It is a well-known fact that President Teddy Roosevelt loved to hunt big game. It is also a well-known fact that he visited Berenda in 1903, on his way to Yosemite. What may not be so well known is, if he had just been a few days earlier in coming to the Valley, he might have had a chance to bag a huge California mountain lion.
The appearance of big game on the floor of the San Joaquin Valley was not an unusual sight during the 19th century. Bear, mountain lions, deer, and antelope were often found along the waterways that coursed across the plains.
By the turn of the century, however, only the ubiquitous jackrabbit was left. Civilization had eliminated the herds of antelope and had driven the deer, bear, and California lions back to their mountain habitat. Memories of the free running wildlife in what is now Madera County had faded, and by 1903, one could reasonably expect to be able to lie down under the eucalyptus trees near the Southern Pacific depot at Berenda and not be bothered by “panthers,” at least so thought one man.
Claude Bradley was known to Maderans as a “tramper.” He had trouble hanging on to long-term employment. The temperature was rising quickly on that day in early May, and Bradley, who had been without luck in finding a job, spotted the grove of trees that stood south of the depot. This seemed like the perfect refuge from the toil of searching for work, so the young man nestled up around the trunk of one of the trees and fell asleep...