Charles Frederick Holder.

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

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eyes caught a dun-coloured object, the coyote, not two
hundred feet down the slope. He seemed by intuition
to know that I had seen him, as he stopped ; and so re-
markable was the protective resemblance, so happily did
he melt into the gray of the wash that I almost lost
sight of him. He seemed to dissolve into empty air. I
whispered the situation to the lady by my side, assisted
her into the saddle, and just at that second, before
I had time to toss the reins up over her horse's head,
my dog and horse saw the coyote. I was jerked into
the saddle in a miraculous manner, and we plunged
down the hill. A second before, every eye was riveted
on the picture that spread away hundreds of square

Following the Lowland Wolf m

miles ; now with a clash of Mexican bits and stirrups,
shouts passed along the line, and the hunt was on, a
wild race for the low country.

These hills were steep for anything but a Catalina
sheep pony, and the normal, sane way to descend was
by the myriads of sheep trails that had worn into the
hillside like the cross waves on a sea beach. But the
coyote disregarded this and Fan directly down the pre-
cipice, the dogs following, and then those whose horses
took them.

I have an indistinct recollection of slipping, sliding,,
almost rolling down the slope, of reaching the open and
leaping a yawning ditch into which a hound had rolled ;
of seeing close behind me the lady with no reins ; then
we rushed down into a ragged wash, up the opposite
side, and there was Don Coyote, one hundred yards
away, running for his life. Our horses were fresh, and
in a few moments we were on the flank of the silent
pack that swept along like a single dog a terrible
menace to the dun-coloured thing growing nearer and
nearer. There was madness in the race the master-
ing of space by the dogs, the running of the horses that
could not be stopped, the whistling of the wind, a desire
to take desperate chances and be in at the kill which
sent the blood whirling through the veins.

The coyote ran directly over the back track and we
gained every second. By chance and good fortune my
horse carried me up with the hounds, and for the last
quarter of a mile we raced to the finish, the young lady,

II2 Life in the Open

the master of the hounds, and myself, the rest of the
hunt on the hillside some distance away. Up to this
time not a sound had come from the pack, and as we
drew nearer I leaned down and spoke to my own dogs
and the master of the hounds to his. We called on
them for a supreme effort, and as the coyote turned
they fell upon him, and our horses rounded up so sud-
denly that I, in the effort to dismount, went to the ground,
but luckily upon my feet. Pandemonium broke loose :
wild cries from the wolf and sharp staccato yelps from
the hounds that now, and now only, gave tongue, while
above all I could hear the sharp click of the coyote's teeth.
Thin-coated or short-haired dogs are easily disfigured by
a coyote, and every time that shining row of teeth
clicked, a good dog was injured. As I reached the ex-
cited throng, to save them as much as possible, the mas-
ter of the hounds plunged into the roaring, yelping pack,
and seizing the wolf by the throat, lifted him high in air.
It was heroic, but heroic measures were needed ;
and the next moment my ordinarily quiet friend, Dr. J.
de Earth Shorb.with a heavy crop, had given the coyote
his quietus, and thrown him to the dogs. The coyote
when attacked had thrown himself on his back against
the hillside and met all comers with a resistance born of
rage, desperation, and despair, and several dogs were
badly cut by his savage snapping. Dogs, huntsmen, and
coyote presented a sanguinary appearance as the rest
of the hunt came in, some, nearly ten minutes later, to
find the young lady wearing the brush.

Following the Lowland Wolf n 3

Such was a typical run across country of the Valley
Hunt in the old days ; a club which the author founded
in 1886 and which is still in existence, though the cross-
country riding is restricted about Pasadena and other
towns, due to the settling up of the country. Where,
or near where, the coyote was killed, is a forest of
eucalyptus, and houses and fences stop the way ; but
there are thousands of acres beyond the towns where
identical sport can be had to-day, coyotes coming out
of the range every night and yelping singly and in

As we rode out that morning a guest from one of
the Eastern fox-hunting clubs remarked that as there
were no fences to jump the sport must be " rather
slow." I did not dissent, but some time after the kill
our guest came in, and after congratulating the young
lady who had made a ride which for daring, I venture
to say, is seldom equalled by a woman, he turned to
me and, laughing, said, " I take it all back about the
lack of excitement ; but that run was n't hunting, it
was suicide. I never would have believed that a horse
could go down such a precipice on the run."

It looked dangerous to a man habituated to the
beautiful pastures and level stretches of country of the
East where bad washes, badger and squirrel holes are
unknown ; but to a California horse with a soup9on of
mustang in him, a horse that enjoyed sport and knew
all about it, it was nothing, and even this was a baga-
telle to some of the riding I have seen among the sheep

I14 Life in the Open

herders who round up sheep in the steep caftons of
Santa Catalina and Santa Rosa islands. The secret was
that the wiry horses were as sure-footed as goats, even
when running at full speed along the side of some

The country may be dangerous for indiscriminate
hard riding, but not for those who know and are fond
of it ; and in ten or more years of cross-country riding
with a large field, the Valley Hunt had no serious acci-
dents, and few of any kind. One is worth mentioning
for its extraordinary nature.

The hounds were chasing a coyote near this place
one morning, possibly twenty ladies and gentlemen fol-
lowing, nearly all going at full speed ; by that I mean
many of the horses were almost beyond control. It
happened that I was with the master of the hounds
in the lead when we turned into a lane, which came out
on to a new road which we supposed led to open coun-
try ; but the barb-wire fence fiend had arrived unex-
pectedly, and we came on to his handiwork with a rush.
I saw it and shouted back, and the hunt succeeded in
stopping their horses ; but the coyote squeezed under
the lower wire, not ten feet from us. The master of
the hounds could not stop his horse which struck the
fence, which bent and threw him completely over. I had
taken the left rein in both hands, exerting all my strength
to either turn my horse or throw him, and the clever
animal, seeing the extraordinary flight of his companion
through the air, turned, settled back, as a cow horse will

Following the Lowland Wolf n 5

to throw a steer, and stopped, while I went on, landing on
my feet in the soft earth in a wash from which I crawled
through the fence to lift the master of the hounds, who
was slightly stunned but wholly uninjured. But the
horse he was lying on his back with a double turn of
barbed wire about his hoofs, holding him in the serio-
comic position in which oxen are placed for shoeing in
Mexico. He was immovable, but, remarkable to relate,
almost uninjured. Some one hunted up a blacksmith
down the road, who came and filed the wire, releasing
the animal, which had but a few scratches.

He had turned a complete somersault, and was
locked by the wire, head to the back track. Turning a
somersault with a horse is a unique experience, a pas-
time which I have indulged in and described elsewhere,
but I cannot commend it even in Southern California.

The coyote, as game, still holds its own in Southern
California and the south-west in general. It is sup-
posed to be a menace to the rancher, hence there is an
excuse for the quest aside from sport ; but accepting
the latter as legitimate I can conceive of no pastime
more exhilarating than this. An essential, at least to
my mind, to true sport for large game is a sharing
of chances with it. To go out with a rifle and shoot
the coyote would be to descend to the level of the pot-
hunter, but to hunt one of the swiftest of wild animals
in the open, follow it on horseback, taking the country
as it comes, is fair and honest sport to be commended ;
a sport in which the rider takes greater chances than the

n6 Life in the Open

game which often escapes and leaves a worn-out hunt
and pack to file home, while he, Don Coyote, watches
from some elevated point with grim satisfaction, as some
one in that cavalcade keeps turkeys, or chickens, and
turn about is fair play.

I can frequently find the tracks of coyotes in the
hills within rifle-shot of my house in a city of twenty
thousand inhabitants ; hear their insane laughing, yelping
cry across the arroyo, and one coyote has so penetrat-
ing, so ventriloquistic a laugh that innocent people have
been terrified, believing they were menaced by a pack of
wolves ; but investigation would have shown that all the
noise came from one small, undersized coyote which sat
on a rock baying after his fashion at the moon. The
coyote is a wild dog that breeds with domestic dogs,
and the big-eared issue is often seen in Mexican camps
in the outlying districts. Hounds will often refuse
to attack a female coyote. I once chased one several
miles and after a long run worked my hounds to within
twenty feet of the game and then called on them to go
in. They closed in, and my best hound ran alongside the
coyote which snapped at him refusing to attack! This
was entente cordiale with a vengeance. I whipped
the dogs aside and finally ran the animal down to dis-
cover the cause : the coyote was a female. There was
but one thing to do ; I could not be outdone in courtesy
by my dog, so Donna Coyote and I parted company.

Southern California, or the best part of it, consists
of small valleys and foothill mesas, intersected every-


Following the Lowland Wolf II7

where or surrounded by hills and mountains, down the
sides of which lead washes and runways from a foot to
twenty feet deep. The coyote lives in the foothills and
on the slopes. Here he has a den weathered out per-
haps by the wind ; here he lives during the day, looking
down into the rich valleys and the haunts of men. As
night conies on, and the shadows deepen and take on
purple hues, when the heavy sea fog comes in along
the Santa Monica range, or up the bed of the Santa
Ana, he steals down the cafton and follows the shining
sands out into the valley, where he takes up the scent
of hares, and with his mate or mates runs them down ;
even a melon patch is game for him. He stands not on
the order of going, but slinks about like a ghost ; now
sending out peals of demoniac yelping laughter from an
orange grove, then heard half a mile away, setting the
dogs of towns and villages barking and the cocks to
crowing. In the morning I have visited the runs, the
little and big washes that were smooth the night before,
and in the round dog-like footprints have read the story
of the night, the coming and going of not only coyotes,
but wildcats and raccoons. The coyotes come out into
the open at night, in cultivated places, returning at
or before sunrise, and in hunting them it is well to
begin at some foothill country, line up the hunt, and
sweep out into the valley where some belated foraging
coyote may be met trotting up the white sandy wash
toward home. The Mission Hill range, which forms
the boundary of the San Gabriel Valley to the south, is

,,8 Life in the Open

the home of the coyote, especially where it reaches to
the south and east and approaches Mount Santiago ; the
coyotes having the San Gabriel, Pomona, and other
valleys on one side, and the level country reaching
down to the Pacific on the other. Here, twenty miles
from Santa Ana, the Santiago Hunting Club holds
forth, and on the San Gabriel side one may hear the
musical baying of the hounds of the Maryland Hunt
Club of Pasadena.

Orange County presents a very attractive hunting
country, with an abundance of game, long reaches of
well-wooded and sloping lands covered with live oaks,
picturesque cafions filled with trees all illustrating the
charm of life in the open. Many of the hunts of this
club cover the entire day, and at night they come into
the big camp with coyotes, foxes, and wildcats hanging
from the saddles.

The coyote has a wide geographical range, from
Costa Rica to Athabasca, and from the central Mis-
sissippi Valley to the Pacific Coast, not being found on
the islands. On this vast territory about twelve species
have been recognised, and all over California they afford
exciting and novel sport.

Chapter VIII

Shore and Other Birds

DESPITE the monotony of California beaches,
the interminable wastes of sand and shifting
sand dunes, they have a charm in their animal
life. Near Santa Monica the mountains dip into the
sea, and there rocks are seen, and again at Point
Firmin ; but from here until you reach the Laguna
country, or below Newport, the long lines of white sand
hold for miles, against which the sea pounds, tossing
the spume high in air to be carried inland over fields of

The beach is worn by the wind into marvellous
shapes and is ever changing. Look at it in early morn-
ing before the west wind rises ; its surface is a biological
record of the night. It is covered with footprints and
mystic signs. Crabs have crossed it ; snails have left a
silvery trail ; sea birds have stopped here, and this
strange mark is the flipping of the wings of a laugh-
ing gull as it flew along just above it. Throngs of
shore birds seem to have paraded along the sands, and


Life in the Open

these big impressions have been made by a vagrant band
of sea lions that passed the night here and went to sea
at early morn.

But wait until the night wind drops and the great
furnace of the desert begins to call the wind ; every
trace and footprint of the night is effaced. Little rivers
of sand come running along the surface, filling every
crevice, climbing up against the ice plant and verbena,
and threatening the white flowers that lie along the
sand. The pink faces of the shore verbena almost dis-
appear as the wind rises ; and so the story of the night
passes and a new one is told.

The beach has a constant following of shore birds.
Laughing gulls parade it, acting as scavengers, with
gulls of several kinds ; just above is the least tern, eying
us furtively, a delicate, beautiful creature like a spirit
of the sand. Here I have found its nest along the dunes,
and at one place, near Laguna, the bird had collected
the richly coloured shells of the Donax, with which it
formed a pavement and deposited its eggs upon it.

The California gull, the royal tern, Foster's tern,
and many more catch the discerning eye of the stroller ;
and as he walks along the sands there is a constantly ris-
ing silvery throng of small beach birds that fly out a few
feet and seem to become a part of the foam and disap-
pear, to as suddenly come in and alight ; running along
and dotting the soft yielding sands with their footprints.

Lying on the dunes near a point, one may see the
American avocet, the black-necked stilt, and the marbled

Shore and Other Birds

godwit ; and over on the laguna side, Wilson's snipe
and the long-billed dowitcher. The great flock that
comes whirling along between the breakers and the
shore, gleaming like silver, disappearing as it turns, is
the western sandpiper. As they drop down, each bird
runs along the beach a few steps, with wings lifted, as
though posing for its picture reflected in the water.
Here are the sanderling and the marbled godwit, stand-
ing by a mass of dead kelp ; the western willet goes
whirling by ; and among others you may recognise the
tattler, spotted sandpiper, black turnstone,and several fine
plovers ; not all seen in one day, perhaps, but adding to
the attractions of some wandering trip along-shore.

At San Clemente, Santa Catalina, and other islands
you may see a variety of sea birds, attractive if not
game, those which affect the island rocks and have no
interest in the sands.

The best places for shore birds are where there are
long stretches of beach and sand, behind which are
pools and sea swamps, which afford mud flats for such
birds to feed upon. Here one may see the great blue
heron, the least bittern, and at times, farther in, the
wood ibis, that has a penchant for barley fields and roll-
ing mesas near the sea.

The caftons that reach away from the ocean afford
fascinating nooks and corners for birds of many kinds, as
here the valley quail comes almost to the beach ; and
around Santa Monica and the Malibu I have seen the
great California vulture or condor, that nests in this

I24 Life in the Open

range, and even as this is written the daily papers
picture a renegade with his game, shot in this range
near the sea, a splendid vulture, one of the last of the
tribe, doubtless, in Southern California. In these caflons
we see great flocks of mourning doves that flutter along
the sands with musical flight, while at intervals bands of
splendid band-tailed pigeons come down to breathe the
soft air of the sea as it flows up the caftons.

If the sportsman wishes this game he should watch
the mountains, and after a heavy snow-storm, when they
are well covered down to the three-thousand-foot level,
go to the great open ranches and fields at the base of
the range, where he will see this fine pigeon, evidently
driven out of the range by the snow. I have seen hun-
dreds on the Hastings ranch, in the San Gabriel Valley,
at such a time, and doubtless many such flocks could
have been found far down the range.

Camping in the mouth of some big canon, as the
one at Santa Monica, Laguna, or San Juan, affords the
lover of nature varied opportunities. A few steps up
the carton you find sycamores, cottonwoods, and live
oaks in sight of the sea. In the chaparral are hum-
ming-birds ; bright-eyed lizards glance at you from
every stone pile, and the sly gopher pushes up his
mounds as you look and ventures out of his hole per-
haps to show you how he can run back and hit it, tail
first. The fields are filled with ground squirrels that
only take to trees in dire necessity ; and at night a little
leaping jerboa-like creature comes prowling about, while

Shore and Other Birds I25

the wood-rat boldly ventures into camp or lodge and
robs it by the light of the moon. In almost any cafton
you may find the nest of this fascinating little creature ;
a mass of twigs and dead leaves, generally on the
ground, but at times in trees. When chased and put
to flight, the rat, which bears a resemblance to the
common rat, takes to the trees, and leaps from one to
another with perfect ease. A wood-rat which I kept as
a tentative pet for a while would leap from a table to
my desk, a distance of four feet, and a more inquisitive
and thieving creature it would be difficult to imagine.
Its robberies were bare-faced and open, and as I watched
it one day it took a cigar from a box and hid it, then
cut off a red rose larger than itself and pushed it into
the hiding-place after the cigar.

On the beach near the canon you may see the print
of the raccoon, and possibly the clever animal himself.
In fox-hunting the dogs occasionally catch them.

At night along the sands may be seen at the mouth
of the canon a beautiful little raccoon-like creature, the
bassaris, with a bushy ringed tail and large expressive
eyes. There are numbers of bats one very large, a
great variety of small birds thrushes, robins, orioles,
kinglets, wrens, warblers, swallows, ravens, sparrows,
an endless procession that fill the cafions with song,
while the ranches with their orchards attract other and
different birds. If game is hard to find along-shore, there
is the compensation in a variety of beautiful forms
always in sight.


Chapter IX

The Bighorn

YOU may at least look at bighorn sheep in Cali-
fornia, and in attaining the glance you will
climb some of the highest slopes of the
southern Sierras. There is a band of bighorn sheep
on the slopes of Mount San Antonio unless they
have been killed recently ; and others have been re-
ported on Grayback or Grizzly peak, on San Jacinto,
or other lofty summits from eight to eleven thousand
feet above the sea. But they are protected by law, and,
as I have suggested, can only be looked at or photo-
graphed, which, after all, is the most satisfactory method
of hunting game that every intelligent American knows
is being exterminated.

If the bighorn cannot be had in Southern Califor-
nia it can be found over the line on the peninsula, not
many miles below San Diego or Coronado, where one
may take the steamer for Ensenada and there procure
guide and pack train for the lofty mountains which form



Life in the Open

the spinal column of the country between the Pacific and
the Gulf of California.

Lower California is but an extension of Southern
California, growing naturally warmer as one proceeds
south ; as Agassiz said when he visited it on the
Hassler Expedition, " It has an almost perfect climate
during the winter, being similar to that of Southern
California, only milder."

The peninsula is a narrow, mountainous strip about
seven hundred and fifty miles long, from thirty to
seventy miles wide. For the convenience of the sports-
man it can be divided into three areas : one on the north
abutting Southern California, two hundred miles long, is
a continuation of the Sierra Madre, a fine range rising
from five to ten thousand feet in air, on which one
can stand and see the Pacific and the Gulf of California
in one sweeping glance. These mountains abound in
fine pine forests and form the source of numerous
springs and small rivers, and in the lower region are
some beautiful valleys where grazing and ranching are
carried on. One of the most attractive is the Maneadero
Valley, not far from Ensenada. Here one may see
typical California ranches of the old days. Beyond
this there is a central region, made up of table-lands
and flat ridges, with mountains isolated and in groups,
running up to four or five thousand feet. This extends
for four hundred and fifty miles, which brings us to
what Gabb calls the third province, extending one hun-
dred miles from Cape St. Lucas to La Paz and beyond

The Bighorn I3I

to the cape, characterised by great granite mountains
from four to five thousand feet in height, with deep and
often fertile valleys.

It is with the northern province that the sportsman
has to do, and the splendid mountains, wild and majestic,
that form the backbone of the peninsula here, afford some
of the best bighorn shooting in America to-day, while in
the lowlands are deer, antelope, and a variety of small
game. All the ranges, seemingly culminating in the fine
peak of San Pedro de Martyr, afford game of some kind.

The bighorn sheep may be considered one of the
forms that is gradually growing scarcer and which ulti-
mately will disappear. When I reached Southern Cali-
fornia in 1885, hunting it was considered one of the
sports of the country, and I recall seeing two fine heads
brought into Pasadena about 1887, in which year several
grizzlies were killed in the mountains. The bighorns
were killed on the north slope of San Antonio, about
fifty miles from the city of Los Angeles, where the
remnant of the herd still lives, protected by the game
laws of the State.

The animal is a splendid figure, with its enormous
horns, corrugated, scarred, and turned back, bending
down and pointing to the front again. It ranges from
the mountains of Mexico north to Alaska, and is one of
the splendid game animals of America that is doomed
to pass over the divide sooner or later.

I was once on very good terms with a tame ram in
Colorado, an old-timer having one in a small corral

Life in the Open

cheek by jowl with a mountain lion, and I spent much
time in watching both. The result of my observation
led me to believe that in a fair fight the ram would win,
but if it were a case of sneaking up in the dark, or
crawling over a cliff to drop on the game unawares,
the mountain lion would be the winner. The bighorn
certainly scented the lion, as it appeared to be in a con-
stant " state of mind," which was evinced by occasionally
backing off and striking the corral on the mountain lion
side with a force suggestive of sudden death and the

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Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderLife in the open; sport with rod, gun, horse, and hound in southern California → online text (page 7 of 21)