Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Hunting Antelope By Smell:

During the Mexican American War, Jim Beckwourth was engaged as a spy, interpreter and guide for the United States Army during action in the region around Santa Fe.  On Beckwourth's first day in camp, the common soldier's fare was spread for dinner.  This food didn't look any too appetizing to Beckwourth, so he informed his commander, Colonel Willock, that he was going to go out and kill an antelope for dinner.  The Colonel proclaimed that there wasn't an antelope within ten miles of the camp, that his soldiers had scoured the entire country without seeing one.  Beckwourth assured the  Colonel that he could felt sure he could find one.  As Beckwourth was preparing to set out, the Colonel decided to accompany Beckwourth.  The two men started out, keeping to the trail for about a half mile from camp, where Beckwourth discovered the tracks of three antelope which had just passed by, going in the direction of a nearby hill.  The Colonel did not see the tracks and Beckwourth omitted pointing them out.  A dozen or so steps beyond the tracks, Beckwourth suddenly stopped, throwing back his head and sniffing about like a dog scenting it's prey. 

"What the dickens are you sniffing so for?" asked the Colonel.

"I'm sure that I smell an antelope" responded Beckwourth. 

"You smell antelope!" exclaimed the Colonel, "Why I can smell nothing."

"Well Colonel, there are antelopes close by, I know, for my smellers never yet deceived me!" responded Beckwourth. 

Beckwourth suggested that the men split up to hunt for the antelope that he could "smell."  He suggested a route for the Colonel, which in all probability would cause the startled antelope to run in the direction that Beckwourth was taking.  By and by, the antelope came by Beckwourth and he shot one. At the sound of the shot, the Colonel hurried over to see what had been shot. There on the ground, beyond all dispute, and to the utter astonishment of the Colonel was an antelope. 

"And you smelled him", pondered the Colonel, "Well I must confess, your olfactory nerves beat those of any man I ever yet fell in with." 

This story was taken from the Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, by Beckwourth, James P, published by Harper and Brothers, 1856.  Many other editions. 

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