Wild times on a Pinon Mesa ranch in 1914

INTRODUCTION

This little story takes place at the “Double Diamond” ranch, which was at that time owned by George and May Gordon. It was later inherited by thier daughters and their families, “Georgie” Kruckenberg, and Dorothy “Mutt” Mahoney. The “V V” or “2 V” basin is now a part of Mountain Island ranch. You will notice that for some unknown reason, for the purposes of this story, Uncle Monte calls Mr. Gordon the “superintendent,” rather than the owner. I remember Mrs. May Gordon, or “Gramma Gordon” as she was known then. In all fairness, I do not ever remember disparaging remarks about her cooking. You may notice other points where Monte uses what has been called “artistic license.” This is characteristic of his writing. He obviously enjoyed storytelling, and having some fun with his readers. But beware. He is not for the faint of heart…

MY FUR FARM - BEAR DEPARTMENT

Fur News Magazine, May, 1914

BY M.E. "Monte" Moreland “The Colorado Wolfer”

Several times, during the summer of 1913, reports reached me that wolves were about to put the cattlemen on Pinon Mesa out of the business and I was urgently requested to treat myself to a couple of weeks’ lay-off and string cut a few wolf traps where these predatory imps of Satan were averaging three yearlings a week. As a hundred dollar reward was reported available for each lobo captured, I bunched a small outfit together and made the trip.

Arriving upon the scene of action I spent three to four days in locating runaways and, incidentally, estimating the number of wolves in that particular neck of the woods. My investigations pointed out the fact that the “bunch” consisted of two midnight prowlers, and the amount of available cash for “each full-grown wolf killed upon our respective ranges” –which ranges were limited, almost, to each contributor’s private landed possessions – would not exceed $25.

As those figures would barely cover first cost of getting into the harness I didn’t unbox my traps.

AT THE "DOUBLE DIAMOND"

Located as this company is, thirty miles from the railroad, hired help, other than “punchers,” are in demand and I experienced no trouble in obtaining a job at cutting house logs at a price each which netted me from three to four dollars a day. After I have been at work about a week the manager came to my camp and told me that bear were doing considerable damage in the “V V” basin; stating that several carcasses of cattle had been found and numerous bear tracks were in evidence. Offering me a personal reward of $10, which he thought could be augmented to at least $25 by other stock owners “chipping in,” he advised me to set a trap or two.

SET BEAR TRAP, MY INVENTION

Having recently perfected a patent bear trap, known and now being extensively advertised in all of the leading magazines devoted to outdoor life, as the “Iron Mask,” and being anxious to demonstrate its practicability in a locality where, if a success, its merits would be proclaimed and its reputation established, I concluded to give it a trial. The next morning I loaded a burro with the necessary paraphernalia pertaining to a bear set, such as clamp, ax, rope, -- the use of which will be shown later on – bait and the trap, and proceeded down the draw till I came to a cross canon. Here I unloaded and gave the pack animal a “boo,” at which he stood not upon the ceremony of hiking for camp, but went.

BUILDING A BEAR "PEN"

As this trap is now fully covered by patent I will give a brief description of it in order that the reader may appreciate the events that follow.

A frame, or floor, 30 inches square, made of 2 X 6 planks, is firmly nailed together. Six sharp-pointed teeth four inches in length are bolted through the floor. These teeth are slightly inclined backward toward the rear of the pen. A three-quarter circle hoop made of half-inch iron and two inches wide with teeth corresponding in size and angle to those of the floor, are riveted thereon.

A tremendous exertion must be brought to bear in order to elevate this hoop. The trap is built on nearly the same principle as the well known mouse trap, and the coil spring, I will add by way of parenthesis, is somewhat larger and stronger. The rope above referred to is fastened to the floor of the trap, next to the ground and is carefully concealed underneath at the beginning.

Selecting a favorable spot where fallen timber was handy, an “A’ shaped pen six feet in length by about two feet in width, at the open end, and the structure covered with boughs was accomplished in short order. I then threw the bait into the back end of the pan and in another twenty minutes had the set completed.

BEAR LED INTO CAMP ON A ROPE

The next morning I saddled my horse and rode to the pen in order to lose as little time as possible; for the log business was a reality that yielded substantial reward for services rendered, while the capture of Bruin was entirely problematical.

When within about fifty yards of the set my horse, to use the cowboy vernacular, “become undone,” and I had to resort to “pulling leather” in order to “set him.” Realizing that the horse’s actions spelled bear, I dismounted and approached the set.

That both trap and bear had performed their part to render the occasion a howling success was evidenced at the first glance. The ground in the immediate vicinity of the pen, and the wrecked pen itself, would lead one to infer that a hilarious bunch of grizzlies had put in the night holding a rough house convention.

Just at this juncture the bear let out a roar that caused a dozen dead trees to topple over and my hair shot up with such suddenness that my hat looked like it had been jammed down over a porcupine!

I finally located her about three hundred yards down the canon and walking up to her I took hold of the rope and then the circus began. It was dead easy to side step her lunges, as she was a harmless as a cottontail; for both front legs and her head were between the top jaw and the floor of the trap; and as the rope wasn’t tied to anything, she had absolutely no purchase power to aid her in ridding herself of the “Iron Mask.”

When I’d pull on the rope she’d set back on it and I’d give her a little slack and down she’d go. When she’d make a lunge at me I’d simply place my hands on her chest protector and stop her. After an hour of coaxing and pulling I had her broke to lead, and just as the cowpunchers were coming in for dinner I led her into the horse corral and closed the gate.

I CONCLUDE TO START A BEAR FARM

“Bear meat for supper?” asked George Gordon, the superintendent. “No” I replied. “I have an idea that beats that a mile. Right here I have a female grizzly and unless I am an amateur at reading between the lines I will be the owner of a pair of cubs in the near future. You are now looking at the first installment of a fur farm.”

The idea was approved by acclamation and the Boss ordered the construction of a pen built on No. 9 coiled spring wire, 20 feet square and 10 feet high. And in less than three hours “Susie” was led into the enclosure and her mask removed. A log chain was procured and placed around her neck and fastened with a padlock. With the aid of a monkey wrench the bolts were removed and the trap fell off. A liberal chunk of beef and a pan of skimmed milk were placed inside of her quarters, and were consumed with avidity.

The following morning, upon going to feed our captive, we found her – gone! For “over the fence is out.” After a hasty breakfast every man Jack was on her trail, which was easily followed by the dragging chain.

About noon we camp upon her, sound asleep under a spruce tree and no time was lost in dropping a couple of ropes over her head, whereupon we triumphantly led her back. Her Second and Last Get Away

We now covered the pen with No. 9 wire securely fastened and confidently hoped she’d be there the next morning; but our confidence was misplaced, for after eating everything we had thrown her the evening before, she had scooped out a hole underneath the wire and vanished.

We unanimously decided that the time and conditions were not propitious and the fur farming project was abandoned. But for the log chain all would have been willing to let Susie enjoy her well-merited liberty, but we had either to rescue it or make a 60 mile round trip to Grand Junction for another; so the second chase began, but ended at dusk without finding any clue as to her whereabouts.

THE PRODIGAL'S RETURN

We were awakened about 2 o’clock the following morning by the barking of dogs and rattling of their milk pans. Upon looking out at daylight Madam Bruin was complacently gnawing on a hind quarter of beef she had torn from its moorings in a tree, and aside from throwing a questioning glance in our direction, resumed her meal, then sedately ambled off into the timber.

Her voluntary return eliminated all desire on our part to interfere with her, and she was henceforth to be considered one of the family.

BECOMES MY INSEPARABLE COMPANION

As the days wore on her comings became more frequent and as no one paid any attention to her, she delayed her departures a little longer each day until, at the end of a month’s time, she just hung around on the job.

She took a great fancy to me and we became close friends. When I’d enter the woods to cut logs she’d stand guard over my dinner pail, and at noon would receive her share of its contents.

But one day she turned up missing and for six weeks nothing was known of her whereabouts until one hot day I went to a little spring for a drink and to eat my lunch, which this day promised to be something better than usual on account of it being my birthday. There I found Susie trying to break a pie that the Superintendent’s wife, Mrs. Gordon, had built for the occasion. Being unable to make an impression on the pie, she laid it down and the little male cub, seeing an ax in my hand picked it up and came walking up to me holding it out with one paw and pointing to the ax with the other. Why, I almost felt like slapping his face! That ax was sharp, and when a fellow was engaged in cutting timber he wants it to stay sharp.

But I took the pastry and leaned one edge against a log and jumped onto it with both feet. Gee! Both feet went out from under me, I came down with such force as to jar the upper plate of teeth out of my mouth.

END OF THE BEAR FAMILY - THE CAUSE

Everything went along fine until one day I felled a tree near a little spring and while trimming off the branches I came upon that pie again; hitting it with the poll of the ax, a small piece broke off and as little Teddy was near at hand, I threw it to him. Taking it in his mouth he tried to swallow it, but it stuck in his throat and he began to howl. That scared his sister, Minnie, and she went up a tree.

Teddy squealed a time or two more and choked to death; that scared Minnie until she shook so bad that she fell out of the tree and broke her neck! The mother frantically ran from one to the other and all at once she turned her attention to the tree from which Minnie had fallen, then making a mad rush for it she climbed up about 25 feet, to the first limb. Walking out on the limb she fastened the chain around it, securing it with the grab hook, then jumped off and hung herself.