by Cliff Huntington
Saxton Temple Pope was born on September 4, 1875 at Fort Stockton,
Texas, the third in a family of four or six, depending on the
source you reference. His father, Benjamin Franklin Pope, was
an Army Officer and surgeon, spending most of his career stationed
in isolated army garrisons throughout the west.
The West during the late 1800's was a harsh and unforgiving
environment, a strict task maker largely responsible for nurturing
the independence and self-reliance so characteristic of Pope
in later life. His childhood companions were not the normal sort,
but Indians, cowboys, half-breeds and an assortment of other
colorful frontier characters, and as a youngster, camping, hunting,
riding, and fishing occupied much of his spare time. A rugged
outdoors childhood combined with a natural dexterity and athletic
ability helped develop his exceptional skills in "legerdemain,
music, surgery and woodsmanship." According to Pope, he
experimented with bows and arrows as a youngster. "Every
boy goes through a period of barbarism, just as the nations have
passed, and during that age he is stirred by the call of the
bow. I, too, shot the toy bows of boyhood; shot with Indian youths
in the Army posts of Texas and Arizona. We played the impromptu
pageants of Robin Hood, manufactured our own tackle, and carried
it about with unfailing fidelity; hunted small birds and rabbits,
and were the usual savages of that age."
Schooling opportunities in the army camps and frontier towns
of Popes childhood were limited, but he took advantage
of that offered and eventually found his way to the University
of California were he was graduated in 1899 with honors and a
degree in medicine. Soon after his internship he set up practice
in Monterey, a small town outside of San Francisco and married
Dr. Emma Wightman, a college classmate. They would raise a family
of four children; Saxton Jr., Elizabeth, Virginia and Willard
An event unfolded in 1911 that would chart the course of archery
history. Ishi, the last Yahi Indian was captured on the 29th
of August in Oroville, California. After several days of confinement
in the local jail, he was rescued by Professor T. T. Waterman,
an anthropologist from the University of California and brought
to San Francisco as a ward of the University of Californias
Museum of Anthropology.
During 1912, Dr. Pope moved his family to San Francisco and
became an instructor in surgery in the University Medical School.
It was his work at the University that brought him in contact
with Ishi. He later spoke of these beginnings, "From the
first weeks of our intimacy a strong friendship grew up between
us, and I was from that time on his physician, his confidant,
and his companion in archery. He often asked if I were not part
Indian, which, although it is not a fact, I naively admitted
I was." Under Ishis guidance Dr. Popes interest
in archery would resurface. He was taught the Indian method of
bow making and went on hunting excursions in the surrounding
country with Ishi. On these expeditions Ishi provided valuable
lessons in this new system of acquiring game, "We shot rabbits,
quail and squirrels with the bow. His methods here were not so
well defined as in the approach to larger game, but I was struck
from the first by his noiseless step, his slow movement, his
use of cover."
A year or so later, Ishi received another visitor keenly interested
in his archery. Will Compton, who until the recent death of Capt.
F. S. Barnes, had been employed by the Oregon bowyer for some
19 years. Compton, just moved to California, made his way to
San Francisco to meet Ishi. During this visit, he met Dr. Pope
and became his mentor. As Dr. Pope developed his bow making skills,
he formed a decided preference for the English longbow of pacific
yew. For a detailed look at Dr. Popes bows, check out "A
Shot From The Past" in the Jun/Jul 1998 issue of Traditional
Bowhunter by Joe St. Charles.
According to Joe St. Charles, Art Youngs introduction
to this group came in 1915 at the "Panama-Pacific Exposition,"
where he chanced to meet Will Compton while visiting a popular
feature of the Exposition, the Japanese archery gallery. Youngs
sincere interest in archery was apparently evident and Compton
added another to his list of pupils. Compton is responsible for
introducing Young to Ishi and Dr. Pope. During the next year
these inseparable companions and knights of the open range would
share many trips afield. Dr. Pope, an accomplished woodsman,
relished his time camping and roughing with his three varied
but close companions and it was during these outings that Dr.
Pope and Young polished their skills in hunting and shooting
that would prove so important in the coming years.
On May 25, 1916 Ishi succumbed to tuberculosis and passed
on to a higher hunting ground. Dr. Pope wrote in Yahi Archery
(1918) that, "When he died and was cremated according
to the custom of his people, we placed by his side some tobacco,
ten pieces of dentalium shell, a little acorn meal, a bit of
jerky, his fire sticks, a quiver full of arrows, and his bow."
Dr. Popes two other books published by the University of
California are The Medical History Of Ishi (1920) and
A Study Of Bows And Arrows (1923).
The loss of his friend and companion did nothing to lessen
Dr. Popes passion for the bow and hunting. Dr. Pope, Young
and Compton renewed their habit of camping and hunting with the
bow after the death of Ishi, taking everything from birds and
small game to deer. Dr. Pope recorded many of these accounts
in his classic, Hunting with the Bow and Arrow (1923).
Always the adventure seeker, he traveled to Yellowstone Park
with Young, challenging the great Bear of America, the grizzly.
Buoyed by their success in Yellowstone and accompanied by the
writer and archer Stewart Edward White, they ventured to the
Dark Continent in search of an even greater challenge, the African
lion. During the five month long safari, their trophies included
Thompson gazelle, reedbuck, waterbuck, wildebeest, kongoni, eland,
jackals, hyenas and assorted small game. The high point of the
safari was the killing of several African lions with their bows
and arrows, latter documented in Popes The Adventurous
Bowmen (1926) and offered from a different perspective in
Stewart Edward Whites Lions in the Path (1926).
Unlike Maurice and Will H. Thompson, who pioneered and popularized
archery in the late 1800's, Pope was both an accomplished bowyer
and hunting archer, making all his bows, arrows and accessories.
Dr. Saxton T. Pope contracted pneumonia soon after returning
from Africa and passed away in 1926.