Otis Teaford: King of the Mountains

Pieces of the Past

August 17, 2011 

Of all of his hunting companions, none knew Otis Teaford better than Lu Bowlin Teaford, his wife. Last time we told how Otis brought his young bride from Pine Ridge, just across the Fresno County line, to his ranch home near Bass Lake in 1914. We also told how they became inseparable. They raised livestock together. They went on cattle drives together, and they went hunting together.

Today we offer a closer look at Lu Teaford's hero, Otis. His life in the mountains of Madera County can only be described as "high adventure." His hunting exploits would fill a book, especially that trip he took in 1946.

"I guess the doggone dogs were too well trained...they took my instructions literally, and being just dogs, bored in without discrimination." With those words, Otis Teaford, one of Madera County's best known hunters, explained how his friend, Lee Richards, almost met his end while the two men were hunting lions in Chaquita Basin on the day after Christmas in 1946.

Teaford was a Madera County pioneer. He had been born 50 years before, near what is now known as Bass Lake, but was then called Crane Valley. His childhood home stood near the site of the new Ducey's Lodge. His father was George Teaford, who, according to the 1900 census report, had emigrated to California from Indiana. The elder Teaford was a Madera County supervisor and at one time owned large portions of Crane Valley.

The younger Teaford grew up between two cultures. While his father was Anglo, his mother, Mary Sharpton Teaford, was one-half Mono, and his grandmother, Mo-I-Ac (Molly Sharpton), was a full-blooded Native American. The federal census shows that Mo-I-Ac lived with the Teafords when Otis was just a toddler. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has confirmed Otis Teaford's grandmother was the daughter of one Chumike and his wife, Yad-Do. No doubt, Mo-I-Ac passed on to her young grandson many stories of the olden days, including Indian hunting methods.

Whatever the origins of his prowess as a hunter and woodsman, Otis Teaford was well known for his ability to track big game in the mountains of Madera County. His nephew, the late Bill Seabury, who accompanied Teaford on numerous hunting trips, remembered the uncanny out-of-doors skills of his uncle.

"Otis could track an animal either on foot or horse-back. He would see things that I never knew were there." Seabury attributed to Teaford a photographic memory when in the forests.

"You could not get him lost. He was like the aborigines of Australia -- if he ever passed a spot, he could always find it again." Seabury was not the only Madera County resident who accompanied Teaford on a hunting trip. On that December day in 1946, Teaford was taking Lee Richards to a certain copse of trees near Chaquita Basin that was known to be home to at least one California mountain lion.

Over a two-week period, Teaford had found six deer that had been killed by the huge cat. Richards, who was reported to be a North Fork trapper, had joined Teaford in an attempt to bag the lion and must have felt some comfort from the fact that Otis was his companion on the venture. Little did Richards know the hunting experience of his life awaited him.

Within a short time, the hunters found their prey and bagged two lionesses. There was however, a problem. Up in one of the trees was a 30-pound kitten, and not wanting to leave the young animal unattended, Richards proceeded to climb the tree to fetch it. All the while, Teaford's prize hunting dogs were baying for all they were worth.

Richards finally reached the lion cub and grabbed it by the scruff of the neck. At that point, he lost his balance and fell to the ground. Now, Teaford had trained his dogs well. They would tackle anything that came out of a tree. In this case, what came out of the tree was Lee Richards holding fast to the lion cub.

Teaford's dogs immediately went to work, jumping on Richards and giving him the same treatment they had been taught to give "obstreperous lions." Otis quickly came to the aid of his companion, although he had some difficulty convincing the dogs that his partner "rated special consideration."

It was a "badly scratched" Lee Richards and an unscathed Otis Teaford who turned the young lion over to Roy Blood of the Forest Service. The animal was then given to the zoo in Fresno.

As danger-fraught as this 1946 scrape was, when compared with earlier forays taken by Teaford, it was rather mild. He hunted grizzlies, mountain lions, deer, bobcats, and just about everything else that dared to roam in his mountains.

Nothing but death stopped Otis from hunting. He passed away in 1972, and Lu joined him in 1999. Now they both lie in Madera's Arbor Vitae Cemetery remembered by just the few who knew Madera County's King and Queen of the Mountains.

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