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The Mountain Men of Eagle Nest: Get to Know Zeus

By JUDY COLLIER, Features Writer

Mountain men are explorers and hunters most common in the North American Rockies. They often became explorers in the 1800’s. During that century, Charles Kennedy was a mountain man who lived near Eagle Nest, New Mexico. He was famous for robbing and killing people who traveled on their way to Taos.

He moved to the Moreno Valley in 1865 with his wife and small son. They built a rest stop in an isolated area at the base of Palo Flechado Pass, on the road between Elizabethtown and Taos. Some, who stopped, were never seen or heard from again! The robberies and murders might never have been known except for the confessions from his wife when she fled in terror, in the fall of 1870, when he murdered his own son for telling a traveler about bodies buried under their house.

Moving forward a century plus, there are still mountain men here in Eagle Nest New Mexico. Mark R., shared a great short story about the life of one of our very own, Zeus Reese. Mark’s story, is called, “Get to Know.”

Get to know the men of hearty beards, and great tales. There are at least three local mountain men (that I know of) from days gone by. Men chocked full of grit, laughs and lore. Our first man, Zeus Reese, makes you ponder the question, have you ever had a bear on your chest? Well, Zeus has, more than once. Zeus is a hunting guide out of Elizabethtown, and is a proud father to Emily and Jimmy.

Zeus hunted bears and mountain lions with his dozen pointer dogs, and his 44 magnum. He has delivered experiences and memories over the decades for clients who won’t ever forget the trips. Zeus is well paid for the experience, however life threatening his job is. He loves what he does, and is grateful for a career doing what he loves the most.

Many times Zeus was on death’s door, at the mercy of a bear or lion. Were it not for his brave dogs jumping in the battle, Zeus would have been long gone, a long time ago! Zeus had a dog that would not stop barking, day or night. Zeus was constantly yelling, “stop it dammit!” He eventually named the dog, Dammit.

Dammit still went on hunts. On one hunt, where a tree was broken, a young bear was sitting up there, after being pursued. The terrified bear ran down, through the dogs, and jumped onto Zeus, knocking him flat on his back!

The end was near; bear paws on his chest and a large mouth ready to crush his skull, when in jumps Dammit! Dammit latched on to the side of the bear’s face, allowing Zeus to jump to his feet and draw his 44, while the rest of his dogs attacked the bear. Zeus couldn’t shoot the bear for fear of hitting one of his dogs.

The bear broke free, and instead of running off, it charged again at Zeus! When the bear’s head reached Zeus’ belt buckle, he fired into the bear’s head, ending the battle. Sadly, Dammit did not survive the encounter. Zeus says that younger bears are the most dangerous. They are scared and they fight back. Older bears know their own might, and will even take a nap up in the tree.

Mountain lion skulls

Not every hunt ends in a kill. Sometimes it is just good to take photos and let the animal go. It is the same for female mountain lions. Take a photo and let them go. Zeus says the females draw in the big boys and they are the ones to hunt. Zeus holds a 2nd place world’s record for one of his hunted lions.

Zeus does love animals. He’s had 4 generations of chocolate labs he has used for water fowl hunting. He has had at least 13 pointers he used for bigger game. Zeus is down to his dog, old Momma, who has earned her retirement, and there are not enough hours in the day to love on her.

Zeus has hunted over 400 bears, 200 lions, elk, boar, antelope, and even a 13ft gator, which he nearly jumped out of the boat to kill! The guide had to stop him from jumping in the water! The gator is now stuffed and keeping raccoons out of the garage.

You might run into Zeus at Angel’s Attic in Eagle Nest. He will be wearing a big hat, with a big beard, and a big smile. He also has a slow, smooth gait and a calm Appalachian drawl. Say hi, introduce yourself and ask him about one of his many bear stories. You won’t be disappointed. Watch for more local mountain men stories in our next issue, September, 2022.

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