Published Stories

Unpublished Stories

Other Resources

Contact Us

2400 words
10 photos
Submitted by-
Rob F. Sanderson
724 Edgewater,
Portage, WIS

Tigre Trail
Betty Gephart

A young American woman faces a cornered Mexican tiger in a narrow cave mouth, and settles accounts for keeps with one deadly shot from her light rifle!

Should you feel this account suitable for publication in your magazine, Mrs. Gephart has agreed to sign a release allowing you to use her name as authoress of this narrative of her own exploits.

Tigre Trail
Betty Gephart

          For the tenth time I wondered what I, a young American woman, could be sanely doing on tigre hunting expedition here in Mexico’s forsaken desert mountains, with three seasoned American sportsmen who singly or collectively had hunted the far corners of the globe.

          The fact that one of the sportsmen was my husband did not comfort my misgivings, and more than once when I looked at the seventeen veteran tigre hounds trotting placidly beside our saddle horses, I wondered what the comparatively frail me would do when confronted by a ferocious tigre the hounds were sure to bay before the trip was done.

          Well, I had at least hunted raccoons with my brothers and their dogs in Illinois autumn nights. But anything I had hunted seemed piffling compared to the game I would soon be up against.

          “Tigre hunting?” my women friends had gasped when I told them of the prospective trip. ‘Those ferocious things! Why, Betty, you know you’ve hardly had your hands on a gun!”

          I kept recounting all the stories I had heard of the violence of the big cats.

          “One swipe of a tigre’s paw will break the neck of a grown beef or throw a dog thirty feet,” I remembered one of the guides telling me.

          Anyway, here I was on a trail to Tigre country, and there was no backing out now. The men had kidded me with tales of man-killer tigres until my enthusiasm was uncertain. But, once I had agreed to go along there was no backing out and now I was on the edge of tigre country.

          Tigres, variously called Mexican tigers and jaguars, do not savor civilization or disturbing human activity, and our trip from Alamos brought us well back into the blueness of the mountains, far distant from human adobe.

          Back and down in the valley w had left the utter end of passable roads when we rode our horses out of the ancient walled town of Alamos, its cobble streets and cathedrals little changed since the days three centuries ago when it was the stronghold of the Spanish conquistador miners who took tons of precious gold and silver out by burro back and pack horse to the waiting galleons on the Pacific shore. A strange outfitting place for a tigre hunt!

          On our first day a stranger to the sunny desert skies visited camp rain. It washed away all previous tigre sign and prevented the guide’s form discovering the exact country the great cats ranged. It was the only rain all during February.

          A foreigner to level terrain, tigres frequent rough country on the mountain slopes. So abruptly down Mexico’s rugged backbone, the Sierra Madres, rise from the coastal plain that one may climb, while traveling less than a dozen horizontal miles, from cacti at 1500 feet to straight pines at 7000. On the slopes between is tigre country.

          For actual hunting we split into two parties, Doc and the Hanker in one, and Gep (my husband) and myself in the other. With each party went one of the two famous guides, Dale and Vince Lee, brothers who made their name famous while lion hunting in southwestern V.C.

          Amiable companies of the American frontier bread, short of speech but long on good humor and hunting lore, the Lees had studied the habits of lions and tigres for years and were skilled in the handling of horses and hounds.

          Both parties took five long eared hounds. This policy left a seven dog-power reserve in camp when fresh hounds were needed to replace exhausted or mauled hounds. Tigres are hard on dogs and several times the boys have had to wire their brother Earnest in Tucson to ship down a fresh pack to replace casualties.

          One night in camp Doc was late in coming in. We were all waiting uneasily and watching the trail for him when heard the approach of hooves striking the rocks.

          It was Doc and his guide, and with him he had a huge old male tigre. The hounds had chassed it for about fifteen miles, before it turned on them and fought them in a jumble of brush-covered boulders at the foot of a mountain.

          The wary old tigre had heard the approach of the hunters and fled along the mountainside. A half-mile further the dogs pressed him so hard he had to tree, and Doc, approaching warily from uphill, had shot him. Natives said this was the same old tigre that had been killing their stock for years, and had the past season whipped the pack of a noted American hunter until the cowering dogs would no longer follow the trail.

          I laid my hands on the richly spotted hide and wondered if I would be so luck, (or unlucky), as to beg one myself!

          After that episode we saw no more fresh tigre sign near our camp - perhaps the chase had driven the animals away - and Dale’s hunch that the tigre population had moved to another range close by was confirmed when one of the Mexican helpers rode in from a scouting trip to the other side of a low mountain range, and reported considerable fresh sign.

          On this information we moved camp, and although the new location was but a few hours ride distant from the old camp, the advantages was decided. Most successful tigre chases start during the first two hours of early morning. This is because the morning sun soon draws out what little moisture the night leaves on the arid ground, and with the moisture does the animal scent.

          The new camp was on a flat covered with palms and brush. It was on the bank of a wash, which headed in a clear spring. Below camp all the water soaked into the gravelly bed, to reappear fro its underground journey in a little lake about two hundred feet across. All kinds of wild animals watered at the lake by night, and in the morning could see their fresh tracks in the damp sand.

          The first two days in the new camp brought uneventful disappointment, with no excitement save two cold trails the dogs struck late in the day, too late to follow to a finish.

          The dawn of the third day began to lighten as we ate a heavy, tummy-warming breakfast prepared by John, our American cowboy cook who can really sling camp grub. It was 4:30 a.m. when we rode away toward the mountains.

          The sun was high when we paused to rest and water the animals. Gep and I heard nothing from the other pack of hounds, which had left early in the morning with dale and the others. Suddenly our pack perked ears toward the distance and before we knew what was up, they had bolted away beyond our call.

          In several minutes we heard our pack break into full tongue and later in the distance we heard the other pack coming - our own dogs had heard them coming and intercepted the hot trail.

          The cover was so thick that a horse could not follow in the dense arid-jungle, and rather than take a chance on letting the dogs go out of hearing, Vince set out after them on foot with a couple of helpers, thinking Dale was far behind. This was a miscalculation for Dale was loss than a quarter mile away at the time, as we soon discovered.

          As to follow the hound pack on horseback entailed a detour, which took us within a couple of miles from camp, we rode on in with Dale to get fresh horses and hounds at headquarters. We could hear the pack for about two miles before their bawling voices dwindled into the far distance, and we knew they had gone up the mountain with the high rim rock. Vince later told us the tigre had bayed once on the way up but had broke from the pack and scrambled away from them up the steep boulder strewn slope.

          We rode out toward the north urging our fresh mounts to a stiff gait as it was now 4 p.m. and if dusk fell before the dogs bayed again or before we reached them, there was nothing we could do until morning came. By that time our chances would likely be past.

          Back and forth along the mountain slope we traced, switching back at every turn. When we had zigzagged sufficient altitude we rode along the side of the mountain to a saddle in the rim rock, the only place its steep western face could be sealed. From the summit of the mountain we could catch occasional snatched of the crying hounds. It sounded as if they had bayed, but there was a light breeze blowing and one couldn’t be sure.

          Back and forth along the mountain slope we traced, switching back at every turn. When we had zigzagged sufficient altitude we rode along the side of the mountain to a saddle in the rim rock, the only place its steep western face could be sealed. From the summit of the mountain we could catch occasional snatched of the crying hounds. It sounded as if they had bayed, but there was a light breeze blowing and one couldn’t be sure.

          On the other slope of the mountain we could hear the dogs in the depth of a canyon somewhere. We yelled a halloo into yawning chasm that had eaten deeply into the vitals of the eastern flank of the mountain. From below came a faint answer.

          It was Bert, an American dog handler who followed the pack like a bodyguard. He was somewhere way down the canyon wall, out of sight with the dogs. The dogs had bayed there.

          In the long eastern shadow of the mountains it was almost night, and Vince and Gep left me at the horses while they descended over the precipitous slope. For some distance I followed the route of their flashlights, and then they disappeared from sight.

          It seemed a long time I waited there. AT intervals yelping of the dogs reached my ears, and far in the distance I heard an eerie sound that never fails to shiver my spine; the lonely wail of a coyote.

          By and by a light appeared and I heard talking. It was Bert and Get, come back for me and the gun, which I carried in my saddle boot. The dogs had chased the tigre into a cave opening onto an abrupt cliff, they said, and the three of us went into the canyon together.

          It was dark and steep along the canyon wall. Part of the way we sat and skidded and far below echoed the rocks we loosened. Finally, after more than a quarter mile of this I saw Vince’s light.

          The cave entrance was on a narrow ledge not over three feet wide at the cave front and so narrow for part of the distance we had to crawl in the interests of discretion.

          Below us was a 700-foot drop to the canyon bottom. It was well for my nerves the abyss was obscured by darkness, I realized when I saw it the next morning, but it was hardly comforting when I shined my electric beam over the edge and saw nothing but yawning blackness.

          As we approached we talked back and forth to those at the cave. The Mexicans there excitedly told us they could hear the entrapped tigre padding back and forth nervously in the cave and on several occasions when he growled ominously and they could see his eyes, they thought he was about to make a break for freedom. While we edged along the narrow rock ledge the Mexicans took the dogs one by one and tied them to some dwarf spruce shrubs some distance along the ledge where it widened out.

          The combination of our arrival apparently frightened the nervous cat, who, not hearing the dogs at the cave entrance any longer, took courage. I could hear him sniffing and growling somewhere back in the unknown cavern depths.

          “HERE HE COMES!” yelled the Mexican boy Ramon who had been watching in the cave.

          Somehow I got pushed to the mouth of the cave. I had to stoop down to get into it. Vince was holding a powerful five cell electric torch over my shoulder and when the light beam struck the oncoming animal’s face, momentarily blinding it, it became un-nerved for a second and sank to a crouch.

          Not more than five feet from the muzzle of my light rifle lay the snarling lips and blazing eyes of the tigre, head on forepaws, tail twitching nervously. All this I saw in a flash.

          “He’s going to spring!” someone yelled from behind as I pulled the trigger of my little 250-3000 lever action. The report buffeted deafeningly back into my ears from the cavern walls and I felt the pressure of deflected muzzle blast in my face.

          As the gun exploded the cartridge and flame leaped from the barrel, I instinctively jumped backward. Had not someone caught my arm I might have fallen backward over the ledge rim. A hand snatched my rifle and worked a fresh cartridge into the chamber.

          Lights were flashing around confusingly. I thought I could see everybody but the tigre, crowding around the cave entrance. I stood there shaking a little, afraid to look. Everyone was talking in a jibber of English and Spanish and since the rifle shot the dogs had been howling bedlam.

          “Right through the head!” I heard someone say. “A clean shot.”

          Gep was slapping my back. I felt weak at the knees. Dale was shaking my hand.

          “You’re the second American woman as ever shot a tigre on the West Coast,” Dale congratulated me. “At least, so far as we’ve ever heard.” And those words, coming from conservative Dale, meant a lot to me.

          In the beam of the flashlight I examined the ornately spotted coat of the dead tigre. A couple of Mexican boys picked it up and the part began the long, steep trek up to the rim.

          “What you trembling so for, Betty?” Get kidded me when he took my arm to help me over an exceptionally steep place.

          “It’s the c-cold night air.” I told him.

          That night we slept out on the mountaintop. That is, the others slept.

          That night we slept out on the mountaintop. That is, the others slept.


© 2003 Chronicles of Bob