneath!
Fifty feet down the chimney, just as it deepened into a comfortable
groove with rough, gripable sides, I came to a sudden halt, for the
rock was broken away; the cleft bottom of the chute overhung the cliff
below. Sweat streamed down my face, in spite of the cold wind. Visions
of a leaping campfire died out of my mind.
The Engelmann spruce swayed toward me encouragingly, as though
offering to help me down. But its top was many feet from the wall.
There was an abandoned bird's nest in it; a little below that was a
dead limb with a woodpecker's incision at its base. By leaning out I
could see, a hundred feet or more below the bottom of the swaying tree.
In my extremity I shouted, even as I had done in the glacier
crevasse, though there was no one to hear. The echo came back sharply.
There must be another wall angling this one, I thought.
It's got to be done, there's no other way. I spoke the words out
loud to boost my courage.
The tip of the old spruce rose to almost my level; but there was
that intervening gulf between it and the rock on which I stood. How
wide was that gulf, I wondered. Five feet? Ten? Too far!
A score of times I surveyed the tree-top, tried to estimate the
distance, sought a foothold in the cramped rock chute, and worked into
position for the leap.
No sharpshooter ever aligned his sights more carefully than I did my
feet. My coat was buttoned tightly, cap pulled down. When at last I was
all set, I hesitated, postponed the jump and cowered back against the
wall. A dozen times I made ready, filled my lungs with deep breaths,
stretched each leg out to make sure it was in working order, but every
time my courage failed me.
Suddenly resolute, not giving myself chance to think, I tensed,
filled my lungs, leaned away from the rock, and launched headlong.
As my body crashed into the treetop my fingers clutched like talons,
my arms clasped the limbs as steel bands. I was safe in the arms of
that centuries-old spruce.
Never since that day have I taken such a chance. The thought of it,
even now, sends cold, prickly chills along my spine.
That time trouble came out of a clear sky, but sometimes a bit of
innocent curiosity betrays one. Thus one day, with sunshine overhead
and peaceful murmurs below, I stood upon a rock spire upthrust from the
slope of Mount Chapin, watching a band of Bighorn sheep above
timberline. The Fall River road now runs past the spot where they were
feeding. When I climbed up toward them, they gathered close together,
some of them scrambling up rocks for vantage points, all watching me
interestedly. They were not excited. They moved away slowly at my near
approach, stopping now and then to watch me or to feed. For several
hours I kept my position below them; sometimes edging close to one of
them, keeping in sight at all times, and being careful not to move
The band worked its way to the foot of the steeper slopes, above the
tree line, hesitated, eyed me, then started up a narrow little passage
that led up between two cliffs. A rock-slide cluttered this granite
stair. Stable footholds were impossible for the loose rocks slipped and
slid, rolled from beneath the sheep's feet and bounded down the slope.
Of a sudden something frightened the Bighorn, just what I had no
time to learn. Instantly every one of those nineteen sheep was in full
flight up the rock-slide. They bounded right and left, tacked across
it, turned, scrambled up, slipped back, tumbled, somersaulted, but
always regained their balance and made steady headway.
They seemed to have lost their wits, for they scattered, each
selecting his own route, all striving with great exertion to make speed
up the steep slope.
A barrage of stones fell all about me. Dust-puffs dotted the slide.
Then the whole thing seemed to move downward, like the rapids of a
river, dashing rock spray everywhere. The air was filled with flying
granite, as hurtling rocks struck and exploded into smoky fragments.
Bits, the size of wine-saps, scattered like birdshot; larger pieces,
the size of bushel baskets and barrels, bounded and danced, leaped away
from the slope, out into space, and dropped like plummets. Huge
bowlders (sleeping Titans that they were) stirred, roused themselves,
and came crashing down, plowing through the forest below, furrowing the
earth and cutting a swath through the trees as clean as a scythe
through grass. What was first merely the metallic clink of rolling
stones changed to a steady bombardment, and then into a sullen, ominous
roar as the giant bowlders got under way.
For me the scene had changed abruptly; a moment since I had been
following the wild sheep with ready camera, stalking them, entertaining
them with antics, occasionally hiding for a moment to excite them. Now
pandemonium reigned. The first few stones I dodged; then they came too
thick to be avoided. I dived headlong behind a bowlder, partly buried
in the slide. Like a rabbit I hid there, clinging as the stones hailed
about me, afraid to lift my head. Rocks struck close, filling my eyes
with gritty dust, choking me. Then a giant slab came grinding downward.
I could hear it coming, its slow thunder drowned out all other sounds.
The whole mountain heaved. My rock fort shook, flinging me backward
amidst a deluge of smaller stones. Over and over I rolled, with the
loosened rocks, fighting frantically every instant.
Inside a few short, busy seconds the giant slab shot past, my
bowlder had halted it for only a second. As I leaped aside I was pelted
by a score of stones, battered, bruised, knocked half unconscious, eyes
filled with sharp, cutting grit. At last I gained the outer edge of the
whirlpool, where the movement was less rapid, where only the smaller
stones trickled down. Dazed, bleeding and breathless, I was flung
aside, too blinded to see and too stunned to avoid the projectiles
shooting my way.
The slide lessened; its roar diminished; only occasional rocks came
down. Then came silence, vast, still and awesome after the uproar. But
it was broken by the belated descent of tardy stones, loath to be left
behind. Miniature slides started, hesitated and scattered.
Like a battered bark I lay half submerged at the edge of the slide.
My cap was gone, my camera lost, my clothes torn; in a score of places
I was scratched or bruised. I crawled farther from the danger line,
found a trickle of water below a melting snowbank, where I drank and
laved my bruises. At length I started down the mountain, safe, but not
sound; somewhat wiser, thrilled tremendously at the experience that had
It is always thus in mountain climbingthe unexpected is the rule!
The habit of estimating time by the number of miles to be traveled
goes by the board in mountain work. A mile stood on end ceases to be a
mile and becomes a nightmare. Trail miles, or those that stretch across
the mountain tops, are not even related to the miles of straight,
smooth highway of the lower levels. A new unit of measurement should be
created for alpine climbers, to conform to the haughty attitude of the
mountains. At times, upon the crest of the Continental Divide, and at
an altitude of from ten to twelve thousand feet, I have covered from
three to five miles in an hour. And again, while breaking a snow trail,
creeping up treacherous glacier ice, or edging along the ledges, I have
often reversed the digits, taking several hours to gain a single mile.
Then, too, no trip is taken twice under the same conditions. The
mountains are never the same: the weather, the wind, snow or rain
conditions may alter decidedly the footing upon their slopes. Thus a
climb that was accomplished on the first of June in one year without
serious obstacles may, on the same date another year, be found to be
impossible. Experienced mountaineers intuitively know when to proceed,
or to turn back; and though they may not be able to explain why they
abandon or continue a trip, they feel their actions imperative.
So climbing tests a man's judgment, his physical endurance, and
tries his soul. It brings out his true character. The veneer of
convention wears through inside a few miles of trail work and reveals
the individual precisely as he is, often to his shame but usually to
his glory. Thus a silent, backward boy one day became a hero by diving
headlong across smooth ice to rescue a trio of climbers who had lost
their footing and had started to slide across a glacier. Again, upon a
certain climb, two husky men who gave promise of conquering the ascent
without trouble, turned out to be the weakest of weaklings, abusing all
the party, demanding all the guide's help for themselves.
You can't never tell how fur a toad'll jump! the Parson said
disgustedly as he heard the tale of these two huskies who had turned
babies; nor which way neither.
One of the things which I have found most helpful on hard climbs, is
mental preparation. If there are certain, lurking dangers to be
overcome, I have found it a decided help to admit the facts freely
before attempting the climb; picturing as far as it can be done the
situations that may arise. In this way it is possible, to a certain
degree, to anticipate emergencies before they happen and to prepare for
them. It also helps one to act with imperative promptness.
It is less easy to prescribe for physical preparation. Equipment
must vary with needs and these are as varied as the climbers
themselves. However, I have found that it is well to dress lightly, for
this permits freedom of movement. Personally I prefer light, low shoes
that reach just above the ankle, the soles studded with soft-headed hob
nails, not the iron ones. A change of socks is sometimes a life-saver,
for frequently the footing leads through ice water or soft snow. Numb
feet are always clumsy and slow, and dangerous besides. I have found it
best to wear medium-weight wool underclothes and just enough outer
garments to keep one warm. A staff is a handicap on rockwork, but
helpful on glaciers or other ice climbing.
On the mountain tops, as well as upon the highways, speed is
dangerous. Haste on a mountain brings grief of various kinds, nausea,
needless exhaustion, injuries. Never sprint! Climb slowly, steadily,
like a sober old packhorse. You will make better time, and reach the
summit in condition to enjoy your achievement.
I came to distrust, and to test out, every rung in my rocky ladders.
I found that even the most secure-appearing stepping stones were
often rotten and treacherous, weathered by the continual freezing and
thawing of the moisture in its seams. Often a mere touch was sufficient
to shatter them, but sometimes it was not until I put my weight upon
them, holding to a shrub or an earth-buried bowlder the while, that
they gave way.
I learned, too, that the wise selection of a route up and down is
the crucial test of a good guide. In such selection there are no rules;
for every climb presents problems particularly its own, and what worked
out well on the last climb may turn out to be dangerous on the next.
Thus, on one ascent of the cliffs of Black Cañon, my companion
suggested that we follow a chimney, a water-worn crack that offered
convenient toe-holds. We ascended by the selected route without
difficulty. But an hour later, when a similar ascent confronted us, we
selected the same sort of route and came to grief, finding our way
blocked by an overhanging wall impossible to surmount.
The actual climbing of difficult places becomes a habit, so far as
the physical effort is concerned, leaving one free to inspect the
precipices above, and to feel out, instinctively, the possible routes
to the top.
The selection of a way up difficult places calls for the sixth
sense, instinct, which cannot always be acquired by experience. Wild
animals possess this instinct to a great degree; but human beings are
not so unerring. One man may be blest with it, but another, with equal
experience, will be unreliable. There is no accounting for the wide
difference in their accuracy, it existsthat is all we know.
There are times when even with this guiding instinct, one comes to
grief; though I have noted that grief came to me most often when I was
tired, less alert, and more prone to take chances or needless risks.
Sometimes, under stress of haste to get off a dangerous place before
darkness overtook me, I have had to leap without looking. No climber
may expect to survive many such reckless steps. It is the rule of the
mountains that you lookthen do not leap. In most of life's
experiences we may make a mistake and, if wise, profit by it. But in
mountain climbing the first mistake is liable to be the last.
Mountain climbing is a game, a big game; divided as are other sports
into minor and major divisions. The minor climbs include the lesser
peaks, safe, well-marked trails that lead to comfortable night camps:
the major division includes almost everything from peeping into an
active volcano to getting imprisoned in a glacier crevasse.
Colorado offers wide variety of experience in both divisions. It has
forty-odd peaks above fourteen thousand feet, with hundreds of others
almost as high, yet unknown and unmapped. The peaks that are most
widely known, and most often climbed are Pike's Peak near Colorado
Springs and Long's Peak in the Rocky Mountain National (Estes) Park.
Pike's has long been easily accessible by way of the famous cog road,
and more recently an automobile road has reached its top. But Long's
has no royal road to its summit. Only a foot trail partly encircles it.
There are many other than these two peaks to challenge the climber.
The Flattops, in western Colorado, are not necessarily low or smooth,
though flat. The San Juan Mountains are extremely rough and rugged. The
Sangre de Christo Range is at once rarely beautiful and forbidding. The
Never-summer and Rabbit Ear ranges invite exploration, and the great
Continental Divide has no peers.
Every mountain offers its peculiar attractions and difficulties. All
mountains entice the brave-hearted and the adventurous. Occasionally
men lose their lives in conquering them and not infrequently women die
heroically scaling their slopes.
Long's Peak was early the objective of experienced mountain
climbers. For a number of years it defied all efforts to scale it. From
1864 to 1868 a number of unsuccessful attempts to reach the top failed.
In the summer of 1868 a party in charge of W. N. Byers, who had led the
first unsuccessful party, reached the top. Since that time each year
has seen an increasing number of successful climbers. Most climbers go
in small parties, for large ones (more than five) are dangerous. Dogs
are dangerous companions on a climb, because they start rock-slides.
As a boy I lived at the foot of this forbidding Sphinx, climbed it
every month in the year, and thus came to know its mighty moods, the
terrific fury of its storms, the glory of its outlook.
Miss Carrie J. Welton lost her life upon the Peak in 1884. She gave
out near the top and her guide, Carlyle Lamb, son of the Parson, made
heroic efforts to save her. But he, too, became exhausted and had to
leave her alone while he went for help.
But when help arrived, Miss Welton was dead, having perished from
exhaustion and cold.
Other casualties have occurred on this towering mountain. A boy left
his parents in camp at the foot of the Peak and disappeared. Late in
the summer, as the snowbanks diminished, his body was found, lying at
the base of the three-thousand-foot precipice. One man was killed by
the accidental discharge of a pistol. A doctor was killed by lightning.
In January, 1925, occurred a double tragedy. Miss Agnes Vaille perished
near the spot where Miss Welton lost her life, and under similar
conditions. Herbert Sortland, member of the rescue party, became lost
and perished in the storm that was raging over the heights. His body
was found many weeks afterward within a few minutes' walk of home.
CHAPTER TEN. MODERN PATHFINDERS
Back on the farm of my childhood, the names of Kit Carson, Jim
Bridger, Buffalo Bill and other renowned frontiersmen were ever on the
lips of my parents. Their reckless bravery that took no thought of
self, their diplomatic cunning that cleverly kept the Indians friendly,
their unlimited resourcefulness, equal to the most unprecedented
emergencies, were the subjects of many a heroic tale. When I came West,
no matter how far I penetrated into remote regions, if there were
trapper or prospector about, I found the immortal fame of these
intrepid pathfinders had traveled into those mountain-guarded
They became the heroes of my boyish dreams, the patterns of my
conduct, the inspiration of my ideals. I seized upon every written word
concerning them and plowed through thick, poorly-printed volumes on the
frontier for one brief sentence about these gallant scouts. I longed to
emulate their fearless, immortal deeds. They left an indelible impress
upon my character, even as they had upon the romantic annals of their
My growing familiarity with the Rocky Mountain region opened up one
trail in which I could follow their footsteps. Tourists were finding
out the country, guides were in demand. In the early days, before the
creation of the National Park, guides were unlicensed. Any experienced
old-timer or climber could take parties up the Peak or on other alpine
trips. I began guiding by taking occasional visitors up Long's. I
furnished my horse, and on most trips, supplies, wrangled the
pack-horses, made camp, cooked the meals, and gave invaluable advice
and first aid all for the munificent wage of five dollars a day! That
sum made the replacement of climb-shattered cameras, the purchasing of
a few coarse, cheap garments, and the acquiring of a Montgomery Ward
library, all such riches, possible.
The work afforded none of the opportunities for fame and glory that
had lurked in the trails of my heroes; I did not creep stealthily from
a wagon train in the dead of night to thwart the redmen in a fiendish
massacre; I was not compelled to kill game to furnish food for my
charges; I did not have to find fords across wide, deep and treacherous
unknown rivers, and steer panic-stricken cattle or heavily laden oxen
across them. But even though the work lacked the glamour of the
pioneers' primitive, golden day, it was not without engrossing
interests. It was filled with drama, relieved by comedy, sometimes
fraught with tragedy.
Yes; styles in guides have changed since Bill Cody scouted the
plains, even as they have changed since I piloted my first party up
Long's Peak. A new breed has sprung up since the people have made such
wide use of their National Parks. Not only the modern guides outwit the
savage elements, but, under the National Park administration, they are
required to have a fund of general information, especially nature lore,
to be able to identify the thousands of varieties of wild flowers, the
birds, animals and trees; to conduct field classes in geology, and to
explain every phenomenon of weather and climate. Such a guide must have
the patience to answer numberless questions. All this in addition to
watching his charges, as a nurse watches her patients, feeling their
pulses, so to speak, and taking their physical and moral temperatures.
He must keep up their morale with entertaining yarns, he must restrain
their too ambitious experience, must protect them from their own
foolhardiness. He must have the charity to forbear deriding their
stupidity. He must be as courageous and resourceful as the old-time
guides, though his trials may not be so spectacular. A guide soon
plumbs a man's character and fathoms its weakness and its strength.
As a boy guide I trailed far into the wilds with hunting parties,
and camped through the summers with fishermen, geologists, explorers
and mountain climbers. The reaction of individuals to the open spaces
has ever been interesting to me. I have seen voluble women silent
before the awesome beauty. I have seen phlegmatic business men moved to
tears. There was no way of anticipating people's reactions.
Nearly all climbers dread the altitude of the high country. It is
the Old Man of the Sea to most tenderfeet. It has as many forms as
the clouds and changes them as readily. It pounces upon the innocent
but not unsuspicious wayfarer in the form of nosebleed, short wind,
earache, balky watches, digestive troubles, sleeplessness and
As guide one day for the wife of a well-known geologist, I secured a
new idea regarding altitude. We were to spend the day above timberline,
where we hoped to identify the distant mountain ranges, observe the
wild life close at hand and collect flower specimens. We left the
valley at dawn, let our horses pick their way slowly upward. We halted
occasionally to watch a scampering chipmunk or to explain our harmless
errand to a scolding squirrel.
Near the timberline we emerged into a little grassy glade beside a
rushing stream. Far above and deep below us grew a dense forest of
Engelmann spruce. In the glade stood a detached grove of perhaps a
dozen trees, dead and stripped almost bare of limbs and bark.
My lady stopped abruptly and stared at these. She shook her head
sadly, murmuring to herself. At last she spoke:
Isn't it too bad? she grieved.
I agreed sympathetically, then peered about to learn the cause of
our sudden sadness.
The lady pointed to the dead trees, wagged her head, and said:
Isn't it too bad the altitude killed them?
There were green trees a mile farther up the mountain above the dead
ones in the glade. Yet my lady insisted that the altitude had singled
out and killed the little grove in the midst of the forestso we let
it go at that.
Of course, some persons really are affected by altitude, but
weariness, lack of muscular as well as mental control, often creates
altitudinous illusion. Of this condition I had an example while guiding
a party of three women and one man to the top of Long's Peak. We
climbed above timberline, headed through Storm Pass, and finally
reached Keyhole without a single incident to mar the perfect day. The
ladies were new, but plucky, climbers; the man rather blustery, but
Beyond Keyhole lies rough going, smooth, sloping rocks and the
Trough with its endless rock-slides that move like giant treadmills
beneath the climber's feet. The pace I set was very slow. The man
wanted to go faster, but I called attention to Glacier Gorge below, the
color of the lakes in the cañon, in short, employed many tactics to
divert him from his purpose.
My refusal to travel faster excited him, he became extremely nervous
and made slighting remarks regarding my guiding ability that ruffled me
and embarrassed the ladies. Hoping to convince him of his error, I
speeded up. He remonstrated at once, but when I slowed down to our
customary pace he still objected, saying we'd never reach the top
Suddenly he developed a new notion. Climbing out upon a ledge he
lifted his arms and poised, as though to dive off the cliff.
Guide, he called, his voice breaking, I must jump.
After some confusion we were on our way again, the man within clutch
of my hand. All progressed without further trouble until we reached the
top of the trough, where we halted to rest and to look down into Wild
Basin, memorable scene of my first camp! My charge craftily escaped my
clutches, walked out on a promontory, and again threatened to jump.
Secretly I hoped he would carry out his threat.
Before we began scaling the home stretch, I tried to persuade the
erratic idiot to remain behind, but he refused. However, we all made
the top safely. He relapsed into glum silence, which I hoped would last
until we were safely off the peak. But as we stood near the brink of
the three-thousand-foot precipice overlooking Chasm Lake, we were
startled to hear his voice once more, raised to high pitch.
I must jump over, I've got to jump, he screamed.
He waved his arms wildly, as though trying to fly. The ladies begged
me not to approach him lest he totter from his precarious perch.
Summoning all the authority I could command, I ordered him to come down
off the rock. My commandment unheeded, next I humored him and tried to
coax him back upon the pretext of showing him something of special
interest. But he stood firm, mentally at least, if not physically.
Pushing the ladies ahead, I hurried on toward the trail. As I
started, I waved good-by, and shouted:
Go on, jump. Get it over with, coward!
He turned back from the edge, swearing vengeance against me. In
abusing me, however, he forgot his obsession to jump.
During the summer of my experience with the man who wanted to jump,
I guided a party of three men who behaved in a totally different, but
in quite as unexpected, manner. They were three gentlemen from New
York, who wished to make a night climb up Long's Peak. It was a
beautiful moonlight night. Our party left the hotel at the foot of the
Peak at eleven o'clock. Proceeding upward through the shadowy,
moon-flecked forest, we sang songs, shouted, listened to the far-away
calls of the coyotes in the valley below, and from timberline saw the
distant lights of Denver. At one o'clock we reached the end of the
horse trail. In two hours the horses had covered five miles and had
climbed up thirty-five hundred feet. We were on schedule time. Though
the sun would gild the summit of the Peak soon after four in the
morning, we would arrive sufficiently ahead of it, to watch it rise.
All at once my troubles began. The three men wanted to race across
bowlderfield. It was sheer folly and I told them so, and why, but
failed to convince them. They raced. They kidded me for being slow,
dared me to race them, and gibingly assured me that they would wait for
me on top and command the sun not to rise until I got there.
They would have their little joke. They waited for me at Keyhole and
we moved slowly along the shelf trail beyond. On that they raced again,
but not far, for the steep slope of the trough with its slippery stones
stood just beyond. Right there they insisted on eating their lunch, an
untimely lunch hour for there was hard climbing yet to do. Not
satisfied with emptying their lunch bags, they drank freely of some ice
water that trickled out from beneath a snowbank.
I got them going at last and we had gone only a short way when two
of them fell ill. They felt they just had to lie down, and did so, and
became thoroughly chilled, which added to their pangs of nausea. After
awhile we proceeded very slowly. No longer their song echoed against
the cliffs. They broke their pained silence only to grumble at one
Midway of the rock-slide of the trough, they stopped, and like balky
mules, refused to go forward or turn back. In vain I urged them to
start down, assuring them the lower altitude would bring relief. The
sick men didn't care what happened; they craved instant relief by death
or any other instantaneous method, as seasick persons always do. Their
more fortunate friend looked at them in disgust, as those who have
escaped the consequences of their deeds often look at those who have
not. He upbraided me for not keeping them from making fools of
themselves. I knew argument with him would be futile in his quarrelsome
frame of mind. I kept still. His sick companions crawled beneath an
overhanging rock, and lay shivering and shaking, too miserable to
sleep. Presently he joined them, sputtering at me as the author of all
their troubles. His sputterings grew intermittent, ceased. He was
After a long time one of his pals demanded.
Who in the proposed this trip anyway?
The conduct of these men was not unique. Most climbers start out
exuberantly, burn up more energy than they can spare for the first part
of the trip, and find themselves physically bankrupt before they've
reached their goal. The rarefied air of the high country seems to make
them lightheaded! The most disagreeable character to have in a party,
as in other situations, is the bully, or know-it-all, who spoils
everyone's fun. A guide is a trifle handicapped in handling such
people, in that his civilized inhibitions restrain him from pushing
them off the cliffs or entombing them in a crevasse. I was too small to
do them physical violence anyway, so I had to resort to more subtle
weapons, the most effective being ridicule. If a joke could be turned
on the disturber he generally subsided. The rest of the crowd were
profuse in their expressions of gratitude to me for such service
Such an individual was once a member of a fishing party I guided to
Bear Lake. The trip was made on horseback and we hadn't gone a mile
before he urged his horse out of line and raced ahead, calling to some
kindred spirit to follow. They missed the turn and delayed the whole
party more than an hour while being rounded up.
Lanky, as the party dubbed him out of disrespect, blamed me for
their getting lost, but dropped behind when he saw the half-suppressed
mirth of the others. Along the way were many inviting pools, and
occasionally we saw a fisherman. Lanky soon raised the question of
trying out the stream, but was outvoted by the others. He was inclined
to argue the matter, but we rode up the trail, leaving him to follow or
fish as he desired.
At Bear Lake at that time was a canvas boat, cached twenty steps due
west of a certain large bowlder that lay south of the outlet. The boat
was small, would safely hold but two persons. As it was being carried
to the water, Lanky appeared and insisted on having the first turn in
it. To this the others agreed, much against my wishes. To save the
others from the annoyance of the fellow, I went out with him in the
The trout were too well fed to be interested in our flies, though
Lanky and I paddled around and across, and tempted them with a dozen
My passenger became abusive and blamed me for wasting a good fishing
day by bringing the party to the lake. In the midst of his tirade the
boat tilted strangely. For a few minutes he shamefully neglected me
while he gave his whole attention to righting it.
By sundown the party had caught a few small fish, and were ready to
quit. They had gladly let Lanky monopolize the boat so as to be
spared his society. To Lanky's disgust we had caught only two
six-inch fish. Just as we started for the shore he made a farewell
Something struck his spinner; his reel sang, his rod bent, and he
stood up in the boat, yelling instructions at me. The rest of the party
quit fishing to watch him land the fish. The trout was a big one, and
game, but we were in deep water with plenty of room. From the shore
came excited directions: Give him more line! Reel him in! Don't
let him get under the boat! Head him toward the shore! Lanky
turned a superior deaf ear.
After a tussle of ten minutes a two-pound trout lay in the boat, and
Lanky raised an exultant yell in which the cliffs of Hallett joined.
Now, indeed, was justice gone astray, when the one disagreeable member
of the party had the only luck.
When the last triumphant echo died away, I picked up his prize,
inspected it critically, held it aloft for the others to witness. I'm
a deputy warden, I snapped at him disgustedly, and you don't keep
small ones while I'm around. With that I tossed the trout into the
Just as I finished, the boat mysteriously upset, and Lanky and I
followed the fish.
The early trips I made with parties were mostly short ones for game
or fish, but as more and more visitors came each succeeding summer,
longer trips became popular. From fishing, the summer guests turned to
trail trips, camping en route and remaining out from five to ten days.
To cross the Continental Divide was the great achievement. Everyone
wanted to tell his stay-at-home neighbors about trailing over the crest
of the continent, and snowballing in the summer.
The route commonly chosen was the Flattop trail to Grand Lake, where
camp was pitched for a day or two; then up the North Fork of the Grand
River (known farther south as the Colorado River) to Poudre Lake, where
another camp was made. From here they made a visit to Specimen, a
mountain of volcanic formation which rises from the lake shore. This
peak has ever been the home of mountain sheep. One can always count on
seeing them there, sometimes just a few stragglers, but often bands of
a hundred or more.
However interesting the day's experience had been, the climax came
after camp was made, supper served and cleared away, when a big bonfire
was lighted and all sat about it talking over the happenings of the
day, singing and putting on stunts. In the tourists' minds the guide
and the grizzly were classed together; both were wild, strange and
somewhat of a curiosity. Nothing delighted them more than to get the
guide to talking about his life in the wilds. Most of them looked upon
him as a sort of vaudeville artist.
When several parties were out on the same trip they all assembled
around a common campfire. The guides were given the floor, or ground,
and they made the most of the occasion. Such competition as there was!
Each, of course, felt obliged to uphold the honor of his party and
out-yarn his fellows. Their stories grew in the telling, each more
lurid than the last. There were thrilling tales of bear fights; of
battles with arctic storms above timberline; of finding rich
gold-strikes and losing them again.
At first the guides stuck to authentic experiences. But as the
demand outgrew their supply, they were forced to invention. They had no
mean imaginations and entranced their tenderfoot audiences with their
thrilling tales. Around the campfires of primitive peoples have started
the folklore of races. These guides were more sophisticated than their
rustic mien hinted, the points of their yarns more subtle than the city
One evening I reached the Poudre Lake camp at dusk, to find two
other parties ahead of mine. The others had finished supper and were
gathered around the campfire, with North Park Ned the center of
I was camped over on Troublesome crick, an' havin' a busy time with
cookin', wranglin' the hosses and doin' all the camp work. The fellers,
they was all men, were too plumb loco to help, everything they touched
spelt trouble. They admired to have flapjacks, same as we et, for
supper, an' they watched jest how I made 'em, an' flipped 'em in the
frypan. Then they wanted to do the flippin'.
Ned chuckled quietly to himself and went on:
I hadn't realized afore that a tenderfoot with a pan of hot, smeary
flapjacks is as dangerous as he is with a gun. He's liable to cut loose
in any direction. He ain't safe nowhere. One of them I had out was
called Doctor Chance; guess he got his name cause other folks took
chances havin' him round. Well, Chance was the first flipper. I'd
showed him the trick of rotatin' the frypan to loosen the jacks so't
they wouldn't stick an' cause trouble. The doctor got the hang of
flippin' 'em 'an did a good job 'til he wanted to do it fancy. The
plain ordinary flip wasn't good enough for him, no siree. He wanted to
do it extra fancy. Instead of a little flip so's they'd light batter
side down, the doctor'd give 'em a double turn an' they'd come down in
the pan with a splash. He got away with it two or three times; then he
got carelessflipped a panful without loosen'n 'em properthem jacks
stuck at one edge, flopped over and come down on doc's hands. We had to
stop cookin' and doctor the doctor.
Then another one of 'em thought he'd learnt how from watchin' the
doc, so I set back an' let 'im have all the rope he wanted. It was
their party, an' they could go the limit so far as I was concerned. But
the new guy slung 'em high, wide an' crooked as a sunfishin' bronc.
First thing I knowed there was a shower of sizzlin' flapjacks rainin'
where I set, an' I had to make a quick getaway to keep from bein'
branded for life. Then he heaved a batch so high they hit a dead limb
over the fire an' wrapped aroun' it.
It was then the next feller's turn, and he started in, while Number
Two shinned up the tree to get the jacks off en the limb. Number Four
hadn't came to bat yet, so the performance was due to last some time. I
got up on a big rock, outta range.
Number Two was in the tree; Number Three flippin'; Number Four was
a rollin' up his sleeves an' gettin' ready for his turn. The third chef
was sure fancy! He juggled them cakes just like a vodeville artist
does. Of a sudden he cuts loose a batch that sailed up high an'
han'some, turned over an' cum down on the back of Four's neckhim
bein' entertained at the time by the feller in the tree.
Ned had acquitted himself well, his story had the tang of reality in
it, and he told it with rare enthusiasm. He was so clever, in fact,
that the younger guides, including myself, decided not to enter the
story contest that night. But there was one in camp who did not
hesitate; Andrews was his name. I had not seen this man on the trail
before, so listened as eagerly as the others to what he had to offer.
Remember the mountain sheep we saw on Flattop? Ed recalled as he
put aside his pipe. Well, them wild sheep always has interested me.
They're plumb human some ways, I reckon. They sure got a whale of a
bump of curiosity, an' they beat country kids in town when it comes to
starin' at strange sights. Reckon there ain't nuthin' short of a
neighbor that's got more curiosity than them sheep. The old rams git so
wise they live two or three times as long as the foolish ones that
don't never seem to learn nothin'.
Ole Curiosity, up in back on Specimen, is the biggest ram I ever
saw. He's sure curious, an' smart along with it. If trouble shows up
around Specimen, why Old Curiosity just ain't home, that's all, but hid
away somewheres in the cliffs. An' once when there was shootin' he went
over to another mountain till the hunters was gone. That there ole ram
got so famous that the fellers used to devil the life outta him. They'd
make a show of takin' their gun up the mountain jest ter see the old
feller hide out.
One day I was guidin' a party up toward Lulu Pass. We was down in a
deep gully, with high walls. All to onct I looked up an' saw a bunch of
sheep. They hadn't seen us yet on account of our bein' in the aspens. I
flagged the party an' told 'em to watch.
Guess some one was after the sheep, for they was in a hurry to git
across the gully. One at a time they jumped off the cliff an' landed in
the sand along the river. Must have been fifty feet anyhow, maybe more;
but that didn't phase 'em. Of a sudden out walked Ole Curiosity,
lookin' as big as a house, with circlin' horns three feet long. The ole
feller jumped last; and jest as he jumped I rode out of the woods.
Ed eyed the circle of eager faces; his listeners tensed and leaned
forward breathlessly. Then he continued:
When the ole ram was about halfway down he seen me. An' what do you
reckon he did?
His hypnotized audience were too spellbound to hazard a guess.
He turned aroun' and went back.
The story of the ram that turned back is still told around the
campfires of the Rockies, and it has not grown leaner in the
repetitions. But the old-time guides are giving way to younger ones,
more scientific but not so entertaining. The Indians who have turned
guides are unexcelled when it comes to following trails that are dim,
or in tracking down runaway horses. Indians have a subtle sense of
humor, even during the most serious situations. Injun not lost, trail
lost, one said when adrift in the woods.
To prevent trails from getting lost, the Park Service requires all
to pass examinations on packing, making camp, handling horses, first
aid, familiarity of the region and general aptness for the calling
before granting them a license entitling them to conduct parties on the
peaks and trails of Rocky Mountain National Park. When the first
superintendent was giving these examinations he invited me to assist
In order to focus the attention of the would-be guides upon certain
important essentials, the questions started out by asking:
What is the first consideration of a guide?
What is the second consideration of a guide?
The answer expected to the first, of course, was the safety of the
party, and to the second the comfort of the party.
The superintendent and I strolled about the room where a dozen or
more young fellows were laboriously writing out their answers. One chap
in particular attracted my attention, for he was from the woods, a big
strapping fellow with clear eyes, and an eager, honest face.
I peeped over his shoulder. Beneath What is the first consideration
of a guide? he had written in unmistakable brevity: HAM. Beneath
What is the second consideration of a guide? in a clear, legible hand
was the kindred word: BACON.
CHAPTER ELEVEN. OFF THE TRAIL
That same youthful ambition to emulate the early explorers and
discover new worlds which had led me West also tempted my boyish feet
off the beaten, man-made trails. I was told that trails were the safe,
the sure routes into and out of the wilds, but their very existence
proclaimed that other men had been there before me. I was not the first
on those narrow, winding high roads. I preferred the game trails to
them, but I liked better still to push beyond even those faint guides,
into the unmarked, untracked wilderness. There I found the last
frontier, as primitive as when bold Columbus dared the unknown seas,
and my young heart thrilled at such high adventure.
Late one fall, I climbed high above timberline on the Long's Peak
trail, and, following my adventurous impulse, left the cairn-marked
pathway and swung over to the big moraine that lay south. From its top
I peeped into the chasm that lies between it and the Peak, then angled
down its abrupt slope to a sparkling waterfall, and, following along
the swift, icy stream above it, was climbing toward Chasm Lake, when an
eerie wail rose from the gorge below. Somewhere down there a coyote was
protesting the crimes committed against his race. His yammering notes
rose and fell, ascending and descending the full run of the scale,
swelled into a throaty howl and broke into jerky, wailing yaps like a
chorus of satyrs. The uninitiated could never have believed all those
sounds came from one wolfish throat; it seemed that it must be that the
entire pack, or at least half a dozen animals, raised that woeful
Facing, first one way and then another, I tried to locate the
brokenhearted mourner. But Long's sheer, precipitous face and the lofty
cliffs around me formed a vast amphitheater about which echoes raced,
crossing and recrossing, intermingling. For a full minute the coyote
howled, his sharp staccato notes rising higher and higher, the echoes
returning from all directions, first sharply, then blurred, faint,
fainter. The higher the sounds climbed the gorge the longer were the
intervals between echoes, for the cañon walls sloped back and were
wider apart toward the top. I counted seven distant echoes of a single
sharp bark before it trailed off into numberless indistinguishable
echoes. The varying angles and heights of the walls altered their
tones, but just as they reached the top they came in uniform volume,
and then overflowed the lower north rim and were lost.
For ten minutes that coyote howled, and I tried to locate him by the
sound. I knew it would be impossible to sight him for his dun-colored
coat blended perfectly with the surrounding bowlders. At last I decided
he was due west of me. Cautiously I started toward him, but as soon as
I moved he materialized from the jumbled pile of slide rock a hundred
feet north of where I stood. The echoes had fooled me completely. I
wondered then, and many times since, why he howled with me so near. He
surely saw me. Was lie familiar with the echoes of the gorge? Did he
know their trickery? Did he lift his voice there to confound me? He is
somewhat of a ventriloquist anywhere, perhaps he liked to howl from
that spot because the abetting echoes deluded him into thinking his
talent was increasing and he excelled all his rivals in the mysterious
art! Or perhaps like some singers I have known, he enjoyed the
multitudinous repetition of the sound of his own voice! After more than
a score of years I am no nearer a solution of the riddle.
Twenty miles from the spot where the music-fond coyote sang, near
the headwaters of the Poudre River, I rode one day in pursuit of a pair
of marauding wolves. As soon as they discovered me tracking them, they
took to an old game trail that climbed several thousand feet in ten
miles distance and headed toward the timberline. From their tracks I
could tell the country was strange to them, for animals, like men, are
uneasy in unfamiliar surroundings.
Somewhere a prospector set off a blast. The sound rolled around and
echoed from all about. The wolves were startled at the repeated
reports, as they thought them, and at sea as to the direction from
which they came; so they hid away in a dense new growth of Engelmann
spruce. When I rode in sight with rifle ready across my saddle, they
lay low, no doubt fearing to blunder into an ambush if they took
A campbird sailed silently into the tops of the young trees and
peered curiously downward. Its mate winged in and together they hopped
from limb to limb, descending toward the concealed animals, and
conversing in low tones of their discovery.
My horse stopped at my low command; I raised my rifle and fired into
the undergrowth beneath the trees. The wolves sprang out at a run, with
lightning bounds, crossed a small opening and disappeared into the
heavy forest beyond. I continued firing at them, without effect. Just
before they vanished into the spruces, I fired a final salute. To my
astonishment, they turned tail and came racing back, straight toward
me, but glancing back fearfully as they came. For a foolish instant I
thought they meant to attack, then the reason for their action dawned
on me. A sharp echo of each shot had been flung back by a cliff beyond
the grove. The fleeing animals on nearing the cliff had mistaken these
echoes for another pursuer. They feared the unseen gun more than the
gun in the open.
[Illustration: They turned tail and came racing back, straight
I killed them from the saddle. An echo had betrayed them. But they
were in unfamiliar country. I doubt if they would have been misled at
home, for animals are commonly familiar with every sight, sound and
scent of their home range, and wolves are uncannily shrewd.
Thus I learned that the same phenomenon that had confounded me
deceived the animals. Echoes make an interesting study and add mystery
to the mountains. But animals, and most woodsmen, have a sixth sense
upon which they rely, an intuitive faculty we call instinct. It is more
infallible than their conscious reasoning or physical senses of sight,
sound, smell, taste and touch. It leads them unerringly through
unblazened forests, during blinding storms or in the darkness of night.
It helps them solve the enigma of echoes, and sometimes when the
vagrant breezes trick their sensitive noses, and bring scents to them
from the opposite direction of their sources, it senses the deception,
and, setting them on the right path, delivers them from their enemies.
I suppose I must have had this instinct to some degree or I would
surely have been lost in those mountain mazes. Not that anticipation of
such a possibility would have deterred meit would really have added
allurement to the adventure. As it was, I did get lost, but always
succeeded in finding my way home again.
But even with this instinct, people are often lost in the high
country of the Rockies. Mountain trails twist and turn, tack and loop
around unscalable cliffs. Let a stranger step off a trail for a moment
to pick a flower blooming in the shade of the surrounding woods, and,
unless he be an outdoor man, he is liable to be confused as to the
trail's location when he tries to return to it. The sudden changing
weather of high altitudes also causes the climber to lose his way. A
sky which at sunrise is as innocently blue as a baby's eyes, may be
overcast by lowering clouds by noon, or even sooner. A fog may settle
below the summits of the peaks, and cloak all objects more than a few
yards distant, distorting and magnifying those mistily discernible. A
turn or a detour to survey the vicinity and attempt to get one's
bearings almost invariably brings disaster. A fall that dazes one even
for a few minutes is liable to befuddle one as to direction and cause
one to lose one's way.
Few persons lost in the mountains travel in a circle. The typography
of the country prevents them, high ridges confine them to limited
areas. They are as apt to travel in one direction as in the opposite,
but they may usually be looked for and found in a shut-in valley or
I was lost one day within a mile of home, almost in sight of the
home buildings, upon a slope I knew well. It came about through my
following a band of deer on my skis. The day was windy the snow blowing
about in smothering clouds. I came upon the deer in a cedar thicket. At
my approach they retreated to a gully and started up the slope. The
snow grew so deep that after floundering in it a few yards, they
deserted the gully, tacked back close to me, and cut around the slope
about level with my position. I gave chase on skis, which almost
enabled me to keep up with them. When they altered their direction and
headed down hill, I easily outran them. Soon I was in their midst, but
had difficulty in keeping my balance.
All at once the animals indulged in queer antics. One lay upside
down, his feet flailing the air; another stood on his head in space;
two does on my left whirled round and round as though dancing with a
phonograph record for a floor. The next instant I joined their troupe.
In the flash that followed I remembered seeing the tops of small trees
beneath me, remembered my skis whipping across in front of my face.
In their panic to escape me, the deer's instinct had deserted them,
and they had dashed full speed across a slope where a spring overflowed
and froze, and the ice was coated with snow.
When I regained my feet I was lost. Everything was unfamiliar. I set
my course toward a prominent thumb of rock, but when I reached it, it
had either changed its shape or moved. The whole valley was strange.
After skiing for several hours, I topped an utterly foreign ridge.
Below me were houses. I coasted down to the nearest that had smoke
rising from its chimney. A neighbor, living just a mile from home, came
to the door. Then I realized where I was, and recognized the strange
valley, the unfamiliar ridge and my neighbors' houses. I had traveled
in a ten-mile circle. The fall with the deer hadn't exactly dazed meI
wasn't unconsciousbut it had jarred shut the window of my memory, and
though almost at my own door, there was nobody home.
The best example of storm causing one to lose one's way is the
experience of Miss Victoria Broughm, the first woman to climb Long's
Peak alone. She started one September morning from a hotel at the foot
of the Peak, taking a dog as her companion. She tethered her horse at
bowlderfield, where horses are usually left, and without difficulty, or
delay, made the summit. Just as she reached the top, a storm struck the
mountain and, inside of a few minutes, hid the trail. Pluckily Miss
Broughm worked her way down, tacking back and forth, mistaking the way
but making progress. She was afraid to trust the dog to guide her. Late
in the evening she descended the trough, a steep rock-filled gully that
extends far below the timberline. The trail goes only part way down
this slide, then tacks across to Keyhole. In the storm she could not
distinguish the cairns that marked the turn-off, and continued on down
the trough far below the trail and was lost.
That evening when she did not return to the hotel, a searching party
set out to find her. But a terrific hundred-mile gale was raging upon
the heights. The searching party found it almost impossible to battle
their way above the timberline and after many ineffectual attempts,
they returned, nearly frozen, without tidings of the lost girl.
William S. Copper, Carl Piltz and myself set out at midnight for the
Peak. The wind that met us at the timberline halted our horses, even
jolted them off the trail. Just above the timberline my horse pricked
his ears toward a sheltered cove and gave a little whinny. We hurried
forward hoping to find Miss Broughm. But only her horse was there,
dragging its picket rope. We proceeded to bowlderfield.
The night was moonless and half cloudy. The wind shrieked among the
rim rocks and boomed against the cliffs. Our lantern would not stay
lighted. Time and again we crept beneath a rock slab and relighted it
only to have it snuffed out the instant we emerged into the wind.
Across the rocks we crept, crouching like wary wrestlers. When sudden
blasts knocked us off our feet, we dropped flat and clung to the rocks.
But even with all our caution we were toppled headlong at times, or
bowled over backward as the wind struck us.
It was after three in the morning when we reached Keyhole, the pass
in the knifelike ridge that separates bowlderfield from Glacier Gorge.
The wind forced up the slope from below tore through Keyhole like water
through a fire hose. One at a time we attempted to crawl through, but
it hurled us back. Together, each holding to his fellow, we braced
against the side walls, clung to little nubs on the floor, and edged
forward an inch at a time. Even so we were blown back like so much
We dropped back down below Keyhole and, creeping beneath some rocks,
waited for daylight. No matter how far we crawled beneath the jumbled
slabs the wind found us out. We shivered, all huddled together for
warmth, and waited for dawn to light our way and to calm the hurricane.
At daybreak we managed to get through Keyhole and made our way to
the trough, where we separated, Cooper and Piltz following the trail to
the top while I descended the trough toward Glacier Gorge. We had
agreed to watch for silent signals, since it was impossible to hear
even the loudest calls more than a few feet.
In a little patch of sand not much larger than my hand, I discovered
a human footprint, with a dog's track imposed upon it. I wigwagged to
my companions, received their answering signal, and went on down the
trough, whistling to the dog and shouting his name though I could not
hope he would hear me above that gale. I searched beneath every likely
slab as I went.
Suddenly the dog appeared atop a huge rock. He howled in answer to
my call; the wind blew him off his post and he disappeared. I hastened
forward; then paused. What would I find beneath the rock? Resolutely I
started to crawl beneath itand met Miss Broughm coming out. She was
cold, her lips were blue and cracked, but she had not given up hopes or
lost her courage. With her hair blowing like the frayed remnants of a
flag, she stood beside the bowlder and smiled a brave if twisted smile.
She was too cold to walk unaided, so as soon as the others came up, we
all supported her and started upon the return trip. We reached the
hotel between ten and eleven o'clock in the morning with our lost lady
still smiling wanly but rapidly recovering the use of her limbs. She
retired for a few hours and reappeared in time for luncheon, little the
worse for her night out on top of the world.
A compass is limited in its usefulness partly because it is
sometimes, though rarely, affected by mineral deposits and goes wrong,
but mostly because a lost person seldom thinks he is lost and traveling
in the wrong direction, but instead doubts the accuracy of the compass.
At most he will admit he is off the trail, but he does not think that
is synonymous with being lost. His tracks will record the uncertainty
of his mind, wavering, haphazard, indefinite, but he will not admit,
even to himself, that he is lost.
There are a few general rules followed by searchers for lost people.
If the proposed destination or general direction in which they
disappeared is known, the rescuers take the trail and track them. Every
trail, even across windswept bare rocks high above the timberline, as
is the Long's Peak trail, has occasional deposits of soft sand in which
footprints may be imprinted. And as I have said before, the area which
must be searched is restricted by confining cliffs and ridges. A lost
person who cannot find his way back over the trail he has come, shows
wisdom in following down a stream which will eventually bring him to
habitations in the valley below.
Whether or not searching parties start out at once for the
unfortunate climber depends on the character of the country he was
bound for. If his goal is the summit of a high, bleak peak like Long's;
or a glacier, it is imperative to start at once as the temperature
above the timberline is often below freezing, even during the summer
months. But if the country is not so menacing, the searchers delay,
hoping the lost person, like Bo Peep's sheep, will come home unsought,
as indeed he generally does.
Most of the lost are found, but a few persons have vanished never to
be seen again. The Reverend Sampson disappeared supposedly somewhere
along the Continental Divide between Estes Park and Grand Lake, and
though parties made up of guides, rangers and settlers searched for
more than a week, they found no trace of the missing man. I was in the
town of Walden, North Park, late one fall when a woodsman came down
from the mountains west of the Park with some human bones he had found
near the top of the Divide. By the marks on its barrel, the rusty rifle
lying near the bones was identified as one belonging to a man who had
been lost while on a hunting trip thirty years before.
One moonlight night I had an extraordinary and ludicrous experience
with a lost person, though at the time it seemed only exasperating. I
had stepped outside my cabin to drink in the moonshine on my superb
outlook. Across the valley, as clearly as in daylight. Long's Peak and
its neighbors stood out. The little meadow brook shimmered like a
silver ribbon. I walked out to Cabin Rock, a thousand feet above the
valley, and sat down. Coyotes yip-yipped their salutations to the
sailing moon. The murmur of the little brooks rose to my ears, subdued,
distant. I listened for each familiar night sound as one does for the
voices of old friends. I sat entranced, intoxicated with the beauty of
the hour, refreshing my soul, at peace, content.
A strange cry startled me from my reverie, a human cry, faint, as
though far off.
Help! Then a pause. H-e-l-p! Then more urgently: H-E-L-P!
For a few minutes I sat still upon my crag, puzzling. Some one has
stumbled into a bear trap, I thought, or been injured in a fall. After
marking the locality from which the calls came, I ran down my zigzag
trail, and hastened down the valley toward the spot whence the cries
had come. Whenever I came to the open, parklike clearings, I stopped to
listen. The floor of the wide valley had been burned over scores of
years before, and a new growth of lodge-pole pines covered it. These
trees were of nearly uniform height, about fifteen feet, and in places
too dense to permit of passage.
Three miles were covered in record time. Then, thinking that I must
be close to the spot from which the calls had come, I climbed an
upthrust of rock, searched the openings among the trees near by, and
listened intently. I shouted; no reply. For perhaps ten minutes I
waited. Then from far up the valley, close below my cabin, the
distressing calls were repeated.
He's certainly not crippled, I thought. He's traveled nearly as
far as I.
I set off at a run, for I know every little angle of the woods in
the vicinity. But when I arrived, breathless and panting, there was no
answer to my shouts. I gave up the chase in disgust, and started up the
trail toward my cabin. I decided some one was having fun with me.
Midway up the trail to my cabin, I heard the cries again, agonized,
fearful. They came from across the valley, toward the west. Heading for
the peaks! I must stop him! It certainly sounded serious. I'd have to
see it through.
I hurried across the valley, shouting at intervals, stopping to
listen and to look for the person in distress. There was no answer, no
one in sight. As I reached the steep slope, leading upward to the high
peaks, I heard terrified, heart-rending cries, southward, toward the
spot from which the first call had come. It was strange, and maddening,
that I could hear him so distinctly, yet he could not hear me. He was
certainly deaf or very stupid, for he continued calling for help, when
help was pursuing him and yelling at the top of its lungs.
Again calls. This time straight south of my position. It was a
riddle; annoying, yet interesting. Never in my mountain experience had
I encountered such a mystifying situation. However, with grim
determination, but little enthusiasm, I turned south. My curiosity was
aroused. I wanted to see what sort of fool ran around in dizzy circles
yelling for help, yet not waiting for an answer to his supplications,
nor acknowledging my answering shouts.
I was in prime condition, and well warmed up with ten miles of
travel. My endurance was too much for the will-o'-the-wisp. As, for the
second time, I neared the spot from which he had first called, he
shattered the silence with lusty appeals, then broke cover within a
hundred yards of where I followed, hot on his trail. He looked
able-bodied and goodness knows he'd been active, so I withdrew into the
shadows of a thicket to watch what he would do.
After his outcry, he kept mumbling to himselfhis words were
inaudiblelost his voicedon't wonder! Some rooter he'd make at a
football game while he lasted! After muttering a minute, he stopped and
listened intently, as though expecting an answer. Good heavens! He
thinks he can be heard! He moved on, staggering crazily, stumbling,
stopping to look at the shining peaks; then going on aimlessly. Loco,
I circled ahead of him and concealed myself behind an old stump. I
wanted to hear what he was saying. Twice he had crossed the road that
ran down the valley, the only road in that vicinity. From Cabin Rock I
had seen a tent beside it.
As he came toward me, I stepped from behind the stump.
What in time ails you? I roared.
He stared at me and walked completely around me before saying a
Huh, he grunted then. Where'd you come from?
I explained with considerable emphasis that I had come from almost
every point of the compass.
Will you tell me why in Sam Hill you are yelling for help when it's
as light as day? I demanded hotly.
I'm lost, he said meekly.
Lost! I yelled.
He nodded shamefacedly.
Went fishing and couldn't find my camp again, he confessed.
I recalled the tent beside the road, I'd seen from Cabin Rock. It
was the only camp, on the only road in the vicinity.
Why in thunder didn't you follow the road?
Didn't know which way to go, he defended.
There's the Peak! I gibed, pointing upward; plain as day. Your
camp is straight east of itdidn't you know that?
He winced, but did not answer.
Couldn't you see the Peak? I insisted. You couldn't help but
Yes, he admitted. I saw the Peak, but I thought it was in the
CHAPTER TWELVE. DREAMERS OF GOLDEN
What with my hunting, trapping, exploring, cabin-building and
guiding, my boyish dreams of striking it rich and sending home
trainloads of glittering nuggets to my parents, who had been frustrated
by illness in their trek across the plains to the golden mountains of
Colorado, began to fade into the background. I was engrossed in getting
acquainted with my wild neighbors, in learning their habits and
customs, and in trying to photograph them in their natural habitat.
Moreover there was no rich gold ore in the vicinity of my cabin. Though
I was greatly disappointed in this fact at the time, I have since
become reconciled to it. After seeing the naked, desolate, scarred-up
country around Central City, Cripple Creek, Ouray and other mining
localities, I am thankful that no such madness will ever tempt men to
despoil the beauties of the region around Estes Park.
But if there was no paying gold in the vicinity, there were plenty
of prospectors. The slopes above the Parson's ranch were gophered all
over by them. There were miles of outcrop showing and all bore traces
of gold. Every summer some wanderer came probing among the countless
holes sure he'd find riches where others had failed. The most
persistent one was called Old Mac who returned repeatedly. Late one
fall he took up his quarters in a log cabin belonging to a mining
company. The cabin stood near Long's Peak trail, at an altitude of
about ten thousand feet. There they had cached some left-over supplies.
Old Mac, forever dreaming, stumbled on to the cache and decided to take
up his residence there.
Through October and November I saw Old Mac frequently as he pottered
about the mine or picked up ore samples from the dump. He staked half a
dozen claims, marked their locations, and dug some new holes to test
the mineral. In December, when deep snows came, I left the region.
When I returned in the spring the snow lay deep and undisturbed
about the old cabin. Evidently Old Mac had got out before winter set
in. However, I shouted his name, more in the spirit of talking to
myself than of expecting a reply. I was surprised to hear a faint
reply. From inside the cabin came a creaking as though some one were
getting out of bed. Then the door opened and the old man, blinking
owlishly, stood before me. His long white hair was unkempt and tangled.
He yawned and stretched like a bear emerging from its winter
Came up to bring them papers? he asked, expectantly. I recalled
then, when I last saw him in December, that he had asked to borrow some
Denver papers that contained information about the Reno gold rush. I
had forgotten about them. I explained and apologized.
What sort of a winter have you put in? I asked by way of diverting
He looked at me in a sort of maze.
Winter? he mumbled perplexed. It's sure settin' in like it meant
business. But I'm plannin' to start a tunnelgot a rich vein I want to
uncoverthink come spring I'll have her where somebody'll want to
build a mill an'
But you told me you were going to Reno, I recalled.
Yep; I am, come spring, he earnestly assured me.
Do you know the date? I shot at him.
He looked at me sheepishly.
No-o-o, don't reckon I do, he admitted, scratching his head and
eying me quizzically.
Must be about Christmas, ain't it? he guessed at length.
It was the eighth of May!
Old Mac was a typical prospector. They are all queer, picturesque
characters, living in a world of golden dreams, oblivious to everything
but the hole they are digging, the gold they are sure to find. They
have a fanatical, unshakable, perennial faith in every prospect hole
they open, no matter how many have been false leads. They are
incorrigible optimists, the world's champion hopers. Unkempt,
unhurried, dreaming, confiding, trustful, superstitious, they wander
the length of the Rockies, seeking the materialization of their golden
visions. They are seekers, far more concerned with finding gold than
with digging it out. Like hunting dogs, their interest ceases with the
capture of their quarry.
They do not care whether the region they propose to search has been
scientifically tested and thought to contain gold. They adhere to the
miner's adage, Gold is where you find it; and they seem to have some
occult power of divination for they have uncovered fabulous fortunes in
regions which, like Cripple Creek, had been declared barren of gold.
Yet, as the old settlers say, Prospectors never get anything out of
their finds. Having struck it rich, they take to the trail again, to
search endlessly, to probe ceaselessly, with patient faith, the
In addition to their seemingly occult power of divining the location
of earth's hidden treasure, these rugged old men of the mountains
possess a mysterious means of learning news of gold strikes. Let a
bonanza strike be made and every prospector in the region will be on
his way to the new camp within a few hours.
How did you know that gold had been struck at Caribou? I asked an
old man whom I met on the trail, driving his pack burro ahead of him,
hurrying considerably for a prospector.
He looked at me, scratched his head, spanked the burro and started
on. No doubt regretting his discourteous silence, he turned, I knowed
they was agoin' to, he told me.
Nearly every prospector has a little pack burro, that seems to
absorb all the patient philosophy of its master. To his shaggy
burden-bearer, he gives his last flapjack, tells his golden dreams,
confides the location of rich veins of ore, and turns for comfort when
the false lead plays out. The knowing animal provides that rarest of
companionship, a sympathetic, silent, attentive listener.
Most of the prospectors I have met on the trails were old men,
working alone, but two do sometimes cast their lot together, and become
The story I heard told once around a campfire, of two old
prospectors who were always quarreling, is characteristic. Many times
they separated, each to go his own way; sometimes they merely set up
separate camps a few yards apart, refusing to speak or to take any
notice of each other. Thus they bickered, fought and made up, close to
forty years. They staked claims wherever they discovered promising
outcrop. They were familiar with a hundred miles of ragged mountain
After all those years, old and failing, they fell out over some
trivial thing and separated for good. One traveled north, the other
south. Both struck fine mineral that promised to make their dreams come
true. But neither was content. Each wanted the other's companionship
and yet each feared that pride would keep his poor partner from
accepting his advances. They grew morose, and finally both blew up
their holdings to conceal their riches and headed back along the Divide
to meet, face to face, the partner they had deserted.
Prospectors are philosophers, without hurry or worry. They meet each
situation as it arises calmly, and let to-morrow take care of its own.
When food and dynamite give out, they make a pilgrimage to the foothill
towns and with alluring tales of leads, lodes and veins of hidden
treasure soon to be revealedjust as soon as they have time to do a
little more development workthey secure another grub stake and are on
their way to high country again. They always find willing listeners,
for the heart of many a less daring, conservative business man is in
the hills. The listeners are easily inveigled into staking these old
beggars, hypnotized and hypnotizing with dreams, and do it again and
again, gambling on the next strike being a lucky one. The man who
furnishes a grub stake shares half and half with the prospector he
No matter how little they have, prospectors will share with anyone
who comes their way. Their hospitality is genuine, though perforce
limited. They invite you first, and learn who you are and what your
business may be later.
One day I was picking my way down the bogs and marshes of Forest
Cañon. All at once it narrowed, boxing up between high walls. To go on
I had either to climb the walls or back-track for some distance. I
elected to climb. After the struggle up the face of the rock I sat down
No one within miles, I panted as I sat down.
Don't look like there's ever been anyone here, I added as I
recalled the way I had come.
What ya take me fur?
Ten feet away, standing motionless beside an old stump, stood a
cadaverous fellow whose rags suggested the moss that hung from the
Hungry? he shot at me before I recovered from my surprise. Camp's
He led the way with all the poise of a gentleman.
But his camp! Beside an old tunnel that plunged beneath the side
wall of the cañon was a lean-to. Upon green boughs were spread a single
pair of ragged blankets. His campfire still smoldered. Upon its coals
were his only culinary utensils, an old tin bucket, in which simmered
his left-over coffee, and a gold pan containing a stew. The pan had
seen better daysand worse ones, too, for one side of its rim was
gone, and the bottom had been cleverly turned up to form a new one,
making it semi-circular with a straight side.
Prospectin'? my host ventured, eying me dreamily.
No, lookin', I told him.
Humph. Then, Hope you find it.
But his curiosity ended there.
Say, if you're wantin' ter see sum'thin' good, looka that.
He tossed over a piece of quartz.
Got er whole mountain uf it, he jerked his head toward the tunnel.
He lowered his voice, glanced around, beckoned me to follow, and led
the way inside his mine.
At the edge of the darkness he halted, returned to the entrance and
peered about. Then he leaned close that none might hear, and whispered
the secret; the old, old secret no prospector ever keeps. Not that
prospectors have anything to keep!
Another time, in the rough region west of Ypsilon Mountain, I came
upon a lean, wiry little old man leading a burro. He jerked at the lead
rope in vain attempt to hurry the phlegmatic animal.
Com' on, durn ye, he squeaked as he tugged at the rope. Don't ye
know we're tracin' the float? Lead's right close now.
But the burro was of little faith. He had lost his youthful
enthusiasm. He carried all his master's possessions (except his golden
dreams) on his back, but his pack was light.
So engrossed was the old man that he passed within fifty yards of
where I sat without seeing me. He was oblivious to everything but what
might lie hidden on the mountainside. The float would lead to a bonanza
strike, a mill would be built to handle the ore, a town would spring
uphis town, named in his honor as the discoverer of the lead! He
mumbled of these things as he worked. Sometimes he paused, looking
abstractedly at the peaks above, without apparently seeing them at all.
He babbled incoherently of leads, floats, lodes and veins.
His actions were like those of a dog puzzling out the faint trail of
a rabbit that had crossed and crisscrossed its own trail until nothing
could track it down. Somewhere on the mountain above was the source of
the float. The old man edged up the slope, tacking back and forth
across the line of scattered quartz. He located the vein at last by
trenching through a carpet of spruce needles.
He set up camp and started digging, so I dropped down the cañon
towards the Poudre River. But a week later, upon my return, he was
still there. He had located his claim and staked his corner. His
location notice, laboriously written with a blunt pencil, was fastened
to a tree. The burro lay in philosophical contemplation in the grass
beside the stream; while his master sat beside the shallow hole that
perhaps marked the beginning of a mine. His pose was that of a
sentinel. He watched the hole with an expectant air, as though from it
something important would presently emerge, and he was waiting to
pounce upon it.
Years later when I passed that way again, the hole was no deeper,
but the frayed remnants of the location notice flapped in the breeze.
Only once in a quarter of a century have I seen a prospector hurry.
It was while I was guiding a party of Eastern folks across the Rabbit
Ear range that we met a gangling fellow named Shorty, by way of
contrast. I say he was hurrying, because he held a straight course
across the mountains without paying heed to numberless diverting leads
he ordinarily would have sampled.
Shorty was heading for Central City, where mining had been in full
blast for forty years. He had no burro, he had cached his tools at the
scene of his last camp. He had had a dream that revealed to him the
location of a rich vein, right in the midst of miles of mines, but
unsuspected and undiscovered. Every prospector has dreams by day as
well as by night.
My party loaned Shorty some grub and watched him disappear toward
the Mecca of his dreams. Just before he left, Shorty confided to us
that his dream vein lay just below a big bowlder and above some tall
trees; that he knew the vein was right thereand it was.
To my cabin one day, came Slide-Rock Pete, who dwelt in a realm of
unreality. Pete was superstitious after the manner of his tribe. He
knew all the luck signs, all the charms (good or bad), and he had
conjured up counter-charms against ill omens. As he approached my cabin
a visiting cat, a black one, crossed his path. Pete promptly turned
around three times in the opposite direction to that in which the cat
had gone and calmly entered, secure in his belief that he had broken
pussy's dark spell. He was afflicted with rheumatism, which prevented
him from prospecting. At length he figured out the cause of his trouble
and a cure for it. It wasn't dampness, or rainy weather, he told me,
but came from camping near mineral deposits. If he chanced to pitch his
camp near mineral, especially iron, it caused his rheumatics to come
For protection he bought a compass with which we went over proposed
camp sites. If the compass showed variation or disturbance, he
abandoned the site. And once when the compass was out of order, he
camped, unconsciously, at a spot where there was iron. Then as his
rheumatism developed he found that his watch had stopped. Later when
his aches at last left him, his watch started ticking of its own
accord. His watch was so sympathetic that it couldn't bear to run when
he couldn't walk! But when he felt good, it was so joyous it ran ahead
to make up for lost time. Then he set it right by squinting at the sun!
No matter what queer beliefs prospectors have they are never
I had camped near the old Flattop trail at a spot where, sometime
before, I had cached some food supplies. It was early in September. No
wind reached the bottom of the cañon where I slept beside my fire. I
awoke at the sound of a voice and sleepily I opened my eyes. No one
would be traveling at nightsurely I had been dreaming. But nothere
If I kin git the hole ten feet deeper before snow flies, I'll have
something to show that ole skinflint at the lake.
I sat up wondering. Then I remembered the voice. It was old Sutton,
a prospector I had known for many yearsone of the typical, plodding,
babbling old fellows who live only in their dreams.
My camp was in the shelter of small spruces while my visitor stood
in the open. Playfully I picked up an empty tin can and tossed it into
the air, that it might fall close beside him. At the fall of the can,
the man spun around suddenly, and, walking over to it, prodded it with
the stick he carried.
Gosh dern! he exclaimed; funny how things happen.
He stood in silence, looking down at the can.
Then I dropped another close to him. He muttered something
unintelligible. The third and fourth cans made him hop around like a
surprised robin beneath an apple tree, with fruit pelting the ground
near it. At length he hobbled off, talking to himself about a new lead
he had found, without solving the mystery of the tin cans dropping from
a clear night sky.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN. THE CITY OF
For days I had been on the trail, or, rather, off it, for there were
no trails in the high country through which I was traveling, excepting
those made by game. I was hungry. The region lacked charm. It is
difficult for a boy to appreciate scenery on a two-day-old empty
stomach, which he has been urging up mountains and joggling down
valleys. Had the bunnies been more accommodating and gone into their
holes so I could snare them or smoke them out, or the grouse had been
less flighty when I flushed them, and remained near enough so I could
reach them with my stones, I might have stretched my food supply over
the extended time of my unexpectedly prolonged travels. But no such
good luck attended me on that excursion. The very first day I slipped
off a foot-log while crossing a saucy little mountain brook and bruised
my shin, tore my trousers and injured my camera. Like most small boys,
I regretted that gratuitous bath. I began to wonder if Slide-Rock Pete
was so crazy after all.
Now the clouds were pinning themselves up to dry on the pointed
summits of the peaks, and were already beginning to drip on the world
below. Darkness threatened to set in early. I knew I ought to stop and
make camp while it was still light enough to see, but I kept on going,
hoping something might turn up. My empty stomach growled its
disapproval, but I stubbornly ignored its protests. While my better
judgment, my stomach and myself were all three arguing, I thought I
glimpsed a building, far down on the slope below. Too excited to say I
told you so to my companions, I quickened my steps and headed toward
it. A prospector! If he has any grub at all he'll share it, and I'll
be protected from this downpour. By that time the celestial
laundresses were emptying out their wash tubs and sloshing water all
over the earth.
When I drew near the shack, I discovered it was one of a group of
straggling houses scattered along the sides and bottom of the gulch. A
settlement! It was dark by then, yet not a light could I see. Must go
to bed with the chickens, I mused. I hope they won't mind being
gotten up to give a wayfarer shelter and a bite to eat.
On my way down the slope, I passed two or three log cabins but these
were silent, apparently empty, and I hastened on to the main group
which faced on the single, grass-grown road that ran along the bottom
of the gulch, intending to knock at the first which showed signs of
life. I walked the length of the sprawling road, looking sharply at
each house, listening for voices, a chance word or a peal of laughter.
Not a sound greeted my ears except the thud of rain upon sod roofs, the
drip of water through stunted, scraggly trees.
Here was something queer; I thought of Slide-Rock Pete and his luck
charms. I regretted more than ever that I had not got a single bunny. I
felt the need of a rabbit's foot.
Shaking myself to shed rain and forebodings, I crossed the street
and knocked boldly upon the door of the nearest house. There was no
response. Again I knocked, louder and more insistently. My raps came
echoing back emptily. I knocked again. A door, creaking on rusty
hinges, swung slowly inward, but no one peered out, inviting me to
enter. I backed away from the yawning cavern, blacker than the starless
night, into the open road. A little saw-whet owl, seeking, as I was,
supper, swooped by on muffled wings, and sawed wood, saying nothing. I
jeered back at him, and felt my courage rising. I stepped up resolutely
to the next house and beat upon its door. There was instant commotion,
a rattling of pans, the clink of dishes as though some one hurried to
the door. Straightening up and facing the door expectantly, I smiled in
anticipation of a hospitable welcome. Then the sounds ceased. My
courage oozed awayan unreasonable fear crept over me. I lost my
desire for food and restI would as soon have rested in a grave.
Once more I stood in the rutted street, searching its brief length
for a human form. I had the feeling that the inhabitants of the town
were somewhere about, that they had just stepped out, leaving their
doors unlocked against their early return. Perhaps there was a dance or
a celebration of some sort in the neighboring village. Strange some one
didn't stay behind.
The sudden eerie notes of a coyote caused my hair to liftwhy
couldn't the brute respect the silence? The wind stirred uneasily,
doors banged about me. The uncanny spell of the place overcame my last
shred of couragemy feet started down the road of their own volition.
I found myself breathing hard, running fast. I jerked to a standstill,
laughing sheepishly at my fearsashamed. Then I faced about,
determined to stay.
Something touched my elbows. I sprang ten feet and whirled, on the
defensive. A dark, horned form stood before me. My muscles tensed for
another sprint, I held my breath. The thing moved; I made out the
outline of a burro. I breathed again, relieved. Here at last was
something alive, something natural in this desert of silence. I wished
the animal would bray, but he only nosed my pockets suggestively. I
laid my hand upon him gratefully, and found he too was in sore straits,
his coat as ragged as my own, his sides corrugated like a huge
washboard. My spirits rose, my forebodings were forgotten. Hello, I
called joyfully. What are you doing here?
Again he smelled my pockets, wagging his great ears the while, then
Sorry, pal, I apologized.
The little beggar's attitude expressed such dejection I laughed.
Never mind, old fellow. We'll go find something. There must be
I started out to renew my search and he followed at my heels. So,
together, we wandered down the street on a tour of investigation. His
coat was so black that often I could not distinguish him from the
darker shadows that filled the street. At every door he crowded forward
expectantly, focusing his long ears as though to catch the first
Nearly every door was ajar. The log cabins were small, two or three
rooms at the most, and easily searched. Their owners had apparently
taken only their most portable and necessary possessions, for nearly
every cabin contained something of value, bed springs, bunks, suspended
by wire from the rafters, tables, chairs, dishes, cooking utensils,
even miners' tools. One had a row of books upon its stone mantel. When
we came to the one where sounds had answered my knocking, I paused
before the door, hesitating to intrude. That first creepy feeling stole
over me. I put my hand on the burro's neck. I jerked the latchstring
and pushed open the door. The room was dark and silent. When I struck a
match, there was a rapid scurrying of rats, darting for shelter.
My burly bodyguard never once left my side. He waited patiently for
my report, when I emerged from each cabin, and accepted with
philosophical resignation my decision to postpone further search till
Early next morning I was up and out, further to explore the village.
No one had returned home, there was no doubt now that it was deserted.
In one of the cabins I found some salt which I divided with the burro.
Another yielded a little flour. I prepared a sticky mixture of flour
and water, seasoned with salt, and cooked it in one of the fireplaces.
When baked, it had the firmness of granite, but my appetite had a
cutting edge, and the burro, no more particular, accepted the hardtack,
and crunched it greedily.
After breaking our fast, to say nothing of our teeth, we continued
ouryes, excavations; for out of the dust and neglect of years of
desertion, we dug the history of a buried past, of a forgotten
civilization, where men had worked, women had loved and sacrificed, and
little children had laughed and played.
[Illustration: Out of the dust of years, we dug the history of a
One of the houses had evidently held the post office, for in it was
a small cabinet holding a few pieces of uncalled-for mail addressed to
various persons. There were unopened letters and papers, bearing the
postmarks of towns back East; there were packages, showing marks of
long journeys, still intact, their cords still tightly knotted. Many of
the letters had been forwarded from other Western post offices, and had
followed the men to whom they were addressed to this, then alive, town
The postmaster had apparently been a notary public. His book of
records lay dusty on the shelf, near what had been the post office.
Upon it, too, were filed copies of mining claims. The Grizzly King,
Decoration Day, Lady Forty, Queen Victoria, Tom Boy, Last
Chance, Deep Water, Black Mule, Hope Ever, fantastic,
picturesque names, suggesting many a tale of romance and adventure,
revealing the hopes and fears of daring hearts.
Something of these was hinted at in an open letter lying on the
floor of one of the cabins. It was worn thin where it had been creased,
as though its owner had long carried it around in his pocket, the
better to read and reread it. The wind had pried into it, leaving it
spread open for the next intruder's convenience. Somehow, I felt those
frank spirits would not mind my reading it:
Hope you strike it rich in Teller, the new town you wrote about.
Most anything out there would beat what we have here. Corn is all dried
up in Iowa, and there's little to live on. Quite a lot of the neighbors
have pulled up stakes and moved to Kansas. Ten wagons left last week,
following the road west which so many have taken for better or worse.
The last and smallest cabin in the town was as clean and tidy as
though its owner might have been gone but a few days. Upon the table
was a worn and frayed little book, weighted down by a rough piece of
ore, a sort of diary, and yet it seemed to be written to some one. I
copied extracts from it into my own notebook:
My dear KatherineI believe I've struck it rich at last. There was
a rush up here three months ago, and I came in soon as the news reached
Cheyenne. Must have been several hundred in the race to get here
firstabout twenty of us won out. I filed on several claims and tried
to hire men to help me do assessment work; but no one would work for
wages. Everyone is raving crazy, bound to strike it rich, and working
double shift to hold as many claims as possible.
Katy, dear, it's been a month since I started this letter. Things
have settled down here now, and the fly-by-nights have vanished. But
there's a few of us sticking to our holes with the notion if we go deep
enough they'll pan out rich. But there's no way of...
They came for me to help with a poor fellow who got hurt when his
tunnel caved in on him. Guess he'll make a die of it too. Seems
terrible, just when he thought he had struck a bonanza, to be killed
that way. Makes me lonesome to think how things turned out for him.
I've got a secret cache straight west of my cabin, forty-eight
steps. Under a big rock I've hid a buckskin sack with the golddust
another fellow and I panned from a bar in the Colorado river. It's not
so very much; but it'll help out in a pinch.
Kate, this camp's played out. I'm quitting, disgusted. After all the
hard work here there's nothing rich; just low-grade stuff that won't
pay freighting charges. Maybe if we had a millbut there's no use
talking mill, when every fellow here is in the same fixon his last
legs. We got to get out or starve; we're all living on deer and wild
sheep, but its getting so we can hardly swallow it much longer. I'll
let you know as soon...
It was unfinished.
The sides of the gulch were gophered with prospect holes, most of
them very shallow, with little mounds of dirt beside them, like the
graves of dead hopes. Occasionally a deeper hole had picked samples
from the ore vein it followed piled near its opening. Likewise,
outside, some of the cabin doors were little heaps of choice ore which
hopeful owners had brought in against the time when shipments would be
made, or an ore mill set up near by.
I had chanced upon an abandoned mining town, left forever as
casually as though its residents had gone to call upon a neighbor.
There are many such in the mountains of Colorado. During the early gold
rushes, when strikes were made, mining towns sprang up overnight, and
later when leads played out or failed to pan out profitably, or rumor
of a richer strike reached the inhabitants, they deserted them to try
their luck in new fields of promise. Often they were eager to be the
first ones in on the new finds and left without preparation or notice,
trailing across mountains and through cañons, afoot, each anxious to be
the first man on the ground, to have his choice of location, to stake
his claim first. They could not carry all their household goods on
their shoulders, nor pack them on a burro's back, and to freight them
over a hundred miles of mountain trails cost more than the purchase of
new goods in the new town. So they departed with only such necessities
as they could carry, and abandoned the rest to pack rats and chance
wanderers such as I.
So these towns, born of their high hopes, died, as their dreams
flickered out, and were abandoned when new hopes sprung up in their
I forgot my hunger in unraveling the mysteries of the silent
village, but my companion showed no such inclination. Being a pack
burro, and having a prospector for a master, he had come to look upon
tragedy with a philosophical eye. No doubt he had seen deserted towns
before, and been the innocent victim of the desertion. He grew bored as
I lingered over letters and the other evidence of bygone days and
nudged me frequently to remind me of our original object in searching
the cabins. At last he protested with a vigorous, Aww-hee-awwhee,
a-w-w-h-e-e Remembering his loyalty of the night before, to appease
him I left off rummaging in those dust-covered cabins.
All right, pal, I'll come. We'll leave this grave-yard right away
and try our luck at fishing.
He seemed to understand for he capered about like a playful puppy.
I knew of several small streams below the town, alive with trout. I
headed for the nearest one, the burro plodding patiently behind,
The smell of smoke, coffee, and other camp odors came up the trail
to meet us. Soon we came abruptly in sight of two prospectors who were
eating a belated breakfast.
Reckon you better have a bite with us, invited one of the men as
he set the tin-can coffee pot upon the coals of their fire.
Thet thar burro bin a pesterin' you? asked the second man, fixing
the burro with a searching gaze.
Oh, no! I denied, remembering my debt to the animal. We put in
the night together, and he even ate some of my hardtack this morning,
I ended laughing.
He's the tarnationist critter, always a galavantin' roun', an' a
gittin' inter somebody's grub.
The burro chose to overlook these insults and drew near the fire,
unostentatiously. The old prospector slipped him part of his breakfast.
Which way you headin'? asked the first man, plainly puzzled
because I carried neither gun nor mining tools.
To climb Arapahoe peak.
Climb the peak, he repeated, much mystified.
What's the idear? the second wanted to know. Goin' way off thar
jes' to git up a mountain, when thar's plenty right hyar, higher ones
too? He indicated the ranges to the east.
Any place up that way to get out of the rain? I asked, for the
clouds were dropping again with the threat of gathering storm.
The men exchanged glances. Abruptly the small one got to his feet
and led the burro out of sight among the willows. The other man faced
Better take a friend's advice and keep outen there, he swept a
grimy hand westward.
Better do your climbin' round hyar, he replied suggestively.
But I want to climb Arapahoe; I have heard the Indians used it for
a signal mountain and...
He beckoned me to follow, and led the way into the grove
mysteriously. At length he stopped, peered about uneasily, then
There's an ole cabin up yonderhe faced toward Arapahoethat's
Haunted? my interest quickening, my fears of the depressing night
He noddeddead earnest.
Are you sure about that? Did you ever see the, the
His look silenced me.
Ole feller died up thar, he declared; nobody knows how. His tone
I made a move down the trail, thanking him for the meal.
Wouldn't go, if I wus you, he persisted, following me as far as
Then, as I took the unused trail that led down toward North Park, he
called after me:
Remember, I've warned you!
Fishing was good in the stream a few miles below their camp, and I
soon had all the trout I wanted and was on my way to the round dome of
Arapahoe peak, jutting above some clouds that were banked against its
lower slope. Through the willow flats and a dense forest of spruce, the
way led up between parallel ridges over a game trail, deeply worn and
recently used. I was right upon a log wall before I knew it. Then I
circled and saw that the wall was part of an old cabin built in a
little opening of the forest.
A section of the roof had fallen in and the fireplace had lost part
of its chimney; the slab door had a broken hinge, and swayed uneasily
on the one remaining, and the dirt floor bore no traces of recent
Having gathered wood for the night, for I had no blankets and must
keep the fire burning, I broiled several trout for my supper. How I
relished that meal!
Supper over, I climbed upon a cliff behind the cabin and watched the
moon rise silently above a ridge to the eastward, and listened to the
faint clamor of the coyotes far below. Shadows crept closer to the
cliffs as the moon climbed higher, while from the peaks above came the
moaning of the wind. Never had been such a night!
It was late when I went inside the old cabin, and the fire had
burned low. I put on fresh wood, removed my shoes, and stretched out
before the comforting blaze. I was asleep almost instantly. From time
to time, as had become my habit, I roused enough to feed the fire; then
quickly dropped off to sleep again.
Just when, I am not sure, but I think about midnight, I awoke with a
strange feeling that an unseen presence was in the room. The
prospector's warning came to me vaguely, and I tried to rouse up to
listen, but I dropped back to sleep almost immediately.
Later, coming awake suddenly as though some one had shaken me, I sat
up and, rubbing my eyes to open them, glanced around, but the interior
of the cabin was dark, only the stars sparkled close above the broken
roof. I yawned expansively, rolled nearer the low fire, and fell
The next I knew I heard a thud close to my head, and I was wide
awake upon the instant. I lay still, trying to convince myself that
there was nothing in the cabin but myself; when a hot breath struck my
face. I got up on endso did my hair. I started for the door.
A bulky shadow moved between it and myself. I postponed going in
that direction for the moment and, turning, felt my way to a dark
corner back by the fireplace. From the corner across the hearth came a
faint sound. Thinking the time propitious for a prompt exit, I felt my
way along the wall, turned the corner and made for the door.
Unfortunately, my uninvited guest had the same thought, for as I
sprang for the opening, I bumped into him, and the creaky slab door
banged shut, leaving the cabin blacker than ever.
An idea shot through my head. If the visitor, whatever it washa'nt
or otherwisewanted the location near the door, it could have it. Far
be it from me to be discourteous. I groped my way back to the
fireplace, stumbling over my wood as I went. I had a fleeting notion to
fling fresh wood on the fire which had almost burned out. Again I
collided with my dusky visitor.
I hesitated no longer. I would vacate the cabin instantly, for good
and all, without stopping to gather up my few belongings. Across the
dirt floor I dashed, grabbed the creaky door and jerked it open.
But before I could dart through I was shoved aside. In panic I
sought that exit, but was buffeted about, and finally knocked headlong
on the ground.
Thoroughly scared, I leaped to my feet, ready to run.
Standing a few feet in front of me, big ears thrust forward
inquiringly, was the friendly burro of the night before.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN. BEARS AND BUGBEARS
In my childish estimation, bear stories rivaled the tales of mad
gold rushes, thundering bisons and savage Indians. No chore was so hard
nor so long but that I managed to complete it in time to take my place
in the fireside circle and listen to accounts of those huge animals
that lived in the Rocky Mountains and were fiercer than any other bears
in the world. Ursus horribilis, my father called them, and a
delicious little shudder would run down my back at the sound of the
words. There was talk, too, of hunters who had tracked these monsters
to their lairs and overcome them. Early I decided that when I went
West, I would become, besides other things, a mighty bear hunter. The
cows I drove to pasture were ursus horribilis (how I reveled in those
words!) fleeing before me, and I was stalking them through the wilds
with rifle upon my arm, and pistol and hunting knife in my belt! I
planned to discard the ragged overalls and clumsy clodhoppers of the
farm, as soon as I reached the mountains, for smoke-tanned, Indian-made
buckskin suit and moccasins, all beaded and fringed. I wondered if the
Indians wore coonskin caps like Davy CrockettI felt it absolutely
necessary that I should have one to wear to meet my first bear.
My first venture into the woods below the Parson's ranch I remember
vividly, because I was filled with eager, yet fearful anticipation. I
expected to meet a grizzly around every bowlder. I kept wondering how
fast a bear could run; I halted frequently beside trees, for I
remembered my father's saying grizzlies did not climb, so I planned to
shin up the tallest tree in the woods should one come in sight. In my
dreams back on the farm, my only fear had been lest all the grizzlies
be killed before I reached the Rockies; barring such dire calamity, I
had never had a doubt of my prowess. But somehow, when at last I found
myself alone in the dark forest, it seemed the better part of valor to
postpone the actual encounters until I should become more skillful with
my old black-powder rifle. So obsessed was I by the thought of bears
that on my first excursions into the wilds, a rock never rolled down a
slope nor dropped from a cliff, a crash sounded in a thicket, but that
I was sure a bear was mysteriously responsible. I dreamed of them, day
and night, until they became bugbears, grizzly bugbears!
Considering my long-avowed intentions, my first camp alone in the
Wild Basin country was not entirely unfortunate, for there, that first
exciting afternoon, I met a bear face to face. Of course, I gave him
the right of way. Was I not the intruder and he the rightful resident?
Though years have elapsed since I dropped my rifle and sped in instant
flight down the mountain side toward camp, I still like to think that
my marvelous speed discouraged ursus horribilis and, therefore, he
During my first summer in the mountains, I saw bears several times,
in each instance going about their business and making no move to
attack me. After these glimpses of them I gathered courage and decided
to postpone my career as a hunter no longer. Bears were the objectives
of my hunting expeditions, but they always succeeded in eluding me.
Many times in stalking them I came upon fresh tracks showing they had
broken into flight at my approach. One day I turned homeward,
empty-handed, and learned later I had been within gunshot of one
without catching sight of him.
Gradually my respect for them grew. The one I had watched stalk the
marmot increased my admiration of their cunning. I eventually learned
that they are extremely alert and agile, despite their seemingly stupid
lumbering about, that they employ keen eyes and sensitive ears and
high-power noses to the best advantage. As my respect for them grew, my
ambition to become a mighty hunter of them gave way to a desire to
learn more about them, to observe them in their natural state and study
their habits. Just as they had inspired the most heroic dreams of my
childhood, so they came to interest me more than any other animal of
To the south of the Parson's ranch lay a wild, rugged region, which
I called the bad lands on account of its jungle of woods, streams,
swamps and terminal moraines, where bowlders of all sizes had been
deposited by an ancient glacier. Through this tangle it was impossible
to move without making noise, for a fire had swept over it and young
lodge-pole trees had sprung up so close together that it was impossible
to move without crashing into them. It was while on hands and knees in
one of these thickets of new growth that I came upon bear tracks. The
tracks were the largest I had even seen, so I gripped my gun tightly
and peered about warily. The tracks pointed west, so I headed east,
crashing through the trees ponderously, giving an occasional yell to
help the bear keep out of my way.
I had gone about a hundred yards and was congratulating myself on my
escape, when, to my horror, I discovered fresh tracks paralleling mine.
Altering my course I went on, shouting vigorously, but with less
confidence of scaring the bear out of the region.
In this extremity I recalled a bit of advice the Parson had given
Don't ever let on you're afraid, he cautioned me one day, because
if you do the animal may turn on you.
With this in mind I faced about, took up the bear's trail, and with
ready rifle, followed it. I kept looking behind me, to the right and to
the left. The wind was blowing snow off the high peaks above and it
made the tracks easily followed, for it kept them fresh. They turned
aside, angled off, tacked and came back close to their first line.
Around and around I trailed. A dozen times I stopped with my heart in
my mouth, the rifle at my shoulder, but my alarm was occasioned by some
other denizen of the wilds. Twice deer crashed away and left me rooted
fast; and once, a cock grouse took the air from a rock just above my
head, and nearly precipitated a stampede.
Finally I gave up the chase and started home, still watching warily
for the bear. Better to guard against attack I climbed a little ridge
that overlooked the irregular openings through which I had been
trailing; and up there, paralleling my course, were bear tracks. Bruin
had been craftily looking me over from his higher position. I at once
advised that bear, by every means at my command, that he was no longer
being hunted, and I made tracks for home as fast as my legs would let
me, watching warily, or bearily, in all directions.
The Parson laughed heartily when I told of my experience that night
as together with Aunt Jane we sat before the glowing fire of his
hearth. Despite Aunt Jane's gentle excuses for me, I felt ashamed and
determined to return next day and take up the bear's trail. Running
away from an unseen bear was ludicrous, not to say cowardly. But I
comforted myself with the assurance that even the Parson might have no
other chance to run, if the bear saw him first!
The bad lands became the scene of many a hide-and-seek game, with
the animals slipping silently away as I blundered along behind,
puzzling out their trails, and imagining I was stalking them unawares.
My many failures, while discouraging, were fruitful of experience, for
I learned to hunt up-wind, thus discounting the high-power noses of the
bears and muffling to some extent my clumsy movements from the deer.
Repeated trips into that rough region informed me that one or two bears
lived there, and that though they often left it to explore some other
region, they eventually returned to their own home range. In tracing
their movements I kept a sort of big-game Bertillon record; only
instead of taking finger-prints, as is done with criminals, I measured
footprints sketching them in my notebook, noting any slight peculiarity
that would distinguish one track from another, and thus made positive
I was compelled to get my information concerning the bears'
movements mostly from their tracks, for they were far too crafty to be
seen in person! They evidently moved on the assumption that vigilance
was the price of life. They used their wits as well as their keen
senses, seemed to reason as well as to have instinct. Moreover they
made use of other animals for their own defense. They were ever alertly
watching the significant movements of their neighbors, for signals of
dangers beyond the range of their own senses. The quiet retreat of a
fox or coyote apprised them of something unusual in the wind; the
sudden up-winging of magpies and jays warned them of the approach of an
enemy. They distinguished between the casual flight of birds and their
flying when bound toward a kill of mountain lion or other beasts of
prey. They were tuned-in on every animal broadcasting station on their
I learned that contrary to the lurid tales of the early explorers
and hunters, they were peace-loving, deeming it no disgrace to run away
from danger and leaving the vicinity as soon as man appeared in it.
True, their curiosity sometimes tempted them to circle back and watch a
man from some secure retreat, and at such times they slipped as
silently from one thicket to another as a fox, sampling the air for
tell-tale odors, standing erect to watch and listen.
Bit by bit, as I learned more about them, I came to revise my early,
gory opinion of them. My impression had been formed chiefly from tales
of Lewis and Clark's expedition; when they made their memorable trip
across the continent, grizzlies were not afraid of men because the
arrows of the Indians were ineffective against them. Whenever food
attracted them to an Indian camp they moseyed fearlessly among the
tepees, helping themselves to it and scattering the redskins. Their
attempts thus to raid white men's camps gave rise to blood-curdling
stories of their savagery, and their fearless, deadly attacks on men.
These tales, while pure fiction, led to the belief that all bears were
bad and should be killed, at every opportunity; and ever since Lewis
and Clark saw the first one, men with dogs and guns, traps and poison
have been on their trail. While I do not believe bears guilty of the
many offenses charged them, I am sure that they had been the life of
the party at many a camp, having been led out of their retirement by
their small-boy curiosity.
In the region where first I followed a bear, or where it followed
me, there ranged two of these animals, each recording a different track
and displaying individual traits which I came to recognize. The smaller
track had short claws that left their prints in the sand or soft
places. In following this track I found that the maker was inclined to
be indolent; that if the digging after a chipmunk was hard he left the
job unfinished and sought easier sources of food. Thus the black bear
that frequented the bad lands loafed across his range, living by the
easiest means possible and rarely exerting himself. Twice when
Blackie's trail crossed that of other black bears, the tracks showed
that all stopped to play, romping much as children romp and showing a
sociable disposition. It was usually late in November before the black
bear denned up for the winter, commonly adapting the shelter beneath
some windfall to make a winter home by enlarging and improving it and
perhaps by raking in some dead pine needles.
At the approach of fall Blackie left off distant wanderings,
conserved energy by little exertion, and thus waxed fat. In the
thickest of the rough jumble I found two of his deserted winter dens to
which he never returned, and once in midwinter I found him out, asleep
beneath some brush over which the snow had drifted. It was the thread
of rising steam from a tiny hole above the den that first attracted my
attention to it, but my nose gave me additional information.
Blackie's tracks showed he had unusually large feet for his pounds,
so I called him Bigfoot. There was a marked difference between
Blackie's and the other tracks I found in the bad-lands. The other
tracks were those of a grizzly, a fact I determined after collecting
evidence for several years, and by sight of the animals themselves.
There was a wide difference, too, in the actions of these animals
whenever anything unusual happened. Blackie, commonly, ran away without
waiting to learn what had caused the alarm. The grizzly displayed
extreme caution, usually standing erect on his hind feet, remaining
motionless, watching for silent signals of other animals and the birds,
swinging his head slowly from side to side, training his high-power
nose in all directions, cocking his ears alertly as a coyote. When he
located the enemy he slipped away noiselessly, followed a trail with
which he was familiar and left the vicinity, perhaps traveling ten or
twenty miles before stopping.
Unlike Blackie, too, the grizzly was a prodigious worker. No job was
too big for him. Often he spent an hour or more in digging out a tiny
titbit such as a chipmunk, and several times in his pursuit of a marmot
he excavated in rockslides holes large enough for small basements.
Daily he traveled many miles, foraging for food as he moved, sometimes
eating swarms of grasshoppers, or stowing away bushels of grass or
other greenery, or uprooting the ground for dogtooth violets of which
he was very fond. Such spots, when he had finished his rooting,
resembled a field which the hogs had plowed up.
In one respect the black bear and the grizzly were alike: they never
seemed to have enough to eat, but had the insatiable appetites of
growing boys; never showing any signs of being finicky, but devouring
everything edible. Ants, hoppers, chipmunks, marmots and rabbits,
comprised their fresh meat; while roots, shoots, bulbs, grass, berries
and practically everything growing served for vegetables. They both
were inordinately fond of honey. Early one fall the grizzly left his
home range and headed for the foothills. More than twenty miles away he
found a bee tree, an old hollow cedar which he tore open. He devoured
both bees and honey, then went lumbering home. Mountain lions made
frequent kills about the region, leaving the carcasses of deer, cattle,
horses and burros, which the bears located with their noses or by the
flight of birds, and gorged themselves; afterward lying down in some
retreat and sleeping long, peaceful hours.
It was because of their scavenger habits that they came to be blamed
for killing the animals upon which they fed. But not once did I find
evidence that they had killed anything larger than a marmot. The
grizzly was always working industriously, from dawn to dark, or at
night; while Blackie dallied, even though making a bear living. He
preferred to go empty rather than to work for food.
Three winters in succession the grizzly climbed to a den in an
exposed spot on the northern slope of Mount Meeker. It was a low
opening beneath a rock, the entrance to which was partially stopped
with loose rubble, raked from inside the cave, and every fall he
renovated it by chinking the larger cracks and by pawing together loose
bits of rock for a bed. As fall approached, his tracks led to it;
apparently he napped inside occasionally to try it out. His ultimate
retirement for winter hibernation depended upon the weather and the
food supply; if the fall were late, with plenty of food, he would still
be about the woods as late as December, while one fall when snow came
early and deep, and so made food unavailable, he disappeared at the end
The grizzly had many individual traits. Not once in the years I
followed him, did he show any desire for others of his kind. He
preferred being alone. His play consisted chiefly of elaborate
stalkings of easily captured animals. If his hunger was appeased for a
time he would turn to hunting grasshoppers. Marking the spot where one
had alighted he would steal forward and pounce upon it as though it
were an animal of size and fighting ability. Again he would take great
pains to waylay a chipmunk, lying motionless while the unwary little
spermophile ventured closer and closer, then, with a lightning-like
slap of a huge paw, he would reduce his victim to the general shape and
thinness of a pancake.
Though the grizzly was somewhat awkward in appearance he could move
with amazing speed, and his strength was incredible. From glimpses I
had of him I estimated his weight at six hundred pounds, but he could
move the carcass of a cow or horse twice that heavy. Once on Cabin
Creek, not many miles from his accustomed haunts, a lion killed a
horse. As he approached the kill, the grizzly circled warily around it,
stood erect to sniff and listen, and growled warningly, informing all
would-be intruders that it was his. When he had eaten his fill, he
dragged the carcass nearly a hundred yards uphill over fallen timber,
into a thicket, where he covered it against the prying eyes of birds,
thinking, I presume, that they would signal other animals of its
The date of his emergence from his den in the spring, like his
holing up in the fall, depended upon the weather. Commonly though, he
hibernated about one-third of the year. When he came out after his long
sleep he was very thin, the great layers of fat he had taken care to
put on before denning up were gone. One year I followed his tracks the
day he came out to learn what he first ate, and was surprised to find
that he scarcely ate at all. Instead of being ravenous, as I had
supposed he would be, he seemed to have no appetite, and barely tasted
a green shoot or two, and a little grass. His claws had grown out over
winter and the tough soles of his feet soon shed off so that, though
born to the wilds, he became a tenderfoot.
Upon two occasions I found the tracks of this bad lands grizzly
far from home; once he was at the edge of a snowbank near Arapahoe
glacier, where he had gone for a frozen grasshopper feast; and another
time, some years later, beyond Ypsilon Mountain, in an old sheep trail
that led toward the headwaters of the Poudre River. He was more than
thirty miles from home and still going.
Experience with men has made the few surviving grizzlies of the
Rockies crafty, and they are instinctively wary. Their habits have been
much the same wherever I have had opportunity of observing them. Their
extreme caution would perhaps lead one to believe them cowards, but
nothing is farther from the truth, for they are fighters of first rank,
and show unrivaled courage as well as lightning-like speed and
prodigious strength in combat. A fighting grizzly is a deadly
antagonist, never giving up, determined to win or die.
When a grizzly turns killer, as occasionally one of them does, you
may depend upon it, there are extenuating circumstances, and any
fair-minded jury would exonerate him of blame. When his home range
becomes settled up and the sources of his natural food are destroyed,
he is forced to seek new haunts and to eat such food as his new
location affords. It is not strange that, constricted in his range by
ranchers and cattlemen, with no opportunity to seek food according to
his instinctive habits, he sometimes turns cattle killer.
His action brands him at once as a bad bear, a killer and his infamy
quickly spreads the length of the mountains. He is blamed for the kills
of mountain lions, and the death of stock killed by chance. He is
hunted, becomes a fugitive from justice, and is kept so continuously on
the move that he has to prey on cattle because he is not given time to
forage in his former manner. Persecution sharpens his faculties; he
eludes his pursuers and their dogs, poisoned bait and traps, with a
shrewdness that puts their so-called intelligence to shame.
It was my rare privilege one day to witness the chase of an accused
killer by a dog pack. I was near timberline in the Rabbit Ear
mountains when first I heard their distant baying and caught sight of
them far down a narrow valley, mere moving specks. Close behind these
small dots were larger ones, men on horseback. A mile ahead of the pack
a lone object galloped into an opening and, as I focused my glasses,
stood erect, listening. It was a grizzly. He paused but a moment, then
tacked up the side of the mountain, crossed the ridge, dropped into a
parallel valley, and doubled back the way he had come. Occasionally I
caught a glimpse of him as he ambled along, seemingly without haste,
yet covering the ground at surprising speed.
Abruptly he left this second valley and recrossed the ridge to the
first, taking up the trail he had been on when the pack disturbed him.
The riders were still upon the ridge when the dogs recrossed it and
started baying up the first valley. When the fresh scent led them back
over the grizzly's first trail, they hesitated, confused, disagreeing
among themselves as to the course to follow: and while the dogs
delayed, the bear abandoned the lower ridges and timbered valleys and
headed toward the cliffs. Here the going was slow. Sometimes he
followed old, deep-worn game trails, but more often he chose his own
way. He climbed up the face of a cliff, following narrow ledges. At the
top, he turned and angled back, arriving at the base of the wall again,
but some distance from the place where he had climbed up, and where he
crossed his own trail, he swung back and forth repeatedly.
Half an hour later, the pack came howling to the cliff, and began
seeking a way up. They scattered, swung back and forth along the
ledges, crossed and recrossed the grizzly's tracks, but seemed unable
to follow the way he had gone, before they finally circled the cliff
and picked up his trail again. The bear's ruse had succeeded, by it he
gained several minutes' lead on his pursuers.
The grizzly emerged above timberline near where I sat and galloped
straight for a pass that overlooked the deep cañons, dark forests and
rocky ridges on the other side of the range. Just before he gained it,
three of the dogs broke cover and gave tongue, wildly excited at the
sight of their quarry, and instantly hot on his trail. The bear coolly
kept his same gait, until just short of the pass, at the top of a
steep, smooth incline between two huge rock slabs, he halted and faced
about, waiting for them to come up. When the dogs, panting and spent
from running, dashed up, he had got his wind and was ready for them.
The three dogs rushed pell-mell up the steep rock. With a deafening
roar, the grizzly struck out right and left. Two of the dogs ceased
howling and lay where they fell, the third turned tail and fled. The
bear, stepping over the dead bodies of his vanquished foes, leisurely
proceeded through the pass and down into the wild country beyond.
I have watched other grizzlies under similar conditions, and they
have all shown the same shrewd, cool, craftiness. They appear to
reason, to plan; their actions indicate forethought, premeditation.
They seem to have not only the marvelous instinct of the animal world,
but also an almost human power to think. They conserve their energy,
bide their time, choose their position and, in short, set the stage to
their own advantage. They have an instinct for the psychological
momentit seems at times that they evolve it out of the chaos of
The Parson said, You never can tell what a bear will do, and I,
for one, believe him. The oddest performance of an individual bear I
ever saw took place over on the banks of the Poudre River. Rambling
through the forest I came, late one evening, upon the camp of two
trappers. They were making a business of trapping and had extensive
trap-lines set throughout the region, mostly for beavers, minks,
bobcats and coyotes, but some for bears too. In a narrow, dry gulch,
one of them had found fresh bear trackshe thought of a medium-sized
black bearleading up to the scattered, bleached bones of a cow.
Tracks about the skull indicated that the bear had rolled it about,
much as a puppy worries a bone. One day the trapper found the skull
hidden in some juniper bushes, and reasoned that the bear returned from
day to day, played with it, then hid it away. So he returned to camp,
got a trap and set it by the beast's toy.
I was eager to learn the outcome of this action, so I gratefully
accepted the trappers' invitation to stay over with them. Next day, I
went along when they visited the trap. To our astonishment, the skull
was gone and the trap still set.
It was easy to trace the culprit for his tracks revealed that his
left front foot was badly twisted, its track pointing in, almost at
right angles, to the tracks of the other three feet, with the clawmarks
almost touching the track of the right front foot. We followed his
trail till we came to a sandy stretch upon which that bear had held
high carnival. He had rolled the skull about, punted it with his good
right paw, and leaped upon it, in mimic attack, as though it were a fat
marmot. Then, playtime over, he had carried it a considerable distance
and cached it beneath some logs.
The trapper returned to camp for another trap, and set it and the
first near the skull, concealing the traps cleverly in depressions
scooped out in the sand, and covering their gaping, toothed jaws with
loose, pine needles. Then he scattered a few pine cones about, and
placed dead tree limbs near the traps in such a way that in stepping
over them the bear would be liable to step squarely upon the concealed
pan of one of them.
Three times the bear rescued the precious cow skull, each time
avoiding the traps. At last in desperation, the trapper took two more
traps to the gulch and vowed that he'd pull up stakes and leave the
bear alone if he did not get him with the set he purposed making.
With boyish interest, I accompanied him to the gulch, carrying one
of the traps for him. We left the traps a short distance from where the
bear had concealed the old skull, while the trapper looked the ground
over and decided to set the traps where the skull was hidden, for the
spot was ideal for the purpose. On two sides logs formed a barrier and
beyond them was a huge bowlder, the two forming a natural little cove.
He expected the bear to approach his plaything from the unobstructed
The trapper had further plans. Close beside the logs grew a stunted
pine tree with wide-spreading limbs near the ground. In its crotch he
placed the cow's skull, higher than the bear could reach, and fastened
it there with wire. Then, after setting the traps in a semi-circle
around the tree, just below the skull, and concealing them carefully,
we returned to camp, jubilantly confident of catching Mr. Bruin.
Three times we visited the set and found things undisturbed. We
decided the bear had forsworn his toy and run away. However, I lingered
at the camp in hope that the matter would yet come to a decisive end.
Some days later, when we visited the gulch again, we came upon a
surprise. From a distance we missed the skull from the tree. So we
hastened forward, keeping a sharp eye out for the bear which we felt
certain was in a trap and lying low. At the set we stopped short. The
two traps nearest the open space had been carefully dug up and turned
over, and lay butter side down. The bear had climbed into the tree,
wrenched his plaything free, and dropped it to the ground. Tracks in
the sand showed that after climbing down he had cautiously placed his
feet in the same tracks he had made when he advanced toward the tree.
He had carried the skull a hundred yards from the traps and hidden
it again; but there were no signs that he had stopped to play with it.
The trapper was as good as his word; and after recovering from his
astonishment, he sprung the traps, and we carried them back to camp.
Some smart, that ole twisted-foot bear, the trapper told his
partner. He's smart enough to live a hundred yearsan' I'm willin' to
No campfire is complete without bear stories, and it was around one
that I heard the funniest bear story imaginable.
A lone trapper was caught one day in a trap of his own making, a
ponderous wooden coop calculated to catch the bear alive by dropping a
heavy log door in place at the open end. This door was on a trigger
which a bear, in attempting to steal the bait, would spring.
As this tale was told, the trapper had just completed his trap and
was adjusting the trigger, when the heavy door crashed down, pinning
him across the threshold, with his legs outside. The door caught on a
section of log in the doorway, and saved him from broken legs, but he
was a helpless prisoner.
In struggling to free himself, he kicked over a can of honey he had
brought along for bait, and the sticky fluid oozed over his thrashing
legs. Four hours he lay, imprisoned, shouting at intervals, with the
hope that some wandering prospector or trapper might hear him. Instead
a bear came his way, tempted by the scent of the much-loved honey.
The bear loitered near by some time, no doubt wary of the presence
of man, but at last his appetite overcame his caution, and he started
licking up the honey. Almost frantic with fear, dreading the gash of
tearing teeth, the man lay quiet, while the animal licked the smears
off his trembling legs. Fortunately for the trapper, the bear was not
out for meat that day; so, after cleaning up the sweet, he went his
way. The relieved and unharmed man was rescued shortly afterward.
The only serious injury I have suffered from a wild animal was
inflicted inside the city limits of Denver, Colorado's largest city and
capital. The beginning of this story dated back to the time when I
discovered that another grizzly had intruded into the bad lands of my
bears. The first announcement of the strange bear's arrival was its
tracks, together with those of two tiny cubs. This was in May, while
yet the snowbanks lingered in that high country.
Across the miles of fallen timber I lugged a steel bear trap and set
it in a likely spot beside the frozen carcass of a deer. Afterwards I
inspected it every day, though, to do so, I had to cross boggy, rough
country, fretted over with fallen logs. I always found plenty of bear
tracksit was typical bear countryand there were many signs of their
activities: old logs torn apart, ant hills disturbed, and lush grass
The first week in June, I made a surprising catchthree grizzly
bears and a fox. A mother grizzly had stepped into my trap, and her two
cubs, of about fifteen pounds each, had lingered near by, until,
growing hungry, they had ventured to their mother, and one had been
caught in a coyote trap set to protect the bait. The fox had been
caught before the bear's arrival. Mrs. Grizzly, frantic over her
predicament, had demolished everything within her reach, tearing the
red fox from its trap, literally shredding it, apparently feeling it
was to blame for her misfortune.
Her struggles soon exhausted her, for it was a warm day, and when I
discovered her she was about spent, and easily dispatched.
The cubs, very small, helpless and forlorn, howled lustily for their
mother. I decided to tie their feet together, and their mouths shut.
With ready cord, I dived headlong upon a cub, caught him by the
scruff of the neck, lifted him triumphantlythen dropped him
unceremoniously, the end of a finger badly bitten. I was compelled to
return to my cabin for a sack, because the amount of tying required to
render the cubs really harmless seemed likely to choke them to death
before I got them home. It required about an hour's lively tussle to
get the two young grizzlies stowed safely in the sack. But I learned
that having them sacked was no guarantee of getting them home.
If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, a bear at home,
chained up, is worth the whole Rockies' full in the woods.
The old grizzly's hide, paws included, must have weighed fifty
pounds; the cubs, sacked, thirtya total load of 80 pounds to carry
out over rocks and fallen trees, through bog and willows. With this
load on my back, I struggled to my feet and started, picking my way
slowly, circling logs and avoiding soft spots. The first half mile was
the best, after that things thickened up, the bog deepened, the bears
wanted to get out and walk.
Where the stream emerges from between a wide moraine and Meeker
Mountain, it is not broad, nor very deep, but it is exceedingly cold
and swift, and the only crossing was a beaver-felled aspen, which lay
top-foremost toward me, presenting an array of limbs that served as
banisters. About midway over the limbs gave out, leaving the smooth
aspen trunk as a foot-log. Many times I had crossed this without
mishap, so I had no qualms about tackling it now. Deliberately I edged
along, stepping slowly, carefully, progressing nicely until about
midway. Just then one of the cubs sank his teeth into my back. I jerked
away, twisted, tottered, half regained my balance, then pitched
headlong into the icy water of the beaver pond beneath.
For a moment there was a grand mêlée. The cubs did not like the ice
water any more than I. They squirmed and clawed, fought free of the
sack, and lightened my load considerably. I spent a busy hour catching
and sacking them again.
It required six hours to transport those cubs four miles! And I'm
sure they were as thankful as their ferry when the trip ended at my
From the first week in June until the middle of December, they grew
from fifteen pounds to forty each. Although they were interesting pets,
their keep became a problem. Such appetites! They could never get
enough. They weren't finicky about the quality of their food; but oh,
the quantity! Then, too, I couldn't leave them and go on long trips. So
I decided to part with them.
The City of Denver sent a representative to see me, for they wanted
some grizzlies to show eastern tourists.
It was with the feeling that I was betraying the cubs, however, that
I finally took them to Denver. They were so obedient and well-behaved
that I hesitated to deliver them into unknown hands. They knew their
names, Johnny and Jenny, as well as children knew theirs. At command
they would stand erect, walk about on their hind feet, whining eagerly
for some treat, looking for all the world like funny, little old men.
At the Denver City Zoo we were welcomed by the keeper, Mr. Hill, who
courteously invited me to spend the day with him, and entertained me by
taking me into many of the cages, permitting me to feed some of the
animals, and telling me interesting tales of happenings at the Zoo.
When we returned to the large inclosure surrounding the cage of the
larger and fiercer animals, Mr. Hill asked me to assist in transfering
a brown bear and a black bear to the cage where my pets were to be
housed. These other bears were over a year old and more than double the
size of Johnny and Jenny. The brown bear went willingly enough into the
new cage, and we expected the black bear to follow, but when he reached
the cage door, he stopped. Gently we urged him forward, but his mind
was made uphe had gone as far as he intended and was homesick for his
old cage. The keeper was tactful, and unobtrusively tried to maneuver
the bear into the cage without exciting his obstinacy further, but he
wouldn't yield. At last it came to a show down. We had the option of
forcing the bear into the cage, or letting him go back.
You go inside and snub the rope around the bars, the keeper
directed me. I'll boost from behindwe'll show him a trick or two.
A crowd had collected outside the heavy iron fence. Suggestions were
abundant. No young man ever had so much advice in so short a time.
However, we were too busily engaged to profit by what we were told.
The keeper boosted the bearand I took up the slack in the rope;
but still the bear balked, though three times we double-teamed against
him. Then, suddenly, he let go all holds and lunged through the
doorway, charging headlong upon me and sank his teeth into my left
knee. The bite and the force of his unexpected charge knocked me
backward into the corner. Instantly the bear was on top of me,
growling, biting and striking.
With my uninjured leg I kicked out savagely and thrust him away,
sliding him back across the slippery concrete. Again he charged, and
once more I kicked him off.
Outside the iron fence women were screaming and men trying futilely
to enter, but the fence was ten feet high and the sharp iron points of
its pickets were discouragingand the gateway was locked against
At this juncture the keeper rushed to another cage where he kept an
iron bar for just such emergencies, but the bar was away from home that
At this crisis, Johnny and Jenny arrived, Jenny collided with the
bars of the cage and staggered back, dazed. But Johnny found the open
cage door, and charged the black bear ferociously. The black bear
outweighed my little grizzly three to one, but Johnny struck his
sensitive snout, forcing him into a corner, and followed up, striking
with both paws, lunging in and taking furry samples of his hide.
Within a few seconds the black bear was climbing the side of the
cage and howling for help. He gained the shelf near the roof. Johnny,
unable to climb, sat below, growling maledictions in bear language,
daring him to come down and fight it out. But the black bear had had
more than enough. He stuck to the safety seat, whimpering with pain and
Thus, limping and reluctant, I took leave of my pets. The ambulance
had arrived to rush me to the hospital where my knee was to be treated.
As long as I could see them, they looked after me, wondering at my
CHAPTER FIFTEEN. ROCKY MOUNTAIN
It had been my boyhood dream to find a region unspoiled by man,
When I saw that rugged wilderness called the Rockies I was sure I
had found it. Miles and miles of virgin forest, innocent of ax and saw;
miles and miles of fertile valleys, yet to feel the touch of plow;
miles and miles of unclaimed homesteads with never the smoke of a
settler's chimney! Deer and elk, sheep and bear roamed the forests,
beavers preëmpted the valleys, trout spashed and rippled the waters of
the lakes and rivers. Yes, this was purely primeval, natural,
But the old-timers did not agree with me. Parson Lamb, whose nearest
neighbor was ten miles away, complained that the country was being
It's gotten so nowadays you can't see a mountain 'thout craning
your neck around some fellow's shack; cabins everywhere cluttering up
I recalled my father's chuckling about the pioneers always moving on
as soon as a country got settled up. Surely the Parson was having his
One day when I was out looking for Mr. and Mrs. Peg, I ran upon an
Huh! he said, won't be long till they won't be no critters atall.
They ain't enough now to pay for trap-bait. Game ain't what it useter
be in these parts, I tell you, sonny. I'm goin' ter pull up stakes for
a real game country!
To me, lately from the thickly settled prairies of Kansas,
practically destitute of game, their fears seemed unfounded. I thought
they exaggerated, and could not understand their point of view. But I
came to understand. I lived to see even greater changes take place, in
the twenty-five years I wandered through the country, that Parson Lamb
had witnessed from the day he hewed his way through the forest, that he
might get his covered wagon into the valley, to that night when I fell
across his threshold after pushing my bicycle over Bald Mountain.
For even as I rambled and camped, a subtle change was taking place
so slowly that for some time I was unaware of it. I saw fewer animals
in a day's journey. At first, when I missed bands of deer or wild
sheep, or some familiar bear, from their usual haunts, I assumed that
they had shifted their range to more distant mountains. All at once I
realized that for a long time I had not come upon a single elk nor even
the tracks of one. I was startled. I made far excursions into the more
remote regions, to verify my assumption that the game had merely
retreated from the more settled parts. From the tops of lofty peaks, I
looked down upon countless valleys with the hope that somewhere,
surely, I would find them. I saw only a few stragglers.
The wilds were like an empty house where once had lived happy
children, where there had been music and laughter, shouts and romping,
but now remained only silence, freighted with sadness. A great
loneliness surged over me. Despite the grumbling complaints of the old
settlers, I had taken for granted that the country would always stay as
I had found it, that other boys would have it to explore, and that it
would thrill them even as it had thrilled me. I awoke at last to the
distressing truth that few of the easily accessible spots were
unspoiled, that forests were falling, that the game was almost gone.
I set out to see what could be done about it. I found others as
concerned as I. Not only those in the immediate vicinity, but men of
vision far removed from the scene. It seemed that similar conditions
had arisen elsewhere and that far-sighted men had evolved a remedy.
Back in 1872, Congress had set aside the Yellowstone region as a
national park, guaranteeing the preservation of its wonders for all
time. Not only that, but the harassed and hunted game in the country
surrounding it had by some subtle instinct sensed its immunity to
hunters, and had fled to it for sanctuarygrizzly bears migrated to it
from long distances and found refuge. I recalled how scarce the beavers
were when first I searched the valleys for them, and how, after the
State had passed laws for their protection, they had multiplied. Here
was the solution of the problemprotection; and the most permanent and
effective protection could be procured by getting the government to
preserve it as a National Park. But, just as nearsighted and
self-interested individuals opposed and tried to thwart the building of
the first transcontinental railroad, so there were persons who could
see no reason for setting aside this region as a National Park, men who
had for years cut government timber without restriction, or who had
grazed livestock without hindrance, or who still hoped to strike rich
mineral deposits in the proposed area to be reserved.
Fortunately, the men of vision prevailed, and in 1915, Congress
created the Rocky Mountain National Park, setting aside 400 square
miles of territory, most of it straddling the Continental Divide, and
as wild and primitive as when the Utes first hunted in it. Thus the
snow-capped peaks and the verdant valleys, the deep-gashed cañons and
the rushing rivers, the age-old glaciers and the primeval forests are
preserved forever from exploitation.
In administering the National Parks, the government takes into
consideration that they are the property of the whole people, not just
of those residing in adjacent or near territory. Not only does it
consider them as belonging to the present generation, but to posterity.
With this in mind, it has formulated certain general principles of
administration applicable to all parks and has adopted special policies
adapted to the peculiar needs of individual parks. For instance, it has
found that in order to protect the visitors and insure their comfort,
and convenience, it is necessary to have certain regulations of hotel
management and transportation facilities. It has found it impossible to
hold many individual concerns responsible for the enforcement of these
regulations, so it has adopted the policy of granting concessions to
one large company equipped to render the service required. Such a
concern conducts its business under government jurisdiction, and is
required to abide by the government regulations. The transportation
companies, for example, are required to run their cars on regular
schedule, at reasonable and approved rates. Their books are audited by
the government, and they pay a certain percentage of their earnings to
As funds are available roads and trails are developed, enabling
thousands to enjoy the last frontier. And it is amazing, how, in this
short time, wild life has increased within the borders of the park.
Beavers have returned, their dams and houses are along every stream;
deer and elk straggle along the trails to welcome wide-eyed visitors;
upon the promontories curious, friendly mountain sheep are regal
silhouettes against the sky.
Here boys and girls of every land may explore even as I
exploredand, with their trusty cameras for guns, shoot more game than
Kit Carson ever trapped!