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Literature of Mount Shasta

Game Regions of the Upper Sacramento

From Picturesque California
Edited by John Muir

By Joaquin Miller

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My mountains must be free,
They hurl oppression back;
They keep the boon of liberty.

Were I asked to put a finger on the one most favored spot to be found on the map of the world for rod and gun and restful camp, I would indicate the tributary waters of the Sacramento, with Mount Shasta for a tent. And not because the first and best years of my life lay there, nor because I owe all I hope to be to this mighty, throbbing heart of roaring, white waters; but solely because there is gathered in and about this preeminent place more of the great things of earth than enter into the delights of a strong, healthful man in love with nature than can be found in any other one part of the world.

Source of the Sacramento River from Picturesque California edited by John Muir
Source of the Sacramento River
Diagram by Burnham

Back of all this lies the comfortable fact that this focus and center of the sportsman's Eden is now quite as accessible as a city park. The Englishman in his journey around the world may arrive in San Francisco this evening, go to bed and be awakened next morning by the roaring waters from the melting snows of Mount Shasta, with the mountain lion and the grizzly bear on the overhanging crags for a background to the view as he looks from the window of his palace car. Thirty-five years ago it cost half a year, a small fortune, much patience, peril, often life itself to reach this paradise of the "mighty hunter." But now at last, and within this year, time, cost, peril,--all have been swept away together, while the mountains in all their black-white majesty remain-and ever must remain, thank God-as unchanged as the ocean. And the huge wild beasts are there in their fastnesses as of old. The trout in the sparkling waters are still eddying about under the overhanging rocks and beneath the gnarled and mossy roots that reach from giant trees, "bald with antiquity."

Go with me to this heart of the world's heart for an hour,--for who should know the haunts and habits of all things here so entirely? In the first place few equipments are needed. You want your favorite gun, of course, good substantial boots, and that's about all. The best of hotel comforts, all the detail of fishing appurtenances, tents if you tire of the hotels and wish to penetrate farther than the farthest, all these things are on the ground and to be had at fair cost. But there is one sort of outfit you must surely have before starting, and that is a kind of mental equipment. You must catch the colors. Do this and you will come away content. Your catch of trout, your deathshot at the black, brown, or grizzly bear,--all this will to the end of life be mere detail in comparison of results. This intensity and emphasis of color is due to the sapphire and purple of the skies and the mighty mountain of snow. The vast and high-held world of whiteness above you, only a little below the sapphire of heaven, as it seems when you look up through the black immensity of trees overhead; this Mount-Shasta heaven and earth coming so close together-these two things make a new or at least a magnified and an intensified world of color. And this element enters into all things there, even down to the fiery red blossom that bursts through the snow at your feet. I implore you go prepared to see and comprehend, so far as possible, the indescribable calm of this colossal Shasta world. The soul grows there.

Make your first, if not your final, stopping place at Lower Soda Springs. This spring is of itself, to say nothing of its fabulously invigorating waters, a curious study. Besides that, it is the first spot ever occupied by the white man in all its region. And such men as Hastings, Lane, Frémont, made few mistakes in selecting camps. Here too some battles were fought in the old days. When "Mountain Joe" and myself owned the place the house was sacked and burned. The Indians retreated across the Sacramento river with their plunder and climbed to near the summit of the almost inaccessible crags that pierce the clouds over against Mount Shasta. And here on these gray and glorious heights we fought and vanquished them on the Fifteenth day of June, 1855. The deep cleft in the left side of my face is the work of an Indian arrow received in that deadly little engagement.

Do not pitch camp closer to Mount Shasta than Soda Springs. It is a mistake to ram your head right up against a mountain, as if you were afraid you could not see it at a respectful distance. There is an impertinence in that sort of doing, and it has its punishments, such as snow-blindness, rheumatism, and so on. Mountains are like pictures; made neither to smell nor to eat. And yet in the Vatican at Rome and in the Sierras of California you see herds of people who push themselves as far to the front as the bar of iron or the bank of snow will allow. The best in nature, like the best in art, is sacred. Look upon it respectfully, reverently, or not at all. Even the wild beasts know that much.

In Camp from Picturesque California edited by John Muir
In Camp
Diagram by V. Perard

The haunt of the bear changes somewhat with the season, although he is perhaps less of a nomad than any other inhabitant of these altitudes. The grizzly has been known to remain within an area of a few miles of dense wood and trackless rocks for a generation. And that is the meaning of the little mounds of stones which you find on the old Indian trails that track from one tributary to another on the head waters of the Sacramento River. It was the custom for each Indian as he passed the place where one of his people had been killed or maimed by one of these monsters, to pitch a stone or pebble onto the spot. And thus from year to year the mound of stones was formed. No doubt some sentiment of pity or respect lay at the bottom of the custom; but back of that lay the solid and practical fact of a warning to all unwary passers-by, that the grizzly bear had been there and probably at that moment was not many miles away.

The Story of the Mound from Picturesque California edited by John Muir
The Story of the Mound

I beg here to digress enough to state that the Indians, until taught better by the white man, would not harm a grizzly bear, even in self-defense. For they held that the grizzly bear was the father of the Indian. The mother of the Indian they asserted to have been the daughter of the Creator, who dwelt in Mount Shasta. They held that the mountain was, of old, hollow like a tent; that they could see the smoke coming out from the top of the great wigwam. And their story is to the effect that once when the wind was blowing fearfully from the ocean-which may be seen from the summit of the mountain on any day of exceptional clearness-the Great Spirit sent his daughter up to beseech the wind to be still; that he warned her not to put her head out for fear the wind would get into her hair, which was long as the rainbow, and blow her away. Being a woman, however, she put her head away out, and so was blown out and down to the very bottom of the snow where the chief of the grizzly bears was camped with his family. The Indians further insist that the grizzly bear at that time talked, walked erect, and even went hunting with bow and arrows and spear, and the story goes on to say that, in violation of all the laws of hospitality, the daughter of the Great Spirit was made captive and compelled to be the wife of the chief's son, and so became the mother of all good Indians. Finally, when the Great Spirit found out what had happened to his daughter, he came out and down the mountain in a great fury; and calling all the bears together he broke their hands and feet with a club and made them get down on their all-fours like other beasts. He made them shut their mouths so that they could talk no more forever, and then, going back and down into the hollow of Mount Shasta, he put out the fire in his wigwam and was seen no more. They point to the three great black spots on the south side of the mountain and say these are his footprints and explain that he descended the whole vast cone in three long strides, showing how very angry he was. And as evidence of the truthfulness of what they say about their origin, they point to the fact that the grizzly bear is even yet permitted to use his fists and stand up and fight like a man when hard pressed.

All the Indians believe to this day that the grizzly bear can talk, if you will only sit still when he comes up and hear what he has to say. But this may not be advisable. However, I know one wrinkled and leather-looking old woman, a century old perhaps, who used almost daily go out to a heap of rocks on the edge of a thicket and talk, as she said, with a grizzly bear. She was greatly respected.

Late Autumn or the very early Spring is the best time hunting this king of the Sierra; the only safe time, indeed. For when the she-bear has young it is simply folly to be found in her vicinity. At other times this brute is not more to be dreaded than any other wild beast equally strong and reckless of danger.

All that wide and savage water-shed of the Sacramento tributaries to the south and west of Mount Shasta affords good bear hunting at almost any season of the year-if you care to take the risks. But he is a velvet-footed fellow, and often when and where you expect peace you find a grizzly. Quite often when and where you think you are alone, just when you begin to be certain that there is not a single grizzly bear in the mountains, when you begin to breathe the musky perfume of Mother Nature as she shakes out the twilight stars in her hair, and you start homeward, there stands your long-lost bear in your path! And your hair stands up! And your bear stands up! And you wish you had not lost him! And you wish you had not found him! And you start home! And you go the other way, glad, glad to the heart if he does not come tearing on after you.

More than thirty years ago in company with a cultured young man, Volney Abby by name, I went hunting for bear up Castle Creek, about a mile from the banks of the Sacramento. Pretty little dimples of prairie lay here and there, breaking the sombre monotony of pine and cedar, and, as we leisurely walked on, the waters sang among the mossy boulders in the bed of the creek with a singularly restful melody. My companion took out his Homer and as we sat on a mossy log he read aloud of the wanderings of Ulysses till twilight made him close the page. Our path, an old Indian trail, lay close by the singing waters that foamed down their steep way of rocks. To our right and up and away from the stream stretched a little crescent of wild clover. As my companion closed the book I caught sight of a pine tree dripping with rosin. The Indians peel off and eat the inner portion of pine bark at certain seasons of the year, and all through the Sierra you can to this day see evidences of this meagre means of subsistence. An Indian had been resting and feasting in this same sweet little clearing by the singing waters only a year or two before. I struck a match, touched it to the scarred and dripping white face of the pine-and such a light!

A grizzly! A grizzly! God help us! He came bounding down upon us like an avalanche, fat, huge, bow-legged, low to the ground, but terrible! He halted, just a second, to look at the fire perhaps, when my companion, bolder than I and more prompt to act, blazed away. The bear rolled over, being badly hit. But he kept rolling and tumbling straight in our direction, and not a tree or stump or stone at hand; only the old mossy log on which we had been sitting. I wanted to run. "We must fight!" yelled my friend. I jerked up my gun and he got at his knife, as the monster with his big red mouth wide open tumbled over the log full upon us, breaking my gun in two at the breech and taking the most of my companion's red shirt in his teeth as he passed. But he passed, thank heaven, passed right on. He did not pause one second. He did not even seem to see us. I think the fire may have blinded him and so saved our lives.

Hunter's Bivouac.-Shasta Forest from Picturesque California edited by John Muir
Hunter's Bivouac.-Shasta Forest
Diagram by V. Perard

As to hunting this branch of the bear family in large parties, as proposed by some, and as I have seen hunting done in India, I cannot advise it. For one of these beasts could crush and mangle a dozen men as easily as one. All he desires when hurt is to get at you. The rest is merely detail with him. There is much said about the advisability of lying down and lying still when a bear is coming and you have no means of escape. This is a strain on the nerves, and it is not sure of adequate reward. I know one Indian, "Grizzly Dick,"-and who of the old mountaineers does not remember poor, simple Indian Dick with his triangular face and his one eye twisted upside down?-who had tried this method and barely got off with his life. It is safe to say that the majority of Indians, and white men as well, who thus far have tried this conciliatory method of lying down when they saw a grizzly coming, lay down the next time inside the monster's maw. I may, however, mention one white man, an Irishman, who escaped after close contact with a grizzly bear, but as by a miracle. And this is the only instance I can recall. This man was in the lead of a party of prospectors crossing a mountain, when he suddenly met the grizzly monster face to face. The man fell on his knees to pray. And then, as the beast shuffled forward, his big loose claws rattling and his big ungainly feet fairly shaking the ground, the poor man could no longer even support himself upon his knees, but fell forward on his hands; his companions in the rear meantime having clambered into trees. The bear paused at sight of this singular animal before him. It probably reminded him of his own fair image in childhood, which no doubt he had often seen mirrored in the glassy lake. Or this hairy and rugged miner may have reminded him of some of his shaggy and ungainly little boys in his rocky home close at hand. At any rate he came up and smelled of the puzzling stranger, much after the fashion of a dog on meeting a strange fellow-canine. And I have heard the men, those who had clambered into the trees, solemnly assert that the Irishman responded in like simple inquiry; but of course this is not so. Be these things as they may, I am glad to record that in this single instance the terrified man escaped unhurt, and ever after ascribed his escape to his prayer and the Holy Virgin.

 from Picturesque California edited by John Muir
Old Grizzly Surprised
Diagram by V.P.

It must be borne in mind that the grizzly bear of the Sierra is quite a different creature, so far as size, courage and ferocity are concerned, from his brother of the valley. Frémont once told me of finding a great number of grizzlies under the oaks near Santa Barbara feeding on acorns which the young bears threw down from the branches overhead, where they were forced by their seniors to climb and break off the boughs. I observe that in his reports to the Government he speaks of having attacked a large family of grizzlies on one occasion of this kind and killed thirteen of them on the spot. I have myself seen this animal feeding under the oaks in Napa valley in number together, and that as composedly and as careless of danger as if they had been hogs feeding on nuts under the hickory trees of the Wabash. But, as said before, this was another order of bear, so far as size and savagery are concerned, than that of the region of Mount Shasta, the highest point and the real heart of California.

Botanists have found in the vicinity of San Diego a clump of trees entirely new to science. The Monterey cypress is peculiar to Monterey only. It is said that the huge and blood-soaked blocks of stone that make the foundations of the Coloseum at Rome have generated many new flowers. And so we are permitted to hold that the savage guardian of this sublime heart of the Sierras has brought forth and nourished a new or at least a more terrible and monstrous order of beast then ever was encountered on the lower levels of California. As found on the savage and almost inaccessible spurs of Mount Shasta he is certainly the king of all the beasts of America, if not of all the world; and in this fact I find excuse for having dwelt at some length on his habits and his haunts on the headwaters of the Sacramento River.

Sunday Morning Toilet from Picturesque California edited by John Muir
Sunday Morning Toilet

The next animal in rank, both in size and importance to the sportsman of this region, is the mountain elk. And he also is much larger than his brother in the valleys-like the grizzly bear, which often attains to the weight of two thousand pounds. He is also full of battle when pushed to the wall, his nature thus taking to itself something of the unconquerable splendor of his lofty environments. The haunt of this noble and high-headed creature is (or was, until driven farther up the savage spurs of Mount Shasta by the invasion of our armies and the shock of battle,) not far from the Modoc lava beds, or rather between these rocky fastnesses and the snow belt on the eastern and south-eastern base of the great snow peak. This large elk, certainly the largest in the world, seems to have been born of the thermal springs that burst from the savage and sublime mountain along the lower edges of everlasting snow. To find him at home the hunter will have to change his base from Soda Springs, on the banks of the Sacramento, and move around the mountain about twenty-five miles to the eastward. His is a gregarious animal, more so than any other creature on the continent, save perhaps the buffalo, and so you may have to search long before finding him. True, if there have been invasions, as is not unlikely in the progress of civilization, you may find his large family broken up and scattered about through the dense wood and dimpled little valleys that prevail here. But in his undisturbed state, as I knew him, he is a great lover of his kind, and is to be found only in herds numbering from fifty to five hundred.

In the Winter of 1856-7 I set out from the sweet little Now-ow-wa Valley (since named "Squaw Valley" by the coarse and common hunters who kill game as a source of livelihood) with two fine young Indian hunters from the McCloud River, in quest of a band of elk. The winter had thus far been terribly severe and the large tribe of Indians encamped on banks of the McCloud, some ten miles distant, were starving. The snow had been falling soft and continuously for a long time. It lay from five to ten feet deep and was so wet and soft that the Indians even on their snow-shoes had been unable to move; hence their destitution. But now clear, cold winter was suddenly upon us, and this was their opportunity. The snow was hard as a floor. The sky was sapphire. The air keen and crisp and full of spice and energy. The perfume of the frosted fir and spruce and pine and tamarack filled us with such an intoxicating delight as I never shall know again. We struck straight up the mountain, right against the gleaming world of snow. We must have made forty miles that day and encamped under one of "God's tents"-this is the name given them by the Indians. They are formed entirely of the snow, with a huge and bushy fir-tree whose broad and low boughs reach out and over and down till pinned to the solid snow-bank. And thus is formed a perfect and most shapely tent of solid snow with dry quills for bed, and little dry, resinous and most fragrant cones for fire. And, oh! the perfume that fills this tent of snow, when the gentle flame starts and the indolent smoke lazily reaches up and loses itself in the lofty arches overhead!

A Critical Moment from Picturesque California edited by John Muir
A Critical Moment
Diagram by A. Keller

The next day we came upon one of the warm springs, a bad, boggy hole in the side of the mountain containing perhaps two acres. The elk had been there only a few days before. Everything had been eaten to the earth, the vine maple, the birch, the alder, all things. There were stumps of willows here and there as large as my arm. The elk were evidently as hungry as the Indians and were eating solid wood. We found where they had broken this corral of snow. It looked as if some huge saw-log had been drawn up the mountain by lumbermen; only this one deep track, and that leading sharp and steep up the world of solid snow. The Indians tightened their belts, tied their moccasins, loosened their arms, and with blazing eyes bounded forward. I followed as fast as I could.

'The Monster Tumbled Over The Log Right Upon Us.' from Picturesque California edited by John Muir
"The Monster Tumbled Over The Log Right Upon Us."

The banks of snow on either side of this trench stood higher than my head. Now and then I could see where the big bull leader of the herd had rolled aside in the snow to fall into the rear while another took his place. On the crest of a cañon I came upon my Indians crouching down under the snow-bank in a blaze of suppressed excitement. Peering over them I saw a herd of many hundred elk, all lying down and ruminating under the dense trees on little hillocks that rose among the steaming warm springs.

The Indians conceded me the first shot, and I made my mark the shaggy tuft of hair that lay between a pair of most majestic horns. Over the knoll of snow and down into the corrall the Indians leaped, bows and bunches of arrows in hand, leaving their guns behind them; and before the poor cattle were yet fully on their feet their eager captors were sinking arrows up to the feathers in their sides.

On the Trail of the Elk from Picturesque California edited by John Muir
On the Trail of the Elk
Diagram by V. Perard, '88

And what a slaughter! Some of the bulls sullenly shook their stately horns, and struck out with their sharp and deadly hoofs, trying to fight. The Indians, however, lost no time in hesitation. They drove the elk into the crusted deep snow on every side, broke all discipline of the kingly camp, and darting around on the snow where the poor beasts wallowed helplessly, soon had the band in their power. A tribe was starving. There was no time for pity or sentiment; and they were equal to their bloody work. And the wolves! the wild-cats! the California lions that night! If you want a wild and a terrible sight, if you want to see savagery, to hear the howl of fiends, go high up Mount Shasta and put the scent of blood in the air on a mid-winter night!

In the early days the formidable antlers of these elk figured conspicuously as a means of defense in Indian warfare. In this same winter of which I have spoken, even while I was out on the hunting expedition referred to, the Pitt River Indians rose up one night and massacred all the white settlers, nearly twenty in number, and re-claimed all that region lying below the Lava Beds down to near the Red Bluffs, and now known chiefly as the Fall River country. As I was about the only white person left who was familiar with the country, I went out with the first expedition of volunteers as guide, and subsequently

A Midnight Prowler from Picturesque California edited by John Muir
A Midnight Prowler

served with General Crook, who was then a lieutenant. But as we approached the scenes of the bloody massacre we found that the Indians had prepared great pits, or rather restored their old pits (which gives the name to that region), and had placed elk's antlers at the bottom of them. We lost several horses in these deadly pitfalls and had some men badly hurt. They were always placed in some narrow pass, entirely concealed by leaves and light sticks and branches, and were from ten to fifteen feet deep, with the sharp upturned antlers at the bottom.

The brown and black bear are found in numbers here, and in the early days they were as abundant as hogs on a farm, and quite as harmless. They always hibernate, and generally in the hollow base of some stout tree. The Indians have dogs trained to smell them out, when they have permitted themselves to be snowed under. The Indians begin to dig down so soon as they find where bruin is hidden, and, strangely enough, so soon as the bear hears them he begins to dig out. He comes crawling to the surface, blinking and blinded by the glittering snow, and falls an easy prey. It is no uncommon thing for Indians to tie a rope around the mouth of a bear found thus and lead him into camp to amuse the children. Contrary to the pretty and poetical notion, that the bear of the Sierras goes to sleep with the falling leaf and wakes with the Spring, I happen to know that the whole bear family, from the imperial grizzly down to the dwarf black bear with big ears, does not sleep for the season, but dines not infrequently, he dines without leaving his den. And yet the lazy, unclean fellow has laid by no store. The three kinds of deer found on the head-waters of the great river of California are nomadic, and move with the snow. Let the snow disappear and they disappear with it. The Mountain Sheep is found only on the farther and north-east side of Mount Shasta; sure-footed, gregarious, harmless and hard to capture.

The California lion abounds here, but he is a sneak and coward, and, were it not for his fine skin and claws, would hardly deserve mention. There is scarcely any fight in him, even when wounded. But at the Upper Soda Springs I saw only a short time since a sweet little girl with two great holes in the side of her neck. These had been made by this comely and supple coward. The beast had sprung upon her when only a few steps from the hotel door. He ran up the mountain dragging the poor little girl in his teeth by the throat, sucking her blood as he ran. Fortunately her grandfather happened to have his rifle near at hand. He pursued and killed the lion, and brought the child back to her mother.

For nearly half a century these cool and flashing head-waters of the great California river have been counted the best fishing grounds, even in a country celebrated as the very elysium of Izaak Walton's disciples. In them is to be found a new fish not known elsewhere in the world; as full of fight as it is possible for a fish to be with a hook in his mouth; proud too, disdaining small things, despising worms and warm pools and all shallow waters. This fish is of the trout family, and, as his great size and strength suggest, he is the king of all trout. He is to be found, so far as I can learn, only in the McCloud river, and that too only far up in the fresh snow-water, even laying his head and glittering sides against the icy banks of snow. His beautiful and varied colors have given him among the fishermen of this region the name of "Dolly Varden." But science knows him not and I think he has no other name save that of his Indian appelative, "Wi-la-da-it," or "Fighting Fish." I sent a skin of one of these fishes some years ago to Hon. R. B. Roosevelt, famous as an authority in such matters; but, as said before, this fish is, or was at that time, new to the learned. Only last season one of these bright beauties, after he had fought for half an hour and was apparently dead, pulled a man into the river and nearly cost him his life. He was saved from drowning by his companion, who plunged own the steep bank into the deep water where he had fallen and contrived to get him to the shore before he was carried over the falls only a short distance below-a rare instance of getting advantage from fishing in company with another, which, I must say, savors of profanity in a temple. Of course there are fishermen and fishermen; but the man who, to my mind, has any right to fish, fishes alone. The light, the peeps through the trees, the fragrance, above all the perfume of the cool and perfect temple of nature,--all these are lost with a crowd, are made less sacred with the sound of voices.

To take the ordinary trout,--and you will always have great respect for this spirited fish, till you have encountered the Wi-la-da-kit-you have only to visit these head-waters made from the melting snows of Mount Shasta, and then cast in your line. Under the shadows of the huge sugar pines, beneath the gnarled roots of ancient trees at the base of the steep red hills, you will find them eddying about by the basketful in almost any one of the thousand white streams that come tumbling headlong down from out the awful cañons-as if afraid of the grizzlies there. But go on up and up and up, find new grounds and take your trout skillfully and sparingly like a gentleman. There is a great difference in dollars. How much bigger and how much better is a dollar quietly made by the pen or the plow than a dollar obtained by selling beer and washing glasses for a garrulous mob! And so it is with your catch of trout. When the day's hard tramp is done let each crisp little trout taste of the perfumed woods, of the flashing white waters, the mossy brown rocks under foot, the emerald world of woods overhead, the gleaming snow beyond, and over all and still beyond, the fervid sapphire skies of California; and, although you may have disdained to take but the one trout, it will be enough-and the miraculous draught of Galilee was no more.

After A Day's Sport in the Sierras from Picturesque California edited by John Muir
After A Day's Sport in the Sierras
Photogravure from drawing by F.O.C. Darley

Bears evince great sagacity as mountaineers,
but they seldom cross the range.
Sometimes they follow after cattle and sheep
to feed on the stragglers
and those that had fallen over the precipicices.

 from Picturesque California edited by John Muir
A Herd of Elk-Pitt River Cañon
Photogravure from painting by Thomas Hill

In his undisturbed state the elk is a great
lover of his kind, and is to be found only in herds
numbering fifty to five hundred.

 from Picturesque California edited by John Muir
Spearing Salmon-McCloud River Falls
Photogravure from painting by Thomas Hill

Man first used the spear for taking fish;
next, the hook and line; and, lastly, the net.


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