OFF OF HIS RANGE
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OFF OF HIS RANGE

OFF OF HIS RANGE




      

OFF OF HIS RANGE




By WILL F. EVANS

THE big Silver Tip bears are exclusive in their tastes, as they can only be found in the highest, the roughest and the most densely timbered mountains of the United States. In a region of West Texas, known as the Trans-Pecos, or the Big Bend country, lies the beautiful range of mountains known as Davis Mountains. The culminating peak of these mountains is known as Mt. Livermore and its height is 8,750 feet above sea level, while a great number of peaks of lesser altitude jut skyward in every direction.

All of the famous canyons of the Davis Mountains have their tributaries starting from the base of this old mountain, which is several miles across and the water that it sheds off its rugged old back is taken into the Rio Grande on the south and the Pecos on the east. In the good old days when the game was plentiful and so was our time and our money, and the worries and the bill collectors did not ruffle our brows, or harass our spirits, we used to have the great bear hunts in the Davis Mountains. Ten miles northwest of Mt. Livermore lies its rival neighbor, Mt. Saw Tooth, whose back is covered with tall spires of moss-covered cliffs that cleave the heavens in a jagged outline like the teeth of a saw.

Just north of this wonderful mountain on an undulating mesa, two small rock mountains rise flush from the grass-carpeted valley, with one huge boulder above the other to the height of 300 feet. Big trees about the base of these mountains, and peeping up' through the crevices, their green foliage against the grey boulders, forms a picture for the gods.

At the southern side of one of these miniature mountains, we pitched camp among the trees; tents were stretched up for the ladies and children, three chuck wagons placed in file, all abreast, with several Mexican cooks to prepare the food royal. Fat beeves are killed and the many hunters in the crowd usually bring in a buck or two, the first night out.

The old-timers, Means, Evans, Jones and Finley with their families, friends and invited guests form a party of seventy-five people, and they have along a great number of horses with Mexican night and day herders, and thirty long-eared hounds, hacks, buggies and bed wagons; that is the way we used to go about having the good times. When the gay night larks of the cities are just going to bed for the day, before the faintest light has ever touched the east, the cooks are preparing breakfast, the first thing on the fire is a five gallon can of coffee that soon is boiling; while the old boys, one and two and so on, come stiff-legged up to the chuck-box for a cup. They protect their face with one hand and with the other they dip into the pot and bring up a steaming cup of coffee. Breakfast just for the men; roping horses at break of day from a rope corral; horns blowing and horses bucking and dogs howling, when the cavalcade heads for Livermore.

Up Road Canyon, through the pines and dense undergrowth of oaks, pinions, juniper, cherries, etc., we top out around the east slope of Cinnamon Ridge, off into Saw Mill Canyon about the Richmond Place; on up Saw Mill to the north end of Top Gap, when the party follows the old deserted Saw-mill road around the side of Livermore up through Briggs Spring Gap, where pandemonium breaks loose in dog land and twenty-five men scattered in squads, each group following a leader, but many there be that start, and few that ever get there when you start a bear in the Davis Mountains.

When I came to, and found where I was, after a breakneck pace through the debris of fallen trees and piled up boulders, I was in the lead of a party of four men on the top of Livermore, with the shale flying out from under our horses' feet as we sheered around the heads of the canyons that led off east towards Fort Davis. On the brink of Limpia Canyon we paused for our horses to get their wind when McAnelly (now deceased) said. ''Gosh A'mighty, look yonder at that Grizzly."

We followed his excited gaze into the canyon a mile or more beneath us, and we saw the gleam of his grey back as he lumbered off out of sight in the timber. We were spellbound, and again the big brute came into a clearing still further ahead, but no dogs were in sight, or men to put them on his trail.

I says, "Dad gum the luck, I believe he is going to get clean away, where in the thunder are all the dogs anyhow; let's see if we can make it around these canyons to the other side of Limpia in time to get a shot at him as he tops out. We rode as fast as our horses could keep their footing around these rock-slides and a sleek carpet of pine needles, but the odds were all against us as the big bear had already crossed over and taken his downward plunge into the wilds of the Merril Canyon, or some of its many tributaries. Not a dog, nor a yelp of a dog; we were in a frenzy of keen disappointment, as a bear like this monster had never been seen in all of our hunting in the Davis Mountains, and to let him get clean away, Gosh, it was tough luck.

At the beginning of the excitement in the Briggs Spring Gap, it developed that the dogs were after several different kind of varmints and did not get any of them.

My father, G. W. Evans, the oldest bear hunter in this country, topped out with some of the boys, further east on Livermore than I did, and he had gathered up several of the dogs that had gotten away. Me came to a point overlooking Limpia when the dogs began to act strangely; their hair was standing up the wrong way and with their tails tucked under them, they came back to the men and got close under the horses, as if they were scared to death. Presently, the hunters, came to a wide swath cut in the underbrush, bushes broken down, or pulled up by the roots, and a tree pushed over.

At the beginning of the drag was a dead cow that had been killed in the early morning and partly devoured by some great beast, they knew not what, as it was a solid rock floor with the trees and underbrush coming out from a soil hidden from view, there was no impression of a (rack. The old bear dogs that had treed hundreds of black bears would not trail this animal, whatever it was, but some of the pups carried the trail a mile or so. but they all turned back, except an old stray dog that did not belong to any of the outfit, followed along on the trail. The old dog would only bark every once in a great while and the tremendous silence of the vastness of the mountains becomes almost over-powering, and was only broken by his faint yelp at great intervals.

All the while the army of men were combing the outlying ridges, stopping, looking and listening, while hours wore on and the sun began to swing around to the west, when everybody begun to wonder where in the thunder is everybody else, and where are all the dogs ?

I was standing on a point far to the south of Livermore, several miles out of the zone where we usually hunted, and with Wat Reynolds (now deceased) we had been here in this lonely place for an hour when a faint shot was heard somewhere to the southeast of us, followed by a bellow of some enraged animal.

Wat says, "Somebody is killing somebody's bull over there; did you ever hear such a bellow ?"

There were several more shots fired in quick succession, then utter silence reigned for some time. In the meantime Wat and I were heading back around the backbone and around the heads of the canyons in the direction from which the shots came. On our way we ran upon some more of the party that were headed the same way, when our horses all suddenly jammed in to each other: Uncle Alf Mean's horse, a beautiful sorrel, had snapped his front leg square off and left his foot in a crevice as he rolled over. He was going at such speed that when he tumbled he threw Uncle Alf clear and did not hurt him. but the poor horse: if you have never had to put a bullet through the head of your best horse to put him out of his misery, you have been spared a sad experience.

Making our way off down the mountain and into the dense brush in the canyon, we rounded a little cliff and came upon Uncle John Means and C. O. Finlev standing over the huge carcass of the fallen Monarch of the mountains, a Silver Tip bear. He would weigh 8oo Ibs. and his head was about the size of a five-gallon keg. while his claws were three inches long, one-quarter inch thick and an inch wide. His fur was nearly black next to the skin, while the outer half of the hair was a bright silver with a black tip on the extreme end; the fur on the legs was somewhat sandy. The old dog had followed along, far behind the bear and his occasional yelp led Uncle John and Mr. Ote to the place where the big bear had stopped. The big brute had decided to go no further, and when the men got down to where the little bluff was. they dismounted and climbed up and looked over, when there lay the biggest animal they had ever seen, except an elephant, at the end of a big log. They both fired at the same time, the bullets both taking effect, as the bear gave a mighty roar and charged towards them, while they began to pump the 30-30 bullets into him as fast as they could work the levers.

At their first shots, the faithful old dog came a little closer to the bear, when the enraged beast made a sweep at the dog and crushed him like an egg shell. This ferocity, which is unknown in the black bear, made these old-timers wake up and take notice, and they emptied their magazines into his huge body before he fell.

We kept blowing the horns for others of the hunters to come and see the bear, but only nine of us out of the twenty-five got to see him as he lay there, where he had rolled into a little ravine, with his great claws spread out and his feet sticking upward. It scared me to look at him dead, and I decided that if I ever hunted any Grizzlies I would surely stay on high ground, and stay on my horse, too, for f would not want one of these fellows to charge down hill at me.

We skinned the monster, leaving the fleece on the hide, un-jointed the feet and the massive head and left them on the hide also, and this weighed 300 pounds. We tied and strapped it around and about on the biggest horse we had among us and the rider of this horse and Mr. Ote headed clown Merill Canyon with the trophy, for Rill Jones' Kelly Ranch, where they got a hack and hauled it on into camp the next day.

In the meantime, the rest of us had to cross a dozen deep canyons to get back to camp, and I had to ride on top of mine and Uncle Alf's saddles, while he and Muling rode Hiding's horse over all those ups and downs. It fared harder with me than it did with them, as I was perched so high in the air it was nearly impossible to get under the low-hanging brush. Just at nightfall we rode into camp) with the biggest news that had ever been handed out in a West Texas cam]). It had been the day of all days in the annals of our bear hunts as nothing larger than the black bear had ever been found in the Davis Mountains before. We killed a number of these on this hunt, also several deer, and everybody had one continual good time, with feasting, dancing, frolics and bronco busting and horse-shoeing in the afternoons. Silver Tip day did not leave us any margin for any fun, however, and when we had managed to get in enough feed to do us. while we were trying to talk at the same time, we were glad to hit the hay, calling it enough for one day.

Mr. Finley has the skin in his home on his ranch near Valentine and my father and Uncle John have each of them a watch charm made out of two of the claws, with gold mountings and the Masonic emblems decorating both sides. We have often wondered how the big bear got so far away from his happy hunting ground, but it is a mystery that will never be cleared up.

The ranchmen never carried cameras those days, I guess they would have gotten them broken if they had, but I have always regretted that we did not get a snapshot of this big fellow as he lay there in the woods with his up-turned claws and a great snarl on his face.

Some of the visitors took a number of snapshots of the black bear and deer that were killed on this hunt, but they are dim with age and may not look good in print.

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