Theodore Roosevelt (18581919). A Book-Lovers Holidays in the Open. 1916.
XI A CURIOUS EXPERIENCE
IN 1915 I spent a little over a fortnight on a private game reserve in the province of Quebec. I had expected to enjoy the great northern woods, and the sight of beaver, moose, and caribou; but I had not expected any hunting experience worth mentioning. Nevertheless, toward the end of my trip, there befell me one of the most curious and interesting adventures with big game that have ever befallen me during the forty years since I first began to know the life of the wilderness.
In both Canada and the United States the theory and indeed the practise of preserving wild life on protected areas of land have made astonishing headway since the closing years of the nineteenth century. These protected areas, some of very large size, come in two classes. First, there are those which are public property, where the protection is given by the State. Secondly, there are those where the ownership and the protection are private.
By far the most important, of course, are the public preserves. These by their very existence afford a certain measure of the extent to which democratic government can justify itself. If in a given community unchecked popular rule means unlimited waste and destruction of the natural resourcessoil, fertility, water-power, forests, game, wild-life generallywhich by right belong as much to subsequent generations as to the present generation, then it is sure proof that the present generation is not yet really fit for self-control, that it is not yet really fit to exercise the high and responsible privilege of a rule which shall be both by the people and for the people. The term "for the people" must always include the people unborn as well as the people now alive, or the democratic ideal is not realized. The only way to secure the chance for hunting, for the enjoyment of vigorous field-sports, to the average man of small means, is to secure such enforced game laws as will prevent anybody and everybody from killing game to a point which means its diminution and therefore ultimate extinction. Only in this way will the average man be able to secure for himself and his children the opportunity of occasionally spending his yearly holiday in that school of hardihood and self-reliancethe chase. New Brunswick, Maine, and Vermont during the last generation have waked up to this fact. Moose and deer in New Brunswick and Maine, deer in Vermont, are so much more plentiful than they were a generation ago that young men of sufficient address and skill can at small cost spend a holiday in the woods, or on the edge of the rough backwoods farm land, and be reasonably sure of a moose or a deer. To all three commonwealths the game is now a real asset because each moose or deer alive in the woods brings in, from the outside, men who spend among the inhabitants much more than the money value of the dead animal; and to the lover of nature the presence of these embodiments of the wild vigor of life adds immensely to the vast majesty of the forests.
In Canada there are many great national reserves; and muchby no means allof the wilderness wherein shooting is allowed, is intelligently and faithfully protected, so that the game does not diminish. In the summer of 1915 we caught a glimpse of one of these great reserves, that including the wonderful mountains on the line of the Canadian Pacific, from Banff to Lake Louise, and for many leagues around them. The naked or snow-clad peaks, the lakes, the glaciers, the evergreen forest shrouding the mountainsides and valleys, the clear brooks, the wealth of wild flowers, make up a landscape as lovely as it is varied. Here the gamebighorn and white goat-antelope, moose, wapiti, and black-tail deer and white-tail deerflourish unmolested. The flora and fauna are boreal, but boreal in the sense that the Rocky Mountains are boreal as far south as Arizona; the crimson paint-brush that colors the hillsides, the water-ousel in the rapid torrentsthese and most of the trees and flowers and birds suggest those of the mountains which are riven asunder by the profound gorges of the Colorado rather than those which dwell among the lower and more rounded Eastern hill-masses from which the springs find their way into the rivers that flow down to the North Atlantic. Around these and similar great nurseries of game, the hunting is still good in places; although there has been a mistaken lenity shown in permitting the Indians to butcher mountain-sheep and deer to the point of local extermination, and although, as is probably inevitable in all new communities, the game laws are enforced chiefly at the expense of visiting sportsmen, rather than at the expense of the real enemies of the game, the professional meat and hide hunters who slaughter for the profit.
In Eastern Canada, as in the Eastern United States, there has been far less chance than in the West to create huge governmental game reserves. But there has been a positive increase of the big game during the last two or three decades. This is partly due to the creation and enforcement of wise game lawsalthough here also it must be admitted that in some of the Provinces, as in some of the States, the alien sportsman is judged with Rhadamanthine severity, while the home offenders, and even the home Indians, are but little interfered with. It would be well if in this matter other communities copied the excellent example of Maine and New Brunswick. In addition to the game laws, a large part is played in Canadian game preservation by the hunting and fishing clubs. These clubs have policed, and now police many thousands of square miles of wooded wilderness, worthless for agriculture; and in consequence of this policing the wild creatures of the wilderness have thriven, and in some cases have multiplied to an extraordinary degree, on these club lands.
In September, 1915, I visited the Tourilli Club, as the guest of an old friend, Doctor Alexander Lambert, a companion of previous hunting trips in the Louisiana cane-brakes, in the Rockies, on the plains bordering the Red River of the south, and among the Bad Lands through which the Little Missouri flows. The Tourilli Club is an association of Canadian and American sportsmen and lovers of the wilderness. The land, leased from the government by the club, lies northwest of the attractive Old World city of Quebecthe most distinctive city north of the Mexican border, now that the creole element in New Orleans has been almost swamped. The club holds about two hundred and fifty square miles along the main branches and the small tributaries of the Saint Anne River, just north of the line that separates the last bleak farming land from the forest. It is a hilly, almost mountainous region, studded with numerous lakes, threaded by rapid, brawling brooks, and covered with an unbroken forest growth of spruce, balsam, birch and maple.
On the evening of the day I left Quebec I camped in a neat log cabin by the edge of a little lake. I had come in on foot over a rough forest trail with my two guides or porters. They were strapping, good-humored French Canadians, self-respecting and courteous, whose attitude toward their employer was so much like that of Old World guides as to be rather interesting to a man accustomed to the absolute and unconscious democracy of the Western cow camps and hunting trails. One vital fact impressed me in connection with them as in connection with my Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking friends in South America. They were always fathers of big families as well as sons of parents with big families; the big family was normal to their kind, just as it was normal among the men and women I met in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay, to a degree far surpassing what is true of native Americans, Australians, and English-speaking Canadians. If the tendencies thus made evident continue to work unchanged, the end of the twentieth century will witness a reversal in the present positions of relative dominance, in the new and newest worlds, held respectively by the people who speak English, and the people who speak the three Latin tongues. Darwin, in the account of his famous voyage, in speaking of the backwardness of the countries bordering the Plate River, dwells on the way they lag behind, in population and material development, compared to the English settlers in Australia and North America. Were he alive now, the development of the countries around Buenos Ayres and Montevideo would make him revise his judgment. And, whatever may be the case in the future, so far this material development has not, as in the English-speaking world and in old France, been accompanied by a moral change which threatens complete loss of race supremacy because of sheer dwindling in the birth-rate. The men and women of Quebec, Brazil, and Argentina are still primarily fathers and mothers; and unless this is true of a race it neither can nor ought to permanently prosper. The atrophy of the healthy sexual instinct is in its effects equally destructive whether it be due to licentiousness, asceticism, coldness, or timidity; whether it be due to calculated self-indulgence, love of ease and comfort, or absorption in worldly success on the part of the man, or, on the part of the woman, to that kind of shrieking "feminism," the antithesis of all worth calling womanly, which gives fine names to shirking of duty, and to the fear of danger and discomfort, and actually exalts as praiseworthy the abandonment or subordination by women of the most sacred and vitally important of the functions of womanhood. It is not enough that a race shall be composed of good fighters, good workers, and good breeders; but, unless the qualities thus indicated are present in the race foundation, then the superstructure, however seemingly imposing, will topple. As I watched my French guides prepare supper I felt that they offered fine stuff out of which to make a nation.
Beside the lake an eagle-owl was hooting from the depths of the spruce forest; hoohooh-o-o-ohoohoo. From the lake itself a loon, floating high on the water, greeted me with eerie laughter. A sweetheart-sparrow sang a few plaintive bars among the alders. I felt as if again among old friends.
Next day we tramped to the comfortable camp of the president of the club, Mr. Glen Ford McKinney. Half-way there Lambert met me; and for most of the distance he, or one of the guides, carried a canoe, as the route consisted of lakes connected by portages, sometimes a couple of miles long. When we reached the roomy comfortable log houses on Lake McKinney, at nightfall, we were quite ready for our supper of delicious moose venison. Lambert, while fishing in his canoe, a couple of days previously, had killed a young bull as it stood feeding in a lake, and for some days moose meat was our staple food. After that it was replaced by messes of freshly caught trout, and once or twice by a birch-partridge. Mrs. Lambert was at the camp, and Mr. and Mrs. McKinney joined us there. A club reserve such as this, with weather-proof cabins scattered here and there beside the lakes, offers the chance for women of the outdoors type, no less than for men no longer in their first youth, to enjoy the life of the wonderful northern wilderness, and yet to enjoy also such substantial comforts as warmth, dry clothes, and good food at night, after a hard day in the open.
Such a reserve offers a fine field for observation of the life histories of the more shy and rare wild creatures practically unaffected by man. Many persons do not realize how completely on these reserves the wild life is led under natural conditions, wholly unlike those on small artificial reserves. Most wild beasts in the true wilderness lead lives that are artificial in so far as they are primarily conditioned by fear of man. In wilderness reserves like this, on the contrary, there is so much less dread of human persecution that the lives led by such beasts as the moose, caribou, and beaver more closely resemble life in the woods before the appearance of man. As an example, on the Tourilli game reserve wolves, which did not appear until within a decade, have been much more destructive since then than men, and have more profoundly influenced for evil the lives of the other wild creatures.
The beavers are among the most interesting of all woodland beasts. They had been so trapped out that fifteen years ago there were probably not a dozen individuals left on the reserve. Then they were rigidly protected. After ten years they had increased literally a hundredfold. At the end of that time trapping was permitted for a year; hundreds of skins were taken, and then trapping was again prohibited.
The beaver on the reserve at present number between one and two thousand. We saw their houses and dams everywhere. One dam was six feet high; another dam was built to the height of about a foot and a half, near one of our camping places, in a week's time. The architects were a family of beavers; some of the branches bore the big marks of the teeth of the parent beavers, some the marks of the small teeth of the young ones. It was interesting to see the dams grow, stones being heaped on the up-current side to keep the branches in place. Frequently we came across the animals themselves, swimming a stream or lake, and not much bothered by our presence. When left unmolested they are quite as much diurnal as nocturnal. Again and again, as I sat hidden on the lake banks, beaver swam to and fro close beside me, even at high noon. One, which was swimming across a lake at sunset, would not dive until we paddled the canoe straight for it as hard as we could; whereupon it finally disappeared with a slap of its tail. Once at evening Lambert pulled his canoe across the approach to a house, barring the way to the ownera very big beaver. It did not like to dive under the canoe, and swam close up on the surface, literally gritting its teeth, and now and then it would slap the water with its tail, whereupon the heads of other beaver would pop up above the waters of the lake.
By damming the outlets of some of the lakes and killing the trees and young stuff around the edges, the beaver on this reserve had destroyed some of the favorite haunts of the moose. We saw the old and new houses on the shores of the lakes and beside the streams; some of them were very large, taller than a man, and twice as much across. Some of the old dams, at the pond outlets and across the streams, had become firm causeways, grown-up with trees. The beaver is a fecund animal, its habits are such that few of the beasts of ravin can kill it more than occasionally, and when not too murderously persecuted by man it increases with extraordinary rapidity.
This is primarily due to the character of its food. The forest trees themselves furnish what it eats. This means that its food supply is practically limitless. It has very few food rivals. The trunks of full-grown trees offer what is edible to a most narrowly limited number of vertebrates, and thereforea fact often lost sight ofuntil man appears on the scene forests do not support anything like the same number and variety of large beasts as open, grassy plains. There are tree-browsing creatures, but these can only get at the young growth; the great majority of beasts prefer prairies or open scrub to thick forest. The open plains of central North America were thronged with big game to a degree that was never true of the vast American forests, whether subarctic, temperate, or tropical. The great game regions of Africa were the endless dry plains of South and East Africa, and not the steaming West African forests. There are, of course, some big mammals that live exclusively on low plants and bushes that only grow in the forest, and some trees at certain seasons yield fruits and nuts which fall to the ground; but, speaking generally, an ordinary full-grown tree of average size yields food only to beasts of exceptional type, of which the most conspicuous in North America are the tree-porcupine and the beaver. Even these eat only the bark; no vertebrate, so far as I know, eats the actual wood of the trunk.
These bark-eaters, therefore, have almost no food rivals, and the forest furnishes them food in limitless quantities. The beaver has developed habits more interesting and extraordinary than those of any other rodentindeed as interesting as those of any other beastand its ways of life are such as to enable it to protect itself from its enemies, and to insure itself against failure of food, to a degree very unusual among animals. It is no wonder that, when protected against man, it literally swarms in its native forests. Its dams, houses, and canals are all wonderful, and on the Tourilli they were easily studied. The height at which many of the tree trunks had been severed showed that the cutting must have been done in winter when the snow was deep and crusted. One tree which had not fallen showed a deep spiral groove going twice round the trunk. Evidently the snow had melted faster than the beavers worked; they were never able to make a complete ring, although they had gnawed twice around the tree, and finally the rising temperature beat the teeth, and the task was perforce abandoned.
I was surprised at the complete absence from the Tourilli of the other northern tree-eaterbark-eaterthe porcupine. Inquiry developed the fact that porcupines had been exceedingly numerous until within a score of years or less. Then a mysterious disease smote the slow, clumsy, sluggish creatures, and in the course of two or three years they were absolutely exterminated. In similar fashion from some mysterious disease (or aggregation of diseases, which sometimes all work with virulence when animals become too crowded) almost all the rabbits in the reserve died off some six years ago. In each case it was a universally, or well-nigh universally, fatal epidemic, following a period during which the smitten animals had possessed good health and had flourished and increased greatly in spite of the flesh-eaters that preyed on them. In some vital details the cases differed. Hares, compared to porcupines, are far more prolific, far more active, and with far more numerous foes; and they also seem to be much more liable to these epidemics, although this may be merely because they so much more quickly increase to the point that seems to invite the disease. The porcupines are rather unsocial, and are so lethargic in their movements that the infection took longer to do its full work. But this work was done so thoroughly that evidently the entire race of porcupines over a large tract of country was exterminated. Porcupines have few foes that habitually prey on them, although it is said that there is an exception in the shape of the pekanthe big, savage sable, inappropriately called fisher by the English-speaking woodsmen. But they breed so slowly (for rodents) and move about so little that when exterminated from a district many years elapse before they again begin to spread throughout it. The rabbits, on the contrary, move about so much that infectious diseases spread with extraordinary rapidity and they are the habitual food of every fair-sized bird and beast of prey, but their extraordinary fecundity enables them rapidly to recover lost ground. As regards these northern wood-rabbits, and doubtless other species of hares, it is evident that their beast and bird foes, who prey so freely on their helplessness, nevertheless are incompetent to restrain the overdevelopment of the species. Their real foes, their only real foes, are the minute organisms that produce the diseases which at intervals sweep off their swarming numbers. The devastation of these diseases, whether the agents spreading them are insects or still smaller, microscopic creatures, is clearly proved in the case of these North American rabbits and porcupines; probably it explains the temporary and local extermination of the Labrador meadow-mice after they have risen to the culminating crest of one of those "waves of life" described by Doctor Cabot. It has ravaged among big African ruminants on an even more extensive scale than among these North American rodents. Doubtless such disease-devastation has been responsible for the extinction of many, many species in the past; and where for any cause species and individuals became crowded together, or there was an increase in moisture and change in temperature, so that the insect carriers of disease became more numerous, the extinction might easily befall more than one species.
Of course, such epidemic disease is only one of many causes that may produce such extermination or reduction in numbers. More efficient food rivals may be a factor; just as sheep drive out cattle from the same pasturage, and as, in Australia, rabbits drive out sheep. Or animal foes may be a cause. Fifteen years ago, in the Tourilli, caribou were far more plentiful than moose. Moose have steadily increased in numbers. But some seven years ago wolves, of which none had been seen in these woods for half a century, made their appearance. They did not seriously molest the full-grown moose (nor the black bears), although they occasionally killed moose calves, and very rarely, when in a pack, an adult, but they warred on all the other animals, including the lucivees when they could catch them on the ice in winter. They followed the caribou unceasingly, killing many, and in consequence the caribou are now far less common. Barthelmy Lirette, the most experienced hunter and best observer among the guideseven better than his brother Arthurtold me that the wolves usually made no effort to assail the moose, and that never but once had he heard of their killing a grown moose. But they followed any caribou they came across, big or little. Once on snow-shoes he had tracked such a chase all day long. A single wolf had followed a caribou for twenty-five miles before killing it. Evidently the wolf deliberately set about tiring his victim so that it could not resist. In the snow the caribou sank deep. The wolf ran lightly. His tracks showed that he had galloped whenever the caribou had galloped, and walked behind it when it became too tired to run, and then galloped again when under the terror of his approach the hunted thing once more flailed its fading strength into flight. Its strength was utterly gone when its grim follower at last sprang on it and tore out its life.
An arctic explorer once told me that on a part of the eastern coast of Greenland he found on one visit plenty of caribou and arctic foxes. A few years later he returned. Musk-oxen had just come into the district, and wolves followed them. The musk-ox is helpless in the presence of human hunters, much more helpless than caribou, and can exist only in the appalling solitudes where even arctic man cannot live; but against wolves, its only other foes, its habits of gregarious and truculent self-defense enable it to hold its own as the caribou cannot. The wolves which were hangers-on of the musk-ox herds speedily killed or drove out both the foxes and the caribou on this stretch of Greenland coast, and as a result two once plentiful species were completely replaced by two other species, which change also doubtless resulted in other changes in the smaller wild life.
Here we can explain the reason for the change as regards three of the animals, inasmuch as this change was ultimately conditioned by the movements of the fourth, the musk-ox. But we know nothing of the cause which produced the musk-ox migration, which migration resulted in such unsettling of life conditions for the wolves, caribous, and foxes of this one locality. Neither can we with our present knowledge explain the causes which in Maine and New Brunswick during the last thirty or forty years have brought about a diminution of the caribou, although there has been an increase in the number of moose and deer; wolves cannot have produced this change, for they kill the deer easier than the caribou. Field naturalists have in such questions an ample opportunity for work of the utmost interest. Doubtless they can in the future give us complete or partial explanations of many of these problems which are at present insoluble. In any event these continuous shiftings of faunas at the present day enable us to form some idea of the changes which must have occurred on innumerable occasions during man's history on this planet. Beyond question many of the faunas which seem to us contemporary when their remains are found associated with those of prehistoric man were really successive and may have alternated again and again before one or both finally disappeared. Life is rarely static, rarely in a state of stable equilibrium. Often it is in a condition of unstable equilibrium, with continual oscillations one way and the other. More often still, while there are many shifts to and fro, the general tendency of change is with slow steadiness in one direction.
After a few days the Lamberts and I shifted to Lambert's home camp; an easy two days' journey, tramping along the portage trails and paddling across the many lakes. It was a very comfortable camp, by a beautiful lake. There were four log cabins, each water-tight and with a stove; and the largest was in effect a sitting-room, with comfortable chairs and shelves of books. They stood in a sunny clearing. The wet, dense forest was all around, the deep mossy ground spangled with bright-red partridge-berries. Behind the cabins was a small potato patch. Wild raspberries were always encroaching on this patch, and attracted the birds of the neighborhood, including hermit and olive-back thrushes, both now silent. Chickadees were in the woods, and woodpeckersthe arctic, the hairy, and the big log-cockdrummed on the dead trees. One mid-afternoon a great gray owl called repeatedly, uttering a short loud sound like that of some big wild beast. In front of the main cabin were four graceful mountain ashes, brilliant with scarlet berry clusters. On a neighboring lake Coleman Drayton had a camp; the view from it across the lake was very beautiful. He killed a moose on the lake next to his and came over to dinner with us the same evening.
On the way to Lambert's camp I went off by myself for twenty-four hours, with my two guides, Arthur Lirette, one of the game wardens of the club, and Odilon Genest. Arthur was an experienced woodsman, intelligent and responsible, and with the really charming manners that are so much more common among men of French or Spanish blood than among ourselves. Odilon was a strong young fellow, a good paddler and willing worker. I wished to visit a lake which moose were said to frequent. We carried our canoe thither.
After circling the lake in the canoe without seeing anything, we drew it ashore among some bushes and sat down under a clump of big spruces to watch. Although only partially concealed, we were quiet; and it is movement that attracts the eyes of wild things. A beaver house was near by and the inmates swam about not thirty feet from us; and scaup-ducks and once a grown brood of dusky mallard drifted and swam by only a little farther off. The beaver kept slapping the water with their broad trowel-tails, evidently in play; where they are wary they often dive without slapping the water. No bull appeared, but a cow moose with two calves came down to the lake, directly opposite us, at one in the afternoon and spent two hours in the water. Near where the three of them entered the lake was a bed of tall, coarse reed-grass standing well above the water. Earlier in the season this had been grazed by moose, but these three did not touch it. The cow, having entered the water, did not leave. She fed exclusively with her head under water. Wading out until only the ridge of her back was above the surface, and at times finding that the mud bothered even her long legs, she plunged her huge homely head to the bottom, coming up with between her jaws big tufts of dripping bottom-grassthe moose grassor the roots and stems of other plants. After a time she decided to change her station, and, striking off into deep water, she swam half a mile farther down the lake. She swam well and powerfully, but sunk rather deep in the water, only her head and the ridge of her withers above it. She continued to feed, usually broadside to me, some three hundred and fifty yards off; her big ears flopped forward and back, and her long snout, with the protuberant nostrils, was thrust out as she turned from time to time to look or smell for her calves. The latter had separated at once from the mother, and spent only a little time in the water, appearing and disappearing among the alders, and among the berry-bushes on a yielding bog of pink and gray moss. Once they played together for a moment, and then one of them cantered off for a few rods.
When moose calves go at speed they usually canter. By the time they are yearlings, however, they have adopted the trot as their usual gait. When grown they walk, trot when at speed, and sometimes pace; but they gallop so rarely that many good observers say that they never gallop or canter. This is too sweeping, however. I have myself, as will be related, seen a heavy old bull gallop for fifty yards when excited, and I have seen the tracks where a full-grown cow or young bull galloped for a longer distance. Lambert came on one close up in a shallow lake, and in its fright it galloped ashore, churning through the mud and water. In very deep snow one will sometimes gallop or bound for a dozen leaps, and under sudden fright from an enemy near by even the biggest moose will sometimes break into a gallop which may last for several rods. More often, even under such circumstances, the animal trots off; and the trot is its habitual, and, save in exceptional circumstances, its only, rapid gait, even when charging.
As the cow and her young ones stood in the water or on the bank it was impossible not to be struck by the conspicuously advertising character of the coloration. The moose is one of the few animals of which the body is inversely countershaded, being black save for the brownish or grayish of the back. The huge black mass at once attracts the eye, and the whitish or grayish legs are also strikingly visible. The bright-red summer coat of the white-tail deer is, if anything, of even more advertising quality; but the huge bulk of a moose, added to its blackness, makes it the most conspicuous of all our beasts.
Moose are naturally just as much diurnal as nocturnal. We found them visiting the lakes at every hour of the day. They are so fond of water as to be almost amphibious. In the winter they feed on the buds and twig tips of young spruce and birch and swamp-maple; and when there is no snow they feed freely on various ground plants in the forest; but for over half the year they prefer to eat the grasses and other plants which grow either above or under the water in the lakes. They easily wade through mud not more than four feet deep, and take delight in swimming. But until this trip I did not know that moose, while swimming, dived to get grass from the bottom. Mr. McKinney told me of having seen this feat himself. The moose was swimming to and fro in a small lake. He plunged his head beneath water, and then at once raised it, looking around, evidently to see if any enemy were taking advantage of his head being concealed to approach him. Then he plunged his head down again, threw his rump above water, and dived completely below the surface, coming up with tufts of bottom-grass in his mouth. He repeated this several times, once staying down and out of sight for nearly half a minute.
After the cow moose left the water she spent an hour close to the bank, near the inlet. We came quite near to her in the canoe before she fled; her calves were farther in the woods. It was late when we started to make our last portage; a heavy rain-storm beat on us, speedily drenching us, and the darkness and the driving downpour made our walk over the rough forest trail one of no small difficulty. Next day we went to Lambert's camp.
Some ten miles northeast of Lambert's camp lies a stretch of wild and mountainous country, containing many lakes, which has been but seldom visited. A good cabin has been built on one of the lakes. A couple of years ago Lambert went thither, but saw nothing, and Coleman Drayton was there the same summer; Arthur, my guide, visited the cabin last spring to see if it was in repair; otherwise the country had been wholly undisturbed. I determined to make a three days' trip to it, with Arthur and Odilon. We were out of meat and I desired to shoot something for the table. My license permitted me to kill one bull moose. It also permitted me to kill two caribou, of either sex; but Lambert felt, and I heartily agreed with him, that no cow ought to be shot.
We left after breakfast one morning. Before we had been gone twenty-five minutes I was able to obtain the wished-for fresh meat. Our course, as usual, lay along a succession of lakes connected by carries, or portages. We were almost at the end of the first portage when we caught a glimpse of a caribou feeding in the thick woods some fifty yards to the right of our trail. It was eating the streamers of gray-green moss which hung from the dead lower branches of the spruces. It was a yearling bull. At first I could merely make out a small patch of its flank between two tree trunks, and I missed itfortunately, for, if wounded, it would probably have escaped. At the report, instead of running, the foolish young bull shifted his position to look at us; and with the next shot I killed him. While Arthur dressed him Odilon returned to camp and brought out a couple of men. We took a shoulder with us for our provision and sent the rest back to camp. Hour after hour we went forward. We paddled across the lakes. Between them the trails sometimes led up to and down from high divides; at other times they followed the courses of rapid brooks which brawled over smooth stones under the swaying, bending branches of the alders. Off the trail fallen logs and bowlders covered the ground, and the moss covered everything ankle-deep or knee-deep.
Early in the afternoon we reached the cabin. The lake, like most of the lakes thereabouts, was surrounded by low, steep mountains, shrouded in unbroken forest. The light-green domes of the birches rose among the sombre spruce spires; on the mountain crests the pointed spruces made a serrated line against the sky. Arthur and I paddled off across the lake in the light canoe we had been carrying. We had hardly shoved off from shore before we saw a caribou swimming in the middle of the lake. It was a young cow, and doubtless had never before seen a man. The canoe much excited its curiosity. A caribou, thanks probably to its peculiar pelage, is a very buoyant swimmer. Unlike the moose, this caribou had its whole back, and especially its rump, well out of water; the short tail was held erect, and the white under-surface glinted whenever the swimmer turned away from us. At first, however, it did not swim away, being too much absorbed in the spectacle of the canoe. It kept gazing toward us with its ears thrown forward, wheeling to look at us as lightly and readily as a duck. We passed it at a distance of some seventy-five yards, whereupon it took fright and made off, leaving a wake like a paddle-wheel steamer and, when it landed, bouncing up the bank with a great splashing of water and cracking of bushes. A caribou swims even better than a moose, but whereas a moose not only feeds by preference in the water, but half the time has its head under water, the caribou feeds on land, although occasionally cropping water-grass that stands above the surface.
We portaged beside a swampy little stream to the next lake and circled it in the canoe. Silently we went round every point, alert to find what the bay beyond might hold. But we saw nothing; it was night when we returned. As we paddled across the lake the stars were glorious overhead and the mysterious landscape shimmered in the white radiance of the moonlight. Loons called to one another, not only uttering their goblin laughter, but also those long-drawn, wailing cries, which seem to hold all the fierce and mournful loneliness of the northern wastes. Then we reached camp, and feasted on caribou venison, and slept soundly on our beds of fragrant balsam boughs.
Next morning, on September 19, we started eastward, across a short portage, perhaps a quarter of a mile long, beside which ran a stream, a little shallow river. At the farther end of the portage we launched the canoe in a large lake hemmed in by mountains. The lake twisted and turned, and was indented by many bays. A strong breeze was blowing. Arthur was steersman, Odilon bowsman, while I sat in the middle with my Springfield rifle. We skirted the shores, examining each bay.
Half an hour after starting, as we rounded a point, we saw the huge black body and white shovel antlers of a bull moose. He was close to the alders, wading in the shallow water and deep mud and grazing on a patch of fairly tall water-grass. So absorbed was he that he did not notice us until Arthur had skilfully brought the canoe to within eighty yards of him. Then he saw us, tossed his great antlered head aloft, and for a moment stared at us, a picture of burly majesty. He stood broadside on, and a splendid creature he was, of towering stature, the lord of all the deer tribe, as stately a beast of the chase as walks the round world.
We had our work cut out to get the bull out of the mud and on the edge of the dry land. The antlers spread fifty-two inches. Some hours were spent in fixing the head, taking off the hide, and cutting up the carcass. Our canoe was loaded to its full capacity with moose meat when we started toward the beginning of the portage leading from the southeastern corner of the lake toward the Lamberts' camp. Here we landed the meat, putting cool moss over it, and left it to be called for on our way back, on the morrow.
It was shortly after three when we again pushed off in the canoe, and headed for the western end of the lake, for the landing from which the portage led to our cabin. It had been a red-letter day, of the ordinary hunting red-letter type. I had no conception that the real adventure still lay in front of us.
When half a mile from the landing we saw another big bull moose on the edge of the shore ahead of us. It looked and wasif anythingeven bigger-bodied than the one I had shot in the morning, with antlers almost as large and rather more palmated. We paddled up to within a hundred yards of it, laughing and talking, and remarking how eager we would have been if we had not already got our moose. At first it did not seem to notice us. Then it looked at us but paid us no further heed. We were rather surprised at this but paddled on past it, and it then walked along the shore after us. We still supposed that it did not realize what we were. But another hundred yards put us to windward of it. Instead of turning into the forest when it got our wind, it merely bristled up the hair on its withers, shook its head, and continued to walk after the canoe, along the shore. I had heard of bull moose, during the rut, attacking men unprovoked, if the men were close up, but never of anything as wanton and deliberate as this action, and I could hardly believe the moose meant mischief, but Arthur said it did; and obviously we could not land with the big, evil-looking beast coming for usand, of course, I was most anxious not to have to shoot it. So we turned the canoe round and paddled on our back track. But the moose promptly turned and followed us along the shore. We yelled at him, and Odilon struck the canoe with his paddle, but with no effect. After going a few hundred yards we again turned and resumed our former course; and as promptly the moose turned and followed us, shaking his head and threatening us. He seemed to be getting more angry, and evidently meant mischief. We now continued our course until we were opposite the portage landing, and about a hundred yards away from it; the water was shallow and we did not wish to venture closer, lest the moose might catch us if he charged. When he came to the portage trail he turned up it, sniffing at our footsteps of the morning, and walked along it into the woods; and we hoped that now he would become uneasy and go off. After waiting a few minutes we paddled slowly toward the landing, but before reaching it we caught his loom in the shadow, as he stood facing us some distance down the trail. As soon as we stopped he rushed down the trail toward us, coming in to the lake; and we backed hastily into deep water. He vented his rage on a small tree, which he wrecked with his antlers. We continued to paddle round the head of the bay, and he followed us; we still hoped we might get him away from the portage, and that he would go into the woods. But when we turned he followed us back, and thus went to and fro with us. Where the water was deep near shore we pushed the canoe close in to him, and he promptly rushed down to the water's edge, shaking his head, and striking the earth with his fore hoofs. We shouted at him, but with no effect. As he paraded along the shore he opened his mouth, lolling out his tongue; and now and then when he faced us he ran out his tongue and licked the end of his muzzle with it. Once, with head down, he bounded or galloped round in a half circle; and from time to time he grunted or uttered a low, menacing roar. Altogether the huge black beast looked like a formidable customer, and was evidently in a most evil rage and bent on man-killing.
For over an hour he thus kept us from the shore, running to meet us wherever we tried to go. The afternoon was waning, a cold wind began to blow, shifting as it blew. He was not a pleasant-looking beast to meet in the woods in the dusk. We were at our wits' ends what to do. At last he turned, shook his head, and with a flourish of his heels gallopednot trottedfor fifty yards up beside the little river which paralleled the portage trail. I called Arthur's attention to this, as he had been telling me that a big bull never galloped. Then the moose disappeared at a trot round the bend. We waited a few minutes, cautiously landed, and started along the trail, watching to see if the bull was lying in wait for us; Arthur telling me that if he now attacked us I must shoot him at once or he would kill somebody.
A couple of hundred yards on the trail led within a few yards of the little river. As we reached this point a smashing in the brush beyond the opposite bank caused us to wheel; and the great bull came headlong for us, while Arthur called to me to shoot. With a last hope of frightening him I fired over his head, without the slightest effect. At a slashing trot he crossed the river, shaking his head, his ears back, the hair on his withers bristling. "Tirez, m'sieu, tirez; vite, vite!" called Arthur, and when the bull was not thirty feet off I put a bullet into his chest, in the sticking point. It was a mortal wound, and stopped him short; I fired into his chest again, and this wound, too, would by itself have been fatal. He turned and recrossed the stream, falling to a third shot, but as we approached he struggled to his feet, grunting savagely, and I killed him as he came toward us.
I was sorry to have to kill him, but there was no alternative. As it was, I only stopped him in the nick of time, and had I not shot straight at least one of us would have paid forfeit with his life in another second. Even in Africa I have never known anything but a rogue elephant or buffalo, or an occasional rhinoceros, to attack so viciously or with such premeditation when itself neither wounded nor threatened.
Gentle-voiced Arthur, in his delightful habitant's French, said that the incident was "pas mal curieux." He used "pas mal" as a superlative. The first time he used it I was completely bewildered. It was hot and sultry, and Arthur remarked that the day was "pas mal mort." How the day could be "not badly dead" I could not imagine, but the proper translation turned out to be "a very lifeless day," which was true.
On reaching Lambert's camp, Arthur and Odilon made affidavit to the facts as above set forth, and this affidavit I submitted to the secretary of mines and fisheries of Quebec, who approved what I had done.
On the day following that on which we killed the two bulls we went back to Lambert's home camp. While crossing one lake, about the middle of the forenoon, a bull moose challenged twice from the forest-clad mountain on our right. We found a pawing-place, a pit where onepossibly more than onebull had pawed up the earth and thrashed the saplings roundabout with its antlers. The place smelled strongly of urine. The whole of the next day was spent in getting in the meat, skins, and antlers.
I do not believe that this vicious bull moose had ever seen a man. I have never heard of another moose acting with the same determination and perseverance in ferocious malice; it behaved, as I have said, like some of the rare vicious rogues among African elephants, buffaloes, and rhinoceroses. Bull moose during the rut are fierce animals, however, and, although there is ordinarily no danger whatever in shooting them, several of my friends have been resolutely charged by wounded moose, and I know of, and have elsewhere described, one authentic case where the hunter was killed. A boy carrying mail through the woods to the camp of a friend of mine was forced to climb a tree by a bull which threatened him. My friend Pride, of Island Falls, Maine, was charged while in a canoe at night, by a bull moose which he had incautiously approached too near, and the canoe was upset. If followed on snow-shoes in the deep snow, or too closely approached in its winter yard, it is not uncommon for a moose to charge when its pursuer is within a few yards. Once Arthur was charged by a bull which was in company with a cow. He was in a canoe, at dusk, in a stream, and the bull rushed into the water after him, while he paddled hard to get away; but the cow left, and the bull promptly followed her. In none of these cases, however, did the bull act with the malice and cold-blooded purposefulness shown by the bull I was forced to kill.
Two or three days later I left the woods. The weather had grown colder. The loons had begun to gather on the larger lakes in preparation for their southward flight. The nights were frosty. Fall was in the air. Once there was a flurry of snow. Birch and maple were donning the bravery with which they greet the oncoming north; crimson and gold their banners flaunted in the eyes of the dying year.