Retired game warden Steven T. Callan’s love of nature and passion for protecting wildlife took root long before he experienced the adventures described in his memoir, Badges, Bears, and Eagles. In The Game Warden’s Son, he recounts more of his own investigations, along with those of his game warden father and their colleagues. Intertwined with a half century of adventures and investigations is a story of the lifelong relationship between a boy and his father.
The book begins in the 1950s in the canyons and on the beaches of San Diego with incidents that sparked Steven’s youthful imagination. After an idyllic boyhood in the Northern Sacramento Valley farm town of Orland, where he rode on patrol with his father, Steven became a game warden himself in the early ’70s, joining the “desert rats” who patrolled the California counties banking the Colorado River.
With wry humor, Callan tells how he and his fellow officers outwitted the perpetrators—most of them crafty, some of them hilariously foolish—who poached deer, lobsters, and abalone, baited bears and sold their parts, shot wild ducks to supply restaurants, and killed songbirds for epicurean dinner tables. Their cases took them across the Channel Islands, through the back alleys of San Francisco, up the Sacramento Valley, into the Sierras, and along California’s pristine North Coast. While these dedicated wardens saw their share of greed, they also appreciated the many hunters and fishermen who obeyed the laws and respected the earth’s resources.
In the end, it was all about protecting California’s natural resources for future generations, which is what Callan and company did, enjoying themselves every step of the way.
|Publisher:||Epicenter Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.57(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Even at the young age of nine, I was fiercely protective of wildlife. One afternoon, my neighbor Johnny Annaloro and I were playing down in the canyon behind my house in the North Clairemont neighborhood of San Diego, California. We had flattened out several cardboard boxes and were using them as makeshift sleds on the weed-strewn hillside. Fifty yards away, two kids were throwing rocks at something crawling across the ground.
"What are they trying to hit?" asked Johnny.
"Let's go see," I replied, sprinting in that direction.
We were about halfway to our destination when I recognized the rock throwers as Darrell Matousek and Randy Parsons, two troublemakers from up the street. Darrell was large for his age — a head taller than I — and known as the neighborhood bully. He enjoyed picking on the smaller kids when grownups weren't around. Darrell's only friend was a devious little sycophant named Randy Parsons. Randy liked to instigate fights, but he never seemed to participate himself.
"Don't hurt that lizard!" I shouted.
"Mind your own business," said Darrell, picking up another rock and preparing to throw it at the foot-long San Diego alligator lizard. The lizard had already lost its tail and was scampering across the ground toward a patch of ice plant.
"I said, leave that lizard alone!"
"What are you gonna do about it?" challenged Darrell. I looked back at my friend, who averted his gaze and obviously had no interest in a fist fight with a boy of Darrell's size.
"I'm waiting," taunted Darrell, his threatening mug now inches from my face.
My stomach churned and my heart pounded furiously as adrenaline coursed through my body. I had painted myself into a corner. The question crossed my mind: Was I willing to get beaten up for trying to protect a lizard? While Darrell and Randy laughed at me, I remembered something my father had said. Never start a fight, but the best way to end one is to hit the other kid in the nose as hard as you can.
"Come on, you little —" Before Darrell could finish his sentence, I doubled up my fist, hauled off, and punched him right on the end of his nose. Darrell just stood there, shocked and dumbfounded, with blood dripping down his chin and onto his clean white T-shirt.
"Hit him back!" shouted Randy. "Don't let him get away with that."
Darrell stepped forward and doubled his fists. With no other options, I released a flurry of right and left punches, landing at least one on Darrell's lower lip. The others completely missed or hit the side of his incredibly hard head.
"Come on, Darrell, hit him!" shouted Randy.
Darrell either didn't want to fight or didn't know how. I guessed that he had bluffed his way through the first ten years of his life, relying entirely on his exceptional size.
"Are you gonna let him get away with that?" shouted Randy.
"Shut up, Randy," replied Darrell. "If you want to fight over that lizard, go ahead."
Randy didn't say another word. He followed Darrell back up the hill and over the rise. Darrell didn't give me any more trouble after that. We never became friends, but he would wave to me sometimes when I saw him at school. As for the lizard, it disappeared into the ice plant on the upper canyon wall, leaving a writhing section of its long tail behind.
That was probably the first time I had engaged in the act of protecting wildlife, and it wouldn't be the last.
* * *
My grandmother Anne inspired my early interest in nature. Born in 1895 to Norwegian immigrants, she had an eventful childhood, to say the least. Her father, six-foot-four-inch entrepreneur and adventurer Thomas Wilson, left Norway and came to America in 1893, using his savings from a successful herring catch. While living in Vancouver, Washington, he invested in a stagecoach line before turning to gold mining in 1905. By the age of thirty, Wilson had made a small fortune gold mining near Tonopah, Nevada. He and a partner discovered what became known as the Round Mountain Placer Fields and formed the Round Mountain Mining Company. With water scarce, Thomas Wilson invented a method of separating gold from sand and rock without using water; in the annals of Nevada mining history he was known as "Dry Wash Wilson." My great-grandfather would spend the fortune he amassed in the mining business on San Diego oceanfront property and a date palm ranch near Indio. He lost the bulk of his assets during the Great Depression.
Anne stayed in San Diego, married, and raised three boys: David, my father Wallace, and John. When I came along, Anne was in her fifties and could out-walk anyone half her age. I remember my grandmother as tall and slender, with beautiful snow-white hair.
Grandma Anne was well-read, musically talented, artistic, and opinionated. The original hippie, she was not shy about expressing her progressive views to anyone who would listen. Anne became a vegetarian long before it was popular and grew nearly everything she ate in her own backyard in San Diego.
My grandmother loved nature. In spite of her paltry income, she maintained a lifelong membership in the San Diego Zoological Society. Whenever my younger brother Kenny and I came for a visit, she'd march us down to the bus stop and off we'd go to the San Diego Zoo for a day of high adventure.
The three of us would explore every nook and cranny of that fascinating place, seeking out hard-to-find areas near the back of the zoo where few ventured. It was there on those distant hillsides that I as an eight-year-old first witnessed the ungulates: deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, and antelope. When we tired, Grandma would sit us down on a nearby bench and entertain us with stories of earlier times.
Knowing how much I loved baseball, Grandma Anne sometimes mentioned her longtime friend and bus-riding companion, May Williams. May worked for the Salvation Army, the source of many of the family's clothes during the Depression. Grandma said that May frequently talked about her son Teddy during their bus rides together. "That skinny young man used to walk down the street in front of our house, throwing rocks in the air and batting them with a stick," said Grandma. "I always worried about him breaking somebody's window." Teddy went on to become the legendary Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams.
Before I could ask a question, Grandma would spot an interesting animal and change the subject. "Do you see that large bird over there?"
"Yes, Grandma. That's a cassowary, isn't it?"
"Very good, Steven! Your father had an encounter with a bird just like that when he was about sixteen years old."
"Tell me about it, Grandma."
"Well, in those days Wallace and his friend Richard Haack would hitchhike all over San Diego. Sometimes they'd go clear out to the beach in La Jolla, and other times they'd go to the zoo in Balboa Park. Did you ever wonder about all those empty pens in my backyard?"
"What about them, Grandma?"
"They used to be filled with birds."
"Where did the birds come from?"
"Sometimes Wallace and Richard would come home from the zoo with an egg. We had an old laying hen that would incubate the egg and the boys would wait to see what hatched out. Most of the time it was a banty chicken or a turkey, but we had a few strange birds running around in the backyard for a while."
"Tell me about the cassowary, Grandma."
"One day your father saw this large green egg sitting next to the edge of a bird cage here at the zoo. He'd reached through the fence to snatch it when a bird just like that one over there charged him. Wallace pulled his hand back just in time but cut it pretty badly on the wire fence."
"What happened then, Grandma?"
"Your father learned a valuable lesson and never brought home another egg. With the war going on and Wallace determined to do his part, he enlisted in the Navy a year later. I had to go down and sign for him because he was only seventeen."
"Was it dangerous, Grandma?"
"Your grandfather and I were very worried during those years. Wallace would write letters home, telling us about the battles they had fought out in the Pacific Ocean. He was on a battleship. When your father finally came home, he finished high school and eventually became a fireman here in San Diego."
"Grandma, Kenny's way over there."
"Kenneth, you come back here! We'll buy you an ice cream when we get to the top of the hill."
* * *
My father, Wallace J. Callan, known to his friends as Wally, was a San Diego fireman during the 1950s. A fireman's work schedule consisted of twenty-four-hour shifts at various assigned fire stations throughout the city, followed by twenty-four hours off. During the summer months, we spent most of those days off at the beach.
La Jolla's Casa Cove was one of our favorite beaches. The old concrete seawall offered shelter from oncoming waves, creating an ideal place for kids to safely swim and practice their snorkeling skills. Mothers generally kept an eye on the kids while the fathers, most of them off-duty firemen, swam out to sea and dove for abalone. Each diver would tie a gunny sack to the inside of an inflated inner tube and hang on as he paddled out past the seawall and into the open ocean. Sometimes they paddled out so far that we lost sight of them. Abalones were plentiful in those days, and limiting out was the rule, rather than the exception. Occasionally, one of the divers would take a recently harvested abalone out of his gunny sack and hide it under a rocky ledge near shore. We kids would take turns diving seven or eight feet down to find the hidden treasure. For those of us between eight and ten years old, this was not an easy task. First we needed to locate the abalone, which was firmly fastened to a rock. Then we had to hold our breath long enough to slip an iron between the abalone and the rock, all the time being thrown back and forth by the incoming and outgoing surge. What a thrill when the reluctant mollusk finally popped loose!
One summer's day at Casa Cove, we were all sitting on the beach when a man emerged from the water carrying his fins, mask, and snorkel. He ventured to the back of the cove, asking if anyone had a spear gun he could borrow. Having no luck, the would-be spear fisherman walked up the steep hill to the street and out of sight. A half hour later, the same gentleman returned, carrying a spear gun. We watched, spellbound, as he and a companion put on their diving gear and entered the water. Within minutes, they swam around the outer edge of the seawall and disappeared.
An hour had gone by when my younger brother Kenny shouted, "There's those two guys with the spear gun!" We could see the divers working their way around the outer edge of the seawall and into the cove. By that time in the afternoon, the wind had come up and the once-calm ocean was becoming rougher by the minute. Pounding waves were knocking the two men about and making their exit quite difficult. Waves were also battering the seawall, sending sprays of white foam high into the air.
"It looks like they're towing something," I shouted from my windy vantage point atop the seawall. I jumped down and raced my brother and Timmy McCoy to the water's edge. The two spear fishermen had finally made it inside the cove but were struggling fiercely to reach the shallows with whatever it was they had in tow. Holding a spear gun in one hand, the lead swimmer was pulling a towline with the other and kicking frantically. His partner was doing a sidestroke, submerging himself in the foamy surf with every forward thrust. Each time a wave reached shore and retreated, an enormous dark gray object popped to the surface.
"It's huge!" shouted Timmy, as my father and Timmy's dad, Bernie McCoy, walked up behind us. Exhausted, the two spear fishermen finally touched bottom and sloshed their way toward shore. Now at a depth of three feet, a massive, deep-bodied fish was exposed; it floated motionless in the foamy water. "That's a black sea bass," my father said.
The sight of such an extraordinary animal was almost more than my excited heart could handle — its tail was the size of a truck tire, and its cavernous jaws fell open with each outgoing wave. I heard Bernie McCoy say that the gigantic grouper must have weighed five or six hundred pounds. We watched several men drag the colossal fish across the beach and up the hill to a waiting truck.
For the rest of the day I felt sad that such a magnificent creature had been killed and removed from the ocean. The incident spurred my passion for fish and wildlife, but what happened next turned this ten- year-old kid into a nature lover for life.
Early one morning, a week or so after the giant sea bass episode, we headed for the beach. Our favorite 1950s-era San Diego radio station, KCBQ, was playing "I Was a Big Man Yesterday," by the Four Preps. I remember singing along from the backseat.
"Steve, we're here," my father broke in. "Come help me unload the car."
We had arrived at Casa Cove about 8:30. Arriving early was essential if you wanted a parking spot anywhere near the beach, even in those days. As we pulled in, several of my father's firemen/diving buddies began to show up: Bernie McCoy and his eight-year-old son Tim, Dave Peter and his two boys Mike and Joey, and Bill Chilcote.
My father was thirty-two years old in 1958. At five-foot-eight, he had remained muscular and physically fit from his years as a member of the USS Alabama boxing team. Prior to World War II, Dad and his younger brother, John, would show off their gymnastic talents by performing handstands from the top rail of the Casa Cove seawall — not exactly a wise thing to do, but they performed some pretty crazy stunts in those days.
Bill Chilcote was my father's closest friend. One or two years older than my father, Bill was the original beach bum. He stayed in good physical condition by skin diving whenever he wasn't on duty at the fire station. Fast talking and always looking for a way to get rich, Bill once talked my dad into partnering with him on the purchase of an old commercial fishing boat called the Gracy. During lobster season, Bill and my father would charge their firemen friends five dollars each for a night dive off beautiful Coronado Island. Using long underwear for wet suits and household flashlights wrapped with sections of inner tube for dive lights, they brought home some gargantuan lobsters. The would-be entrepreneurs never made a nickel and sold the boat a few years later.
My father used to say that you could count on one hand the number of days in a year when the ocean near San Diego was calm and free of groundswells. This turned out to be one of those days at Casa Cove. Kenny and I jumped out of the car and rushed to the edge of the retaining wall that overlooked the cove. "Dad, you should see this!" I shouted. "It's flat as a pancake."
"You guys, don't run off," said my father. "Help me carry this stuff down to the beach."
It was too late. Kenny and Timmy McCoy had run ahead and were already racing across the sand below. Always eager to please, I helped my father carry beach towels and a large gray bag full of diving gear.
"We're the first ones here," I said, as our group walked down the steep hill and made our way across the sand to the upper edge of the seawall. Six-inch waves rolled in and lapped gently against the shore, each time making a soft gasping sound.
"I'll keep an eye on the boys if you guys want to go out first," offered Bernie. Mike asked his father if he could go along. At age eleven, he was the oldest boy in the group. A year younger than Mike, I seized the opportunity and reminded my father of his promise to let me go on a dive if there were ever a calm day. Both fathers eventually gave in, and Mike and I excitedly prepared our diving gear.
I was sitting at the outer edge of the seawall, clearing my dive mask and putting on my fins, when I heard the splat of Bill Chilcote's inner tube hitting the water. "I'll look around here until you guys are ready," said Chilcote, as he stepped off the edge of the seawall into ten feet of water.
Dave and Mike were next, followed by my father and me. With heads down and snorkels skyward, three adults and two very excited apprentices calmly paddled out past the seawall and into the open ocean.
This was no swimming pool — it was the endless Pacific Ocean. With every kick of my fins, the shore got farther away and so did the ocean floor. I was a confident swimmer, but in spite of my father's reassurances, I worried about running into the ocean's most infamous predator. My father had encountered harmless leopard sharks, smoothhounds, dogfish, small hammerheads, and even a few twenty-foot basking sharks while diving off the San Diego coast; I wondered if it were only a matter of time before we came face-to-face with a potentially dangerous shark, like a great white or mako. Years later, I would relish my sightings of these magnificent creatures while scuba diving in the Florida Keys, Bonaire, and Little Cayman.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Game Warden's Son"
Copyright © 2016 Steven T. Callan.
Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Early Years: 1948-1960
San Diego 5
A Trip to the Islands 14
The Road Hunter 25
Sage Advice 30
Small-Town Warden: 1960-1970
Greenheads and Muddy Sneakers 45
The Road to Plaskett Meadows 59
Game Wardens and Ghost Towns 70
The Next Generation: 1970-1980
River Days 87
Sometimes the Good Guys Lose 99
The A-Frame 106
The Lobster Tale 117
Black Market Abs 125
The Kneeland Prairie Deer Investigation 132
Changing Times: 1980-1990
Stakeout at Battle Creek 147
Undercover Joe 156
Eagle Feathers 171
Mollusk Madness 183
Deer Meat for Mr. Big 189
End of an Era: The 1990s and Beyond
The Headhunter 209
The Terror of Humboldt Bay 219
The Badger Mountain Bait Pile 224
Fish Hogs 236
Handlines and Panga Boats 242
Epilogue: Return to Plaskett Meadows 251