Charles Frederick Holder.

Life in the open; sport with rod, gun, horse, and hound in southern California online

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battle with the leaping tuna along these placid waters.

So delightful are the conditions of the sport at this
isle of summer that they become compensations even
for occasional poor luck, as even tunas are uncertain
and seasons have been known to pass when the fish,
over one hundred pounds in weight, absolutely spurned
all lures. The winter here is the time of flowers, or
from the coming of the rain, from November to April,

The Royal Catch 271

during which ten or twelve inches will fall; a rainy sea-
son in name only, for from May until November, and
sometimes December, a storm of any kind is unknown
on these fishing grounds, while extreme heat is
a stranger to the vale of Avalon. Day after day the
bays and coves are disks of steel, and the angler drifts
along in the shadows of the lofty cliffs, in the enjoy-
ment of absolute relaxation, and the best of sea fishing.

There is another feature which makes rod tuna
fishing possible here. The tunas at Nova Scotia and
other localities on the Atlantic Coast average six or nine
hundred pounds. Large fishes predominate, at least this
is my experience. I have collected data from 1850 on,
and such game is doubtless beyond the field of the rod
angler. On the Pacific Coast very large tunas are rare,
the record rod catch of Avalon, held by Col. C. P.
Morhouse, weighing but two hundred and fifty-one
pounds, the average tuna seen being one hundred and
fifty down to seventy pounds. This accounts for the
number caught, a number large when the agility of the
fish is considered, but small in reality.

It is these conditions, the absolutely quiet water of
the Kuroshiwo as it flows down the coast, which have
produced this tuna ground, a veritable paradise for
good anglers. The angler who has fairly killed a tuna
weighing over one hundred and fifty pounds after a con-
stant fight of four or five hours has accomplished, in
my opinion, a feat more difficult than shooting a tiger
from the back of an elephant or a lion from cover. I

272 Life in the Open

have always had a fondness, more or less unreasonable,
possibly, for large game of the sea, and have taken al-
most every hard fighter from tarpon to the giant-ray, but
award the palm of hard fighting to the tuna at its best.
Some weakened by spawning or other causes can be
landed in ten minutes with a club-rod, and strong women
have landed this fish, but the one-hundred-and-fifty-
pound tuna in the best condition is game for men in
their best form, and such a fish will fight until its heart
stops beating.


Chapter XVIII

Coaching at Santa Catalina

THE Pacific coast of North America has long
been famous for its coach lines and the men
who held the lines. Before the advent of the
railroad six-in-hand coaches carried passengers all over
the State. One line ran from San Francisco to Los
Angeles, five hundred miles ; from here another ran to
San Diego and over the desert to Yuma, Santa Fe\
and the East. This difficult service developed a pe-
culiar class of men or drivers, noted for their courage ;
daring men who would take a mountain road at full
speed where there was not a foot to spare. The early
pages of California history are filled with stories of the
marvellous exploits of these men. The coming of rail and
electric roads has almost driven the stage out of business
in Southern California. There is a notable exception at
the island of Santa Catalina. The island is really a spur
of the coast range, separated from the mainland by the
Santa Catalina Channel ; a jumble of picturesque peaks
running in every direction and worn into thousands


276 Life in the Open

of deep picturesque cartons by the rains of centuries.
At most points the shores are abrupt, no beaches ap-
pearing; the mountains rise directly from the ocean,
affording but a shelf as a vantage ground. This is par-
ticularly true of the south-west side, where no landing
can be made for miles, except where a canon has formed,
its mouth marked by a sandy beach of pure white against
which the surf piles in. The one town, Avalon, is made
up of hotels, cottages, shops, and a large fleet of boats
for the benefit of anglers from all over the world. It is
situated in the mouth of Grand Carton, one of the
largest of the cartons at the south end of the island ; the
only other settlement is Cabrillo, at the Isthmus, about
fifteen miles away, a maze of mountains intervening.
The two places have long been connected by a trail by
which wild-goat hunters made their way up the sides of
the mountains to the interior; but as the population
grew it was evident that a perfect road was necessary,
so several years ago a stage road with a low grade was
begun, started at both ends, winding up the mountains
from Avalon to the Isthmus, one of the most extra-
ordinary pieces of road engineering, in all probability, in
the country, owing to its sensational features and
the apparent difficulties in the way of its com-

Lovers of coaching and by this is meant mountain
coaching doubtless form a class by themselves, but it is
difficult to understand how any one fond of sport that
has an essence of daring in it cannot enthuse over this

Coaching at Santa Catalina 277

splendid road, that in point of insular scenery and
contrast between mountain and ocean has no equal.

The start is made at Avalon, the coach pulling up to
the hotels in the morning, the passengers booked taking
their places soon after nine. The drivers are charac-
ters ; all have histories. One was a driver in the Ari-
zona mountains for years his stories of hold-ups and
adventures would fill a volume ; another is an old
Yosemite driver, familiar with curves, precipices, and
dizzy trails men who never get "rattled," and who
thoroughly understand their business. The road takes
us up a street of the little town, turns sharply, rounds a
point reaching into the sea, and in a few moments we
are high above Avalon, its crescent bay standing out in
relief, the blue Pacific stretching away in every direc-
tion. A sudden turn is made and the road is seen
climbing a shelf on the side of Descanso Cafion that
reaches the sea parallel to Grand Cafton, separated
from it by a spur of the mountains. The road is per-
fect, and the horses are obliged to walk slowly to the
summit, perhaps three miles by the winding road. At
every turn the driver has a story to fascinate the
tenderfoot on the box seat.

" I call this Rattlesnake Point," said the driver, flick-
ing his whip at the place which appeared to hang over
the ocean, one thousand feet below.

" Why ? " asked the young lady who had the box


" Why," echoed the driver, glancing at her, " as I

278 Life in the Open

was coming down one day I saw a big rattler in the
road, and pulled up the team just in time to save it.
The next trip, there was the same snake in the same
place, and as we went by it crawled after the stage ; so
I got out and put it in a box and took it down to
Avalon. That snake was the gratefulest creature you
ever heard of ; tried to follow me all over. You see,
I "d saved its life. When I went to Los Angeles one
day I took it along and left it in my hotel when I went
out. When I went back I heard a noise, and looking
up to the window I saw that rattler's tail hanging out
and rattling so you could hear it a block. I went up
as quick as I could, thinking the window had fallen on
it, and what do you s'pose I saw?"

" I can't imagine," said the young lady from the
East, with a look of horror on her face.

" When I pushed in the door," continued the driver,
" there was a burglar lying on the floor. The rattler
had the thief by the coat, and its tail was out of the
window, rattlin' for the police. And yet," the driver
added, glancing out of the corner of his eye at the
young lady and tossing the long lash at the leaders,
" some folks say animals don't think, and snakes is

Every foot of the rise gives the rider a new vista of
mountains and ocean. We are now half-way up, making
a sharp horse-shoe curve. The deep cafton drops com-
pletely away oil the right ; we can toss a stone that will
roll a thousand feet. The trees at the bottom look like

Coaching at Santa Catalina 279

bushes and the sails of vessels are like gulls below us,
while facing us are the lofty Sierra Madres, capped with
snow, forming the edge of the world.

The coach is always following the indentations of
the canon. This road is but a shelf fifteen feet wide,
cut out of its side. Now we are facing the mountains,
now seemingly walking into the ocean, or about to drop
into space. Ever rising, new peaks come into view,
new points ; ranges of purple mountains, silvered with
flecks of gray ; and so on, until the horses step out
upon the loop a clever turn, where the lady on the
box seat looks into space and practically sees the two
leaders coming toward her, so sudden is the curve.

Higher the horses climb, finally stepping out upon
the hilltop at the summit, fifteen hundred feet up, where
they face the sea, commanding a view perhaps without
peer in America. The entire island is seen, a maze and
jumble of peaks and ranges so high above the ocean
that the ships below appear like chips floating on
its surface. The walk up of the six horses has taken
possibly an hour and a half. You can if you wish go
down in eighteen or twenty minutes, if it happens that
you are in the stage that does not go through. I have
taken it many times, and am prepared to award the
palm to this splendid ride as the most exciting in my
experience. It is the acme of coaching possibilities,
exhilarating and perfectly safe. The regular drivers are
only allowed to make the descent at a certain speed,
but I have taken it a number of times with Captain

28o Life in the Open

William Banning, one of the owners of the island, and
one of the most skilful amateur whips in America.
Then the six horses were " let out," and thefull delights
of mountain coaching were realised. With the driver's
foot on the heavy brake, lines well in hand, the coach
would start, the horses gaining speed until all six were
running down the incline, not prancing, but on a dead
run. Nerves were left on the summit, or packed in the
boot, so there was nothing to interfere with the complete
enjoyment of the scene.

I was impressed by the splendid handling of the six
horses on a road where a fall, a break, or a wrong turn
meant something. The driver had them absolutely in
hand, and the spirit was infectious. We were literally
running down a mountain cliff at full speed. Now the
horses would make a sharp turn, the wheelers disappear-
ing around the bends ; but so deftly was the brake used
that the coach turned safely, gradually slowing up at
the right moment. Then on the long, steep incline,
the horses increased, if possible, their speed. Now they
turn at the head of the cafion, rising on the incline ;
now rushing out onto the loop, the leaders seemingly
in the air, but turning so quickly and suddenly and
easily that the wheelers are going one way and the
coach another ; but this is for only a moment. The
coach crosses its own track, doubles on itself, and
plunges down the road or shelf, seemingly into the blue
waters. One feels like taking off his hat and cheering ;
it is like dropping out of a balloon, the sky and mount-

Coaching at Santa Catalina 281

ains seemingly moving upward, the horses rushing into
the sea. There is a roar of wheels grinding over hard
roads ; a musical clanking of buckles and trapping, the
snap of a long lash ; words from the driver that the
horses understand. They appear to be running away,
yet it is merely as clever a piece of driving as one could
well imagine ; all six horses are running loosely in the
harness, and the coach is being managed by the brake.
No words can describe the sensation of this gallant run,
this exhibit of skill that is all too short. The horses
dash out onto a point seemingly into space, then wheel
around the lower trail, sending clouds of dust over the
edge of the precipice, and roll into Avalon town amid
the cheers of the observers who have been watching
the descent.

"Eighteen minutes from the summit," some one
says, and you think it must have been a mistake. It
surely was instantaneous, a John Gilpin dream.

If the return ride is not taken, the coach moves on
from the summit along the north face of the island;
crossing some of the deepest cafions, affording a series
of fine views of ocean and abyss. Suddenly the road
turns at the head of what is called Middle Ranch Canon,
and the horses gallop down into the heart of the island.
The cafion deepens and a brook appears ; now running
through an arcade of willows, between masses of the wild
rose, if in early spring, which fill the air with perfume.
Flocks of the plumed quail rise here and there, and count-
less numbers run along the road before the horses.

282 Life in the Open

Deeper grows the carton, the road winding in and out,
now in a wide valley with the Cabrillo Mountains on the
left and low foothills reaching up to Mount Black Jack
and Orizaba's rugged rocks and peaks, about whose sum-
mit the wild goat makes his home. The cafion narrows
again, and tooling, bowling down a sharp descent, the
coach reaches the Eagle Nest Inn, beneath a clump of
cotton-woods. Here one may sit in the door-yard and
listen to the musical notes of the plumed quail that fill the
glades, and the rush of the brook after the winter rain,
or the booming roar of the ocean that comes up the long
cafion from the south shore.

Here is refreshment for man and beast ; we listen to
the tales of the goat hunters, who are making their
headquarters here, then again take our seats, and the
coach winds away out of the Middle Ranch Cafion down
by the big spur of Orizaba which is an island divide.
About five miles from Eagle Nest we come to Little
Harbour Inn, where two perfect and diminutive harbours
face the west, affording a fine view of the rocky coast
up and down the island. The cliffs are precipitous in the
extreme ; but the feature which will perhaps attract the
attention of the man on the box seat or in the saddle
will be the succession of evidences of prehistoric occu-
pation pointed out by the driver. To the south of
Little Harbour a level plateau rises above the sea, the
site of an ancient Indian town, hundreds, perhaps thou-
sands of years old. I found it fifteen years ago, and
there are many interesting evidences of human occupa-

Coaching at Santa Catalina 283

tion on the beach. Below the inn, at Little Harbour, are
several shell mounds left by the ancients in which have
been found many articles in stone, shell, and wood ; and
from here eight miles, to the Isthmus, there are many
evidences of similar remains. The stretch of road re-
maining is interesting as it plunges into the centre of
the island again ; now climbing the hills, passing through
groves of dwarf oak or by vast areas of cactus, yellow
with blossoms. Climbing the mountain slopes, the road
affords views of the Pacific to the west in the direc-
tion of San Nicolas and San Clemente; then suddenly
crosses the divide five hundred feet above the Isthmus
at Cabrillo, with its crescent-shaped beach, its groves of
palm and eucalyptus.

Here the driver has a fine descending road in which
to entertain the lovers of fast driving. It happens that
all the passengers wish to be so entertained, and they
request him in a body to " let them out." To say that
he responded is putting it mildly. The old driver out-
does himself, and in a few seconds the fine team that has
been changed back at the inn is galloping down the
road at full speed. The skill of the driver, the manner
in which he sends the six running horses around impos-
sible curves, is beyond description. A moment ago we
were standing on the divide where we could almost toss
a stone into the blue water, five hundred feet below ;
now we are rushing down the incline and round up in
gallant fashion at Cabrillo. Tobogganing cannot be
had at Santa Catalina. but in this stage ride you have a

284 Life in the Open

substitute without any of the discomforts, and the ride
down either end will linger long in your memory.

Cabrillo is the site of one of the largest ancient In-
dian towns in California. It is a vast kitchen midden.
Houses and stables are built over mounds of bones and
abalones, and here tons of stone implements have been
dug up, and taken to the British and other museums in
England and America. As a pleasant diversion the
coach ride ends here ; the party may return by coach if
they wish, but the trip includes a trip back by launch,
fifteen miles down the north coast to Avalon, which
affords the coacher a complete view, near at hand, of the
attractive and picturesque coast, and enables him to see
the coach road over which he has passed from the ocean ;
caves which cut deep into the rock ; lofty cliffs, fair
reaches of mesa, lofty peaks and jumbles of hills, wind-
ing canons forming little beaches here and there, make
up the panorama as the yacht dashes along near the
rocks, over the famous tuna grounds that are known to
anglers the world over, finally reaching the vale of
Avalon in the afternoon, after a round trip of perhaps
forty miles through a region that has a most romantic
interest, being in 1540 the home of a vigorous race,
which, like the buffalo and other original inhabitants,
have long ago been wiped out of existence.

This stage road has been extended five or six miles
north of Cabrillo, reaching Howland's, an attractive
little bay on the north-east coast near Ship Rock the
finest fishing ground about the island. Another fine


Coaching at Santa Catalina 285

road leads from Avalon south to Pebble Beach ; all these
roads are available by carriage, saddle horse, or auto-
mobile, all of which find place on the island. Some day,
perhaps not far distant, the electric car will supersede
the coach, and the tourist be whirled along the mountain
trails ; but even this cannot rob this marvellous road
of its beauties.

The stage line does not run at all seasons, but to the
wild goat or quail hunter the road and trail are always
open, and on horseback the mountain lover will find the
trip to in every way repay the effort. The stage driver
is a luxury, but not an essential.

Chapter XIX

The Sea-Lion's Den

THE Pacific islands off Southern California
abound in sea-lions, which afford excellent
sport, but not with the rifle. The hunter must
satisfy himself with the camera, as the animals are pro-
tected, but the hunt is exciting, owing to the close
proximity of the game, and in some instances its abso-
lute fearlessness. One huge bull, weighing nearly half
a ton, comes out upon the beach at Avalon to be fed at

In riding over the mountains of the islands, from
Santa Rosa to Santa Clemente, one may hear roars and
bellowing coming from hundreds of feet below. If one
has the curiosity to locate these sounds and find out
what they mean, he may follow down the deep, rocky
canons that reach to the sea, or crawl down the face of
the cliffs to come suddenly, perhaps, upon the rookery
of the lions of the sea, that can be found along-shore in
isolated places.

In years gone by these islands gave shelter to
19 289

290 Life in the Open

myriads of these animals, but they have been gradually
decimated; driven from pillar to post, until the great
rookeries are reduced to a few. Fifty years ago, at
what is known asCatalina Harbour, there was a herd of
sea-elephants, animals doomed to extinction, but they
were so tame, and at that time so valuable for their oil,
that they were mercilessly destroyed, and to-day it is
very doubtful if a single sea-elephant could be found on
the western coast of the United States, the last few
specimens having been killed off in Lower California
during the past five years.

On the island of Santa Catalina the sea-lions have
been protected, and on the south end of the island
is the finest rookery known, when the tameness of the
animals is considered, as they permit visitors to approach
within a few feet of the rocks and photograph them.
The bulls here are of large size, and they have recently
divided and formed a rookery near Long Point, on
what is known as White Rock. These lions are several
times as large as a common seal, and while the latter
has a short neck, that of the former is long and
snake-like, and the animal has a ferocious mien.
The big mouth is filled with sharp teeth, the
animals being very active, appearing like huge black

The sea-lions go ashore in June, and the young
soon appear on the sands at the base of the great
coloured cliffs, taking to the water when approached, but
easily tamed. At this time the entire herd leave the

The Sea-Lion's Den 291

rocks, where they lie in the sun and keep up a barking
that can be heard a long distance.

The sea-lion is a very clever animal, lying on the
rocks during the day, basking in the sun ; and as the
latter disappears, he tumbles overboard, often swimming
twenty or thirty miles up the coast, going at a rapid
rate, entering the bays, especially those where fisher-
men make their headquarters. In Avalon Bay the bark-
ing of sea-lions can sometimes be heard all night, one
or more remaining there until all the fishes thrown
overboard are removed. They are so tame that fisher-
men, in washing fish, have had it snatched from their
hands, and they will often follow fishermen about and
steal the bait as fast as they can put it on, yet never
appear above water, the angler thinking it a fish, the
sea-lion just bringing the tip of his nose to the surface
to breathe. Sometimes during the day you may find
them lying in the kelp beds, and they rarely venture far
from shore, as there the big orcas and sharks chase
them. An orca was killed up the coast at Sequel some
years ago that contained five sea-lions.

In all probability, one of the most remarkable sea-
lion rookeries in the world is in the Painted Cave, at
the island of Santa Cruz, one hundred miles north of
Santa Catalina, where boats can be chartered for the
trip, or at Santa Barbara, directly opposite. This cave
leads in under the mountain at Point Diablo. As I
tried to land on the slippery ledge of a rookery not far
from here, intending to go ashore, the sea-lions came

2 9 2 Life in the Open

rushing down the rocks, one big bull charging me with
mouth open, thinking to drive me off ; but as I stood
my ground he sheared off, and plunged into the ocean
with the rest of the herd and swam off with wild bark-
ing roars.

The opening of the Painted Cave, from the sea,
was an arch about fifty feet in height, leading into a
large room beautifully coloured red, pink, blue, green,
and yellow from the staining of the rocks by salts.
From this we rowed the boat into what was really an-
other room, thirty or forty feet high, the water being
ten or fifteen feet deep, as clear as crystal, the bottom a
mosaic of colour. We were rowing into a sea-cavern,
and when possibly about two hundred feet in we came
to a small opening about the size of our boat, there be-
ing just room enough to float in after a wave, from
which came roars, screams, and demoniac sounds suffi-
cient to raise the ancient dead of Santa Cruz. Every
few moments a wave would come rolling into the cave,
passing from room to room, and on reaching the small
orifice, or entrance, in front of which we drifted, would
close it completely and part of it go into the unknown
with a roar of sounds that was appalling. Waiting
until a wave had passed we pointed the boat in and
ran her into the den of lions, coming out into a room of
large size where absolutely nothing could be seen.
Lighting a flambeau only made the darkness more pro-
found. We struck two planks together, producing a
sound like thunder, the noise rolling away off into

The Sea-Lion's Den 293

what appeared to be other rooms, echoing and rever-
berating from passage to passage, until lost in the
distance, suggesting that the cave had endless ramifica-
tions. The roar from sea-lions came from all about
us, and from seemingly distant caves, producing a series
of sounds that one might believe issued from the bot-
tomless pit. Cries of fear, rage, pain, horror, and
despair were easily imagined. I can give no better
illustration of the effect those cries had upon the human
ear than to say that my companion and host, the owner
of our yacht, failed completely in trying to induce some
of his crew to enter the cave ; they refused point blank,

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Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderLife in the open; sport with rod, gun, horse, and hound in southern California → online text (page 15 of 21)