The following stories are from the inexpensive Kindle book, High, Wide and Lonesome: Growing Up on the Colorado Frontier by Hal Borland.
Fritz Catches a Jackrabbit
Fritz was always with me while I was cricketing around on my crutches. He chased ground squirrels and tried to catch meadow larks and now and then flushed a jack rabbit. Usually he knew enough not to try to catch a jack, but one afternoon he flushed the biggest, fattest jack I’d ever seen and it didn’t want to run. Fritz knew it. He took after it.
Instead of running straightaway, as usual, this jack just dodged around the hillside. Several times Fritz almost caught it and I was hoping he would. Finally the jack circled down the slope and came right toward me. Fritz closed in and was just about to make his grab, but the jack stopped short and Fritz went right over it. Then it came straight for me. That time Fritz caught it, not fifteen feet from me. He hardly seemed to touch it. He snapped once and it keeled over and lay there gasping, its eyes closed.
I ran to it. Fritz wasn’t worrying it, the way he did any rabbit I shot when he was along. He just nosed it and stood there, panting. The rabbit twitched and drew up its legs and gasped, and suddenly it had babies. Four baby rabbits were born, right there while I watched. They popped out, one after another, wet little things like mice and not much bigger. Then the old mother went limp and dead. Fritz must have flushed her just as she was settling down to give birth.
I knelt and picked up one of the babies. It squirmed in my hand. Its wet little ears were pink, with black tips. It nosed my hand for a place to suck.
Fritz sniffed the others and began to lick them. Two of them were dead. I picked up the other live one and the two of them weren’t one good handful. They were even smaller than new-born kittens. But their eyes were open. The eyes were a filmy gray at first, then they turned clear and dark.
As they began to dry off in the sun they lifted their ears a little bit and their small black noses wriggled and their ribs throbbed with quick heartbeats.
I made a grass nest in my hat and took them home. Mother said they wouldn’t live, but she found a cardboard box and I made a nest for them in it. I offered them a saucer of milk, but they couldn’t drink, so I dipped my little finger in the milk and they licked it off and tried to suck. I fed them that way and they lived three days. Father said that if we’d had an old cat with kittens she might have nursed the baby rabbits and kept them alive. He said he had a baby gray squirrel once that nursed at a cat and grew up to a big, tame squirrel.
“And a big nuisance, I’ll bet,” Mother said.
“It probably was,” Father said, “but I didn’t know it.”
Mother said, “Wild things aren’t supposed to be pets. They’re better off wild.”
“It takes a while to learn that,” Father said. And he helped me bury my baby rabbits.
Fritz Meets a Rattlesnake
The last day I was on crutches Fritz and I were up where the old Indian point-maker had left the flint chips. I was sitting there in the sun, going through the chips for the hundredth time looking for points, when Fritz began to bark up the hillside. I’d never heard him bark like that before, excited and angry at the same time. After a minute I got up and started toward him. It sounded as though something was wrong.
I got halfway up the slope, hurrying and skipping on the crutches, before I heard the buzz. That mad bumblebee buzz. I knew that sound. I shouted, “Fritz! Come back here, Fritz.” But instead of coming he got more excited.
I almost ran. I had to get to him, had to get him away from there, or he was going to be bitten. He was dancing around, leaping in, jumping back. And I saw the snake striking at him. He was going to be bitten by that rattler, and he would bloat up like a sheep and turn black and die. “Fritz!” I ordered frantically. “Come here to me!”
He barked still louder and leaped in again. The snake struck and Fritz leaped back. The more I shouted, the more excited Fritz became.
I got within twenty feet of them, shouting, ordering, pleading. Fritz leaped in again, the snake struck, Fritz jerked his head aside and uttered a little yelp of pain. Then he was a fury, in, out, dodging, feinting, yelping, snapping. He leaped in, caught the snake for an instant, twisted his head and flung the snake spinning into the air, As it struck the ground he was at it again, snapping, flinging it into the air. One more flip and it was all over. Fritz snapped his teeth. The rattler’s back was broken. It couldn’t coil. It writhed, jaws snapping.
I pounded at it with a crutch, beat the head into a pulp. Then Father was there. He had heard the uproar and come running with the spade. He chopped off the head and buried it.
Fritz was panting, shaking his head as though he had been bee-stung, licking his lower lip. There was a tiny spot of blood on the left side of his lip. Father examined it and shook his head. “Too bad,” he said, “too bad.”
“Is he—going to die?” I asked.
Father looked at me, not wanting to say it. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe he will. But he seems to have got only one fang.” Then he said, “Don’t take it too hard, son. You’ve had a lot of fun with him.” He put his arm around me, but that wasn’t what I wanted and he knew it.
We went back to the house. I forgot to use the crutches most of the way and the ankle didn’t pain enough to matter. Fritz’s lip was beginning to swell. When we got to the barn he went down to the mud hole and drank, and I called him and we went to the house.
When we told Mother what had happened she said, “I’ll heat some milk, with some grease in it.”
Father said, “This is a different kind of poison.”
“It may help anyway,” Mother said. “Try it.”
Fritz drank a little of the milk and grease and retched, but he couldn’t bring anything up. The poison was in his blood, not his stomach. His whole head had begun to swell. His left eye was swollen almost shut. He tried to lick my hand when I patted him, but his tongue was swollen too. He lay in the shade and I saw the quick beating of his heart against his ribs. He was restless. He went out past the barn and down to the mud hole again. He lay down in the mud and wallowed a hole deep enough so the mucky water almost covered him.
He stayed in the mud all afternoon. By dark his head was swollen as big as a milk pail. Before I went to bed I wanted to take a lantern and go look at him, but Father said, “Not tonight, son. We’ll take care of him in the morning.” I knew he was trying to say, without saving it, that tomorrow we would bury Fritz.
I was up at dawn and thought I was dressing quietly. But Father pushed the curtain aside and said, “Wait for me, son.” So he dressed too and we went together to look.
Fritz was still in the mud hole. His head didn’t look quite so badly swollen. I called to him and he opened his good eye and lifted his head just enough to show he was still alive.
That afternoon he crawled out of the mud hole and went to the tank at the pump for a drink of clean water. Then he went back and lay in the mud again. And the second morning he came out of the mud hole when I called him. He shook himself and drank more clean water and Father said, “Maybe he’s going to pull through.”
He was in and out of the mud all that day, and that evening he drank a quart of fresh milk. By the next day his head was almost back to normal. He lay around, stiff and uncertain on his legs for a week, eating nothing but drinking lots of milk. Then he was his old self. The only thing he had to show for his bite was a little hard knot in his lip, half the size of a pea. He killed dozens of rattlers, over the years, and I don’t know whether he ever was bitten again. If so, he had an immunity, because he never was sick again after a snake fight.