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Submitted by-
Rob F. Sanderson
724 Edgewater,
Portage, WIS

Skyland Javelinas
Rob F. Sanderson

Hunting Javelinas by climbing up the Stairways to the Sky, in a remote corner of Sonora, Mexico, where men ride on horses instead of cars or trains, and life is like a stagnated American frontier.

Turn the page and go along with the author as he bags javelinas (ha-vell-een’-as) on the Skyland, the roof of Old Sonora.

Skyland Javelinas

          “Javelinas? A few, Senor. But not many. The hide hunters, they have killed most of them. My son has seen only a small gathering of the animals in the past two fortnights.”

          The old Mexican’s story was the same one I heard everywhere in Sonora. The hide hunters. Lured by about fifty American cents a hide, they had decimated the peccary or wild hog population for the gratification of American importers.

          In many isolated canyons I saw piles of parched javelina skeletons, where large pack of mongrel dogs had cornered them in the rocks and hunters had slaughtered the entire band. If the ill-fated beasts took to rock caves, their relentless pursuers smoked them out and bludgeoned them as they dashed for freedom.

          You can’t really say that killing an angry javelina boar with a club doesn’t hold at least an element of sport, but the fact remains I had seen only one set of sign, sign that must have been older than a week.

          “One javelina,” I told Jose, “is all I care for. I wish one for my collection. A nice big boar.”

          “In the morning,” he replied, with a non-committal lack of guarantee, “we will try.”

          We left on horseback the next morning, riding toward the northwest along the rugged foothills below the high-faced rim rock that flanked our right. Jose had seen signs in these rough foothills back toward the rocks, when he was setting traps for the cats-with-the-ringed-tails.

          Up we rode along the face of a steep hill until we could see back and below us like a stereopticon view the rambling abode built of thick framework of crooked logs, brush, and adobe mud; and across the creek from the house the only level, cleared land for miles - the milpa in a broadening of the canyon where Jose and his family raised corn and beans and squash for sustenance.

          We rode through a wide pass between two hill summits, and from here I looked across the rolling, cacti-covered hills that were to be our day’s hunting grounds. Here and there among that tangled sea of forbidding thorns and spiias, a tall saguaro cacti stood out high above as a grotesque sentinel to guard the country from intruders and to furnish resting places for the buzzards.

          All day we rode up washes and along the crests of that foothill wilderness, sometimes not able for two hours to see thirty yards in any direction of the arid jungle growth; and if this country had not been rolling, thirty feet would have been the vision limit.

          In two sandy washes we found sign, old sign that had been rained on.

          “They have been here,” Jose, who saw the sign first, told me. “But they have gone.”

          At dusk we rode down into the canyon where the creek flowed, watered our mounts, and back on the knoll we unsaddled them by the light of a warm fire made from the very hard wood of dwarfed desert trees. Already the temperature was dropping rapidly as the desert night drew on, and the warm from the fire felt good.

          “A few quail and the tracks of one doe deer,” I told the questioning eyes around the fire, “was the only life and recent sign we saw. Other than the little lizards.”

          After we had eaten, Jose spoke to me alone. “Tomorrow,” he said in a very assured tone, “I will show you your boar.”

          “Where?” I asked, curious to know how he could be so certain.

          “High, very high. Even higher than the rim rock. I will take you there in the morning, but we must start very early.”

          The night air in the canyon cooled rapidly, and when the coals died down everyone rolled into his blankets. Protected from the chill of the desert night by my down robe, I went to sleep looking at the stars and wondering about the high country… high above the rim rock.

          A couple of stars still glowed weakly, like dying coals, against the barely visible lighting of an early dawn creeping into our canyon on the west face of the mountain. Someone was shaking my arm.

          “Awaken, Senor Roberto,” said a voice. “Your horse is here. Already it is daylight on the mountain top.”

          Pulling on my boots, I hurried down to the cold creek and splashed the bracing water on my face. As I dried I noted my breath was white in the cold air, yet I knew I must wear my big sombrero or the noonday sun would burn my nose a bright red. I ate quick meal, and putting a can of fruit juice, some dried venison, and an extra box of cartridges in my saddle sack, I mounted. I noticed Jose was riding a little mule.

          “Why do you ride the mule?” I asked. “Could you not catch your horse today?”

          “It is very rough, where we will go today,” he said simply. “ A horse will follow there, but he will not lead. So I ride this mule.”

          We splashed across the flowing creek and hard hooves clicked on the smooth boulders in the can on bed. Past the milpa and through a gate we rode, and Jose showed me where a huge boulder the size of a small house had come rolling wildly down the canyon wall from the mountain slope, shattering to match sticks grown trees, leafing in their stead only splintery, twisted butts a foot and a half through. I was apprehensive when I saw the wood was still fresh and yellow, and I glanced nervously above me.

          “It happens only once a thousand years,” said Jose, smiling at my uneasiness.

          “Once might be too often,” I bantered, half serious.

          Up and up we went, doubling back and forth up the abrupt sides that even a rider less mountain pony would not climb except at low angle. Rocks loosened by Jose’s mule came tumbling past me and made my horse shy nervously. Every few hundred yards we paused to loosen the cinch straps and let our mounts “blow” for air.

          We were climbing high, all right. We met the sun as it came over the mountain summit, but we were warm and sweating from clinging to the saddle and did not need the sun. For a mile we rode along a ridge, to another steep slope, and began to trace back and forth up its face.

          I observed we were entering a colder zone of flora. Where cacti grew in spiny profusion along the canyon slopes we passed in the early morning, here the cacti were replaced by oak brush and the grass grew more lushly.

          Climbing with face to the slope, I did not realize the altitude until we reached the crest and turned around to survey our ascent. Below and out stretched space within space, and away out and beyond and down, we saw hills and mountains that looked like the humps on a plaster physiographic relief map. All detail was merged into the generality of broad, gray contours. Entranced by panorama, I was not aware our animals were rented until Jose urged me on with, “It is higher even yet.”

          We rode along the rim rock, circled a promontory, and started up again. Climbing, climbing, climbing! At last Jose reined up his mule. My horse stopped automatically ten feet behind. He dismounted and motioned for me to follow him.

          He led me over to the rim of a cliff, a cliff above a cliff that dropped to a mountain, and the sight was stupendous. Like the Grand Canyon, only wider and more vast. I could look across sixty or eighty miles of clear, hazeless desert air to other mountains I had hunted. I felt as an astronomical observer from another planet and moved my head from behind any fantastic eyepiece that might be present.

          Jose loosened a large boulder, and rolled it off the cliff edge. It dropped a hundred and more feet through empty space, struck at the craggy sides to shatter off a few fragments, and catapulted on with almost cosmic force that leaped it fifty feet when it struck the rock slope and hurdled it over the tops of oaks. Then it slowed, rolled along the earth, and when I thought it was about to stop rolled three minutes more. In all it had been in sight almost a mile, except when obscured by descent over the second cliff.

          I tried the sport too, and then Jose and I together moved boulders neither of us could move singly, and sent them spinning out over the cliff. It gave one a tremendous sense of stark power. Jose told me he sometimes rode along the cliff, rolling boulders over the frightened bedded game, whereupon they would spring to full view and, unable to hide from his vantage sight, were excellent targets for his ancient 30-30.

          “One can shoot game a long way straight down,” he enthused. “But one must ride miles to descend to it and then it is often very hard to find.”

          No game appearing, we sat a few minutes resting from our strenuous sport. I became again enthralled with the utter height of my position, and soon Jose had let his simple love of natural beauty come to his lips.

          He pointed to the course of the river, running through the barraca like land, and further east on its course he singled out for me a path pf green when the river canyon widened into bottomland.

          “By the green in the puebla,” he told me. “It is not a large village, but the milpas are green and it is very pretty. There is music and much dancing.” His eyes lighted at the thought.

          Then he indicated the course of the trail, parts of which stood out a distinct line among distant hills that wound through twenty-seven miles of rough land to the river and the village. All his trading was done there, all goods were brought back on horseback. There were no cars in the village, only horses. Very fine horses, too.

          It was all such a simple life that for a time I doubted it could exist, could hardly believe that so rustic a life and so primitive an area could exist anywhere. So distant from our busy cities, our stop & go, horn-tooting American existence, yet only few hours by plane. It was the life of American pioneers of about the year 1800, preserved by physiographic isolation and an immobile people.

          We turned away to the left and in a few minutes I could no longer tell I was in sky land, for I could not still look over the edges onto the below. We were on a rolling plateau in which lay open basins, like an enormous rough table top with bowls sunk in it. The hills were curved gracefully and covered in the lower placed by cool green oaks, and the altitude increased rainfall grew the gamma grass waist high. It was such a pleasant place that riding around the basins I forgot we were hunting until I noticed my companion looking intently on the ground for sign.

          I looked down and there on the ground among the roots of shrubs saw where many javelinas had been rooting for sustenance. The sign could not have been over a single day old.

          “He is not far from here, your big boar,” Jose smiled back at me, his white teeth showing like ivory against his swarthy face.

          We tested the wind: it was blowing from the southeast. This was well, as it appeared the animals were working that way.

          We rode along slowly, eyes alert for any sign or movement. Then Jose stopped his mule and pointed to the ground. There was fresh sign, and the hoof marks were split widely at the clove and far apart. The animals were running.

          “They cannot have smelled us against the wind,” Jose told me optimistically. “Perhaps something else frightened them. I do not think they will go far. Let us wait.”

          As it was near noon we sat down to eat our lunch, and we ate on the dried meat and drank of the canned juice. When we were done, Jose carefully wiped the can off in the grass, and put it in his saddle sack. Cans are very rare to him and very useful, and it would be wanton not to save them all.

          After eating we rode down to a tank in the rocks where we drank the clear water and let the horses suck themselves full. We were about to go on when Jose heard a bird calling in the brush.

          “Fool hens,” he told me, and picking up a handful of throwing stones he stepped carefully into the brush. I could see him deftly hurling the missiles with careful calculation, and once I heard a bird fluttering weakly in the grass. In pairs and small gropes the birds (about the size of a very large quail) winged away only to light within a few feet. When Jose returned he carried three birds, one neatly decapitated by an accurate throw.

          Riding on into the wind, we found javelina tracks, but no fresh rooting. The animals had not yet paused again to feed, but they were no longer hurrying. For over a mile more we followed the sharp hooved tracks, as they climbed higher and higher on the rolling plateau, and presently we were riding up a slope that was to end in an almost flat mesa on the summit. I heard a sudden cry.

          “Javelina!” Jose cried, vaulting from his mule.

          The whole banc of wild hogs had been feeding ahead of us in the tall grass. They were frightened and running but many had not located the danger. I could not see them all, but two dozen must have run through the grass from my sight up onto the mesa.

          I spurred my mount into a gallop straight up the slope until I could see the gray back forms galloping through the gamma grass. Carbine in hand I slipped from my saddle and ran forward hoping for a shot. I ran to the highest part of the mesa edge near me and from here I could see several shoats and sow running but no boar was in sight.

          This was ultra-sky land now, above which no peak or mountain rose, a flat roof-top above cloud level in a cloudless sky. From the rim one’s view commanded the entire country, except the mesa itself where the javelinas were running.

          I was on top of the Stairway to the Sky!

          I ran on along the mesa. The hogs were still confused and I could hear them grunting labouredly as they ran from unlocated danger. No three hogs ran in the same direction; the wind was blowing across the mesa with the unrestriction of highest altitude, clashing together the dried stalks of gamma grass, and they could not hear my presence.

          Then I saw a boar, a big fellow that dwarfed the four hogs with him. They were running over a rise at the brink of the mesa. I went down on one knee and pulled my carbine to my shoulder. My tense fingers pulled the trigger and worked the bolt.

          WHAM WHAM…..WHAM, three blasts from my .270 rolled across the mesa and faded echoless into the unlimited distance.

          Where I had shot, I saw nothing. But I had seen something fall down in the grass and I ran over to see.

          Midway to the mesa brink where the hogs went over the edge, I heard a savage grunting and glanced to my right. Coming through the grass straight at me with the speed of a thunderbolt was a charging javelina.

          Visions of my legs tusk-slashed to tatters and my own blood filling my boots flashed into my eyes. With one synchronous movement I pulled my arm and fired. I stood as transfixed, neither feeling the recoil nor hearing the muzzle blast.

          The charging javelina collapsed and catapulted along the ground for ten feet in a series of somersaults, then folded in a lifeless heap. Suddenly I was aware I had not worked a fresh cartridge into the chamber. I hastily opened the bolt and closed it on a new hull, vaguely imagining the results of an ineffectual first shot.

          I paced the distance to the fallen hog, a medium boar. Seven paces; twenty one feet!

          Remembering the big boar again, I started for it. On reaching the rise, I saw a gray-black form ahead in the grass. Coming up to it I was crestfallen, for there, neatly drilled through the heart, was an average sow!

          I was utterly dejected. I had lost sight of my boar in the tall grass, and had plugged a re-appearing sow instead. It was, I tried to rationalize, partially due to a quick shot in poor vision.

          I looked around for Jose, who was nowhere to be seen. Then my eyes fell on a red stain on the bleached grass, and leading from it, well ahead of the dead sow, was a blood trail! I had hit the boar after all. One of my three shots went true.

          Eagerly, I ran ahead along the trail. The realization came upon me that in my fervor I was trailing a savage boar, wounded, in short visibility cover and without assistance. I needed a man to track while I covered with my gun.

          “Jose!” I called. “Here, Come.”

          An answering halloo came from down slope. He arrived panting; he had chosen a small faction of the band downhill into the basin hoping for a shot. I briefly explained the circumstances to him.

          He smoked a cigarette of rank tobacco and wrapping paper before we started out, delaying to give the boar time to bleed and bed down. Then, with carbines ready for action, we turned to follow along the blood trail. “A good boar,” Jose whispered to me when he saw the blunt track.

          For over a quarter mile the trail was in straight flight. Then it began to meander in the rocky breaks along the edge of the basin. Jose cautioned me to proceed more slowly.

          For a hundred feet we follow, wait a short time, resume. At a place where the rocky hillside was more broken than usual, we paused, and when we again moved I was startled by savage grunts and a sudden cumbersome noise among the rocks.

          The wounded boar!

          Out he came from a crevice in the rock, skidding for a half second’s stop at the entrance. In that moment I road in his black piggy eyes a vicious rage and snapped my gun toward my shoulder for the charge I instinctively knew he was contemplating. But before I got aim he had chosen flight instead and was galloping toward the basin. Blood ran from his side as he disappeared into the grass and brush, saluted by an ineffectual shot from my carbine that struck low behind his disappearing name.

          Jose started after the boar with a yell and I followed close behind, having lost time at the start by working my bolt for a fresh hull.

          Fifty feet down toward the basin we plunged into the brush, then came out into the open and saw the boar ahead of us. He had come to a twenty foot precipice dropping abruptly into the basin. In a split instant he considered the jump and rejected it, turned, and started toward us in a courageous rush.

          The two carbines cracked as one. The boar collapsed in his tracks.

          Two fresh holes showed on his brisket. His tushes were locked in valiant death as Jose heaved the body from the ground by the hind legs.

          “Time to go back to casa,” was all my companion said, but beneath his cloak of indifference I knew he was smiling exultantly.

          We dressed out the hogs, tied them behind our saddles, and began the long descent the Stairway to the Sky. We would be lucky to reach the house by the creek before long shadows filled the canyon.

          For late afternoon in Sky land meant dusk down among mortals!


© 2003 Chronicles of Bob