|Rights||No Copyright - United States (NoC-US)|
|Publisher||Digitized by J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah|
|Article Title||A Strange Adventure|
A STRANGE ADVENTURE The particulars of the following interesting incident were communicated to this writer by Mr. Z. Hampel, employer [employed] at the time by certain San Francisco parties as a mining expert in Montana. During our examination of the Platte River Valley, together with the beds of several creeks which make into it from the east, we camped for three weeks at a bow of the stream directly at the foot of two rocky, precipitous buttes which, at scarcely a rifle shot from the river, rise at least a thousand feet above it. These crags are but spurs of a mountain-ridge which towered, cliff on cliff, to the westward, being part of the dividing range betwixt Idaho and Montana Territories. These rocky heights were a favorite resort of the big-horn, or wild, mountain sheep; the same animal which Professor Baird figures as the Ovis Montana, or the American Argali. For several mornings in succession, a large buck came regularly out in sight, at about nine oclock, on the very brink of the precipice, and would stand for an hour, or more, gazing, and seemingly motionless. Even at that height, the great size of its horns was very apparent [unreadable line] ... Argali, and determined to try my own hand at securing this buck for the Smithsonian collections; for the animal seemed a splendid specimen of his kind. Accordingly after locating the pits for the days assays, I took my Spence carbine and set off, a few mornings later, upon what I must confess was to me a novel and wholly untried business. The butte, or crag, upon which the big-horn had shown itself was the northernmost of the two first mentioned. Betwixt that and the one to the south of it, there was a canyon-like gorge, down the bottom of which, in time of rains, a torrent made its way into the river. I took the now dry and rocky bed of the torrent for my route up amongst the cliffs, thinking that I might thus gain some covert among the ledges, in the rear of the Argali post of observation, and by a well-directed ball, secure him for my prize. But though by this time somewhat familiar with the fearfully precipitous and inaccessible character of the buttes and needles of this roughest and most rocky of mountain ranges, I became well nigh bewildered among the boulders and out-jutting crags in the gorge. Four hours of arduous climbing only took me to a point where I saw I could get no further. All above me were sheer precipices. The top of the spur looked ten times more inaccessible than from our camp on the river below. Completely fatigued, I sat down for half an hour, to get breath and strength to get back down the rocks. While sitting here, I chanced to notice on the opposite side of the gorge, a crack, or rent in the cliff, down which had come a shoot of coarse, reddish gravel and small stones. My eyes followed the crevice which might have been six or eight feet in breadth upward to a sort of shelf at the foot of one of the summit ledges. Along the base of this ledge, the shelf like bench of rock ran far round the head of the gorge, half a mile or more to the westward. If once I could get up the shoot of loose stuff in the crevice, and gain the rock-bench above, I felt pretty sure I could follow round and get to the rear of the big horns watch tower. But I was far too tired to attempt it that day; it was enough for me to get back to the camp. Before sunrise the next morning, however, I had made my arrangements and set off again, and having the advantage of the previous days experience, I reached the foot of the shoot in much less time, and began to climb up by it. To make a ladder of loose gravel, lying on a steep incline, calls for some agile efforts; but the rocky sides of the crevice assisted me, though I often slipped back two steps while getting up one, and once came near sliding to the bottom when more than half way up. In half an hour I gained the rocky shelf, seen by me on the previous day, and thence with no great difficulty made my way by it to the top of the northernmost butte. Here I was on comparatively smooth bare ledges, naked and utterly barren, save for patches of moss and here and there little patches of stunted rockwort and other alpine plants; and thus sterile tract extended back for a mile or two, to the foot of a second line of precipices which rose, crag on crag, in most imposing array. But even this comparatively level plateau was strewn with huge boulders and rocking stones, some of which, as large as a church, were tilted up in most amazing fashion. Keeping to cover of the boulders as much as possible, I went round upon the north spur and along to within a hundred yards of where I believed the big-horn had his grazing-ground. Here I took up a good position, partly under a large rock and in its cool shade, where I could look along the brink of the precipice beyond. As yet, however, I had seen no trace nor spoor of the wild sheep. Half or three-quarters of an hour elapsed, and by my watch it was already past the time when the big-horn had commonly made his appearance. Something much nearer at hand now took my attention; as I lay there, close under the rock, a large snake suddenly poked its head out, scarcely a foot from my cheek, causing me roll forth in haste. It was one the most oddly-marked serpents which I have ever seen; and I think it belongs to some species no as yet described; On presenting my gun-butt to it, it drew back, but came further out in a few moments, evidently disposed to dispute the ground with me. I did not like to get up and begin an attack on the reptile. So watching my chance, I pinned its head down with my rifle-butt, and bearing on it hard, waited for it to die. While thus engaged, chancing to glance along the rock, lo! there stood the big-horn buck, not over two hundred feet off. I lay as still as I could and bore on the snake. I didnt dare to let it go, for it looked venomous; so I held on and watched the buck; but turning my eyes back to the snake a moment later, to see how I was getting on with him, I saw two more similar snakes poking their heads out from beneath the boulder. At that, I got away to the other side of the rock, as quickly as I could; and still hoping I had not frightened the big-horn, peeped round from the back side. At that moment, however, a slight craunching [crunching] and scratching noise on the ledges caught my ear, and glancing around, I saw, a little off to the left, another interloper on the scene of my hunting operations, in the shape of a large gray-brown creature, as big as a cow. It was some sort of bear. I do not think it was a grizzly proper, though it looked larger than any black or brown bear that I have ever seen. But there are bears of all stripes and varieties in those northwestern territories, even [unreadable] light gray as to [unreadable] so near mothers, startled me prodigiously. I thought he meant me, surely. I faced around with a jump, cocked my carbine and took hurried aim to fire and then I saw that the brute was not looking at me at all, but had its eyes bent malignly on some other object out past the rock, towards which it was moving with stealthy steps. Like myself, the bear was after mutton; and I confess, I wasnt sorry to perceive that he was not after me. As the ugly brute stole past, distant not more than eighty or ninety feet from where I was standing in the shadow of the rock, I peeped around to see if the Argali had taken to flight. Till that moment, I think that the big-horn had not seen the bear, for it was just facing round. Instead of fleeing, never did creature draw itself up more proudly. It stamped its fore-foot sharply on the rock once or twice, and slightly shook its large horns, making in its throat short, low, disconnected bleating sounds. That was the first fair view I had got of the Argali and the thing that most astonished me was the size and massive curve of its ponderous horns. The animal must have weighed near, or quite, three hundred pounds, perhaps more. Its wool, which seemed rather like fine hair, was short, but looked to be very dense and compact; I should imagine it would have turned a charge of small shot, while its legs appeared to me to be longer than those of the ordinary Cotswold, or South Down, buck. Instead of making off, the big-horn walked boldly to meet his ugly assailant, with the port of a tried and dauntless champion, giving vent to a peculiar, whistling blow of defiance. The two were now not more than twenty-five or thirty yards apart. Seeing the ram so warriorlike, the bear paused a little with a menacing growl, then began stealing one foot slowly and cautiously before the other, with the hair rising on its neck and along its back. At this, the big-horn also paused, stamped its fore-feet alternatively, and backed a few steps, then lowering its horns and curving in its arched nose, bounded forward at full spring. The bear rose slightly on his hind feet and extended its fore-paws as if to grasp its enemy. But the buck did not come to close quarters. His charge was a feint this time. When within ten or fifteen feet of its adversary, he stepped short and backed forty or fifty feet, almost as swiftly as he had advanced. The bear, growling more loudly, now recommenced its stealthy approach. Again the buck plunged forward, and again the bear rose slightly, with extended fore-paws and an eager snuffling noise. But it was no feint on the big-horns part this time, at each short, sharp leap, it seemed to gather impetus, and at its final bound, it struck the bear plump in the breast, betwixt its outstretched paws. The queer grunt (or else it was the sound of the blow) which the bear gave could have been heard two hundred yards off. The great beast was fairly knocked over backwards, but leaped to its feet with a roar of anger, and whirled about to grapple the buck. The big-horn had already backed off, and in a moment was coming again at full spring. Again the bear rose to clasp it and received another tremendous stomacher which landed him on his back. The roar of the bear could now have been heard a mile. Then the buck was back out of reach before his antagonist turn and seize him. The bears tactics of rising on his haunches to enfold his adversary with his paws, seemed in this battle to operate against him. For the tremendous blows delivered by the big-horn overthrew the bear each time before it could clutch hold. Several feints on the bucks part now followed each other rapidly. Then there was another fair knock-over. They played off quarter-wise, then completely round each other. Two or three times the bear dashed furiously at the big-horn; and at this the ? would run off sidewise, in a semi-circle, and turn facing the bear at forty or fifty feet. This seemed his chosen distance of butting. They fought in this way eight or ten minutes; and by this time both were much blown. Foam-lakes tinged with blood dropped from the mouth of the bear; and there was blood on the rams fleece. So wrapt [wrapped] up had I grown in the battle that I quite forgot my object there. The combatants had completely changed places; the bear was out where I had first seen the buck, near the top of the cliff. Whether the big horn had any thought, or instinct, in thus circling round to get its foe in this position, it may not be easy to say. It may have had. For it seemed now to make its runs on the bear more rapidly, without giving the latter time to recover its ground. With a thrill of intense excitement, almost enthusiasm and sympathy, I divined what would follow. For now, scarcely drawing back ten yards, the big-horn dashed in its sledge-like blows hard and fast. On tiptoe I stole up nearer; and what I expected to see, happened. The bear was knocked off the rocks, and with a growl went lumbering down out of sight. I heard the loose stones falling after him. I might have shot it as it stood there, but it seemed too bad to do so. The Smithsonian may lose the specimen, thought I, but I will not be the poltroon to murder you in the hour of your well-earned triumph. But it appeared that ? would have to account for my presence there; for, suddenly turning its head, the big-horn saw me, and in an instant faced about, blew viciously, and arching its powerful neck, charged at me much as it had at the bear. But when a boy [unreadable line]. Dropping my carbine, I leaped suddenly to one side, the buck dashed by me. Turning at a little distance, it stared at me a moment, stamped its foot, then stalked majestically off among the rocks. I now looked over the cliff to see what had become of the bear. Away down, sixty or seventy feet, I could see something that looked like its gray brown hair. The next day, Jadkins? and two other of the miners made an attempt to reach the place to get the bears carcass for fresh meat but gave it up. I think there was little doubt, however, that the bear was killed. Youths Companion.