Most of our fellow passengers were miners. One of them interested me particularly. He was a Finn, one of the pioneer white hunters in the Aleutian country, and his drawn face and stooping shoulders told the tale of trails too long and packs too heavy. I passed much time with him, and learned a good deal about the habits of the big, brown, barren bear, and his methods of fighting when hard pressed.
Our first Alaskan port was Hunter's Bay, Prince of Wales Island, interesting because here is Clincon, one of the old settlements of the Haida Indians, famed for their wonderful totem poles, which tell in striking symbolic language the family histories of the tribe. There were many good faces among these people, and we asked ourselves and others the puzzling question, are they Aztecs, New Zealanders, or Japanese in origin? Among these people families with the same totem pole may not intermarry. An old man, the special wood carver of the tribe, does wonderful work.
An offshoot of the tribe inhabits Annette Island, under the kindly governorship of an old priest named Duncan. At first he founded his colony on the mainland, in British territory, but was there so hampered by religious rules that, with almost all his followers, he moved to Annette, where he is still beloved by the natives, to whom he has taught right living and many valuable arts of civilization.
We kept the inland route until Icy Straits took us away from Glacier Bay, and out into the open ocean. Early the next morning Yakutat came into view, and our boat was quickly surrounded by canoes filled with Indians, their wives, and woven baskets. These natives, supposed to belong to the Tlinkits, were distinctly less advanced than the Haida Indians.
In Yakutat we thought we were lucky in buying three Siwash bear dogs, but were not long in discovering our mistake. One of the dogs was so fierce we had to shoot him. Another was wild and ran away at the first opportunity, and the "last of the Siwash," though found wanting in every hunting instinct, had a kindly disposition and staid with us. We could not bring ourselves to the shooting point. Finally we found a Creole, who kept a store in a remote village on Kadiak Island, willing to take him off our hands.
The sight of the massive snow face of Mt. St. Elias, rising 18,002 feet above the immense stretches of the Malaspina glacier, called to mind the successful Abruzzi expedition, which reached the top of this mountain a few years ago. Looking at the rough sides of the grand old mountain, more impressive than any snow peak in Europe, one unconsciously plans an attack, as the climbing instinct is aroused.
Abruzzi has taken Mt. St. Elias out of the field of the mountain climber looking for new peaks, but a glance at the map shows us Mt. Logan, 19,000 feet, backing up Mt. St. Elias from the north, and Mt. McKinley, 20,000 feet, the highest known peak we have, placed nearer the center of the big peninsula. These should now claim the attention of some good mountaineer, with time and money at his command. They demand both.
We did not fail to inquire at Yakutat about that rare animal, the blue or St. Elias bear, and were told that two or three skins were secured every year. I was later much disappointed in being unable to return to this coast early enough in the year to look up this bear, which has never been killed by a white man, and as its skull has never been brought in by the Indians, it remains practically unknown.
The island of Kayak, the next calling place for boats, played a very important part in the early history of Alaska. This is the first land that Bering sighted, and where he landed after the memorable voyage of his two boats, the St. Peter and St. Paul, from Kamtschatka.
The early Russian adventurers of this part of the world have, it seems, been lost sight of, and have not had justice done them. The names of the Dane Bering, the Russians Shelikoff and Baranoff, should mean to us something more than the name of a sea, strait or island. A man who fitted out his expedition in Moscow, carried much of the building material for his two boats across Siberia to the rough shores of Kamtschatka, and sailed boldly eastward, deserves our warmest admiration. Bering never reached home. He died on the return voyage, and was buried on the small island of the Commander group which bears his name. The story of the expedition is one of extreme hardship and of splendid Russian courage.
At Orca we were transferred to the Newport, with Captain Moore in command, and, as on the Excelsior, everything was done for our comfort. We looked with envious eyes on Montague Island as we passed it in Prince William Sound, for we were told that the natives avoid fishing and shooting here, claiming that the big Montague brown bear are larger and fiercer than any others.
Our boat made a brief call at Homer, in Cook Inlet, one of the starting points for the famous Kenai shooting grounds. This inlet was named for the renowned voyager, who hoped that it would furnish a water passage for him to Hudson's Bay.
The trees stop at Cook Inlet, there being only a few on the western shore. To the south the wooded line intersects the Kadiak group of islands, and we find the northeastern part of Kadiak, as well as the whole of Wood and Afognak, except the central portion of the last, well covered with spruce.
The absence of forests makes it often possible to see for miles over the country, and explains why the Barren Grounds of Alaska offer such wonderful opportunities for bear hunting. There are bears all along the southern coast of the peninsula, but in the timber there, as elsewhere, the bears have all the best of it.
On leaving Cook Inlet, we kept a southerly course through the gloomy Barren Islands which mark the eastern boundary of the much-dreaded Shelikoff Straits, and early one morning passed Afognak, and made Wood Island landing, where we were most hospitably received by the North American Fur Company's people. Wood Island, about 1-1/2 miles from Kadiak, is small and well covered with spruce. It has some two hundred people, for the most part natives, and under Russian rule was used for a huge ice-storing plant. Kadiak Island, 100 miles by 30, is thickly studded with mountains, and extremely picturesque, with the white covering of early spring, as we found it, or when green with heavy grass dotted with wild flowers in July.
The Kadiak group looks as if it might have fallen out of Cook Inlet, and one of the native legends tells us that once the Kadiak Islands were so near the Alaskan shore that a mammoth sea otter, while trying to swim through the narrow straits, got wedged between the rocks, and his tremendous struggles to free himself pushed the islands out into their present position. The sea otter and bear have always been most intimately connected with the lives of the Kadiakers, and have exercised a more important influence on their characters than any of their surroundings except the sea. It is no wonder, then, that the natives endowed these animals with a strength and size which easily takes them into the realm of mythology. The sea otter being nearly extinct, the bear is now made to shoulder all the large stories, and, strong as he is, this is no light burden.
The Kadiak coast line is roughly broken by deep bays, running inland from a half mile to fifteen or twenty miles. Some are broad, others narrow, but all are walled in by serrated, mountainous sides, much resembling the fjords of Norway. The highest peaks are about 4,000 feet.
The portions of Kadiak Island uncovered by spruce and the barren lands of the mainland, are not absolutely devoid of trees or bushes. Often there is a considerable growth of cottonwood trees along the bottom lands of the streams, and large patches of alder bushes are common, so that when the leaves are well out, one's view of the bottoms and lower hillsides is much obscured. The snowfall must be heavy on the upper reaches of the mountains, as there are great white patches to be seen well into the summer time. The climate is not what one would expect, unless he should look at the map, and note the warm Kuro Siwo (Japan current) sweeping along the southern Alaskan coast. Zero weather is uncommon, and except for the great rainfall the island is a very comfortable place of existence; existence, because that is the limit reached by most of the people. The few connected with the mission and the two fur companies are necessarily busy people, the latter especially so on steamer days, but a deep, unbroken peacefulness permeates the island and its people; it is a place so apart that outside happenings awaken but little interest, and time is not weighed in the balance. Some of the rare old Kadiak repose seems to have come down to the present people from the time when Lisiansky first visited the island and found the natives sitting on their mud houses, or on the shore, gazing into space, with apparent satisfaction.
On the other hand, if there is any sailing, fishing or shooting to be done, you will find the Kadiakers keen enough, and in trying situations they will command your respect, and will quite reverse your impression of them, gathered in the village life. The Eskimo inhabitants of the old times are gone, and the population is now made up of Russians, Creoles (part Russian and part Aleut), and a handful of Americans.
The natives are good-natured but not prepossessing in looks or cleanly. They live in dwellings kept very hot, and both men and women injure themselves by immoderate indulgence in the banya, a small Turkish bath, often attached to the barabaras, or native huts. It is made like a small barabara, except there is no smoke hole, has a similar frame, is thatched with straw, and can be made air-tight. The necessary steam is furnished by pouring water on stones previously heated very hot.
The women are frail and many die of consumption. When once sick, they appear to have no physical or mental resistance. They must be attractive, however, as there is a considerable population of white men here who have taken native wives. From a condition of comparative wealth, eight or ten years ago, when fur was plenty and money came easily, and was as promptly spent on all sorts of unnecessary luxuries, these people are now rapidly coming down to salmon, codfish and potatoes. When a native wants anything, he will sell whatever he owns for it, even to his rifle or wife. They almost all belong to the Greek Church, the Russians, when we bought Alaska, having reserved the right to keep their priests in the country.
The baidarka, the most valuable possession of the native in a country so cut up by waterways that little traveling is done by land, deserves a word. These are trusted in the roughest water more than any other craft, except the largest. A trip from Kadiak to Seattle in a baidarka is in fact on record. With a light framework of wood, covered, bottom and deck, excepting the hatches, with the skin of the hair seal, it is lighter than any other canoe, pliable, but very staunch, and works its way over the waves more like a snake than a boat. The lines are such that friction is done away with, and driven through the water by good men, it is the most graceful craft afloat. It has a curious split prow, so made for ease in lifting with one hand, and may have one, two, or three hatches, according to its size. The paddles used are curiously narrow and pointed.
What still remains unexplained is the native one-sided method of paddling; that is to say, in a two-hatch baidarka, both natives make six or seven short strokes on one side together, and then change to the other side. An absolutely straight course is thus impossible, but the Aleut is a creature of habit, and smiles at all new suggestions.
In the canoe is plenty of room for provisions and live stock. I speak of the latter because a native will often carry his wife, children, and dog inside a one-hatch baidarka while he paddles.
Water is kept out of the hatches by the kamlaykas which the natives wear. This is a long jacket made of bears' intestines, very light and water tight, and when the neck and sleeve bands are made fast, and the skirts secured about the hatch with a thong, man and canoe alike are dry as a chip.
In the early days, Shelikoff's severe rule in Kadiak actively encouraged the hunting instinct, and the first Russian fur post was established at St. Paul, named after one of Bering's boats, the present town of Kadiak, by far the largest village of the island, and situated on the eastern coast, opposite Wood Island. It is said that the Russians, after a few very prosperous years of indiscriminate slaughter, recognized the great importance of carrying on the fur industry in a systematic manner, in order to prevent entire extinction of the game, and divided the lands and waters into large districts. They made laws, with severe penalties attached, and enforced them. Certain districts were hunted and trapped over in certain years. Fur animals were killed only when in good pelage, and the young were spared. In this way hunted sections always had considerable intervals in which to recover from attacks.
A solitary sea otter skin hanging up in the fur company's store, at the end of the season, told us plainer than words that these animals, formerly so plentiful east of Kadiak Island, and along the coast of Cook's Inlet, were almost extinct. Two of our hunters were famous shots, and they liked to talk of the good old days, when sea otter and bear were plenty. One of them, Ivan, it is claimed, made $3,000 in one day. The amount paid a native is $200 or more for each sea otter pelt. They are much larger than a land otter, a good skin measuring six feet in length and three feet in width when split and stretched.
When fishing is allowed from schooners, the natives leave Kadiak for the grounds early in May. Each schooner carries thirty or forty baidarkas and twice as many men. Otters are often found at some distance from shore, and can be seen only when the water is quiet. The natives prefer the bow and arrow to the .40-65 Winchesters the company have given them, even claiming that otter are scarce because they have been driven from their old grounds by the noise of firearms. The bows, four feet long, are very stout, and strongly reinforced with cords of sinew along the back. The arrows, a little under a yard in length, are tipped with a well-polished piece of whalebone. A sharp and barbed piece of whale's tooth fits into a hole bored in the end of the bone, and a cord of considerable length is tied to the detachable arrow head, the other end of the cord being wound around and fastened to the middle of the shaft.
The advantages of this arrow are obvious. When the game is struck, its struggles disengage the arrow head, and the shaft being dragged by the cord attached to its middle, soon tires the otter out. The seal spears, used for the finishing coup, are made in the same way, and in addition have attached to the long shaft a bladder, which continually draws the animal to the surface. So expert are the natives, that, after shooting several arrows, they gather them all up together in one hand as they sweep by in a baidarka. The arrow is not sent straight to the mark, but describes a considerable curve. Good bows are valued very highly, and on an otter expedition will not be swapped even for a rifle.
On a favorable morning the baidarkas leave the schooners, and, holding their direction so as to describe a large fan, can view a good piece of water. A paddle held high in air shows that game has been sighted, and a large circle, perhaps a mile in circumference, is at once formed around the otter, each baidarka trying to get in the first successful shot. To the man who first hits home belongs the skin, but as an otter can stay under water twenty minutes, and when rising for air exposes only his nose, a long and exciting chase follows.
Some natives patrol the small island shores, and during the winter make a good harvest picking up dead otters which have washed ashore. This happens in winter, because it is during severest weather that the otter freezes his nose, which means death. The pelts from these frozen animals, however, bring only a small price.
In earlier days nets were spread beneath the water around rocks shown by the hair rubbings to be resting places of otter. The method was often successful, as the poor beast swam over the trap in gaining his rock, but when leaving dove well below the surface, and was caught. This barbarous custom, together with the netting of ducks in narrow passageways, has, fortunately, long been a thing of the past.
In Kadiak Village, we met a Captain Nelson, the first man down from the north that spring, who had sledded from Nome to Katmai on Shelikoff Straits in two months. At Katmai he was held up several days, his men refusing to cross the straits until the local weather prophet, or astronom, as he is called, gave his consent. Seven hours of hard paddling carried them over the twenty-seven miles, the most treacherous of Alaskan narrows.
These astronoms are relics of an interesting type, who formerly held firm sway over the natives. They are supposed to know much about the weather from reading the sunrises, sunsets, stars, moon and tides, and often sit on a hilltop for hours studying the weather conditions. They are still absolutely relied upon to decide when sea otter parties may start on a trip, and are looked up to and trusted as chiefs by the people of the villages in which they live.
At Wood Island we heard of Messrs. Kidder and Blake, two other sportsmen from Boston, who had already left for their hunting grounds in Kaluda Bay.
The spring was backward, and the bears still in their dens, but Merriam and I decided to take the North American Company's schooner Maksoutoff on its spring voyage around the island, when it carries supplies and collects furs from the natives. We were to sail as far as Kaguiac, a small village on the south shore, and were here promised a 30-foot sloop by the company. We added to our equipment two native baidarkas for hunting and a bear dog belonging to an old Russian hunter, Walter Matroken. Tchort (Russian for Devil) looked like a cross between a water spaniel and a Newfoundland, and though old and poorly supplied with teeth, many of which he had lost during his acquaintance with bears, he proved a good companion, game in emergencies, and a splendid retriever.
Our rifle and camera batteries were as follows:
Merriam had a.45-70 and a.50-110 Winchester, both shooting half-jacketed bullets. My rifles were a.30-40 Winchester, a double .577, and a double .40-93-400, kindly lent me by Mr. S.D. Warren, of Boston, and on which I relied. Besides the pocket cameras and a small Goerz, I carried one camera with double lenses of 17-1/2-inch focus, and one with single lense of 30-inch focus. The last two were, of course, intended for animals at long range.
Hoping to prove something in regard to the weight of the Kadiak bear, I brought a pair of Fairbanks spring scales, weighing up to 300 pounds, and some water-tight canvas bags for weighing blood and the viscera.
We selected two good men as hunters for the trip, Vacille and Klampe.
On the second day out from Wood Island a storm came on, and though the Maksoutoff was staunch, we could not hold for our port, owing to the exposed coast, where squalls come sweeping without warning from the mountain tops, driving the snow down like smoke, the so-called "wollies." It was wild and wintry enough when we turned into the sheltered protection of Steragowan Harbor.
A few mallards and a goose were here added to the ship's store next morning from the flats, and the weather clearing, we made Kaguiac, and found our sloop in good condition. In addition we took along an otter boat, a large rowboat, from here, as our baidarkas proved rather unseaworthy. Besides Mr. Heitman, the fur company's man, there was one other white settler in Kaguiac named Walch, who came to Kadiak twenty-seven years ago at the time of the first American military occupation, and though he had served in many an exciting battle in the Civil War, the Kadiak calm appealed to him. He married, settled down among the natives contentedly, and has never moved since. This, curiously, is the case of many men who come to the North, after leading wandering and adventurous lives.
Unfavorable winds at Kaguiac delayed our sailing, so we passed the time in excursions after ptarmigans and mallards. We also secured here another native, a strong, willing worker, who knew the coast.
The weather cleared suddenly, the wind shifting from northeast to northwest, and enabled us to make a run to our first good hunting ground in Windy Bay, a large piece of water five miles long by three wide, and surrounded by rock mountains covered with snow, the only bare ground to be seen at this time being on the low foothills, and in the sunny ravines. We made ourselves at home at the only good anchorage in a small cove with high crags on two sides and a ravine running off toward the east.
The following morning—April 28—opened bright and calm, and we were soon viewing the snow slopes with our glasses. Ivan, the new man, was the first to call our attention to a streak on a distant mountain side, and although perhaps 2-1/2 miles away, we could make out, even with the naked eye, a deep furrow in the snow running down diagonally into the valley below, undoubtedly a bear road. I took a five-cent piece from my pocket, tossed for choice of shot, and lost to Merriam.
Once on land, we found the going very bad, and often wallowed in the snow mid-thigh deep. Then was the time for snowshoes, which we had been told were unnecessary. Floundering along in this soft snow began to tell a little on the keenness of the party, when Vacille and Ivan, who were off on one side, suddenly waved, and hunting on to them we were shown the bear far up the valley in some bushes. As he lay on his side in the snow he looked much like a cord of wood, and very large. The wind came quartering down the valley, and made a stalk difficult, so it was thought best to wait, as the bear would probably come down nearer the water in the evening. We watched nearly four hours, and during that time the bear made perhaps 150 yards in all, crawling, rolling over, lapping his paws, occasionally trying a somersault, and finally landing in a patch of alders.
As night was upon us, we decided to chance the situation, and approached along a ridge on one side of the valley until almost above the bear. At this point Tchort, the dog, caught the scent, broke away, and raced down over the bluff out of sight. Almost immediately the bear appeared in the open 200 yards away, legging as fast as he could in the snow, and headed for the hillside. Merriam made a good shot behind the shoulder with his fifty. The bear fell, caught his feet again, and was in and over a small brook, leaving a bloody road behind him, which Tchort was quick in following. The dog was soon nipping the bear's heels, and giving him a good deal of trouble. Up the side of the hill they raced, Merriam firing when the dog gave him opportunity. The bear, angry and worried, suddenly whipped around and made for the dog, which in the soft snow at such close quarters could not escape. But Tchort, a born fighter, accepted the only chance and closed in. He disappeared completely between the forelegs of the bear, and we felt that all was over. To our great wonder in a few seconds he crawled out from beneath the hindquarters of his enemy, and engaged him again. One more shot and the bear lay quiet. The skin was a beauty—dark brown, with a little silvering of gray over the shoulders, without any rubbed spots, such as are common on bears only just out of their dens. Some brush was thrown over the bear, and we rowed back to the sloop, well content. The next day, which was foggy and rainy, was spent in getting off the skin, measuring and weighing the animal piecemeal, and carrying all back to the sloop.
Contrary to expectation, the bear was found to be still covered with a thin layer of fat, even after his long hibernation. Before weighing, our men, who had killed some thirty bear among them, said that this one was two-thirds as large as any they had seen.
The measurements and weights were as follows: Height at shoulder, about 4 ft. Length in straight line from nose to root of tail, 6 ft. 8 in. Total weight, 625 lbs. Weight of middle piece, 260 lbs. Weight of skull (skin removed), 20 lbs. Weight of skin, 80 lbs. The right forearm weighed 50 lbs., and the left 55. This supports the theory that a bear is left-handed. Right hind-quarter, 60 lbs.; left hindquarter, 60 pounds. The stomach was filled with short alder sticks, not much chewed, and one small bird feather. Organic acids were present in the stomach, but no free hydrochloric for digestion of flesh.
It was a great satisfaction to see that none of the bear was wasted, which fact brings up one very good trait of the Creole hunters. They dislike to go after bear into a district situated far from the coast, because in so rough a country it is almost impossible to get all the meat out. They sell the skin, eat the meat, and make the intestines into kamlaykas for baidarka work.
April 30 a strong wind kept us from trying the head of the bay, and a short trip was made up into a low lying valley, near the sloop, but without results.
Our men had already proved themselves good. Vacille was the best waterman and a good cook; Klampe the best hunter, and Ivan a glutton for all sorts of work.
The underlying principle on which the Aleut hunter works was brought out on our short bear hunt. After sighting the game, he waits until he is sure of his wind, then takes a stand where the bear will pass close by, and shows himself a monument of patience. Almost all the viewing is done from the water, a small hill near the shore being occasionally used for a lookout. They get up at daylight, and two men in a baidarka patrol both sides of a big bay, watching carefully for bear tracks on the mountain sides, as this is the surest indication of their presence. As soon as the bears come from their dens they always make a climbing tour, the natives claiming that this exercise is taken to strengthen them. Personally I believe the Kadiak bear has very good reasons for keeping on the move continually outside of his hibernating season.
If the natives find no sign on their morning tour, they rest all day, perhaps taking a Turkish bath in a banya, which is not infrequently attached to the hunting barabara. Another trip of inspection is made again in the afternoon at four or five o'clock, as the bear usually lies up between nine and three. A bay is watched for several days in this way, and if nothing is seen the natives return to their village, or hunt the hair seal, which are still to be found in fair numbers, especially on Afognak Island.
When you are with these men you must either conduct the shooting trip on your own lines or give yourself entirely into the native's hands, and do as he thinks best. You must leave him alone, and not bother him with many questions, and in any case you usually get Nish naiou ("I don't know") for answer. The native gives this reply without thinking; it is so much easier. The most you can do is to cheer him on when luck is bad, as he is easily discouraged and becomes homesick.
During the bad weather that followed we had plenty of opportunity to use our ingenuity in extracting information from our men on the subject of bear.
It seems that the Kadiak bear hibernates, as a rule, from December to April, depending on the season somewhat, and the young are supposed to be born in March in the dens. Although the skins are good in the late fall, they are finest when the bear first comes out in early spring, as it is then that the hide is thinnest and the hair longest. On the other hand, in summer, when the hair is very thin, the hide becomes extremely thick and heavy; this condition changing again as fall comes on. The total amount of epidermis, in other words, does not vary so much as one would suppose, and whether the hide or the hair is responsible for most of the weight depends on the time of year.
When the animal leaves his den he finds food scarce, and has to go on the principle that a full stomach is better than an empty one, even if the filling is made of alder twigs. It is not long, however, before green grass begins to sprout along the small streams, low down, and grass and the roots of the salmon berry bushes carry the bear along until the fish run.
The running of the salmon varies, and the bears make frequent prospecting trips down the streams in order to be sure to be on hand for the first run, which usually occurs during the latter part of May. During the salmon season the bears have opportunity to fill themselves full every night, and put on a tremendous weight of fat in the late fall, when they become saucy and lazy, and more inclined to show fight. Berries—especially the salmon berry—help out the fish diet in summer time. As soon as salmon becomes their food the pelts deteriorate, but unless living near a red salmon stream, with shallow reaches, the bears do not get much fish diet until the second run early in July, so that fair skins are sometimes obtained even up to June 15, although by this time the hair is usually much faded in color.
The bear makes a zigzag course down the salmon stream from one shallow rapid to another, standing immovable while fishing, and throwing out his catch with the left paw. The numerous fishing beds give a false idea of the number of bear present in a district, as it takes but a few days for a single bear to cover the sides of a stream for a long distance with such places. One finds fish skeletons scattered all along a salmon stream, and it is generally easy to tell whether a bear or eagle has made the kill. An eagle usually carries the whole fish away with him, leaving only scales behind. A bear, on the other hand, eats his fish where he catches him, preferring the belly and back, and usually discarding the skeleton, and always the under jaw.
The Finn hunter whom I met on my way north, said he had seen an old cow bear when fishing with her cubs, rush salmon in toward the shore and scoop them out for the young. Generally they watch on a low bank, or in the shallow water, while fishing.
During the rutting season, supposed to be in June, the female travels ahead, the male bringing up the rear to furnish protection from that quarter. Then if one kills the female the male gives trouble, often charging on sight.
The Finn thought that, as a rule, the cow bear comes on at a gallop and a bull rises on his hind legs when getting in close. When wounded the bear usually strikes the injured spot, or if it is a cow and cubs, the old one cuffs her young soundly, thinking them the cause of pain. The nose is the main source of protection, as, like all bears, these are followed to their very dens in the fall by the keenest of hunters, and their only restful sleep is the long winter one. Fortunately some excellent game laws for Alaska have been passed, and by making a close season for several years, followed by severe restrictions, we may yet hope that the perpetual preservation of this grand brown bear will be assured on the Kadiak group, which, from its situation, fitly offers him, when well guarded, his best chance of making a successful stand against his enemies.
The fact that the natives make a profit from the bear skins, and that his flesh furnishes them with food is not to be considered, as at the present rate of extermination there will soon be no bear left for discussion.
The natives certainly could and should be helped out in their living, as competition in the fur trade of late has so exterminated fur-bearing animals that hunting and trapping bring them in little, and their diet is indeed low. One of my hunters during last fall only secured one bear, one silver gray fox, and two land otter.
A good way to help out the food question, and compensate the native for his loss of bear meat, would be to transport a goodly number of Sitka deer to the three islands, and allow them to multiply. There has been a Sitka deer on Wood Island for several years, and he has lived through the winters without harm, as his footprints scattered over the island testify. Afognak and Wood Island are especially suitable for such a purpose, being well wooded and furnishing plenty of winter food for deer in willows, alders and black birch. The clement winters make the plan feasible, and it ought not to be an expensive experiment.
We had a very bad time of it on the night of April 30, which showed me what I had long felt, that the dangers of Kadiak were not centered in the bear, but in the tremendous wind blows and tide rips in its fjords. A strong wind came on from the east, and fairly howled through the ravine opposite our anchorage, catching our little sloop with full force. We could not change our position, as we occupied the only anchorage. Vacille, who had turned in, felt the anchor dragging, and we found ourselves being blown out into the large bay, where we could not have lived for any time in the big seas, and, should we continue to drag, our only chance was to try to beach her on a sand shore some half mile away.
When the boat was not dragging she was wallowing in cross seas, and being hammered by the otter boat, which was difficult to manage. The anchors held firmly, much to our relief, and after a disagreeable night of watching we beat back to our mooring at the head of the little cove. The mountains being covered with fresh snow in the morning, there was nothing to do but eat and sleep.
The bear meat improved with age, and hours of boiling rid it of its bitter flavor. The whole cabin—and its occupants—smelled of bear's grease. The thermometer registered 30.
On May 2, as the wind was unsuitable for bear hunting, we made a photographing trip to a cliff across the bay, where two bald-headed eagles had built their nest. Merriam and I had a very interesting stalk with a camera. We landed near the cliff, and the eagles, becoming disturbed, flew away. The men were sent out in the boat, and we kept in hiding until signalled that the birds had quieted down. We gained the top of the cliff, a mere knife edge in places, where we worked our way along, straddling the rock. The birds had selected a splendid place, straight up from the water, where they had built their nest firmly into a bush on the side of the cliff.
I stalked the eagle within about 75 feet and caught her with the camera, as she was leaving her nest. The earth forming the center of the nest was frozen and three eggs lay in a little hollow of hay on top. The big birds circled about us all the time, but did not offer to attack. Bald-headed eagles are very common on Kadiak, and are always found about the salmon streams later, during the run, being good fishermen. It seems they, of all the birds here, are the first to lay their eggs, and their young are the last to leave the nest.
We secured some eagle eggs on these trips, of which we made several, and found the cliff nests much the easier to approach, as it was very difficult to get above nests built in trees.
In connection with the eagle, the magpie should not be forgotten. Of these black and white birds there were many about, and there seemed to be a bond of sympathy between the widely separated species of marauders. Bold enough we knew the smaller bird to be, but to believe that he would actually steal an eagle's fish breakfast from under his very nose one must sec the act. The eagle appeared to mind but little, occasionally pecking the thief away when he became offensive.
The magpie, on the other hand, seemed to have a warm feeling for his big friend, and once at least we saw him flying about an eagle's nest and warning the old birds of our approach with his harsh cry.
One good day among many bad ones showed no more bear signs, so we soaped the seams of the otter boat, which leaked badly, and set sail for Three Saints Bay, named after Shelikoff's ship. This proved to be a narrow piece of water running far inland, with snow-covered mountain sides, and by far the most beautiful fjord on the island.
There were no bear signs, however, and a favorable wind carried us eastward toward Kaluda Bay, where Kidder and Blake were hunting. On our way we stopped at Steragowan, an interesting little village, bought a few stores, and secured some interesting stone lamps, and whale spears, with throwing sticks.
Once in Kaluda Bay, we found Kidder's and Blake's barabara where they made headquarters, and their cook informed us that both sportsmen were many miles up the bay after bear.
Several years ago there was a flourishing colony of natives at the entrance to Kaluda Bay, but now there are only two hunting barabaras, a broken down chapel, and a good-sized graveyard. The village prospered until one day a dead whale was reported not far from land. All the inhabitants gorged themselves on the putrid blubber, and they died almost to a man.
The Kadiakers show a good deal of courage in whale hunting. With nothing but their whale spears tipped with slate, two men will run close up to a whale, drive two spears home with a throwing stick, and make off again. The slate is believed in some way to poison the animal, and he often dies within a short time. The natives go home, return in a few days, and, if lucky, find the whale in the same bay. Whales are plenty, and were sometimes annoying to us, playing too near our otter boat. On one occasion we tried a shot at one that was paying us too much attention, and persuaded the big chap to leave us in peace.
Bad weather held us fast several days, but we finally made the southeast corner of the island, and from there had good wind to Kadiak. On our way we passed Uyak, one of the blue fox islands. Raising these animals for their fur has become a regular business, and when furs are high it pays well. The blue fox has been found to be the only one that multiplies well in comparative captivity, and he thrives on salmon flesh.
At Wood Island, news came to us through prospectors, of a bear in English Bay, south of Kadiak village. This bay is well known as a good bear ground, and at the end of the bay there are some huge iron cages weighing tons which were used as bear traps, some years ago, by men working for the Smithsonian Institution.
We found bear tracks coming into the valley, down one mountain side, and leading out over the opposite mountain, and were obliged to return to Wood Island empty handed.
Merriam now decided to return home on the next boat, and after a few days I started off for the north side of Kadiak in an otter boat fitted with sail, picking up on the way a white man, Jack Robinson, and a native hunter, Vacille, at Ozinka, a small village on Spruce Island. My men proved a good combination, but we were all obliged to work hard for two months before a bear was finally secured.
We tried bay after bay, and were often held up, and for days at a time kept from good grounds by stormy weather and bad winds. The inability to do anything for long periods made these months the most wearing I have ever passed. Our little open boat went well only before the wind, but, as somebody has said, the prevailing winds in Alaska are head winds, and we spent many long hours at the oars.
Although we had a good tent with us, we used, for the most part, the native hunting barabara for shelter. These are fairly clean and comfortable, and are found in every bay of any size.
The natives inherit their hunting grounds, and are apparently scrupulous in observing each other's rights. In fact, it is dangerous to invade another man's trapping country, as one may spring a Klipse trap set for fox and otter, and receive a dangerous gash from the blade that makes these contrivances so deadly.
On the way to the hunting grounds Vacille pointed out to us a cliff where he once had an exciting bear hunt.
There were two hunters, and they were fortunate enough to locate an inhabited den in early spring. Two bears were killed through crevices in the rocks, but the men suspected there was still one inside, and Vacille crawled in to make sure. He found himself in a fair sized chamber with a bear at the other end, and a lucky shot tumbled the animal at his feet.
This story brought up others of bear hunting with the lance. Before firearms came into common use, boys were given lessons in fighting the bear with the lance, and became very expert at it. Their method was to approach a bear as closely as possible, without being seen, then show themselves suddenly, and as the bear reared strike home. The lance was held fast by the native, and the bear was often mortally wounded by forcing the lance into himself in his struggles to reach his enemy.
This class of native no longer exists on Kadiak, but it is said there is one famous old Aleut near Iliamna Lake on the mainland who scorns any but this method of hunting.
High above the den where the three bears were killed was a scoop out of the cliff called the shaman's barabara. Here, before Russian times, the shamans or witches were buried, and here also were kept the masks used in certain ceremonial rites. The Russians removed the mummies and masks long ago.
The shamans were considered oracles. It was claimed they could prevent a whale from swimming out of a bay by dragging a bag of fat, extracted from the dead body of a newly born infant, across the entrance. Their instructions were unfailingly obeyed, as it was supposed they could cause death as a punishment for their enemies.
One evening at our first halting place beyond Ozinka, we found tracks in the snow on one side of our valley, and early in the morning came upon a two-year-old bear, not far from camp. The bear was grubbing about on the hillside, and we took our position so that he crossed us under a hundred yards. Unbeknown to me, and just as I was about to fire, my native gave the caw of a raven to hold the bear up. He whipped around and faced us, my bullet entering the brush on one side of him. Off he rushed into the woods with the dog after him. I followed, and on coming out into a clearing saw the dog being left far behind on the mountain side. Old Tchort was not in condition. This was sad and illustrated the fact that it is sometimes best to be alone.
We next tried Kaguiac Bay and here spent many days. Two bears had been killed by the natives near the barabara where we camped, and there was plenty of sign.
Before sunrise we were watching from a good position, and it was scarcely light when Vacille made out a big bear, two miles or more away. He was traveling the snow arete of the mountain opposite, and trying to find a good descent into our valley. One could see the huge body and head plainly with the naked eye against the sky-line as he made his way rapidly through the deep snow. Finally he found a place somewhat bare of snow and gave us a splendid exhibition of rock climbing. It took little time for him to get down into the alders, where he apparently dropped asleep. To our astonishment he woke up about 10 o'clock and worked down toward the bottom land. We stalked him in the woods and alders, which were very thick, within 300 yards, and here I should have risked a shot at his hindquarters showing up brown against the hillside, and seemingly as large as a horse.
We chanced a nearer approach, though the wind was treacherous, and coming up to a spot where we could have viewed him found the monster had decamped. All attempts to locate him again were fruitless.
The bear paths around this bay were a very interesting study. They are hammered deep into the earth, and afford as good means of traveling as the New Brunswick moose paths.
Sometimes instead of a single road we have a double one, the bear using one path for the legs of each side of his body. Again, on soft mossy side hills, instead of paths we find single footprints which have been used over and over, and made into huge saucers, it being the custom of the bear to take long strides on the side hills, and to step into the impressions made by other animals which had traveled ahead of it.
The red salmon were beginning to run, and some fishermen in another part of the bay supplied us, from time to time, from their nets. Especially good were the salmon heads roasted.
Bear sign failed, and Afognak Island, where Vacille shot and trapped, had been so much talked about, that I determined to see it for myself, and with a good wind we rowed across the straits and sailed twelve miles into the island by Kofikoski Bay.
Scattered along up the bay were small islands, and these furnished us with a good supply of gulls' eggs, which lasted many days.
The Afognak coast is heavily wooded with spruce, while a large plateau in the interior is almost barren, and gave good opportunity for using the glasses.
During several days at the head of Kofikoski Bay nothing was seen, so we packed up and crossed a large piece of the island by portages and a chain of lakes, where our Osgood boat was indispensable. The country crossed was like a beautiful park of meadows, groves and lakes, and one could scarcely believe it was uncultivated.
The Red Salmon River of Seal Harbor, to which we were headed, could not fail us, for bear could scoop out the salmon in armfuls below the lower falls, so Vacille said, and he was honest, and now as keen as anything while traveling his own hunting grounds.
For a whole week a northeast storm blew directly toward the bay, and kept us in camp. It was fishing weather, however, and my fly-rod, with a Parmachenee belle, kept us well supplied with steelheads and speckled trout, which were plentiful in the clear waters of a wandering trout brook running through a meadow below the camp.
A calm evening came finally, and we paddled down the last lake, some three miles, to the famous pool.
There were the salmon swarming below the fall, and many constantly in the air on their upward journey, but the eagles perched high on the dark spruces, closing in the swirling water, were all they had to fear. There were no bears and no fresh bear signs. It was an ideal spot, this salmon pool, but a feast for the eyes only, as the red salmon will not rise to a fly. Even Tchort looked disconsolate on our track back to Ozinka.
About July 10 there is usually a run of dog salmon, and not much later another of humpbacks. The dog salmon grow to be about twice as large as the red salmon, and often weigh 12 pounds. They are much more sluggish than the red fish, and as they prefer the small shallow streams, become an easy prey for the bear. The humpback fish are fatter and better eating even than the red salmon, but are somewhat smaller.
The red fish never ascend a stream which has not a lake on its upper waters for spawning. The dog and humpback, on the contrary, are not so particular, and are found almost everywhere. In September there is a run of silver salmon, which, like the red salmon, will only swim a stream with a lake at its head. They run up to 40 pounds, and the bears grow fat on them before turning into winter quarters. The skeletons of this big fish, cleaned by bear, are found along every small stream running from the lakes.
The large canneries, like the one at Karluk, on Karluk River, near the western end of Kadiak, put up only the red salmon. They are not nearly as good eating as the humpback or silver salmon, but are red, and this color distinction the market demands. The catches at Karluk run up into the tens of thousands, and one thinks of this with many misgivings, remembering the fate of the sea otter and bear. Good hatcheries are constantly busy, keeping up the supply, but it appears that though one in every ten thousand of these fish is marked before being set free, so far as known no marked fish have ever been captured.
On our return to Kadiak Island, we found the streams still free of salmon, and the vegetation had become so rank as to interfere a good deal with traveling and sighting game. The whole party looked serious, and the strain was beginning to tell, no game having been seen for seven long weeks. This, with the swarms of gnats and mosquitoes, made time pass heavily.
Other places proving barren, we finally brought up at Wesnoi Leide, half an hour's row from Ozinka, and found the dog fish just beginning to run up stream, at the head of the bay. Better still, there were fresh bear tracks.
The wind was favorable, and we stationed ourselves the first evening on a bluff overlooking a long meadow, on the lower part of the stream. Hardly had we sat down, when Vacille said: "If that brown spot on the hillside were not so large, I would take it for a bear." The brown spot promptly walked into the woods, half a mile away. We were keen enough again, but our watching proved fruitless, as nothing came down on the meadow, showing that there was good fishing well up the stream.
We rowed back to Ozinka, and left the country undisturbed, determined to get well into the woods the following night, before the bear came down to feed.
The next evening we made an early start, and walking up the stream into the woods found plenty of fresh tracks, and finally halted by some big trees. The men placed themselves on some high limbs, where they could watch, and I stood in deep grass, some six or eight feet from a well-traveled path used by the bear in fishing the stream. The magpies were calling all about, and seemed to be saying, Midwit, midwit, Aleut for bear. The air was dead calm. Hardly were the men on their perches, before they saw a bear walk into the brush on one side of the valley. We waited quietly, in the midst of mosquitoes, but nothing came in sight. It was already after 10 o'clock, and so dark that the men gave up their watch, and came down to join me. Suddenly we heard a sharp screech up the stream, and when it was repeated, Vacille said it must be a young bear crying because its mother would not feed it fast enough. Here Vacille did some good work.
We walked rapidly up stream, through the thick brush, and before we had gone 100 yards heard a large animal, just ahead, moving about in the brush, and making a good deal of noise. I started ahead to get a view, thinking we had disturbed the bear, but Vacille held me back. We walked on noiselessly to a little bare point in the stream, and just then the bear appeared, bent on fishing, thirty feet away. She lumbered down into the stream, and when I fired fell into the water, the ball just missing her shoulder. She was up again, and this time I shot hurriedly, and a little behind the ribs. She ran, crossing up about forty feet away, and a trial with the .30-40 scored, but made no impression.
Tchort caught up with her just as she fell, after running a hundred feet or more, and gave us to understand that he was the responsible party. We tried immediately to capture the cub, which would have been a rare prize, but had no success at all in the thicket. The old one, though of considerable age, was not a large specimen, and, with the exception of the head, the hair was in bad condition. Length about 6 feet 4 inches; height at shoulder 44 inches; weight 500 pounds. The stomach was full of salmon, gleaned from the fishing beds made all along the stream. The Ozinka people did not enjoy my killing a bear just outside the village.
I caught the boat about a week later, after a few pleasant days with Kidder and Blake, who had turned up at Wood Island, after a very successful hunt on the mainland.
A word in regard to the Kadiak bear. Dr. Merriam has proved that he is distinct from other bear. That he ever reached 2,000 pounds is doubtful in my mind, but, by comparing measurements of skins, we can be sure he comes up to 1,200, or a little over. Whether the Kadiak bear is bigger than the big brown bear of the mainland is doubtful. At present the growth of these bears is badly interfered with by the natives, and they rarely reach the old bear age, when these brutes become massive in their bony structure, and accumulate a vast amount of fat, just before denning up.
W. Lord Smith.
The Mountain Sheep and its Range
The mountain sheep is, in my estimation, the finest of all our American big game. Many men have killed it and sheep heads are trophies almost as common as moose heads, and yet among those who have hunted it most and know it best, but little is really understood as to the life of the mountain sheep, and many erroneous ideas prevail with regard to it. It is generally supposed to be an animal found only among the tops of the loftiest and most rugged mountains, and never to be seen on the lower ground, and there are still people interested in big game who now and then ask one confidentially whether there really is anything in the story that the sheep throw themselves down from great heights, and, striking on their horns, rebound to their feet without injury.
Each one of us individually knows but little about the mountain sheep, yet each who has hunted them has observed something of their ways, and each can contribute some share to an accumulation of facts which some time may be of assistance to the naturalist who shall write the life history of this noble species. But unless that naturalist has already been in the field and has there gathered much material, he is likely to be hard put to it when the time comes for his story to be written, since then there may be no mountain sheep to observe or to write of. The sheep is not likely to be so happy in its biographer as was the buffalo, for Dr. Allen's monograph on the American bison is a classic among North American natural history works.
The mountain sheep is an inhabitant of western America, and the books tell us that it inhabits the Rocky Mountains from southern California to Alaska. This is sufficiently vague, and I shall endeavor a little further on to indicate a few places where this species may still be found, though even so I am unable to assign their ranges to the various forms that have been described.
For this species seems to have become differentiated into several species and sub-species, some of which are well marked, and all of which we do not as yet know much about. These as described are the common sheep of the Rocky Mountains (Ovis canadensis); the white sheep of Alaska (Ovis dalli), and its near relative, O. dalli kenaiensis; the so-called black sheep of northern British Columbia (O. stonei), described by Dr. Allen; Nelson's sheep of the southwest (O. nelsoni) and O. mexicanus, both described by Dr. Merriam. Besides these, Mr. Hornaday has described Ovis fannini of Yukon Territory, about which little is known, and Dr. Merriam has given the sheep of the Missouri River bad lands sub-specific rank under the title O.c. auduboni. Recently Dr. Elliot has described the Lower California sheep as a sub-species of the Rocky Mountain form under the name O.c. cremnobates. For twenty-five years I heard of a black sheep-like animal in the central range of the Rocky Mountains far to the north, said to be not only black in color, but with black horns, something like those of an antelope, but in shape and ringed like a female mountain sheep. From specimens recently examined at the American Museum of Natural History, I now know this to be the young female of Ovis stonei. That several species of sheep should have been described within the last three or four years shows, perhaps as well as anything, how very little we know about the animals of this group.
The sheep of the Rocky Mountains and of the bad lands (O. canadensis and O. canadensis auduboni) are those with which we are most familiar. Both forms are called the Rocky Mountain sheep, and from this it is commonly inferred that they are confined to the mountains, and live solely among the rocks. In a measure this belief is true today, but it was not invariably so in old times. As in Asia, so in America, the wild sheep is an inhabitant of the high grass land plateaus. It delights in the elevated prairies, but near these prairies it must have rough or broken country to which it may retreat when pursued by its enemies. Before the days of the railroad and the settlements in the West, the sheep was often found on the prairie. It was then abundant in many localities where to-day farmers have their wheat fields, and to some extent shared the feeding ground of the antelope and the buffalo. Many and many a time while riding over the prairie, I have seen among the antelope that loped carelessly out of the way of the wagon before which I was riding, a few sheep, which would finally separate themselves from the antelope and run up to rising ground, there to stand and call until we had come too near them, when they would lope off and finally be seen climbing some steep butte or bluff, and there pausing for a last look, would disappear.
Those were the days when if a man had a deer, a sheep, an antelope, or the bosse ribs of a buffalo cow on his pack or in his wagon, it did not occur to him to shoot at the game among which he rode. I have seen sheep feeding on the prairies with antelope, and in little groups by themselves in North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming, and men whose experience extends much further back than mine—men, too, whose life was largely devoted to observing the wild animals among which they lived—unite in telling me that they were commonly found in such situations. Personally I never saw sheep among buffalo, but knowing as I do the situations that both inhabited and the ways of life of each, I am confident that sheep were often found with the buffalo, just as were antelope.
The country of northwestern Montana, where high prairie is broken now and then by steep buttes rising to a height of several hundred feet, and by little ranges of volcanic uplifts like the Sweet Grass Hills, the Bear Paw Mountains, the Little Rockies, the Judith, and many others, was a favorite locality for sheep, and so, no doubt, was the butte country of western North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, this being roughly the eastern limit of the species. In general it may be said that the plains sheep preferred plateaus much like those inhabited by the mule deer, a prairie country where there were rough broken hills or buttes, to which they could retreat when disturbed. That this habit was taken advantage of to destroy them will be shown further on.
To-day, if one can climb above timber line in summer to the beautiful green alpine meadows just below the frowning snow-clad peaks in regions where sheep may still be found, his eye may yet be gladdened by the sight of a little group resting on the soft grass far from any cover that might shelter an enemy. If disturbed, the sheep get up deliberately, take a long careful look, and walking slowly toward the rocks, clamber out of harm's way. It will be labor wasted to follow them.
Such sights may be witnessed still in portions of Montana and British Columbia, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado, where bald, rolling mountains, showing little or no rock, are frequented by the sheep, which graze over the uplands, descending at midday to the valleys to drink, and then slowly working their way up the hills again to their illimitable pastures.
Of Dall's sheep, the white Alaskan form, we are told that its favorite feeding grounds are bald hills and elevated plateaus, and although when pursued and wounded it takes to precipitous cliffs, and perhaps even to tall mountain peaks, the land of its choice appears to be not rough rocks, but rather the level or rolling upland.
The sheep formerly was a gentle, unsuspicious animal, curious and confiding rather than shy; now it is noted in many regions for its alertness, wariness, and ability to take care of itself.
Richardson, in his "Fauni-Boreali Americana," says: "Mr. Drummond informs me that in the retired part of the mountains, where hunters had seldom penetrated, he found no difficulty in approaching the Rocky Mountain sheep, which there exhibited the simplicity of character so remarkable in the domestic species; but that where they had been often fired at they were exceedingly wild, alarmed their companions on the approach of danger by a hissing noise, and scaled the rocks with a speed and agility that baffled pursuit." The mountain men of early days tell precisely the same thing of the sheep. Fifty or sixty years ago they were regarded as the gentlest and most unsuspicious animal of all the prairie, excepting, of course, the buffalo. They did not understand that the sound of a gun meant danger, and, when shot at, often merely jumped about and stared, acting much as in later times the elk and the mule deer acted.
We may take it for granted that, before the coming of the white man, the mountain sheep ranged over a very large portion of western America, from the Arctic Ocean down into Mexico. Wherever the country was adapted to them, there they were found. Absence of suitable food, and sometimes the presence of animals not agreeable to them, may have left certain areas without the sheep, but for the most part these animals no doubt existed from the eastern limit of their range clear to the Pacific. There were sheep on the plains and in the mountains; those inhabiting the plains when alarmed sought shelter in the rough bad lands that border so many rivers, or on the tall buttes that rise from the prairies, or in the small volcanic uplifts which, in the north, stretch far out eastward from the Rocky Mountains.
While some hunters believe that the wild sheep were driven from their former habitat on the plains and in the foothills by the advent of civilized man, the opinion of the best naturalists is the reverse of this. They believe that over the whole plains country, except in a few localities where they still remain, the sheep have been exterminated, and this is probably what has happened. Thus Dr. C. Hart Merriam writes me:
"I do not believe that the plains sheep have been driven to the mountains at all, but that they have been exterminated over the greater part of their former range. In other words, that the form or sub-species inhabiting the plains (auduboni) is now extinct over the greater part of its range, occurring only in the localities mentioned by you. The sheep of the mountains always lived there, and, in my opinion, has received no accession from the plains. In other words, to my mind it is not a case of changed habit, but a case of extermination over large areas. The same I believe to be true in the case of elk and many other animals."
That this is true of the elk—and within my own recollection—is certainly the fact. In the early days of my western travel, elk were reasonably abundant over the whole plains as far east as within 120 miles of the city of Omaha on the Missouri River, north to the Canadian boundary line—and far beyond—and south at least to the Indian Territory. From all this great area as far west as the Rocky Mountains they have disappeared, not by any emigration to other localities, but by absolute extermination.
A few years ago we knew but one species of mountain sheep, the common bighorn of the West, but with the opening of new territories and their invasion by white men, more and more specimens of the bighorn have come into the hands of naturalists, with the result that a number of new forms have been described covering territory from Alaska to Mexico. These forms, with the localities from which the types have come, are as follows:
Ovis canadensis, interior of western Canada. (Mountains of Alberta.)
Ovis canadensis auduboni, Bad Lands of South Dakota. (Between the White and Cheyenne rivers.)
Ovis nelsoni, Grapevine Mountains, boundary between California and Nevada. (Just south of Lat. 37 deg.)
Ovis mexicanus, Lake Santa Maria, Chihuahua, Mexico.
Ovis stonei, headwaters Stikine River (Che-o-nee Mountains), British Columbia.
Ovis dalli, mountains on Forty-Mile Creek, west of Yukon River, Alaska.
Ovis dalli kenaiensis, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska (1901).
Ovis canadensis cremnobates, Lower California.
The standing of Ovis fannini has been in doubt ever since its description, and recent specimens appear to throw still more doubt on it. Those most familiar with our sheep do not now, I believe, acknowledge it as a valid species. It comes from the mountains of the Klondike River, near Dawson, Yukon Territory.
What the relations of these different forms are to one another has not yet been determined, but it may be conjectured that Ovis canadensis, O. nelsoni, and O. dalli differ most widely from one another; while O. stonei and O. dalli, with its forms, are close together; and O. canadensis, and O.c. auduboni are closely related; as are also O. nelsoni, O. mexicanus, and O.c. cremnobates. The sub-species auduboni is the easternmost member of the American sheep family, while the sheep of Chihuahua and of Lower California are the most southern now known.
At many points in the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas the Indians were formerly great sheep hunters, and largely depended on this game for their flesh food. That it was easily hunted in primitive times cannot be doubted, and is easily comprehended when we remember the testimony of white observers already quoted. In certain places in the foothills of the mountains, or in more or less isolated ranges in Utah, Nevada, Montana, and other sections, the Indians used to beat the mountains, driving the sheep up to the summits, where concealed bowmen might kill them. On the summits of certain ranges which formerly were great resorts for sheep, I have found hiding places built of slabs of the trachyte which forms the mountain, which were used by the Indians for this purpose in part, as, later, they were also used by the scouting warrior as shelters and lookout stations from which a wide extent of plain might be viewed. The sheep on the prairie or on the foothills of such ranges, if alarmed, would of course climb to the summit, and there would be shot with stone-headed arrows.
Mr. Muir has seen such shelters in Nevada, and he tells us also that the Indians used to build corrals or pounds with diverging wings, somewhat like those used for the capture of antelope and buffalo on the plains, and that they drove the sheep into these corrals, about which, no doubt, men, women, and children were secreted, ready to destroy the game.
Certain tribes made a practice of building converging fences and driving the sheep toward the angle of these fences, where hunters lay in wait to kill them, as elsewhere mentioned by Mr. Hofer. In fact, sheep in those old times shared with all the other animals of the prairie that tameness to which I have often adverted in writing on this subject, and which now seems so remarkable.
The Bannocks and Sheep Eaters depended for their food very largely on sheep. In fact, the Sheep Eaters are reported to have killed little else, whence their name. Both these tribes hunted more or less in disguise, and wore on the head and shoulders the skin and horns of a mountain sheep's head, the skin often being drawn about the body, and the position assumed a stooping one, so as to simulate the animal with a considerable closeness. The legs, which were uncovered, were commonly rubbed with white or gray clay, and certain precautions were used to kill the human odor.
A Cheyenne Indian told me of an interesting happening witnessed by his grandfather very many years ago. A war party had set out to take horses from the Shoshone. One morning just at sunrise the fifteen or sixteen men were traveling along on foot in single file through a deep canon of the mountains, when one of them spied on a ledge far above them the head and shoulders of a great mountain sheep which seemed to be looking over the valley. He pointed it out to his fellows, and as they walked along they watched it. Presently it drew back, and a little later appeared again further along the ledges, and stood there on the verge. As the Indians watched, they suddenly saw shoot out from another ledge above the sheep a mountain lion, which alighted on the sheep's neck, and both animals fell whirling over the cliff and struck the slide rock below. The fall was a long one, and the Cheyennes, feeling sure that the sheep had been killed, either by the fall or by the lion, rushed forward to secure the meat. When they reached the spot the lion was hobbling off with a broken leg, and one of them shot it with his arrow, and when they made ready to skin the sheep, they saw to their astonishment that it was not a sheep, but a man wearing the skin and horns of a sheep. He had been hunting, and his bow and arrows were wrapped in the skin close to his breast. The fall had killed him. From the fashion of his hair and his moccasins they knew that he was a Bannock.
A reference to the hunting methods of the Sheep Eaters reminds one very naturally of that pursued by the Blackfeet, when sheep were needed, for their skins or for their flesh. These animals were abundant about the many buttes which rise out of the prairie on the flanks of the Rocky Mountains, in what is now Montana, and when disturbed retreated to the heights for safety.
Hugh Monroe, a typical mountain man of the old time, who reached Fort Edmonton in the year 1813, and died in 1893, after eighty years spent upon the prairie in close association with the Indians, has often told me of the Blackfoot method of securing sheep when their skins were needed for women's dresses. On such an occasion a large number of the men would ride out from the camp to the neighborhood of one of these buttes, and on their approach the sheep, which had been feeding on the prairie, slowly retreated to the heights above. The Indians then spread out, encircling the butte by a wide ring of horsemen, and sending three or four young men to climb its heights, awaited results. When the men sent up on the butte had reached its summit, they pursued the sheep over its limited area, and drove them down to the prairie below, where the mounted men chased and killed them. In this way large numbers of sheep were procured.
Of the hunting of the sheep by the Indians who inhabited the rough mountains in and near what is now the Yellowstone National Park, Mr. Hofer has said to me:
"It is supposed that when the Sheep Eater Indians inhabited the mountains about the Park they kept the sheep down pretty close, but after they went away the sheep increased in that particular range of country, the whole Absaroka range; that is to say, the country from Clark Fork of the Yellowstone down to the Wind River drainage.
"The greatest number of sheep in recent years was pretty well toward the head of Gray Bull, Meeteetsee Creek and Stinking Water. In those old times the Indians used to build rude fences on the sides of the mountains, running down a hill, and these fences would draw together toward the bottom, and where they came nearly together the Indians would have a place to hide in. Fifteen years ago there was one such trap that was still quite plainly visible. One fence follows down pretty near the edge of a little ridge, draining steeply down from Crandle Creek divide to Miller Creek. There was no pen at the bottom, and no cliff to run them off, so that the Indians could not have killed them in that way, but near where the fences came together there was a pile of dead limbs and small rocks that looked to me as if it had been used by a person lying in wait to shoot animals which were driven down this ridge; and it was near enough to the place that they must pass to shoot them with arrows. These Indians had arrows, and hunted with them; and up on top of the ridges you will find old stumps that have been hacked down with stone hatchets. Some of the tree trunks have been removed, but others have been left there. I think that some Indians would go around the sheep and start them off, and gradually drive them to the pass where the hunter lay. I remember following along this ridge, and then on another ridge that went on toward the Clark Fork ridge to quite a high little peak, and on top of this peak was quite a large bed for a man to lie in. He could watch there until the sheep should pass through, and then he could come out and drive them on."
AGENTS OF DESTRUCTION.
The settling up of much of their former range, with pursuit by skin-hunters, head-hunters, and meat-hunters, has had much to do with the reduction in numbers of the mountain sheep, but more important than these have been the ravages by diseases brought in to their range by the domestic sheep, and then spread by the wild species among their wild associates. For many years it has been known that the wild sheep of certain portions of the Rocky Mountain region are afflicted with scab, a disease which in recent years seems to have attacked the elk as well. Testimony is abundant that wild sheep are killed by scab as domestic sheep are. On a few occasions I have seen animals that appeared to have died from this cause, but Mr. Hofer, to be quoted later, has had a much broader experience.
More sweeping and even more fatal has been the introduction among the wild sheep of an anthrax, of which, however, very little is known.
Aside from man, the most important enemies of the sheep in nature are the mountain lion and eagles of two species. These last I believe to be so destructive to newly born sheep and goats that I think it a duty to kill them whenever possible.
Dr. Edward L. Munson, at that time Assistant Surgeon, U.S. Army, but whose services in more recent years have won him so much credit, and such well deserved promotion, wrote me in 1897 the following interesting paragraphs with relation to disease among sheep. He said:
"The Bear Paw Mountains were full of mountain sheep a dozen years ago. One was roped last summer, and this is the only representative which has been seen or heard of there in ten years. The introduction of tame sheep early in the '80's was followed by a most destructive anthrax, which not only destroyed immense numbers of tame sheep, but also exterminated the wild ones, which appeared to be especially susceptible to this disease. In going through these mountains one often finds the skeletons of a number huddled together, and the above is the explanation given by some of the older settlers. The mountains are small, and the wild sheep could not climb up out of the infected zone. Immediate contact is, of course, not necessary in the propagation of anthrax, and the bacilli and spores left on soil grazed over by an infected band would readily infect another animal feeding over such a country even a long time afterward.
"I have also heard that the introduction of dog distemper played havoc with wolves, coyotes, and Indian dogs, when it first came into the country. This is the case with regard to any disease introduced into a virgin human population, in which there is no immunity due to the prevalence of such a disease for hundreds of years previously."
Mr. Elwood Hofer, discussing this subject in conversation, says:
"There are not a great many sheep in the Park now, anywhere; they have died off from sickness—the scab. This is a fact known to everyone living in the neighborhood of the Park. I have killed only one that had the disease badly, but I used to see them every day, and pay no attention to them. I did not hunt for them, for I did not want them in that condition. I remember that once a man came out to Gardiner who did not know that the sheep were sick. He saw some when he was hunting, and rushed up in great excitement and killed three of them. They seemed to be weak and were pretty nearly dead with scab before he saw them. Sometimes they become so weak from this disease that they lie down and die.
"I first noticed sheep with the scab around the canyon by the Yellowstone. I never saw any troubled with this disease around Meeteetsee or Stinking Water. I have been there in winter, and hunted them as late as November, and Col. Pickett used to kill some still later. I never heard him speak of the scab."
In spring and early summer, when the young sheep are small, the eagles are constantly on the watch for them, and unquestionably capture many lambs. I have been told by my friend, Mr. J.B. Monroe, who has several times captured lambs alive, that when they heard the rope whistling as he threw it toward them, they would run directly toward him, seeming to fear some enemy from above. He believes that they took the sound of the rope flying through the air for the sound of the eagle's wings.
While, of course, the mountain lions cannot overtake the sheep in fair chase, they lie in wait for them among the rocks, killing many, because the sheep range on ground suitable for the lions to stalk them on; that is to say, among the rocks on steep mountain sides, or at the edges of canyons.
A conversation had with Mr. Hofer a year or two since is so interesting that I offer no apology for giving the gist of it here. It has to do with the enemies of the sheep, especially the mountain lion, and with some of the sheep's ways. In substance, Mr. Hofer said:
"One day about the first of January I was in my cabin looking through the window, and up through the Cinnabar Basin, over the snow-covered mountains. As I was looking, I saw a dark patch disappear in the snow and then rise out of it again. The snow was deep and fluffy. The animal that I was watching would disappear in the snow with a plunge, and then would come up with a jump. It made several wonderful flights. It was so far off I could not tell what it was, and when I looked at it through the glasses I saw that it was a big ram breaking a trail. I was watching him closely and at first did not notice that others were with him. Soon, however, I discovered that there were four or five other sheep following him.
"The big ram came down from the side of the mountain, and, to pass over to the other mountain, he had to cross the valley. There were a number of knolls or ridges in this valley, where the snow was not so deep as in the hollows. The ram broke a trail to a knoll, and stopped and looked back, and pretty soon I saw the rest of the sheep coming along. They followed his trail and passed him while he was standing there looking back, always looking up at the mountain. While he stood on this knoll where the snow was not deep—for it had blown off—and the other sheep had passed him, one of them took the lead to the next knoll, breaking the trail, but here the snow was not so deep as that the ram had come through. No sooner had the sheep got to this knoll than the old ram started. He took the trail the others had made, and joined them at the next knoll, and then plunging in, went on ahead and broke a fresh trail to the next rise of ground. The ram did most of the trail-breaking, but sometimes one of the others went ahead; there was always one in the rear, on guard, as it were, until they had crossed the valley to a steep ridge on the next mountain. As they went, they stopped every little while and stood for some time looking back.
"Knowing the habits of the animal, I felt sure that something had driven them off the mountain. They looked back as if to see whether anything was following, or perhaps to look again at what had frightened them. I thought it was a mountain lion. Soon afterward I took my snowshoes and went up that way and found the track of a mountain lion. From the size of the track it seemed as if the animal must have been enormous. On soft snow, though, tracks spread and look big, and besides that, these cats commonly spread out their toes. There was no mistake about its being a mountain lion, for I could see where the tail had struck the soft snow and made holes in it.
"Mountain lions were around there a good deal, and E. De Long, who had a cabin a little further up in the valley, told me that three times in his experience of hunting up there he had come on a place where a mountain lion had just killed a sheep. In each case he found the sheep in nearly the same place, and in each case the sheep was freshly killed, and he dressed it and took it home.
"This seemed to be a favorite place for the lions to kill sheep. They are great hands to kill sheep in about the same place. Far up on the Boulder—way up near the head—Col. Pickett and I found nineteen or twenty skulls of sheep by one rock. There was a wonderful lot of them. They had been killed at various times, and in a place where they never could have been killed by snowslides. It was under a very high rock, fifteen feet perpendicular on one side, and in the valley a game trail passed close under this side. On the other side the rock was not so high, but sloped off to the side of the hill. A lion could easily lie there without being seen, but could himself see both ways. The game trail was so close that he could jump right down on to it. The number of skulls that we saw here was so remarkable that Col. Pickett and I counted them; there were more than eighteen.
"The skulls were most of them old—killed a good while before. None of them had the shells of the horns. They were old skulls, and the oldest were almost in fragments, very much weathered. It was the accumulation of a number of years, probably ten or fifteen. To my mind it showed clearly that this was a favorite place for lions to lie for mountain sheep. I have known of something similar to that in Cinnabar Basin, where I have seen a number of skulls scattered along the gulch. There was a heavy trail there which led up to a valley where there is a pass by which we used to wind down to the Yellowstone and Tom Miner Creek and Trapper Creek.
"Lions are quite bad along the Yellowstone here, and sometimes in a hard winter they seem to be driven out of the mountains, and a considerable number have been killed on Gardiner River and Reese Creek.
"If mountain lions are after the sheep, the sheep leave the mountain they are on and go to another; they will not stay there, and will not return until something drives them back."
SOME WAYS OF THE SHEEP.
Mr. Hofer said:
"In old times it was sometimes possible to get a 'stand' on sheep, and, in my opinion, sheep often, even to-day, are the least suspicious of all the mountain animals. A mountain sheep always seems to fear the thing that he sees under him. If a man goes above him he does not seem to know what to do. I could never understand why, when one is above him, he stands and looks. I have sometimes been riding around in the mountains, and have come on sheep right below me. I have often thrown stones at them, and sometimes it was quite a while before I could get them to start. Finally, however, they would run off. They acted as if they were dazed.
"On the other hand, when I carried the mail down in San Juan county, Colorado, in the winter of 1875-'76, going across from Animas Forks by way of the Grizzly Pass to Tellurium Fork, I was the only person in that section of the country all through the winter, and yet, although the sheep saw only me, and saw me every day, they always acted wild. Sometimes a ram would see me and stand and look for a long time, and then presently all along the mountain side I would see sheep running as if they were alarmed. On the other hand, if I met any of them on top of the mountain, they scarcely ever ran, they just stood and looked at me.
"Once, when on a hunting trip, I had my horses all picketed in sight, just above the basin where we were camped. The boy that had the care of the horses had been up to change the picketed animals, and when he came in he said: 'There's a sheep up there close by the horses. He saw me and was not afraid.' We went out of the tent and presently I could see the sheep, a small one about four years old. We went up toward it, and I saw the sheep moving about. It went out to a little flat place on the slide rock, where the slide rock had pushed out a little further, making a little low butte, or flat-topped table; it was loose rock, with snow. Here the sheep lay down.
"I went around to station my man where he could get a rest for his rifle, and when I had done this, I went around above to make the sheep get up to drive him out, so that the man could shoot him. After I got well up the gulch, above him, the sheep could see me plainly, and I could see his eyes. I hesitated about making him get up, thinking perhaps it was somebody's tame sheep, but we were the first ones up there that spring, and of course it was not a tame sheep. If we had not been out of meat I would not have disturbed the animal. I walked toward it to make it get up, but it would not, and still lay there. When I was within thirty feet of it I took up a stone and threw it, and called at him. The sheep stood up and looked at me. I said, 'Go on, now,' and he started in the direction I wished him to take. When he came in sight, the man fired two or three shots at him, but did not hurt him, and the sheep again lay down in sight of camp. Afterward I fired at him about 300 yards up the side of the mountain, but I did not touch him. However, he was disturbed by the shooting, and moved away.
"It is often difficult to find a reason for the way sheep act. It is possible that this young ram, which was in the Sunlight Mining District, had seen many miners, and that they had not disturbed him, and that so he had lost his fear of man. He was not at all afraid of horses, perhaps because he was accustomed to seeing miners' horses; or he may have taken them for elk. I do not see why our wind did not alarm him. At all events, for some reason, this one showed no fear.
"Along the Gardiner River, inside the northern boundary of the Yellowstone Park, there are always a number of sheep in winter, and they become very tame, having learned by experience that people passing to and fro will not injure them. Men driving up the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Gardiner, constantly see these sheep, which manifest the utmost indifference to those who are passing them. Sometimes they stand close enough to the road for a driver to reach them with his whip. One winter the surgeon at the post, driving along, came upon a sheep standing in the road, and as it did not move, he had to stop his team for it. He did not dare to drive his horse close up to it. Finally the ram jumped out to one side of the road, and the surgeon drove on. He said he could have touched it with his whip."
One winter when Mr. Hofer made an extended snowshoe trip through the Park, he passed very close to sheep. It appeared to him that they fear man less along the wagon roads than when he is out on the benches and in the mountains. They seem to care little for man, but if a mountain lion appears in the neighborhood, the sheep are no longer seen. Just where they go is uncertain, but it is believed that they cross the Yellowstone River by swimming.
In winter, and especially late in the winter, sheep frequent southern and southwestern exposures, and spend much of their time there. I have seen places on the St. Marys Lake, in northern Montana, where there were cartloads of droppings, apparently the accumulation of many years, and have seen the same thing in the cliffs along the Yellowstone River. On the rocks here there were many beds among the cliffs and ledges. Often such beds are behind a rock, not a high one, but one that the sheep could look over. In places such as this the animals are very difficult to detect.
Although the wild sheep was formerly, to a considerable extent, an inhabitant of the western edge of the prairies of the high dry plains, it is so no longer. The settling of the country has made this impossible, but long before its permanent occupancy the frequent passage through it by hunters had resulted in the destruction of the sheep or had driven it more or less permanently to those heights where, in times of danger, it had always sought refuge.
To the east of the principal range of the wild sheep in America to-day there are still a few of its old haunts not in the mountains which are so arid or so rough, or where the water is so bad that as yet they have not to any great extent been invaded by the white man. Again to the south and southwest, in portions of Arizona, Old Mexico, and Lower California, there rise out of frightful deserts buttes and mountain ranges inhabited by different forms of sheep. In that country water is extremely scarce, and the few water holes that exist are visited by the sheep only at long intervals. There are many men who believe that the sheep do not drink at all, but it is chiefly at these water holes that the sheep of the desert are killed.
At the present day the chief haunts of the mountain sheep are the fresh Alpine meadows lying close to timber line, and fenced in by tall peaks; or the rounded grassy slopes which extend from timber line up to the region of perpetual snows. Sitting on the point of some tall mountain the observer may look down on the green meadows, interspersed perhaps with little clumps of low willows which grow along the tiny watercourses whose sources are the snow banks far up the mountain side, and if patient in his watch and faithful in his search, he may detect with his glasses at first one or two, and gradually more and more, until at length perhaps ten, fifteen or thirty sheep may be counted, scattered over a considerable area of country. Or, if he climbs higher yet, and overlooks the rounded shoulders which stretch up from the passes toward the highest pinnacles of all—he will very likely see far below him, lying on the hill and commanding a view miles in extent in every direction, a group of nine, ten or a dozen sheep peacefully resting in the midday sun. Those that he sees will be almost all of them ewes and young animals. Perhaps there may be a young ram or two whose horns have already begun to curve backward, but for the most part they are females and young.