IX

 

In riding about on the range we used to have quite a little run chasing wildcats and coyotes with dogs. We most always had from two to four dogs that followed us everywhere we went. We did not keep hounds but just some ordinary ranch dogs. In fact hounds are not satisfactory in my opinion, as other dogs, for such work as we were doing, for the reason that a hound will take a track that is too old. And he will follow it too long. You cannot leave your work to follow him up every time he takes a trail and the animal he is trailing may be several hours ahead of him. Of course he is just as likely to be following the trail of a coyote as of some animal that he could “tree”. And then, after following it perhaps all day he would not get it in the end.

 

An ordinary dog other than a hound will not pay any attention to a track unless it is but a few minutes old. And they will not follow it very long either. So, if it happens to be a coyote that they are trailing you may be sure they will soon give it up and come back to you. But a hound would probably follow it all day.

 

Our dogs used to “tree” a good many wildcats. We always made it a rule to try to find out if they treed anything, and to help them get it out of the tree, either by shooting it with a revolver, or by knocking it out of the tree with stones and letting the dogs kill it. Many an exciting time we had getting a big wildcat out of a tree, and many an exciting fight the dogs had after they had him on the ground.

 

A dog’s ability to follow a scent is something wonderful to me. Of course a hound is supposed to have that trait highly developed. But any ordinary ranch dog can surprise you along that line if he only wants to. I well remember a little experience I once had that I shall never forget. For it proved to me what a very ordinary cur could do when he tried. He was a little spotted dog, half shepherd and the other half just dog. He was hardly full grown yet, either. We were going to have a round up of horses, and take a band from down on the ranch up to my brother Charley’s place. When I left home that morning one of my dogs failed to be on hand and so was left behind. After riding all over the southern part of the ranch driving in horses, we finally got a band of some hundred head or more rounded up in the valley just north of the old ranch house. There were several of us at the job, and some of the boys “held herd”, while Charley and I did the cutting out. In doing this we would ride into the herd and drive out two or three that we wanted to separate from the others, and let a man hold them near the main herd while we went back and selected others that we wanted, and drove them out to this small bunch. In this way I went back and forth probably thirty or forty times into the big herd and out again, then back in and out again. Finally a big wild two-year-old colt broke from the herd and I had to chase him almost a quarter of a mile over into another arm of the valley and bring him back to the band. Then I went ahead with the “cutting out” as before.

 

After we had gotten probably thirty head separated we started them up the hill towards Charley’s ranch. When we had driven this bunch part way up the hill, Charley and his man said they could take them from there on home without the help of my brother Rob and me. So we rode back onto a point of the hill overlooking the ranch valley, where we had just had the horses rounded up, and had done the parting out. As we sat there on our horses, looking down into the valley, we suddenly saw my little dog (whose name was “Tray”) coming up from the west at a fast run, and evidently following my horse’s scent. Now I had been driving a band of thirty or forty head of horses, but I could see that he was following the zigzag course that my horse had taken as I drove the horses up the valley. As we were in a commanding position where the whole valley was in view of us, we decided to watch and see if the faithful little fellow could really follow my horse’s track among all the other tracks that there were to confuse him. He came on at a rapid rate, taking all the windings that my horse had made in driving the band. We watched to see what he would do when he came to where we had done the “cutting out”. We felt sure that he would become confused, and lose the track of my horse then. But after he had taken a few turns around where the herd had stood, just as I had done, he began going back and forth just as I had done in cutting out the horses. He would wind around in a zigzag way and then rush out to where the small band had been held, then back into where the herd had stood, and out again as before. After doing this back and forth act a number of times he suddenly dashed off to the west and away off over the ridge into the other arm of the valley, just as I had done when the big colt had broken away from the herd, and I had followed him away over there and brought him back. We now watched with the most eager interest, to see what the outcome would be. When he got to where I had gotten ahead of the colt, he turned back and came fairly flying to where the herd had been. Then he began going back and forth, back and forth, just as I had done for perhaps another dozen times. Then away he went up the valley towards Charley’s place, still zigzagging on my horse’s track. When he got to where we had left the other boys and turned back, he whirled about and came flying along through the bushes, and right up to my horse, where he reared up on his hind legs and placed his two front paws on my stirrup in a perfect ecstasy of delight at having found me. Of course I was so pleased with such a display of ability and also of affection on the part of my little friend that I dismounted and fairly took him in my arms. His poor little sides were fairly throbbing he was so tired from his long run. And of course he was panting at a terrible rate. But how could he have done it? Track one horse through all sorts of windings among a hundred others? It is too much for me. I simply would not have thought it possible.

 

The faithfulness of a dog is another thing that is hard to explain. It doesn’t seem to make much difference who his master is – his dog will be faithful to the end.

 

The last six or eight years that I put in riding after stock, I had two dogs that followed me everywhere I went. Riding hard, over all sorts of country, anyone must know that he might, at any time, be badly hurt by his horse falling with him. And being hurt badly out in the hills far from help might be a very serious affair. I never worried any about the danger of an accident, but I knew of course that there was always a possibility, as well as a probability, of such a thing occurring. And it was always a comfort to feel sure that my two faithful dogs would stay by me until they died of starvation if necessary.

 

A Dog

I’ve never known a dog to wag

His tail in glee he didn’t feel,

Nor quit his old-time friend to tag

At some more influential heel.

The yellowest cur I ever knew

Was, to the man that loved him, true.

I’ve never known a dog to show

Halfway devotion to his friend,

To seek a kinder man to know,

Or richer, but unto the end

The humblest dog I ever knew

Was, to the man that loved him, true.

I’ve never known a dog to fake

Affection for a present gain,

A false display of love to make

Some little favor to attain.

 

I’ve never known a Prince of Spot

That seemed to be what he was not.

But I have known a dog to fight

With all his strength to shield a friend,

And whether wrong or whether right

To stick with him until the end.

And I have know a dog to lick

The hand of him that men would kick.

And I have known a dog to bear

Starvation’s pangs from day to day

With him who had been glad to share

His bread and meat along the way.

No dog, however mean or rude,

Is guilty of ingratitude.

The dog is listed with the dumb.

No voice has he to speak his creed,

His messages to human come

By faithful conduct and by deed.

He shows, as seldom mortals do

A high ideal of being true.

(From American Field)

 

It is next to impossible to get along on a ranch without dogs. I have know a number of people to try it, but the wild animals, such as coyotes and wildcats, will annoy them so much by killing chickens pigs, etc., etc., that they will in the end have to keep dogs. For my part I would not live on a ranch without a dog anyway. Many a dark stormy night I have lain in a warm bed and heard my faithful dogs charging out into the storm and cold to drive some intruder away. Why did they do it? They gained nothing by going out into the cold and storm. Then why did they not stay under shelter, and let the coyote or whatever it was raid the chicken roost or pig pen? I knew very well why they did it. It was because they knew if they lay in a snug and warm place and let the wild animal carry something away, they would not be acting faithfully by their master. But there are few men who would be that faithful.

And there are some people whom dogs mistrust. Whenever such a person comes about, and an old house dog, who is ordinarily friendly to everybody, growls a little, you can depend upon it that fellow will bear watching. A dog knows by some animal instinct when a person is not to be trusted.

 

I was once talking with an old friend along this line. When I said that a dog knew, by some instinct, when a man could not be trusted, my old friend said, “You bet a dog knows when a man is not to be trusted.” He then went on to tell me of a brother-in-law of his at whom his old dog always growled. He said he had heard people say that a man at whom a dog would growl could not be trusted, but, said he, I thought the old dog was mistaken in this case.” But said he, “I later found that I had never really gotten acquainted with that brother-in-law of mine. And when I did I found that the old dog had sized him up about right.”

 

A dog will also recognize worth in a man that people might consider entirely worthless –

“And I have known a dog to lick

The hand of him that men would kick.”

 

The coyote is a much-abused creature. I have hunted him all my life, and have killed a great many of his tribe. I don’t suppose there is one person in a dozen who ever missed a chance of killing a coyote. And yet, of late year, I have come to believe that he has probably done less harm to the ranchers than he has done good. He is a terror to the poultryman. And those who raise sheep or pigs lose considerable from his depredations. But few stop to think of the good he does. I have noticed since as far back as I was big enough to notice things closely, that whenever coyotes were numerous rabbits and squirrels were far less numerous. And whenever rabbits were very plentiful you would see very few coyotes.

In other words we know that the coyotes live almost entirely on rabbits and squirrels. And whenever there are a good many coyotes there will be a far less number of rabbits. Some seasons we remember when rabbits were so very numerous that the whole country seemed to be overrun with them. On such a season if you took notice you saw very few coyotes. But whenever rabbits become very plentiful and commence destroying crops and gardens, etc., etc., the next thing you will notice that coyotes are getting much more numerous and then the rabbits will disappear very quickly. “Where the carrion is there will the eagles gather”, is a saying that was written many centuries ago. And it is very true, as we all know. It is also true that where anything that coyotes feed on are plentiful, there will the coyotes gather. They seem to flock into a certain part of the country when there is something to attract them, and to emigrate to some other place when food is scarce.

 

Did you ever stop to think how rapidly rabbits increase? A female rabbit will bring forth from four to six young at a time, and will raise two or three litters in a year’s time. The female members of these litters will be bringing forth young themselves before they are a year old. So, if you want to do some figuring you can easily and surely arrive at the conclusion that if there was nothing to destroy them they would in a very few years overrun the whole country in such countless millions that they would eat up every green thing. The common ground squirrels multiply about as fast as rabbits do, so between them both we would have very little chance, if nature had not provided some way of keeping the increase down. Scientists tell us that every insect pest as well as other pest has some natural enemy. And whenever a pest of any kind becomes a menace if we can find its natural enemy, and put the two together, things will be balanced up. The All wise Creator evidently attended to these things away back in the beginning.

 

I have no doubt too that the coyote has its natural enemies (probably man is his worst) or he would become so numerous that he would overrun everything. And while as I said I have killed many of them for bothering our sheep, pigs, or chickens, and shall expect other farmers and stockmen to do the same, I am perfectly sure that if the coyote were entirely exterminated, we might have even worse enemies. Some time back I came across a little poem written by a man who seemed to have the same ideas on this much-despised animal that I have. I will give it to you here, as I think it fits the case exactly.

 

To the Coyote

By Fran N. Linderman

I used to hate ye once, but now

I’ve weakened some, and wonder how

Ye live on airth that’s ditched an’ fenced.

An’ lately, somehow, I’ve commenced

To like ye.

I uster thin ye devil’s spawn

But, dang it, all my hate is gone.

I watch ye prowl an’win yer bets

Agin the traps a nester sets

To ketch ye.

Once I practiced onery traits,

An’ tempted ye with p’isoned baits:

 

But if ye’d trust me, an’ forgit,

I’d make the play all even yet,

An’ feed ye.

It took a time for me to see

What’s gittin’ you has landed me:

Yer tribe, like min, is getting’ few—

So let’s fergit: an’here’s to you

Ol’ timer

If I could, I’d turn the days

Back to wilder border ways:

Then we’d make our treaty strong,

An’ try our best to git along,

Dog-gone ye.

 

The Indians, and many of the Mexicans, consider the coyote a very wise animal though they speak of him as we would of one who was rather cunning then wise. They consider him far too smart to be deceived by what would easily deceive other animals. “No hay otro animal que tiene buen cabeze comco el coyote.” (No other animal has so good a head as the coyote.) This is a very common expression among both Indians and Mexicans. I remember well hearing a little old Mexican talking along this line. He told us how it was utterly useless to deceive a coyote. “Had not Mr. Smith, who used to own the San Dieguito Ranch, tried it, and failed?” “Mr. Smith had placed two pieces of meat in the road on the hill in plain sight from his house. One piece had poison in it, and the other had none. He sat on his porch and watched a coyote coming along to the spot where the meat lay. The coyote smelled of both pieces, then walked over and ate the piece in which there was no poison, and trotted on. “Mira! Que cabeze, hombre.” (See, such a head, man!) The Spanish people frequently speak of a man as “Un Hombre muy coyote.” From which you would understand that he was a man who was very shrewd in looking after his own interests. So, while they consider the coyote as very smart, it is a sort of cunning smartness.

 

The great Horned Owl is looked upon by the Indians as a very wise bird. In fact they have a superstitious belief that the owl contains the departed spirit of some wise old Indian. But the wisdom of the owl is considered to be for good ends, and not for cunning, like the coyote.

I have heard Uncle Robert take advantage of this superstition among the Indians, but he always used it for their good. Sometimes he would be talking with an Indian and would suddenly accuse him of having been connected with some affair that was not at all creditable. Uncle had probably gotten his information from some other Indian, and he would always make the accusation as if there were no question as to the truth of it. The Indian would probably deny it at first, but when told by Uncle Robert that there was absolutely no question of his guilt, would say, “But how did you find me out, Patron?” “El tecolote me cuenata.” Would be the answer Uncle would give him (The Owl told me). And the poor, superstitious Indian would at once confess. For what was the use of lying to one who got his information from the “Tecolote”?

 

The Bear was another animal that was considered to have more than ordinary intelligence. And some of the stories told by the old-time vaqueros were very interesting. A great sport in the early days of California was to lasso the grizzly bear, and bring him in alive. Then they would spread the news far and wide that there would be a great fight, on a certain day, between, a wild bull or steer, and the captive grizzly. I am well aware that there are many men who question the statements that full-grown grizzlies were brought in alive in this way. But those who question their having done so are men who did not know the ability of the “old-time California vaqueros”. I have heard men who were absolutely reliable tell of helping to lasso and bring in some of as-big bears as ever ran the mountains of California. And I do not doubt their having done so.

 

When one man alone would bring in the biggest and wildest steer what show would a bear have with four or five such men? Of course I have read Ernest Thomson Seton’s story of “Monarch the Big Bear”, and of how he dragged all the cowboy’s horses away with him, and a lot more such stuff. But that fits in very well with the rest of his story, which is very nicely written. However, I want to say right here, that if four or five old California vaqueros had been there that day “Monarch the Big Bear” would have come back. And he would have come back without it making any difference whether he wanted to or not. They simply would not have consulted him as to what his wishes were in the matter.

When I was a boy I have sat for hours and heard some of the old-timers tell of lassoing bears. Some of them who did not claim to have taken part in such adventures could name no end of other men who had. And if a man, or even a horse, had been killed on any one of these occasions, why, that would be talked of for two generations at least. As a matter of course, many of those who could tell the biggest stories of bringing in bears alive, or of seeing them brought in, were not truthful. And some of the stories they would tell were amusing from their very ridiculousness. Many of the poor ignorant old fellows thoroughly and firmly believed that a grizzly bear could sit up on his haunches, and take hold of the riata with his paws and pull horse and rider right up to him. When you lassoed a bear you must always have a sharp knife ready at your belt to cut the riata in case it got foul on the horn of the saddle, and the bear started pulling you up to him hand over hand. There was no use telling them that a bear could not take hold of a rope with his paws in that way. “Had not their father told them of seeing, with his own eves, a man dragged up to a bear in this way, and killed?”

 

One old fellow, “Don Casildo” used to tell us of how they used to grease half the riata (The half next to the Honda or loop end) and leave the other, or half next to the point, dry, or free from grease. By doing that they would out wit the bear. For they could hold the dry end of the riata very easily. But if the bear attempted to sit up on his haunches and pull their horse up to him, the riata being so greasy, would slip through his paws, and they were in no danger.

 

“Pero el Oso es un animal muy valiente.”

While speaking of bears, I must relate a story that Old Qurino used to tell, of how the bears had regular places in the timber where they held regular country dances, just as people do. He had not seen this himself, but an old friend of his, “Don Francisco” had told him all about it and he could vouch for the truth of it all.

 

“Don Francisco” had, in early days, been the Majordomo on a big cattle ranch up in the central part of California. He and one of his old vaqueros were once riding after cattle in the mountains where there were a great many bears. The old vaquero that was with him was much more familiar with these mountains then was “Don Francisco”. Finally they came to some large oak trees, with wide spreading branches, and “Don Francisco” was very much surprised to see that the ground under these oaks was swept perfectly clean. Having never seen anything like it before, he asked the old vaquero that was riding with him what it meat. “Why, Don Francisco, that is where the bears dance at night” said the vaquero. Don Francisco however was skeptical. He said, “Esta ponendo mentiras”. (You are telling me lies.) The vaquero then said, “If you do not believe me I will convince you. We will wait here until after sunset, and you will see for yourself.” So they rode away back from the spot and tied their horses. Then they crept back and hid themselves on the side of the mountain, where they had a good view of the spot under the oaks that was swept so clean.

 

They lay quietly in hiding there. After the sun had set, and twilight was coming on, an old grey-headed bear was seen coming down out of the hills to this spot where the dance was to take place. He sat himself down with his back against the big tree. “Es el musicaro” (That is the musician) said the vaquero. Then they noticed many other bears coming down to the spot in couples. They came in from all directions but always in couples. Presently there were some thirty or forty of them gathered there under the oaks. Then the old grey-headed “musicaro” sat up straight against the big tree, and commenced to sing, “Hoo-ha! Ho! ho! Ho! ho!” and each bear selected a partner and they stood up on their hind legs, with their arms around each other, and danced waltzes, polkas, and quadrilles, just as people do. “Ahora, que dice, Don Francisco?” (Now what do you say, Don Francisco?) Could anything require more proof then this?

 

Another old vaquero who sat there listening to the story, immediately declared that in his opinion Qurino’s story was not true. He said he had no doubt but that bears danced, but they did not dance so much after the manner of human beings as this story would indicate. He said he had frequently heard some of the “old timers” tell of seeing a number of bears collect under a large tree, with low spreading branches. And when the dance was ready to begin, each bear reached up and took hold of one of the long swaying branches with his paws and they all sprang up and down, in perfect time, as the musician sang his Ho--ho-- ho-- ho-- ho-- ho-- ho—just as if they had each had hold of a spring pole. He could readily believe that bears danced in this way but of Qurino’s story he had some doubt.

Qurino, however, assured us there was absolutely no question of the truthfulness of the man who had given him this account.

 

There was another old character whose name was “Manuel Durazno” but who went by the name of “Panza Leche” (Milk Belly) from the fact of his having nearly killed himself once trying to drink more milk than anyone else in the camp could.

 

“Panza Leche” (who was a cook) said he was once cooking for some cattlemen up on what is now called Palomar Mt. It was then called “Smith’s Mountain” – from the fact that a man named Smith had a ranch on the top of it, where he raised cattle and hogs.

 

These cattlemen that he was with had taken their cattle up onto the mountain to try to carry them through a very dry season, when the grass was very short on the Coast Country. It was the very dry season of 1864. He said there were many bears in the mountains at that time. And while he was up there that summer they were causing this Mr. Smith a lot of trouble by killing his cattle.

As a means of preventing further loss Mr. Smith finally had a large and very strong corral built and had his cattle all driven into it every evening, in hopes that the bears would not bother them while they were thus protected by the strong fence.

 

But to his great disgust he found the corral no protection at all. In fact it made matters much worse, for the bears made a regular circus ring of it. Two or three of them would climb over the fence into the corral and each would seize a cow by the tail, wrap it around his hand, and standing up on their hind legs, chase the cows around and around the enclosure like boys playing horse with one another. And all the time they would be thus chasing the poor cows, the bears would be making a clucking noise with their mouths, like men driving horses. When the cow became tired and refused to play horse any longer, the bear lost his patience and with one blow of his big paw on the side of her head, scattered her brains all over the ground. Then he caught another and went through a like performance with her until he was himself tired out. Then, after they had all eaten their fill of the dead cattle that now lay about the corral, the bears climbed out over the fence and went their way back into the woods.

 

But according to “Panza Leche” there was one big grizzly who was the “capitan” of all the bears on the mountain. He was probably as big a grizzly as ever grizzled. And Mr. Smith offered four of the biggest and fattest steers from his herd for this old fellow “dead or alive”. That, according to Panza Leche, soon ended his career; for the next day after this offer was announced, four of the best vaqueros then working for the cattleman for who he was doing the cooking, started out to get that reward. They knew that this monarch of the bear family spent his days hidden in a big tule swamp in one of the damp valleys on the mountain. Whenever he had been scared out of this swamp he would run up a certain smooth green swale to the heavy timber, where he was safe from pursuit. So, two of the vaqueros posted themselves on that edge of the tules, and the other two coming into the swamp from the opposite side, soon started him from his hiding place.

 

As soon as he was well out of the swamp these two “Buenos vaqueros” closed in on him, and it was not two seconds from the time the first “riata delgada” was around his throat until the other man put his on in like manner and the big bear was strung out between the two horsemen. Then, with one horse back on his haunches on the left, and the other in like position on the right, “what chance did the bear have?” In less than fifteen minutes he was choked to death.

 

Then they removed their riatas from the carcass and rode up to claim the reward. Mr. Smith when told that they had finished the career of the old cattle slayer, could not believe it possible. “Come with us”, they told him, “and we will convince you that what we say is true.” So he mounted his horse and they took him to where the dead monarch lay.

 

Mr. Smith was so pleased that he said they had more than earned the promised reward. He not only presented them with four of the largest and fattest steers from his herd, but he had another of the largest and finest slain and the next day it was barbecued in the finest style, and all the vaqueros from the surrounding country with all their friends and relatives were invited to the grandest fiesta that was ever held in the mountains.

 

Now these stories told by “Old Quirno” and Old Panza Leche” I have related more to show the reader that some of these ignorant old fellows could tell an interesting story, even if there was not a word of truth in it, than for any other reason.

 

Neither of these Mexicans could read or write a single word. All the knowledge they had was from things they had actually seen or from what someone else had told them. Most of their friends and acquaintances were equally as ignorant as they themselves. And when several of these old fellows got together around a campfire and the cigarette smoke had begun to soothe over the rough places in their memories, then they could tell some quite interesting stories. Some people will call them liars of the first magnitude. But would not such men, if they had had educational advantages, have made good fiction writers? Their stories are no worse than what the majority of our educated people read every day under the heading of fiction.

 

As far as “Panza Leche’s” story of the vaqueros lassoing the bear there was nothing impossible or improbable about that. It had been done many many times as testified to by some of as reliable men as ever lived in California, or in any other state. But his account of the bears playing horse with the cattle in the corral is where he spreads on the romance.

 

While I am discussing this matter of the California vaqueros lassoing bears, I call to mind an account of an adventure of this kind given me by Don Juan Ortega. He was for many years a resident of San Diego County, and lived only a few miles from where the writer was raised. I have introduced him to my readers in an early chapter where I described his bringing in a beef steer for my father when I was a small boy.

 

Juan Ortega was known as one of the best vaqueros in the southern part of California, and I doubt very much if there were many better ones in any part of this great state. I think I have before stated that in my opinion the native Spanish Californians were the best all around vaqueros that the world had ever produced. He was a man who never boasted of his ability. He did not need to. All those old timers who knew him knew that among good vaqueros, Juan Ortega was as good as they made them. He was born in 1842, in Ventura County I think. So he was six years of age when California came under the American flag.

 

Cattle raising in those days was the only real industry in this state. They were killed by the thousand for their hides and William Heath Davis, in his book called “Sixty Years in California” gives a good description of how this slaughtering was done. He says that they usually rounded up a band of cattle in some chosen place and selected about fifty head for the matanza. These were lassoed by the vaqueros and butchered. The skins were hung over poles or ropes to dry. But little of the meat was used; practically all of it being left for the wild animals, buzzards and vultures to devour.

 

Heath Davis also tells us that bears were very plentiful in those days and that they would come in great numbers at night to where one of these matanzas had been held during the day, to feast on the carcasses of the dead cattle. He says these old rancheros used to consider it sport for kings to go out on moonlight nights, mounted on their best horses, to where they held a matanza and lasso bears that had come down from the hills for a feast on fresh beef.

 

One ranchero who had a big ranch near San Francisco Bay told him that in one night he and his vaqueros had lassoed and slain forty bears.

 

But to get back to my story about the adventure of Juan Ortega. He said he and his brother rode out early one morning to where they had seen a dead cow that had been killed by a bear the day before. They thought that by getting there early they might find the bear at breakfast. They had their riatas ready, and were mounted on two of their very best horses. Keeping a small rise of ground between them and the carcass until they were quite near it, they rode suddenly up over this rise and there, eating at the carcass was not one, but two big grizzlies. They made a dash in and each lassoed a bear. Juan said he got his bear by the neck and the old fellow as soon as he found he was caught began snarling and growling in an awful manner. He reined his horse back, keeping the riata tight as a fiddle string, and in a very short time had the bear choked down. By keeping a steady pull, it was not long until he had choked him to death. As soon as he was sure the bear was dead, he rode up and removed the riata from him and went to the aid of his brother. The brother had made a bad throw and gotten his bear by the neck and one front leg through the loop. With that hold he could not choke him and the bear was giving him a terrible tussle.

 

Juan said, “As soon as I got to him I lassoed him around the neck and by my brother pulling one way and me pulling the other, we soon choked the bear to death.” He said he thought either of those bears would weigh at least a thousand pounds and perhaps twelve hundred. This took place in early days in Ventura County. Most anyone would think that they would have been satisfied with getting one bear. And they certainly were taking a long chance in lassoing the two. But those two brothers were men among men when it came to doing that sort of work. Juan Ortega is still living. He now makes his home in Santa Ana, Orange County.

 

It used to be quite the proper thing in the early days of California for those old vaqueros to bring a bear into town alive. To do that a number of men would go out and lasso him. They might have at least five or six riatas on him. But two of them would get him by the neck and one front leg. Then they would take a dry bullock hide, cut two holes in it up near the neck end while the other men held the bear strung out between them. The two who had him by the neck and one front leg would pull the points of the two riatas through the holes in the dry hide and work the hide down as near to him as they safely could. Then, as these two men dragged the bear ahead, the hide would slip back on the riatas and they would soon have him on the hide, and could drag him along as if he were on a sled.

Having several times in this narrative expressed the opinion that the Spanish Californians excelled all others as vaqueros, I would explain here that I would not have my readers confuse the term “Spanish Californians” with Mexicans.

 

Before this country became part of the United States the people living in what was then known as Alta California considered themselves quite distinct from those living in Baja California and Mexico proper. Many of the leading families of Alta California were direct descendants of the early Spanish explorers and were a fine race of people. Some of them had of course, intermarried with Mexicans, and there was doubtless some Indian blood mixed in where it was never intended. But there were also a large number of Spanish people perhaps more especially among the Spanish women, who had married Americans or Englishmen.

 

So taking all things into consideration, many of the best Spanish families of California have up to the present time maintained themselves as a fine race of people. Of course, many of their ways are not our ways but neither are our ways their ways. They have as good right to their ways of living as we have to ours. They are a pleasure loving people as all the Latin races are and as a result many of them have little left to live on when they become old. Where old age finds any of them in poverty it is usually because of their extreme hospitality.

 

Most of them live up to the admonition that if “you have two coats and your neighbor has none” you are to give him one of yours. Most any of the old families who were well to do themselves expected to have to look after a number of their friends who were not so fortunate.

 

There is another matter that I wish to touch on in justice to these people. It seems to be the general opinion of a great majority of eastern people and Europeans generally that the Spanish Californians were a treacherous cowardly race and that one of their class could equal a half dozen of them in an encounter. Now there never was a greater mistake than this. The Spanish people of California and the average Mexican too, are as brave and as fearless in danger as any average person. If anyone doubts what I say, let him start in to run over or trample on the rights of one of them and he will soon have cause to change his opinion. I have lived among Spanish and Mexican people all my life and have seen many, many instances of great bravery displayed by them.

 

Most of those who sneer at these people will say “Look at the record they made at the time of the war with Mexico, back in the late eighteen-forties. Were they not driven back every time the American troops came in contact with them?” We must admit they were. But what was their army but a mere rabble? With arms (where they had any) that were at least a half century behind the time. Mostly they were armed with sharpened sticks that they called “lances”. A half starved and ragged band; officered by a miserable band of political grafters who were so utterly unprincipled that they were afraid of their own men in many instances.

 

In a corrupt government the most contemptible always get in command. What army ever accomplished anything without a good leader? Was it not said many centuries ago that “an army of asses commanded by a lion will overthrow an army of lions commanded by an ass.” No truer saying was ever uttered. But in the Mexican War we sent an army of lions commanded by a lion and they met a half starved army of lions commanded by an ass.

 

Most of us know that the Latin races in general are a vindictive lot. If anyone insults them or does them an injury they will try very hard to get even with him. And as their memories are good when it comes to remembering grudges or injuries, they usually succeed in getting good and even with anyone whom they think has done them an injury.

 

The Indians of Southern California were also very much on the same order. That is, if anyone abused them or tried in any way to injure them, he was very apt to find before long that they had gotten back at him in some way. Perhaps he would find that his horses had been stolen. Or some other deviltry had been done. They would surely get even if any opportunity was offered. Where both horses and cattle ran at large they could be easily driven off.

 

With our family it was always a rule to treat all these people as fairly and honestly as if they had been of our own race. And though we raised horses in large numbers during forty years that we were in the stock business in San Diego County we never had a single one stolen from us. We had a few cattle killed and part of the meat carried away (probably by some poor wretch whose family was half starved) and there may have been some cattle taken that we never knew of. For it is impossible to keep track of them all. But with the horse stock we kept track of all of them though we frequently had as many as two hundred and fifty head on the ranch. We know we never had a single one stolen.

 

I could name many other settlers in this county who had horses stolen from them. It was not at all uncommon to hear of horses being stolen right out of stables or corrals. Of course the horse stealing was not done by any one class or race of people. There are lawless and unprincipled people among all groups. We see proof of that in the many crimes of all sorts that are committed all about us these days. I would be very proud of the fact if I could truthfully say that the American race was less prone to commit crimes than any other. For one always likes to believe the best of his own race. But alas! When we look over the news of the day and read the vast number of crimes of all kinds that are recorded, we have to confess that they are pretty evenly divided among all races.

 

While speaking of the old Spanish vaqueros, there are a few other traits of character among them that I would like to speak of before I close. One thing I have noticed especially was with what confidence they trusted each other when working with stock. For instance, if one of them had a wild and vicious cow or steer lassoed and was holding it with his horse and it became necessary for the other man to dismount in order to do any part of the work that he could not do from his horse, he would do so with apparently no fear of the other man letting the cow or steer gore or horn him. I have seen this test made a great many times and several times my hair has fairly stood on end in fear of seeing a man on foot horned. But the fellow who was taking all the risk seemed to have no fear but trusted implicitly in his partner’s ability to hold the vicious brute even when it was lunging and plunging at him and a gain of a foot or two would mean his death. One instance of this kind I recall that impressed me very strongly. It happened in the summer of 1896. I was in charge of a herd of some three hundred and fifty head of cattle that we had driven up into the swamp near the mouth of the Santa Ana River in Orange County to carry them through the dry year.

 

At that time there were hundreds of acres of willows from ten to thirty feet high in that swamp country. And it was almost impossible to ride through them. In taking our cattle into the swamp we had to drive them for several miles on a road cut through one of those willow thickets and this road was only just wide enough for a wagon to pass through. While passing through this part of the road we lost a cow and two young bulls. After we had gotten our cattle settled in the pasture to which we were taking them, I took a ride back and found those that had been missing. As they were wild, I did not at that time try to bring them down to the pasture for I knew they would scatter in the willows and I might lose track of them altogether.

 

Don Marcos Forster had a herd of seven or eight hundred head of cattle in a pasture adjoining ours on the west, and his cattle were in charge of Garibaldo Carrillo. Carrillo and I helped each other in any way we could and when I told him of the strays up in the willows he agreed to come up and help me get them down to our pasture. Some days after this, Johnnie Forster, (a son of Don Marcos) came over to Carrillo’s camp to stay for a day or two. While he was there he and Carrillo came up one morning to help me get the strays.

 

We rode up to where I had last seen them and soon had the strays located. One of the bulls was with another man’s cattle and he said I might leave him in his pasture as long as I wished. So we decided the best way to take the other two would be to neck them together to prevent their separating and then try to get them through the willow thicket.

 

Johnnie Forster (who went by the nickname of Chico) lassoed the cow and getting a turn around a small willow, hauled her up to it. I followed the bull around among the thick willows for a short time and finally got him out into a small clear space where I lassoed him and brought him up near to where Carrillo and Johnnie had the cow. While Johnnie held the cow up pretty snugly to the tree, Carrillo dismounted and started to fasten a rope around her horns, by means of which he intended to neck the bull and her together. As soon as Carrillo came near her on foot the cow was on the fight and she bellowed and lunged at him in a perfect fury. He was standing right at her head and tying the rope around her horns, when she made an awful lunge at him and finally got him back against a heavy clump of willows through which ran an old wire fence, so that he could not have retreated an inch farther. The cow was lunging at him in a perfect fury and her sharp horns were not missing his stomach more than eight or ten inches. I expected to see him try to beat a retreat, but he kept right on tying the rope about her horns and at the same time telling Johnnie in a loud voice, “No la aflojax ningun dedo Chico!” (Do not give her a finger’s length, Chico!) All that kept her from horning him was the fact that Johnnie did not “afloja ningun dedo.” Now I call that having confidence in your partner. Well, we finally got them necked together and with one horseman ahead with a riata on them and another behind to hold them back, we got them down through the willows and turned loose with the main herd.

 

That same summer while I was staying up there looking after the cattle, I went up to Santa Ana one day on some errand. While there I met Don Marcos Forster, and he told me his vaqueros were bringing a band of seven hundred head of cattle from the Rincon, (which place is on the Santa Ana River below Corona) and were going to take them down to Las Bolsas to the pasture where Carrillo was tending another band (of which I have spoken before). He asked me if I would tell Carrillo to come up the following day and meet the herd somewhere on the San Joaquin Ranch and show them the way to the Las Bolsas pasture. I agreed to do so. The same evening I rode down to his camp and told Carrillo what Don Marcos had said. He asked me if I could come down and camp with him that night and we would take a very early start the following morning, and thus meet the men with the cattle well back on the San Joaquin Ranch. So I went back to my boarding place and told them of our plans and then went down to Carrillo’s camp again. The next morning he called me at two o’clock and while he cooked breakfast I went out and saddled the two horses we were to ride. Then when we had eaten we hurried out and mounted our horses and were off before three o’clock. It was a cool, pleasant morning in the early fall. At that hour in the morning it would have been still quite dark had it not been for the fact that a bright moon was shining.

 

We were mounted on two of Don Marcos Forster’s saddle horses. As soon as we had gotten through the water and tules near the camp and had gotten to where the ground under our horses was reasonably firm, Carrillo who led the way struck into a brisk gallop. It was several miles across the damp sod ground of the swamp country, but we were following a track where wagons had gone so we rode side and side. When we got to the east side of the valley we had to ascend quite a hill to get up onto the mesa. We had ridden at a long swinging lope all the way across the valley or swamp. When we came to the foothills at the east side I looked for Carrillo to slow down but he kept the same gait all the way up the quite steep slope leading onto the mesa, which we reached a little west of the small town of Fairview.

 

From there we had level or slightly descending ground to the valley of the San Joaquin Ranch. Still we rode at a lope. I kept thinking that we should be slowing up and giving our horses a chance to get their breath (though they were not puffing or breathing hard in the least although we had now come at a lope for at least seven or eight miles.) Finally I said, “Carrillo, we had better slow up for a spell and give these horses a breathing spell.” He seemed surprised at my concern for the horses and said, “No! These horses are not tired at all. They will go at this gait all the way to San Juan if necessary, and not be tired when they get there either. (From Las Bolsas to San Juan was between twenty and twenty-five miles). I said no more about slowing up and we kept the same gait clear across the valley of the San Joaquin Ranch and met the vaqueros with the cattle away up near the hills on the east side.

 

I don’t know what the distance was that we rode that morning, but it must have been at least fourteen or fifteen miles. And every foot of that distance we rode at a fast lope.

 

Don Marcos Forster had for many years been breeding good horses and large numbers of them. At that time he had a splendid lot of well broken saddle horses and also many splendid driving teams.

I was much amused that day as we drove the cattle on towards the coast, at the arguments between Johnnie Forster (who was in charge of the drive) and one of his old vaqueros. This old fellow, who had grown grey in the employ of Don Marcos, was very impatient and wanted to keep the herd moving all the time. He kept telling Johnnie that unless we did keep them on the move we would not reach Las Bolsas that evening. I had some doubts myself of our getting to our destination that day. But Johnnie, very wisely, kept letting the herd stop every hour or so, to rest and feed. And every time he would stop the herd he would in a good natured way call to this old fellow and ask him what he thought of our chances of finishing the drive by night. During all the forenoon whenever he asked the question he always received the same answer. “No! No puedo llegar in este modo, Patron. Esta’ muy lejos de aqui a Las Bolsas.” (No! We cannot reach there in this manner, Patron. It is a great distance to Las Bolsas.) But later in the day when it began to look as if we would make it through, the old fellow had little to say. Finally, as we were allowing the herd to rest and feed, when it was well past midday and our drive was considerably more than two thirds done, Johnnie called across to the old chap to ask him if he thought by now that we would reach Las Bolsas that evening. His answer was, as he gazed off into the distance, “Parado no.” (Standing still, no!) I don’t think I ever heard a more expressive answer to a question.

 

We did however reach Las Bolsas that evening by sunset.