Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dogs and Devil Cows from My SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL

Figure One - A size comparison between a modern bison and Bison antiquus, the bison species that Chayton, Hoka, and
the other Folsom People had to deal with 10,700 years ago in the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY.   

I wrote my prehistoric book thriller the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY based on my knowledge and research in archaeology, hunting, and animal/human behavior. I have spent lots of time out in the field doing my research – finding prehistoric artifacts, watching and recording animal behavior and creating scenarios, such as the one below, taken from the second book of the trilogy, GHOSTS OF THE HEART. In this scenario, hunters from the Folsom People are attempting to trap and kill a herd of bison without the dangerous beasts killing or maiming any hunters. I am sure that was quite a trick. I will join you on the other side of the GHOSTS OF THE HEART segment.       

Chayton knelt with Hoka on top of the hill, patiently waiting for the last of the cows and calves to
enter the arroyo. When the last of the tatanka (bison) entered the arroyo, he signaled a hunter on another hillside. Chayton had wanted the tatanka bull in the trap, but it was not going to happen. The hunters would just leave him alone. There was too much risk attacking the bull on the open prairie. The hunt would be more than successful with the cows and the calves. Chayton would let the last of the herd get to the wakon ya (natural spring) and start drinking before he signaled the attack.

WANA! – NOW!” Chayton bellowed and the hunters sprung the trap. A hunter signaled Tah and Wiyaka who lit their torches and then raced to the arroyo with the other hunters. The hunters arrived at the wooden fence and dropped more dead wood in the gap between the two sides of the arroyo. The hunters then picked up a large log that was lying behind the fence and set it down across the top of the fence. They had sealed the herd into the arroyo, but it would take fire to hold the herd. Tah looked up and saw that the tatanka bull had already taken off running, abandoning his herd. Tah and Wiyaka threw the torches on the wooden fence and it erupted into flames. Smoke rose as the flames burned into the green sagebrush, creating a huge smoke screen. The smoke signaled Chayton and the other hunters to attack. Carrying large bundles of spears, the hunters ran up to both sides of the arroyo and began heaving spears at the unwary herd. The herd milled around the wakon ya, confused by the spears and the smoke.

A rain of spears fell on the herd from three sides of the arroyo. Spears stuck in the hides of the cows and calves as the herd panicked and attempted to climb the steep walls of the arroyo. Without a leader, the herd muddled about while more spears poured down on them from above. Finally, one of the cows ran back down the arroyo towards the entrance and the rest of the herd followed…

Dangerous business, don’t you agree? A prehistoric hunter severely injured by a bison was almost worse off than if he died. Depending on the severity of the injury, there may have been little for the tribe to do. We assume from analyses of injuries on prehistoric skeletons that medical care was quite limited. In addition, the tribe had to care and feed injured hunters, drawing on the limited resources of the tribe. Recovery from serious injuries such as broken bones took a long time.

Figure Three - Mexican corriente cattle. The orange and white
devil cow that first attacked Madd Maxx and then me.
I had a first-hand experience of what this might have been like on December 3, 2016. My faithful dog Madd Maxx and I were doing some artifact hunting on the original SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL prehistoric site when a herd of wild, horned cows and their calves decided Madd Maxx was a wolf or coyote and attacked him. I intervened on my German Shepherd's behalf, thinking the cows would run away at the first sign of a conflict. I was wrong. An orange and white horned cow rammed into my chest with her head. I hung on to her horns as long as I could and when I let go,  she trampled me. Lying there in the dirt and manure, I could not breathe! I fought to find air! Before, I could stand up, the devil cow plowed into me again. I will never forget the pain when she smacked into me. I tried to crawl away, but she pinned me down on the ground with her head as she tried to gore me with her horns. I was wearing a backpack which she completely destroyed.  I had a walking stick which she completely destroyed. Dust rose above the prairie as the cows went on a rampage. In the background of my own fight, I heard Maxx Maxx fighting for his own life. I remember feeling relieved when I heard him barking and carrying on. I was sure the cows had trampled him to death. I realized at that moment that I had to save myself if I was going to save my dog. I tried to yell for help, but there was no one anywhere close to where I was. Besides, I could not yell, my lungs were empty. I could not breathe. I definitely could not yell for help. I tried to crawl away, but the devil cow kept smashing into me. I held my arms over my head, hoping to protect my skull from horns and hooves.

I grew up in a small agricultural town in Wyoming, a state where cattle significantly outnumber the people. Every summer from junior high through college, I worked on farms and ranches, so cattle and their behavior was familiar to me. I had never seen a herd of cows react this way. They were going to protect their calves to any length.  

Lying there and getting pummeled from behind, I was sure I was going to die. I remember thinking how it would look to "die by cow". We all have to die, right, but death by cow? Who would believe it? I could not catch my breath! I was wheezing! My fractured ribs felt like someone had impaled me with a spear! While the half-ton plus cow held me against the ground, she gored me with her horns and stepped all over my back and legs with her sharp hooves. The burning, the throbbing, and the stinging pain was unbearable. I was bleeding all over the pasture. I have never known such excruciating agony in my life.

Figure Four - Madd Maxx, at home, after recuperating.
This Mexican corriente cow was not going to be happy until I was dead, so I finally relented. I played dead. The horned beast pawed at me with her hooves, trying to roll me over, but I just laid there, anchored to the ground, my arms wrapped tightly around my head. I was suffocating on the thick dust and covered in cow manure. Finally, the devil cow was convinced I was no threat to her and calf and wandered off to graze. I could hear Madd Maxx still barking and yelping, a good omen. I somehow rose to my knees. My damaged left leg would not straighten out. I crawled amongst the swirling cows and grabbed Madd Maxx by the neck from the midst of them. He was bleeding heavily from the mouth and he had patches of matted bloody fur across his body. We crawled to the outskirts of the cows and stopped. I could not catch my breath. I was drowning in the dust. Every time I tried to breathe my broken ribs reminded me of what true pain was. I could not walk. I could barely crawl. The shredded backpack hung from my back. Madd Maxx sat next to me, exhausted and quietly whimpering. 

I could not believe it, but the same cows that just mauled us, lined up right in front of us and watched. The big orange and white devil cow was right in front of Madd Maxx and me, glaring at us. Her eyes were not angry, they were determined. I could tell she wanted to finish the job. I commanded Madd Maxx to run for the car and he did, heading for the safety of the barbed wire fence and our vehicle. Then, I stood up the best that I could and that was when the orange and white cow plowed into me, again, slamming me into the dirt. 

I do not know how long I laid there in the pasture. I lost all sense of time. When I woke up, I could feel that the temperature had dropped. I realized I could never survive the night out on the prairie. I crawled to my vehicle, loaded Madd Maxx up, and then drove to the ranch house where the ranch staff immediately called for help. Eventually, a helicopter landed at this isolated ranch and I was transported via Flight for Life to one of the better trauma centers in Colorado. I ended up with three broken ribs, a bruised lung and liver, a hemorrhaging adrenal gland, and severe bruising and contusions across most of the lower half of my body. It took me a month to walk without assistance. Thanks to my wife Theresa and the ranch foreman, Madd Maxx ended up in an animal emergency room for treatment of cuts and bruises, but no broken bones.   

Figure Five - While the orange and white demon cow mauled me, the
other cows fought with Madd Maxx. This is what Madd Maxx contended with.

I received first-hand experience of the dangers of large prey animals, even if they were so called “domesticated cattle”. Would I have survived these injuries ten thousand years ago without Flight for Life or excellent care at a leading trauma center? I don't know. Maybe, but I would have become a burden to the tribe. In looking back at this recent incident, I think I did a pretty good job portraying similar incidents in the difficult and dangerous life of the Folsom People in the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY. Read it and see if you agree.

Four months later, I have mostly recovered from my injuries from the December 3, 2016 mad cow incident. All I have left are my memories and some pretty cool scars I can talk about. I am currently writing another prehistoric adventure book where I will play out the drama and emotion of my traumatic experience. In the meantime, read the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY and see what you are missing.