Charles Frederick Holder.

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

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Mexico, rising in stupendous peaks, dividing the penin-
sula so that one can stand on its summit,' on the eyrie
of the mountain lion, and glance at the Pacific on one
side, the Gulf of California and the mountains of
Arizona on the other.

To the north-west, great ranges drop away to an
altitude of five thousand feet, deeply wooded with pine,
leaping downward like some living thing into the Cajon
Pass to rise a green maze to Mount Cucamonga,
tumbling away to the west, rising again in San Antonio
to ten thousand feet, while far beyond are peaks which
tell of the Sierra Nevada, taking one in imagination
the entire length of this stupendous range that forms
the backbone of California and stands a protecting bar-
rier between the desert and the deep sea.

Chapter XI

The Valley Quail

ONE of the last quail hunts in which I partici-
pated led me over the San Rafael Hills, which
rise to the west of the head of the San Gabriel
Valley. Along the ridges I followed up the coyote trails
to the summits, and looked down into a score of little
valleys hoping to see a covey or hear the rich " po-ta-toe "
rising from the green depths of the chaparral or see the
birds in the open, but all to no purpose. As I wandered
home in the cool evening I dropped over the edge of
the Arroyo Seco, crossed it, and had climbed the
opposite side, hardly a rifle shot from my home, when I
walked into a large flock of quail ; they were running
across the dusty road into a field of dried burr clover,
and, once there, stood and looked at me not fifty feet
away, while I, returning from my quail hunt, also
looked. This is what I saw a flock of little birds, not
quite so large as the bob-white, but each bearing jauntily
a plume that fell over its bill to the front, giving the


156 Life in the Open

bird a most Monnaire appearance. In colour they

were a mass of blue ash or slate, with striped chestnut
hues below, with flashes of sun gold, white, black, and
tan. The throat of the male was black, and he had a
white " eyebrow " and a collar of white around his black
throat, a radiant little creature, a pheasant in its colour
scheme, and the incident of our meeting well illustrates
the habit of the little bird. I did not fire ; one cannot
shoot down a neighbour in cold blood, if the laws do
permit. Some of these birds nest in an adjacent garden,
and I can often hear the melody of their notes in the
Arroyo, or the thunder of their wings as they rise from
the open and plunge down into the depths of the deep
abyss. So, if one must have quail without compunc-
tions of conscience, he goes away from home, out into
the country in the unsettled districts where there is
sport of the finest quality. When I first came to
Southern California, plumed quail could be found every-
where. They lived in all the caftons and little valleys
of the foothills, and held high revelry in the openings
where the gravel of the wash spread out, fan-like, and
merged into the low chaparral. Their flute-like notes
could be heard at all times whit-w hit-whit when
you were near, and when far away the loud, screeching
clarion challenge of the male po-/#-toe, po-ta-toe, or
ca-^-cow. But the fencing up of the country, the
growth of towns, has pushed the little birds out of back
yards, and to obtain good sport the outlying country
must be tried, where the dainty birds are found in vast

The Valley Quail 157

numbers, and the vibrant whi-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r often fills
the air. No bird is so disconcerting. Recently, at
Santa Catalina, in the off season, I was riding along
when at a sudden turn my horse faced a covey of
quail in the road. Did they rise? Not at all. The
hens ran down the road a way, while the cock stood his
ground, walking back and forth in a comical fashion, as
though saying, " You know it is not the season and I
am safe." These birds refused to fly and walked
some distance down the road, then into the low
bushes, where they watched me with many a note
whit-w hit-whit.

Laguna and vicinity is one of the best quail grounds,
and there are scores of localities all down the coast as
good. You find the birds, perhaps, in some little valley
shut in by hills, whose sides are covered with green Ade-
nostoma and whose edges, perhaps, are broken with
cactus patches. The air is clear, with a marvellous carry-
ing capacity, and suddenly there comes woo-w/ia-ho,
\voo-wha-\\o', and from another point or canon rises
O-/IZ-Q, and many variants, possibly with a slightly differ-
ent inflection. We are in the quail country, there can
be no question as to that. They have not discovered
you, and louder come the sweet notes, tuck-ca-cue,
tuck-0-hoe, of the males, who are calling for the
mere pleasure of it. Perhaps you are walking down
the ridge and now look over ; perhaps your gun
has caught a sun gleam and tossed it into the
next carton, as up from the sage comes whit-w hit- whit,

158 Life in the Open

the warning of the quail, and then perfect silence ;
then wook-wook, and from far away, wak-ze//z#-who.
You creep carefully over the divide to find them
gone ; indeed the flock is running off. The speed
with which they make their way through the brush is
marvellous ; and by the time you reach them again they
are ready to repeat the operation. After a big covey is
met with, they will keep just out of range, and you
gradually discover the secret, which is to throw Eastern
diplomacy and strategy to the winds, and when a flock
is sighted, walk, or even run, into it as fast as possible.
The main body will rise ahead, but there are always
three or four or more that stay behind and rise within
range to afford you an excellent and often futile shot.
In this way, hunting the flocks and advancing boldly
and quickly upon them when found, a bag can be gotten
in th'e easiest manner.

In point of fact, every ordinary rule is broken by the
successful California quail hunter, and I well recall the
amusement of a friend from the East when we were
working up on a covey when I fired into the air over
their heads. But he soon saw the philosophy of the
movement. We were between them and the thick
chaparral-covered hills, and they rose with a roar of
wings and separated, going in all directions. And then
our hunt began, as we moved on through the sage,
the birds lying low and rising in the most unexpected
fashion. One of my first experiences was in hunting
over a descendant of the famous " Bang Bang." He

The Valley Quail 159

had never pointed a California quail, and the birds lay
so close and long that he was fairly bewildered, but
suddenly a quail rose almost under his nose, and came
whizzing toward me, aimed for my head. I dodged,
whirled about, and killed the quail exactly behind me
almost out of range.

If the birds can be kept in the open in low brush,
the sport conducted in this way is excellent, and the
slopes of Laguna to the sea are an attractive place.
Often the birds fly to the nearest hill, and you see
them, with wings set, pitching over a divide and plung-
ing into the chaparral like shots out of a rapid-firing gun.
Then comes the whit-w hit-whit, and if you were there
you would see a few birds in the limbs watching you, while
the others were walking upward with incredible speed,
reaching the summit, perhaps, and leading the tyro a
long and profitless climb.

Before the green has left the lowlands, and when the
land is still running riot with flowers, early in April, the
quail, or valley partridge, begins to nest, and the period
extends far into the summer. The nest is often placed
in an obscure place. It may be in your garden, or
beneath a sage-brush, and I have found them in the
Arroyo Seco, near water, hidden in a mass of vines, the
bird darting out and trying every artifice to coax me
away. From nine to twenty-three eggs have been found,
but the average is from sixteen to seventeen. The
young are able to run when a day or two old, and
present an attractive sight, running in long lines. In a

i6o Life in the Open

few days they fly, and later the valleys are filled with
great flocks of grown and half-grown birds.

Quail hunting takes the sportsman into the open
and affords him some of the most delightful glimpses of
Southern California. If the San Gabriel fails there are
countless valleys near Santa Barbara, in San Diego,
Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and other counties
which afford excellent shooting ; or, one may go up the
coast through Ventura or along shore above Santa
Monica, or to Santa Catalina, where at the camp at
Eagle's Nest, where the cafion dips down toward the sea,
I have sat and watched the quail and listened to their
continuous calls, kwok-kwoo kwok-kwoo or o-hi~o,
o-hi-o, or ka-loi-o* ka-wak-up, a medley of flute-like
sounds and their variants coming from the high green
slope of the mountains.

In February, when the charm of winter is at its
height, the land is often ablaze with colour, and the
sportsman may walk through little valleys carpeted with
a cloth of gold, when the yellow and white daisy-like
blossoms star the ground, and the yellow violet nods in
the gentle wind, or he may emerge into a little valley
where the painter's brush has drawn its colour scheme as
far as the eye can see, while the low trees are covered
with the brilliant red of the honeysuckle. Led on and
on, he finds the golden mustard and later the indigo of
the larkspur blending in the sun, and on the edge of the
little wash trumpet-like flowers, a flame of colour.

In the wash, across which the birds now run, the


The Valley Quail 161

chilocothe hangs in rich green garlands and the little
mounds are overrun with chlorizanthe, every portion
of this winter garden having its charm, its scheme of
colour and beauty. It is difficult to find the objectiona-
ble features which are a part of the hunter's or camp-
er's life in other parts of the world, though I have heard
critics denounce the sunshine as too monotonous, to
which covert attack there is perhaps no reply.

I am free to confess that I have never shot a mount-
ain quail, as I always feel that I never could find a
satisfying excuse for destroying so beautiful a creature.

I first saw them on the north slope of a peak about
ten miles back of Mount Wilson, in the. very heart
of the Sierra Madre. I was lying under the thick
branches of a wild lilac, resting after a hard climb, when
through a leafy arcade, not one hundred feet away,
came five or six mountain quail. I had just left a
branch of the stream, and all about were brakes, giant
ferns, and forests of the more delicate kinds, with here
and there the tall stalk of the mountain tiger lily. A tree
that had been thrown over in the long ago and covered
with lichens lay half buried in the dense underbrush,
and down this highway came the jaunty band, stopping
every now and then, and uttering a peculiarly musical
note that sounded like do, do, d, d, d ; then coming on
until they reached a point hardly thirty feet from me,
when they again stopped and eyed me with idle curiosity,
then came ten feet nearer. A more dainty creature
with its long plumes it would be difficult to imagine.

162 Life in the Open

A striking feature is the chestnut-hued throat, black
banded, surrounded in turn with a pure white band and
on the sides pronounced bars of black, chestnut and

I did not move, and they came on until within six
feet of me, gazing with their gentle brown eyes, looking
me over, examining my gun, and evidently deciding
that I was some kind of a sportsman, but harmless. As
they paused, I uttered a low whistle and they turned,
each lifting its head, as though to catch the sound, and
then like magic they melted away. If any one has the
fancy for the hardest kind of hunting, in the hardest
kind of country, I can commend this, as the birds while
often seen in the foothills are found principally in the
thickest chaparral of the upper ranges, and to follow
them requires, at least did when I knew them, the most
difficult climbing.

The nest of this quail has been found hardly a mile
from my home, four miles from the base of the Sierra
Madre ; but the nests are not easy to find and are mostly
in the heart of the great range where nature has afforded
them ample protection.

There is still another quail in Southern California,
the quail of the desert, or Gambel's partridge, found
principally in Arizona, but also on the borders of the
desert where it merges into the high mountains of
California. In many ways the bird resembles the valley
quail, and its habits are similar, though it has the desert
habit and seems to love the regions that man avoids, the

The Valley Quail 163

great washes where the heat is often like a furnace blast.
All these birds are easily tamed, and within a short dis-
tance of my house an acquaintance has all three varieties
in confinement.

Chapter XII

The Heart of the Desert

The Pronghorn

IT is among the strange anomalies of life that some
men see a charm in regions that others describe
as God-forgotten ; localities where Nature is at
her worst, where the elements are abroad, searching
for life, falling upon every living thing. I have crossed
the great American deserts many times ; have seen
them in all their moods, have driven over parts of them
when the limit of heat endurance was seemingly reached,
and never found any one who cared to live there; yet it
is rare to find one who fails to recognise the peculiar at-
traction of these sand wastes, the home of the mirage
and sand-storm. I recall the sunset illumination of the
Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which rise in what some
might call a desert, yet far from it, and have since ob-
served the same effect in the Sierra Madre from the
desert to the east of Mojave. No more forbidding vista
ever filled human vision than parts of this desert, consti-


168 Life in the Open

luting the eastern portion of California. A curse seems
to have fallen upon the very vegetation, which is weird
and fantastic, befitting the surroundings. At mid-day
the full force of the sun beats down upon rock and
sand, the buttes assume a thousand shapes and to the
eye are isolated castles which imagination garbs with
romance and mystery. The vision is distorted, a wavy,
nebulous mist rising from the ground, changing the form,
colour, and appearance of all objects. The shadows have
been driven from the land, and the glare of the sun is
like the blast of a furnace, if in summer ; yet the travel-
ler can but recognise the strange beauty of the region,
as nowhere can such pure colour or its complete absence
be seen. There is apparently no life where the white
sand sweeps on, but the drifting dunes have a weird life
of their own and are ever moving, changing like some
restless monster, and in the region of the Salton, reach-
ing up to the Sierra Madre, present the appearance of a
vast river flowing on eternally ; even when the wind is
in abeyance the sand is moving. All over its surface
are small currents rippling on, cutting furrows, carving
figures of strange design, the caprice of the wind.

The scene when the wind, developed into a sand-
storm, sweeps down this vast pass, or el Cajdn, is beyond
description. The very earth appears to be lifted into the
air and carried on, a wall of copper-coloured cloud. With
even a full knowledge of this region it is difficult to select
one portion which has not at times some feature that ap-
peals to the imagination, yet is calculated to alarm the

The Heart of the Desert 169

physical man ; but, in my experience, possibly the
strange valley which reaches north from Cochise in
the territory is the most remarkable. Little wonder
the ancient people had legends of giants and pos-
sible genii, as no desert region in America presents
so weird an appearance. To the south the eye rests
upon a vast lake, which can be seen ten or twelve
miles distant from the slopes of the mountains,
and when I first saw it, its beauty was entrancing.
Away to the south, on its borders, were hills of
purple, each reflected as clearly as though photo-
graphed, and still beyond rose the caps and summits of
other peaks and mountains rising from this inland sea,
whose waters were of turquoise ; yet, as we moved down
the slope, the lake was always stealing on before. It
was of the things dreams are made of, that has driven
men mad and to despair, its bed a level floor of alkali
and clay, covered with a dry, impalpable dust that the
slightest wind tossed and whirled in air. No more
beautiful mirage can be seen in this country if one cares
to visit the region in August. As I watched this lake of
the imagination, I saw the rise of the genii of Cochise
from its mirror-like surface. Like the giant of Sindbad,
from the flask of the fisherman, they rose upward in weird
and colossal shapes, then moved slowly off over the sur-
face to the south. On my last visit to this valley in mid-
summer of 1903, this marvellous scene was at its best,
and from fifty to one hundred sand or dust-spouts or
columns could be seen sweeping down this valley of

1 70 Life in the Open

horrors on to the lake of literal despair ; some so high
that they appeared to support the very empyrean, and so
exact in their imitation of water-spouts that it was impos-
sible to disassociate them from the sham water on the
illusive lake.

Once while crossing this valley which despite its
menacing character is to be a desert reclaimed and a rail-
road point of importance in the future, innumerable
sand-spouts appeared to join forces, forming a gigantic
column seemingly a mile in height. It was of a lurid,
copper tint, menacing in shape and colour, sweeping
along with the stride of the wind, its upper portion
whirling about as though in a vortex.

Despite the disagreeable features of these desert
phenomena, their beauties, the grandeur of the effects,
more than repay one. What can be more beautiful than
the view from the desert near Palm Springs ? As night
draws on, the tops of the mountains are tipped with the
most brilliant vermilion, which grows deeper and more
firelike as day shortens, and all the time, out from the
countless cafions, cuts, and passes, creep deep shadows,
like living things, venturing out as the sun loses its
power. At first they flood the cafions, then flow down,
spreading out in ineffable tints, stealing out upon the
sands of the desert into its very heart until they fairly
fill it, and the great waste is a purple sea, awash with
the panoply of night At sunrise this strange trans-
formation scene is reversed. The tips of the range are
again bathed in vermilion and the shadows slink away,

A Desert Forest. Native Palms near Palm Springs, California.

The Heart of the Desert 171

retreating to the canons, seemingly utterly driven out
by the fierce rays of the sun.

No one can deny the charm of such a region, and the
impulse to move on and into the heart of the desert is
often almost irresistible, the strange buttes ever beckon-
ing on. The vegetation of the desert, while forbidding,
has its attractions. What might be considered the very
heart of the desert, as the alkali plain between Yuma
and the Sierra Madre, is apparently divested of vegeta-
tion, but careful examination shows something growing
in the gullies, and even where the sand is tossed like
snow, a grass appears fighting for supremacy, while a
few bushes struggle upward. On the edge of the desert,
in canons which at times reflect the summer heat like a
furnace and through which the superheated air rushes,
are seen lofty palms, their roots deep in the rocky chan-
nel that the winter rains have made. In some of the
canons the palms grow in great numbers. Apparently
the seeds are swept down on to the lower levels, and
where the canon opens out and becomes a wide valley
groves of lofty palms are seen, among the most pictur-
esque and beautiful forms of the desert.

It is doubtful if one can make a strong enough plea
for the desert to induce people to visit it. Thousands
cross its very heart every year to reach Southern Cali-
fornia ; indeed one cannot reach the Pacific by land
except by the desert route ; but the average tourist fails
to see it, as the railroad has so arranged that the passage
of this dry Styx is made by night; thus its varied

1 72 Life in the Open

attractions are lost. It may savour of exaggeration to
some readers if I say that I have felt vastly more un-
comfortable in Chicago, New York, or Philadelphia than
I have when passing through the heart of the desert in
midsummer. Not long ago I made the trip across what
is considered the hottest part of the United States in
the hottest time or August, crossing the California
desert to Yuma, then on through Arizona and New
Mexico to Texas, and so on to the Gulf near the mouth
of the Rio Grande. Doubtless to some the land for
the entire distance was a desert, and certainly it was not
far from it, so far as appearance was concerned ; a dry
hot ride of several thousand miles ; yet I have been far
more uncomfortable from heat in the East, north of
Cape Cod. This unpopular region, in parts, is truly a
desert, particularly the eastern portion of California,
but it has its compensations ; it appeals to the lover of
nature, its- very barrenness in places giving it a peculiar
interest. The great beds of shifting sand, where there
seems to be absolutely no vegetable life, are fascinating
to some. They have a life peculiarly their own. They
move, they seem to breathe, they change form and
stature from day to day ; now rising high ; anon low and
flat ; now creeping along in many streams or rivers ;
towering high in air a spectral cloud to sweep along,
shutting out the entire desert from view.

Few places are more desolate than the slope of the
Sierra Madre as it rolls down into the Mojave country ;
yet I have always been rewarded by the splendours of the

The Heart of the Desert 173

sunset on the Sierras from this portion of the desert.
Leaving the hills, we enter a forest of yucca, the weird
distorted branches, seemingly stricken by the blast of
death, reaching out at one ; a forest of fearsome shape
and feature that occupies a belt four or five miles wide,
then melting into the sands of the desert with distant
buttes on the line over the edge of the world ; cities,
temples, towers, minarets of the fancy, that lure one on
and on.

But turn to the Sierra Madre at sundown and tell
me whether the desert has called you in vain. Watch
the purple shadows creep out of distant canons and
encompass the pallid desert. See the banners of encar-
nadine painting each cliff and peak until the entire range
is suffused with a warm glow, as though some roseate
lace-like film had been drawn over them as they sank
into the deep gloom of the night.

But what have the deserts to do with sport ? you will
ask. I might reply that the study of the desert affords
infinite pastime. Come down through the forest of
yucca, where the mountains sink away to the sage-
brush, when the winter has come, when the sky is clear,
and the rain has washed from the air every scintillating
atom , come into the shadow of this clump of desert
brush on the edge of a wash. Your eye may see no-
thing in this vague landscape, this blaze of colour and
tint, that Lungren knows and paints so well ; but if
your luck is with you and is of a specious quality, sud-
denly something moves far away in the centre of the

I74 Life in the Open

valley. It might be a phantasm, the outline of a tall
yucca ; but out it comes, and resolves itself into a bit of
the desert landscape, two, three, four pronghorns, the
last of the Californians to hold their own in Antelope
Valley, the rarest of California animals, with the great
condor and grizzly, not to be hunted with rifle, but to
be looked at and bidden godspeed and long life if you
please. I conceive various kinds of hunting : there is
hunting with the eye, watching the beauties of game,
and its ways ; and that it has its advantages is shown by
the fact that you may repeat it indefinitely, and the
more you hunt in this way, the better grows the sport,
the more plentiful the game ; and I bespeak for the little
California antelope the hunter of this class, that his life
may be long in the land that once knew him so well.

Not many years ago the pronghorn was among the
commonest animals in the open country. Large herds
lived in the vicinity of Elizabeth Lake, and the great
valley that extends from the Mojave desert west, or
north-west, was named for them. In those days they
could also be found in the Mojave and along the mount-

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Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderLife in the open; sport with rod, gun, horse, and hound in southern California → online text (page 9 of 21)