Title

The Great Los Angeles Lion Hunt of 1892

From 'California Game Marked Down (1896).
From 'California Game Marked Down (1896).

Fourteen hounds, at least a dozen men on horseback, and many more on foot or in horse-drawn coaches, assembled near the Chavez Ravine brick factory on the morning of December 29, 1892. Holding the reins of a tally-ho was the hunt's organizer, Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, the man who four years later would donate Griffith Park to the city and eleven years later would shoot his wife in the eye in a fit of drunken rage. Next to Griffith sat another self-styled colonel, Harrison Gray Otis, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, along with other members of the press -- all of them armed at Griffith's expense with rifles and ammunition.

This was no ordinary hunt, the target no mere fox. The hunting party had more fearsome prey in mind: two mountain lions seen days before prowling Elysian Park together.

The Southland was then a wilder place -- a few grizzly bears still clung to survival in the nearby mountains -- but the appearance of two large cougars so close to the city raised alarms. The Times fretted that the "California lions" would "pervert their appetite...by eating the strollers on Lovers' Lane or occasional stray children." The Times' rival, the Los Angeles Herald, was no less sensationalistic. "Lions in the City," its headline cried.

In fact, the real reason for the hunt was that the lions (if there were actually two -- mountain lions are typically solitary creatures) had feasted upon one too many of Frank McCrea's pigs in the hills of Griffith's Rancho Los Feliz. As McCrea's landlord, Griffith was determined to eliminate the threat to his ranch's livestock.

Around 8:30 a.m. the party set off along the road from Chavez Ravine to Rancho Los Feliz. Griffith drove the lead coach but delegated leadership of the actual search to Charles Haskell. Haskell and his hunters followed the dogs into Elysian Park's eucalyptus grove and scanned the canopy above for treed cats. They raced up dry gullies and over chaparral ridges, through present-day Silver Lake and into Griffith's Rancho Los Feliz, searching the ground for lion tracks.

By the time the party trickled into the Los Feliz adobe for what was meant to be a celebratory lunch, the hunters were tired, hungry, and embarrassed. Their hounds had given chase to a pair of coyotes and disappeared into the hills of what is now Griffith Park. Meanwhile, the hunters found neither lion nor lion track. The Times reporter playfully named the elusive cats Evans and Sontag, after two famous fugitives in the San Joaquin Valley. Evans and Sontag the outlaws would eventually be captured; Evans and Sontag the cats never would. Mrs. McCrea fed Griffith and the hunters anyway, serving a feast of buttered biscuits, olives, preserves, warm pie, coffee, and roasted pig.

Photo of an unrelated hunt near Hollywood, circa 1880s. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection  - Los Angeles Public Library.
Photo of an unrelated hunt near Hollywood, circa 1880s. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

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Griffith J. Griffith organized the hunt for the two elusive lions. Undated photo courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.
Griffith J. Griffith organized the hunt for the two elusive lions.  Undated photo courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

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