|Home -> Grafton Publishing -> Out of Doors - California and Oregon -> A Hunting Trip in the Long Ago|
A Hunting Trip in the Long Ago
One of the disadvantages of old age, even advancing years, is the pleasure we lose in anticipating future events. Enthusiastic youth derives more pleasure in planning a journey, an outing or a social gathering than can possibly be realized from any human experience. With what pleasure the young set out, getting ready for a hunting trip, or an excursion to some remote locality never visited by them!
From the first day I arrived in Los Angeles, I had heard of the Fort Tejon and the Rancho La Liebre country as a hunting paradise, extolled by all people I met, who were given to spending an occasional week or two in the mountains in search of game. In consequence of what I had heard of this region, I made up my mind to go there the first time I got an opportunity.
Among the first acquaintances I made here was a dear old man named A. C. Chauvin, formerly of St. Louis, Mo., and of French descent. He had spent many years in the Northwest, hunting and trapping. He was an excellent shot with both rifle and shotgun. Notwithstanding the fact that he was slightly afflicted with a nervous disorder akin to palsy, which kept his left arm and hand, when not in use, constantly shaking, the moment he drew up his gun, his nerves were steady, and his aim perfect. He despised the modern breech-loading rifle, and insisted on shooting an old-fashioned, muzzle-loading, single-barrel rifle, made by a fellow townsman, Henry Slaughterbach. It was an exceedingly accurate and powerful shooting gun. Chauvin was a thorough hunter, well versed in woodcraft, up in camp equipage and the requirements of men on a two or three weeks' hunting trip.
Off in the Dust.
During the summer of 1876 I had been hard at work. The weather had been hot and trying. In the latter part of September, Mr. Chauvin proposed that I go with him on a deer hunt to the Liebre Ranch. I was practicing law, and after consulting my partners, I eagerly consented to accompany him. He made all the preparations. On the 30th of September he started a two-horse wagon, loaded with most of our outfit, on ahead, in charge of a roustabout. On October 2nd, we followed in a light one-horse wagon, taking with us our blankets, a few provisions and a shotgun. We had a hard time pulling over the grade beyond San Fernando, but finally made it. We went on past Newhall, and camped the first night on the bank of the Santa Clara River.
Without the slightest trouble we killed, within a very few minutes, enough quail for supper and breakfast. After we had finished our evening meal, quite a shower came up very suddenly. Just enough rain fell to make things sticky and disagreeable. The clouds vanished and left as beautiful a starlit sky as any human being ever enjoyed. Our wagon had a piece of canvas over it, which shed the rain, and left the ground beneath the wagon dry. Upon this spot we spread our blankets and went to sleep. Next morning the sun got up, hot, red and ugly looking. We breakfasted, hitched up and started up San Francisquito Canyon. Chauvin remarked we were in for a hot day, and he proved a good prophet. There wasn't a breath of wind stirring as the day progressed. The heat fairly sizzled. A goodly part of the road was well shaded. We were loath to leave the shady spots when we came to the open places. To lighten our load we walked most of the way. We stopped for lunch, fed and rested our weary animal, and just at dark after a weary afternoon's work we reached Elizabeth Lake, where we overtook the other wagon. We had been two full days on the road. I have made the same trip in an automobile two summers in succession, in less than four hours.
In Antelope Country.
On leaving Elizabeth Lake next morning we transferred everything of any weight from our wagon to the larger one, which made the going much easier for our animal. We descended the hill beyond the lake, went up the valley a few miles, and then cut straight across to a point near where Fairmont is now situated. Chauvin said he wanted to get an antelope before going after the deer. We crossed the valley into some low, rolling hills and camped on a small stream called Rock Creek. Chauvin said this was a great place for antelope. The horses were picketed out on a grassy cienega, which offered them pretty good feed. We got our supper, made camp and went to bed.
During the night a wind began to blow from the northwest, and in a few hours it had become a hurricane. Small stones were carried by it like grains of sand. They would pelt us on the head as we lay in our blankets. We could hear the stones clicking against the spokes of the wagon wheels. Great clouds, of dust would obscure the sky. By morning the velocity of the wind was terrific. Our horses, driven frantic, had broken loose and disappeared. We could not make a fire, nor if we had had one could we have cooked anything, for the dirt that filled the air. For breakfast we ate such things as we had prepared. The roustabout started off trailing the horses. Chauvin and I sat around under a bank, blue and disconsolate.
About 11 o'clock we saw a great band of antelope going to water. They were coming up against the wind, straight to us. When fully half a mile away they scented us and started off in a circle to strike the creek above us. We put off after them, following up the creek bed. They beat us to it, watered and started back to their feeding ground, passing us in easy range. We shot at them, but without effect. The wind blew so hard that accurate shooting was an impossibility. We went back to camp. Not far from it we found quite a hole under the bank, which the winter waters had burrowed out. It afforded shelter enough from the wind, which was still blowing, to allow us to build a fire of dry sage brush. We then prepared a good, warm meal, which we at with great relish. By 1 o'clock in the afternoon the wind began to abate, and it died away almost as suddenly as it came up. It left the atmosphere dry and full of dust.
We heard nothing from the man who had gone after the horses. About 3 o'clock Chauvin said he was going to get an antelope or know why. He argued that they would be coming to water soon. He told me to remain near the camp. He went up the stream, intending to get above the point at which the animals usually watered. He had been gone about an hour, when I saw the dust rise toward the east - such a dust as a drove of sheep in motion makes. Pretty soon the advance guard of the largest band of antelope I ever saw, or ever hope to see again, appeared in sight. As they scented our camp, what a sight they made! There they stood, out of range, looking to the point where their keen noses notified them that danger lurked. Then they would wheel and run, stop and look again. The white spots on their rumps shone in the sunlight like burnished silver.
They would stop, look awhile and again wheel and run. Suspicious and anxious they stood, heads up and nostrils dilated, sides heaving. They made a beautiful picture of excited and alarmed curiosity. Several times they advanced, and then fell back. Finally they whirled away and headed up stream. In a few minutes I heard the report of Chauvin's rifle, followed a little later by another shot. Then the whole band appeared in wild disorder, running as only frightened antelopes can run, in the direction from which they came. Shortly afterwards I saw Chauvin on a little knoll. I waved my arms. He saw me, took off his hat and beckoned for me to join him. Off I put, as fast as my legs could carry me. When I got to him, I found he had killed two antelope bucks. They lay within 400 yards of each other. He had already cut their throats. Maybe you think we were not happy! We drew the animals. Chauvin was an old man, compactly built, but very strong. He helped me shoulder the smaller of the bucks, and then he, with the greatest ease, picked up the other one, and we trudged to camp. We hung our game up on a couple of stunted stumps and skinned them. Then we prepared supper. We cooked potatoes and rice, made coffee, and cornbread, and fried the antelope livers with bacon. Just as our meal was ready, our roustabout came into camp, riding one of the horses barebacked, with only a halter and leading the other two. He had had his hat blown away and was bareheaded. He was nearly frozen, having started off in the morning without his coat.
He trailed the horses, which were traveling before the wind, for twelve miles. Fortunately at a point on the south side of the valley, they entered a ravine, in which there was plenty of bunch grass. Here, sheltered from the wind, they fed up the ravine a mile or so, where he found them lying down in a sheltered spot near a water hole. He had had nothing to eat since leaving us. Coming back he faced the wind until it died away. Riding a horse bareback, with a halter for a bridle, and leading two other horses, you can well imagine was no picnic. We tied the animals to some willow stumps, so there was no danger of their getting loose, and gave them a feed of barley. By this time the roustabout was thawed out by our fire, and we had supper.
As we had all the antelope we wanted, we made our plans for the next day. Chauvin knew the country thoroughly. He proposed that the next morning we go to where the horses had been found, and proceed up that canyon onto the Liebre ranch to a camping spot he knew of. He was certain we would find deer there. At peace with the world, we went to bed that night well fed and contented. Next morning we had antelope steak, right out of the loin, for breakfast. I never tasted better meat but once, and that was a moose steak served us one morning at the Hotel Frontenac in Quebec a few years ago.
We broke camp early. About noon time we had crossed the valley and gained our new camp, which was an ideal one. There was a spring of hot and a spring of cold iron and sulphur water within ten feet of each other, each near a stream of cold, clear mountain water. The first thing we did was to take a bath in the hot sulphur water. There was quite a hole in which it boiled up. It was almost too hot for comfort, but how cleansing it was! It took all of the sand out of our hair and beard and eyes, and left the skin as soft as satin. After our hot bath, we cooled off in the stream and got into our clothes. Refreshed and encouraged, we were extremely happy.
Deer tracks were very plentiful. We fixed up our camp, cut up our antelope, put a lot of it out to dry or "jerk," as the common expression is, and then about an hour before sunset, Chauvin and I set out to look the country over. There was plenty of timber, pinons and other pines, and oaks, scrub and large, all full of acorns, upon which the deer were feeding. Returning from camp, not 100 yards from it, we jumped two bucks. We killed both of them, each getting one. Just about then, we began to think things were coming our way. We drew the deer, and in hanging them upon a small oak tree, I pressed a yellow-jacket with the middle finger of my right hand. Before I got the stinger out, my upper lip swelled up to enormous proportions, and both my eyes were swollen shut. Chauvin looked at me with open-eyed and open-mouthed astonishment. In a characteristic tone, native to him, he remarked, "If I hadn't seen it, I couldn't believe it," He had to lead me to camp.
I have been very susceptible to bee stings all my life. Several years before this a bumble bee had stung me on my upper lip, and my whole face was swollen out of shape for many days. I suppose that fact had something to do with the peculiar action of this sting. At any rate, I was in great misery, and lay in camp with my eyes swollen shut for three days before the swelling began to abate. I drank great quantities of the sulphur water, and bathed my face in it continuously.
The morning after the yellow-jacket incident, Chauvin and the roustabout, the latter taking my gun, left me in bed and went out after deer. They left without breakfast, about daylight. Shortly afterwards, two of the horses broke loose and ran through camp terror stricken. The third horse strained at his stake rope, but did not break it. He snorted and stamped at a great rate. The loose horses did not leave camp, but kept up a constant running and snorting for some time. When Chauvin came back, he found that a bear had come down from the mountains near by, torn down and partially devoured one of the deer we had killed the night before, not one hundred yards from where I lay in bed.
Don Elogio de Celis, a well known citizen of Los Angeles, was camped in a canyon about a mile west of us. That afternoon he killed a grizzly bear of pretty good proportions, and we all supposed that he was the marauder who had visited our camp that morning.
While I was laid up Chauvin got two more bucks, several tree squirrels and some mountain quail. We made plenty of jerky, while living off the fat of the land.
About four or five days after I was stung, the swelling went down sufficiently for me to see again, but I had lost my appetite for further hunting, especially as Chauvin had had several long tramps without any luck. We stayed in camp a couple of days longer, then, as signs of a rainstorm were prevalent, we packed up and left camp very early one morning, and the first day got back to Newhall. The next morning, when we reached San Fernando, as I was not feeling any too well, I took the train for Los Angeles, so as to avoid the hot, dusty ride in by wagon.
For many months Chauvin repeated to our friends the extraordinary circumstances of my lip and eyes swelling up from a yellow jacket's sting on the finger. He had hunted and trapped all his life, but could not get over that one incident.
What we had expected to be a pleasant outing proved to be rather a hard experience, but we were too old at the game not to have enjoyed it, and do you realize that after we got rested up, we felt better for our experience? Life in the open, the change of air, the excitement of hunting, all united in sweeping the cobwebs from our brains and left us better prepared for the battle of life than we were before we started.