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Living off the Land

May 27, 1998

Desert encounters with bears still possible?

-Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute

Some time back, the local newspapers had a number of articles pertaining to bears - specifically black bears - that were at one time fairly common in the Davis Mountains. Stories are still told of encounters with bears back near the turn of the century.

Black bears still wander into the area, usually out of Mexico, with some freque~ncy. There is thought to be a small resident population in the Chisos Mountains, and occasionally an individual will wander as far north as Alpine or Ft. Davis.

Often, these wanderers frequent roadside parks where they are attracted to trash cans. On at least two occasions over the past twenty years bear sightings were reported almost daily by tourists along remote stretches of highway.

In both cases, a bear was shoving northward and it was interesting to track its progress based on these sightings. Both treks ended as usual with the animal being dispatched for the good of who-knows-what. Black Bear stories are numerous, but how many of us realize that grizzlies were part of our fauna not so many years ago.

It is a well known fact that the last grizzly bear seen in these parts fell victim to C. O. Finley and John Means in November of 1890 in a gulch at the head of Limpia Creek, not far from the town of Ft. Davis. Accounts of this encounter were published in the newspapers of the time, and have periodically been reprinted since.

A narrative was also published by Vernon Bailey, who at the time had been contracted by the State to document fauna inhabiting Texas at the turn of the century (Fatima of Texas, 1905). Some time later Bailey observed tracks that he attributed to a grizzly in Dog Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains.

A survey by the biologist Starker Leopold in 1959 found that grizzlies were still known to inhabit the Sierra del Nido and adjoining Cerro La Campana and Sierra Santa Clara just north of Chihuahua City, Mexico. Several had been shot in these mountains and Leopold had been shown photographs of grizzlies killed in 1954 and 1957.

He followed up by sending four field groups to the Sierra del Nido between 1957 and 1961. The members of these parties obtained evidence that approximately 30 grizzlies made up what was the last remaining population of the Southwest's greatest carnivore.

In July of 1960, an Arizona hunter named John Nutt was guided to a magnificent male grizzly in the Sierra del Nido by Curtis Prock. The grizzly was shot and photos were made documenting the kill. Customs agents allowed the carcass into the U.S. but a controversy developed when it was delivered to a Phoenix taxidermist. The hide and head were quickly confiscated by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service but were later returned without charges being made.

The end came for the Sierra del Nido grizzlies when a potent new poison targeted toward predators, Compound 1080, was made available to del Nido ranchers in the winters of 1901-64. The effect of the poison on grizzlies was never documented, but no reliable sightings have been made since that time.

Rumors still persist that the grizzly can be found in the del Nido, but repeated attempts to verify their existence have met with failure.

In 1975, I had the good fortune to spend some time in the Sierra del Nido with my good friend Alec Knight, now a biologist at Sul Ross State University. While lying in our sleeping bags in front of a fading campfire near a tree-lined arroyo, our conversation turned to the plight of the grizzly. Are there still some around? Do they really eat people? Are they watching us from the surrounding darkness as we gaze at the glowing embers of our fire? Will they try to eat us after we're asleep? What's that noise . . .?

A good source of information for those with an interest in bears is "The Grizzly in the Southwest," by David E. Brovvn, a former supervisor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The book was published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1985, and is found the Blair Library at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute.

Shadetree Saddlery, a gem in the rough Trans-Pecos

Staff Writer
That all art springs from necessity is a debated point, but when one gets a look and feel for the fine saddles and leather goods built by Hal and Charlotte Evans at Shadetree Saddlery there is no doubt they are the product of those who know what a working cowboy needs beneath his seat.

Evans, himself a product of the cowboy lifestyle, was born and raised in Kent, Texas. He first started working summers at the Reynold's Cattle Company at age 12, and joined on as a full-time ranch hand after graduating high school.

Sometime in the middle of all this he learned how to work with leather - the undisputed capital resource of the ranchlands.

Evans said he has been working with leather "more or less" all his life.

He was 27 when he built his first saddle, and from there, he said, it just mushroomed.

"I grew up on a ranch and was always tearing up something," he said.

It was his mother and aunt who were busied themselves constructing the belts, wallets and purses that a growing family needed. His father kept and repaired his and others' saddles, but, as Evans attests, hated the "tedious work" of decorating these saddles.

Evans confesses that even he can usually only last a couple of hours when "stamping" or "carving" on his made-to-order saddles.

The saddlery, opened two years ago, and the leather work involved was soon to grew on Evans' wife Charlotte.

"I saw all these scraps going into the box, I thought there had to be something I could do with all of it," she said.

Soon she was selling leather rosebuds on barbed wire strands beside her husband at state rodeos and trade shows just as fast as she could make them. Now there are hair barrettes, purses, leather picture frames and belts.

"We try to do as much with the scraps as possible," she explained while showing off an intricate hair barrette hung in her seven-year-old daughter's red hair.

The barrette displayed a bunch of leather "balloons" hung from Haley's ponytail, with the figure of a child drifting away on the end of the converging strings.

Western saddles are remarkably durable, with horn, stirrups and cantle all made much as they were 100 years ago. And there are almost as many saddles as there are types of people in the world.

There are the show saddles, with their deep design work and showy silver pieces.

Roping saddles which are built strong for demanding use and usually on a bullhide covered tree with thick horns to "dally" the calf or steer to.
Cutting saddles are built strong like ropers, but have tall, thin horns and a very flat long seat.

Rancher or "Old Time" saddles -a resurrection of a saddle type popular in the 1800s - have roping horns, a "A" fork (no swells) and a hard leather seat.

There are also Arabian, Barrel and Pleasure saddles.

When it comes to constructing a unique, personal saddle, Evans said, the possibilities are virtually endless.

"There are 50 basic patterns of trees (the wooden "frame" over which the leather is hung) and all can be changed to the quarter of an inch," he said. And there are 30 separate leather pieces that must be stitched together.

A plain, working saddle generally takes Evans about 60 hours of labor to complete, but a full, flower-carved saddle can take as long as 200 man-hours.

The fine design work of flowers, leaves and repeated patterns began long ago as a way to disguise the flaws within the leather. Today it has reached the point where it may be considered an art form.

Evans demonstrated the two basic forms of design, stamping and carving.

Stamping utilizes smallish, pencil-sized metal rods that contain individual marks on their tips. These tips are hammered into the wet leather repeatedly.

This process makes what is know as the "basket" design among others.

Carving is a true handiwork from start to finish. It begins when the saddle maker either carves freehand or traces a pattern into the leather. A bevel is used to "chase the line out" and create added depth.

As he demonstrated the process, Evans remarked that he had seen his aunt and mother do this all his life.

"He seems to be a natural," Charlotte observed, "He's very good at it."
Evan's stained fingers ran through the leather with a range of tools (he called his "forest") and within minutes had created a remarkably three-dimensional tulip.

"It gets as complicated as you want to make it," he said.

Leather goods at the Evans' home workshop, located just north of Verhalen on Highway 17, can run anywhere from $10 for a leather rosebud to as much as $1,900 for a full "flower-carved" custom-made saddle.

The Evans' can also rebuild, repad and re-tool any saddle, though there have been more unusual commissions.

Evans has been employed to design and build safety belts and utility harnesses - into which he stitched two layers of nylon webbing - for area workers. For the Evans' it is truly all in a days work.

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