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The Great Lion Murder

Many years ago, an article appeared in the newspaper about the Great Lion Murder. It was confirmed by historian Larry Campbell (now nearly 100 years old), but neither of us could remember where we saw it. For nearly a decade, I have been searching for the original report. I contacted Paul Lion, descendant of the owners of Lion’s Furniture Store on the corner of Second and San Fernando Streets where the incident took place, but he was unaware of the story. Imagine my surprise when, at a recent Pioneer board meeting, the young lady sitting next to me was Alix Lion, who had a copy of the original story and sent it to me. Here is the original as it appeared in the San Jose Mercury on Wednesday, April 30, 1902:


A local furniture company recently secured from Chicago a fine paper-mache figure of a lion. The beast is represented standing with head erect, jaws open, and tail shifted sideways in the long graceful sweep of a Bengal terror. It is a very clever imitation in form, color and posture, and the owner of the store is quite proud of it—or rather he was until yesterday morning.

The figure was placed at the entrance to the store, and to prevent its being carried off was fastened by a chain to the wall. Thus secured, the owner never took the precaution to move it inside at night. Night before last there was trouble. There was a spirited lion-hunt on the streets of San Jose at an early hour yesterday morning and it wound up by the paper-mache animal being riddled with bullets.

A belated and unsteady wayfarer happened along. As he neared the entrance to the store where the lion stood on guard, he took a tack to the leeward, and came around with a lurch, bow towards the beast, under the full glare of an electric light. He stopped. His eyes bulged out. He backed away. Fear suddenly paralyzed his limbs and he collapsed in the gutter. In five minutes he mustered up his courage to rise and tiptoe across the street. Then he proceeded cautiously in a circle, imagining all the time that he was going away from the object of his dread. It wasn’t long till he was back near the store again, face to face with the lion. Then, for the first time, he spoke, though only in a whisper.

“Nuzzer one, b’gosh.”

Time number three he backed away and made the circle. This time it was five minutes before he ran into the lion again, and his surprise and terror was even greater than before. But this time he had evidently decided that it would be better to fight than run away. Unsteadily his weapon came into play. He wasn’t two feet from the brute’s head, otherwise some of the bullets would have missed it. As it was, six chunks of lead plunged through the figure, and the lion hunter continued his journey satisfied. Early wayfarers sent for the police, but the gun wielder had disappeared down a side street. Daylight, however, told the tale.”

Dirt (Part 4)

I learned some valuable lessons working on the land in the local orchards. When I was about 13, I worked for Dr. Seikman, a woman chiropractor who owned ten acres of fruit trees near the San Jose Los Gatos Road. First we picked apricots and then, after a lull, prunes.

When the picking was finished, Dr. Seikman asked me if I wanted to earn $3 by digging around each tree, depositing parabensachlorine, and then mounding up the dirt around them. Well, to me, $3 was a lot of money and, without further investigation, I agreed. However, at the end of the first day, I hadn’t finished one row of trees, much less ten acres.

That night, I went to my dad and told him my problem and explained that I was going to quit. My dad asked me what the doctor had said and what I had said. He explained that when I said that I would do the job, I had made a verbal contract and that I was bound to finish it. Well, I worked for weeks digging around each tree, but that $3 paid off many times later in life when I ran Smith McKay Printing and was asked to bid on a job. The question that always came back was: what don’t I know about this job?

Later, beginning when I was 14, I worked for a retired doctor, J.H. Pond, in the hills above Los Gatos. He was to have a huge influence on my life because he was the man that told my parents that I had to go to college. I worked for him for several years and was put in charge of a motley crew of boys to pick the fruit. We had a well-tended upper orchard and an overgrown lower one. Here, the fruit just dropped to the ground, but the doctor wanted it picked up. In order to get the fruit back to the barn, we had to travel a narrow hillside trail. Dr. Pond had a 22-year-old white, swaybacked horse named Lila whose only job was to drag a sled loaded with fruit boxes up the trail to the barn.

Dr. Pond called all his young workers together and asked who knew how to drive a horse. I volunteered that I knew how—a terrible, mistaken statement. The only think I knew about horses is what I had seen in Roy Rogers movies. The good doctor helped me hitch up the horse to the sled, load up the empty boxes and drag them down to the lower orchard where the crew and I picked ten boxes of overripe prunes onto the wooden sled. All was going fine until, on our return, we came to the first bend in the trail and Lila decided to make a new trail up the side of the hill. I yelled, “whoa, Lila, whoa,” but disaster struck as Lila panicked, stumbled backwards, and sat on the sled and boxes.

My fellow prune pickers disappeared and I was left with an injured Lila and the squashed prunes, boxes and sled. I unhitched Lila, walked her back to the barn, carried the ten, 40# boxes of prunes to the barn by hand and, finally, dragged the broken sled to the barn. I then went in search of the doctor to explain what happened. I dreaded this as I was sure that I would be fired.

After explaining the situation to him, the good doctor came from the house carrying his small black doctor’s satchel and together we walked to the barn. There, he got a stool and showed me how to remove the slivers wood from poor Lila’s butt.

Thus, I learned that when you are in charge, you are responsible.

Two Dogs Named Buck

I’d like to tell you about two dogs named “Buck.” The first one is widely known because he was the lead character in the famous book, “The Call of the Wild,” by Jack London.

The book, as you remember, featured Buck’s experiences in the famous gold rush in Alaska and the Yukon. Perhaps you didn’t realize that the book was written right here in Santa Clara on the grounds of what is now the Carmelite monastery. Then, it was the ranch of Judge Bond on the western end of Franklin Street. It was on the porch of the Jamison Brown house where the book was written and London describes the location in the text:

“Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley, Judge Miller’s place it was called. It stood back from the road, half hidden around the trees, through which glimpses could be caught of the wide, cool veranda that ran around its four sides.”

According to the book, “Buck was put aboard a freight train at College Park Station” (where Bellarmine is today).

London had gathered his background material for “The Call of the Wild” when he was in Alaska, particularly in the far-north frontier town of Nome. Nome was a real rough-and-ready gold rush town, and London was part of the rough-and-ready crowd. My neighbor, Neil Lockley, is the grandson of Fred Lockley. Fred and a partner were the men who started the first free mail delivery in Nome during the same gold rush. According to family legend, there was many a time that Fred Lockley pulled a drunken London out of a Nome bar and saved his life. Lockley and London remained friends during their lives.

The other Buck was another of my dog friends. He belonged to my son, Dave, who really loved dogs. How Dave acquired him I don’t remember, but Buck would come to work with him at the print shop, which really wasn’t a fitting place for a huge, 150-pound Grand Bernese Mountain dog. The Bernese Mountain dogs originally came to Switzerland with Hannibal and were later used by the Swiss for rescue.

Buck and I became great friends and I was detailed most days to take him to a friend’s enclosed yard where he could roam. When I transported Buck from the print shop to his running area on Lenzen Avenue, he would try to sit on my lap and supervise my driving. If I changed routes, he would become immediately upset until I got back to what he recognized as the correct and shortest route.

Buck later developed cancer and, as I wrote before, the only place to bury your dog is in your heart.

Man’s Best Friend

In my recent series on the 1906 earthquake, I related Ralph Rambo’s memories of the day. I especially liked the episode of how he adopted the Doyle School dog after discovering him shivering on the front stoop of the school. Calling the dog, he jumped into the buggy, driven by Ralph’s father, and the dog stayed with them until he died many years later.

I am reminded of my first dog, Teddy, a white, mixed-breed Alaskan Spitz. Teddy was given to me by Mrs. Hubble, my piano teacher, and he followed me home one day after a music lesson. I guess he followed me home because of the short cotton-rope leash around his neck! Arriving home, I was told to take him back, but my pleading, “Aw gee ma, can’t I keep him” finally prevailed, and my life-long love affair with dogs began. There have been many dogs in my life over the years, and I have loved them all.

Two I remember well belonged to John Steinbeck when he lived in the hills above Los Gatos in the late 1930s. It was during my senior year at Los Gatos High School where one of my favorite classes was journalism. Mrs. Mendenhall, a very proper Victorian-principled lady, gave each of our class members the assignment of acquiring an interview. Most of my classmates interviewed a local bank manager or insurance agent, but I set out for a bigger catch. Steinbeck had recently finished The Grapes of Wrath. As I approached his small home, two giant dogs escorted me to his front door. I was glad that I liked dogs and showed no fear, for if I had, I fear that I would have been dog meat (there will be a future column about my interview with Steinbeck).

Dogs that I would have liked to have known were the ones that accompanied Fr. Bernard Hubbard, the “Glacier Priest,” on his Alaskan explorations prior to World War II. His two favorites, Katamai and Mageik, were malamutes, and he so loved the dogs that he had them stuffed and mounted and they are currently stored in the archives of the University of Santa Clara.

My own dog is Traveler, a wonderful red golden retriever. His is a most friendly animal and my best companion. One of the sad things about a beloved dog is that their lifespan is so much shorter than ours, begging the question: where do you bury them? There is only one place to bury them and that is in your heart!