JAKE’S BEAVER STEW FOR 100
7 Beavers (About 60 lbs) Remove fat, cut into cubes
5-6 lbs onions
10 lbs potatos
10 lbs carrots
3 qts tomatoes (any kind)
20 gal black kettle
Build a big fire
Instructions: A bit sketchy
Marinate cubes of beaver in 1 cup vinegar plus 3 tablespoons soda, ½ cup salt and water to cover. Pour off liquid, add water to cover and boil 20 minutes. Pour off liquid, wash in clear water. Add water to cover, boil and add the remaining ingredients.
“Where are you going to get the beaver for your stew, dear?” Mrs. Jake, who has been helping her husband recall recipe details, asks me.
She thinks I’m actually going to cook this? “I’m writing it down for general information,” I answer.
“Oh, I see,” she says primly. She wears blue-beaded moccasins, a long gingham dress, an apron and a sunbonnet. Jake, the only real trapper I’m likely to meet at the sincere, but historically casual rendezvous, is decked out in deerskin.
“I pretty much stay within fifty miles of home these days,” he says. “I am seventy-eight, you know.” His face and hands show the seventy-one years he’s been on the trap lines, but he moves like a cat. “On low flat country I can check my traps from the pick up. Above 7,000 feet I can get fifteen to twenty miles off the road with chains on a four-wheel drive. From there, I might use a horse, but I like to walk on snowshoes.” He smiles. “And you have to check your traps every seventy-two hours so’s the animals don’t suffer. That’s the law. I’d turn in anybody I found didn’t.”
“You mean the animal is alive?” I ask.
“Oh yeah. It might live a week in normal winter weather.” I change the subject.
“Where’d you come from originally, Jake?”
“I was raised in Lincoln, Nebraska. Later I moved out to Laramie. I brought my wife up here in 1936.”
“We broke out two hundred and forty acres of sagebrush and built an adobe house,” she says.
“We had Mexican neighbors who showed us how. They had eleven kids that was always hungry. I poached antelope for ‘em,” Jake recalls. “I think Game and Fish knew, but they never said a word.” He pauses, then whispers, “Back then we had game wardens with sense. Now we got hard-nosed little bastards who go by the book.”
“Now, when we had money we reformed some and bought things at the store,” Mrs. Jake adds.
“Well, we weren’t goin’ to starve when we didn’t have money,” he snaps.
Jake, as much as he talks, is a man of action, and he runs through his repertoire of animal calls for me. “This here’s the bull elk call. It’s a challenge to other bulls.” An anemic “blap” fails to move the bull elk in me. His cottontail rabbit call is astounding, like the wail of a baby being strangled (I imagine) and the jackrabbit call is worse, but the object is to fool a hungry coyote, not me. “And this is what I pull my women in with,” he winks. Out comes a shrill “blap.” Mrs. Jake stirs slightly.
“How much fer the horse’s tail?” A man picke one up from a pile and twitches it in the air while he inspects the pelts and skins Jake has for sale.
“Oh. Ten bucks,” Jake decides.
“Where do you get horse’s tails?” I ask. I can’t imagine him hanging out at a slaughterhouse.
“I find a mustang the coyotes have killed and set traps around it for ‘em. Pick up the tails ‘cause I use anything I can. A good trapper is the best conservationist there is; lives with the animals, knows how many babies live and if they’re healthy or sick. I always leave seed and move on.”
“These environmentalists watched too much Walt Disney as kids,” Mrs. Jake adds.
“That’s right. They got a flaw in their thinking,” Jake leans closer and bores through me with blue eyes. “Humans attribute human personalities to animals and it just ain’t so.” I confine my error in this matter to the dogs, I decide.
“These city people come runnin’ out here to tell us what nature is like and they don’t know nothin’ they ain’t got outta some book.” Jakes a goin’ now. “I never turn down a school that asks me to come and talk. Hell, I go preach to the kids, tell ‘em, ‘Don’t you dare grow up to be one of them environmentalists.’” He chuckles good naturedly as I scribble, pinned as I am to the ground in his tent. “Did I tell ya about the 110-pound turkey I had to shoot in self-defense?”
I listen to stories, wait, and finally ask, “So if the trapped animals are alive, how do they die?”
He is quiet a moment, and then stands. “This is how I kill a coyote,” he says. “I hit it on the nose to stun it so it don’t know what’s comin’. Then I pull it’s head up and hit it across the neck with an iron.”
“An iron? What do you mean?”
“An iron,” he yells and grabs a fire poker. He pretends to yank a ghostly coyote’s head back and across his knee so that its neck is exposed. “Like this,” and he strikes. “Crushes the windpipe. It never breathes again.”
There is awe in our silence, on my part for our kinship with the coyote, and on his part, I’m not sure. It’s obvious that he doesn’t take killing lightly.
“That’s what you got to accept. Everything dies. It takes three to four weeks for a deer to starve – or there’s a bullet. Man can show mercy. Nature don’t.” My heart feels crushed like the coyote’s windpipe, yet I find no fault in what he says.