Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
TWO WONDERFUL MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS
 "PETER, you have been up in the Old Pasture many times, so you
must have seen the Sheep there," said Old Mother Nature, turning
to Peter Rabbit.
"Certainly. Of course," replied Peter. "They seem to me rather
stupid creatures. Anyway they look stupid."
"Then you know the leader of the flock, the big ram with curling
horns," continued Old Mother Nature.
Peter nodded, and Old Mother Nature went on. "Just imagine him
with a smooth coat of grayish-brown instead of a white woolly one,
and immense curling horns many times larger than those he now has.
Give him a large whitish or very light-yellowish patch around a very
short tail. Then you will have a very good idea of one of those
mountain climbers I promised to tell you about, one of the greatest
mountain climbers in all the
 Great World—Bighorn the Mountain Sheep,
also called Rocky Mountain Bighorn and Rocky Mountain Sheep.
"Bighorn is a true Sheep and lives high up among the rocks of the
highest mountains of the Far West. Like all members of the order
to which he belongs his feet are hoofed, but they are hoofs which
never slip, and he delights to bound along the edges of great cliffs
and in making his way up or down them where it looks as if it would
be impossible for even Chatterer the Red Squirrel to find footing,
to say nothing of such a big fellow as Bighorn.
His sure-footedness is the
marvel of all who have seen him in his mountain home.
"The mountains where he makes his home are so high that the tops of
many of them are in the clouds and covered with snow even in summer.
Above the line where trees can no longer grow Bighorn spends his
summers, coming down to the lower hills only when the snow becomes
so deep that he cannot paw down through it to get food. His eyesight
is wonderful and from his high lookout he watches for enemies below,
and small chance have they of approaching him from that direction.
"When alarmed he bounds away gracefully as if there were great
springs in his legs, and his great curled horns are carried as
easily as if they were nothing at all. Down rock slopes, so
steep that a single misstep would mean a fall hundreds of feet,
 he bounds as swiftly and easily as Lightfoot the Deer bounds
through the woods, leaping from one little jutting point of rock
to another and landing securely as if he were on level ground.
He climbs with equal ease where man would have to crawl and
cling with fingers and toes, or give up altogether.
"Mrs. Bighorn does not have the great curling horns. Instead she
is armed with short, sharp-pointed horns, like spikes. Her young
are born in the highest, most inaccessible place she can find, and
there they have little to fear save one enemy, King Eagle. Only
such an enemy, one with wings, can reach them there. Bighorn and
Mrs. Bighorn, because of their size, having nothing to dread from these
great birds, but helpless little lambs are continually in danger
of furnishing King Eagle with the dinner he prizes.
"Only when driven to the lower slopes and hills by storms and snow
does Bighorn have cause to fear four-footed enemies. Then Puma the
Panther must be watched for, and lower down Howler the Wolf. But
Bighorn's greatest enemy, and one he fears most, is the same one
so many others have sad cause to fear—the hunter with his terrible
gun. The terrible gun can kill where man himself cannot climb, and
Bighorn has been
 persistently hunted for his head and wonderful horns.
"Some people believe that Bighorn leaps from cliffs and alights on
those great horns, but this is not true. Whenever he leaps he alights
on those sure feet of his, not on his head.
"Way up in the extreme northwest corner of this country, in a place
called Alaska, is a close cousin whose coat is all white and whose
horns are yellow and more slender and wider spreading. He is called
the Dall Mountain Sheep. Farther south, but not as far south as
the home of Bighorn, is another cousin whose coat is so dark that
he is sometimes called the Black Mountain Sheep. His proper name
is Stone's Mountain Sheep. In the mountains between these two is
another cousin with a white head and dark body called Fannin's
sheep. All these cousins are closely related and in their habits
are much alike. Of them all, Bighorn the Rocky Mountain Sheep is
the best known."
"I should think," said Peter Rabbit, "that way up there on those
high mountains Bighorn would be very lonesome."
Old Mother Nature laughed. "Bighorn doesn't care for neighbors as
you do, Peter," said she. "But even up in those high rocky retreats
among the clouds he has a neighbor as sure-footed as
 himself, one
who stays winter as well as summer on the mountain tops. It is
Billy the Rocky Mountain Goat.
"Billy is as awkward-looking as he moves about as Bighorn is graceful,
but he will go where even Bighorn will hesitate to follow. His hoofs
are small and especially planned for walking in safety on smooth rock
and ice-covered ledges. In weight he is about equal to Lightfoot the
Deer, but he doesn't look in the least like him.
His home is high in the great
mountains of the Pacific coast.
"In the first place he has a hump on his shoulders much like the
humps of Thunderfoot the Bison and Longcoat the Musk Ox. Of course
this means that he carries his head low. His face is very long and
from beneath his chin hangs a white beard. From his forehead two
rather short, slim, black horns stand up with a little curve backward.
His coat is white and the hair is long and straight. Under this long
white coat he wears a thick coat of short, woolly, yellowish-white fur
which keeps him warm in the coldest weather. He seldom leaves his
beloved mountain-tops, even in the worst weather of winter, as Bighorn
sometimes does, but finds shelter among the rocks. The result is that
he has practically no enemies save man to fear.
"Often he spends the summer where the snow remains all the year
through and his white coat
 is a protection from the keenest eyes.
You see, when not moving, he looks in the distance for all the
world like a patch of snow on the rocks.
"Not having a handsome head or wonderful horns he has not been
hunted by man quite so much as has Bighorn, and therefore is not so
alert and wary. Both he and Bighorn are more easily approached from
above than from below, because they do not expect danger from above
and so do not keep so sharp a watch in that direction. The young
are sometimes taken by King Eagle, but otherwise Billy Goat's family
has little to fear from enemies, always excepting the hunter with
his terrible gun.
"I have now told you of the members of the Cattle and Sheep family,
what they look like and where they live and how. There is still
one more member of the order Ungulata and this one is in a way
related to another member of Farmer Brown's barnyard. I will leave
you to guess which one. What is it, Peter?"
"If you please, in just what part of the Far West are the mountains
where Billy Goat lives?" replied Peter.
"Chiefly in the northern part," replied Old Mother Nature. "In the
Northwest these mountains are very close to the ocean and Billy
does not appear to mind in the least the fogs that roll
 in, and
seems to enjoy the salt air. Sometimes there he comes down almost
to the shore. Are there any more questions?"
There were none, so school was dismissed for the day. Peter didn't
go straight home. Instead he went up to the Old Pasture for another
look at the old ram there and tried to picture to himself just what
Bighorn must look like. Especially he looked at the hoofs of the
"It is queer," muttered Peter, "how feet like those can be so safe
up on those slippery rocks Old Mother Nature told us about. Anyway,
it seems queer to me. But it must be so if she says it is. My, my,
my, what a lot of strange people there are in this world! And what
a lot there is to learn!"