Palm - Download the EBook Palm ReadingInformational Site Network Informational
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories

All Heroes But One

From: The Last Of The Plainsmen

As we rode up the slope of Buckskin, the sunrise glinted red-gold
through the aisles of frosted pines, giving us a hunter's glad greeting.

With all due respect to, and appreciation of, the breaks of the Siwash,
we unanimously decided that if cougars inhabited any other section of
canyon country, we preferred it, and were going to find it. We had
often speculated on the appearance of the rim wall directly across the
neck of the canyon upon which we were located. It showed a long stretch
of breaks, fissures, caves, yellow crags, crumbled ruins and clefts
green with pinyon pine. As a crow flies, it was only a mile or two
straight across from camp, but to reach it, we had to ascend the
mountain and head the canyon which deeply indented the slope.

A thousand feet or more above the level bench, the character of the
forest changed; the pines grew thicker, and interspersed among them
were silver spruces and balsams. Here in the clumps of small trees and
underbrush, we began to jump deer, and in a few moments a greater
number than I had ever seen in all my hunting experiences loped within
range of my eye. I could not look out into the forest where an aisle or
lane or glade stretched to any distance, without seeing a big gray deer
cross it. Jones said the herds had recently come up from the breaks,
where they had wintered. These deer were twice the size of the Eastern
species, and as fat as well-fed cattle. They were almost as tame, too.
A big herd ran out of one glade, leaving behind several curious does,
which watched us intently for a moment, then bounded off with the
stiff, springy bounce that so amused me.

Sounder crossed fresh trails one after another; Jude, Tige and Ranger
followed him, but hesitated often, barked and whined; Don started off
once, to come sneaking back at Jones's stern call. But surly old Moze
either would not or could not obey, and away he dashed. Bang! Jones
sent a charge of fine shot after him. He yelped, doubled up as if
stung, and returned as quickly as he had gone.

"Hyar, you white and black coon dog," said Jones, "get in behind, and
stay there."

We turned to the right after a while and got among shallow ravines.
Gigantic pines grew on the ridges and in the hollows, and everywhere
bluebells shone blue from the white frost. Why the frost did not kill
these beautiful flowers was a mystery to me. The horses could not step
without crushing them.

Before long, the ravines became so deep that we had to zigzag up and
down their sides, and to force our horses through the aspen thickets in
the hollows. Once from a ridge I saw a troop of deer, and stopped to
watch them. Twenty-seven I counted outright, but there must have been
three times that number. I saw the herd break across a glade, and
watched them until they were lost in the forest. My companions having
disappeared, I pushed on, and while working out of a wide, deep hollow,
I noticed the sunny patches fade from the bright slopes, and the golden
streaks vanish among the pines. The sky had become overcast, and the
forest was darkening. The "Waa-hoo," I cried out returned in echo only.
The wind blew hard in my face, and the pines began to bend and roar. An
immense black cloud enveloped Buckskin.

Satan had carried me no farther than the next ridge, when the forest
frowned dark as twilight, and on the wind whirled flakes of snow. Over
the next hollow, a white pall roared through the trees toward me.
Hardly had I time to get the direction of the trail, and its relation
to the trees nearby, when the storm enfolded me. Of his own accord
Satan stopped in the lee of a bushy spruce. The roar in the pines
equaled that of the cave under Niagara, and the bewildering, whirling
mass of snow was as difficult to see through as the tumbling, seething

I was confronted by the possibility of passing the night there, and
calming my fears as best I could, hastily felt for my matches and
knife. The prospect of being lost the next day in a white forest was
also appalling, but I soon reassured myself that the storm was only a
snow squall, and would not last long. Then I gave myself up to the
pleasure and beauty of it. I could only faintly discern the dim trees;
the limbs of the spruce, which partially protected me, sagged down to
my head with their burden; I had but to reach out my hand for a
snowball. Both the wind and snow seemed warm. The great flakes were
like swan feathers on a summer breeze. There was something joyous in
the whirl of snow and roar of wind. While I bent over to shake my
holster, the storm passed as suddenly as it had come. When I looked up,
there were the pines, like pillars of Parian marble, and a white
shadow, a vanishing cloud fled, with receding roar, on the wings of the
wind. Fast on this retreat burst the warm, bright sun.

I faced my course, and was delighted to see, through an opening where
the ravine cut out of the forest, the red-tipped peaks of the canyon,
and the vaulted dome I had named St. Marks. As I started, a new and
unexpected after-feature of the storm began to manifest itself. The sun
being warm, even to melt the snow, and under the trees a heavy rain
fell, and in the glades and hollows a fine mist blew. Exquisite
rainbows hung from white-tipped branches and curved over the hollows.
Glistening patches of snow fell from the pines, and broke the showers.

In a quarter of an hour, I rode out of the forest to the rim wall on
dry ground. Against the green pinyons Frank's white horse stood out
conspicuously, and near him browsed the mounts of Jim and Wallace. The
boys were not in evidence. Concluding they had gone down over the rim,
I dismounted and kicked off my chaps, and taking my rifle and camera,
hurried to look the place over.

To my surprise and interest, I found a long section of rim wall in
ruins. It lay in a great curve between the two giant capes; and many
short, sharp, projecting promontories, like the teeth of a saw,
overhung the canyon. The slopes between these points of cliff were
covered with a deep growth of pinyon, and in these places descent would
be easy. Everywhere in the corrugated wall were rents and rifts; cliffs
stood detached like islands near a shore; yellow crags rose out of
green clefts; jumble of rocks, and slides of rim wall, broken into
blocks, massed under the promontories.

The singular raggedness and wildness of the scene took hold of me, and
was not dispelled until the baying of Sounder and Don roused action in
me. Apparently the hounds were widely separated. Then I heard Jim's
yell. But it ceased when the wind lulled, and I heard it no more.
Running back from the point, I began to go down. The way was steep,
almost perpendicular; but because of the great stones and the absence
of slides, was easy. I took long strides and jumps, and slid over
rocks, and swung on pinyon branches, and covered distance like a
rolling stone. At the foot of the rim wall, or at a line where it would
have reached had it extended regularly, the slope became less
pronounced. I could stand up without holding on to a support. The
largest pinyons I had seen made a forest that almost stood on end.
These trees grew up, down, and out, and twisted in curves, and many
were two feet in thickness. During my descent, I halted at intervals to
listen, and always heard one of the hounds, sometimes several. But as I
descended for a long time, and did not get anywhere or approach the
dogs, I began to grow impatient.

A large pinyon, with a dead top, suggested a good outlook, so I climbed
it, and saw I could sweep a large section of the slope. It was a
strange thing to look down hill, over the tips of green trees. Below,
perhaps four hundred yards, was a slide open for a long way; all the
rest was green incline, with many dead branches sticking up like spars,
and an occasional crag. From this perch I heard the hounds; then
followed a yell I thought was Jim's, and after it the bellowing of
Wallace's rifle. Then all was silent. The shots had effectually checked
the yelping of the hounds. I let out a yell. Another cougar that Jones
would not lasso! All at once I heard a familiar sliding of small rocks
below me, and I watched the open slope with greedy eyes.

Not a bit surprised was I to see a cougar break out of the green, and
go tearing down the slide. In less than six seconds, I had sent six
steel-jacketed bullets after him. Puffs of dust rose closer and closer
to him as each bullet went nearer the mark and the last showered him
with gravel and turned him straight down the canyon slope.

I slid down the dead pinyon and jumped nearly twenty feet to the soft
sand below, and after putting a loaded clip in my rifle, began kangaroo
leaps down the slope. When I reached the point where the cougar had
entered the slide, I called the hounds, but they did not come nor
answer me. Notwithstanding my excitement, I appreciated the distance to
the bottom of the slope before I reached it. In my haste, I ran upon
the verge of a precipice twice as deep as the first rim wall, but one
glance down sent me shatteringly backward.

With all the breath I had left I yelled: "Waa-hoo! Waa-hoo!" From the
echoes flung at me, I imagined at first that my friends were right on
my ears. But no real answer came. The cougar had probably passed along
this second rim wall to a break, and had gone down. His trail could
easily be taken by any of the hounds. Vexed and anxious, I signaled
again and again. Once, long after the echo had gone to sleep in some
hollow canyon, I caught a faint "Wa-a-ho-o-o!" But it might have come
from the clouds. I did not hear a hound barking above me on the slope;
but suddenly, to my amazement, Sounder's deep bay rose from the abyss
below. I ran along the rim, called till I was hoarse, leaned over so
far that the blood rushed to my head, and then sat down. I concluded
this canyon hunting could bear some sustained attention and thought, as
well as frenzied action.

Examination of my position showed how impossible it was to arrive at
any clear idea of the depth or size, or condition of the canyon slopes
from the main rim wall above. The second wall--a stupendous,
yellow-faced cliff two thousand feet high--curved to my left round to a
point in front of me. The intervening canyon might have been a half
mile wide, and it might have been ten miles. I had become disgusted
with judging distance. The slope above this second wall facing me ran
up far above my head; it fairly towered, and this routed all my former
judgments, because I remembered distinctly that from the rim this
yellow and green mountain had appeared an insignificant little ridge.
But it was when I turned to gaze up behind me that I fully grasped the
immensity of the place. This wall and slope were the first two steps
down the long stairway of the Grand Canyon, and they towered over me,
straight up a half-mile in dizzy height. To think of climbing it took
my breath away.

Then again Sounder's bay floated distinctly to me, but it seemed to
come from a different point. I turned my ear to the wind, and in the
succeeding moments I was more and more baffled. One bay sounded from
below and next from far to the right; another from the left. I could
not distinguish voice from echo. The acoustic properties of the
amphitheater beneath me were too wonderful for my comprehension.

As the bay grew sharper, and correspondingly more significant, I became
distracted, and focused a strained vision on the canyon deeps. I looked
along the slope to the notch where the wall curved and followed the
base line of the yellow cliff. Quite suddenly I saw a very small black
object moving with snail-like slowness. Although it seemed impossible
for Sounder to be so small, I knew it was he. Having something now to
judge distance from, I conceived it to be a mile, without the drop. If
I could hear Sounder, he could hear me, so I yelled encouragement. The
echoes clapped back at me like so many slaps in the face. I watched the
hound until he disappeared among broken heaps of stone, and long after
that his bay floated to me.

Having rested, I essayed the discovery of some of my lost companions or
the hounds, and began to climb. Before I started, however, I was wise
enough to study the rim wall above, to familiarize myself with the
break so I would have a landmark. Like horns and spurs of gold the
pinnacles loomed up. Massed closely together, they were not unlike an
astounding pipe-organ. I had a feeling of my littleness, that I was
lost, and should devote every moment and effort to the saving of my
life. It did not seem possible I could be hunting. Though I climbed
diagonally, and rested often, my heart pumped so hard I could hear it.
A yellow crag, with a round head like an old man's cane, appealed to me
as near the place where I last heard from Jim, and toward it I labored.
Every time I glanced up, the distance seemed the same. A climb which I
decided would not take more than fifteen minutes, required an hour.

While resting at the foot of the crag, I heard more baying of hounds,
but for my life I could not tell whether the sound came from up or
down, and I commenced to feel that I did not much care. Having signaled
till I was hoarse, and receiving none but mock answers, I decided that
if my companions had not toppled over a cliff, they were wisely
withholding their breath.

Another stiff pull up the slope brought me under the rim wall, and
there I groaned, because the wall was smooth and shiny, without a
break. I plodded slowly along the base, with my rifle ready. Cougar
tracks were so numerous I got tired of looking at them, but I did not
forget that I might meet a tawny fellow or two among those narrow
passes of shattered rock, and under the thick, dark pinyons. Going on
in this way, I ran point-blank into a pile of bleached bones before a
cave. I had stumbled on the lair of a lion and from the looks of it one
like that of Old Tom. I flinched twice before I threw a stone into the
dark-mouthed cave. What impressed me as soon as I found I was in no
danger of being pawed and clawed round the gloomy spot, was the fact of
the bones being there. How did they come on a slope where a man could
hardly walk? Only one answer seemed feasible. The lion had made his
kill one thousand feet above, had pulled his quarry to the rim and
pushed it over. In view of the theory that he might have had to drag
his victim from the forest, and that very seldom two lions worked
together, the fact of the location of the bones as startling. Skulls of
wild horses and deer, antlers and countless bones, all crushed into
shapelessness, furnished indubitable proof that the carcasses had
fallen from a great height. Most remarkable of all was the skeleton of
a cougar lying across that of a horse. I believed--I could not help but
believe that the cougar had fallen with his last victim.

Not many rods beyond the lion den, the rim wall split into towers,
crags and pinnacles. I thought I had found my pipe organ, and began to
climb toward a narrow opening in the rim. But I lost it. The
extraordinarily cut-up condition of the wall made holding to one
direction impossible. Soon I realized I was lost in a labyrinth. I
tried to find my way down again, but the best I could do was to reach
the verge of a cliff, from which I could see the canyon. Then I knew
where I was, yet I did not know, so I plodded wearily back. Many a
blind cleft did I ascend in the maze of crags. I could hardly crawl
along, still I kept at it, for the place was conducive to dire
thoughts. A tower of Babel menaced me with tons of loose shale. A tower
that leaned more frightfully than the Tower of Pisa threatened to build
my tomb. Many a lighthouse-shaped crag sent down little scattering
rocks in ominous notice.

After toiling in and out of passageways under the shadows of these
strangely formed cliffs, and coming again and again to the same point,
a blind pocket, I grew desperate. I named the baffling place Deception
Pass, and then ran down a slide. I knew if I could keep my feet I could
beat the avalanche. More by good luck than management I outran the
roaring stones and landed safely. Then rounding the cliff below, I
found myself on a narrow ledge, with a wall to my left, and to the
right the tips of pinyon trees level with my feet.

Innocently and wearily I passed round a pillar-like corner of wall, to
come face to face with an old lioness and cubs. I heard the mother
snarl, and at the same time her ears went back flat, and she crouched.
The same fire of yellow eyes, the same grim snarling expression so
familiar in my mind since Old Tom had leaped at me, faced me here.

My recent vow of extermination was entirely forgotten and one frantic
spring carried me over the ledge.

Crash! I felt the brushing and scratching of branches, and saw a green
blur. I went down straddling limbs and hit the ground with a thump.
Fortunately, I landed mostly on my feet, in sand, and suffered no
serious bruise. But I was stunned, and my right arm was numb for a
moment. When I gathered myself together, instead of being grateful the
ledge had not been on the face of Point Sublime--from which I would
most assuredly have leaped--I was the angriest man ever let loose in
the Grand Canyon.

Of course the cougars were far on their way by that time, and were
telling neighbors about the brave hunter's leap for life; so I devoted
myself to further efforts to find an outlet. The niche I had jumped
into opened below, as did most of the breaks, and I worked out of it to
the base of the rim wall, and tramped a long, long mile before I
reached my own trail leading down. Resting every five steps, I climbed
and climbed. My rifle grew to weigh a ton; my feet were lead; the
camera strapped to my shoulder was the world. Soon climbing meant
trapeze work--long reach of arm, and pull of weight, high step of foot,
and spring of body. Where I had slid down with ease, I had to strain
and raise myself by sheer muscle. I wore my left glove to tatters and
threw it away to put the right one on my left hand. I thought many
times I could not make another move; I thought my lungs would burst,
but I kept on. When at last I surmounted the rim, I saw Jones, and
flopped down beside him, and lay panting, dripping, boiling, with
scorched feet, aching limbs and numb chest.

"I've been here two hours," he said, "and I knew things were happening
below; but to climb up that slide would kill me. I am not young any
more, and a steep climb like this takes a young heart. As it was I had
enough work. Look!" He called my attention to his trousers. They had
been cut to shreds, and the right trouser leg was missing from the knee
down. His shin was bloody. "Moze took a lion along the rim, and I went
after him with all my horse could do. I yelled for the boys, but they
didn't come. Right here it is easy to go down, but below, where Moze
started this lion, it was impossible to get over the rim. The lion lit
straight out of the pinyons. I lost ground because of the thick brush
and numerous trees. Then Moze doesn't bark often enough. He treed the
lion twice. I could tell by the way he opened up and bayed. The rascal
coon-dog climbed the trees and chased the lion out. That's what Moze
did! I got to an open space and saw him, and was coming up fine when he
went down over a hollow which ran into the canyon. My horse tripped and
fell, turning clear over with me before he threw me into the brush. I
tore my clothes, and got this bruise, but wasn't much hurt. My horse is
pretty lame."

I began a recital of my experience, modestly omitting the incident
where I bravely faced an old lioness. Upon consulting my watch, I found
I had been almost four hours climbing out. At that moment, Frank poked
a red face over the rim. He was in shirt sleeves, sweating freely, and
wore a frown I had never seen before. He puffed like a porpoise, and at
first could hardly speak.

"Where were--you--all?" he panted. "Say! but mebbe this hasn't been a
chase! Jim and Wallace an' me went tumblin' down after the dogs, each
one lookin' out for his perticilar dog, an' darn me if I don't believe
his lion, too. Don took one oozin' down the canyon, with me hot-footin'
it after him. An' somewhere he treed thet lion, right below me, in a
box canyon, sort of an offshoot of the second rim, an' I couldn't
locate him. I blamed near killed myself more'n once. Look at my
knuckles! Barked em slidin' about a mile down a smooth wall. I thought
once the lion had jumped Don, but soon I heard him barkin' again. All
thet time I heard Sounder, an' once I heard the pup. Jim yelled, an'
somebody was shootin'. But I couldn't find nobody, or make nobody hear
me. Thet canyon is a mighty deceivin' place. You'd never think so till
you go down. I wouldn't climb up it again for all the lions in
Buckskin. Hello, there comes Jim oozin' up."

Jim appeared just over the rim, and when he got up to us, dusty, torn
and fagged out, with Don, Tige and Ranger showing signs of collapse, we
all blurted out questions. But Jim took his time.

"Shore thet canyon is one hell of a place," he began finally. "Where
was everybody? Tige and the pup went down with me an' treed a cougar.
Yes, they did, an' I set under a pinyon holdin' the pup, while Tige
kept the cougar treed. I yelled an' yelled. After about an hour or two,
Wallace came poundin' down like a giant. It was a sure thing we'd get
the cougar; an' Wallace was takin' his picture when the blamed cat
jumped. It was embarrassin', because he wasn't polite about how he
jumped. We scattered some, an' when Wallace got his gun, the cougar was
humpin' down the slope, an' he was goin' so fast an' the pinyons was so
thick thet Wallace couldn't get a fair shot, an' missed. Tige an' the
pup was so scared by the shots they wouldn't take the trail again. I
heard some one shoot about a million times, an' shore thought the
cougar was done for. Wallace went plungin' down the slope an' I
followed. I couldn't keep up with him--he shore takes long steps--an' I
lost him. I'm reckonin' he went over the second wall. Then I made
tracks for the top. Boys, the way you can see an' hear things down in
thet canyon, an' the way you can't hear an' see things is pretty funny."

"If Wallace went over the second rim wall, will he get back to-day?" we
all asked.

"Shore, there's no tellin'."

We waited, lounged, and slept for three hours, and were beginning to
worry about our comrade when he hove in sight eastward, along the rim.
He walked like a man whose next step would be his last. When he reached
us, he fell flat, and lay breathing heavily for a while.

"Somebody once mentioned Israel Putnam's ascent of a hill," he said
slowly. "With all respect to history and a patriot, I wish to say
Putnam never saw a hill!"

"Ooze for camp," called out Frank.

Five o'clock found us round a bright fire, all casting ravenous eyes at
a smoking supper. The smell of the Persian meat would have made a wolf
of a vegetarian. I devoured four chops, and could not have been counted
in the running. Jim opened a can of maple syrup which he had been
saving for a grand occasion, and Frank went him one better with two
cans of peaches. How glorious to be hungry--to feel the craving for
food, and to be grateful for it, to realize that the best of life lies
in the daily needs of existence, and to battle for them!

Nothing could be stronger than the simple enumeration and statement of
the facts of Wallace's experience after he left Jim. He chased the
cougar, and kept it in sight, until it went over the second rim wall.
Here he dropped over a precipice twenty feet high, to alight on a
fan-shaped slide which spread toward the bottom. It began to slip and
move by jerks, and then started off steadily, with an increasing roar.
He rode an avalanche for one thousand feet. The jar loosened bowlders
from the walls. When the slide stopped, Wallace extricated his feet and
began to dodge the bowlders. He had only time to jump over the large
ones or dart to one side out of their way. He dared not run. He had to
watch them coming. One huge stone hurtled over his head and smashed a
pinyon tree below.

When these had ceased rolling, and he had passed down to the red shale,
he heard Sounder baying near, and knew a cougar had been treed or
cornered. Hurdling the stones and dead pinyons, Wallace ran a mile down
the slope, only to find he had been deceived in the direction. He
sheered off to the left. Sounder's illusive bay came up from a deep
cleft. Wallace plunged into a pinyon, climbed to the ground, skidded
down a solid slide, to come upon an impassable the obstacle in the form
of a solid wall of red granite. Sounder appeared and came to him,
evidently having given up the chase.

Wallace consumed four hours in making the ascent. In the notch of the
curve of the second rim wall, he climbed the slippery steps of a
waterfall. At one point, if he had not been six feet five inches tall
he would have been compelled to attempt retracing his trail--an
impossible task. But his height enabled him to reach a root, by which
he pulled himself up. Sounder he lassoed a la Jones, and hauled up. At
another spot, which Sounder climbed, he lassoed a pinyon above, and
walked up with his feet slipping from under him at every step. The
knees of his corduroy trousers were holes, as were the elbows of his
coat. The sole of his left boot, which he used most in climbing--was
gone, and so was his hat.

Next: Jones On Cougars

Previous: Singing Cliffs

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 528