WILD ANIMALS AT HOME
- BY THE SAME AUTHOR THE BOOK OF WOODCRAFT AND INDIAN LORE WILD ANIMALS I HAVE KNOWN TWO LITTLE SAVAGES BIOGRAPHY OF A GRIZZLY LIFE HISTORIES OF NORTHERN ANIMALS ROLF IN THE WOODS THE FORESTERS' MANUAL -
Wild Animals At Home
ERNEST THOMPSON SETON
Author of "Wild Animals I Have Known," "Two Little Savages," "Biography of a Grizzly," "Life Histories of Northern Animals," "Rolf in the Woods," "The Book of Woodcraft."
Head Chief of the Woodcraft Indians
With over 150 Sketches and Photographs by the Author
Garden City New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1923
Copyright, 1913, by ERNEST THOMPSON SETON
All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES AT THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.
My travels in search of light on the "Animals at Home" have taken me up and down the Rocky Mountains for nearly thirty years. In the canyons from British Columbia to Mexico, I have lighted my campfire, far beyond the bounds of law and order, at times, and yet I have found no place more rewarding than the Yellowstone Park, the great mountain haven of wild life.
Whenever travellers penetrate into remote regions where human hunters are unknown, they find the wild things half tame, little afraid of man, and inclined to stare curiously from a distance of a few paces. But very soon they learn that man is their most dangerous enemy, and fly from him as soon as he is seen. It takes a long time and much restraint to win back their confidence.
In the early days of the West, when game abounded and when fifty yards was the extreme deadly range of the hunter's weapons, wild creatures were comparatively tame. The advent of the rifle and of the lawless skin hunter soon turned all big game into fugitives of excessive shyness and wariness. One glimpse of a man half a mile off, or a whiff of him on the breeze, was enough to make a Mountain Ram or a Wolf run for miles, though formerly these creatures would have gazed serenely from a point but a hundred yards removed.
The establishment of the Yellowstone Park in 1872 was the beginning of a new era of protection for wild life; and, by slow degrees, a different attitude in these animals toward us. In this Reservation, and nowhere else at present in the northwest, the wild things are not only abundant, but they have resumed their traditional Garden-of-Eden attitude toward man.
They come out in the daylight, they are harmless, and they are not afraid at one's approach. Truly this is ideal, a paradise for the naturalist and the camera hunter.
The region first won fame for its Canyon, its Cataracts and its Geysers, but I think its animal life has attracted more travellers than even the landscape beauties. I know it was solely the joy of being among the animals that led me to spend all one summer and part of another season in the Wonderland of the West.
My adventures in making these studies among the fourfoots have been very small adventures indeed; the thrillers are few and far between. Any one can go and have the same or better experiences to-day. But I give them as they happened, and if they furnish no ground for hair-lifting emotions, they will at least show what I was after and how I went.
I have aimed to show something of the little aspects of the creatures' lives, which are those that the ordinary traveller will see; I go with him indeed, pointing out my friends as they chance to pass, adding a few comments that should make for a better acquaintance on all sides. And I have offered glimpses, wherever possible, of the wild thing in its home, embodying in these chapters the substance of many lectures given under the same title as this book.
The cover design is by my wife, Grace Gallatin Seton. She was with me in most of the experiences narrated and had a larger share in every part of the work than might be inferred from the mere text.
ERNEST THOMPSON SETON.
I. The Cute Coyote 1
An Exemplary Little Beast, My Friend the Coyote 3
The Prairie-dog Outwitted 5
The Coyote's Sense of Humour 8
His Distinguishing Gift 11
The Coyote's Song 13
II. The Prairie-dog and His Kin 17
Merry Yek-Yek and His Life of Troubles 19
The Whistler in the Rocks 22
The Pack-rat and His Museum 23
A Free Trader 25
The Upheaver—The Mole-Gopher 27
III. Famous Fur-bearers—Fox, Marten, Beaver and Otter 29
The Most Wonderful Fur in the World 32
The Poacher and the Silver Fox 35
The Villain in Velvet—The Marten 47
The Industrious Beaver 48
The Dam 51
The Otter and His Slide 52
IV. Horns and Hoofs and Legs of Speed 55
The Bounding Blacktail 57
The Mother Blacktail's Race for Life 59
The Blacktail's Safety Is in the Hills 62
The Elk or Wapiti—The Noblest of all Deer 63
Stalking a Band of Elk 64
The Bugling Elk 66
Snapping a Charging Bull 69
The Hoodoo Cow 72
The Moose—The Biggest of all Deer 75
My Partner's Moose-hunt 76
The Siren Call 77
The Biggest of Our Game—The Buffalo 80
The Shrunken Range 81
The Doomed Antelope and His Heliograph 83
The Rescued Bighorn 85
V. Bats in the Devil's Kitchen 89
VI. The Well-meaning Skunk 95
His Smell-gun 98
The Cruelty of Steel Traps 99
Friendliness of the Skunk 100
Photographing Skunks at Short Range 101
We Share the Shanty with the Skunks 103
The Skunk and the Unwise Bobcat 104
My Pet Skunks 106
VII. Old Silver-grizzle—The Badger 111
The Valiant Harmless Badger 112
His Sociable Bent 115
The Story of the Kindly Badger 116
The Evil One 118
The Badger that Rescued the Boy 119
Finding the Lost One 123
Home Again 125
The Human Brute 129
VIII. The Squirrel and His Jerky-tail Brothers 133
The Cheeky Pine Squirrel 134
Chipmunks and Ground-squirrels 137
The Ground-squirrel that Plays Picket-pin 137
Chink and the Picket-pins 139
The Ground-squirrel that Pretends It's a Chipmunk 142
A Four-legged Bird—The Northern Chipmunk 143
A Striped Pigmy—The Least Chipmunk 147
IX. The Rabbits and Their Habits 151
Molly Cottontail—The Clever Freezer 152
The Rabbit that Wears Snowshoes 154
The Terror of the Mountain Trails 156
Bunny's Ride 158
The Rabbit Dance 160
The Ghost Rabbit 163
A Narrow-gauge Mule—The Prairie Hare 164
The Bump of Moss that Squeaks 165
The Weatherwise Coney 169
His Safety Is in the Rocks 171
X. Ghosts of the Campfire 175
The Jumping Mouse 177
The Calling Mouse 179
XI. Sneak-cats, Big and Small 185
The Bobcat or Mountain Wildcat 186
Misunderstood—The Canada Lynx 187
The Shyest Thing in the Woods 189
The Time I Met a Lion 191
In Peril of My Life 194
The Dangerous Night Visitor 196
XII. Bears of High and Low Degree 201
The Different Kinds of Bears 202
A Peep Into Bear Family Life 204
The Day at the Garbage Pile 208
Lonesome Johnny 210
Further Annals of the Sanctuary 210
The Grizzly and the Can 216
Appendix: Mammals of Yellowstone Park 221
List of Half-tone Plates
A Prairie-dog town Frontispiece
Chink's adventures with the Coyote and the Picket-pin 8
(a) The Whistler watching me from the rocks (b) A young Whistler 9
Red Fox 32
Foxes quarrelling 33
Blacktail Family 60
Blacktail mother with her twins 61
A young investigator among the Deer at Fort Yellowstone 64
Elk in Wyoming 65
Elk on the Yellowstone in Winter 68
The first shots at the Hoodoo Cow 69
The last shots at the Hoodoo Cow 76
Elk on the Yellowstone 77
Moose—The Widow 80
Buffalo groups 81
Near Yellowstone Gate 84
Mountain Sheep on Mt. Evarts 85
Track record of Bobcat's adventure with a Skunk 98
The six chapters of the Bobcat's adventure 102
My tame Skunks 103
Red-squirrel storing mushrooms for winter use 134
Chink stalking the Picket-pin 135
The Snowshoe Hare is a cross between a Rabbit and a Snowdrift 150
The Cottontail freezing 151
The Baby Cottontail that rode twenty miles in my hat 162
Snowshoe Rabbits dancing in the light of the lantern 163
Snowshoe Rabbits fascinated by the lantern 170
The Ghost Rabbit 171
The Coney or Calling Hare 178
The Coney barns full of hay stored for winter use 179
(a) Tracks of Deer escaping and (b) Tracks of Mountain Lion in pursuit 186
The Mountain Lion sneaking around us as we sleep 187
Sketch of the Bear Family as made on the spot 198
Two pages from my journal in the garbage heap 199
While I sketched the Bears, a brother camera-hunter was stalking me without my knowledge 206
One meets the Bears at nearly every turn in the woods 207
The shyer ones take to a tree, if one comes too near 210
Clifford B. Harmon feeding a Bear 211
The Bears at feeding time 218
(a) Tom Newcomb pointing out the bear's mark, (b) E. T. Seton feeding a Bear 219
Johnnie Bear: his sins and his troubles 222
Johnnie happy at last 223
* * * * *
The Cute Coyote
* * * * *
The Cute Coyote
AN EXEMPLARY LITTLE BEAST, MY FRIEND THE COYOTE
If you draw a line around the region that is, or was, known as the Wild West, you will find that you have exactly outlined the kingdom of the Coyote. He is even yet found in every part of it, but, unlike his big brother the Wolf, he never frequented the region known as Eastern America.
This is one of the few wild creatures that you can see from the train. Each time I have come to the Yellowstone Park I have discovered the swift gray form of the Coyote among the Prairie-dog towns along the River flat between Livingstone and Gardiner, and in the Park itself have seen him nearly every day, and heard him every night without exception.
Coyote (pronounced Ky-o'-tay, and in some regions Ky-ute) is a native Mexican contribution to the language, and is said to mean "halfbreed," possibly suggesting that the Coyote looks like a cross between the Fox and the Wolf. Such an origin would be a very satisfactory clue to his character, for he does seem to unite in himself every possible attribute in the mental make-up of the other two that can contribute to his success in life.
He is one of the few Park animals not now protected, for the excellent reasons, first that he is so well able to protect himself, second he is even already too numerous, third he is so destructive among the creatures that he can master. He is a beast of rare cunning; some of the Indians call him God's dog or Medicine dog. Some make him the embodiment of the Devil, and some going still further, in the light of their larger experience, make the Coyote the Creator himself seeking amusement in disguise among his creatures, just as did the Sultan in the "Arabian Nights."
The naturalist finds the Coyote interesting for other reasons. When you see that sleek gray and yellow form among the mounds of the Prairie-dog, at once creating a zone of blankness and silence by his very presence as he goes, remember that he is hunting for something to eat; also, that there is another, his mate, not far away. For the Coyote is an exemplary and moral little beast who has only one wife; he loves her devotedly, and they fight the life battle together. Not only is there sure to be a mate close by, but that mate, if invisible, is likely to be playing a game, a very clever game as I have seen it played.
Furthermore, remember there is a squealing brood of little Coyotes in the home den up on a hillside a mile or two away. Father and mother must hunt continually and successfully to furnish their daily food. The dog-towns are their game preserves, but how are they to catch a Prairie-dog! Every one knows that though these little yapping Ground-squirrels will sit up and bark at an express train but twenty feet away, they scuttle down out of sight the moment a man, dog or Coyote enters into the far distant precincts of their town; and downstairs they stay in the cyclone cellar until after a long interval of quiet that probably proves the storm to be past. Then they poke their prominent eyes above the level, and, if all is still, will softly hop out and in due course, resume their feeding.
THE PRAIRIE-DOG OUTWITTED
This is how the clever Coyote utilizes these habits. He and his wife approach the dog-town unseen. One Coyote hides, then the other walks forward openly into the town. There is a great barking of all the Prairie-dogs as they see their enemy approach, but they dive down when he is amongst them. As soon as they are out of sight the second Coyote rushes forward and hides near any promising hole that happens to have some sort of cover close by. Meanwhile, Coyote number one strolls on. The Prairie-dogs that he scared below come up again. At first each puts up the top of his head merely, with his eyes on bumps, much like those of a hippopotamus, prominent and peculiarly suited for this observation work from below, as they are the first things above ground. After a brief inspection, if all be quiet, he comes out an inch more. Now he can look around, the coast is clear, so he sits up on the mound and scans his surroundings.
Yes! Ho! Ho! he sees his enemy, that hated Coyote, strolling away off beyond the possibility of doing harm. His confidence is fully restored as the Coyote gets smaller in the distance and the other Prairie-dogs coming out seem to endorse his decision and give him renewed confidence. After one or two false starts, he sets off to feed. This means go ten or twenty feet from the door of his den, for all the grass is eaten off near home.
Among the herbage he sits up high to take a final look around, then burying his nose in the fodder, he begins his meal. This is the chance that the waiting, watching, she-Coyote counted on. There is a flash of gray fur from behind that little grease bush; in three hops she is upon him. He takes alarm at the first sound and tries to reach the haven hole, but she snaps him up. With a shake she ends his troubles. He hardly knows the pain of death, then she bounds away on her back track to the home den on the distant hillside. She does not come near it openly and rashly. There is always the possibility of such an approach betraying the family to some strong enemy on watch. She circles around a little, scrutinizes the landscape, studies the tracks and the wind, then comes to the door by more or less devious hidden ways. The sound of a foot outside is enough to make the little ones cower in absolute silence, but mother reassures them with a whining call much like that of a dog mother. They rush out, tumbling over each other in their glee, six or seven in number usually, but sometimes as high as ten or twelve. Eagerly they come, and that fat Prairie-dog lasts perhaps three minutes, at the end of which time nothing is left but the larger bones with a little Coyote busy polishing each of them. Strewn about the door of the den are many other kindred souvenirs, the bones of Ground-squirrels, Chipmunks, Rabbits, Grouse, Sheep, and Fawns, with many kinds of feathers, fur, and hair, to show the great diversity of Coyote diet.
THE COYOTE'S SENSE OF HUMOUR
To understand the Coyote fully one must remember that he is simply a wild dog, getting his living by his wits, and saving his life by the tireless serviceability of his legs; so has developed both these gifts to an admirable pitch of perfection. He is blessed further with a gift of music and a sense of humour.
When I lived at Yancey's, on the Yellowstone, in 1897, I had a good example of the latter, and had it daily for a time. The dog attached to the camp on the inner circle was a conceited, irrepressible little puppy named Chink. He was so full of energy, enthusiasm, and courage that there was no room left in him for dog-sense. But it came after a vast number of humiliating experiences.
A Coyote also had attached himself to the camp, but on the outer circle. At first he came out by night to feed on the garbage pile, but realizing the peace of the Park he became bolder and called occasionally by day. Later he was there every day, and was often seen sitting on a ridge a couple of hundred yards away.
One day he was sitting much nearer and grinning in Coyote fashion, when one of the campers in a spirit of mischief said to the dog, "Chink, you see that Coyote out there grinning at you. Go and chase him out of that."
Burning to distinguish himself, that pup set off at full speed, and every time he struck the ground he let off a war-whoop. Away went the Coyote and it looked like a good race to us, and to the Picket-pin Ground-squirrels that sat up high on their mounds to rejoice in the spectacle of these, their enemies, warring against each other.
The Coyote has a way of slouching along, his tail dangling and tangling with his legs, and his legs loose-jointed, mixing with his tail. He doesn't seem to work hard but oh! how he does cover the prairie! And very soon it was clear that in spite of his magnificent bounds and whoops of glory, Chink was losing ground. A little later the Coyote obviously had to slack up to keep from running away altogether. It had seemed a good race for a quarter of a mile, but it was nothing to the race which began when the Coyote turned on Chink. Uttering a gurgling growl, a bark, and a couple of screeches, he closed in with all the combined fury of conscious might and right, pitted against unfair unprovoked attack.
And Chink had a rude awakening; his war-whoops gave place to yelps of dire distress, as he wheeled and made for home. But the Coyote could run all around him, and nipped him, here and there, and when he would, and seemed to be cracking a series of good jokes at Chink's expense, nor ever stopped till the ambitious one of boundless indiscretion was hidden under his master's bed.
This seemed very funny at the time, and I am afraid Chink did not get the sympathy he was entitled to, for after all he was merely carrying out orders. But he made up his mind that from that time on, orders or no orders, he would let Coyotes very much alone. They were not so easy as they looked.
The Coyote, however, had discovered a new amusement. From that day he simply "laid" for that little dog, and if he found him a hundred yards or so from camp, would chase and race him back in terror to some shelter. At last things got so bad that if we went for a ride even, and Chink followed us, the Coyote would come along, too, and continue his usual amusement.
At first it was funny, and then it became tedious, and at last it was deeply resented by Chink's master. A man feels for his dog; he wasn't going to stand still and see his dog abused. He began to grumble vaguely about "If something didn't happen pretty soon, something else would." Just what he meant I didn't ask, but I know that the Coyote disappeared one day, and never was seen or heard of again. I'm not supposed to know any thing about it, but I have my suspicions, although in those days the Coyote was a protected animal.
HIS DISTINGUISHING GIFT
The scientific name of the Coyote (Canis latrans), literally "Barking Dog," is given for the wonderful yapping chorus with which they seldom fail to announce their presence in the evening, as they gather at a safe distance from the campfire. Those not accustomed to the sound are very ready to think that they are surrounded by a great pack of ravening Wolves, and get a sufficiently satisfactory thrill of mingled emotions at the sound. But the guide will reassure you by saying that that great pack of howling Wolves is nothing more than a harmless little Coyote, perhaps two, singing their customary vesper song, demonstrating their wonderful vocal powers. Their usual music begins with a few growling, gurgling yaps which are rapidly increased in volume and heightened in pitch, until they rise into a long squall or scream, which again, as it dies away, breaks up into a succession of yaps and gurgles. Usually one Coyote begins it, and the others join in with something like agreement on the scream.
I believe I never yet camped in the West without hearing this from the near hills when night time had come. Last September I even heard it back of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, and I must say I have learned to love it. It is a wild, thrilling, beautiful song. Our first camp was at Yancey's last summer and just after we had all turned in, the Coyote chorus began, a couple of hundred yards from the camp. My wife sat up and exclaimed, "Isn't it glorious? now I know we are truly back in the West."
The Park authorities are making great efforts to reduce the number of Coyotes because of their destructiveness to the young game, but an animal that is endowed with extraordinary wits, phenomenal speed, unexcelled hardihood, and marvellous fecundity, is not easily downed. I must confess that if by any means they should succeed in exterminating the Coyote in the West, I should feel that I had lost something of very great value. I never fail to get that joyful thrill when the "Medicine Dogs" sing their "Medicine Song" in the dusk, or the equally weird and thrilling chorus with which they greet the dawn; for they have a large repertoire and a remarkable register. The Coyote is indeed the Patti of the Plains.
THE COYOTE'S SONG[A]
I am the Coyote that sings each night at dark; It was by gobbling prairie-dogs that I got such a bark. At least a thousand prairie-dogs I fattened on, you see, And every bark they had in them is reproduced in me.
I can sing to thrill your soul or pierce it like a lance, And all I ask of you to do is give me half a chance. With a yap—yap—yap for the morning And a yoop—yoop—yoop for the night And a yow—wow—wow for the rising moon And a yah-h-h-h for the campfire light. Yap—yoop—yow—yahhh!
I gathered from the howling winds, the frogs and crickets too, And so from each availing fount, my inspiration drew. I warbled till the little birds would quit their native bush. And squat around me on the ground in reverential hush.
I'm a baritone, soprano, and a bass and tenor, too. I can thrill and slur and frill and whirr and shake you through and through. I'm a Jews' harp—I'm an organ—I'm a fiddle and a flute. Every kind of touching sound is found in the coyoot.
I'm a whooping howling wilderness, a sort of Malibran. With Lind, Labache and Melba mixed and all combined in one. I'm a grand cathedral organ and a calliope sharp, I'm a gushing, trembling nightingale, a vast AEolian harp.
I can raise the dead or paint the town, or pierce you like a lance And all I ask of you to do is to give me half a chance. Etc., etc., etc.
Although I am a miracle, I'm not yet recognized. Oh, when the world does waken up how highly I'll be prized. Then managers and vocal stars—and emperors effete Shall fling their crowns, their money bags, their persons, at my feet.
I'm the voice of all the Wildest West, the Patti of the Plains; I'm a wild Wagnerian opera of diabolic strains; I'm a roaring, ranting orchestra with lunatics be-crammed; I'm a vocalized tornado—I'm the shrieking of the damned.
[Footnote A: All rights reserved.]
* * * * *
The Prairie-dog and His Kin
* * * * *
The Prairie-dog and His Kin
MERRY YEK-YEK AND HIS LIFE OF TROUBLES
The common Prairie-dog is typical of the West, more so than the Buffalo is, and its numbers, even now, rival those of the Buffalo in its palmiest days. I never feel that I am truly back on the open range till I hear their call and see the Prairie-dogs once more upon their mounds. As you travel up the Yellowstone Valley from Livingstone to Gardiner you may note in abundance this "dunce of the plains." The "dog-towns" are frequent along the railway, and at each of the many burrows you see from one to six of the inmates. As you come near Gardiner there is a steady rise of the country, and somewhere near the edge of the Park the elevation is such that it imposes one of those mysterious barriers to animal extension which seem to be as impassable as they are invisible. The Prairie-dog range ends near the Park gates. General George S. Anderson tells me, however, that individuals are occasionally found on the flats along the Gardiner River, but always near the gate, and never elsewhere in the Park. On this basis, then, the Prairie-dog is entered as a Park animal.
It is, of course, a kind of Ground-squirrel. The absurd name "dog" having been given on account of its "bark." This call is a high-pitched "yek-yek-yek-yeeh," uttered as an alarm cry while the creature sits up on the mound by its den, and every time it "yeks" it jerks up its tail. Old timers will tell you that the Prairie-dog's voice is tied to its tail, and prove it by pointing out that one is never raised without the other.
As we have seen, the Coyote looks on the dog-town much as a cow does on a field of turnips or alfalfa—a very proper place, to seek for wholesome, if commonplace, sustenance. But Coyotes are not the only troubles in the life of Yek-yek.
Ancient books and interesting guides will regale the traveller with most acceptable stories about the Prairie-dog, Rattlesnake, and the Burrowing Owl, all living in the same den on a basis of brotherly love and Christian charity; having effected, it would seem, a limited partnership and a most satisfactory division of labour: the Prairie-dog is to dig the hole, the Owl to mount sentry and give warning of all danger, and the Rattler is to be ready to die at his post as defender of the Prairie-dog's young. This is pleasing if true.
There can be no doubt that at times all three live in the same burrow, and in dens that the hard-working rodent first made. But the simple fact is that the Owl and the Snake merely use the holes abandoned (perhaps under pressure) by the Prairie-dog; and if any two of the three underground worthies happen to meet in the same hole, the fittest survives. I suspect further that the young of each kind are fair game and acceptable, dainty diet to each of the other two.
Farmers consider Prairie-dogs a great nuisance; the damage they do to crops is estimated at millions per annum. The best way to get rid of them, practically the only way, is by putting poison down each and every hole in the town, which medieval Italian mode has become the accepted method in the West.
Poor helpless little Yek-yek, he has no friends; his enemies and his list of burdens increase. The prey of everything that preys, he yet seems incapable of any measure of retaliation. The only visible joy in his life is his daily hasty meal of unsucculent grass, gathered between cautious looks around for any new approaching trouble, and broken by so many dodges down the narrow hole that his ears are worn off close to his head. Could any simpler, smaller pleasure than his be discovered? Yet he is fat and merry; undoubtedly he enjoys his every day on earth, and is as unwilling as any of us to end the tale. We can explain him only if we credit him with a philosophic power to discover happiness within in spite of all the cold unfriendly world about him.
THE WHISTLER IN THE ROCKS
When the far-off squirrel ancestor of Yek-yek took to the plains for a range, another of the family selected the rocky hills.
He developed bigger claws for the harder digging, redder colour for the red-orange surroundings, and a far louder and longer cry for signalling across the peaks and canyons, and so became the bigger, handsomer, more important creature we call the Mountain Whistler, Yellow Marmot or Orange Woodchuck.
In all of the rugged mountain parts of the Yellowstone one may hear his peculiar, shrill whistle, especially in the warm mornings.
You carefully locate the direction of the note and proceed to climb toward it. You may have an hour's hard work before you sight the orange-breasted Whistler among the tumbled mass of rocks that surround his home, for it is a far-reaching sound, heard half a mile away at times.
Those who know the Groundhog of the East would recognize in the Rock Woodchuck its Western cousin, a little bigger, yellower, and brighter in its colours, living in the rocks and blessed with a whistle that would fill a small boy with envy. Now, lest the critical should object to the combination name of "Rock Woodchuck," it is well to remind them that "Woodchuck" has nothing to do with either "wood" or "chucking," but is our corrupted form of an Indian name "Ot-choeck," which is sometimes written also "We-jack."
In the ridge of broken rocks just back of Yancey's is a colony of the Whistlers; and there as I sat sketching one day, with my camera at hand, one poked his head up near me and gave me the pose that is seen in the photograph.
THE PACK-RAT AND HIS MUSEUM
Among my school fellows was a boy named Waddy who had a mania for collecting odds, ends, curios, bits of brass or china, shiny things, pebbles, fungus, old prints, bones, business cards, carved peach stones, twisted roots, distorted marbles, or freak buttons. Anything odd or glittering was his especial joy. He had no theory about these things. He did not do anything in particular with them. He found gratification in spreading them out to gloat over, but I think his chief joy was in the collecting. And when some comrade was found possessed of a novelty that stirred his cupidity, the pleasure of planning a campaign to secure possession, the working out of the details, and the glory of success, were more to Waddy than any other form of riches or exploit.
The Pack-rat is the Waddy of the mountains, or Waddy was the Pack-rat of the school. Imagine, if you would picture the Pack-rat, a small creature like a common rat, but with soft fur, a bushy tail, and soulful eyes, living the life of an ordinary rat in the woods, except that it has an extraordinary mania for collecting curios.
There can be little doubt that this began in the nest-building idea, and then, because it was necessary to protect his home, cactus leaves and thorny branches were piled on it. The instinct grew until to-day the nest of a Pack-rat is a mass of rubbish from one to four feet high, and four to eight feet across. I have examined many of these collections. They are usually around the trunks in a clump of low trees, and consist of a small central nest about eight inches across, warm and soft, with a great mass of sticks and thorns around and over this, leaving a narrow entrance well-guarded by an array of cactus spines; then on top of all, a most wonderful collection of pine cones, shells, pebbles, bones, scraps of paper and tin, and the skulls of other animals. And when the owner can add to these works of art or vertu a brass cartridge, a buckle or a copper rivet, his little bosom is doubtless filled with the same high joy that any great collector might feel on securing a Raphael or a Rembrandt.
I remember finding an old pipe in one Rat museum. Pistol cartridges are eagerly sought after, so are saddle buckles, even if he has to cut them surreptitiously from the saddle of some camper. And when any of these articles are found missing it is usual to seek out the nearest Rat house, and here commonly the stolen goods are discovered shamelessly exposed on top. I remember hearing of a set of false teeth that were lost in camp, but rescued in this very way.
A FREE TRADER
"Pack" is a Western word meaning "carry," and thus the Rat that carries off things is the "Pack-rat." But it has another peculiarity. As though it had a conscience disturbed by pilfering the treasure of another, it often brings back what may be considered a fair exchange. Thus a silver-plated spoon may have gone from its associate cup one night, but in that cup you may find a long pine cone or a surplus nail, by which token you may know that a Pack-rat has called and collected. Sometimes this enthusiastic fancier goes off with food, but leaves something in its place; in one case that I heard of, the Rat, either with a sense of humour or a mistaken idea of food values, after having carried off the camp biscuit, had filled the vacant dish with the round pellets known as "Elk sign." But evidently there is a disposition to deal fair; not to steal, but to trade. For this reason the creature is widely known as the "Trade Rat."
Although I have known the Pack-rat for years in the mountains, I never saw one within the strict lines of the Yellowstone sanctuary. But the guides all assure me that they are found and manifest the same disposition here as elsewhere. So that if you should lose sundry bright things around camp, or some morning find your boots stuffed with pebbles, deer sign, or thorns, do not turn peevish or charge the guide with folly; it means, simply, you have been visited by a Mountain Rat, and any uneatables you miss will doubtless be found in his museum, which will be discovered within a hundred yards—a mass of sticks and rubbish under a tree—with some bright and shiny things on the top where the owner can sit amongst them on sunny days, and gloat till his little black eyes are a-swim, and his small heart filled with holy joy.
THE UPHEAVER—THE MOLE-GOPHER
As you cross any of the level, well-grassed prairie regions in the Yellowstone you will see piles of soft earth thrown up in little hillocks, sometimes a score or more of them bunched together. The drivers will tell you that these are molehills, which isn't quite true. For the Mole is a creature unknown in the Park, and the animal that makes these mounds is exceedingly abundant. It is the common Mole-gopher, a gopher related very distantly to the Prairie-dog and Mountain Whistler, but living the underground life of a Mole, though not even in the same order as that interesting miner, for the Mole-gopher is a rodent (Order Rodentia) and the Mole a bug-eater (Order Insectivora); just as different as Lion and Caribou.
The Mole-gopher is about the size of a rat, but has a short tail and relatively immense forepaws and claws. It is indeed wonderfully developed as a digger.
Examine the mound of earth thrown up. If it is a fair example, it will make fully half a bushel. Next count the mounds that are within a radius of fifty paces; probably all are the work of this Gopher, or rather this pair, for they believe in team play.
Search over the ground carefully, and you will discern that there are scores of ancient mounds flattened by the weather, and traces of hundreds, perhaps, that date from remote years.
Now multiply the size of one mound by the number of mounds, and you will have some idea of the work done by this pair. Finally, remembering that there may be a pair of Gophers for every acre in the Park, estimate the tons of earth moved by one pair and multiply it by the acres in the Park, and you will get an idea of the work done by those energetic rodents as a body, and you will realize how well he has won his Indian name, the "Upheaver."
We are accustomed to talk of upheaval in geology as a frightful upset of all nature, but here before our eyes is going on an upheaval of enormous extent and importance, but so gently and pleasantly done that we enjoy every phase of the process.
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FOX, MARTEN, BEAVER, AND OTTER
Fair Lady Multo Millionaire riding in the dusty stagecoach, comparing as you go the canyons of the Yellowstone with memories of Colorado, Overland, and Stalheim, you, in your winter home, know all about fur as it enters your world with its beauty, its warmth, its price—its gauge of the wearer's pocket. Let me add a segment of the circle to round your knowledge out.
When nature peopled with our four-foot kin the cold north lands, it was necessary to clothe these little brethren of ours in a coat that should be absolutely warm, light, durable, of protective colour, thick in cold weather, thin in warm. Under these conditions she produced fur, with its densely woolly undercoat and its long, soft, shining outer coat, one for warmth, the other for wet and wear. Some northern animals can store up food in holes or in the fat of their bodies, so need not be out when the intensest cold is on the land. Some have to face the weather all winter, and in these we find the fur of its best quality. Of this class are the Marten and the Northern Fox. They are the finest, warmest, lightest, softest of all furs. But colour is a cardinal point when beauty is considered and where fashion is Queen. So the choicest colours are the soft olive brown with silver hairs, found in the Russian Sable, and the glossy black with silver hairs, found in the true Silver Fox of the North.
THE MOST WONDERFUL FUR IN THE WORLD
What is the Silver Fox? Simply a black freak, a brunette born into a red-headed family. But this does not cast any reflection on the mother or on father's lineage. On the contrary, it means that they had in them an element of exceptional vigour, which resulted in a peculiar intensifying of all pigments, transmuting red into black and carrying with it an unusual vigour of growth and fineness of texture, producing, in short, the world-famed Silver Fox, the lightest, softest, thickest, warmest, and most lustrous of furs, the fur worth many times its weight in gold, and with this single fault, that it does not stand long wear.
Cold and exposure are wonderful stimulants of the skin, and so it is not surprising that the real Silver Fox should appear only in very cold climates. Owing to its elevation the Yellowstone Park has the winter climate of northern Canada, and, as might have been predicted, the Silver Fox occurs among the many red-headed or bleached blonde Foxes that abound in the half open country.
You may travel all round the stage route and neither see nor hear a Fox, but travel quietly on foot, or better, camp out, and you will soon discover the crafty one in yellow, or, rather, he will discover you. How? Usually after you have camped for the night and are sitting quietly by the fire before the hour of sleep, a curious squall is heard from the dark hillside or bushes, a squall followed by a bark like that of a toy terrier. Sometimes it keeps on at intervals for five minutes, and sometimes it is answered by a similar noise. This is the bark of a Fox. It differs from the Coyote call in being very short, very squally, much higher pitched, and without any barks in it that would do credit to a fair-sized dog. It is no use to go after him. You won't see him. You should rather sit and enjoy the truly wildwood ring of his music.
In the morning if you look hard in the dust and mud, you may find his tracks, and once in a while you will see his yellow-brown form drifting on the prairie as though wind-blown under sail of that enormous tail. For this is the big-tailed variety of Red Fox.
But if you wish to see the Fox in all his glory you must be here in winter, when the deep snow cutting off all other foods brings all the Fox population about the hotels whose winter keepers daily throw out scraps for which the Foxes, the Magpies, and a dozen other creatures wait and fight.
From a friend, connected with one of the Park hotels during the early '90's, I learned that among the big-tailed pensioners of the inn, there appeared one winter a wonderful Silver Fox; and I heard many rumours about that Fox. I was told that he disappeared, and did not die of sickness, old age, or wild-beast violence; and what I heard I may tell in a different form, only, be it remembered, the names of the persons and places are disguised, as well as the date; and my informant may have brought in details that belonged elsewhere. So that you are free to question much of the account, but the backbone of it is not open to doubt, and some of the guides in the Park can give you details that I do not care to put on paper.
THE POACHER AND THE SILVER FOX
How is it that all mankind has a sneaking sympathy with a poacher? A burglar or a pickpocket has our unmitigated contempt; he clearly is a criminal; but you will notice that the poacher in the story is generally a reckless dare-devil with a large and compensatory amount of good-fellow in his make-up—yes, I almost said, of good citizenship. I suppose, because in addition to the breezy, romantic character of his calling, seasoned with physical danger as well as moral risk, there is away down in human nature a strong feeling that, in spite of man-made laws, the ancient ruling holds that "wild game belongs to no man till some one makes it his property by capture." It may be wrong, it may be right, but I have heard this doctrine voiced by red men and white, as primitive law, once or twice; and have seen it lived up to a thousand times.
Well, Josh Cree was a poacher. This does not mean that every night in every month he went forth with nefarious tricks and tools, to steal the flesh and fur that legally were not his. Far from it. Josh never poached but once. But that's enough; he had crossed the line, and this is how it came about:
As you roll up the Yellowstone from Livingston to Gardiner you may note a little ranch-house on the west of the track with its log stables, its corral, its irrigation ditch, and its alfalfa patch of morbid green. It is a small affair, for it was founded by the handiwork of one honest man, who with his wife and small boy left Pennsylvania, braved every danger of the plains, and secured this claim in the late '80's. Old man Cree—he was only forty, but every married man is "Old Man" in the West—was ready to work at any honest calling from logging or sluicing to grading and muling. He was strong and steady, his wife was steady and strong. They saved their money, and little by little they got the small ranch-house built and equipped; little by little they added to their stock on the range with the cattle of a neighbour, until there came the happy day when they went to live on their own ranch—father, mother, and fourteen-year-old Josh, with every prospect of making it pay. The spreading of that white tablecloth for the first time was a real religious ceremony, and the hard workers gave thanks to the All-father for His blessing on their every effort.
One year afterward a new event brought joy; there entered happily into their happy house a little girl, and all the prairie smiled about them. Surely their boat was well beyond the breakers.
But right in the sunshine of their joy the trouble cloud arose to block the sky. Old man Cree was missing one day. His son rode long and far on the range for two hard days before he sighted a grazing pony, and down a rocky hollow near, found his father, battered and weak, near death, with a broken leg and a gash in his head.
He could only gasp "Water" as Josh hurried up, and the boy rushed off to fill his hat at the nearest stream.
They had no talk, for the father swooned after drinking, and Josh had to face the situation; but he was Western trained. He stripped himself of all spare clothing, and his father's horse of its saddle blanket; then, straightening out the sick man, he wrapped him in the clothes and blanket, and rode like mad for the nearest ranch-house. The neighbour, a young man, came at once, with a pot to make tea, an axe, and a rope. They found the older Cree conscious but despairing. A fire was made, and hot tea revived him. Then Josh cut two long poles from the nearest timber and made a stretcher, or travois, Indian fashion, the upper ends fast to the saddle of a horse, while the other ends trailed on the ground. Thus by a long, slow journey the wounded man got back. All he had prayed for was to get home. Every invalid is sure that if only he can get home all will soon be well. Mother was not yet strong, the baby needed much care, but Josh was a good boy, and the loving best of all was done for the sick one. His leg, set by the army surgeon of Fort Yellowstone, was knit again after a month, but had no power. He had no force; the shock of those two dire days was on him. The second month went by, and still he lay in bed. Poor Josh was the man of the place now, and between duties, indoors and out, he was worn body and soul.
Then it was clear they must have help. So Jack S—— was engaged at the regular wages of $40 a month for outside work, and a year of struggle went by, only to see John Cree in his grave, his cattle nearly all gone, his widow and boy living in a house on which was still $500 of the original mortgage. Josh was a brave boy and growing strong, but unboyishly grave with the weight of care. He sold off the few cattle that were left, and set about keeping the roof over his mother and baby sister by working a truck farm for the market supplied by the summer hotels of the Park, and managed to come out even. He would in time have done well, but he could not get far enough ahead to meet that 10 per cent mortgage already overdue.
The banker was not a hard man, but he was in the business for the business. He extended the time, and waited for interest again and again, but it only made the principal larger, and it seemed that the last ditch was reached, that it would be best to let the money-man foreclose, though that must mean a wipe-out and would leave the fatherless family homeless.
Winter was coming on, work was scarce, and Josh went to Gardiner to see what he could get in the way of house or wage. He learned of a chance to 'substitute' for the Park mail-carrier, who had sprained his foot. It was an easy drive to Fort Yellowstone, and there he readily agreed, when they asked him, to take the letters and packages and go on farther to the Canyon Hotel. Thus it was that on the 20th day of November 189—, Josh Cree, sixteen years old, tall and ruddy, rode through the snow to the kitchen door of the Canyon Hotel and was welcomed as though he were old Santa Claus himself.
Two Magpies on a tree were among the onlookers. The Park Bears were denned up, but there were other fur-bearers about. High on the wood-pile sat a Yellow Red Fox in a magnificent coat. Another was in front of the house, and the keeper said that as many as a dozen came some days. And sometimes, he said, there also came a wonderful Silver Fox, a size bigger than the rest, black as coal, with eyes like yellow diamonds, and a silver frosting like little stars on his midnight fur.
"My! but he's a beauty. That skin would buy the best team of mules on the Yellowstone." That was interesting and furnished talk for a while. In the morning when they were rising for their candlelight breakfast, the hotel man glancing from the window exclaimed, "Here he is now!" and Josh peered forth to see in the light of sunrise something he had often heard of, but never before seen, a coal-black Fox, a giant among his kind. How slick and elegant his glossy fur, how slim his legs, and what a monstrous bushy tail; and the other Foxes moved aside as the patrician rushed in impatient haste to seize the food thrown out by the cook.
"Ain't he a beauty?" said the hotel man. "I'll bet that pelt would fetch five hundred."
Oh, why did he say "five hundred," the exact sum, for then it was that the tempter entered into Josh Cree's heart. Five hundred dollars! just the amount of the mortgage. "Who owns wild beasts? The man that kills them," said the tempter, and the thought was a live one in his breast as Josh rode back to Fort Yellowstone.
At Gardiner he received his pay, $6, for three days' work and, turning it into groceries, set out for the poor home that soon would be lost to him, and as he rode he did some hard and gloomy thinking. On his wrist there hung a wonderful Indian quirt of plaited rawhide and horsehair with beads on the shaft, and a band of Elk teeth on the butt. It was a pet of his, and "good medicine," for a flat piece of elkhorn let in the middle was perforated with a hole, through which the distant landscape was seen much clearer—a well-known law, an ancient trick, but it made the quirt prized as a thing of rare virtue, and Josh had refused good offers for it. Then a figure afoot was seen, and coming nearer, it turned out to be a friend, Jack Day, out a-gunning with a .22 rifle. But game was scarce and Jack was returning to Gardiner empty-handed and disgusted. They stopped for a moment's greeting when Day said: "Huntin's played out now. How'll you swap that quirt for my rifle?" A month before Josh would have scorned the offer. A ten-dollar quirt for a five-dollar rifle, but now he said briefly: "For rifle with cover, tools and ammunition complete, I'll go ye." So the deal was made and in an hour Josh was home. He stabled Grizzle, the last of their saddle stock, and entered.
Love and sorrow dwelt in the widow's home, but the return of Josh brought its measure of joy. Mother prepared the regular meal of tea, potatoes, and salt pork; there was a time when they had soared as high as canned goods, but those prosperous days were gone. Josh was dandling baby sister on his lap as he told of his trip, and he learned of two things of interest: First, the bank must have its money by February; second, the stable at Gardiner wanted a driver for the Cook City stage. Then the little events moved quickly. His half-formed plan of getting back to the Canyon was now frustrated by the new opening, and, besides this, hope had been dampened by the casual word of one who reported that "that Silver Fox had not been seen since at the Canyon."
Then began long days of dreary driving through the snow, with a noon halt at Yancey's and then three days later the return, in the cold, the biting cold. It was freezing work, but coldest of all was the chill thought at his heart that February 1st would see him homeless.
Small bands of Mountain Sheep he saw at times on the slope of Evarts, and a few Blacktail, and later, when the winter deepened, huge bull Elk were seen along the trail. Sometimes they moved not more than a few paces to let him pass. These were everyday things to him, but in the second week of his winter work he got a sudden thrill. He was coming down the long hill back of Yancey's when what should he see there, sitting on its tail, shiny black with yellow eyes like a huge black cat unusually long and sharp in the nose, but a wonderful Silver Fox! Possibly the same as the one he saw at the Canyon, for that one he knew had disappeared and there were not likely to be two in the Park. Yes, it might be the same, and Josh's bosom surged with mingled feelings. Why did he not carry that little gun? Why did he not realize? Were the thoughts that came—$500! A noble chance! broad daylight only twenty-five yards! and gone!
The Fox was still there when Josh drove on. On the next trip he brought the little rifle. He had sawed off the stock so he could hide it easily in his overcoat if need be. No man knew that he carried arms, but the Foxes seemed to know. The Red ones kept afar and the Black one came no more. Day after day he drove and hoped but the Black Fox has cunning measured to his value. He came not, or if he came, was wisely hidden, and so the month went by, till late in the cold Moon of Snow he heard old Yancey, say "There's a Silver Fox bin a-hanging around the stable this last week. Leastwise Dave says he seen him." There were soldiers sitting around that stove, game guardians of the Park, and still more dangerous, a scout, the soldiers' guide, a mountaineer. Josh turned not an inch, he made no sound in response, but his heart gave a jump. Half an hour later he went out to bed his horses for the night, and peering around the stable he saw a couple of shadowy forms that silently shifted until swallowed by the gloom.
Then the soldiers came to bed their horses, and Josh went back to the stove. His big driving coat hung with the little sawed-off rifle in the long pocket. He waited till the soldiers one by one went up the ladder to the general bunk-room. He rose again, got the lantern, lighted it, carried it out behind the lonely stable. The horses were grinding their hay, the stars were faintly lighting the snow. There was no one about as he hung the lantern under the eaves outside so that it could be seen from the open valley, but not from the house.
A faint Yap-yah, of a Fox was heard on the piney hillside, as he lay down on the hay in the loft, but there were no signs of life on the snow. He had come to wait all night if need be, and waited. The lantern might allure, it might scare, but it was needed in this gloom, and it tinged the snow with faint yellow light below him. An hour went by, then a big-tailed form came near and made a little bark at the lantern. It looked very dark, but it had a paler patch on the throat. This waiting was freezing work; Josh's teeth were chattering in spite of his overcoat. Another gray form came, then a much larger black one shaped itself on the white. It dashed at the first, which fled, and the second one followed but a little, and then sat down on the snow, gazing at that bright light. When you are sure, you are so sure—Josh knew him now, he was facing the Silver Fox. But the light was dim. Josh's hand trembled as he bared it to lay the back on his lips and suck so as to make a mousey squeak. The effect on the Fox was instant. He glided forward intent as a hunting cat. Again he stood in, oh! such a wonderful pose, still as a statue, frozen like a hiding partridge, unbudging as a lone kid Antelope in May. And Josh raised—yes, he had come for that—he raised that fatal gun. The lantern blazed in the Fox's face at twenty yards; the light was flung back doubled by its shining eyes; it looked perfectly clear. Josh lined the gun, but, strange to tell, the sights so plain were lost at once, and the gun was shaking like a sorghum stalk while the Gopher gnaws its root.
He laid the weapon down with a groan, cursed his own poor trembling hand, and in an instant the wonder Fox was gone.
Poor Josh! He wasn't bad-tongued, but now he used all the evil words he had ever heard, and he was Western bred. Then he reacted on himself. "The Fox might come back!" Suddenly he remembered something. He got out a common sulphur match. He wet it on his lips and rubbed it on the muzzle sight: Then on each side of the notch on the breech sight. He lined it for a tree. Yes! surely! What had been a blur of blackness had now a visible form.
A faint bark on a far hillside might mean a coming or a going Fox. Josh waited five minutes, then again he squeaked on his bare hand. The effect was a surprise when from the shelter of the stable wall ten feet below there leaped the great dark Fox. At fifteen feet it paused. Those yellow orbs were fiery in the light and the rifle sights with the specks of fire were lined. There was a sharp report and the black-robed fur was still and limp in the snow.
Who can tell the crack of a small rifle among the louder cracks of green logs splitting with the fierce frost of a Yellowstone winter's night? Why should travel-worn, storm-worn travellers wake at each slight, usual sound? Who knows? Who cares?
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And afar in Livingston what did the fur dealer care? It was a great prize—or the banker? he got his five hundred, and mother found it easy to accept the Indians' creed: "Who owns wild beasts? The man who kills them."
"I did not know how it would come," she said; "I only knew it would come, for I prayed and believed."
We know that it came when it meant the most. The house was saved. It was the turn in their fortune's tide, and the crucial moment of the change was when those three bright sulphur spots were lined with the living lamps in the head of the Silver Fox. Yes! Josh was a poacher. Just once.
THE VILLAIN IN VELVET—THE MARTEN
This beautiful animal, the Sable of America, with its rich brown fur and its golden throat, comes naturally after the Silver Fox, for such is the relative value of their respective coats.
The Fox is a small wild dog; the Marten is a large tree Weasel. It is a creature of amazing agility, so much so that it commonly runs down the Red-squirrel among the tree tops.
Its food consists mainly of mice and Squirrels, but it kills Rabbits and Grouse when it can find them, and sometimes even feasts on game of a far more noble size.
Tom Newcomb, my old guide, has given me an interesting note on the Marten, made while he was acting as hunting guide in the Shoshoni Mountains.
In October, 1911, he was out with Baron D' Epsen and his party, hunting on Miller Creek east of Yellowstone Park. They shot at a Deer. It ran off as though unharmed, but turned to run down hill, and soon the snow showed that it was spurting blood on both sides. They followed for three or four hundred yards, and then the Deer track was joined by the tracks of five Marten. In a few minutes they found the Deer down and the five Marten, a family probably, darting about in the near trees, making their peculiar soft purr as though in anticipation of the feast, which was delayed only by the coming of the hunters. These attempts to share with the killers of big game are often seen.
THE INDUSTRIOUS BEAVER
In some respects the Beaver is the most notable animal in the West. It was the search for Beaver skins that led adventurers to explore the Rocky Mountains, and to open up the whole northwest of the United States and Canada. It is the Beaver to-day that is the chief incentive to poachers in the Park, but above all the Beaver is the animal that most manifests its intelligence by its works, forestalls man in much of his best construction, and amazes us by the well-considered labour of its hands.
There was a time when the Beaver's works and wisdom were so new and astounding that super-human intelligence was ascribed to this fur-clad engineer. Then the scoffers came and reduced him to the low level of his near kin, and explained the accounts of his works as mere fairy tales. Now we have got back to the middle of the road. We find him a creature of intelligence far above that of his near kinsmen, and endowed with some extraordinary instincts that guide him in making dams, houses, etc., that are unparalleled in the animal world. Here are the principal deliberate constructions of the Beaver: First the lodge. The Beaver was the original inventor of reinforced concrete. He has used it for a million years, in the form of mud mixed with sticks and stones, for building his lodge and dam. The lodge is the home of the family; that is, it shelters usually one old male, one old female and sundry offspring. It is commonly fifteen to twenty feet across outside, and three to five feet high. Within is a chamber about two feet high and six feet across, well above water and provided with a ventilator through the roof, also two entering passages under water, one winding for ordinary traffic, and one straight for carrying in wood, whose bark is a staple food. This house is kept perfectly tidy, and when the branch is stripped of all eatable parts, it is taken out and worked into the dam, which is a crooked bank of mud and sticks across the running stream. It holds the water so as to moat the Beaver Castle.
But the canal is one of this animal's most interesting undertakings. It is strictly a freight canal for bringing in food-logs, and is dug out across level ground toward the standing timber.
Canals are commonly three or four hundred feet long, about three feet wide and two feet deep. There was a small but good example at Yancey's in 1897; it was only seventy feet long. The longest I ever saw was in the Adirondacks, N. Y.; it was six hundred and fifty-four feet in length following the curves, two or three feet wide and about two feet deep.
Three other Beaver structures should be noticed. One, the dock or plunge hole, which is a deep place by a sharply raised bank, both made with careful manual labour. Next, the sunning place, generally an ant-hill on which the Beaver lies to enjoy a sun-bath, while the ants pick the creepers out of his fur. Third, the mud-pie. This is a little patty of mud mixed with a squeeze of the castor or body-scent glands. It answers the purpose of a register, letting all who call know that so and so has recently been here.
The chief food of the Beaver, at least its favourite food, is aspen, also called quaking asp or poplar; where there are no poplars there are no Beavers.
Usually the Beavers start a dam on some stream, right opposite a good grove of poplars. When these are all cut down and the bark used for food, the Beaver makes a second dam on the same stream, always with a view to having deep water for safety, close by poplars for food. In this way I found the Beavers at Yancey's in 1897 had constructed thirteen dams in succession. But when I examined the ground again in 1912, the dams were broken, the ponds all dry. Why? The answer is very simple. The Beavers had used up all the food. Instead of the little aspen groves there were now nothing but stumps, and the Beavers had moved elsewhere.
Similarly in 1897 the largest Beaver pond in the Park was at Obsidian Cliff. I should say the dam there was over four hundred yards long. But now it is broken and the pond is drained. And the reason as before—the Beavers used all the food and moved on. Of course the dam is soon broken when the hardworking ones are not there in their eternal vigilance to keep it tight.
There are many good Beaver ponds near Yancey's now and probably made by the same colonies of Beavers as those I studied there.
Last September I found a fine lots of dams and dammers on the southeast side of Yellowstone Lake where you may go on a camera hunt with certainty of getting Beaver pictures. Yes, in broad daylight.
Let me correct here some popular errors about the Beaver:
It does not use its tail as a trowel.
It does not use big logs in building a dam.
It does not and cannot drive stakes.
It cannot throw a tree in any given way.
It finishes the lodge outside with sticks, not mud.
THE OTTER AND HIS SLIDE
Every one of us that ever was a small boy and rejoiced in belly-bumping down some icy hill, on a sled of glorious red, should have a brotherly sympathy for the Otter.
While in a large sense this beautiful animal belongs to the Weasel family, it has so far progressed that it is one of the merriest, best-natured, unsanguinary creatures that ever caught their prey alive. This may be largely owing to the fact that it has taken entirely to a fish diet; for without any certain knowledge of the reason, we observe that fisherfolk are gentler than hunterfolk, and the Otter among his Weasel kin affords a good illustration of this.
We find the animals going through much the same stages as we do. First, the struggle for food, then for mates, and later, when they have no cause to worry about either, they seek for entertainment. Quite a number of our animals have invented amusements. Usually these are mere games of tag, catch, or tussle, but some have gone farther and have a regular institution, with a set place to meet, and apparatus provided. This is the highest form of all, and one of the best illustrations of it is found in the jovial Otter. Coasting is an established game with this animal; and probably every individual of the species frequents some Otter slide. This is any convenient steep hill or bank, sloping down into deep water, prepared by much use, and worn into a smooth shoot that becomes especially serviceable when snow or ice are there to act as lightning lubricants. And here the Otters will meet, old and young, male and female, without any thought but the joy of fun together, and shoot down one after the other, swiftly, and swifter still, as the hill grows smooth with use, and plump into the water and out again; and chase each other with little animal gasps of glee, each striving to make the shoot more often and more quickly than the others. And all of this charming scene, this group and their merry game, is unquestionably for the simple social joy of being together in an exercise which gives to them the delicious, exhilarating sensation of speeding through space without either violence or effort. In fact, for the very same reason that you and I went coasting when we were boys.
Do not fail to get one of the guides to show you the Otter slides as you travel about the lake. Some of them are good and some are poor. The very best are seen after the snow has come, but still you can see them with your own eyes, and if you are very lucky and very patient you may be rewarded by the sight of these merry creatures indulging in a game which closely parallels so many of our own.
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Horns and Hoofs and Legs of Speed
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Horns and Hoofs and Legs of Speed
THE BOUNDING BLACKTAIL
When Lewis and Clark reached the Big Sioux River in Dakota, on their famous journey up the Missouri, one hundred and ten years ago, they met, on the very edge and beginning of its range, the Mule Deer, and added the new species to their collection.
It is the characteristic Deer of the rough country from Mexico to British Columbia, and from California to Manitoba; and is one of the kinds most easily observed in the Yellowstone Sanctuary.
Driving from Gardiner, passing under the Great Tower of Eagle Rock on which an Osprey has nested year after year as far back as the records go, and wheeling into the open space in front of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, one is almost sure to come on a family of Deer wandering across the lawn, or posing among the shrubbery, with all the artless grace of the truly wild creature. These are the representatives of several hundred that collect in fall on and about this lawn, but are now scattered for the summer season over the adjoining hills, to come again, no doubt in increased numbers, when the first deep snow shall warn them to seek their winter range.
Like the other animals, these are natives of the region and truly wild, but so educated by long letting alone that it is easy to approach within a few yards.
The camera hunter should not fail to use this opportunity, not only because they are wild and beautiful things, but because he can have the films developed at the hotel over night, and so find out how his camera is behaving in this new light and surroundings.
This is the common Blacktailed Deer of the hill country, called Mule Deer on account of its huge ears and the shape of its tail. In Canada I knew it by the name of "Jumping Deer," from its gait, and in the Rockies it is familiar as the "Bounding Blacktail"—"Bounding" because of the wonderful way in which it strikes the ground with its legs held stiffly, then rises in the air with little apparent effort, and lands some ten or fifteen feet away. As the hunters say, "The Blacktail hits only the high places in the landscape." On the level it does not run so well as the Antelope or the Whitetailed Deer, and I often wondered why it had adopted this laborious mode of speeding, which seemed so inferior to the normal pace of its kin. But at length I was eyewitness of an episode that explained the puzzle.
THE MOTHER BLACKTAIL'S RACE FOR LIFE
In the fall of 1897 I was out for a Wolf hunt with the Eaton boys in the Badlands near Medora, N. D. We had a fine mixed pack of dogs, trailers, runners, and fighters. The runners were thoroughbred greyhounds, that could catch any four-foot on the plains except perhaps a buck Antelope; that I saw them signally fail in. But a Wolf, or even the swift Coyote, had no chance of getting away from them provided they could keep him in view. We started one of these singers of the plains, and at first he set off trusting to his legs, but the greyhounds were after him, and when he saw his long start shrinking so fearfully fast he knew that his legs could not save him, that now was the time for wits to enter the game. And this entry he made quickly and successfully by dropping out of sight down a brushy canyon, so the greyhounds saw him no more.
Then they were baffled by Prairie-dogs which dodged down out of reach and hawks which rose up out of reach, and still we rode, till, rounding a little knoll near a drinking place, we came suddenly on a mother Blacktail and her two fawns. All three swung their big ears and eyes into full bearing on us, and we reined our horses and tried to check our dogs, hoping they had not seen the quarry that we did not wish to harm. But Bran the leader gave a yelp, then leaping high over the sage, directed all the rest, and in a flash it was a life and death race.
Again and frantically the elder Eaton yelled "Come back!" and his brother tried to cut across and intercept the hounds. But a creature that runs away is an irresistible bait to a greyhound, and the chase across the sage-covered flat was on, with every nerve and tendon strained.
Away went the Blacktail, bounding, bounding at that famous beautiful, birdlike, soaring pace, mother and young tapping the ground and sailing to land, and tap and sail again. And away went the greyhounds, low coursing, outstretched, bounding like bolts from a crossbow, curving but little and dropping only to be shot again. They were straining hard; the Blacktail seemed to be going more easily, far more beautifully. But alas! they were losing time. The greyhounds were closing; in vain we yelled at them. We spurred our horses, hoping to cut them off, hoping to stop the ugly, lawless tragedy. But the greyhounds were frantic now. The distance between Bran and the hindmost fawn was not forty feet. Then Eaton drew his revolver and fired shots over the greyhounds' heads, hoping to scare them into submission, but they seemed to draw fresh stimulus from each report, and yelped and bounded faster. A little more and the end would be. Then we saw a touching sight. The hindmost fawn let out a feeble bleat of distress, and the mother, heeding, dropped back between. It looked like choosing death, for now she had not twenty feet of lead. I wanted Eaton to use his gun on the foremost hound, when something unexpected happened. The flat was crossed, the Blacktail reached a great high butte, and tapping with their toes they soared some fifteen feet and tapped again; and tapped and tapped and soared, and so they went like hawks that are bounding in the air, and the greyhounds, peerless on the plain, were helpless on the butte. Yes! rush as they might and did, and bounded and clomb, but theirs was not the way of the hills. In twenty heartbeats they were left behind. The Blacktail mother with her twins kept on and soared and lightly soared till lost to view, and all were safely hidden in their native hills.
THE BLACKTAIL'S SAFETY IS IN THE HILLS
That day I learned the reason for the bounding flight, so beautiful, but not the best or swiftest on the plain, yet the one that gives them dominion and safety on the hills, that makes of them a hill folk that the dangers of the plain can never reach.
So now, O traveller in the Park, if you approach too near the Blacktail feeding near the great hotel, and so alarm them—for they are truly wild—they make not for the open run as do the Antelope and the Hares, not for the thickest bottomland as do the Whitetail and the Lynxes, but for the steeper hillsides. They know right well where their safety lies, and on that near and bushy bank, laying aside all alarm, they group and pose in artless grace that tempts one to a lavish use of films and gives the chance for that crowning triumph of the art, a wild animal group, none of which is looking at the camera.
One more characteristic incident: In 1897 I was riding, with my wife, from Yancey's over to Baronett's Bridge, when we came on a young buck Blacktail. Now, said I, "I am going to show you the most wonderful and beautiful thing to be seen in the way of wild life speeding. You shall now see the famous bounding of the Blacktail." Then I spurred out after the young buck, knowing that all he needed was a little alarm to make him perform. Did he take alarm and run? Not at all. He was in the Yellowstone Sanctuary. He knew nothing of guns or dogs; he had lived all his life in safety. He would trot a few steps out of my way, then turn and gaze at me, but run, bound, and make for the high land, not a bit of it. And to this day my fair companion has not seen the Blacktail bounding up the hills.
THE ELK OR WAPITI—THE NOBLEST OF ALL DEER
The Rocky Mountain Elk, or Wapiti, is the finest of all true Deer. The cows weigh 400 to 500 pounds, the bulls 600 or 800, but occasionally 1000. At several of the hotels a small herd is kept in a corral for the pleasure and photography of visitors.
The latest official census puts the summer population of Elk in the Yellowstone Park at 35,000, but the species is migratory, at least to the extent of seeking a winter feeding ground with as little snow as possible, so that most of them move out as snow time sets in. Small herds linger in the rich and sheltered valleys along the Yellowstone, Snake and nearby rivers, but the total of those wintering in the Park is probably less than 5,000.
STALKING A BAND OF ELK
In the summer months the best places in which to look for these Deer are all the higher forests, especially along the timber-line. I had an interesting stalk after a large band of them among the woods of Tower Falls in the June of 1897. I had found the trail of a considerable herd and followed it up the mountain till the "sign" was fresh. Then I tied up my horse and went forward on foot. For these animals are sufficiently acquainted with man as a mischief-maker to be vigilant in avoiding him, even in the Park. I was cautiously crawling from tree to tree, when out across an open space I descried a cow Elk and her calf lying down. A little more crawling and I sighted a herd all lying down and chewing the cud. About twenty yards away was a stump whose shelter offered chances to use the camera, but my present position promised nothing, so I set out carefully to cross the intervening space in plain view of scores of Elk; and all would have been well but for a pair of mischievous little Chipmunks. They started a most noisy demonstration against my approach, running back and forth across my path, twittering and flashing their tails about. In vain I prayed for a paralytic stroke to fall on my small tormentors. Their aggravating plan, if plan it was, they succeeded in fully carrying out. The Elk turned all their megaphone ears, their funnel noses and their blazing telescopic eyes my way. I lay like a log and waited; so did they. Then the mountain breeze veered suddenly and bore the taint of man to those watchful mothers. They sprang to their feet, some fifty head at least, half of them with calves by their sides, and away they dashed with a roaring sound, and a rattling and crashing of branches that is wonderfully impressive to hear, and nothing at all to tell about.
I had made one or two rough sketches as I lay on the ground, but the photographs were failures.
This band contained only cows engaged in growing their calves. According to Elk etiquette, the bulls are off by themselves at a much higher elevation, engaged in the equally engrossing occupation of growing their antlers. Most persons are surprised greatly when first they learn that the huge antlers of the Elk, as with most deer, are grown and shed each year. It takes only five months to grow them. They are perfect in late September for the fighting season, and are shed in March. The bull Elk now shapes his conduct to his weaponless condition. He becomes as meek as he was warlike. And so far from battling with all of their own sex that come near, these big "moollys" gather in friendly stag-parties on a basis of equal loss, and haunt the upper woods whose pasture is rich enough to furnish the high power nutriment needed to offset the exhausting drain of growing such mighty horns in such minimum time.
They are more free from flies too in these high places, which is important, for even the antlers are sensitive while growing. They are even more sensitive than the rest of the body, besides being less protected and more temptingly filled with blood. A mosquito would surely think he had struck it rich if he landed on the hot, palpitating end of a Wapiti's thin-skinned, blood-gorged antlers. It is quite probable that some of the queer bumps we see on the finished weapons are due to mosquito or fly stings suffered in the early period of formation.
THE BUGLING ELK
During the summer the bulls attend strictly to their self-development, but late August sees them ready to seek once more the mixed society of their kind. Their horns are fully grown, but are not quite hardened and are still covered with velvet. By the end of September these weapons are hard and cleaned and ready for use, just as a thrilling change sets in in the body and mind of the bull. He is full of strength and vigour, his coat is sleek, his neck is swollen, his muscles are tense, his horns are clean, sharp, and strong, and at their heaviest. A burning ambition to distinguish himself in war, and win favours from the shy ladies of his kind, grows in him to a perfect insanity; goaded by desire, boiling with animal force, and raging with war-lust, he mounts some ridge in the valley and pours forth his very soul in a wild far-reaching battle-cry. Beginning low and rising in pitch to a veritable scream of piercing intensity, it falls to a rumbled growl, which broken into shorter growls dies slowly away. This is the famed bugling of the Elk, and however grotesque it may seem when heard in a zoo, is admitted by all who know it in its homeland to be the most inspiring music in nature—because of what it means. Here is this magnificent creature, big as a horse, strong as a bull, and fierce as a lion, standing in all the pride and glory of his primest prime, announcing to all the world: "I am out for a fight! Do any of you want a F-I-G-H-T——!-!-!?" Nor does he usually have long to wait. From some far mountainside the answer comes:
"Yes, yes, yes! Yes, I Do, Do, Do, Do!"
A few more bugle blasts and the two great giants meet; and when they do, all the world knows it for a mile around, without it being seen. The crashing of the antlers as they close, the roars of hate, the squeals of combat, the cracking of breaking branches as they charge and charge, and push and strive, and—sometimes the thud of a heavy body going down.
Many a time have I heard them in the distant woods, but mostly at night. Often have I gone forth warily hoping to see something of the fight, for we all love to see a fight when not personally in danger; but luck has been against me. I have been on the battlefield next morning to see where the combatants had torn up an acre of ground, and trampled unnumbered saplings, or tossed huge boulders about like pebbles, but the fight I missed.
One day as I came into camp in the Shoshonees, east of the Park, an old hunter said: "Say, you! you want to see a real old-time Elk fight? You go up on that ridge back of the corral and you'll sure see a hull bunch of 'em at it; not one pair of bulls, but six of 'em."
I hurried away, but again I was too late; I saw nothing but the trampled ground, the broken saplings, and the traces of the turmoil; the battling giants were gone.
Back I went and from the hunter's description made the sketch which I give below. The old man said: "Well, you sure got it this time. That's exactly like it was. One pair was jest foolin', one was fencing and was still perlite; but that third pair was a playin' the game for keeps. An' for givin' the facts, that's away ahead of any photograph I ever seen."
Once I did come on the fatal battle-ground, but it was some time after the decision; and there I found the body of the one who did not win. The antlers are a fair index of the size and vigour of the stag, and if the fallen one was so big and strong, what like was he who downed him, pierced him through and left him on the plain.
SNAPPING A CHARGING BULL
At one time in a Californian Park I heard the war-bugle of an Elk. He bawled aloud in brazen, ringing tones: "Anybody want a F-I-G-H-T t-t-t-t!!"
I extemporized a horn and answered him according to his mood. "Yes, I do; bring it ALONG!" and he brought it at a trot, squealing and roaring as he came. When he got within forty yards he left the cover and approached me, a perfect incarnation of brute ferocity and hate.
His ears were laid back, his muzzle raised, his nose curled up, his lower teeth exposed, his mane was bristling and in his eyes there blazed a marvellous fire of changing opalescent green. On he marched, gritting his teeth and uttering a most unpleasantly wicked squeal.
Then suddenly down went his head, and he came crash at me, with all the power of half a ton of hate. However, I was not so much exposed as may have been inferred. I was safely up a tree. And there I sat watching that crazy bull as he prodded the trunk with his horns, and snorted, and raved around, telling me just what he thought of me, inviting him to a fight and then getting up a tree. Finally he went off roaring and gritting his teeth, but turning back to cast on me from time to time the deadly, opaque green light of his mad, malignant eyes.
A friend of mine, John Fossum, once a soldier attached to Fort Yellowstone, had a similar adventure on a more heroic scale. While out on a camera hunt in early winter he descried afar a large bull Elk lying asleep in an open valley. At once Fossum made a plan. He saw that he could crawl up to the bull, snap him where he lay, then later secure a second picture as the creature ran for the timber. The first part of the programme was carried out admirably. Fossum got within fifty feet and still the Elk lay sleeping. Then the camera was opened out. But alas! that little pesky "click," that does so much mischief, awoke the bull, who at once sprang to his feet and ran—not for the woods—but for the man. Fossum with the most amazing nerve stood there quietly focussing his camera, till the bull was within ten feet, then pressed the button, threw the camera into the soft snow and ran for his life with the bull at his coat-tails. It would have been a short run but for the fact that they reached a deep snowdrift that would carry the man, and would not carry the Elk. Here Fossum escaped, while the bull snorted around, telling just what he meant to do to the man when he caught him; but he was not to be caught, and at last the bull went off grumbling and squealing.
The hunter came back, recovered his camera, and when the plate was developed it bore the picture No. xiv, b.
It shows plainly the fighting light in the bull's eye, the back laid ears, the twisting of the nose, and the rate at which he is coming is evidenced in the stamping feet and the wind-blown whiskers, and yet in spite of the peril of the moment, and the fact that this was a hand camera, there is no sign of shake on landscape or on Elk, and the picture is actually over-exposed.
THE HOODOO COW
One of the best summer ranges for Elk is near the southeast corner of the Yellowstone Lake, and here it was my luck to have the curious experience that I call the "Story of a Hoodoo Elk."
In the September of 1912, when out with Tom Newcomb of Gardiner, I had this curious adventure, that I shall not try to explain. We had crossed the Yellowstone Lake in a motor boat and were camped on the extreme southeast Finger, at a point twenty-five miles as the crow flies, and over fifty as the trail goes, from any human dwelling. We were in the least travelled and most primitive part of the Park. The animals here are absolutely in the wild condition and there was no one in the region but ourselves.
On Friday, September 6th, we sighted some Elk on the lake shore at sunrise, but could not get nearer than two hundred yards, at which distance I took a poor snap. The Elk wheeled and ran out of sight. I set off on foot with the guide about 8:30. We startled one or two Elk, but they were very wild, and I got no chance to photograph.
About 10:30, when several miles farther in the wilderness, we sighted a cow Elk standing in a meadow with a Coyote sneaking around about one hundred yards away. "That's my Elk," I said, and we swung under cover. By keeping in a little pine woods, I got within one hundred yards, taking picture No. 1, Plate XV. As she did not move, I said to Tom: "You stay here while I creep out to that sage brush and I'll get a picture of her at fifty yards." By crawling on my hands I was able to do this and got picture No. 2. Now I noticed a bank of tall grass some thirty yards from the cow, and as she was still quiet, I crawled to that and got picture No. 3. She did not move and I was near enough to see that she was dozing in a sun-bath. So I stood up and beckoned to Tom to come out of the woods at once. He came on nearly speechless with amazement. "What is the meaning of this?" he whispered.
I replied calmly: "I told you I was a medicine man, perhaps you'll believe me now. Don't you see I've made Elk medicine and got her hypnotized? Now I am going to get up to about twenty yards and take her picture. While I do so, you use the second camera and take me in the act." So Tom took No. 4 while I was taking No. 5, and later No. 6.
"Now," I said, "let's go and talk to her." We walked up to within ten yards. The Elk did not move, so I said: "Well, Bossie, you have callers. Won't you please look this way?" She did so and I secured shot No. 7, Plate XVI.
"Thank you," I said. "Now be good enough to lie down." She did, and I took No. 9.
I went up and stroked her, so did Tom; then giving her a nudge of my foot I said: "Now stand up again and look away."
She rose up, giving me Nos. 8, 10 and 11.
"Thank you, Bossie! now you can go!" And as she went off I fired my last film, getting No. 12.
By this time Tom had used up all his allowable words, and was falling back on the contraband kind to express his surging emotions.
"What the —— is the —— meaning —— of this ——?" and so on.
I replied calmly: "Maybe you'll believe I have Elk medicine. Now show me a Moose and I'll give you some new shocks."
Our trip homeward occupied a couple of hours, during which I heard little from Tom but a snort or two of puzzlement.
As we neared camp he turned on me suddenly and said: "Now, Mr. Seton, what is the meaning of this? That wasn't a sick Elk; she was fat and hearty. She wasn't poisoned or doped, 'cause there's no possibility of that. It wasn't a tame Elk, 'cause there ain't any, and, anyhow, we're seventy miles from a house. Now what is the meaning of it?"
I replied solemnly: "Tom! I don't know any more than you do. I was as much surprised as you were at everything but one, and that was when she lay down. I didn't tell her to lie down till I saw she was going to do it, or to get up either, or look the other way, and if you can explain the incident, you've got the field to yourself."
THE MOOSE, THE BIGGEST OF ALL DEER
The Moose is one of the fine animals that have responded magnificently to protection in Canada, Maine, Minnesota, and the Yellowstone Park. Formerly they were very scarce in Wyoming and confined to the southwest corner of the Reserve. But all they needed was a little help; and, receiving it, they have flourished and multiplied. Their numbers have grown by natural increase from about fifty in 1897 to some five hundred and fifty to-day; and they have spread into all the southern half of the Park wherever they find surroundings to their taste; that is, thick level woods with a mixture of timber, as the Moose is a brush-eater, and does not flourish on a straight diet of evergreen.