It was in the spring of 1969 and the winter had been a dry one in the Rim Country. The bears came out hibernation hungry, but there wasn’t much for them to eat in the way of native food. Most of the creeks that ran down from the Mogollon Rim were dry before they hit the Control Road, so the KS branded cattle and predators alike were running high up under the Rim. The bears had been feeding on new-born calves and we had lost close to 20 head along with two cows that had been killed while trying to fight the bears off their calves. Dad and I had trapped and/or killed about as many bears as they had killed calves and had run that many more off our winter range with dogs.
The cattle hadn’t been bothered for about 10 days when I threw a saddle on Chiso and started for the top of the Mountain. The KS cows knew it was about time to head for their summer range on top of the Mogollon and had been going up the Myrtle Trail in bunches of five to eight every day. It wasn’t quite time to put them through the fence, so Dad or I would ride to the head of the trail and drive the cows back down off the Mountain on an almost daily basis.
At the foot of the trail I saw cow tracks on top of Dad’s horse tracks made the day before, so I figured to find another bunch of cattle hung up at the fence atop the Mountain. I did and they weren’t too happy with me when I turned them down the trail and started them off the Mountain, but I had two good cow dogs, Johnny Ringo and Curley Bill, so the cattle went willingly enough. The two Australian Shepherds were pretty bear-wise, having run with the hounds after the bruins most of that spring.
I had my little herd past the second switchback when the lead cow stopped dead in her tracks. She let out a bawl any cowboy would recognize. It had the elements of fear, warning, and fighting wrapped up in one sound. The two dogs knew the sound, too, and we saw the bear about the same time. He rose to his hind legs as Johnny and Curley opened with a series of sharp yaps and charged him going around the cattle. The bruin switched ends and scorched his dew claws heading back down the trail.
After about 200 yards, the trail dropped onto a bench, then turned down the east side of a ridge. I could hear the dogs about a quarter of a mile off the west side and I knew by the way they were barking they had the bear either bayed or treed. Chiso and I dropped off the side of the Mountain faster than the Dow Jones Industrials after an Obama speech.
Before I knew it, I was almost on top of the battle that was raging right under me. There was no time to stop or even slow down. We were in a fast-dropping drainage with a big, old leaning pine on one side and a bunch of rocks and jack pines on the other. The dogs had the bear bayed right in the middle of the drainage. I set my boots in the stirrups and waited for the collision.
Chiso was a big horse, 1400 pounds of Tennessee Walker, Quarter Horse and thoroughbred. He was built like a locomotive and active as a cat. At about 15 feet from the fracas he jumped! I looked down and saw the bear flash by under Chiso’s belly, then felt my stomach muscles turn to blood pudding. The side of that Mountain was steep as a horse’s face and I figured that when we hit we would splatter like a bug on a window. We didn’t though. Chiso landed on his haunches, slid a ways, jumped over some rocks, slid again, then jumped a downed log. We came to a stop and I was congratulating Chiso on his landing when I saw the bear go by. I had heard that sometimes when a bear is being chased off a mountain, he will curl into a ball and roll. This one sure did, somehow navigating his way through a grove of jack pines before dropping from sight. The dogs came to me shortly and Johnny was limping. I called them off the bear, figuring we had all earned a reprieve, and we started making our way off the side of the Rim and back to the Myrtle Ranch.
Como Siempré, Jinx