nav bar

Chased By the Bulls - A Jack Bell Story
Nevada State Journal, February 14, 1926, page 1

Fishing in Nevada Not As Tame as It Would Appear Asserts Writer

Local Anglers Break All Speed Records When Angry Bovines Get Busy and Start Running Them From Preserves


Nope! The title of this yarn don't mean peace officers, nor the "two Jacks", Chief of Police Kirkley and Sheriff Jack Hillhouse, and it doesn't mean any of their rank or file. Surely a few running records made by well known fishermen and anglers who haunt the famous Truckee river during the open season, when paced (behind) by a whirlwind bull. That peaceful looking, sleek animal, that in a flash becomes a vicious, deadly mass of hardened flesh - a ferocious beast that has turned into a creature as deadly as the great jungle inhabitants of the unexplored regions of Africa. That certain pride that is instilled in every red-blooded man ebbs, and the racing, pumping of a high speed heart becomes a mere flutter, and inherited bravery and guts, turns into high tension, coordinating functions of mind and body, in just plain get-a-way. Personally, I am of the opinion that every guy that has had a real honest to goodness speed tournament with a wild-eyed bull should have his named emblazoned in the sportsman's hall of fame. Yep, it is might ridiculous to see a heavily equipped fisherman hot-footin' ahead of a big fine, healthy, stirred-up bull. Of course one laughs, and from a safe place of vantage cries advice, between yells and guffaws. To the onlooker the victim is "thumbs down", and he only sees the supreme test of human and animal competition of going somewhere in a heck of a hurry. He does not note the beautiful touch of the toe of the heavy rubber boot as it delicately hits the turf, or the levelled grace of fishing paraphernalia, as it flies hither and yon, and utterly deafened by his own passing amusement, fails to hear the staccato bark of the man calling upon the shades of Isaac Walton's lesser gods, and his human companion for aid.

The rapid thump, thump, thump, closely behind a fleeing man sounds like the call of doom. A fraction of time in a glance behind, and there the huge bulk comes fleet as an antelope, roaring anger, grunts of gladness of a kill or mutilation before him. Now a matter of inches, and the expelled breath of the galloping killer can be felt on the back of the neck, where the skin has become taut and speeding cold blasts seem to make every pore wiggle and go icy cold. Yep, a fine sensation - not! Tnen plunging into sanctuary to safety. The lungs burning like fire, every nerve at its limit of tension. Muscles almost ossified. Then the reaction, unable to stand erect. Each and every function of the body doing the "hoochy koochy" exactly like a swamp angel in Arkansas with his early morning "agee and shakes."

If you laugh at the experiences of these old time fishermen doing their limit of speed, I only hope you will have the same experience, the thrills of going without wraps ahead of an angry bull, in a nice smooth pasture with nothing on the terrain to interfere with your footwork.


Wheeler lake lies in the lap of the high foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is stocked with big mouth bass, famous in the restaurants of Reno for their wonderful flavor. The little lake appears from the higher points of the Sierras, like the green of kunzite colored with radium, and with all the wonderful sparkle of this rare jewel. The setting of the lake is this stone set in green gold. A perfect and restful place to shoot long casts for this fighting fish. The shore line gently slopes below the level of the surrounding ground for many yards allowing one to reach the hiding and feeding grounds of the fish along this miniature beach.

The great pasture filled with cattle goes far in every direction from the rim of the pond. Sage brush appears at intervals. It is at this beauty spot that ofttimes fishermen are invited by the Wheeler folks to try their skill. On a late summer evening when the fish are rising, clouds of feed hovering over the water and the setting sun dropping behind the massive peaks of the Sierras, several of the known anglers were trying their skill, among them Tod Powell.

Quite a few young heifers were feeding about the water's rim, after having slaked their thirst. Suddenly there appeared on the rim a three-year-old bull. He was snorting mad to see his herd so near the human male. He growled deep in his throat as he pawed gravel and dirt and tossed his head from side to side, working up his anger to attack. He started down the incline directly after Powell, who let out a war whoop and started his sprint. The crazed demon followed along the edge of the rim. Powell was sure making express, limited, fast mail time. Glancing back he saw a badger start for the sage-brush almost between the charging animal and himself. The running fisherman halted. He had to be, he was, out of breath. The bull wasn't. Like a flash the idea germinated in Powell's mind as in gasps he shouted with all his might. "Eat him! Eat him up! Kill the ___!"

A glance at the badger was enough for that bull, he changed ends in a circle of a foot, his upraised tail dropped, his head lifted, the angry bellowings and snorts ceased miraculously sudden. That badger was sure hot footing for his hole, and that bull attained speed he had failed to show before the advent of what he took for a dog. Was funny, too. The badger seemed to be directly behind the bull and not over 20 feet away.

"Take him Shep!" cried Powell sensing the comedy in nature, and from a weak and frightened individual he developed into a hysterical being who rolled on the beach in his joy of escape and of witnessing the unusual.


Herb Hill, bait fisherman extraordinary, is very fond of the pools and mad riffles, and he is one of the fastest of Reno fishermen sprinters. He can do 50 feet in nothing, and is able to negotiate riffles where in the regular course of fishing, are absolutely prohibitive of passage.

Some of the best water on the famous Truckee river flows through the immense Durham ranch at Verdi. Along the north shore, just below the famous "spring hole", is what is probably the fastest riffle on the river. The whole river pours up against the south bank, is narrowed down into a deep canal by the five-foot fall. On the north side is one of the large pastures of the big ranch. There is a sparsely scattered growth between the river and the open fields, and a wide shore line, naked of even grass, drops down to the river's edge from the small trees, gently sloping to the stream. On the south side of this narrow channel there is a dense growth of small stuff, mostly briers, that make a landing ordinarily impossible on account of the high swiftly running water, and high bank.

Hill heard the snorts and low murmurs of a great black crested, roan beast he had noticed while skirting the pasture in making his way to his favorite grounds. He was close enough to get a good look at him and noted that he was a stranger in his surroundings.

"That bull had a chest like the front end of a box car," said Hill afterwards. "I was alone at the time. Never before paid much attention to those critters. But I did observe that he was the biggest bull I'd ever seen, and that his great spread of horns shone like sword blades in the sunlight, and that he would easily weigh a ton. I saw the gentleman was alert and glanced back just in time to see the hurtling, galloping bull making for the coffee camp. Rudy Herz was awakened by the thudding hoofs in the soft dirt when the animal was but a few feet away from him. From the prone position lying on his back, he arose with a quickness that at once suggested that he had a set of powerful springs under him. In a twinkling he was far behind the little grove of trees. A disappearance so quickly executed that the onlookers rubbed their eyes and wondered if he had really been lying down full length a moment before. From his place of security he let out a yell that could be heard a mile.

"Hey Stever! Run!! The bull!!!

Over his shoulder Stever saw the enraged critter change direction and make straight for him. He was boxed in the corner of the pond like a rat in a trap. The only chance he had for his life was that cliff. He is an old-timer. Anyone who ever hunted and fished with him knows he has the heart of a lion and the stamina of the best of mushers. He did the seeming impossible. With a spring like a bob cat after a rabbit he launched himself against that cliff, grabbed the small shelves and actually went to the top of the bluff for all the world like a squirrel, a feat that none of the rest of the bunch would care to tackle. That guy feeble? Not that any one could notice.

Sure, it was funny.

Last fall this same bull broke bounds from his home ranch and took across the river in the high hills. He was dangerous and a menace. The Wiley boys took his trail and found him in the rugged hills north of Boca and killed him.


Most every one of the 3,000 fisherman in Reno knows "chalk bluff". Many hundreds of fine trout are taken there each and every year. The better ground to make decent casts is from the gravel and sand bars on the south side of the stream. To reach this place one must walk across the beautiful pasture from the old Verdi road, east of Mayberry bridge. Down by the water two ditches are taken out, and then comes the river. Along the first ditch there is a large corral and long hay ricks, where cattle are fed in the winter. From the highway across the green clover bed in the pasture, is a matter of a couple hundred yards. A few rocks scattered midfield are the only breaks of a lawn that gently slopes to the first canal. The rocks cleaned from the feeding ground are piled in high windrows along the canal. During the summer this place is cropped close by a bunch of milk stock.

One evening, as the mammoth disc of the blood red sun was half dropped behind the ragged peaks of the Sierras, Henry P. Brown and Lawrence Gulling made their way towards the river. Gulling followed a line fence, dividing the two acreages. Brown cut directly through the middle of the lot where there was a big bunch of stock. Like every other fisherman hurrying to the stream in the late evening, his whole mind was centered on the famous sand bar where the big ones fed that time of day. He was outfitted with the regular uniform of the Truckee river fisherman. Heavy hip boots, long handled landing net, heavy hunting coat filled with all the varied junk packed by all who fish the Truckee regularly, and with his rod set up was hurrying along. He was in the middle of the field, a hundred yards from the stone piles that were marked by a jungle of briers and small growth, banking the height to ten feet at the apex.

"Hey, Brownie!" yelled Gulling. "Great guns look out, run for your life!" Brown turned to look at Gulling, and failed to see the approaching dangers.

"Behind you! A bull!" He screamed.

Brown looked over his shoulder. Coming with the speed of a racing coyote, a bull came charging directly at him, streaking along like a quarter horse. A mottled dirty gray and tan brute, tall erect and stiff as a poker, the tassel of long hairs streamed out like a pennant in a gale of wind.

Ordinarily Brown is not a speed maniac when it comes to hiking, but after one good look he sped away like a shadow. He fairly glided through space. His heavily shod feet and legs worked like pistons on a high speed motor. There was not a rock nor a club on that level field. He sure acquired speed. His basket left his hip and flew straight behind. The bamboo staff and fly rod were grasped in his left hand. Man, man but he ran. Yelling like one possessed, and every time he let out a screech the galloping bulk behind put on more power and closed the gap between a few inches. Gulling yelped advice between times, laughing like a man witnessing a side-splitting comedy, and it was for him. That big brute closed the gap until he was almost upon Brown. The bull sensed that his victim might gain sanctuary in the rock piles and grunted when he lowered his head with a quick upthrust so close that Brown felt the deadly norns rip along his coat tails. The race consumed seconds of time, but Brown lived a century, as he gave a high jump, and literally dived into that hedge of boulders. He scrambled to the top, spent and gasping. The bull also took a run and really endeavored to climb, would fall back, bellow and try again and again. At last, pawing, snorting and digging up the turf with his shining horns, he trotted back to his herd.

Brown was a regular scare crow when he joined Gulling. His hands and face were a mass of scratches, his coat torn, his boots flapping strips of rubber, a long gash on his thigh, and both arm black and blue and cut. He was a fine looking sport. Gulling was still doubled up laughing. Brown with blood in his eye started after him, then realized the show he must have given, smiled and said, "Come on to the river."


Every angler that fishes the Truckee, Carson Walker and a dozen other known streams within a 150-mile radius of Reno, knows the inimitable Ernie Heidtman, that 200-pound chap of bone, muscle, good nature and fine sportsmanship. As a youngster he was a butcher. Many times he has confessed that he was familiar with the eccentricities, habits, and general temper of bulls. He has often discoursed to his buddies on the range, bull, corral bulls, bulls that were pets, and cross grained dangerous bulls, fat bulls and thin bulls, thoroughbred and long ears. He always made good, too, when one of the critters appeared in his line of direction, shooing them away, while the rest of the crowd took a detour.

"Why listen fellows" he would start after lunch at the coffee camp. It's up to you whether a bull chances you or not. Now look at me, one never has given me a run. What I do, is, when he begins to paw and dig his horns in the ground, well, I just heave a rock at him, yell good and loud, and - well, there you are."

One early afternoon the gang parked their car at Merrill's bridge, the old wooden structure down at the Walsh ranchy, the other side of Verdi on the road to Dog valley grade. Most of the crowd knew that the same bull that had given Hill such a fright was somewhere along the stream on the north side, and not caring to meet that ferocious beast took the south side of the river, although the north side was the favorite casting ground. Heidtman made a few facetious cracks about not having any nerve and kidded them about their fears.

He crawled over the gate that leads down to the river, just a bit of a ways the other side of the bridge. It is here that a small park begins. A few clumps of trees and willows are along the shore of the river at the point where the island, formed by the middle pier of the bridge, breaks the stream. A wide trail used by the cattle goes down to the river a hundred yards from the highway.

Hidden in a small patch of willows that old devil of a bull was peering through the leaves watching Heidtman as he walked down the watering trail to the river. He stood like a graven colosseus until Heidtman was turning to make the angle, then he charged. Heidtman let out a yell and grabbed a rock and struck the fast moving critter square on the head.

"Get out you big tramp, you bluff," he yelled as he hurled another rock.

"Hey, you guys see that. That's the way to handle these bad bulls."

He turned just in time. That bull never even noticed the rocks that had struck him. Probably created an added urge to demosh the man. Ernie did not wait upon going - he went. He galloped with an abandon that was well worth seeing.

"Hit him again. Rub his ear," yelled the gang in a frenzy of delight.

Ernie was doing a hundred in several seconds below all previous records. The bull gained so rapidly that all the fun evaporated as the bull gave a jump, every hoof leaving the ground. There was never such a close shave for a man ahead of a bull. Heidtman made the water. That riffle is a broad one. The water is deep. Round rocks and flat rocks, smooth as water and time can make them, cover the bottom of the stream. Heidtman came across and his speed was so great that circles of water flew over his shoulers. He did not slip, not a drop of water entered his high boots. Speed, he fairly walked on the water.

He sat down, ker plunk. He looked across at the mass of raging flesh that stood knee deep in the water, shaking the massive head and demented with failure. Then turned and ran back into the pasture. He never took his eyes off the bull. His labored breathing became just about normal. He adjusted his outfit, slowly getting to his feet said: "Never again for me. From this time forth Mister Bull may have all the room he wants, and I'll walk a mile to get around one." Half to himself he muttered, "and I thought I knew bulls. Not me. Never."


There is a narrow strip of ground in the field below chalk bluff on the north side that runs down between the railroad tracks and the "hog pen." The Orr ditch comes out there. It is wide and deep. Cattle and a bull? Yep, I met him. An eight-foot jump across that ditch in heavy fishing togs, and I landed a foot in the clear, too.

So, in event you ever meet up with a bad full (and they are all bad), you will forget a weak heart, corns, bunions, sprained legs and ankles and each and every infirmity. When you take a good eye-full of a charging, maddened bull you will be gone on your way to safety with speed that you never knew you possessed.

nav bar

  Timeline and Articles,   Index,  

  Main Index,   Geneology,   More About Her  

  Index,   Selected Poetry,   All Poetry,   Letters,   Wife Jean

  Home,   Family,   Favorite Pages,   Site Map

IME logo Copyright © 2012, Mary S. Van Deusen