Puslapio vaizdai

of the San Joaquin Yosemites, but its walls are sublime in height, rising at a bound into the thin sky two to four thousand feet above the river. At the head of the valley the main cañon forks, as is found to be the case in all Yosemites. The formation of this one is due to the action of two vast ice-rivers, whose fountains lay to the eastward, on the flanks of Mounts Humphrey and Emerson, and a cluster of nameless peaks farther south. On the slow recession of those rock-grinding glaciers, at the close of the Glacial Period, this valley basin came to light: first a lake, then a sedgy meadow, then, after being filled in with flood and avalanche bowlders, and planted with trees and grasses, it became the Yosemite of to-day-a range for wild sheep and wild men.

The gray bowlder-chafed river was singing loudly through the valley, but above its massy roar I heard the deep booming of a water-fall, which drew me eagerly on. Emerging from the tangled avalanche of groves and briers at the head of the valley, there in full view appeared the young San Joaquin fresh from its glacier fountains, falling white and free in a glorious cascade, between granite walls two thousand feet high. The steep incline down which the glad waters thundered seemed to bar all farther progress. It was not long, however, before I discoved a crooked seam in the rock, by which I was enabled to climb to the edge of a terrace that crosses the cañon, and divides the cataract nearly in the middle. Here I sat down to take breath and make some entries in my notebook, taking advantage, at the same time, my elevated position above the trees to gaze back over the valley into the heart of the noble landscape, little knowing the while what neighbors were near.


After spending a few irregular minutes in this way, I chanced to look across the fall, and there stood three sheep quietly observing me. Never did the sudden appearance of a mountain, or water-fall, or human friend, so forcibly seize and rivet my attention. Anxiety to observe accurately on so rare an occasion checked boisterous enthusiasm. Eagerly I marked the flowing undulations of their firm, braided muscles, their strong legs, ears, eyes, heads, their graceful, rounded necks, the color of their hair, and the bold, upsweeping, cycloidal curve of their noble horns. When they moved I devoured every gesture, while they, in nowise disconcerted either by my attention or by the tumultuous

roar of the falling water, advanced deliberately alongside the rapids between the two divisions of the cataract, turning now and then to look at me. Presently they came to a steep, ice-burnished acclivity, which they ascended by a quick succession of short, stiff-legged leaps, reaching the top without a struggle. This was the most startling feat of mountaineering I had ever witnessed, and, considering only the mechanics of the thing, one's astonishment could hardly have been greater had they displayed wings and taken to flight. "Sure-footed mules" on such ground would have fallen and rolled like loosened bowlders. Many a time, where the slopes were far lower, I have been compelled to take off my shoes and stockings, tie them to my belt, and creep barefoot with the utmost caution. No wonder then that I watched the progress of these animal mountaineers with keen sympathy, and exulted in the boundless sufficiency of wild nature displayed in their invention, construction, and keeping. But judge the measure of my good fortune when, a few minutes later, I caught sight of a dozen more in one band, near the foot of the upper fall. They were standing on the same side of the river with me, distant only twentyfive or thirty yards, and looking as unworn and perfect as if created on the spot. It appeared by their tracks, which I had seen on the meadow, and by their present position, that when I came up the cañon they were all feeding together down in the valley, and in their haste to reach high ground, where they could look about them to ascertain the nature of the strange disturbance, they were divided, three ascending on one side the river, the rest on the other. The main band, headed by an experienced chief, now began to cross the rapids. This was another exciting feat; for, among all the varied experiences of mountaineers, the crossing of boisterous, rock-dashed torrents is found to be the most trying to the nerves. Yet these fine, brave fellows walked fearlessly to the brink, and jumped from bowlder to bowlder, holding themselves in perfect poise above the whirling, confusing current, as if they were doing nothing extraordinary.

The immediate foreground of this rare picture was glossy, ice-burnished granite, traversed by a few bold lines in which grew rock-ferns and tufts of healthy bryanthus, with the gray cañon walls on the sides, nobly sculptured and adorned with brown cedars and pines. In the distance were lofty peaks dipping into the azure, and in the mid

dle-ground was the snowy fall, the voice and soul of the landscape; fringing bushes beating time to its thunder-tones, the brave sheep in front of it; their gray forms slightly obscured in the spray, yet standing out in good heavy relief against the close white water, their huge horns rising and curving in the midst like the upturned roots of dead pine-trees, while the evening sunbeams streaming up the cañon gilded and glorified all. After crossing the river, the dauntless climbers, led on by their chief, at once began to scale the cañon wall, turning now right, now left, in long, single file, keeping well apart out of one another's way, and leaping in regular succession from crag to crag, now ascending slippery dome-curves, now walking leisurely along the edges of precipices, stopping, at times, to gaze down at me from some flat-topped rock, with heads held aslant, as if curious to learn what I thought about it, or whether I was likely to follow them. After reaching the top of the wall, which, at this place, is somewhere between one thousand five hundred, and two thousand feet high, they were still visible against the sky as they lingered, looking down in groups of two or three, giving rare animation to the wilderness.

Throughout the entire ascent they did not make a single awkward step, or an unsuccessful effort of any kind. I have frequently seen tame sheep in mountains jump upon a sloping rock-surface, hold on tremulously a few seconds, and fall back baffled and irresolute. But in the most trying situations, where the slightest want or inaccuracy would have resulted in destruction, these always seemed to move in comfortable reliance on their strength and skill, the limits of which they never appeared to know. Moreover, each one of the flock, while following the guidance of the most experienced, yet climbed with intelligent independence as a perfect individual, capable of separate existence whenever it should wish or be compelled to withdraw from the little clan. The domestic sheep, on the contrary, is only a fraction of an animal, a whole flock being required to form an individual, just as numerous florets are required to make one complete sunflower.

Those shepherds who, in summer, drive their flocks to the mountain pastures, and, while watching them night and day, have seen them torn to pieces by bears, disintegrated by storms, and scattered diverse like wind-driven chaff, will, in some measure, be able to appreciate the self-reliance and

strength and noble individuality of nature's sheep.


Like the Alp-climbing ibex of Europe, our mountaineer is said to plunge headlong down the faces of sheer precipices and alight on his big horns. I know only two hunters who claim to have actually witnessed this feat. I never was so fortunate. They describe the act as a diving head-foremost. The horns are so large at the base that they cover all the upper portion of the head down nearly to a level with the eyes, and the skull is exceedingly strong. struck an old, bleached specimen on Mount Ritter a dozen blows with my ice-ax without breaking it. Such skulls would not fracture very readily by the wildest rockdiving, but other bones could hardly be expected to hold together in such a performance; and the mechanical difficulties in the way of controlling their movements, after striking upon an irregular surface, are, in themselves, sufficient to show this bowlder-like method of progression to be impossible, even in the absence of all other evidence on the subject; moreover, the ewes follow wherever the rams may lead, and their horns are mere spikes. I have found many pairs of horns considerably battered-a result, most likely, of fighting, though, when a great leap is made, they may possibly seek to lighten the shock by striking their heads against anything that may chance to be favorably situated for the purpose, just as men mountaineers do with their hands. I have been interested in the question, after witnessing the performances of the San Joaquin band upon the glaciated rocks at the foot of the falls, and as soon as I procured specimens and examined their feet, all the mystery disappeared. secret, considered in connection with exceptionally strong muscles, is simply this: the wide posterior portion of the bottom of the foot, instead of wearing down and becoming flat and hard, like the feet of tame sheep and horses, bulges out in a soft, rubber-like pad or cushion, which not only grips and holds well on smooth rocks, but fits into small cavities, and down upon or against slight protuberances. Even the hardest portions of the edge of the hoof are comparatively soft and elastic; furthermore, the toes admit of an extraordinary amount of both lateral and vertical motion, allowing the foot to accommodate itself still more perfectly to the irregularities of rock surfaces, and at the same time increasing the gripping power.


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At the base of Sheep Rock, one of the winter strongholds of the Shasta flocks, there lives a stock-raiser who has the advantage of observing the movements of wild sheep every winter; and, in the course of a conversation with him on the subject of their diving habits, he pointed to the front of a lava headland about a hundred and fifty feet high, which is only eight or ten degrees out of the perpendicular. "There," said he, "I followed a band of them fellows to the back of that rock yonder, and expected to capture them all, for I thought I had a dead thing on them. I got behind them on a narrow bench that runs along the face of the wall near the top, and comes to an end where they couldn't get away without falling and being killed; but they jumped off, and landed all right, as if that were the regular thing with them."

"What!" said I, "jumped a hundred and fifty feet! Did you see them do it ?"

"No," he replied, "I didn't see them going down, for I was behind them; but I saw them go off over the brink, and then I went below and found their tracks where they struck on the loose débris at the bottom. They sailed right off, and landed on their feet right side up. That's the kind of animal they is-beats anything else that goes on four legs."

On another occasion, a flock that was pursued by hunters retreated to another portion of this same cliff where it is still higher, and, on being followed, they were seen jumping down in perfect order, one behind another, by two men who happened to be chopping where they had a fair view of them and could watch their progress from top to bottom. Both ewes and rams made the frightful descent without evincing any extraordinary concern, hug

ging close to the rock and controlling the velocity of their half falling, half leaping movements by striking at short intervals and holding back with their cushioned, rubber feet upon small ledges and roughened inclines until near the bottom, when they "sailed off" into the free air and alighted on their feet, but with their bodies so nearly in a vertical position that they appeared to be diving.

It appears, therefore, that the methods of this wild mountaineering become clearly comprehensible as soon as we make ourselves acquainted with the rocks, and the kind of feet and muscles brought to bear upon them.

The Modoc and Pah Ute Indians are, or, rather, have been, the most successful hunters of the wild sheep. Great numbers of heads and horns belonging to animals

highest peaks show that this warfare has long been going on.

In the more accessible ranges that stretch across the desert regions of western Utah and Nevada, considerable numbers of Indians used to hunt in company like packs of wolves, and being perfectly acquainted with the topography of their huntinggrounds, and with the habits and instincts of the game, they were pretty successful. On the tops of nearly every one of the Nevada mountains that I have visited, I found small, nest-like inclosures built of stones, in which, as I afterward learned, one or more Indians lay in wait while their companions scoured the ridges below, knowing that the alarmed sheep would surely run to the summit, and when they could be made to approach with the wind they were shot at short range.

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of Indians were of course required, more, indeed, than they could usually muster, counting in squaws, children, and all; they were compelled, therefore, to build rows of dummy hunters out of stones, along the ridge-tops they wished to prevent the sheep from crossing. And, without bringing any discredit upon the sagacity of the game, these dummies are found effective; for, with a few live Indians moving about excitedly among them, they can hardly be distinguished at a little distance from men, by any one not in the secret. The whole ridge-top then seems to be alive with hunters.

The only animal that may fairly be regarded as a companion of our sheep is the so-called Rocky Mountain goat (Aplocerus montana, Rich.), which, as its name indicates, is more antelope than goat. He, too, is a brave and hardy climber, fearlessly accompanying the sheep on the wildest summits, and braving with him the severest storms; but smaller, and much less dignified in demeanor. His jet-black horns are only about five or six inches in length, and the long white hair with which he is covered must obscure the expression of his limbs. I have never yet seen a living specimen of this American chamois, although a few bands, it is said, have been found in the Sierra. In some portions of the Rocky and Cascade mountains it occurs in flocks of considerable size, where it is eagerly pursued by the Indians, who make use of its skin in various ways as clothing, that of the head with the horns attached being sometimes worn as a cap.

Three species of deer are found in Californiathe black-tailed, white-tailed, and mule-deer. The first mentioned (Cervus Columbianus) is by far the most abundant, and occasionally meets the sheep during the summer on high glacier meadows, and along the edge of the timber-line; but being a forest animal, seeking shelter and rearing its young in dense thickets, it seldom visits the wild sheep in its higher homes. The antelope,


spot, favorably situated with reference to the well-known trails of the sheep, they built a high-walled corral, with long guiding wings, diverging from the gate-way; and into this inclosure they sometimes succeeded in driving the noble game. Great numbers

though not a mountaineer, is occasionally met in winter by the sheep while feeding along the edges of the sage-plains and bare volcanic hills to the east of the Sierra. So also is the mule-deer, which is almost restricted in its range to this eastern region. The white-tailed species belongs to the coast-ranges.

Perhaps no wild animal in the world is without enemies, but highlanders, as a class, have fewer than lowlanders. The wily panther, slipping and crouching among long grass and bushes, pounces upon the antelope and deer, but seldom crosses the bald, craggy thresholds of the sheep. Neither can the bears be regarded as enemies;

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