History and Genealogy Research

Mariposa Gazette, February 14, 1963 JAY BRUCE A TRUE WOODSMAN (Reference: Cougar Killer by Jay C. Bruce, 1953, Comet Press)
transcribed and submitted by Tom Hilk

 Jay Bruce was born Sept. 20, 1881 at the Washington Mine, three miles from Hornitos, where his father was a mechanic for the prominent Negro mining engineer and promoter, Mose Rogers. Fifth in line, he was their second son to survive. His parents both came around Cape Horn to California. Albert Olcott Bruce, of Scotch and French descent, came with his parents when 13 years old from Scotland, to settle in Mariposa in 1852, where they set up a gunsmith business. His mother, Azealia Van Campen, born in New York, of Dutch and English ancestry, came with her family settling in Stockton and from when they moved west, first there to Elkhorn Creek, five miles west of Hornitos. She attended the State Normal School at Gilroy, and at the age of 18, with her teachers diploma, came to Mariposa to teach, met Bruce and they were married in 1872.

Two of Al Bruces's brothers in-law, Albert Henry Washburn and John J. Cook, who were promoting construction of a road and stage line between Mariposa, Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, set up headquarters at Clark's Station, formerly owned by Galen Clark. Long on ambition and short on cash, they needed the help of a couple willing to work without regular wages. Al Bruce and his wife, with their family, including the young Jay moved to Clarks station, where he constructed a water-power mill while she managed the hotel part of the business. Following a fire, when the Station burned, a new hotel was built, named by his two aunts, Jean Bruce Washburn and Frances Bruce Clark Wa-Wo-Na, (Indian for big tree) still standing and in later years simplified to Wawona.

In 1884 Al and Azealia filed for 160 acres of land adjacent to the Merced River and Chilnualna Creek. Family differences and possible competition caused his father to be dismissed from the Hotel. He left, in search of work, going from mine to mine, Princeton, Bear Valley, Coulterville, finally going to work at the Quartz Mountain, six miles form Sonora. Grandfather Van Campen remained with them, and with scrap lumber and logs, built a cabin for the family in readiness for winter and left for his homestead on the bank of the San Joaquin River, 10 miles from Merced City.

Young Jay and his brothers and sisters helped their mother fill the log cracks the best they could with discarded clothing and old newspapers. The winter was rough, and he could remember many morning waking to find snow on the face, which had drifted through some of the cracks. The main discomfort of the family that winter was lack of fresh meat. A dreary Christmas was broken when Mary Ann, with a haunch of venison, with her little son "Injun Joe" close beside her, came to the door to present them with it as a gift from her husband, Bush Head Tom. The mother, in return, gave her a loaf of bread. This started a friendship, with the family never again without meat, and the Indian woman learning to bake and other household arts. Little Joe, always along, taught the boys to make bows and arrows, and soon they were killing lizards and small game.

When Jay was nine and his brother Bert eleven, their father returned home for a longer period. He assembled three revolvers from parts saved from the gunsmith days, two 45 caliber six shooters and one 32 caliber five-shooter. Bullets were poured form a thin mental they found lining the boxes of tea, shipped from China, and discarded by the store. Because of necessity and practice, in a few months the boys could hit squirrels running up trees, and the pot was well supplied that winter, with squirrel fricassee (delicious dish rivaling mountain quail.) His dog treed a big lynx cat, and with five bullets in his revolver, he killed his first large animal. Selling this and other pelts, also rattlesnake pelts and live, to tourists, they helped out the family. Their mother stopped them when she found out they were buttoning rattles form one snake to another , in order to acquire a higher price. At the age of 15, while quail hunting, he bagged his first deer, with a b-b cap, accidentally hitting him just right, between the ribs. On July 4, 1894, carelessly celebrating with a home made bomb that exploded, he received permanent scars to his face and hands, his father removing as much of the copper as possible. While disabled, he took up trout fishing, and soon became proficient. This ability paid off getting him away from milking, and farm work which he hated. He worked and "chewed" his own flies, bent his own rods, and was able to sell all the trout he could catch as well as have several tourists pay him well to teach him his angling methods. His way of earning a living was halted, in 1900, when commercial trout fishing was outlawed. he went to work in the oil fields, served as a hunting and fishing guide, and played a mandolin at night for dancing.

Saving his money, he was finally able to enroll in the San Francisco School of Mines and Engineering. This was rudely interrupted by the San Francisco Fire and earthquake. In 1910 he was married to the late Katherine Fournier, sister of Mariposa's well remembered Tony Fournier, a union which lasted twenty-eight years, while they raised a family, then a separation. The basic difficulty was that Mrs. Bruce wanted to live in civilization, he loved the woods. With the responsibility of a family, Jay designed, built and operated a water power saw mill. However, with unscrupulous partners and a bad infection which caused his left hand to become crippled, the business failed. The next several years were rough, and he started supplementing the meager family income by hunting cougars for bounty. He acquired two hunting dogs from George Wright, yellow pups, part Airedale, that were "eating him out of house and home.

Jay trained them first to tree squirrel later lions and cats. He obtained a part-time job as guide-lecturer at the tourist concession at the Mariposa Grove. During this time he sold two walking sticks (novel and expensive) with his gift of gab, to Dernard M. Baruch and Diamond Jim Brady, visitors. In the winter of 1915, when their third child was on the way, with the eternal problem of earning a living and the high cost of groceries, Bruce made his first important lion hunt. A light snow storm had covered the ground, making tracking easier, when he started out with his dog Eli, for Wawona Dome. With a 5000 foot contour line, where several months supply of winter feed for deer, from the Bucktorn thorn family, deer brush and mountain mahogany, were plentiful, and cave-like holes at the upper edge of the shelter made it ideal for predatory animals. With Eli on a rope, to keep him from chasing squirrels, they found lion tracks, and came home with a kill to receive a bounty of $60 to $80. His further hunting expeditions kept the family in food and necessities. In three years he brought 31 lions to tree.

 In 1918, Chief Ranger Forest Townsley introduced him to a group of influential people. Steve Mather, then director of National Parks, introduced him at a meeting, and he gave a talk, soon after receiving his "Cougar Killer" appointment, which he had tried to acquire for some time. His first official lion hunt, with his dog Eli, was to Camp Nelson, Tulare county, where eight goats were reported killed in one night. Within 2 weeks he had bagged three lions and five lynx. in the thirty years followed, he totaled over 700 Lions. His work is credited with allowing a great increase in California deer population and making life safer for livestock in the mountains.

 "Our respect to another passing Mariposa pioneer."