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A Mountain Fraud by Dean Sage


My acquaintance with Lanahan began at Eagle Rock, Idaho, in August, 1890, where we met to undertake a trip into Jackson's Hole. Mr. Melville Hanna and I had come from the east to make a hunt, and Lanahan had been engaged to purchase and superintend our outfit by a railway official at Boise, whom he had impressed with a belief in his remarkable fitness for both purposes.

When we reached Eagle Rock, Lanahan was on hand with eight pack-horses, an elderly man called Mason, and an Englishman as cook. The cook claimed to have practised his vocation in the service of a duke on land, and an admiral on the deep, each of whom parted from him with a grief he was unable to conceal. He had come west for recreation and from a desire to see the country, was accustomed to riding, consequent upon having followed the hounds with his ducal employer, and intended, after seeing us safely back from our trip, to return to the assistance of the admiral, whose ship was on the way to Halifax. On inspecting Lanahan's list of supplies, we found that he had bought a good-sized stove and an assortment of delicacies such as I am sure never started for Jackson's Hole before. There were oysters put up in various ways, tins of cauliflower, peas, all the fruits of the Occident, and numerous exotic preserves which we had never heard of. The array looked too great for our eight horses to carry, and when we started next day this proved to be the fact.

Lanahan was a big burly fellow with a most repulsive countenance and with great powers of conversation. He had lived so long in the West that he had lost the manner of speech of his native isle, except when excited or frightened, and he regaled us the evening before starting with thrilling tales of his personal exploits with Indians and wild beasts. He professed to have passed years as the confidential scout of Howard, Custer, and Crook, and the last named owed the fame he had attained as an Indian-fighter to his implicit adherence to Lanahan's advice on several critical occasions. As to game, he had fairly wallowed in the gore of bears and lions, and he promised to escort me to my first encounter with a silver-tip, the death of which was to be brought about by my opening fire on him at 600 yards and keeping it up during the ensuing charge, Lanahan standing by peacefully until the bear rose to embrace me, when he would give him the coup de grâce with "Old Nance," as he fondly called his rifle. He also announced his intention of shooting any Indians who might come to our camp, if they did not promptly leave at his bidding.

Next morning Mason and Lanahan began packing, and Lanahan showed by the humility with which he endured the deserved abuse of Mason that he was as ignorant of the art as we afterward found him of every other, except that of dissimulation. Mason was finally obliged to substitute our cook as helper, and Lanahan, in order to recover his prestige, spoke of the dangerous character of the horse-thieves of Jackson's Hole, and showed a map of the country made by old Jackson himself, then languishing in Boise jail, also a letter from the same hand introducing Lanahan to the present head of the association, who would, on its presentation, protect our stock and return without cost any that had previously been stolen. At starting, Hanna and I went on ahead, and were presently joined by Mason and the cook with the packs; but as Lanahan did not appear, we sent back Mason, who produced him in about an hour, quite flushed as to his countenance and uncertain as to his speech, but with that part of his intellect devoted to lying as unclouded as ever. His delay, he stated, had been caused by his horse rearing and falling on him, whereat he became so faint from pain that he was unable to move until after a long rest and the administration of a teaspoonful of the best brandy every fifteen minutes. About this time the packs began to loosen and get lopsided, and one of the pack-horses, called Emigrant, would occasionally lie down, and have to be assisted to his feet by the united strength of the party. We were able to keep him going only by having the cook lead him while Hanna and I beset him with blows in the rear.

In consequence of these misfortunes, our progress was so slow that we made camp that night only six miles from our starting-point. The next night we reached Big Butte Ferry, the trouble about the packs keeping up, and Emigrant growing more and more averse to the exertions required from him. At this point we "cached" the stove, stovepipe, and half a dozen of our most useless pots and pans despite the remonstrances of our cook, and engaged a young man named Joe, who had been out for a month prospecting for coal, but was quite willing to turn back with us. Reaching the village of Kaintuck at noon, we camped in the corral of the livery-stable, and in less than half an hour our cook betook himself to one of the neighboring saloons, where we shortly found him so drunk as to be incapable of speech or motion, but—as we judged from never seeing him again—still able to understand that he was discharged.

During the afternoon we fell into conversation with a bright, active-looking fellow who came to call on us; and, finding that he was familiar with the Teton country, had hunted and trapped around Jackson's Lake, and claimed to be an expert packer and first-class cook, we added him to our party in these capacities. Later, Lanahan came to us in great agitation, and said that Harrington, our new man, was a very dangerous character, and had just been pardoned from jail, where he was serving a twenty-five years' sentence for horse-stealing; that he had broken out once, and had been recaptured only after an exciting chase of seventy-five miles, during which he had been shot in the leg. We asked Harrington about this. He admitted its substantial truth, but said he was innocent of the crime, and had been the victim of malicious persecution by some men who wanted to "jump" his ranch in the Teton valley; so we decided to take him along, and did not regret it. The disposition by sale for $20 of a large quantity of our delicacies to the Mormon storekeeper at Kaintuck lessened the weight of our packs, which Harrington made up next morning in less than half the usual time, to the evident disgust of Lanahan and Mason. Before leaving the town, Harrington took me to a saloon where hung several drawings he had made of elk and Indians, which were as true to nature in their general features as anything of the kind I have ever seen, and caused me to believe that he only needed education to make him distinguished. He had never had any instruction, and his only artistic implement was a lead-pencil.

When we reached the Teton Valley, Lanahan, who had taken up riding ahead to "look out the trail," which was as definite as Broadway, and to protect us against the dangers which encompassed our path, learned from a passer-by that fifty lodges of Lemhi Indians were before us on a hunt. He called Hanna and me to one side, when he conveyed this information, and said he was now convinced of what he had suspected from the first, that Harrington's joining us was part of a plot between him and the Lemhis to facilitate the running off of our horses, and an incidental murder or two, if necessary. That night we camped on the west side of Mount Hayden, the biggest of the Tetons, close by the place where the Indians had stayed a few days before; and Lanahan armed himself and climbed a little peak at some distance from the trail to "look for Indian signs," as he said. At the fire, after supper, he informed us that years ago he was well acquainted with old Teton, after whom the mountains were named, and who had lived in the valley when it was fairly alive with game.

The Grand Teton, now so wretchedly mis-named, is to my mind the most magnificent of mountains. Its situation, its isolation from neighbors, its great height, its vast hollows and chasms, many of them filled with perpetual snow, and its lofty, bare, inaccessible peak, always impress me with a sense of grandeur, majesty, and beauty, such as I have never found in any other mountain.

About this time Lanahan abandoned all activity except looking for Indians, poisoning our minds against Harrington, and attempting the "horse-wrangling" each morning. He would start out alone quite early, and after blundering about in a most inefficient way, and getting all the nervous horses thoroughly excited and scared, would call some of the other men to his assistance, and then proceed himself to get the packs in as great confusion as possible before the horses were brought in, the one or two that he had caught meantime having escaped.

The next night, before we crossed the divide into Jackson's Hole through Trail Creek Cañon, we had a very heavy thunder-storm, and in the intervals between the peals we could hear Lanahan's vociferous invocations to the various saints he relied upon for protection, his appeals mingling with the damning he was getting from his tent-mates for the disturbance he created. He was so much demoralized by the storm, and by the chance of overtaking the Indians, who were evidently not far ahead of us, that he endured all this abuse with perfect meekness, and did not recover his usual intrepid bearing until the next noon, when he resumed his ostentatious superintendence of the outfit.

Our first camp after crossing the divide was at Fighting Bear Creek, and was made memorable by killing a two-year-old bull elk, the toughest of his race; but fresh meat had become so desirable that his india-rubber qualities were not unfavorably criticized until we got something better.

A man coming down the valley told us that the band of Indians had divided, most of them going south, and ten or twelve men and squaws northward, in the direction we were to take. This somewhat reassured Lanahan, though he strongly advised staying where we were for a time, and then striking east into the Gros Ventre Mountains, where he knew of great quantities of game. The stranger also told us of the disappearance of Mr. Robert Ray Hamilton from his new ranch at the upper crossing of Snake River.

We made our permanent camp directly under the peak of the Grand Teton, on the east side. It was in a little park surrounded by pines. Cottonwood Creek, a beautiful sparkling stream, flowed through it, and above us were the grand mountain masses, feeding from their snow-clad sides the chain of little lakes along their bases, which in turn replenish the mighty Snake River during all the rainless summer months. I have never seen so delightful a camping-ground, nor one which supplied so completely every requisite for comfort and sport. Our hunting adventures during the next ten days in this camp were not remarkable, though we might have killed a large amount of game had we desired. There were a great many antelope out on the prairie, and every morning we could see some in the park. I once aroused the curiosity of a solitary buck to the point of coming up within thirty yards of me by concealing myself in the sage-brush and waving about my wide-brimmed hat on the end of my rifle. We found antelope liver the choicest delicacy to be had in the Rockies, and this fact perhaps led us to kill one or two more of these graceful and interesting creatures than we should otherwise have done.

It was hardly late enough for the bull elk to come down from the high ranges to join the cows and calves. Two large bands of these ranged between us and Jackson's Lake, about fourteen miles north. We could have shot some of these almost daily, but one of the men, contrary to our orders, having gone out and killed two calves soon after our arrival, Hanna and I agreed, after he had shot one cow, not to fire at anything except bulls, and we were guiltless of the blood of any more elk during our stay. One day, near Jackson's Lake, Harrington and I came to a salt-lick in the woods, which we approached quietly, thinking game might be there. When we reached the edge, we saw a big cow elk standing among the trees on the other side of the open space, and directly after, another one lying down in the high grass near the first, only her head and neck being visible. She saw us, but did not stir. Keeping perfectly still and looking closely, we discovered seven or eight more, but none with horns. Finally, stepping forward, thinking we had seen them all, a great number jumped up, going out like a covey of quail. Some had been lying down in the high grass within twenty yards of us, and could not have known of our presence. They made a great noise and crashing as they scurried off, and we could only guess at their numbers, but there must have been thirty or forty.

There were not many bears about here. We saw the tracks of several very big ones, but only four living ones. One of these disappeared before we could get a shot, and the other three, an old cinnamon with two well-grown cubs, we found at the top of one of the lower peaks of the Grand Teton near camp. It had taken Hanna and me three hours' hard climbing to get near the summit, where we expected to find some of the bull elk we had heard whistling, and the tracks of which we saw fresh and plentiful as we ascended.

We were moving very quietly along the game trail, Hanna ahead, when he suddenly stopped and pointed about seventy-five yards in front, where we saw the two cubs playing on some rocks overhanging a deep gulch. We fired nearly simultaneously. My cub dropped dead, while Hanna's, badly wounded, started up the mountain howling his best. It was not ten seconds before the mother appeared, not fifteen yards ahead of us, charging down the trail looking as big as a horse and growling savagely. Hanna, being a step in front of me, fired, and the bear dropped, but was up in an instant and came straight on. He shot again, and again she dropped, but was up like a rubber ball. The third time the cartridge failed to explode. The bear turned a little out of the trail, evidently bewildered, but as vicious as ever. As she passed me, within ten feet, I shot, and the ball pierced the heart, but it required two more of the 45-90 bullets to kill her. She was one of the long-legged greyhound kind, but quite fat; and, judging from the impression she made on a small tree she ran against and clawed like an angry cat, she would have badly damaged any man she might have met. Her jaw had been shattered by Hanna's first shot; the second had traversed her body, and there were two through her heart. Her vitality was really astonishing. We got the wounded cub, but the other had rolled down the gulch; and as we could not reach him without a long detour, we left him behind. We skinned the two animals and packed their hides to camp on our backs, finding the loads very heavy before we reached there.

Porcupines were very plentiful, as they are in most parts of the Rockies, and grow to a great size. They sometimes fall victims to bears, which manage to turn them over and get at the unprotected parts, eating everything but the quill-covered skin. In one day's hunt I saw the remains of three that had been thus treated. Bears also dig up the nests of yellow-jackets for the larvæ they contain; and we came upon a nest so lately rifled that many of its former occupants were still buzzing angrily about.

After pleasant days spent at this camp, we packed up and started north to go through the Yellowstone Park. As we were passing out of Jackson's Hole, we looked back and had a superb view of the great valley with the Snake River winding through it, the bare ranges of the Gros Ventre Mountains, and the towering snow-capped rocky peaks of the Tetons—a wonderful picture.

The day after leaving Marymere ranch, we saw, as we were making camp, three Indians watching us from a distant hill. Lanahan's consternation was extreme, and he declared that we must take turns watching through the night. As nobody paid much attention to him, except to encourage his going personally, he loaded his rifle, put on his cartridge-belt full of ammunition, and started out after supper ostensibly to guard us, but we felt sure to conceal himself somewhere in safety from the impending attack, which would have been welcome if it had bereaved us of him. Next morning he intimated that the savages had been prowling about, and that we owed the protection of our scalps to his vigilance. This idea of his was strengthened by the appearance, while we were breakfasting, of a Lemhi Indian on a beautiful pony. He could not or would not speak any English, and Harrington conversed with him in the sign-language, to our great interest, as we had never seen it used before.

Our journey to the Lower Geyser basin was unmarked by anything startling, though Lanahan was much discomposed one night by two men who had come down from the Stinking Water and camped near us. He was so convinced that they were in league with Harrington that he "watched" the horses all night. At the basin we started the outfit back to Boise with Lanahan and Mason, and joined our families, who were awaiting us. We heard afterward that Lanahan was a prey to the liveliest terrors while in the Park, and paid a man $10 to watch the horses the two nights before he got out of Harrington's reach. We have never heard of Lanahan since, but his memory will ever be green.

Dean Sage.