Monday, June 23, 2008

Treed By Wolves



The Ferocious Beasts Wanted the Dressed Caribou, Were Willing to Compromise by Taking the Man, but They Got Neither, Though It Was a Close Call.

There's a master lot of game in Newfoundland, they told me, when you go back a bit from the shore. There was one old hunter named Bongthorn I fell in with at a little post on the west coast who used to bring down caribou meat to sell to the people of the settlements and to vessels that put in there. The caribou — reindeer, as some folks call 'em — run in great herds there, hundreds of 'em together. By all he said there must be great hunting there for a man who cared to risk his life in such a wilderness.

One story he told me about wolves that's enough to make one's hair stand. It was in the early spring, when the snow still lay deep on the ground, that he killed a caribou one day, and having dressed him hung him up to a tree limb, out of the way of the wolves, while he went on to look for more game. When he came back for his caribou, he saw so many wolves gathered about under the tree trying to get at the meat that, for the first time in his life, he was frightened at 'em. He'd about made up his mind that he'd go quietly away and come again for the caribou when wolves were scarcer, when they spied him and all came for him together. There was a large spruce tree near by that had been blown over and had lodged against other trees so that its trunk slanted up just about as steep as a man could easily climb. He ran to the foot of the tree, and not stopping to take off his snowshoes walked right up that leaning trunk to the forking of its lower limbs. How he ever got up there on snowshoes was a wonder to him afterward, but he found himself among the lower branches with something to hold on to, and then he turned around and set down a-straddle of the trunk. The wolves were all around underneath where he sat, and some had followed him part way up on the leaning tree, but they had to come along it one at a time, and the foremost one would jump off every time before he got half way up, so they didn't get very near him.

The first thing Bongthorn did was to take off his snowshoes and hang 'em up safe among the branches. While he was doing this he had the misfortune to drop his gun, that he had kept with him so far. The moment it struck the snow, bang it went, its charge of slugs taking one wolf's fore legs clean off. At the flash and noise of the report all the other wolves fell back a moment from where the wounded one was yelping in the snow. Then they flew at him, tore him to pieces in no time and ate him up in short order. After fighting over the bones awhile they turned again to Bongthorn, jumping up toward him from beneath where he sat and coming one by one part way up the leaning trunk toward him. All the time they kept up a snapping of teeth that told him what would happen if he fell among them.

This was in the month of March, when it's mighty cold in Newfoundland, and Bongthorn knew that the way things were going it was one of two things with him — to freeze in the tree or to be torn to pieces by the wolves below. There was his gun sticking in the snow. If he could only get that into his hands again, he might fight off the wolves. His hatchet was in his belt, and he climbed farther up the trunk and cut a long, slim branch. This he trimmed smooth, leaving a fork at the lower end, and, using it as a grappling hook, tried to pick up the gun. But 'twas no use. As soon as he pushed the stick down within their reach the wolves snapped for it and nearly tore it out of his hands. If he could get them away from the spot, or at least draw their attention to something else, he might stand a chance to get his gun. There was only one way he could think of to bring this about. It was a desperate risk to let the hatchet go, but he took as good aim as he could at a big wolf, let it drive, and as luck would have it it struck another one in the back. There it stuck fast, while the wolf ran off yelping and the others after him. They caught up with him after he had run a little way, and, while they were serving him as they had served the other, Bongthorn tried again to hook his gun up, but he couldn't make his grapple work, for the gun dropped back as often as be lifted it from the snow. Time was precious, for he knew that as soon as the wolves got their companion eaten up they would be back under the tree. For the moment they were all fighting in a heap around the wounded one, 50 steps away, tearing at it and each other and paying no attention to him.

'Twas now or never, and the boldest course was the best. Down he dropped from the tree into the snow, grabbed his gun; wallowed through the snow to the foot of the leaning tree trunk, and back up it he climbed as fast as his legs and arms would carry him.

It was a close shave for the hunter, for the wolves were at the foot of the tree before he got up to the forks, but a miss is as good as a mile in such a case. Then, when he got his gun to work among the wolves, his turn at the fun began. He shot seven of them before the others went away and left him. The wolves that were not left lying dead on the snow scattered all of a sudden, each making off in a different direction, and it wasn't two minutes before not one of them was to be seen or heard about the place.

Bongthorn came down from the tree and traveled all night for home. He didn't stop till he got to the settlement. Then he came back with some companions and brought in his caribou and wolfskins. He showed me the marks of wolves' teeth on the gunstock where the wolves had seized it as it fell from the tree. It was the only time in all his life that the wolves attacked him, but that once was enough for a lifetime. — New York Sun.

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