When Billy Went Back to His Mountain by Juanita Amero
It’s hard to fathom that the time is passing so quickly and it is once again time for another exciting issue of Water and Woods. This month’s contribution to “The Outlaws” is the conclusion to the three-part saga of Badlands Billy, a dark maned wolf who feasted on the best of cattle and drove many a wolver mad. As we come to the ending of the story today, Billy has been spotted at last by a group of hunters, wolvers and an elite pack of hounds, all with the same intent to bring his hide home on a string. Here is how it now ends….
The hunters have found, and are following, a snowy trail of three wolves. One large track of course is Billy’s and the other two are his smaller comrades. Now the chase led downward into the low river valley where there was scarcely any snow. Jumping and scrambling down hills, recklessly leaping dangerous gullies and slippery rocks, the hunters felt that they could not hold out much longer.
The pack split, some went up, some went down, and others straight on. The wolves had scattered, and so had divided the pack. Three dogs after a wolf would have no chance, four could not kill him and two would certainly be killed. Without snow here and with countless dog tracks, it was impossible to determine what animal went which way. All one could do was to let the dogs choose and then keep them to that single choice. Away they went as before, hoping yet fearing that they were on the right track. After a two-mile chase that led upward again in snow country, the wolf was sighted but to their disgust, they were on the track of the smallest one.
Within another mile, the wolf had turned to bay in a willow thicket. The hunters heard him howl the long drawn howl for help. Before the hunters could reach the place, they saw the dogs’ recoil and scatter. A minute later there sped from the far side of the thicket a small gray wolf and a black one of much greater size.
“By golly, if he didn’t yell for help, and Billy come back to help him!” exclaimed a wolver.
The wolvers were finally on his track at last, thanks to Billy himself. The dogs joined in with a louder baying, the Greyhounds yelped and made straight for him, and the horses sniffed and sprang more gamely as they caught the thrill. The only silent one was the black maned wolf, and as they marked his size, power and massive jaws, they soon knew why the dogs preferred some other trail.
With head and tail low he was bounding over the snow. His tongue was lolling long, plainly he was tiring fast. The wolvers’ hands flew to their revolvers though Billy was three hundred yards ahead. They were out for blood, not sport. An instant later, he had sunk from view in the nearest sheltered canyon.
Now which way would he go, up or down the canyon? Up was toward his mountain, down was better cover. The hunters decided up.
They were wrong…. Badlands Billy had gone down.
They were back opposite to where the wolf had plunged, but saw no sign. Riding at an easy gallop, one of them exclaimed, “Look at that!” A dark spot was moving on the snow ahead. They put on speed. Another dark spot appeared, and another. In five minutes they were near them to find three of their own Greyhounds. They had lost sight of the game and with that their interest waned. Now they were seeking their masters. Hastening to the next ridge the hunters stumbled on the trail.
The pursuing hunters raced along the rim, hoping to see the game. The dogs appeared near the farther side, not in a pack but a long straggling line. In five minutes more, they rose to the edge, and ahead of them was the great black wolf. He was loping as before, head and tail low. Power was plain in every limb and double power in his jaws and neck, but his bounds were shorter now and had lost their spring. The dogs slowly reached the upper level and sighting him they broke into a feeble cry. The Greyhounds saw the chase and leaving the hunters side, they scrambled down the canyon and up the other side at tremendous speed that would surely break them down.
How the wolvers raved to see the pack lead off in the climax of the chase! They reined in on a hill and scanned the snow. A moving speck appeared, then others in a straggling train, and at times there was a far faint cry. There was the grim old cow-killer limping over the ground and far behind a Greyhound, and another, and farther still, the other dogs in order of their speed, dragging themselves onward in pursuit. Many hours of hardest toil had done their work. The wolf had sought to fling them off. Now was his hour of doom for he was spent. The dogs still had some reserve. Straight to the wolvers for a time they all came skirting the base of the mountain.
On horseback they could not cross to join the dogs, so held their breath and gazed with ravenous eyes. The dogs were nearer now; the wind brought feeble notes from the hounds. The big wolf turned to the steep ascent and up a well-known trail for he made no slip. There was no escape for him, beset by fifteen dogs with men to back them. He was not walking, but tottering upward. The dogs behind in line were nearing him. One could hear them gasping. The foremost dogs were closing, fearless of their foe so nearly spent.
Here in the narrowest place where one wrong step meant death, the great wolf turned and faced them with forefeet braced, head low, tail a little raised, and mane bristling. Baring his teeth and uttering no sound he faced the crew. His legs were weak with toil but his neck, his jaws and his heart were strong.
Now all you who love dogs had better stop here.
Fifteen to one, they came. The swiftest first, and how it was done the eye could scarcely see. A stream of dogs came pouring and tumbling down the path in single file. Billy received them as they came. Slash, chop and heave from the swiftest to the biggest, to the very last. Down he sent them whirling from the ledge to the gaping gulch below where rocks and snags of trunks were sharp.
In fifty seconds it was done. Badlands Billy stood there, alone again on his mountain.
A moment he waited to look for more to come. There were no more, the pack was dead. Waiting until he got his breath, he raised his voice for the first time in that fatal scene. He feebly gave a long yell of triumph and scaling the next low bank disappeared in the canyons of Sentinel Butte.
The hunters and wolvers stared like men of stone. The guns in their hands were forgotten. It was all so quick… so final. No one made a move until the wolf was gone.
It was not far to the bloody place of peril. They went to see if any had escaped. Not one was left alive. They could do nothing. They could say nothing.
And this my friends, is what happened the day Billy went back to his mountain.
A week later….
The sun went down beyond the same mountain. It was dusk as some ranchers heard a deep toned rolling howl come from the river flat below, followed by a number of higher-pitched howls in answering chorus. They could see nothing but they listened hard. The song was repeated, the hunting cry of the wolves. It faded…the night was stirred by another sharp bark and a short howl, the signal to “close in”.
A bellow came up; very short for it was cut short and as one old rancher slapped the leather on his saddle, he was heard to say grimly “That’s him, that’s ol’ Billy. He is out with the pack, an’ thar goes another beef.”