73 Rocky Mountain Sheep
OVIS MONTANA.--Desm. [Ovis canadensis] ROCKY MOUNTAIN SHEEP. [Bighorn sheep] PLATE LXXIII. MALE and FEMALE. O. cornibus crassissimis spiralibus; corpore gracile; artubus elevatis; pilo brevi rigido rudi badio; clunibus albis o ariete major; rufo cinereus.
CHARACTERS. Longer than the domestic sheep, horns of the male long, strong and triangular, those of the female compressed; colour deep rufous grey, a large white disk on the rump. SYNONYMES. ARGALI, Cook's third voyage in 1778. WILD SHEEP OF CALIFORNIA. Venegus. WILD SHEEP OF CALIFORNIA. Clavigero. WHITE BUFFALO, McKenzie voy. p. 76. An. 1789. MOUNTAIN GOAT, Umfreville, Hudson's Bay. p. 164. MOUNTAIN RAM, McGillivary, N. York. Med. Reposit. vol. 6. p. 238. BIG HORN, Lewis and Clark. vol. 1. p. 144. BELIER SAUVAGE d'AMERIQUE. Geoff, An. du. mus. t. 2. pl. 60. ROCKY MOUNTAIN SHEEP. Warden. U. S. vol. 1. p. 217. MOUFFLON d'AMERIQUE. Desm. Mamm. p. 487. BIG HORNED SHEEP. (Ord.) BIG HORNED SHEEP. Blainv. in Jour. de Physic. 1817. OVIS AMMON. Harlan. Fauna. p. 259. THE ARGALI, Godm. Nat. Hist. vol. 2. p. 329. OVIS MONTANA. Richardson. F. B. Amer. p. 271. OVIS PYGARJAS VAR OVIS AMMON. Griffith An. King. Spec. 873. DESCRIPTION. Male. This is a much larger animal than the variety of our largest sized sheep. It is also considerably larger than the Argali on the eastern continent. The horns of the male are of immense size. They arise immediately above the eyes, and occupy nearly the whole head, they being only separated from each other by a space of three-fourths of an inch at the base. They form a regular curve, first backwards, then downwards and outward--the extremities being eighteen inches apart. They are flattened on the sides and deeply corrugated, the horns rising immediately behind. The ears, are short and oval, clothed with hair on both surfaces. The general form of the animal is rather elegant, resembling the stag more than the Sheep. The tail is short. The hair bears no resemblance to wool, but is similar to that of the American Elk and Reindeer. It is coarse, but soft to the touch, and slightly crimped throughout its whole length; the hairs on the back are about two inches in length, those on the sides one and a half inches. At the roots of these hairs, especially about the shoulders and sides of the neck, a small quantity of short soft fur is perceptible. The legs are covered with short compact hairs. The female Rocky Mountain Sheep resembles some of the finest specimens of the common Ram. Its neck is a little longer, as are also the head and legs, and in consequence it stands much higher. Its horns resemble more those of the goat than of the Sheep, in fact, whilst the fine erect body of the male reminds us of a large deer with the head of a ram, the female looks like a fine specimen of the antelope. The horns bend backwards and a little outwards, and are corrugated from the roots to near the points. Tail very short and pointed, covered with short hairs. Mammae two ventral. COLOUR. The whole upper surface of the body, outer surface of the thighs, legs, sides and under the throat, light greyish brown, forehead and ears it little lighter. Rump, under the belly and inner surface of hind legs, greyish white; the front legs, instead of being darker on the outside and lighter on the inside, are darker in front, the dark extending round to the inside of the legs, and covering nearly a third of the inner surface. Tail and hoofs black. A narrow dorsal line from the neck to near the rump, conspicuous in the male, but comparatively quite obscure in the female. RICHARDSON states that the old males are almost totally white in spring. DIMENSIONS. Ft. Inches. Male figure in our plate. Length . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Height at shoulder . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 5 Length of tail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 5 Girth of body behind the shoulders . . . . . . . 3 11 Height to rump . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 10 3/4 Length of horn around the curve . . . . . . . . 2 10 1/2 Length of eye . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 1 3/4 Weight 344 lbs. including horns. Female figure in our plate. Nose to root of tail . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 7 Tail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0 5 Height of rump . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 4 1/2 Girth back of shoulders . . . . . . . . . . . 3 4 1/2 Horns--44 1/2 lbs. Weight 240 lbs. (Killed July 3d, 1843.) HABITS. It was on the 12th of June, 1843, that we first saw this remarkable animal; we were near the confluence of the Yellow Stone river with the Missouri, when a group of them, numbering twenty-two in all, came in sight. This flock was composed of rams and ewes, with only one young one or lamb among them. They scampered up and down the hills much in the manner of common sheep, but notwithstanding all our anxious efforts to get within gun-shot, we were unable to do so, and were obliged to content ourselves with this first sight of the Rocky Mountain Ram. The parts of the country usually chosen by these animals for their pastures, are the most extraordinary broken and precipitous clay hills or stony eminences that exist in the wild regions belonging to the Rocky Mountain chain. They never resort to the low lands or plains except when about to remove their quarters, or swim across rivers, which they do well and tolerably fast. Perhaps some idea of the country they inhabit (which is called by the French Canadians and hunters, "mauvaise terres") may be formed by imagining some hundreds of loaves of sugar of different sizes, irregularly broken and truncated at top, placed somewhat apart, and magnifying them into hills of considerable size. Over these hills and ravines the Rocky Mountain Sheep bound up and down among the sugar loaf shaped peaks, and you may estimate the difficulty of approaching them, and conceive the great activity and sure-footedness of this species, which, together with their extreme wildness and keen sense of smell, enable them to baffle the most vigorous and agile hunter. They form paths around these irregular clay cones that are at times from six to eight hundred feet high, and in some situations are even fifteen hundred feet or more above the adjacent prairies, and along these they run at full speed, while to the eye of the spectator below, these tracks do not appear to be in more than a few inches wide, although they are generally from a foot to eighteen inches in breadth. In many places columns or piles of clay, or hardened earth, are to be seen eight or ten feet above the adjacent surface, covered or coped with a slaty flat rock, thus resembling gigantic toad stools, and upon these singular places the big horns are frequently seen, gazing at the hunter who is winding about far below, looking like so many statues on their elevated pedestals. One cannot imagine how these annuals reach these curious places, especially with their young along with them, which are sometimes brought forth on these inaccessible points, beyond the reach of their greatest enemies, the wolves, which prey upon them whenever they stray into the plains below. The "mauvaise terres" are mostly formed of greyish white clay very sparsely covered with small patches of thin grass, on which the Rocky Mountain Sheep feed. In wet weather it is almost impossible for any man to climb up one of these extraordinary conical hills, as they are slippery, greasy and treacherous. Often when a big horn is seen on the top of a hill, the hunter has to ramble round three or four miles before he can reach a position within gun-shot of the game, and if perceived by the animal, it is useless for him to pursue him any farther that day. The tops of some of the hills in the "mauvaise terres" are composed of a conglomerated mass of stones, sand, clay and various coloured earths, frequently of the appearance and colour of bricks. We also observed in these masses a quantity of pumice stone, and these hills, we are inclined to think are the result of volcanic action. Their bases often cover an area of twenty acres; there are regular horizontal strata running across the whole chain of these hills, composed of different coloured clay, coal and earth, more or less impregnated with salt and other minerals, and occasionally intermixed with lava, sulphur, oxide and sulphate of iron; and in the sandy parts at the top of the highest hills, we found shells, but so soft and crumbling as to fall to pieces when we attempted to pick them out. We found in the "mauvaise terres," also, globular shaped masses of heavy stone and pieces of petrified wood, from fragments two or three inches wide, to stumps of three or four feet thick, apparently cotton wood and cedar. On the sides of some of the hills at various heights, are shelf-like ledges or rock projecting from the surface in a level direction, from two to six and even ten feet, generally square or flat. These ledges are much resorted to by the big horns during the heat of the day. Between these hills there is sometimes a growth of stunted cedar trees, underneath which there is a fine sweet grass, and on the summits in some cases a short dry wiry grass is found, and quantities of that pest of the Upper Missouri country, the flat-broad-leaved Cactus, the spines of which often lame the hunter. Occasionally the hills in the "mauvaise terres" are separated by numerous ravines, often not more than ten or fifteen feet wide, but sometimes from ten to fifty feet deep, and now and then the hunter comes to the brink of one so deep and wide as to make his head giddy as he looks down into the abyss below. The edges of the cations (as these sort of channels are called in Mexico) are overgrown with bushes, wild cherries, &c., and here and there the Bison will manage to cut paths to cross them, descending in an oblique and zigzag direction; these paths however are rarely found except where the ravine is of great length, and in general the only mode of crossing the ravine is to go along the margin of it until you come to the head, which is generally at the base of some hill, and thus get round. These ravines exist between nearly every two neighbouring hills, at though there are occasionally places where three or more hills form only one. All of them however run to meet each other and connect with the largest, the size of which bears its proportion to that of its tributaries and their number. Where these ravines have no outlet into a spring or water course they have subterranean drains, and in some of the valleys and even on the tops of the hills, there are cavities called "sink holes;" the earth near these holes is occasionally undermined by the water running round in circles underneath, leaving a crust insufficient to bear the weight of a man, and when an unfortunate hunter treads on the deceitful surface it gives way, and he finds himself in an unpleasant and at times dangerous predicament. These holes sometimes gradually enlarge and run into ravines below them. It is almost impossible to traverse the "mauvaise terres" with a horse, unless with great care, and with a thorough knowledge of the country. The chase or hunt after the big horn, owing to the character of the country, (as we have described it,) is attended with much danger, as the least slip might precipitate one headlong into the ravine below, the sides of the hills being destitute of every thing to hold on by excepting a projecting stone or tuft of worm wood, scattered here and there, without which even the most daring hunter could not ascend them. In some cases the water has washed out caves of different shapes and sizes, some of which present the most fantastic forms and are naked and barren to a great degree. The water that is found in the springs in these broken lands is mostly impregnated with salts, sulphur, magnesia, &c.; but unpleasant as it tastes, it is frequently the only beverage for the hunter, and luckily is often almost as cold as ice, which renders it less disagreeable. In general this water has the effect very soon of a cathartic and emetic. Venomous snakes of various kinds inhabit the "mauvaise terres," but we saw only one copper-head. Conceiving that a more particular account of these countries may be interesting, we will here insert a notice of them given to us by Mr. DEWEY, the principal clerk at Fort Union. He begins as follows: "This curious country is situated, or rather begins half way up White river, and runs from south east to north west for about sixty miles in length, and varying from fifteen to forty miles in width. It touches the head of the Teton river and branches of Chicune, and joins the Black Hills at the south fork of the latter river. The hills are in some places five or six hundred yards high and upwards. They are composed of clay of various colours, arranged in lavers or strata running nearly horizontally, each layer being of a different colour, white, red, blue, green, black, yellow, and almost every other colour, appearing at exactly the same height on every hill. "From the quantity of pumice stone and melted ores found throughout them, one might suppose that they had been reduced to this state by volcanic action. From the head of the Teton river, to cross these hills to White river is about fifteen miles; there is but one place to descend, and the road is not known; the only way to proceed is to go round the end of them on the banks of the White river, and following that stream ascend to the desired point. In four day's march a man will make about fifteen miles in crossing through the "mauvaise terres." At first sight these hills look like some ancient city in ruins, and but little imagination is necessary to give them the appearance of castles, walls, towers, steeples, &c. The descent is by a road about five feet broad, winding around and among the hills, made at first probably by the bisons and the big horn sheep, and now rendered practicable by the Indians and others who have occasion to use it. It is however too steep to travel down with a loaded horse or mule, say about one foot in three, for a mile or so, after which the bases of the hills are about level with each other, but the valleys between them are cut up by great ravines in almost every direction from five to twenty and even fifty feet deep." "In going over this part of the country great precaution is necessary, for a slip of the foot would precipitate either man or horse into the gulf below. When I descended, the interpreter, B. Daumine, a half breed, (having his eyes bandaged) was led by the hand of an Indian." Something like copperas in taste and appearance is found in large quantities, as well as pumice stone, every where. This country is the principal residence of the big horn sheep, the panther and grizzly bear; big horns especially are numerous, being in bands of from twenty to thirty, and are frequently seen at the tops of the highest peaks, completely inaccessible to any other animal. There is but one step from the prairie to the barren clay, and this step marks the difference for nearly its whole length. These "mauvaise terres" have no connexion or affinity to the surrounding country, but are, as it were, set apart for the habitation of the big horns and bears. The sight of this barren country causes one to think that thousands of square miles of earth have been carried off, and nothing left behind but the ruins of what was once a beautiful range of mountains. The principal part of these hills is white clay, which when wet is soft and adhesive, but the coloured strata are quite hard and are never discoloured by the rain, at least not to any extent, for after a hard rain the streams of water are of a pure milk white colour, untinged by any other, and so thick that ten gallons when settled will only yield about two gallons of pure limpid water, which, however, although clear when allowed to stand awhile, is scarcely drinkable, being salt and sulphurous in taste. The sediment has all the appearance of the clay already mentioned, which is nearly as white as chalk. There is only one place where wood and pure sweet water can be found in the whole range, which is at a spring nearly in the centre of the tract, and one day's journey from the White river, towards the Chicune. This appears a little singular, for if it were not for this the voyageur would be obliged to take a circuitous route of from four to five days. This spring is surrounded by a grove of ash trees, about two hundred yards in circumference. It immediately loses itself in the clay at the edge of the timber, and near the spring the road descends about sixty feet and runs through a sort of avenue at least half a mile wide, on each side of which are walls of clay extending horizontally about fifteen miles, and eighty feet high, for nearly the whole distance. Between these walls are small sugar-loaf shaped hills, and deep ravines, such as I have already described. The colours of the strata are preserved throughout. The principal volcano is the "Cote de tonnerre," from the mouth of which smoke and fire are seen to issue nearly at all times. In the neighbourhood and all around, an immense quantity of pumice stone is deposited, and from the noises to be heard, no doubt whatever exists that eruptions may from time to time be expected. There is another smaller hill which I saw giving forth heated vapours and smoke, but in general if the weather is clear the summits of the Black hills are obscured by a mist, from which circumstance many superstitions of the Indians have arisen. The highest of the Black hills are fully as high as the Alleghany mountains, and their remarkable shapes and singular characters deserve the attention of our geologists, especially as it is chiefly among these hills that fossil petrefactions are abundantly met with. The Rocky Mountain Sheep are gregarious, and the males fight fiercely with each other in the manner of common rams. Their horns are exceedingly heavy and strong, and some that we have seen have a battered appearance, showing that the animal to which they belonged must have butted against rocks or trees, or probably had fallen from some elevation on to the stony surface below. We have heard it said that the Rocky Mountain Sheep descend the steepest hills head foremost, and they may thus come in contact with projecting rocks, or fall from a height on their enormous horns. As is the case with some animals of the deer tribe, the young rams of this species and the females herd together during the winter and spring, while the old rams form separate flocks, except during the rutting season in December. In the months of June and July the ewes bring forth, usually one, and occasionally, but rarely, two. Dr. RICHARDSON, on the authority of DRUMMOND, states that in the retired parts of the mountains where the hunters had seldom penetrated, he (DRUMMOND) found no difficulty in approaching the Rocky Mountain Sheep, which there exhibited the simplicity of character so remarkable in the domestic species; but that where they had been often fired at, they were exceedingly wild, alarmed their companions on the approach of danger by a hissing noise, and scaled the rocks with a speed and agility that baffled pursuit. He lost several that he had mortally wounded, by their retiring to die among the secluded precipices. They are, we are farther informed on the authority of DRUMMOND, in the habit of paying daily visits to certain eaves in the mountains that are encrusted with saline efflorescence. The same gentleman mentions that the horns of the old rams attain a size so enormous, and curve so much forwards and downwards, that they effectually prevent the animal from feeding on the level ground. All our travellers who have tasted the flesh of the Rocky Mountain Sheep, represent it as very delicious when in season, superior to that of any species of deer in the west, and even exceeding in flavour the finest mutton. We have often been surprised that no living specimen of this very interesting animal has ever been carried to Europe, or any of our Atlantic cities, where it would be an object of great interest. GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION. This animal is found, according to travellers, as far to the North as lat. 68, and inhabits the whole chain of the Rocky Mountains on their highest peaks down to California. It does not exist at Hudson's Bay, nor has it been found to the eastward of the Rocky Mountain chain. GENERAL REMARKS. The history of the early discovery of this species, of specimens transmitted to Europe from time to time, obtained in latitudes widely removed from each other, of its designation under various names, and of the figures, some of which were very unnatural, that have been given of it, are not only interesting but full of perplexity. It appears to have been known to Father PICOLO, the first Catholic missionary to California, as early as 1697, who represents it as large as a calf of one or two years old; its head much like that of a stag, and its horns, which are very large, are like those of a ram; its tail and hair are speckled and shorter than a stag's, but its hoof is large, round, and cleft as an ox's. I have eaten of these beasts; their flesh is very tender and delicious. The Californian Sheep is also mentioned by HERNANDEZ, CLAVIGERO, and other writers on California. VANEGAS has given an imperfect figure of it, which was for a long time regarded as the Siberian Argali. Mr. DAVID DOUGLASS, in the Zoological Journal, in April, 1829, describes a species under the name of Ovis Californica, which he supposed to be the sheep mentioned by PICOLO. COOK, in his third voyage evidently obtained the skin of the Rocky Mountain Sheep on the north west coast of America. Mr. MEGILLIVERY, in 1823, presented to the New-York Museum a specimen of this animal, and published an account of it in the Medical Repository of New-York. This specimen being afterwards sent to France, a description and figure of it were published. LEWIS and CLARK, some years afterwards, brought male and female specimens to Philadelphia, which were figured by GRIFFITH and GODMAN. Several eminent naturalists, and among the rest Baron CUVIER, considered it the same as Ovis Ammon, supposing it to have crossed Behring's Straits on the ice. We have never had an opportunity of comparing the two species, but have examined them separately. Our animal is considerably the largest, and differs widely in the curvature of its horns from those of the eastern continent. We have no doubt of its being a distinct species from Ovis Ammon. We doubt moreover, whether Ovis Californica will be found distinct from Ovis Montana; the climate in those elevated regions is every where cold. There are no intermediate spaces where the northern species ceases to exist, and the southern to commence, and when we take into consideration the variations of colour in different individuals, as also in the same individual in summer and winter, we should pause before we admit Ovis Californica as a true species. We have therefore added this name as a synonyme of Ovis Montana.