The Bear-slayer Of San Diego
Let us now leave the great grizzly and the little marsh bear in
spectacles behind us and tell about a boy, a bear-slayer; not about a
bear, mind you. For the little fish-eating black bear which he killed
and by which he got his name is hardly worth telling about. This bear
lives in the brush along the sea-bank on the Mexican and Southern
California coast and has huge feet but almost no hair. I don't know
any name for h
m, but think he resembles the "sun bear" (Ursus
Titanus) more than any other. His habit of rolling himself up in a
ball and rolling down hill after you is like that of the porcus or pig
You may not know that a bear, any kind of a bear, finds it hard work
running down hill, because of his short arms, so when a man who knows
anything about bears is pursued, or thinks he is pursued, he always
tries, if he knows himself, to run down hill. A man can escape almost
any bear by running down hill, except this little fellow along the
foothills by the Mexican seas. You see, he has good bear sense, like
the rest of the bear family, and gets along without regard to legs of
any sort, sometimes.
This boy that I am going to tell about was going to school on the
Mexican side of the line between the two republics, near San Diego,
California, when a she bear which had lost her cub caught sight of the
boys at play down at the bottom of a high, steep hill, and she rolled
for them, rolled right among the little, half-naked fellows, and
knocked numbers of them down. But before she could get the dust out of
her eyes and get up, this boy jumped on her and killed her with his
The governor remembered the boy for his pluck and presence of mind and
he was quite a hero and was always called "The Bear-Slayer" after
Some rich ladies from Boston, hearing about his brave act, put their
heads together and then put their hands in their pockets and sent him
to a higher school, where the following incident took place.
I ought to mention that this little Mexican bear, though he has but
little hair on his body, has a great deal on his feet, making him look
as if he wore pantalets, little short pantalets badly frayed out at
San Diego is one of the great new cities of Southern California. It
lies within only a few minutes' ride of Mexico. There is a pretty
little Mexican town on the line between Mexico and California--Tia
Juana--pronounced Te Wanna. Translated, the name means "Aunt Jane." In
the center of one of the streets stands a great gray stone monument,
set there by the government to mark the line between the United States
To the south, several hundred miles distant, stretches the long Sea of
Cortez, as the conquerors of ancient Mexico once called the Gulf of
California. Beyond the Sea of Cortez is the long and rock-bound reach
of the west coast of Mexico. Then a group of little Central American
republics; then Colombia, Peru and so on, till at last Patagonia
points away like a huge giant's finger straight toward the South Pole.
But I must bear in mind that I set out in this story to tell you about
"The Bear-Slayer of San Diego," and the South Pole is a long way from
the subject in hand.
I have spoken of San Diego as one of the great new cities, and great
it is, but altogether new it certainly is not, for it was founded by a
Spanish missionary, known as Father Junipero, more than one hundred
These old Spanish missionaries were great men in their day; brave,
patient and very self-sacrificing in their attempts to settle the
wild countries and civilize the Indians.
This Father Junipero walked all the way from the City of Mexico to San
Diego, although he was more than fifty years old; and finally, after
he had spent nearly a quarter of a century in founding missions up and
down the coast of California, he walked all the way back to Mexico,
where he died.
When it is added that he was a lame man, that he was more than
threescore and ten years of age, and that he traveled all the distance
on this last journey on foot and alone, with neither arms nor
provisions, trusting himself entirely to Providence, one can hardly
fail to remember his name and speak it with respect.
This new city, San Diego, with its most salubrious clime, is set all
over and about with waving green palms, with golden oranges, red
pomegranates, great heavy bunches of green and golden bananas, and
silver-laden olive orchards. The leaf of the olive is of the same
soft gray as the breast of the dove. As if the dove and the olive
branch had in some sort kept companionship ever since the days of the
San Diego is nearly ten miles broad, with its base resting against the
warm, still waters of the Pacific Ocean. The most populous part of the
city is to the south, toward Mexico. Then comes the middle part of San
Diego City. This is called "the old town," and here it was that Father
Junipero planted some palm trees that stand to this day--so tall that
they almost seem to be dusting the stars with their splendid plumes.
Here also you see a great many old adobe houses in ruins, old forts,
churches, fortresses, barracks, built by the Mexicans nearly a century
ago, when Spain possessed California, and her gaudy banner floated
from Oregon to the Isthmus of Darien.
The first old mission is a little farther on up the coast, and the new
college, known as the San Diego College of Letters, is still farther
on up the warm sea bank. San Francisco lies several hundred miles on
up the coast beyond Los Angeles. Then comes Oregon, then Washington,
one of the newest States, and then Canada, then Alaska, and at last
the North Pole, which, by the way, is almost as far as the South Pole
from my subject: The Bear-Slayer of San Diego.
He was a little Aztec Indian, brown as a berry, slim and slender, very
silent, very polite and not at all strong.
It was said that he had Spanish blood in his veins, but it did not
show through his tawny skin. It is to be conceded, however, that he
had all the politeness and serene dignity of the proudest Spanish don
in the land.
He was now, by the kind favor of those good ladies who had heard of
his daring address in killing the bear with his knife, a student of
the San Diego College of Letters, where there were several hundred
other boys of all grades and ages, from almost all parts of the earth.
A good many boys came here from Boston and other eastern cities to
escape the rigors of winter. I remember one boy in particular from
Philadelphia. He was a small boy with a big nose, very bright and very
brave. He was not a friend of the little Aztec Indian, the Bear-Slayer
of San Diego. The name of this boy from Philadelphia was Peterson; the
Boston boys called him Bill Peterson. His name, perhaps, was William
P. Peterson; William Penn Peterson, most likely. But this is merely
detail, and can make but little difference in the main facts of the
As I said before, these college grounds are on the outer edge of the
city. The ocean shuts out the world on the west, but the huge
chaparral hills roll in on the east, and out of these hills the
jack-rabbits come down in perfect avalanches at night, and devour
almost everything that grows.
Wolves howl from these hills of chaparral at night by hundreds, but
they are only little bits of shaggy, gray coyotes and do little or no
harm in comparison with the innumerable rabbits. For these big
fellows, on their long, bent legs, and with ears like those of a
donkey, can cut down with their teeth a young orchard almost in a
The new college, of course, had new grounds, new bananas, oranges,
olives, all things, indeed, that wealth and good taste could
contribute in this warm, sweet soil. But the rabbits! You could not
build a fence so high that they would not leap over it.
"They are a sort of Jumbo grasshopper," said the smart boy from
The head gardener of the college campus and environment grew
"Look here, sir," he said to the president, "these big-eared fellows
are lazy and audacious things. Why can't they live up in the
chaparral, as they did before we came here to plant trees and try to
make the world beautiful? Now, either these jack-rabbits must go or
we must go."
"Very well," answered the president. "Offer a reward for their ears
and let the boys destroy them."
"How much reward can I offer?"
"Five cents apiece, I think, would do," answered the head of the
college, as he passed on up the great stone steps to his study.
The gardener got the boys together that evening and said, "I will give
you five cents apiece for the ears of these dreadful rabbits."
"That makes ten cents for each rabbit, for each rabbit has two ears!"
shouted the smart boy from Boston.
Before the dumfounded gardener could protest, the boys had broken into
shouts of enthusiasm, and were running away in squads and in couples
to borrow, buy or beg firearms for their work.
The smart boy from Boston, however, with an eye to big profits and a
long job, went straight to the express office, and sent all the way
to the East for a costly and first-class shotgun.
The little brown Aztec Indian did nothing of that sort; he kept by
himself, kept his own counsel, and so far as any of the boys could
find out, paid no attention to the proffered reward for scalps.
Bill Peterson borrowed his older brother's gun and brought in two
rabbits the next day. The Boston boy, with an eye wide open to future
profits to himself, went with Peterson to the head gardener, and
holding up first one dead jack-rabbit by the ear, and then the other,
coolly and deliberately counted off four ears.
The gardener grudgingly counted out two dimes, and then, with a grunt
of satisfaction, carried away the two big rabbits by their long hind
As the weeks wore by, several other dead rabbits were reported, and
despite the grumbling of the head gardener, the tumultuous and merry
students had quite a revenue, and their hopes for the future were
high, especially when that artillery should arrive from Boston!
Meantime, the little brown Aztec boy had done nothing at all. However,
when Friday afternoon came, he earnestly begged, and finally obtained,
leave to go down to his home at Tia Juana. He wanted very much to see
his Mexican mother and his six little Mexican brothers, and his sixty,
more or less, little Mexican cousins.
But lo! on Saturday morning, bright and early, back came the little
Bear-Slayer, as he was called by the boys, and at his heels came
toddling and tumbling not only his six half-naked little brown
brothers, but dozens of his cousins.
Each carried a bundle on his back. These bundles were long, finely
woven bird-nets, and these nets were made of the fiber of the misnamed
century plant, the agave.
This queer looking line of barefooted, bareheaded, diminutive beings,
headed by the silent little Aztec, hastily dispersed itself along the
outer edge of the grounds next to the chaparral abode of the
jack-rabbits, and then, while grave professors leaned from their
windows, and a hundred curious white boys looked on, these little
brown fellows fastened all their long bird-nets together, and
stretched two wide wings out and up the hill.
Very quiet but very quick they were, and when all the nets had been
unwound and stretched out in a great letter V far up the hill, it was
seen that each brown boy had a long, heavy manzanita wood club in his
Suddenly and silently as they had come they all disappeared up and
over the hills beyond, and in the dense black chaparral.
Where had they gone and what did all this silent mystery mean? One,
two, three hours! What had become of this strange little army of
silent brown boys?
Another hour passed. Not a boy, not a sign, not a sound. What did it
Suddenly, down came a rabbit, jumping high in the air, his huge ears
flapping forward and back, as if they had wilted in the hot sun.
Then another rabbit, then another! Then ten, twenty, forty, fifty,
five hundred, a thousand, all jumping over each other and upon each
other, and against the nets, with their long legs thrust through the
meshes, and wriggling and struggling till the nets shook as in a gale.
Then came the long lines of half-naked brown boys tumbling down after
them out of the brush, and striking right and left, up and down, with
In less than ten minutes from the time they came out of the brush, the
little fellows had laid down their clubs and were dragging the game
The grave professors shook their hats and handkerchiefs, and shouted
with delight from their windows overhead, and all the white boys
danced about, wild with excitement.
That is, all but one or two. The boy from Boston said savagely to the
little Aztec, as he stood directing the counting of the ears, "You're
a brigand! You're the black brigand of San Diego City, and I can whip
The brigand said nothing, but kept on with his work.
In a little time the president and head gardener came forward, and
roughly estimated that about one thousand of the pests had been
destroyed. Then the kindly president went to the bank and brought out
one hundred silver dollars, which he handed to the little Bear-Slayer
of San Diego in a cotton handkerchief.
The poor, timid little fellow's lips quivered. He had never seen so
much money in all his life. He held his head down in silence for a
long time and seemed to be thinking hard. His half-naked little
brothers and cousins grouped about and seemed to be waiting for a
share of the money.
The boy's schoolmates also crowded around, just as boys will, but
they did not want any of the silver, and I am sure that all, save only
one or two, were very glad because of his good luck.
Finally, lifting up his head and looking about the crowd of his
school-fellows, he said, "Now, look here; I want every one of you to
take a dollar apiece, and I will take what is left." He laid the
handkerchief that held the silver dollars down on the grass and spread
it wide open.
Hastily but orderly, his schoolmates began to take up the silver, his
own little brown fellows timidly holding back. Then one of the white
boys who had hastily helped himself saw, after a time, that the bottom
was almost reached, and, with the remark that he was half ashamed of
himself for taking it, he quietly put his dollar back. Then all the
others, fine, impulsive fellows who had hardly thought what they were
about at first, did the same; and then the little brown boys came
They kept coming and kept taking, till there was not very much but
his handkerchief left. One of the professors then took a piece of gold
from his pocket and gave it to the little Bear-Slayer. The boy was so
glad that tears came into his eyes and he turned to go.
"See here! I'm sorry for what I said. Yes, I am. I ought to be
ashamed, and I am ashamed."
It was the smart boy from Boston who had been looking on all this
time, and who now came forward with his hand held out.
"See here!" he said. "I've got a forty-dollar shotgun to give away,
and I want you to have it. Yes, I do. There's my hand on it. Take my
hand, and you shall have the gun just as soon as it gets here."
The two shook hands, and the boys all shouted with delight; and on the
very next Saturday one of these two boys went out hunting quail with a
fine shotgun on his shoulder.
It was the silent little hero, The Bear-Slayer of San Diego.