I can almost hear the muffled murmur of the little Johnson outboard as it struggles to push the heavily loaded fourteen-footer up some nameless tributary of the Agua Brava. The darkness of the Nayarit night, in the way of the tropics, is so powerful it even seems to devour star light.
The night air is heavy and thick with a richness of oxygen and sounds common only to those regions. As the throttle is cut, and the engine is starved of gasoline, for a few moments the only sound to be heard is the dying trickle of water parting past the bow of the boat and the constant drone of insects. After a few motionless minutes, the effects of human intrusion are forgotten, and the tropical night resumes its ancient rhythm. I can feel the excitement and sense of anticipation as the native caller raises the gourd call above the gunwales.
As the leather tong slips between his thumb and forefinger, and the reverberations of the call resonate across the Agua Brava, the darkness suddenly becomes deathly silent. Even the insects are momentarily hushed. As the travel weary sportsman and his houndman guide sit listening and hopelessly peering into the Mexican night, every creak, and the slightest bumps to the old wooden-hulled boat seem much too loud. Suddenly, with its origins from somewhere in man’s distant past, that indescribable almost electrical tingle crawls up the back of the hunters’ necks, when out of the blackness comes the answer to the call of a big male jaguar.
Many sportsmen and houndmen have dreamed of the opportunity to hunt the big, mysterious spotted cats of Mexico, Central, and South America. Relatively few, however, have been willing to make the considerable investment of time and effort, not to mention money, to organize a hunt in those areas. It is not now, nor has it ever been, an easy undertaking.
By the mid to late 1930s, sportsmen wishing to add a jaguar to their trophy collection began to realize the best chance for success what to hunt with Ernest, Vincent, Clell, and Dale Lee; “The Lee Brothers”, hunting “lion and bear” in the Chiricahua mountains of Arizona most of their lives, and working as government hunters for the U.S. Biological Survey in Arizona and New Mexico during the 1920s, had a firm foundation in hunting big game with hounds.
Youngest of the four, Dale, was instrumental in organizing their legendary guiding business. By most accounts, he arranged his first paid hunt in 1929 and continued to hunt for hire through the 1970s. Due to problems with bureaucratic Latin American governments and other hardships, the Lees discontinued hunts for jaguar in the early to mid 1960s, which marked the passing of an era.
Throughout a half a century of hunting with hounds, Dale Lee kept a photographic record of a time gone by; a time which undoubtedly will never be seen again. Many of the photos in his collection have been published over the years in various outdoor and adventure magazines and several books. Many others have been seen only by those lucky enough to have had the opportunity to thumb through the five tattered old albums. Just who made the photographs is anyone’s guess, but in any case they are true treasures.
During the winter of 1984, though suffering from the affects of emphysema, Dale spent a few weeks with West Texas rancher and houndman, Riley Miller. The two spent several days running bobcats with Riley’s hounds. After their brief visit, Riley and wife Mary drove Dale back to his home is Tucson, Arizona where the veteran hunter showed his collection of photos to Riley. Riley immediately recognized the true significance of the collection and the importance of keeping it intact. Over the next few years, Riley and Dale kept in contact with each other by telephone and the oc’ casional visit.
In 1988 Riley received a phone call from Dale’s niece, Nadine Atchley, informing him that Dale had passed from this life. After attending Dale’s funeral in Tucson, Riley told Ms. Atchley he hoped that Dale’s old photo collection would be preserved and kept together. Riley acquired the collection from Ms. Atchley in hopes of someday publishing this book for anyone interested in hunting with hounds to enjoy.
Great care has been taken in scanning and reprinting the old photographs. No attempt has been made to add a story line to the photos as undoubtedly mistakes would be made, and the images speak for themselves.
- Ben Miller