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How not to go hunting: Part 1 of Benton Canon’s story

Part 1 of Benton Canon’s story

by Carolyn Newman
HUERFANO — If you accidentally shot yourself in the chest when you were 20 years old, could you use your horse to make it back to camp?  This is Benton Canon’s account of what happened in 1866 in his own words.
“As there were no general stores in Huerfano County at that time (1866), the settlers made it a practice, when out of meat, to go hunting for a supply of bear, deer, antelope, or buffalo.  That September, Joseph Decatur Patterson (better known as Kate Patterson) and I hooked up a team and wagon and loaded in our camp equipage, guns and ammunition and drove out to the foot of the Greenhorn Mountain, making camp at what was known as the ‘Kentuck cabin’.
“The next morning we were up bright and early and laid out our plans for the day.  Kate was an old experienced hunter and dead shot with a rifle.  It was my first experience in handling firearms or the hunting of big game.  I had brought my saddle horse, Old Buckskin, along to carry the game that Patterson might kill.  It was agreed that we should separate at the start and meet again at a certain point in the hills at about twelve o’clock noon.
“In my rounds during the forenoon I saw some game, but did not get a shot.  After resting a while I took Buckskin to a patch of grass nearby, tying him to a tree so he could graze.  I strolled up the side of a mountain, thinking I might see Kate Patterson from that elevated position.
“There was no sign of him, so I amused myself by rolling large boulders down the hillside.  The day was clear and the sky a deep blue.  It was my first experience climbing up a mountain.  The panoramic picture of Nature’s stupendous work held me spellbound for some time.  Little did I think that the tragedy of my life was near and that in a few moments I would be as near death as anyone could ever be.
“After I got away from the spell that held and charmed me at this high point, I observed a boulder which looked as though it were almost ready to move by its own weight.  I got on its upper side and made ready to push when my revolver slipped from the holster, the hammer striking the rock I had tried to move.  The pistol fired, the ball entering my breast about one half inch below the heart and coming out near my spinal column.
“When this pistol fired, I remember shouting, ‘I am a dead man’.  From that moment until I came to myself at the foot of the mountain where I had left my horse, is a blank.  I opened my shirt, and as I breathed, the blood would spurt from the bullet hole.  I was certain that the end of my life had come.
“I had no paper or pencil, but found a horse shoe nail in my pocket.  I took one of the stirrup straps from my saddle and upon it wrote a short message to my father and mother, telling them how my death occurred.  I buckled the stirrup strap around Buckskin’s neck and told him to go, thinking he would return to our camp or to the ranch so that my friend Patterson would find the message.”
To be continued next week.
Benton Canon was much interested in local history and organized the Huerfano County Pioneer Association to record pioneer stories.  The letterhead illustrated here shows the organization’s officers.
Information is from Benton Canon’s account of his life as found in the Sporleder papers in the Huerfano County Heritage Center and from The Independent newspaper of Jan. 6, 1928.  The Heritage Center is open year-round Wednesday and Friday 2 to 5 pm and Thursdays 11 am to 3 pm. John Van Keuren is the manager  719-738-2346

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