Java was an old maverick bull with nine wrinkles on his horns. He was in his prime, wise in the ways of fighting and tough as a bundle of Indian rubber. His weight was just short of a ton and his huge horns grew out from his head, dipped forward and turned up again like those of a Mexican fighting bull. He was an Arizona range bull and he walked along a game trail in his favorite piece of country which was known to the local cowboys as Hell’s Half Acre. It was an area of broken rocks, deep washes and underbrush. Oak, manzanita and cedar gave him cover while the various native grasses and browses provided abundant feed.
Hell’s Half Acre was, and still is, sheltered on the north by the Little Diamond Rim and is bounded to the south by the east fork of the Rio Verde.
Java was a true “bull of the woods.” He hadn’t lost a fight with another bull or anything else since he was 4 years old and he had run a horn through more than his share of varmints.
Twice he had been roped. The first time resulted in a broken reata, and the second time the cinch had given way on the cowboy’s saddle. Java had dragged the saddle around for a couple of weeks, pausing often to hook and fight it until there was nothing left, but the nubbin’ end of a rope dangling from his horns and now even that was gone.
He paused shortly to give out a low beller then another before letting go four more bawls each higher in pitch than its predecessor. Twice and again he pawed the ground with his front feet, throwing dirt and debris behind him and raising a dust cloud. Then he gave a great shake of his shaggy head before raising it again to test the unwanted scent on the wind. For all his life he had turned aside when he encountered the bear smell, but today it only served to stir him to anger.
He had not watered for two days and he would yield the trail to the Rio Verde to no other beast, even a great bear. He walked on, moving under a cedar tree, letting its lower limbs brush the flies from his tawny hide. The bear smell was stronger and the big bull let out another low and guttural bawl as he broke into an angry trot.
The black bear was a giant of his kind. Even the big mountain cats avoided him. His diet included acorns, grubs, cedar berries, ants, bees and their dens and hives, but he had also killed cattle and deer in times of hunger. He feared nothing except the men and dogs that had run him almost to his death. Even those he had finally lost in the bluffs of the Little Diamond.
He caught the rank scent of the bovine on the breeze and heard his challenge. The thought of warm blood and meat brought the saliva to his mouth. He rose to his hind legs and waited in the clearing.
Java had worked himself into a red-eyed rage and he came to the bear in full charge, but it wasn’t the blind rush of an inexperienced bull. He came with lowered head and open eyes, so he did not pass blindly by when the bear lunged to avoid his great horns, but turned like a cat when its tail is jerked and met the bruin in full stride. The bear was rolled over then run over by the advance of the thundering bull, but a slap from a great forepaw sent Java stumbling to the dust. Both animals gained their feet at the same time and came together hoof and horn, tooth and claw.
With the ungoverned rage known only to wild animals, they fought with first one then the other gaining a slight advantage, but the fight was to the death and neither would willingly yield an inch.
Great raking claws tore at the sides of Java time and again. The blows rained on his head, neck, and shoulders were likened to strikes from a great ape, but the blood of the bear reddened his horns.
No man saw the fight, but in 1912, my granddad, Walter Lovelady, found the bull dead in the middle of the clearing. The bloody tracks of the bear led away from the battle scene toward the Little Diamond. He had managed to haul himself a quarter of a mile from the clearing with his belly ripped from stem to stern and his entrails dragging.
Some may believe I have glorified the story, but more likely, I failed to do it justice.
Como Siempré, Jinx