Elk NetworkFamily, Friends, Wardens Rescue Elk from Old Mine Shaft

General | April 21, 2020

Below is a Facebook post from Hanna Waters about the rescue of a cow elk that fell down an abandoned mine shaft near Creede, Colorado. Kudos to all involved for lifting this elk to freedom!

On Saturday, my mama, Chere Waters, went into the woods like she does every day. She has lived in Creede for over 30 years and would know the land blindfolded. Usually she takes her favorite trail that cuts through Sunnyside towards the airport, or down Sunnyside road to her favorite tree. Today the weather wasn’t as inviting, and she had second thoughts about going at all; however, she felt compelled to head out onto the land and hike. She took her friend Shawn Johnston and set out on a trail she rarely frequents, again, out of a vague sort of feeling that she should venture that way regardless of her normal movements.

We know that there are all sorts of interesting things to be found in the woods of Creede. Old mineshafts, like sinkholes, plunge into the earth without warning and one must careful going off the beaten path, lest you find yourself however-many-feet-down. Off of this rarely taken path of hers, Mama knew of an old mine shaft such as this. Today she felt she needed to take a look in the shaft. Strange, yes, to feel the need to peer into an old, foreboding hole, but we who know the mountains often have such inclinations— feelings, premonitions, perhaps— and more often than not there is something to them.

Mama strayed off the trail to where she knew the shaft to be, and looked inside. She unsure what to expect, of course, perhaps nothing, perhaps something terrible. These kinds of feelings rarely provide a roadmap and itinerary. About 25 feet down, to her surprise, stood an elk. A cow elk, very much alive, standing in the cramped space in the bottom of the shaft. My God, Mama thought, well, she is standing, so maybe she wasn’t injured badly, or maybe, she wasn’t injured at all. And it couldn’t have been too long— as one can imagine, the bottom of a mine shaft does not discriminate between man or beast, hunger or thirst.

Mama sent me a text, and then called my brother, Kyote. Then she set about doing what she felt needed to be done. Getting that elk out of the mineshaft.

Mama called the game wardens, Brent Woodward and Jeremy Gallegos, and it didn’t take long for an excellent team of Creede favorites to assemble. Together Brent, Jeremy, Chris Snell, Shane Birdsey, Elizabeth and John Steele, Terry Wetherill, Shawn Johnston, and Mama returned to the mineshaft.

Now, mineshafts are dangerous places, of course. Anyone living in an old silver boomtown can tell you that. Some of these holes, you can’t see the bottom. Mineshafts collapse. They can swallow like a great mouth of the earth.

Perhaps you are thinking of the options. What could have been done. Shoot it, put it out of certain misery. Be done with it. Nature is metal, it culls the herds as only it can. We know this option. In other circumstances this may have been the only way. But perhaps, on a day like today, in times so formless and strange…if given the chance to save a life, wouldn’t you?

Brent shot down into the shaft and tranquilized the elk. With a small window of time, John deftly rigged a system of ropes, tethers and knots and belayed a truly brave Terry into the shaft. He secured her body and with the wench off of the front of his truck far above, slowly lifted her out of the hole. It was clear she had been standing down there for a few days.

Our team of brave and endearing souls waited around her as she slowly came to, woozy and unsure. She struggled for a few minutes to get up as the tranquilizer wore off, but surely, surely, she staggered onto all fours, looking around— I’m sure relieved to no longer be in a cramped, deep hole. Our lady trotted off, a good sign that she was indeed not injured, but not before she stopped short, turned around, and gave her rescue party a long, deep look. Maybe it meant, what in the hell just happened ? Maybe it meant, thank you. Thank you.

I felt compelled to share this story with you all this evening. I set about writing it as soon and Mama was finished telling me. Creede is a special place and we all feel a deeply personal connection to this land and the way it holds us and ultimately, the way it shapes us. I hope that this gives your hearts and minds a welcome sojourn, even if only for a few moments.

We can all find ourselves at the bottom of a very deep hole, be it of stone and soil, or heart and soul. Sometimes we must crawl out alone. But sometimes, just sometimes, the song of your heart, deep in the blackness, reaches the ears of another, and hands reach down, and light pours in, and for a perfect, shining moment, you are found.

Thinking of you Creede, my home, and hoping this small, strange story brings you comfort.

Go here to see more photos and a video of the rescue efforts.

(Photo source: Hanna Waters)