April 14, 1922
Blue Mt. Eagle

COUGAR GAVE DICK JOHNSON BUCK-AGUE



What would you have likely done?
Ralph Fisk relates a thrilling experience of early days,
in which three cougar figures, that makes one's hair stand on end.


Editor of the Eagle:

While I was in Canyon City visiting a few days ago, I was sitting in Geo. Patterson's pool room. I had the pleasure of listening to some pretty good stories told by some of the boys of their experiences they had with cougars in one way or another.

I didn't say anything, but their conversation reminded me of a little experience I had once. I want to say it may look a little spooky, but it is the truth and I have 3 witnesses still living to bear me out. They are Bart Hardman, Grangeville, Idaho, Frank Hardman of Ontario, Oregon and Dick Johnson of Austin, Grant County. Wm. Jeffries is dead. This was in the latter part of the hard winter of 1889. The cougars were driven down to the valleys out of the high mountains, and they were pretty hungry. I was living up at the head of Strawberry that winter.

Dick Johnson was living on Indian Creek. One morning Dick thought he would go up Indian Creek hunting and try and get a deer, as he was getting a little venison hungry. He borrowed a gun but only had 6 cartridges. He also borrowed Frank Markins famous cougar dog, and started up Little Indian Creek.

The snow was from one to 3 ft. deep in places. After going about a mile and half he struck a fresh cougar track, going east toward Strawberry Creek. He took in after it, supposing it was just one courgar, as he could never see but the one set of tracks. He tracked it all day, about 8 miles through deep snow and canyons until late in the day to a top of the ridge next to Strawberry Creek, thinking there was only one lone courgar, when all at once he ran on to a lot of deer tracks. Right here the cougars separated, one going around the left around some mahogany brush, and one to the right and another one going through the middle of the brush. Right here he hesitated, held a council with himself as to what to do; here I've been following all day what I supposed to be one lone cougar; and now I find there are three and I don't know how many more. He looked at his dog and looked at his gun and said, "I haven't but 6 cartridges; what shall I do?" "I have never shot this gun", well, as I have killed cougars before, I'll follow a little further. I may get a deer.

So on he went, following the one in the middle. He only went a little ways until another cougar jumped out of a Juniper tree and ran. Dick drew his trusty rifle to his face and fired at him on the run, shooting him in one foot. The dog gave chase and overtook the cougar in less than a hundred yards. The dog gave one bark the cougar grabbed him across the back and killed him dead. Dick reloaded and started on to see about his dog. In a few steps he saw his dog lying dead on the snow and hearing something on his right on looking around was another cougar sitting in front of him, wagging his tail and hissing at him, so he pulled up his gun and fired at him. The cougar made one spring and he was in the brush. He still wanted to see about his dog and walked on a few steps and heard another noise to his left. On looking around there sat another cougar wagging his tail and hissing at him ... not over 10 ft. away. He pulled up his gun to shoot this one and took the buck-ague and didn't shoot, as he had already shot twice; supposing he had missed both shots. His dog was dead. "I've only got 4 cartridges left and I don't know how many more cougars there are. I'll keep them to defend myself". He held his gun on the cougar and backed off a hundred yards or more out of sight of the cougar. He then made tracks down the hill to Strawberry Creek, on down to Wm. Peffers sawmill about a mile in distant and was about all in.

After relating his story, Mr. Jefferies made some hot coffee and prepared other eatable and he got a good lot of it under his belt and felt lots better.

After supper, he and Jeffries came down to where I live about a mile below me to get me and my dog and also went down another mile to get Bart and Frank Hardman and their 2 dogs to go back with him the next day, as he didn't know whether he killed any or not. He knew there was one more there that he didn't shoot at but which he backed off from when he took the buck-ague and didn't know how many more there were. It seem to him as though the woods were full of them. Dick was a good shot and a number one hunter, but the reader can see that the best of them would get rattled in a predicament like this.

So early the next morning five of us, the names I have already mentioned with myself on snowshoes, with 5 dogs started up the mountain to the battle ground of the day before.

On arriving at the battlefield we separated, a couple going around to the left, another around to the right and Dick and I took the middle and got up to where the dog lay dead. About 50 yards up the hill was where Dick had shot the second one and backed off from the 3rd one, saying to himself, "Mr. Cougar, if you'll let me alone, I'll let you alone." And he did so, as he said he could not hold his gun still enough to hit the side of a barn. Anything like it he said, had never happened to him before, well, on arriving where he shot the second one, he had given it a dead shot, but being so rattled and seeing another one within 40 ft. snarling and wagging his tail at him and seeing his dog was killed got on his nerves, so he didn't lose anytime in getting away. He showed where he shot the 2nd cougar. We went there and saw where he had made one jump into the brush. The blood had spurted in every direction. He and I crawled through brush, following the blood on the snow for about 50 yards. There the courgar lay dead under a big fir tree with his great limbs protruding out on both side of the tree. On the south side of the tree a big root went out and there was no snow. So we thought it would be a good place to eat our lunch and skin the cougar that lay there. So we hollered for the other boys to come there. We set our guns against the tree, I even stood my snow shoes up against the tree and almost touching a big limb upon which a cougar was sitting very quitely and another cougar croaching on a limb on the opposite side, right over our heads where we were sitting and eating our lunch. After lunch, we smoked our pipes and conversed about where the two cougars had gone and that the best way for us to go was to take a circle and find their tracks. Mind you, we called the 5 dogs in so that they would be fresh in case we ran on to the cougars and they lay down under this tree, not even discovering the two cougars sitting over our heads.

As we all raised up to start on, I was reaching for my gun on the opposite side of the tree, when a cougar lit out of the tree and landed within 6 ft. in front of me on the run. We all seemed to see him at the same time, dogs and all. So away went all 5 of the dogs.

They treed the cougar in about 150 yards. We all ran down and I getting there first, took a crack at him. It so happened that it was a dead shot and he fell to the ground. Then arose an argument as to where this cougar came from. Some thought he was slipping up on us when he discovered the dogs and turned to run. Some said they saw him jump from the tree. So to settle the dispute we went back to the tree, and to get our snow shoes. When we got there, we discovered he had jumped from a big limb that my snow shoes almost touched.

On the other side, where we had been sitting eating our lunch, we discovered while we were after the first one that jumped out, another one had jumped out from over our heads and had taken down toward the creek.

It was the one Dick shot in the foot the night before, as his foot was still bleeding at times.

So we started the dogs on his track and we followed in pursuit. The cougar had run a half mile and came to an open spot where there wasn't a tree within a hundred feet, stopped, back tracked himself and went up into some tree. The dogs and all of us looked up and down and failed to even get a glimpse of him or find any tree that he had gone into. We looked for over 2 hours and gave up for that day. Going back and skinning the two that we had killed, we took their hides home, as there was a $10.00 bounty on them.

Next morning early all started out again and on arriving at the battle ground, discovered that the cougar had come back there in the night and had eaten half of the dead cougar that lay under the tree. You see he was pretty hungry. He then went up on the ridge about a quarter of a mile away and climbed up a small fir tree in which was a lot of mistletoe. He had taken several circles around, crossed and re-crossed his tracks, going close to several trees and finally coming around on his same tracks and then jumping into the tree he wanted, leaving no trace or sign in any way where he was or where he had gone.

We had been following around and around when Dick and I came to this fir tree. Dick said, "Hold on Ralph, I think I see him." "I saw something move up in the mistletoe", but when we got our guns off from our backs, as we were on snow shoes, we could never see him anymore. We went around and around that tree, and under it, and couldn't see a scratch or sign where he had gone up the tree. For over an hour, we talked and hollered and never could see him make a move, so we concluded that Dick was mistaken about seeing something move in the mistletoe. We then went back to the battle ground to see if we couldn't get some trace elsewhere.

We all got together and as it had been storming all day, we were pretty wet and concluded to go home and try it again the next day, so Bart & Frank Hardman, Mr. Jeffries and myself took down the creek toward home, taking all the dogs with us. Mr. Johnson, living over the other way, went back over the ridge. When on top a thought struck him to take a little reconnoiter and see if he could see where the cougar had gone out. As he was going by the tree where he thought he had seen something move about an hour before and when he got within 75 yards of this same tree, Mr. Cougar jumped to the ground and ran toward Strawberry Creek. Before Mr. Johnson could get his gun off from his back, the cougar was out of sight, but he followed him, seeing him several times going up trees, jumping our [?] and going on before he could get a shot, as he had no dogs with him. He followed him until he lost sight of him, as he had the day before, his tracks running out so that he couldn't tell what tree he went up.

Dark came and he came on down, stayed all night with us. Next morning we took up strycnine and put it in the dog carcass, also the remainder of the cougar carcass, as he was coming back every night and eating on both the carcasses, we were sure we would get him that way.

But we did not, so we went up for several days and followed him all over Slide Mt. and he would come right back. So one day we laid off and Mr. Jeffries having nothing to do took his 2 dogs and went up to see if he could find any trace of him. He concluded he would try a new place to climb the hill and after getting pretty well up the hill the dogs jumped the cougar, lying on the ground and took right in after him, and crowded him so close that he took to a tree down on the creek and they, being so close, saw what tree he went up. They kept up their barking until Mr. Jeffries got there and shot him.

This was the 8th or 10th day that we had been after this one cougar, as he would come back every night and eat off the dead cougar and dog.

Thus ends the story where two dead cougars sat in a tree over the dead body of another cougar, watching 5 men and 5 dogs eating their lunches right under them for 30 minutes without being discovered and not over 10 ft. from the ground.

THIS IS A WARNING TO ALL HUNTERS TO LOOK UP IN THE TREE BEFORE SITTING DOWN UNDER IT WHEN IN THE MOUNTAINS.!!!!!

W. Ralph Fisk




1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved


Return to Grant County, Oregon Home Page
Return to the Oregon - American Local History Network
Return to the - American Local History Network