Hunting The Big Horn
Previously, I shared a piece by Texas Jack about his favorite hunting rifle, the Remington Rolling Block he called Lazy Kate. This piece, also written by Texas Jack Omohundro himself, is about using that same rifle to hunt bighorn sheep in Montana's Absaroka Range. Old Baldy, the mountain Jack summits here, is now known as Livingston Peak.
Forest & Stream (New York, New York) November 27, 1879.
The subjoined sketch, which is fresh from the pen of an experienced Black Hills hunter, vividly delineates the almost inaccessible character of the country where the mountain sheep resort, and the difficulties and hardship of their pursuit. It is the first account we have ever read from such a source; that is, coming from one who has "been thar," and writes his experiences in the mountain vernacular. That writer is "Texas Jack."
Some distance further back in the mountains we struck a rough region and came to a high peak called Old Baldy. I had never seen Baldy before, and I never want to see him again. We camped near the foot of the hill, and I proposed to climb on top and see what it looked like. None of the party seemed disposed to tackle him, so I shouldered Kate (a favorite rifle) early next morning and started up alone.
It was a long, hard climb, and when I got on top I found out what it looked like—a dead jump-off of some fifteen hundred feet! That’s just what it was on the other side. As it wouldn’t be healthy to go further in that direction I concluded to lay there and gaze on the valley and scenes below (a long way below, I found out afterwards). It wasn’t such a bad lay-out after all, provided a fellow was fond of looking over a heap of country at one time. Eventually I discovered a small band of sheep grazing by a little lake in the valley. They seemed almost straight down from where I lay, but how to get at them was something else. I meant to try it on anyway, so crawled along the edge of the precipice for a long ways, going down many rough, steep places, until I came to the lowest gap there was, and it looked mighty scaly, some eighteen or twenty feet nearly straight down; but there was snow to light on. I could get down, perhaps, but not up there again that I knew of. It was a go, anyway, so I reached Kate out clear of the rocks and let her drop. She struck, butt foremost, turned over and started down the snowbank; at first slow, but she soon went out of sight some two hundred yards away, going at the rate of about a mile a minute.
Next I came, but not to go coasting with Kate, for I struck square on my boot heels and stuck fast. It was kind of an edging job from there down. The snow was a little harder than I had counted on, and I had to stamp several times before I could get hold enough to risk taking up the other foot. It was no nice place to play sliding down the hill, all by myself, especially when I didn’t know exactly about where I was going to haul up. At last I came on to Kate. She was lodged up against some loose rock at the end of the snowbank, and no bones broke. I now hurried on, sure of a sheep, but I felt sheepish enough when I found they were at least a mile further than I had calculated, and before I reached the place they had moved camp and were asleep perhaps somewhere up in the rocks.
The next thing was to get back to where I had started from. I thought it all over, and decided to try it round the other side of old Baldy, thinking it would be a better chance to scale the ridge; but how much I was mistaken—I can’t tell you how much, just here, but it was the roughest place on earth, except one, and I don’t think anybody has ever found that one. It looked easy enough when I started in, but before I got out—wait till I tell you.
The further I went along the mountainside the worse it got, and more of it, until I came to a point where I could see neither bottom not top! I was just sticking up among the stones like something that had growed there! I had but one chance to go ahead, and that was to jump down off the rock, some ten feet. If I did that I should have no chance at all to go back. It is strange how a fellow will press forward when he gets into trouble, though he may know it will take him deeper and deeper into it.
I dropped Kate first, then swung myself down. I had but a few feet to drop, but that rolling business was what worried me the most. I struck all right. There was some earth and a small timber ahead, and I was hurrying along as fast as possible, when all of a sudden the rocks commenced rolling down all around me. Looking up, I caught sight of an old ewe’s head and neck stuck out over the rock some two hundred feet above me. Up went Kate and down came the ewe clear over my head and lodged against some fir bushes quite a distance below.
I crawled down and took off a quarter. I was pretty tired, but had rather pack meat than go hungry. I had already made some calculations on doing like a dog on a deer hunt—eat and drink nothing, and lay out that night. After a good deal of hard climbing, nearly straight up, I reached the top of the ridge, or backbone, as we call it. One step would put me on the descent either way. I sat Kate down, straddled the rock, and dropped into meditation for a moment.
It was a strange scene; the sun had long since done behind the mountain, and that peculiar yellowish green light (such, I believe, can be seen in no other part of the world) shone over the sky; that is, what I could see of it for the high peaks around. Not a sound to be heard, save the faint roar of the torrents far down in the deep dark hollows below! I looked to Kate, my only companion. Thinks I, “old girl, this ain’t no good place to be in; if I drop to sleep and tumble off this rock I shan’t wake up much before Gabriel toots his horn.”
These thoughts put me in a stir! I hastily gathered up my little outfit and struck down the mountain; I was in for it now. The further down I went, the rougher it got, more the ledges and the greater distance I had to drop from one to the other. I got kind of desperate, and hardly stopped to look for a better place—just peep over, drop Kate, (always but foremost) then the sheep, and I would follow. Darkness was gathering fast, the weather was turning cold, I was nearing the valley and hope began to brighten a little, when I came to a dead sticker. It was the last ledge! All below was loose stone that slanted away to the cañon below. I looked over—no use talking—over fifty feet in the clear; no pair of legs in America could jump down there and ever come out with a whole bone in them.
I scrambled along the ledge some distance one way’ it got worse! Tried it the other, and found but one chance, and that a mighty slim one. It was where the water had cut a narrow crevice through the main ledge. If I could only hold on, it would take me within a reasonable distance of the loose stones below. It beat no chance at all, so over went Kate, meat next, and I commenced my descent bear fashion (tail foremost, of course, the same as I do everything) holding on in any way, or to anything that was fast, as long as there was anything, and then I went about half as far as I expected and hit twice as hard as I ought to. The loose stones began to slide, and away went me, Kate, sheep, stones, and all, some twenty yards down the hill. It was quite dark now, but I managed, by feeling around, to find Kate and the sheep, and rustled off up the hollow, though the darkness and over the rocks, with a few tumbles and skinned shins.
I reached camp, that is, where camp ought to be, but it wasn’t there. Although it was very dark, I knew I was within a few steps of the right place, and there I stood, dumfounded for a moment, thinking to myself, if this is not me, who in thunder can it be? I knew I was not lost; the camp must be lost. Presently I saw a little spark, and crawling under some logs came on to a heap of smoldering embers, the only sign of human existence.
I gave the coals a kick, and a dim light glared around that made the old white logs loom up like so many ghosts. While gathering some brush forty different imaginations rattled through my brain. Indians? I thought first; somebody shot accidentally, or fell off the rocks and broke a leg; horses stampeded; everything; until I got a big light, when all was explained.
Right over the fire hung a big flask half full of the best!—with a note attached saying, “Come into the river, party started at 3 P.M.” Old Whity, my pony that was tied to a tree near by and had been quiet all this time, now began to snort and tear around as much as to say, “get that saddle and outfit on here, and let’s be off,” and you bet I did, and was off in a hurry, and didn’t forget the flask either.
Whity took a near cut, and Kate took her chances along with me, through the thick timbers, up and down the steep rocks. Which ever way we went I don’t know (as I was very busy settling up with the flask), but I do know that I was the first in to Botteler’s Ranche on the Yellow Stone River, some eighteen miles from where we had been camped.