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When the Cougar Screamed

Rendalls Store 1930’s
Rendalls Store 1930’s

Mike said, “It sounds like babies crying.”  We were walking home from Cove on a cold Fall night, having been on a snipe hunt  where you take some guy or girl out in the woods and down to the bottom of the canyon and hand them a gunny sack and stick.  A snipe is a furry little creature with wings like a bird, though it cannot fly and only comes out at night. The victim is told to wait quietly for the snipe, with the bag open until we had beat the bushes and had driven the snipes to the person with the bag and no flashlight.  We would make noises in the bush for awhile and then slowly work our way back up the hill, so as to leave the victim holding the burlap bag for hours, if we had been convincing.

It was pitch dark and the hair on the back of my neck was rising when the crying came again from the top of the ridge and we started to run for home about a quarter mile away.

We were just kids, when Grandma Ada told us of riding in her Father’s  wagon down the steep Lisabeula  hill,  where she threw the anchor and rope out to slow the wagon down to keep it from running over the horses.  She saw a cougar lurking in the brush, in and out of sight as he stalked the wagon, probably interested in the horses.

Wild Bill Rendall was born in 1885, and we only knew him as being very old.  Papa Jim, our grandfather paid  Bill to pull his drag saw down the hill to Portage to cut up beach logs for firewood.    Bill’s saw was a one-lunger engine that went kurchug-kerplunk-kurchug as it cut the big logs.  The saw weighed 400 pounds and was mounted on an A-frame of bridge timbers, with a large steel-spoked wheel at the top of the “A” and wooden handles to push it around by at the other end.  It was a precursor to the chain saw.   I don’t remember how Bill got the drag saw down to the beach, but it doesn’t matter.  He told us kids the story of a cougar when he was a pupil at the Maury School, the same school our Grandma Ada walked to from Portage.  Grandma told us how hard the two mile walk was when there was snow.

Bill was eight years old and in the third grade at the Maury school, an hour’s walk from home.  It was getting dark when he and Louis Hatch left the school about four o’clock and started through the woods on narrow cow paths.  When they got to the Mileta Ranch, they weren’t far from Louis’s house where Mrs. Hatch told Bill that he had better stay over, “as there was a cougar sighting just west of town.” It was getting dark and Bill wanted to get home as he knew his father would be very much worried if he did not, he had chores to do so he started into the woods with only the light of the Gibbous moon to guide him, when he heard a blood- curdling scream and the hair on the back of his neck stood up.   He had to get to the beach where he might feel safer.  Instead of taking the trail he jumped over the bank and hit the steep sloop running in the soft sand until he came to the Johnson trail and leaped over their fence to get to the beach. “I could always dive into the water as cats don’t like it,” he thought to himself.  Bill ran to the edge of the water and stopped to recover his breath, picking up as large a rock in either hand as he could handle, or throw.  With the light of the moon, he started the last half-mile for home walking along the edge of the water, all the way.  He felt then that he was safe, as he had always heard a cougar hated the water, and would not enter it if, possible.  However it can be said, that when Bill left the schoolhouse the next night, it was on the run, as soon as school was dismissed, and there was no loitering along the way.  

Wild Bill had the saw shop behind Engels Car Repair and sold us kids fishing gear when he wasn’t repairing  a saw.  The sign above the door read Rendall’s Store.  For 25 cents, I got some green cuttyhunk line that was carefully wound on a 4x4 inch stick frame, the hooks were extra and the building behind Engels is still there.  Bill would tell us kids stories and sell us candy from his glass display case.  If it was a good story like the one when the cougar stalked him, he would get to the scary part and pick up his sharply pointed leather awl and drive it into his leg.  Us kids screamed, not knowing that Bill had a wooden leg.

Sean@vashonloop.com