Theodore Roosevelt.

The wilderness hunter; an account of the big game of the United States and its chase with horse, hound, and rifle online

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Sagamore Series
The Works of

Theodore Roosevelt

In 15 volumes, each containing frontispiece
16, cloth per volume . . . 50 cents
Paper, per volume .... 25 cents

1. American Ideals.

2. Administration Civil Service.

3. The Wilderness Hunter.

4. Hunting the Grisly.

5. Hunting Trips of a Ranchman.

6. Hunting Trips on the Plains and in the Mountains.

7. The Rough Riders.*

8. The Winning of the West. Part I.

9. The Winning of the West. Part II.

10. The Winning of the West. Part III.

11. The Winning of the West. Part IV.

12. The Winning of the West. Part V.

13. The Winning of the West. Part VI.

14. The Naval War of 1812. Part I. Events of 1812-13.

15. The Naval War of 1812. Part II. Events of 1814-15.
Published under arrangement with Messrs. Charles Scribner's Sons.


New York and London



Wilderness Hunter

An Account of the Big Game of the United

States and its Chase with Horse

Hound, and Rifle


Theodore Roosevelt

Author of " The Winning of the West," u American Ideals,"
* Hunting Trips of a Ranchman," etc.

G. P. Putnam's Sons

New York and London





E. K. R.


" They saw the silences
Move by and beckon ; saw the forms,
The very beards, of burly storms,
And heard them talk like sounding seas . . .
They saw the snowy mountains rolled
And heaved along the nameless lands
Like mighty billows ; saw the gold
Of awful sunsets ; saw the blush
Of sudden dawn, and felt the hush
Of heaven when the day sat down
And hid his face in dusky hands."

Joaquin Miller.

" In vain the speeding of shyness ;

In vain the elk takes to the inner passes of the woods . . .

. . . where geese nip their food with short jerks,
Where sundown shadows lengthen over the limitless prairie,
Where herds of buffalo make a crawling spaead of the square
miles, far and near,

Where winter wolves bark amid wastes of snow and ice-clad trees . . .
^ The moose, large as an ox, cornered by hunters, plunging with his

forefeet, the hoofs as sharp as knives . . .

The blazing fire at night, the sweet taste of supper, the talk, the
bed of hemlock boughs, and the bear-skin."

WaU Whitman.





The American wilderness Forests, plains, moun-
tains Likeness and unlikeness to the old-world
wilderness Wilderness hunters Boone, Croc-
kett, Houston, Carson The trappers The
buffalo hunters The stockmen The regular
army Wilderness game Bison, moose, elk, cari-
bou, deer, antelope Other game Hunting in
the wilderness 13



In the cattle country Life on a ranch A round-
up Branding a maverick The Bad Lands A
shot at a blacktail Still-hunting the blacktail
Its habits Killing a buck in August A shot at
close range Occasional unwariness of black-
tail 33



The whitetail Yields poor sport Fire hunting-
Hunting with hounds Shooting at running
game Queer adventure Anecdotes of plains-
men Good and bad shots A wagon trip A
shot from the ranch-house verandah The Co
lumbian blacktail 51



Riding to the round-up The open plains Sights
and sounds Gophers, prairie dogs, sharp-tail



grouse, antelope The cow-camp Standing
night guard Dawn Make an antelope hunt
An easy stalk A difficult stalk Three antelope
shot The plains skylark The meadow lark
The mocking-bird Other singers Harsher wil-
derness sounds Pack rats Plains ferret, Its
ferocity The war eagle Attacks antelope
Kills jack-rabbit One shot on wing with rifle. . 70



Hunting the prong-buck Long shots Misses
Winter weather A hunt in December Riding
in the bitter cold The old hunter's tepee A
night in a line camp An antelope herd Two
bucks shot Riding back to ranch The immi-
grant train Hunting in fall Fighting fire A
summer hunt Sufferings from thirst Swim-
ming cattle across a swollen stream Wagon trip
to the Black Hills The great prairies A prong-
buck shot Pleasant camp Buck shot in morn-
ing Continue our journey Shooting sage fowl
and prairie fowl with rifle 90



A summer on the ranch Working among the
cattle Killing game for the ranch A trip after
mountain sheep The Bad Lands Solitary
camp The old horse Manitou Still-hunt at
dawn Young ram shot A hunt in the Rocky
Mountains An old bighorn stalked and shot
Habits of the game 1 18



A trip to the Bighole Basin Incidents of travel
with a wagon Camp among the mountains A
trip on foot after goats Spruce grouse Lying
out at night A climb over the high peaks Two
goats shot Weary tramp back A hunt in the
Kootenai country Hard climbing among the


wooded mountains Goat shot on brink of
chasm Ptarmigan for supper Goat hunting
very hard work Ways and habits of the goats
Not much decrease in numbers 129



A camp on Kootenai Lake Travelling on foot
through the dense forests Excessive toil Wa-
ter shrew and water thrush Black bear killed
Mountain climbing Woodchucks and conies
The Indian Amma.1 Night sounds A long
walk A caribou killed A midwinter trip on
snow-shoes in Maine Footprints on the snow
A helpless deer Caribou at ease in the deep
drifts 1 50



A hunt in the Bitter Root mountains A trip on
foot Two bull elk fighting The peace-maker
All three shot Habits of the wapiti Their
bungling A grand chorus Shooting a bull at
sunrise Another killed near the ranch Vanish-
ing of the elk Its antlers The lynx Porcupine
Chickarees and chipmunks Clarke's crow
Lewis' woodpecker Whisky-jack Trout The
Yellowstone canyon 176



In the Shoshones Travelling with a pack-train
Scenery Flowers A squaw-man Bull elk shot
in rain while challenging Storm Breaking
camp in rain Two-Ocean Pass Our camp A
y^oung ten-pointer shot The mountains in moon-
light Blue grouse Snow-shoe rabbits Death
of a master bull The Tetons Following a bull
by scent 111 luck Luck changes Death of
spike bull Three bulls killed Travelling home
Heavy snowstorm Bucking horse various
hunts compared Number cartridges used Still-
hunting the elk 198




The moose of the Rocky Mountains Its habits
Difficult nature of its haunts Repeated failures
while hunting it Watching a marsh at dawn
A moose in the reeds Stalking and shooting
him Travelling light with a pack-train A bea-
ver meadow Shooting a big bull at dawn The
moose in summer , in winter Young moose
Pugnacity of moose Still-hunting moose
Rather more easy to kill than whitetail deer At
times a dangerous antagonist The winter yards
Hunting on snow-shoes A narrow escape
A fatal encounter 226



Game which ought not to be killed Killing black
bear with a knife Sports with rod and shotgun
Snow-shoeing and mountaineering American
writers on out-door life Burroughs Thoreau
Audubon, Coues, etc. American hunting
books American writers on life in the wilder-
ness : Parkman, Irving Cooper on pioneer life
American statesmen and soldiers devoted to
the chase Lincoln, Jackson, Israel Putnam
A letter from Webster on trout-fishing Clay
Washington Hunting Extracts from Wash-
ington's diaries Washington as a fox-
hunter 255



FOR a number of years much of my life
was spent either in the wilderness or on
the borders of the settled country if, indeed,
" settled " is a term that can* rightly be ap-
plied to the vast, scantily peopled regions
where cattle-ranching is the only regular in-
dustry. During this time I hunted much,
among the mountains and on the plains, both
as a pastime and to procure hides, meat, and
robes for use on the ranch ; and it was my
good luck to kill all the various 'kinds of large
game that can properly be considered to
belong to temperate North America.

In hunting, the finding and killing of the
game is after all but a part of the whole.
The free, self-reliant, adventurous life, with
its rugged and stalwart democracy ; the wild
surroundings, the grand beauty of the scenery,
the chance to study the ways and habits of
the woodland creatures all these unite to
give to the career of the wilderness hunter its
peculiar charm. The chase is among the best
of all national pastimes ; it cultivates that
vigorous manliness for the lack of which in a
nation, as in an individual, the possession of
no other qualities can possibly atone.

No one, but he who has partaken thereof,
can understand the keen delight of hunting in



lonely lands. For him is the joy of the horse
well ridden and the rifle well held ; for him
the long days of toil and hardship, resolutely
endured, and crowned at the end with tri-
umph. In after years there shall come for-
ever to his mind the memory of endless prai-
ries shimmering in the bright sun ; of vast
snow-clad wastes lying desolate under gray
skies ; of the melancholy marshes ; of the rush
of mighty rivers ; of the breath of the ever-
green forest in summer ; of the crooning of
ice-armored pines at the touch of the winds of
winter ; of cataracts roaring between hoary
mountain masses ; of all the innumerable
sights and sounds of the wilderness ; of its
immensity and mystery ; and of the silences
that brood in its still depths.


June, 1893.




MANIFOLD are the shapes taken by the
American wilderness. In the east,
from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi
valley, lies a land of magnificent hardwood
forest. In endless variety and beauty, the
trees cover the ground, save only where they
have been cleared away by man, or where to-
wards the west the expanse of the forest is
broken by fertile prairies. Towards the north,
this region of hardwood trees merges insen-
sibly into the southern extension of the great
sub-arctic forest ; here the silver stems of
birches gleam against the sombre background
of coniferous evergreens. In the. southeast
again, by the hot, oozy coasts of the South
Atlantic and the Gulf, the forest becomes
semi-tropical ; palms wave their feathery
fronds, and the tepid swamps teem with
reptile life.

Some distance beyond the Mississippi,


stretching from Texas to North Dakota, and
westward, to the Reeky Mountains, lies the
plains country." This is a region of light rain-
fall, where^the groimd is clad with short grass,
while ccttonwood trees fringe the courses of
die winding plains streams ; streams that are
alternately turbid torrents and mere dwin-
dling threads of water. The great stretches of
natural pasture are broken by gray sage-brush
plains, and tracts of strangely shaped and
colored Bad Lands ; sun-scorched wastes in
summer, and in winter arctic in their iron des-
olation. Beyond the plains rise the Rocky
Mountains, their flanks covered with conifer-
ous woods ; but the trees are small, and do
not ordinarily grow very closely together.
Towards the north the forest becomes denser,
and the peaks higher ; and glaciers creep down
towards the valleys from the fields of ever-
lasting snow. The brooks are brawling, trout-
filled torrents ; the swift rivers foam over
rapid and cataract, on their way to one or the
other of the two great oceans.

Southwest of the Rockies evil and terrible
deserts stretch for leagues and leagues, mere
waterless wastes of sandy plain and barren
mountain, broken here and there by narrow
strips of fertile ground. Rain rarely falls,
and there are no clouds to dim the brazen
sun. The rivers run in deep canyons, or are
swallowed by the burning sand ; the smaller
watercourses are dry throughout the greater
part of the year.

Beyond this desert region rise the sunny
Sierras of California, with their flower-clad
slopes and groves of giant trees ; and north


of them, along the coast, the rain-shrouded
mountain chains of Oregon and Washington,
matted with the towering growth of the
mighty evergreen forest.

The white hunters, who from time to
time first penetrated the different parts of
this wilderness, found themselves in such
hunting grounds as those wherein, long ages
before, their Old-World forefathers had
dwelt; and the game they chased was much
the same as that their lusty barbarian an-
cestors followed, with weapons of bronze and
of iron, in the dim years before history dawned.
As late as the end of the seventeenth century
the turbulent village nobles of Lithuania and
Livonia hunted the bear, the bison, the elk,
the wolf, and the stag, and hung the spoils in
their smoky wooden palaces ; and so, two
hundred years later, the free hunters of Mon-
tana, in the interludes between hazardous
mining quests and bloody Indian campaigns,
hunted game almost or quite the same in
kind, through the cold mountain forests sur-
rounding the Yellowstone and Flathead lakes,
and decked their log cabins and ranch houses
with the hides and horns of the slaughtered

Zoologically speaking, the north temperate
zones of the Old and New Worlds are very
similar, differing f' om one another much less
than they do from the various regions south
of them, or than these regions differ among
themselves. The untrodden American wilder-
ness resembles both in game and physical
character the forests, the mountains, and the
steppes of the Old World as it was at the


beginning of our era. Great woods of pine
and fir, birch and beech, oak and chestnut;
streams where the chief game fish are spotted
trout and silvery salmon ; grouse of various
kinds as the most common game birds ; all
these the hunter finds as characteristic of the
New World as of the Old. So it is with most
of the beasts of the chase, and so also with
the fur-bearing animals that furnish to the
trapper alike his life work and his means of
livelihood. The bear, wolf, bison, moose,
caribou, wapiti, deer, and bighorn, the lynx,
fox, wolverine, sable, mink, ermine, beaver,
badger, and otter of both worlds are either
identical or more or less closely kin to one
another. Sometimes of the two forms, that
found in the Old World is the largest. Per-
haps more often the reverse is true, the
American beast being superior in size. This
is markedly the case with the wapiti, which is
merely a giant brother of the European stag,
exactly as the fisher is merely a very large
cousin of the European sable or marten. The
extraordinary prong-buck, the only hollow-
horned ruminant which sheds its horns an-
nually, is a distant representative of the Old-
World antelopes of the steppes ; the queer
white antelope-goat has for its nearest kinsfolk
certain Himalayan species. Of the animals
commonly known to our hunters and trappers,
only a few, such as the cougar, peccary, rac-
coon, possum (and among birds the wild
turkey), find their nearest representatives and
type forms in tropical America.

Of course this general resemblance does not
mean identity. The differences in plant life


and animal life, no less than in the physical
features of the land, are sufficiently marked
to give the American wilderness a character
distinctly its own. Some of the most charac-
teristic of the woodland animals, some of
those which have most vividly impressed
themselves on the imagination of the hunters
and pioneer settlers, are the very ones which
have no Old-World representatives. The
wild turkey is in every way the king of
American game birds. Among the small
beasts the coon and the possum are those
which have left the deepest traces in the
humbler lore of the frontier ; exactly as the
cougar usually under the name of panther
or mountain lion is a favorite figure in the
wilder hunting tales. Nowhere else is there
anything to match the wealth of the eastern
hardwood forests, in number, variety, and
beauty of trees ; nowhere else is it possible
to find conifers approaching in size the giant
redwoods and sequoias of the Pacific slope.
Nature here is generally on a larger scale
than in the Old-World home of our race. The
lakes are like inland seas, the rivers, like
arms of the sea. Among stupendous moun-
tain chains there are valleys and canyons of
fathomless depth and incredible beauty and
majesty. There are tropical swamps, and
sad, frozen marshes ; deserts and Death Val-
leys, weird and evil, and the strange wonder-
land of the Wyoming geyser region. The
waterfalls are rivers rushing over precipices ;
the prairies seem without limit, and the forest
never ending.

At the time when we first became a nation,


nine tenths of the territory now included
within the limits of the United States was
wilderness. It was during the stirring and
troubled years immediately preceding the out-
break of the Revolution that the most adven-
turous hunters, the vanguard of the hardy
army of pioneer settlers, first crossed the
Alleghanies, and roamed far and wide through
the lonely, danger-haunted forests which filled
the No-man's-land lying between the Tennessee
and the Ohio. They waged ferocious warfare
with Shawnee and Wyandott and wrought
huge havoc among the herds of game with
which the forest teemed. While the first Con-
tinental Congress was still sitting, Daniel
Boone, the archetype of the American hunter,
was leading his bands of tall backwoods rifle-
men to settle in the beautiful country of Ken-
tucky, where the red and the white warriors
strove with such obstinate rage that both races
alike grew to know it as " the dark and bloody

Boone and his fellow-hunters were the
heralds of the oncoming civilization, the
pioneers in that conquest of the wilderness
which has at last been practically achieved
in our own day. Where they pitched their
camps and built their log huts or stockaded
hamlets, towns grew up, and men who were
tillers of the soil, not mere wilderness wan-
derers, thronged in to take and hold the land.
Then, ill-at-ease among the settlements for
which they had themselves made ready the
way, and fretted even by the slight restraints
of the rude and uncouth semi-civilization of
the border, the restless hunters moved onward


into the yet unbroken wilds where the game
dwelt and the red tribes marched forever to
war and hunting. Their untamable souls ever
found something congenial and beyond meas-
ure attractive in the lawless freedom of the
lives of the very savages against whom they
warred so bitterly.

Step by step, often leap by leap, the fron-
tier of settlement, was pushed westward ; and
ever from before its advance fled the warrior
tribes of the red men and the scarcely less
intractable array of white Indian fighters
and game hunters. When the Revolution-
ary war was at its height, George Rogers
Clarke, himself a mighty hunter of the old
backwoods type, led his handful of hunter-
soldiers to the conquest of the French towns
of the Illinois. This was but one of the many
notable feats of arms performed by the wild
soldiery of the backwoods. Clad in their
fringed and tasselled hunting shirts of buck-
skin or homespun, with coonskin caps and
deer-hide leggings and moccasins, with toma-
hawk and scalping knife thrust into their
bead-worked belts, and long rifles in hand,
they fought battle after battle of the most
bloody character, both against the Indians,
as at the Great Kanawha, at the Fallen
Timbers, and at Tippecanoe, and against more
civilized foes, as at King's Mountain, New
Orleans, and the River Thames.

Soon after the beginning of the present
century Louisiana fell into our hands, and the
most daring hunters and explorers pushed
through the forests of the Mississippi valley
to the great plains, steered across these vast


seas of grass to the Rocky Mountains, and then
through their rugged defiles onwards to the Pa-
cific Ocean. In every work of exploration, and
in all the earlier battles with the original lords of
the western and southwestern lands, whether
Indian or Mexican, the adventurous hunters
played the leading part ; while close behind
came the swarm of hard, dogged, border-
farmers, a masterful race, good fighters and
good breeders, as all masterful races must

Very characteristic in its way was the career
of quaint, honest, fearless Davy Crockett, the
Tennessee rifleman and Whig Congressman,
perhaps the best shot in all our country,
whose skill in the use of his favorite weapon
passed into a proverb, and who ended his
days by a hero's death in the ruins of the
Alamo. An even more notable man was an-
other mighty hunter, Houston, who when a
boy ran away to the Indians ; who while still
a lad returned to his own people to serve
under Andrew Jackson in the campaigns
which thatgreatest of all the backwoods leaders
waged against the Creeks, the Spaniards, and
the British. He was wounded at the storm-
ing of one of the strongholds of Red Eagle's
doomed warriors, and returned to his Tennes-
see home to rise to high civil honor, and be-
come the foremost man of his State. Then,
while Governor of Tennessee, in a sudden
fit of moody anger, and of mad longing for
the unfettered life of the wilderness, he aban-
doned his office, his people, and his race, and
fled to the Cherokees beyond the Mississippi.
For years he lived as one of their chiefs ;


until one day, as he lay in ignoble ease and
sloth, a rider from the south, from the roll-
ing plains of the San Antonio and Brazos,
brought word that the Texans were up, and
in doubtful struggle striving to wrest their free-
dom from the lancers and carbineers of Santa
Anna. Then his dark soul flamed again
into burning life ; riding by night and day he
joined the risen Texans, was hailed by them
as a heaven-sent leader, and at the San Ja-
cinto led them on to the overthrow of the Mexi-
can host. Thus the stark hunter, who had
been alternately Indian fighter and Indian
chief, became the President of the new
Republic, and, after its admission into the
United States, a Senator at Washington ; and,
to his high honor, he remained to the end
of his days staunchly loyal to the flag of the

By the time that Crockett fell, and Houston
became the darling leader of the Texans, the
typical hunter and Indian fighter had ceased
to be a backwoodsman; he had become a
plains-man, or mountain-man ; for the frontier,
east of which he never willingly went, had
been pushed beyond the Mississippi. Rest-
less, reckless, and hardy, he spent years of
his life in lonely wanderings through the
Rockies as a trapper; he guarded the slowly
moving caravans, which for purposes of trade
journeyed over the dangerous Santa Fe trail ;
he guided the large parties of frontier settlers
who, driving before them their cattle, with all
their household goods in their white-topped
wagons, spent perilous months and seasons
on their weary way to Oregon or California.


Joining in bands, the stalwart, skin-clad rifle-
men waged ferocious war on the Indians,
scarcely more savage than themselves, or
made long raids for plunder and horses against
the outlying Mexican settlements. The best,
the bravest, the most modest of them all was
the renowned Kit Carson. He was not only
a mighty hunter, a daring fighter, a finder of
trails, and maker of roads through the un-
known, untrodden wilderness, but also a real
leader of men. Again and again he crossed
and re-crossed the continent, from the Mis-
sissippi to the Pacific ; he guided many of the
earliest military and exploring expeditions of
the United States Government ; he himself
led the troops in victorious campaigns against
Apache and Navahoe ; and in the Civil War
he was made a colonel of the Federal army.

After him came many other hunters. Most
were pure-blooded Americans, but many were
Creole Frenchmen, Mexicans, or even mem-
bers of the so-called civilized Indian tribes,

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Online LibraryTheodore RooseveltThe wilderness hunter; an account of the big game of the United States and its chase with horse, hound, and rifle → online text (page 1 of 18)