By Bob Peck
Whenever you write about real people it’s challenging. When you write about real people who are historical figures, such as Saxton Pope and Arthur Young, it triples the challenge. Many writers more skilled than I have tackled the legacy of these two men and often in the form of full length books. I’ve been asked by our editor to cram this into my archery column. So … here we go.
Let’s get something out of the way. I’m not a horn hunter. I’m a meat hunter. The latter doesn’t mean indiscriminate “brown-is-down”, and I launch arrows at spikes every time I see one. At my age, I’ve learned patience and value the interaction with nature and the observation of the prey more than I do the kill. I’m more interested in refining woodsman skills, paying it forward by recruiting/training new hunters, and pushing the exploration envelope to hunt where this man has never hunted before. The entire hunting industry (bow and gun) revolves around big bucks, bigger horns, mass, G-2’s, blah, blah. We are slathered with terms like “stud”, “beast”, “pig”, “slob”, “giant”. We see the mounts at every single hunting show. I get it. Dreams of monster bucks are in all our heads and perhaps that’s by continual brainwashing, but let’s face it, none of us, including this meat hunter, expect to realize the dream. If we do, great! If we don’t, we shouldn’t be disappointed. None of this is a slam against horn hunters, aka trophy hunter. On the contrary, I have tremendous respect for the higher skill level or plump wallet it takes to be able to take down an animal that has successfully eluded hunters like me. While avid, experienced and energized as a bowhunter, I don’t have the chops to get in close on a Pope and Young animal.
Wait. Who are Saxton Pope and Arthur Young? Regardless of age, as time passes and our information-saturated world piles new and addictive stuff upon our brains, some history begins to fade, so here’s a refresher. Saxton Pope was born in Texas, in 1875, the son of a U.S. Army surgeon. 1875?! Yikes, I can just hear our young bowhunters tuning out. The year 1975 is ancient to them! Saxton Pope is often called the “Father of Modern Archery” and no doubt is viewed by some as a veritable dinosaur of archery. Man, you think Fred Bear is old school?! Saxton Pope is old, old, old school. Like his Dad, Saxton became a doctor and specifically a surgeon. He married Dr. Emma Wightman, a college classmate. Together they raised four kids: Saxton Jr., Elizabeth, Virginia and Willard Lee Pope. I’ve read three books and a ton of online content preparing for this article. How this man evolved into the “Father of Modern Archery” is nothing short of divine. God’s hand is the only explanation. Although Dr. Pope was always a hunter, he only became a bowhunter when a 49-year-old native American literally, and figuratively, walked out of the woods starving and in search of food. White Americans who essentially stole Native American land and pushed them out called this man “the last wild Indian”. Anthropologist Alfred Kroeber gave this man his name, Ishi. In this man’s Yahi culture, it was rude to ask someone’s name. When asked his name, he said, “I have none, because there were no people to name me,” meaning that no Yahi had ever spoken his name. “Ishi” was the last member of the Yahi, a group of the Yana people that prospered for generations in California. The bottom line is that Ishi had no immunity to the diseases of civilization and was often in ill health. He was treated by a Professor of Medicine at University of California, San Francisco, Saxton T. Pope. Enter the hand of God. The good doctor Pope and patient Ishi became friends and the transfer of native American knowledge on building bows and handmade arrows transferred across a racial, societal and human divide.
Dr. Pope hunted with Ishi and took the craft out into the world, and here’s the key, filmed several memorable hunts which entered into the public eye and became Kurt Gowdy’s Wild World of Sports of its day.
“I walked boldly out into the open to meet the bears. I practically invited them to charge since they were reputed to be so easily insulted. At first, they paid little attention to me, then the two in advance sat up on their haunches in astonishment and curiosity. I approached to fifty yards, then the largest brownie began champing his jaws and growling: Then he ‘pinned back his ears’ preparing to come at me. Just as he was about to lunge forward I shot him in the chest. The arrow went deep and stuck out a foot beyond his shoulder. While this was going on an old female also stood in a menacing attitude, but as the wounded bear galloped past her, she came to the ground and ran diagonally from us. All of them followed suit, and as they swept out of the field of vision the wounded bear weakened and fell less than a hundred yards from the camera.”
You mix the mystique of American Indian culture and spirituality, with footage and writing like that and it’s bound to ignite a passion in men and women who want to do the same thing. Sound familiar? Earlier, I wrote about monster bucks, which is the modern version of this ancient fire in the belly. Back in the day, stuff like this was hidden and not in your face. But our modern fire had to start somewhere, and it was Dr. Pope, by way of his compassion in treating a fellow human, that brought this beginning.
Dr. Pope put into words I couldn’t conjure why I love bowhunting vs. other weapons. He said, “Here we have a weapon of beauty and romance. He who shoots with a bow, puts his life’s energy into it. The force behind the flying shaft must be placed there by the archer. By the most adroit cleverness, he must approach within striking distance, and when he speeds his low whistling shaft and strikes his game, he has won by the strength of arm and nerve. It is a noble sport.
Co-existing in the world, but not known to each other, was Arthur H. Young.
“At first, we archers hunted squirrels and rabbits, and the doubters told us we could not kill deer. We killed deer, and they raised the ante to bear. Right straight through the list we went until we had killed every species of American game fairly, including the grizzly bear of our Rockies and the brown grizzly of Alaska,”
Mr. Young was born August 17, 1883, in Kelseyville, California, the fourth of five children. His father, William Gaylord Young, was a school teacher, businessman and Union Army veteran who had moved west in 1881 and settled in Kelseyville. Art Young was an accomplished swimmer who trained for the Olympics, and as legend has it, was never beat in the 220, 440 and 880-yard events. His Dad passed away, and he gave up his swimming ambitions, returning to California to get the family business squared away. Once that task was completed, he spent the next 14 years of his life working for the San Francisco Call newspaper.
Enter a guy not many people know. He is sometimes referred to as the “Forgotten Father of Bowhunting”. His name was William “Chief” Compton. Will Compton was born in Michigan, in September of 1863. Early on in his life, the family moved to Nebraska where Chief’s lifelong love affair with archery began. In those days, The West was still wild and Nebraska was the frontier. To put it into perspective, when Compton moved to Nebraska, Custer was still riding the range; the first cattle drives had occurred only five years prior; Oklahoma was still Indian Territory; and the Homestead Act was in its infancy. Suffice it to say Compton was born into the true Old West.
During his childhood, he was brought under the tutelage of some Native American Sioux near his hometown of Norfolk. From them he leaned Indian lore, the ways of nature, and how to build Sioux style archery equipment. From the Sioux he learned not only to make Plains short bows, but also craft his own arrows.
Unlike Pope and Young who had day jobs, Will “Chief” Compton did not. He rambled his way across America doing odd jobs here and there to survive but chose the nomadic life to support his passion for bowhunting. You see where this is going? It was Will Compton who introduced his friend Art Young to Dr. Saxton Pope, who in turn introduced Ishi. They were a merry band of traditional archery enthusiasts that hunted together and shared knowledge of bow and arrow building.
Ironically, neither Dr. Saxton Pope nor Arthur Young had absolutely ANYTHING to do with the Pope & Young club. That club was founded in 1961 as a non-profit, scientific organization whose charter revolves around bettering the image of bowhunting. The Club was named in honor of pioneer bowhunters Dr. Saxton Pope and Arthur Young. Today, carrying on the vision of Pope and Young, the club prides itself on its mission to protect our bowhunting heritage – promoting its rich values and adherence to strong fair chase ethics.
Summary: Our passion for bowhunting is not new. We are never alone in this passion as Ishi, Dr. Pope, Art Young, Will Compton and countless thousands of us prove. God works in his mysterious ways to bring people together against what appear to be impossible odds, and the net result is something that generations beyond them perfect and enjoy and pay forward. It’s not about the horn, although as I said, there’s nothing wrong with goals surrounding inches of bone. What bowhunting seems to be about, as best I can tell, is allowing yourself to be open to be an instrument; challenging yourself to go beyond what you think is possible and choosing archery as your vehicle.
Ishi died of tuberculosis on March 25, 1916. In his native language there was no word for goodbye, so in English he said, “You stay, I go.” I say you should go to the woods with someone who has never been, and plant the seed to grow yourself and another bowhunter!
An oh yeah … wear your safety harness!
Editor’s note: Bob Peck, a staff writer for Whitetail Times, lives in Stuarts Draft, Virginia, with his wife and best friend of 25 years and their three children. Bob has been an accomplished bowhunter for over 45 years and is an acknowledged expert in teaching survival skills. He has worked in the hunting industry for over 17 years for a veritable “Who’s Who” of manufacturers and outdoor hunting celebrities. Bob is often invited to speak to hunting and anti-hunting organizations who want a balanced view of the issues. If you’d like to invite Bob to speak at your group about venison donations, outdoor survival or how to organize around gun control or pro-hunting issues, please feel free to contact him at [email protected]
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