Charles Frederick Holder.

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

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Caflada Valley I have seen a large lynx leap from an oak
and deliberately take to the open in a long run of mar-
vellous speed.

The Valley Hunt Club of Pasadena maintained a pack
of greyhounds and a pack of foxhounds for many years,
the latter being used for lynx-hunting almost exclusively,
not being fast enough to run down a coyote in the open
country. The pack was a gift of Dr. F. F. Rowland, who
brought them to California from the Rose Tree Hunt of

Valley Hunt Foxhounds, Pasadena.

Hunting the Lynx 3I

Pennsylvania. I hunted the hounds about twice a week
with a friend, and as they did not have sufficient exer-
cise our experiences became a part of the history and
traditions of the club, often at our expense. We in-
variably ran down game. If it were not a coyote, fox, or
wildcat, it would be a Chinaman, a burro, or a dog.
These hounds would have something, and when we
started out or entered a town, every living thing took
to the woods. One day we were moving through one
of the canons of the Puente range, about seven miles
from home, when we came upon a herd of sheep on the
crest of a hill. The hounds had drawn a blank, and
when one sighted a sheep he ran it down, possibly
mistaking it for a coyote ; at least we claimed this
for the hound. But before we could reach it the
pack had killed the sheep, which rolled down the hill.
Presently the herder, a piratical-looking Basque, ap-
peared, headed for us, and we prepared for trouble, as a
matter of precaution keeping our horses above him, as
he came stalking along. We braced ourselves for the
explanation and were ready to apologise and settle,
when the man came up and taking off his hat said in a
Basque patois, "Will the gentlemen pardon my fool
sheep? They run and excite the hound. I am very
sorry"; then he waited and well, we accepted his
apology with dignity, and, of course, insisted upon
paying for the sheep.

Another day the pack took up a scent and with
a roar of sounds swept over the mesa like the wind.

32 Life in the Open

There was no telling what the game was, but after a long
run we went through the main street of a little village
like a whirlwind. An incautious Newfoundland dog
came out of a German's yard, followed by his master,
to see what it all meant, and the strenuous Valley Hunt
hounds fell upon him. The German doubtless thought
he had been attacked by wolves as he fled, and the
scene of action was changed to his house and piazza.
We threw ourselves from our horses and rushed into
the mdlee, my companion to save the German and I to
intervene with the hounds with my crop on the part of
the Newfoundland. It was one of those experiences
which drop out of clear skies upon peaceful lovers of
nature a rude blast on an otherwise peaceful sea. It
took fifteen minutes to convince those hounds that the
German gentleman was not some kind of game, and
that they believed the big dog to be a bear there could
be no question.

Having succeeded in driving the pack out of the
little garden, now a wreck, I began to think of escape,
but it was an evil day. Our horses had run away and
there was nothing to do but face the irate German, who
stated that he had a brother-in-law who was in some
way related to the Lieutenant-Governor of California,
and the latter was to be summoned at once. It was
fortunate that in those Arcadian days telephones had not
disturbed the peace of suburban communities, or we
should doubtless have been held and hauled before this
official. As it was we faced the irate citizen, and in a

Hunting the Lynx 33

short time the entire village gathered. There was but
one thing to do. We were in the enemy's country, the
situation required quick action ; we decided on that
foundation of all American diplomacy, a bluff. Call-
ing aside the German's wife, a ponderous but amiable
lady, I confided to her that her husband, was liable to get
into serious trouble. He had insulted my friend, who
held a very high office in the neighbouring city. Her
husband had allowed his big Newfoundland to attack

Herr 's hounds and had led them into her house ;

did he do it to obtain possession of the hounds or what ?
I stated the case strongly, dwelling upon the grossness
of the insult to my friend and through him to the city
he lived in, ending the peroration by expressing the
hope that her husband would not have any serious

The lady appeared dumbfounded at this phase of the
question, as well she might, and I saw that my argu-
ment had produced an effect, the lady was anxious to
consult her excited husband. But he was being inter-
viewed by my companion, who told him that it was
unfortunate that he had seen fit to attack a man so
prominent as his friend, Herr School Trustee, a high
educational official under the municipal government of
a neighbouring city, and he wished it understood that
he would not be responsible for anything that should
happen to a man who used decoy dogs to attract visit-
ing hunts. This convincing logic came in the nature
of a shock to the German, and he no longer quoted the

34 Life in the Open

classics or referred to the Lieutenant-Governor, retiring
with his wife to the house for a conference, while we,
having hired a boy to follow the horses, stood as models
of outraged dignity.

American diplomacy succeeded. The worthy couple
soon appeared ; the husband said he had misunderstood
the situation, and begged the gentlemen to overlook it.
The gentlemen thus appealed to took it under advise-
ment and finally concluded to accept the apology on
account of the lady. Thus was the incident closed.
The boys brought our horses, the German gentleman
and his wife bowed low over the wreck of their holly-
hocks, the prominent city officials gave a profound
salute, the boys, having been tipped, raised a cheer, and
the Valley Hunt rode proudly down the long country
road in the direction of San Gabriel.

Below the mission was a vast vineyard, and beyond
were fields of nodding grain that rippled and laughed
in the sun as the wind caressed its surface. Then
there were great open stretches covered with alfileria,
and along the sides of the road were lines of wild oats,
the yellow violet, and little blue cup-like flowers, while
in the fields grew masses of wild daisies of a score
of kinds, the plume-like painter's brush, the yellow
mimulus, and over them, like the background of a
Japanese picture, towered a mountain of snow, a sil-
ver liberty cap, a California Fuji-yama ten thousand feet
in air.

Near here the hounds gave tongue, the baying in-




Hunting the Lynx 35

creased, and we forgot our troubles in the cheering,
tremulous music, the rolling, deep-throated sounds
O-Q-o-o-0-0 that have a direct appeal to the man who
is susceptible to such influences. It is a language, this
baying, a language of tones and inflections, and any
lover of foxhounds will translate it for you. There is a
cry of anticipation, another when a light scent is picked
up, another when it deepens, still another when the
game is near, and when it is sighted and who can mis-
take that splendid booming tone that tells the hunt that
the game is treed ! Then when a lynx makes the mad
jump and the hounds miss it and are running, how easily
understood by the rider far away !

All these variants in the language of the hunt were
heard by us, and as the pace grew fiercer, the cries
wilder, we closed in and swung into a field and at full
speed ran at a mammoth pile of brush, reined up amid
a cloud of dust, and swung ourselves from the saddle,
to confront ministers of grace defend us! a huge pig
with a large and interesting family. She did not even
rise ; she merely grunted, while our eyes wandered over
the astonished pack and conjured up wild schemes of

It must not be thought that the hounds were useless ;
quite the contrary, they were not exercised sufficiently
and literally went wild when we took them out. No bet-
ter dogs ever took the trail of a fox or wildcat, but
when not worked they insisted upon divers diversions,
and they had them at our expense. It was uncertain

36 Life in the Open

pastime. One day we had invited a party from Los
Angeles to meet us midway between the two cities.
The keeper of the hounds threw open the corral, which
was on the arroyo road, and the pack took a trail at
that spot and, in full cry, started for the arroyo. The
bank here was one hundred feet up and down. I be-
lieve the pack went over it, and we slid down a small
path and followed. Once I heard the echo of a bay
several miles to the south ; later in the day I heard it
somewhere to the west, and two days later a letter came
from a rancher up the San Fernando Valley, twenty
miles away, to the effect that the Valley Hunt hounds
had just passed ; did we want them ?

The days with these hounds in the deep arroyo, or
in the open, in the floral winters, despite their occasional
vagaries, are among the pleasant memories of the earlier
California days, and there are still Newfoundland dogs,
wildcats, lynxs, hounds, and, above all, winters when the
palm leaves rustle in the soft wind, and petal snowflakes
drop from the orange, lemon, and lime.

Chapter III

Deer-Hunting in the Southern Sierras

WHEN living on the immediate slope of the
Sierra Madre, I was within rifle-shot of
three caftons down which tumbled the
waters from the upper range. Sometimes the water
ran under leafy arcades where the fragrant bay quivered
in the soft wind, then out into the open, above which
the dark blue of the larkspur stood out in relief against
the green of nodding brakes, then gliding down the
face of some green slide where dainty maidenhair and
other ferns trembled in the rush of air. Then the water
would gurgle and leap through polished rocks, dart out
into the open again, and swing merrily along, bearing
freight of acorns, pine needles, oak leaves, or a branch
of trailing vetch to strand them on a mimic bar of
shining sands.

These sand-bars were found everywhere in the
arroyo. I established relations with and consulted them
as to the coming and going of the forest animals, and
if word had been left me, the message could not have


40 Life in the Open

been plainer. Here was the soft footprint of a wildcat,
the dainty trail of a snail ; here a cottontail had crossed
at full speed, and, deep in the yielding sand, the hoof-
prints of the black-tailed deer. He had cooled his
hoofs in the stream, then started back to drier ground,
where, with ears alert, he stood listening. It did not
require a mystic to translate the story of the footprints
in the sand that perhaps were effaced by the night's
rain, or by the rising of the stream a dreamer of
dreams could read it.

Several times, in wading down the stream, looking
through some leafy covert, I came upon a deer, and
sometimes in the fall, along the unfrequented slopes,
one would be seen in the blue haze of early morning.
During the hot day he has been lying on the summit
of the range in some little clearing, or on the north and
cool slopes ; but in the cool evening or morning he is
abroad, pushing through the chaparral, showering him-
self with crystal drops, sniffing at the perfumed panicles
of the wild lilac, and nipping the green tips of the

Down he comes, crossing the divide, looking out
into the valley filled with silvery fog, through which the
tops of hills emerge like islands. He brushes aside the
trumpets of the mountain mimulus, starts at the mur-
mur of the deep-toned pines, stands and listens until the
mimic echo of the sea dies away, then pushes out into
the stream and takes the trail along whose sides grow
the viands of his choice. He nibbles at the wild honey-

Deer-Hunting in Southern Sierras 4I

suckle as it falls over the scrub oak, stops at the tall
arrow grasses, thrusts aside the wild sunflowers, and leaps
from the rocky pass into the open where the arroyo
ends. He may wander down the stream, or perhaps
climb up the sides and stroll out on to the west mesa,
hiding in the little washes where the wild rose fills the
air with perfume, feeding here and there as his fancy

At such times I have seen him, when the eastern
sky was ablush with vivid tints, the snow-caps of San An-
tonio suffused with the golden light of the coming day.
You look twice and again, so well does he match the
chaparral, so harmonious the tint ; indeed no one would
suspect that this placid-faced, large-eyed creature stand-
ing like a statue, big in the haze, was a grape-eater, that
he had pillaged the ranch below Las Cacitas the night
before, and the one before that had played havoc in a
Cafiada ranch. But it is the same, and you have laid in
the chaparral waiting for him night after night, and now
he is gone, and off somewhere with lowered head he
creeps through the bush and makes good his escape.

All the ranges of the southern Sierras abound in the
black-tailed deer ; an attractive creature, at the present
time difficult to shoot if fair play is given. Indeed,
I can conceive no more difficult sport than to hunt the
deer in the Sierra Madre without dogs. The extraordi-
nary character of the mountains, the steepness and
depth of the cafions soon tire out the hunter. I had
hunted deer in the Adirondacks, in Virginia and Florida,

42 Life in the Open

following them over the country, and my first effort along
this line in Southern California demonstrated that for
me at least, where deer were not very common, the
sport merged into work of the most arduous nature, and
after that I hunted deer with hounds, skirting the
slopes of mountains, using the dogs to start them in the
lower cafions but not to run them down.

A single hunt may illustrate the arduous nature of
the sport if followed with enthusiasm. By sunrise we
were riding down the Caftada between the Sierra Madre
and the San Rafael Hills, the road lying between the
ridges in the centre of a wide valley. It was Septem-
ber, the last of the long summer. The alfileria that swept
along the valley in the early spring, clothing it with
green, was dead, and the open country bore a brown
and burnt-umber shade. The vineyards, orange and
lemon trees were green, but the tall mustard stalks that
had been laden with gold, the clovers and others were
dead, and their tones and shades combined with the
barren spots in rich neutral tints. The sun was just
rising, the ranges were clothed in purple hues, and far
to the east a scarlet alpine glow appeared growing and
spreading over the world. The deep shadows crept out
of the cafions, the divides became more pronounced, the
distant ranges assumed deeper blues, and finally the big
trees that fringed the summits were silhouetted against
the blue sky as the sun climbed up out of the desert
and looked down on California.

We drove through a long line of ranches for five

Deer-Hunting in Southern Sierras 43

miles, turned to the south into a narrow green cafion,
then wheeled sharply to the right, and up among the
cactus and chaparral of a little valley pulled up beneath
the live oaks. The hounds jumped out, my guide un-
harnessed, fastening one horse to the tree and saddling
the other for my benefit, and we started up the canon.

I thought of my last deer hunt not a mile from Ned
Buntline's old home in the open at the foot of Blue
Mountain in the Adirondacks, where I stole through the
forest over a bed of leaves, resting on fern-covered
trunks coated with moss, every leaf, twig, and branch
scintillating with moisture. Here the only dampness
for six months had been the fog and dew ; not a drop
of rain had fallen, yet the chaparral that robed the
mountain was rich in greens, a mantle undulating and
beautiful, at a distance, but, to hunt deer in, an impene-
trable maze.

This chaparral was composed of Adenostoma, a
thick, sweet-scented bush from four to six feet high,
spreading and stiff, so that when it bent back and struck
one on the return, it was a flagellation. With it were
masses of Heteromales covered with white flowers,
sumac, wild lilac, scrub oak, and others, with here and
there in the clear places a Spanish bayonet or yucca
with a thousand daggers en guard. Imagine acres of
this, bound together in a more or less compact tangle,
with patches of dead wood, remains of ancient fires,
which were stiffer and more offensive than the rest.

My guide said there was a trail, and leading the way

44 Life in the Open

I followed the path, so called by courtesy. There had
been one, but the chaparral had closed in upon it like
the waves of a sea, and in ten minutes my faithful
and well-trained horse was butting through and I was
swept off and carried away. I then took the animal by
the tail and fell into his wake, and so we literally butted
up the side of the mountain several hundred feet until
the semblance of a trail became more evident, when I
again mounted. We were on the side of a deep and well
wooded cafion, a vast basin of green without a break,
reaching up to the summit nearly four thousand feet.
Already I could see over the hills and look down into the
San Gabriel Valley, while the back and distant peaks of
the Sierras began to unfold and range into line.

My guide now took the hounds down the slopes and
began to work up the cafion, while I kept along the trail,
that was a mere depression in the chaparral. Out of the
gulf of green now came the splendid baying of a hound,
a bay of inquiry, answered presently by another not far
distant, taken up by still another, and far below me I
could see the low chaparral waving as they worked
along. I gradually moved upward ; now skirting the
cafion and where occasion offered making a zigzag
climb ; now going ahead to break down the lilac brush
or to push the greasewood aside for my patient horse,
then climbing into the big Mexican saddle to sit, rifle
over the pommel, and watch in silence for a deer.

Again came the flute-like baying, growing in intensity
until there was a continuous volley of sounds which re-

Deer-Hunting in Southern Sierras 45

verberated from side to side of the cafion, arousing all its
dormant echoes. The hounds had passed me, so I
plunged into the chaparral, reaching an open place near
the summit as they came up the slope. There they
missed the scent and swept down again, and I worked
my way upward to a spur near the peak where I seemed
to be above the very world. Away to the south was the
Pacific like a mass of cloud. I could see the long line
of surf, the islands twenty miles out to sea, fifty miles
distant, like some huge monsters. Occasionally I heard
the baying, and dismounting lay in the bush and looked
down into the matchless abyss watching for the game.
An hour later I saw it across the canon, about the size
of a large dog, too far away it seemed. But I fired and
repeated the shot several times, emptying the magazine,
as a flash of dun dashed along the side of the cafton ;
then my guide appeared on a lower grade, plunging
down the side of the mountain, breaking through the
chaparral, and later I saw him climbing up the opposite
side, from which he brought the deer.

It was high noon and the summer sun beat fiercely
down, while we ate jerked venison, and waited for the
afternoon ; then we changed to another peak, seeing
deer but getting none, though on a steep slope I came
upon a fine buck that doubtless had been shot and lost
some days previous. If there had been no game, there
would have been the view. The San Fernando Valley
was at my feet with its shimmering sands, its scattering
masses of chaparral, and winding through it the white,

46 Life in the Open

silvery bed of the Los Angeles River, while beyond rose
the Sierra Santa Monica range reaching away, literally
plunging into the distant Pacific. One must climb to
such a height to appreciate the mountains of Southern
California and obtain an intimate glance of the land.

It is a good principle and safe in such hunting to
keep to the trails. Led by exuberant fancy and a desire
to see other parts of the mountains I rode down a long
limb of the mountain over a coyote trail, in a short time
finding myself involved in the chaparral. If I could
have gone down on my knees and crawled I might have
made some progress, but the breaking through was
deadly. I came out into an area that had been burned
over, and as my horse pushed aside the branches they
sprang back like steel springs. For a time I was seri-
ously involved and came out, as General Gordon has ex-
pressed it, "worn to a frazzle," having learned the
lesson to keep to the trails and not attempt in summer
to ride a horse through the chaparral on the south side
of a Southern California mountain that has been burned

There are mountains back of Santa Barbara and in
San Diego and other counties where deer-hunting is not
so difficult, where the game is more plentiful and can
be followed in the Eastern fashion. Again, in some of
the less frequented regions it can be found in the low-
lands along the base of the mountains, especially over
the line in Lower California ; but some of the finest sport
can be had in season on the great slopes of San Jacinto,

- t t

Deer-Hunting in the Southern Sierras 47

San Gorgonio, San Bernardino, and others. At Bear
Valley there are long stretches of park-land and forest
five or six thousand feet above the sea, where the
country is more or less open and level, presenting an
inviting prospect to the deer hunter.

No Eastern sportsman should go on a deer hunt on
the south side of a California range in summer without a
competent guide and a thorough understanding of the
country and the conditions. I have known men who had
hunted deer in the East for years to come to grief not
ten miles from Los Angeles. They became involved in
the hot, stifling chaparral, and were rescued on the slopes
of steep canons with difficulty. In all the towns which
stand on the foothills skilled deer hunters can be found,
and if sport is to be had they should be employed.
Again, the Sierra Madre are dangerous to inexperienced
men. They appear smiling and beautiful in the canons,
but they abound in steep precipices and are often cov.
ered with a mass of brush or chaparral that is most diffi-
cult to penetrate, wearing and deadly to the man who
is lost and confused. The entire range abounds in large
safe canons and trails, but the inexperienced sports-
man, the " tenderfoot " who attempts to cross the range
as he might the Adirondacks, or any Eastern range, by
going directly ahead, up and down, will soon come to
grief. The moral, then, is to go well equipped, with
some one familiar with the mountains, and if this is not
possible, keep to the big canon trails.


Chapter IV

Water Fowl

THE coast of Southern California is, in the main,
a long stretch of sand dunes changing every
hour and moment in the wind that heaps them
up into strange and fascinating shapes. In many in-
stances they form breakwaters, damming up the waters
that flow down the canons' stream-beds from the interior.
Thus all the country to the south of the Palos Verde,
near San Pedro, and extending to Long Beach, is a
shallow back bay, a series of lagunas or canals, often
running back into the country to form some little pond
or lake.

At Alamitos, where the San Gabriel River reaches the
sea, and at Balsa Chica, one of the finest preserves and
clubs in the country, and other places along shore to
San Diego we shall find these lagunas, or sea swamps,
the home of the duck, goose, and swan. The season
begins in November, and if there has been an early rain
the country is green and beautiful. The long summer
is a vanishing memory ; the air is clear, and the distant


52 Life in the Open

mountains stand out with marvellous distinctness ; the
days are shorter, there is a crispness to the air, and the
mountains what tints of blue, what ineffable shades,
suggestions, and tones of this splendid colour! The
main range is of turquoise, of old India mines ; the sec-
ond, lapis lazuli ; the third is the tone I have seen in
labradorite ; then the spur farther still is azure ; but here
your blues give out and fail, as have the greens long
ago. Suddenly one day there comes from somewhere
over your head or high in air wild and vociferous
sounds, and leaping out into the open every vagrant
fog fleck seems to have given tongue, and a great, white
aerial maelstrom is forming before your eyes. Around
it whirls, rising upward ; now dazzling the eye with
glittering silver, as though some prodigal hand had
tossed newly minted dollars into the air, then disap-

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Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderLife in the open; sport with rod, gun, horse, and hound in southern California → online text (page 3 of 21)