FRONTIERSMEN are not, as a rule, apt to be very superstitious. They
lead lives too hard and practical, and have too little imagination in
things spiritual and supernatural. I have heard but few ghost stories
while living on the frontier, and these few were of a perfectly
commonplace and conventional type.
But I once listened to a goblin story which rather impressed me. It
was told by a grizzled, weather-beaten old mountain hunter, named
Bauman, who was born and had passed all his life on the frontier. He
must have believed what he said, for he could hardly repress a shudder
at certain points of the tale; but he was of German ancestry, and in
childhood had doubtless been saturated with all kinds of ghost and
goblin lore, so that many fearsome superstitions were latent in his
mind; besides, he knew well the stories told by the Indian medicine
men in their winter camps, of the snow-walkers, and the spectres, and
the formless evil beings that haunt the forest depths, and dog and
waylay the lonely wanderer who after nightfall passes through the
regions where they lurk....
When the event occurred, Bauman was still a young man, and was
trapping with a partner among the mountains dividing the forks of
Salmon from the head of Wisdom River. Not having had much luck he and
his partner determined to go up into a particularly wild and lonely
pass through which ran a small stream said to contain many Beaver. The
pass had an evil reputation, because the year before a solitary hunter
who had wandered into it was there slain, seemingly by a wild beast,
the half-eaten remains being afterwards found by some mining
prospectors who had passed his camp only the night before.
The memory of this event, however, weighed very lightly with the two
trappers, who were as adventurous and hardy as others of their kind.
They took their two lean mountain Ponies to the foot of the pass,
where they left them in an open Beaver meadow, the rocky timberclad
ground being from thence onwards impracticable for Horses. They then
struck out on foot through the vast, gloomy forest, and in about four
hours, reached a little open glade where they concluded to camp, as
signs of game were plenty.
There was still an hour or two of daylight left; and after building
brush lean-to and throwing down and opening their packs, they started
up stream. The country was very dense and hard to travel through, as
there was much down timber, although here and there the sombre
woodland was broken by small glades of mountain grass.
At dusk, they again reached camp. The glade in which it was pitched
was not many yards wide, the tall, close-set pines and firs rising
round it like a wall. On one side, was a little stream, beyond which
rose the steep mountain-slopes, covered with the unbroken growth of
the evergreen forest.
They were surprised to find that during their short absence,
something, apparently a Bear, had visited camp, and had rummaged about
among their things, scattering the contents of their packs, and in
sheer wantonness destroying their lean-to. The footprints of the beast
were quite plain but at first they paid no particular heed to them,
busying themselves with rebuilding the lean-to, laying out their beds
and stores, and lighting the fire.
While Bauman was making ready supper, it being already dark, his
companion began to examine the tracks more closely, and soon took a
brand from the fire to follow them up, where the intruder had walked
along a game trail after leaving the camp. When the brand flickered
out, he returned and took another, repeating his inspection of the
footprints very closely. Coming back to the fire, he stood by it a
minute or two, peering out into the darkness, and suddenly remarked:
"Bauman, that Bear has been walking on two legs." Bauman laughed at
this, but his partner insisted that he was right; and upon again
examining the tracks with a torch, they certainly did seem to be made
by but two paws, or feet. However, it was too dark to make sure. After
discussing whether the footprints could possibly be those of a human
being, and coming to the conclusion that they could not be, the two
men rolled up in their blankets, and went to sleep under the lean-to.
At midnight, Bauman was awakened by some noise, and sat up in his
blankets. As he did so, his nostrils were struck by a strong, wild-
beast odor, and he caught the loom of a great body in the darkness at
the mouth of the lean-to. Grasping his rifle, he fired at the vague,
threatening shadow, but must have missed; for immediately afterwards
he heard the smashing of the underwood as the thing, whatever it was,
rushed off into the impenetrable blackness of the forest and the
After this the two men slept but little, sitting up by the rekindled
fire, but they heard nothing more. In the morning, they started out to
look at the few traps they had set the previous evening, and to put
out new ones. By an unspoken agreement, they kept together all day,
and returned to camp towards evening.
On nearing it they saw, hardly to their astonishment, that the lean-to
had been again torn down. The visitor of the preceding day had
returned; and in wanton malice had tossed about their camp kit and
bedding, and destroyed the shanty. The ground was marked up by its
tracks; and on leaving the camp, it had gone along the soft earth by
the brook, where the footprints were as plain as if on snow, and,
after a careful scrutiny of the trail, it certainly did seem as if,
whatever the thing was, it had walked off on but two legs.
The men, thoroughly uneasy, gathered a great heap of dead logs, and
kept up a roaring fire throughout the night, one or the other sitting
on guard most of the time. About midnight, the thing came down through
the forest opposite, across the brook, and stayed there on the
hillside for nearly an hour. They could hear the branches crackle as
it moved about, and several times it uttered a harsh, grating, long-
drawn moan, a peculiarly sinister sound. Yet it did not venture near
In the morning, the two trappers, after discussing the strange events
of the last thirty-six hours, decided that they would shoulder their
packs and leave the valley that afternoon. They were the more ready to
do this because, in spite of seeing a good deal of game sign, they had
caught very little fur. However, it was necessary first to go along
the line of their traps and gather them, and this they started out to
All the morning, they kept together, picking up trap after trap, each
one empty. On first leaving camp, they had the disagreeable sensation
of being followed. In the dense spruce thickets, they occasionally
heard a branch snap after they had passed; and now and then, there
were slight rustling noises among the small pines to one side of them.
At noon, they were back within a couple of miles of camp. In the high
bright sunlight, their fears seemed absurd to the two armed men,
accustomed as they were, through long years of lonely wandering in the
wilderness, to face every kind of danger from man, brute, or element.
There were still three Beaver traps to collect from a little pond in a
wide ravine nearby. Bauman volunteered to gather these, and bring them
in, while his companion went ahead to camp and made ready the packs.
On reaching the pond, Bauman found three Beaver in the traps, one of
which had been pulled loose and carried into a Beaver house. He took
several hours in securing and preparing the Beaver, and when he
started homewards he marked with some uneasiness how low the sun was
getting. As he hurried towards camp, under the tall trees, the silence
and desolation of the forest weighed on him. His feet made no sound on
the pine needles, and the slanting sun rays, striking through among
the straight trunks, made a gray twilight in which objects at a
distance glimmer indistinctly. There was nothing to break the ghostly
stillness which, when there is no breeze, always broods over these
sombre primeval forests.
At last, he came to the edge of the little glade where the camp lay,
and shouted as he approached it, but got no answer. The camp fire had
gone out, though the thin blue smoke was still curling upwards. Near
it lay the packs wrapped and arranged. At first, Bauman could see
nobody; nor did he receive an answer to his call. Stepping forward he
again shouted; and as he did so, his eye fell on the body of his
friend, stretched beside the trunk of a great fallen spruce. Rushing
towards it, the horrified trapper found that the body was still warm,
but that the neck was broken, while there were four great fang marks
in the throat.
The footprints of the unknown beast-creature, printed deep in the
soil, told the whole story.
The unfortunate man, having finished his packing, had sat down on the
spruce log with his face to the fire, and his back to the dense woods,
to wait for his companion. While thus waiting, his monstrous
assailant, which must have been lurking nearby in the woods, waiting
for a chance to catch one of the adventurers unprepared, came silently
up from behind, walking with long, noiseless steps, and seemingly
still on two legs. Evidently unheard, it reached the man, and broke
his neck by wrenching his head back with its forepaws, while it buried
its teeth in his throat. It had not eaten the body, but apparently had
romped and gambolled round it in uncouth, ferocious glee, occasionally
rolling over and over it; and had then fled back into the soundless
depths of the woods.
Bauman, utterly unnerved, and believing that the creature with which
he had to deal was something either half-human or half-devil, some
great goblin-beast, abandoned everything but his rifle, and struck off
at speed down the pass, not halting until he reached the Beaver
meadows where the hobbled Ponies were still grazing. Mounting, he rode
onwards through the night, until far beyond the reach of pursuit.
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