Mariposa Gazette, February 14, 1963
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
MARIPOSA FAMILY CHRONICLES