Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

"Big Jim" Hunts Sandhill Crane:

"Big Jim" Jeems was a greenhorn who accompanied Lancaster Lupton's supply train up to Fort Platte in the Autumn of 1841.  Jeems was probably an ex-soldier as Rufus Sage describes him as a "Ned" in his journal (Lupton was himself ex-military).  Through a combination of bad luck and an utter lack of competence Big Jim is portrayed as the ultimate greenhorn.  Other than documenting Jeems mis-adventures, Rufus Sage in Rocky Mountain Life, doesn't tell us what ultimately became of Jeems, whether he died a victim of his own ineptness, returned to civilized parts at the first opportunity, or rose above his incompetence to survive as a "Mountaineer."  Here Rufus Sage describes "Big Jim" hunting sandhill crane:

"Oct. 12th.  Still continuing up the Platte by its south bank, we made camp at night near the head of Grand Island.  During our progress we saw large quantities of wild gees and cranes in the river bottoms, that presented tempting marks for our voyageurs.  One of the latter, a tall raw-boned, half-crazed, and self-confident Missouri "Ned", good natured and inane, sporting the familiar soubriquet of "Big Jim," wishing to prove the truth of the Dogberry axiom, that "some things may be done as well as others," started to approach a large flock of sand-hill cranes, parading half obscured in a plat of grass near the road side.

The wary birds, however, caught glimpse of the approaching Nimrod and flew.  Still our hero advanced, crawling upon all-fours, to within sixty or seventy yards of their recent position, when raising up, he spyed an object which his excited imagination protrayed a crane, and promptly yielded to it the contents of his rifle.  

Of course the obstinate creature remained in status quo.

Re-loading with all possible speed, he gain fired!  But the second shot proved as futile as the first.

Determined the next should count whether or no, he advanced still nearer, and had raised for his third discharge, before the naked truth burst upon his astonished vision, he had been shooting at a bunch of dead grass.  Shouldering his rifle he now rejoined the caravan, and was received by the wags who had witnessed his exploit, as follows:

"Ho, Jim! I say, Jim!  Did you kill it?"
"Hang me, but it stood fire well, didn't it?"
"Reckon you wanted a bigger charge."
"Strange you couldn't knock it cold at that distance!"
"May be your gun is out of order?"
"Yes.  I'll bet a stewed crane of it.  Have you noticed the "sights" lately."
"Why Jim.  Really you've had bad luck!  What, within sixty yards and not kill? I can beat that all day."
"Ha, Ha, Jim! Shoot him grass!"

This rally was received, by our hero, in good part, who joined in the sport with as much gusto as though some one else were the victim.

The day was not permitted to pass without another display of the prowess of "Big Jim."

The above passage is from Rufus Sage, Rocky Mountain Life.

Big Jim Hunts Antelope
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