Illustration by Charles M. Russell
Illustration by Charles M. Russell

Western painter and storyteller Charles M. Russell tells a story about a couple of prospectors he knew. “Bedrock Jim” was working a claim in the Big Horn high country with his partner, “Pick Axe Jack.” And, it dawned on them that they were out of meat for supper. So, they went hunting. Not far from camp, Bedrock caught sight of an exceptional elk with large, pitchforked antlers. He got off a shot with his Henry and dropped the bull.

The two men strode over to admire the prize, leaning their rifles up against a fallen log. Standing over the 800-pound animal, they rolled over on its side. Bedrock could see a spot of blood on its neck. Thinking that its neck was broken, he grabbed a horn to straighten it out so that he could make a proper cut to the throat with his knife.

The elk got to its feet, still very much alive, and went after Pick Axe. The bull was fighting mad, and the two men were at once embroiled in a mighty struggle. To their misfortune, their guns rested on the wrong side of the angry elk.

Exhausted and unable to subdue the beast, Bedrock Jim scampered up a pine scrub growing near a rocky ledge. The small tree was not tall enough to accommodate both men, so Pick Axe Jack found sanctuary in a hole where varments had hibernated.

Bedrock sat perched on a limb for what seemed like hours in a stand-off with the disgruntle elk. Pick Axe would not stay put. He kept dashing out of the hole down below.

Each time he’d show himself, the bull would charge, and the antsy prospector would retreat just in time to miss the sharp end of its antlers. The horns rattled and scraped against the rocky ledge with wild ferocity. As soon as the elk backed away, Pick Axe Jack was again outside the hole, inviting another attack from the elk.

Exposed to the icy chill of the northwestern winds in the tree, Jim was out of patience. He shouted down to Pick Axe, “If you stay in the hole, you damn fool, that bull will leave us be.”

“Stay in the hole, hell! There’s a nest of rattlesnakes in thar,” Pick Axe Jack hollered back.

This time, when the bull charged—instead of ducking into the hole—he leaped from the ledge into the ravine below.

It was nearly dark before the beast gave up stalking Bedrock Jim. And when it was safe to come down, Jim rushed to get a rope to his pard. Pick Axe jumped twenty-five feet into a snow-covered thorn bush. He was lucky not to suffer broken bones.

Warming themselves by the campfire that evening, Jim asked Pick Axe why he done it. The fall might have killed him.

“Twas it the nasty ol’ bull or poisonous snakes or that sent you over?” Bedrock asked.

“Neither,” Pick Axe said. “It was the terrible turmoil going on up in the tree that put me over the edge.”

~~~ o0~~~

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