Sep 1, 2014

Theodore Roosevelt: Hunter and Outdoorsman

Theodore Roosevelt was a dynamic person, whether he was a colonel leading the Rough Riders, a hunter and adventurer, or the President of the United States. The following is taken from the Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt, an excerpt where he is found to be deserted by his mountain guide, but continues the hunt regardless …
...the only narrow escape I met with was not from one of these dangerous African animals, but from a grizzly bear. It was about twenty-four years ago. I had wounded the bear just at sunset, in a wood of lodge-pole pines, and, following him, I wounded him again, as he stood on the other side of a thicket. He then charged through the brush, coming with such speed and with such an irregular gait that, try as I would, I was not able to get the sight of the rifle on the brain-pan, though I hit him very hard with both the remaining barrels of my magazine Winchester.
It was in the days of black powder, and the smoke hung. After my last shot, the first thing I saw was the bear's left paw as he struck at me, so close that I made a quick movement to one side. He was, however, practically already dead, and after another jump, and while in the very act of trying to turn to come at me, he collapsed like a shot rabbit.
By the way, I had a most exasperating time trying to bring in his skin. I was alone, traveling on foot with one very docile little mountain mare for a pack pony. The little mare cared nothing for bears or anything else, so there was no difficulty in packing her. But the man without experience can hardly realize the work it was to get that bearskin off the carcass and then to pack it, wet, slippery, and heavy, so that it would ride evenly on the pony.
I was at the time fairly well versed in packing with a “diamond hitch”. The standby of Rocky Mountain packers in my day, but the diamond hitch is a two-man job, and even working with a “squaw hitch”, I got into endless trouble with that wet and slippery bearskin. With infinite labor I would get the skin on the pony and run the ropes over it until to all seeming it was fastened properly. Then off we would start, and after going about a hundred yards I would notice he hide beginning to bulge through between the ropes. I would shift one of them, and then the hide would bulge somewhere else. I would shift the rope again, and still the hide would flow slowly out as if it was lava.
The first thing I knew it would come don one one side, and the little mare, with her feet planted resolutely, would wait for me to perform my part by getting that bearskin back in its proper place on the McClellan saddle which I was using as a makeshift pack saddle.
The fear of killing the bear the previous day sank into nothing compared with the fear of making the bearskin ride properly as a pack on the following three days.
The reason why I was alone in the mountains on this occasion was because for the only time in all my experience, I had difficulty with my guide. He was a crippled old mountain man, with a profound contempt for “tenderfoot”, a contempt in my case was accentuated by the fact that I wore spectacles – which at that day and in that region were usually held to indicate a defective moral character in the wearer.
He had previously acted as guide, or, as he expressed it, “trundled a tenderfoot”, and though a good hunter, who showed me much game, our experience together was not happy. He was very rheumatic and liked to lie abed late, so that I usually had to get breakfast, and, in fact, do most of the work around the camp.
Finally one day he declined to go out with me, saying he had a pain. When, that afternoon, I got back to camp, I speedily found what the “pain” was. We were traveling very light indeed, I having practically nothing but my buffalo sleeping bag, my wash kit, and a pair of socks. I had also taken a flask of whiskey for emergencies – although, as I found that the emergencies never arose and that tea was better than whiskey when a man was cold or done out, I abandoned the practice of taking whiskey on hunting trips twenty years ago.
When I got back to camp the old fellow was sitting on a tree trunk, very erect, with his rifle across his knees, and in response to my nod of greeting he merely leered at me. I leaned my rifle against a tree, walked over to where my bed was lying, and, happening to rummage in it for something, I found the whiskey flask was empty. I turned on him at once and accused him of having drunk it, to which he merely responded by asking what I was going to do about it. There did not seem much to do, so I said that we would part company – we were only four or five days from a settlement – and I would go in alone, taking one of the horses. He responded by cocking his rifle and saying that I could go alone and be damned to me, but I could not take any horse. I answered “all right”, that if I could not I could not, and began to move around to get some flour and salt pork.
He was misled by my quietness and by the fact that I had not in any way resented either his actions or his language during the days we had been together, and did not watch me as closely as he ought to have done.
He was sitting with the cocked rifle across his knees, the muzzle to the left. My rifle was leaning against a tree near the cooking things to his right. Managing to get near it, I whipped it up and threw a bead on him, calling “Hands Up!” He of course put up his hands, and then said, “Oh, come, I was only joking”; to which I answered, “Well, I am not. Now straighten your legs and let your rifle go to the ground”. He remonstrated, saying the rifle would go off, and I told him to let it go off. However, he straightened his legs in such a fashion that it came to the ground without a jar. I then made him move back, and picked up the rifle.
By this time he was quite sober, and really did not seem angry, looking at me quizzically. He told me that if I would give him back his rifle, he would call it quits and we could go on together. I did not think it best to trust him, so I told him that our hunt was pretty well through, anyway, and I would go home.
There was a blasted pine on the trail, in plain view of the camp, about a mile off, and I told him that I would leave his rifle at that blasted pine if I could see him in camp, but that he must not come after me, for if he did I should assume that it was with hostile intent and would shoot. He said he had no intention of coming after me; and he was very much crippled with rheumatism, I did not believe he would do so.
Accordingly I took the little mare, with nothing but some flour, bacon, and tea, and my bedroll, and started off. At the blasted pine I looked around, and as I could see him in camp, I left his rifle there. I then traveled till dark, and that night, for the only time in my experience, I used in camping a a trick of the old-time trappers in the Indian days.
I did not believe I would be followed, but still it was not possible to be sure, so, after getting supper, while my pony fed round, I left the fire burning, repacked the mare and pushed ahead until it literally became so dark that I could not see. Then I picketed the mare, slept where I was without a fire until the first streak of dawn, and then pushed on for a couple of hours before halting to take breakfast and to let the little mare have a good feed.
No plainsman needs to be told that a man should not be near a fire if there is danger of an enemy creeping on him, and that above all a man should not put himself in a positin where he can be ambushed at dawn. On this second day I lost the trail, and toward nightfall gave up the effort to find it, camped where I was, and went out to shoot a grouse for supper. It was while hunting in vain for a grouse that I came on the bear and killed it as above described.
When I reached the settlement and went into the store, I went on a cougar hunt in northwestern Colorado with Johnny Goff, a famous hunter and mountain man. It was midwinter. I was rather proud of my achievements, and pictured myself as being known to the few settlers in the neighborhood as a successful mountain-lion hunter. I could not help grinning when I found out that they did not even allude to me as the Vice-President-elect, let alone as hunter, but merely as “Johnny Goff's tourist”.

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