Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Mountain lion and hounds in the San Mateo mountains where "Hazard" takes place.


During one winter in the early seventies Otis Llewellen and I were trapping bobcat, fox and coyotes in the San Mateo Mountains. We had set up our camp down the road from Springtime Campground at an old windmill that provided water for a large stock tank where we could obtain water for our two campers and the hounds and mules we had with us.

Each morning we would divide up the traps, saddle our mules and select a couple of hounds to accompany us as we went our separate ways. This way we could cover a lot of territory and run our traps and look for lion sign. We had a couple of hunts booked during the coming spring and kept a keen eye out for sign of a trophy tom.

I rode a nice, gentle broke molly mule and Otis owned a handsome young mule that he had traded for that was a real outlaw. Otis had named the mule, Hazard, and it was welled named. Hazard came from champion quarterhorse racing stock being an own son of the well known sire Easy Jet, owned by Walter Merrick of Oklahoma. Mule racing was big business at the time and Hazard was bred to run, but had proven too hard to break to make it to the racetrack.

One day Otis decided Hazard needed shod and began to prepare by tying the mule’s front feet to the corral fence. He then roped the mule’s hind legs and tied the rope to the winch on his truck. He slowly winched up the rope until the mule knelt down and rolled over onto his side. When I left to run my traps Otis was working on getting a shoe on a front foot. Later that day when I returned with my catch to find Otis sitting atop Hazard’s belly taking a rest. Both the mule and Otis were lathered, but the mule had on three shoes and Otis was determined to get the last shoe on before nightfall.

Hazard lasted another three months. Govenor Tom Bolack from the B Square Ranch in Farmington had joined us for a couple of days of lion hunting. The dogs had struck a track and were in steep, rugged terrain covered in oak and pine. The dogs were working in the bottom of a deep canyon when Hazard decided to run off the side of the mountain, head down and bucking hard. Otis reached for an overhead tree limb to pull himself out of danger when the limb broke and he hit the ground hard. Bruised, with an ear half torn off he declared he would ride Hazard one last time - in the sales ring.

I patched the ear back up with duct tape which Otis left on for a month or so before trying to remove it. When we finally got the tape of his ear it left another hole that had to heal. That winter we caught 52 fox, 17 bobcat and more than 20 coyotes. Hides were at a premium at the time and our effort was well spent. Every day I carefully de-scented my traps and took time to lay out the area where I set them. Otis never washed his hands, handled his traps unconcernedly and set them without looking back. So, it was no surprise that Otis caught more animals in his traps than I caught in mine.

One morning after I had run my trap line I rode over to Skelton Ridge, then east and back south along the big ridge that is called Devil’s Post Pile. It is one of those places that if any tom lion visited the area they would scrape on that spot. All I found was an old scrape so I kept riding. It was getting late in the day by the time I checked the area and I began looking for a place where I could ride off the rim and head back to camp.

Luckily, or perhaps not so, I found an old deer trail going off through a very rough rimrock. My mule and I had made it half way down when I found the two foot wide trail blocked by a dead oak. I urged my mule over a big limb and she jumped her front feet up onto it, slid down and got her feet wedged between two smaller branches.

I am now in terrible trouble; fifteen miles from camp and in need of an axe or hand saw to chop off some branches to free the mule. I took off the saddle leaving my old single shot .22 rifle tied in the scabbard and placed it on the ground behind the mule. Then I got directly behind my mule and put my shoulder against her tail and began trying to lift her hind end off the ground in hopes that a little encouragement would get us back to camp before dark.

The next thing I remember is the mule pitching a really big fit, flipping over backwards and landing on top of me with her head downhill and all feet thrashing as she tried to get to her feet. She was scared and I thought my time had come. After what seemed an eternity she made it to her feet and I stood up. I wasted no time getting her over the limb and re-saddled her on the other side, climbed aboard and rode down off the mountain to the canyon below. All the time I was finding spots that were bruised, but my right leg was really beginning to hurt. I looked down to see blood dripping down top of my boot and off the stirrup onto the ground. I got off the mule, pulled down my pants and found a .22 bullet sized hole in the calf of my leg. Examining my old rifle I found that the mule’s thrashing had sheared the bolt and I’d been shot with my own gun.

I was bleeding pretty freely, so I took a piece of my under shirt and put a makeshift tourniquet on my leg. As I was getting ready to remount I heard dogs trailing up the canyon. They were Otis’ dogs, but I later found out he had lost them early that morning and they had ended up fifteen miles from where he had started the track. I rode back to camp and went through my camper until I found the bottle of whiskey one of our hunters had left behind. Neither Otis nor I were much of a drinker. By the time Otis made it back to camp at sundown I was jolly well jiggered.

I told him to take his buck knife and fish out the bullet. He told me he thought he couldn’t do the operation, but he boiled the old skinning knife and set to work. Once or twice I could feel him hit the lead with the knife tip, but he couldn’t see it. After about thirty minutes Otis told me that he was getting really sick to his stomach and wanted to quit. In my whiskey voice I told him to reapply to tourniquet to stop the blood until I could make it to a doctor. It was cold and late, so we bandaged the leg. I always meant to have the bullet taken out, but never did. Instead, I got on my mule and ran the trap line the next morning. It has been almost forty years and I still have the lead in my leg. Neither Otis nor I will ever make a good physician, but it was an exciting experience I’d rather not repeat.