Ruth A Cook.

Along four-footed trails; wild animals of the plains as I knew them online

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The proud buck with his large prong
horns had claimed her for his own"


Wild Animals of the Plains as
I Knew Them

by Ruth A. Cook

Formerly Assistant in charge of Nature Work at the

Children's Museum of the Brooklyn Institute

of Arts and Sciences

With Illustrations by
Mabel Williamson

New York

James Pott & Company

Copyright Ipoj by
James Pott sf Company

Published September 1903

The Heintzemann Press^ Boston



The Memory of My Mother



Bruno, My Pet Coyote

"Prong-horns," The Antelope of the Plains

Sam Dempster and the Prarie-Dog Town

White-Jack and Her Companions

Wild Ponies of the Plains


The Muskrat and its Home as Joe and I

Knew Them

The Beavers of Beaver Creek
Mongola and His Two Brothers
Prairie Pocket-Gophers
Field Mice










Ella and the Rocky Mountain Grasshoppers 246


List of I/lustrations

" The -proud buck with his large prong-horns
had claimed her for his own" Frontispiece

" One old hen ventured closer and closer . . .
when quicker than a flash the coyote sprang
upon her" 19

" She limped toward him to the limit of her
chain" 23

" The c Mayor . . . was generally to be seen
sitting upon the largest hillock in the town" 53

" The coyote drew nearer and with one leap
sprang at White-Jack " 81

" With the black mare beside him> the stallion
often ran to the top of the hill and would
stand with his proud head held high and
scan the prairie in every direction" 91


"As he stood on the edge of the deep Gap with
his head lowered in his last ( stand ' for
life" 133

" As soon as it would hold the weight of a
muskrat y one mounted the platform " 147

" The dam now began to take on a substantial
aspect" 169

"He walked toward her, his bushy tail held
up" 199

" If h accident they chanced to meet their
only recognition was to angrily spring at
each other and bite " 209

"Aunt told me they were the runways of a
family of field mice " 227

" The golden grain in the adjoining wheat-
field sheltered her from the burning sun as
she sat and watched the ground-squirrels" 249



THE facts of nature are not limited by
geographical boundaries ; their inter-
pretation is not the property of any cult.
The East and the West grade into each so in-
sensibly that the Occident is reached ere one
has removed the Orient's dust from his feet.
The birds, the beasts, the plants appear to have
much in common, and really do have, unless
one compares the extremes. So the traveler
from Massachusetts and Ohio will see much
that is familiar in Nebraska or Dakota as he is
whirled along in comfort and pleasure.

It was not always thus. Earlier, in my girl-
hood days, animals were daily, even hourly, seen
that are now almost things of the past rare
and little known. They first were seen from
the doors of our "dugout," that rude sort of
sod-house, half cave, half house, which in these
later days has been replaced by palatial homes.
They became familiar objects to the little west-
ern girl who had no playmates save those which


nature furnished her. More than familiarity
grew out of our relationship. I learned to love
those curious, or queer, or cunning animals; and
with that love came a measure of sympathy
which still survives. They were often my sole
companions save my thoughts in long rides
over treeless, rolling plains. I gathered a cer-
tain sort of information as to their ways, their
lives, their enemies, their dangers. In the fol-
lowing sketches, in as simple a way as possible,
I have sought to record facts and impressions
albeit they have a certain human tinge to
them that grew on me as the years passed on
and I became a woman. They are offered you,
my reader, in the sincere hope that hours thus
made bright to me may still find a work that
makes for betterment in the lives of others.

Acknowledgment is due to several friends
and is heartily rendered for valuable services
freely given. To Dr. R. Ellsworth Call, A.M.,
M.Sc., Ph.D., Curator of the Children's Mu-
seum, and to Miss Mabel Williamson, whose
illustrations have sympathetically caught the
spirit of my stories, special thanks are tendered.

R. A. C.

Brooklyn., New Tork, June 10, 1903.



I'VE got 'em, Lawrence ! Jolly, there 's two
more ! Ain't you got her most skinned ?
Keep your gun ready ! Her mate is liable
to come back any minnit." These were the
words of a neighbor boy that rang out on the
clear, light atmosphere of the plains and greet-
ed my ears, a quarter of a mile away, while rid-
ing my pony over the divide. My dog was
trotting along behind to see if the cows had
strayed from their usual feeding-ground.

I headed my pony in the direction whence
the boys' voices came. In a short time I had
ridden down the canon's side and they were
in full view. They had found a coyote's den
containing three little pups. Lawrence, the
elder brother, had killed the female coyote and
skinned her, while his brother took charge of



the litter. He was about to strike the last one
when I begged him not to kill the little woolly
thing but to give it to me. Lawrence said he
would carry it home for me if his brother would
carry the mother's pelt. With my arms and
apron full of flowers I slid forward on the shoul-
ders and neck of my pony and invited the boys
to ride with me. Lawrence, with the pup under
his arm, mounted first, then his brother, with
the pelt thrown over his back, climbed up be-
hind ; and the pony, with his three passengers,
started homeward on a slow trot through the
canon and over the divide.

On arrival, the boys helped me to dig a hole
in the side of a small mound of dirt and in it
we placed a wooden shoe-box. In its side they
cut a hole for an entrance and the lidless top
was turned downward. This allowed the pup to
dig under her wooden home, if she chose. We
found a broad, thick strap to serve as a collar
and a steel chain. With these the pup was se-
curely fastened, named Bruno and introduced
to her new home.

Bruno was nearly a foot long, with a straight
bushy tail and an abundance of thick, brownish,


red hair, which covered her loose skin. She
had a head like a fox. Her nose was sharp-
pointed and her eyes were yellow, bordered with
black eyelids.

She was very shy at first and remained in her
house, half covered with dirt, for hours at a time,
without ever noticing me or the food I placed
in front of her kennel for her. When I would
try to pull her out by the chain she would growl
and snap at me. In a short time, however, she
learned to know that I loved her, for animals
know as well as human beings when they are
truly loved. It was not long before she would
come out of her kennel and jump and pull at her
chain as soon as she heard my voice or noticed
my footsteps.

The State was paying two cents each for
gophers' pelts. I owned six steel traps, pur-
chased with money I had earned the year be-
fore, selling radishes, onions, and bouquets of
wild flowers to people in the hotel of the county
seat, a small town some six miles away. I set
these traps at night, baited with corn and placed
them in the great cornfields around our home.
In the morning I found three dead gophers, two


traps sprung, and one trap with the bait still
on it. I skinned the three gophers and the
bounty they represented was six cents more to-
ward the purchase of my winter shoes, with
enough breakfast for Bruno and my dog. Bru-
no was fed with milk, scraps from the table and
grasshoppers, as well as the bodies of the trapped
gophers, but the fresh, wild meat she seemed to
enjoy most.

There was plenty of rain that summer and no
hot winds or grasshopper plague ; the farmers
prospered and all wild animals found abundant
food. Bruno grew large and was very tame.
One day my mother noticed some feathers
around the coyote's kennel and told me she
feared Bruno was killing her hens, since two
were missing; so we watched.

One day, late in August, mother and I were
sitting behind the plum thicket, near our house,
from which point of vantage we could see the
coyote but were not seen by her. My mother
was telling me of some scenes of her own child-
hood when our attention was drawn to Bruno.
She was pulling at her chain, scratching and
drawing something towards her with her front


paws. Investigation showed that when I fed
my pony some ears of corn for his dinner some
kernels had dropped from the cobs into the
dirt and these the coyote was trying to collect.
I was sure that my pet was not hungry enough
to eat such food, so we watched silently to dis-
cover what she intended to do. And this is
what we saw : After she had scattered the ker-
nels about her and some near the entrance to
the kennel, she lay down and shut her eyes as
though asleep. A number of chickens were
strutting about, finding here and there a dainty
kernel of corn, but they seemed wary and for
some time did not venture near ; rinding, how-
ever that the reddish brown object did not
move one old hen ventured closer and closer,
picking up the grains of corn, until she reached
the entrance of the kennel, when quicker than
a flash the coyote sprang upon her and in a mo-
ment the hen was torn to pieces and nearly de-
voured. What had become of our lost chickens
was now quite clear and mother declared the
coyote must be killed. I begged her not to be
so angry with poor Bruno, for did not we love
a well cooked chicken ? Why then should we


blame the poor brute ? After much coaxing,
plentifully mingled with tears, it was agreed that
Bruno should be spared if her kennel was placed
farther away from the hen-house. Consequently
it was moved about forty rods.

At night, in the fall months, Bruno heard
the coyotes howling in the distance ; she, too,
began to howl at sunset and at intervals during
the night. Our nearest neighbor, who did not
appreciate these nightly concerts, finally de-
clared that he would shoot the wolf if my
father did not. But Bruno lived on all un-
conscious of these threats and sang her nightly
song as before.

One cold night in November, I shall never
forget it, I awoke at the sharp report of a gun,
followed by three loud yelps, then two muffled
ones from the direction of Bruno's kennel. I
knew my pet had been shot and I feared that
she was dead. I was so angry at our neighbor
that I could not sleep. I thought of all the spite-
ful things I should do and say when I grew older.
I thought for the present that I could forget to
bring his cow and her calf home with the rest ;
that would make him trouble even if the wolves

One old hen ventured closer and closer . . . when
than a flash the coyote sprang upon her"


did not get the calf. Then, precious memory,
there came to my mind the wise counsels of my
mother. I remembered how she told me that
I would hurt myself most by letting bitter
thoughts enter my mind, that they would de-
termine so much of my life as to affect my
character. Then I looked out of the little win-
dow at the clear blue sky sprinkled with stars
where the bright light of a full moon did not
hide them, and kinder thoughts came into my
heart. I forgave the man and breathed a prayer
that my poor coyote might not die. Then I
shut my eyes, believing my prayer would be
answered and fell into a sweet sleep.

Early in the following morning I ran down
the hill to the kennel of poor Bruno. At the
sound of my footsteps on the frozen ground she
came out of her kennel. She was alive ! but
she walked on three feet and her right hind leg
was all covered with blood. I patted her neck
and talked to her while she laid her head on
my arm ; when I bent over her, she whined,
reached up her head to my face and licked my
cheek in the most eloquent way. How I loved
her ! More than all my other animal pets, for


I felt that she and her wild relatives were friend-
less and despised. I examined the wound
which the cruel bullets had made, tenderly
washed and dressed it and left the result to na-
ture. In a few weeks she was well, but the
muscles of her leg had been so badly torn that
she limped for the remainder of her life.

One evening, just at sunset, I noticed a large
coyote on a hill half a mile away. While I
watched him he raised his long, pointed nose
towards the heavens and howled as only a
coyote can howl. Then he sneaked a little
nearer between the bunch-grass tufts, stopped,
sat down in wolf fashion and looked down at
my Bruno. At the first sound of his voice she
raised her pointed ears and the long hairs of her
loose shaggy mane stood straight out. She
limped towards him to the limit of her chain.
Seemingly in deep thought she stood for a
minute or two, looked up the hill at the
stranger, raised her head and howled. The
stranger coyote then crept closer and howled
again. This was repeated several times until I
put an end to their courtship by shutting Bruno
in her kennel for the night as had been my cus-

She limped toward him
to the limit of her chain "


torn since she had been shot. The big prairie
wolf sneaked away with his ears hanging down
like fringed pointed flaps and his tail drawn in
between his legs. In this way he would trot a
few rods at a time, squat on his lean haunches,
lift up his ears, look back and again repeat this
performance until he reached the summit of the
hill. Then he gave one long, continuous howl,
dismal in its length and cadence, and disap-
peared. He was a very large coyote, with a
long, lean body, short appearing legs, straight
bushy tail, loose skin covered with long tawny
brown hair, with an occasional white or black
one, and under parts a dirty white. His ears
stood up straight and pointed when on the alert
and his bright yellow eyes looked like two coals
of fire after dark. His manner was sneaking
but determined. Such was the appearance and
character of the stranger wolf which came night
after night to court gentle, lame, little Bruno.

The third night the stranger made bold to
come down the hill, jump over the cornstalk
fence which the boys had helped me to build
around Bruno's kennel and, wagging his tail in
a most friendly manner, walked up to Bruno


and touched her nose with his. This was their
introduction. Then they talked to each other
in wolf language, by little low barks and whines,
as well as by touch and smell. This was re-
peated night after night for nearly three weeks
but seemed to have been only a preparation for
another episode. One evening in early March
the strange coyote sneaked through the grass
and over the fence earlier than usual. Finding
Bruno, he gnawed the strap from her neck and
led her away, unchained and free. The sun
had just sunk down below the western horizon,
leaving a deep and beautiful red border, which
tinted the whole heaven where earth and sky
seemed to meet. It was while enjoying this
beautiful sunset that 1 had noticed the large
coyote trotting up the hill with my little Bruno
limping along close by his side. I ran to the
kennel ; there was the chain and the torn strap.
My little coyote was gone. She had left of her
own free will to enter upon the wild life for
which she was intended. Perhaps she would
be happier with a mate. I loved her and would
be lonesome without her but should she be
happier I would be content. I was aroused


from my thoughts when they both howled a
farewell from the summit of the hill. The
beautiful red reflection in the heavens seemed
to wave a triumphant welcome to the little coy-
ote as she gave a short, quick bark, followed by
several others in rapid succession and ending in
a long, continuous howl. Her mate did the
same. Then they both howled together. That
ringing, penetrating howl, not altogether musi-
cal, echoed and re-echoed from hilltop to hilltop,
until it seemed to me there must have been at
least five hundred coyotes rejoicing together at
the liberty and love of one little cripple, instead
of only the two singing their evening love-song.
Some months passed. I gave up the thought
of ever seeing my pet coyote again. One after-
noon, however, while tramping over the prairie
to a neighbor's to exchange a setting of eggs for
my mother, I noticed down near the canon a coy-
ote galloping along with a curious limp which I
recognized as Bruno's. I placed my basket of
eggs beside a bunch of Buffalo grass and ran
up the hill to a point where I could see the
country for a long distance around to learn, if
possible, where the new home of my former pet


might be and to discover what she was after.
But a few rods ahead of her I saw a jack-rabbit
making tremendous leaps in the hope of escap-
ing his most dreaded enemy, for the coyotes and
the jack-rabbits have been at eternal enmity
ever since nature put them together on the
western plains. As Bruno neared a clump of
sage-b/ush, I saw her mate, the great coyote,
was waiting to relieve her. He sprang forward
with long leaps in pursuit of the unfortunate
rabbit. Bruno stopped, sat on her haunches
and rested. It was not long before the coyote
had headed the rabbit and turned it back to-
wards his mate. Bruno was now ready to take
up the chase anew. In a few leaps she sprang
upon the tired beast, grasped its neck in her
sharp teeth and thus held in a deadly grasp the
family dinner for that day. With the big coy-
ote by her side she limped proudly to a hole in
the hillside. Here was her home. Unnoticed,
I lay on the ground, the direction of the wind
favoring my complete secretion, for these ani-
mals find food and discover their enemies largely
by the sense of smell. When Bruno neared
the entrance of the den three pups came out,


sprang at the rabbit, jerked it unceremoniously
from the mother's mouth and with furious
snarls and many growls tore it to pieces. The
parent coyotes lay quietly in the warm sunshine
and proudly watched them. After this, having
discovered the home of my pet, I often carried
gophers in my traps and dropped their bodies
near the coyote's den where I was sure they
would be found.

The summer wore on ; the fields were green
and so beautiful. The farmers were hopeful of
another prosperous year. All unexpectedly there
came a hot wind and sand-storm. In a few
hours the green fields of corn, the grass, and the
very plants of the prairie itself were brown and
withered by the scorching wind. The tame
cattle as well as the wild vegetable-feeding ani-
mals were deprived of much of their fall and
winter food. The severe winter set in early.
On the morning of the i6th of November a
characteristic snowstorm came ; the white flakes
fell thick and fast all that day and night. In
the morning it was clear, calm and cold ! The
whole earth was covered with a mantle of white
which sparkled in the bright sunshine like count-


less millions of mimic diamonds. By noon the
gray clouds rolled up in front of the sun ; a cold
northwest wind swept through the canon and
over the divide, carrying great masses of the
loose, newly fallen snow before it. One could
scarcely see a yard's distance. The storm raged
long, then calmed, only to rage again. This
continued for three days and nights. Many
cattle and wild animals perish of cold and hun-
ger from these storms. When the three days'
storm had spent its fury, how beautiful it all
seemed ! It was clear and cold, a full moon
bathed the earth with a silver light and one
could see almost as well as by day. In the
comfort of the warm fire of my home I sat and
thought. Of course, I thought of Bruno.
How many times I had laid my head against
her shaggy mane and told her of my childish
troubles as though she could understand and
sympathize with me ! Hark ! Was I dream-
ing ? Surely that was a coyote's bark ! It was
a long way off and yet again and again I heard
it ; it came nearer and still nearer. I left the
fire and went to the window. Down the hill
were coming two coyotes, a large one and a


small one. They reached the spot where Bru-
no's kennel had been and stopped. They smelt
of the posts which stood where the boys had
helped me to build the cornstalk fence. The
larger coyote rubbed against the posts while the
smaller one limped a few feet away, raised her
head and howled. It was Bruno, my dear pet
Bruno ! Hunger had driven her and her mate
back to her old home where she had always had
abundance of food. I now had a new occupa-
tion, a new problem. I must feed the poor
beasts, but how? Mother said we should not
feed them because there were many poor people
who would need all we could possibly spare.
Indeed, we had little for ourselves. I pressed
my face against the cold window-pane and
watched Bruno as she limped closer and closer
to the house, with her mate sneaking behind
her. She looked so thin and hungry. I could
think of nothing but my love for the poor brute
and her extremity ! I suddenly seized a piece
of bacon which hung on a hook near the win-
dow, opened the door and threw it to the coy-
otes. Then turning to my angry parents I said
between sobs, " I will not eat any meat for a


whole week. I have given my portion to the

Late in the spring one of our cows came home
without her calf, heated, excited and with blood
on her horns. The coyotes had killed a num-
ber of calves in the neighborhood and ours had
probably met the same fate. And now the
farmers took a hand in the affair and poisoned
meat was placed along the coyote trails over the
prairie. A few days later I was riding my pony
over the hill when I saw a coyote struggling on
the ground with froth at her mouth. It was
Bruno. She was dying from arsenical poison-
ing. I leaped from my pony just as she died.
A stray stone was rolled close to her and some
cornstalks were gathered and placed over her.
Then mounting my pony again I rode quickly
to impart the news of Bruno's death to Law-
rence and to get his assistance in skinning her.

Twelve years passed. I had my pets during
that period, but none ever took the place of
Bruno. I then lived in a large western city.
Often at night, when tired from the day's work,
I would throw myself on the library floor and
with the dear old coyote's skin for my pillow


would fall asleep and dream of the old days on
the prairie. I heard again the howl of the coy-
ote, the prairie chicken drum for his mate and
the echo from hill to hill, like the noise of a
distant cannon.

I lived again the old, wild, care-free days of
youth, only to wake with a start and to realize
that it was all a dream. That I must read over
the pile of business letters and see nothing but
rows and rows of brick and mortar. How dif-
ferent it all was from the great stretches of green
prairie, the wide breadth of horizon, the pano-
rama of clouds, the merry whistle of the western
winds, the songs of birds, even if they were only
conjured up in dreams.



JUST at daybreak one beautiful morning in
the latter part of May, I rode over a divide,
headed for a nearby canon, in search of our
cattle that had strayed away during the night.
The bright stars paled and the new moon was
lost to view. The reflection of the sun against
the clear blue sky tinted the east with gorgeous
reds and purples, long before it rose above the
hills in the distance.

I had been riding along slowly for some time,
on my return home, when my pony pricked up
his ears and my dog was all attention, as distant
repeated reports of a gun rolled across the
prairie through the clear atmosphere. Pres-
ently there appeared on the ridge a mile away
a number of antelope flashing the white patches
on their rumps so that they glistened in the


sunlight like bright pieces of tin. On a knoll
a half mile distant appeared a man on horseback.

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Online LibraryRuth A CookAlong four-footed trails; wild animals of the plains as I knew them → online text (page 1 of 11)