Ab Taylor, a plain-spoken Texan who became a legend in the arcane art of man-tracking during three decades with the U.S. Border Patrol and later taught children how to survive should they become lost in the wild, died Sept. 9 in Alpine, Calif. He was 88.
The cause was Alzheimer’s disease, his family said.
As he patrolled the rugged, unpopulated stretches of the U.S.-Mexican border, Mr. Taylor developed expertise in looking for the small signs — a broken twig, a footprint, rocks out of place, patterns in the dust — that indicated the passage of immigrants trying to sneak into the United States.
Like other Border Patrol agents, he referred to the daily hunt as “the Game.” Although he never expressed remorse for doing his job, he acknowledged an admiration for immigrants trying to get to the United States to find jobs.
“I can have the greatest empathy for the individual Mexican coming in and understand him and know about him,” Mr. Taylor told the Los Angeles Times in 1972 while spitting wads of chewing tobacco into the border dust. “Still, I don’t have reservations about doing my job because I know that this country cannot possibly absorb all the poverty of Mexico.”
The more difficult the chase, the greater the satisfaction, said Mr. Taylor, who spent most of his career assigned to the Southern California border.
“The tougher he is to beat, the more you admire him,” he said. “If you catch him down there a mile away from the border and blunder into him, there certainly is no satisfaction there. But if you track him from sunup one day to sundown the next . . . then there’s a great measure of satisfaction in beatin’ him.”
If he had respect for immigrants, he had scorn for the smugglers, particularly those who take money to transport immigrants to the Mexican side of the border and then abandon them to navigate the overland dangers by themselves.
“Typically, the smuggler is greedy,” Mr. Taylor said. “And typically, he’s a little bit cowardly. If he had a lot of guts, he’d be hauling narco.”
After three decades with the Border Patrol, he retired in the late 1970s. An incident in 1981 changed Mr. Taylor’s life and gave him a new passion: teaching children how to survive if lost in a forest or a desert.
Mr. Taylor was one of hundreds of people who searched for a 9-year-old boy who had become separated from his family during a trip to Mount Palomar, north of San Diego.
For four days, searchers scoured the forest, only to find the child dead from exposure. Mr. Taylor would later say that the inability to find Jimmy Beveridge in time was the biggest disappointment of his life.
After that experience, Mr. Taylor was among those who founded the nonprofit Hug-a-Tree and Survive program, a guide for children on staying safe.
Among the tips: Stay put, do not panic and hold onto a tree for warmth. Mr. Taylor instructed parents as well, telling them to equip their kids with flashlights and large plastic bags to stave off the cold.
Albert Snow Taylor was born in San Angelo, Tex., on Nov. 24, 1924, the son of a small-town grocer. He worked on his uncle’s farm and his grandfather’s ranch and served in the Navy in World War II.
In 1980, he served as a consultant for “Fundamentals of Mantracking: The Step-by-Step Method.” Chapters included how to search for lost children, how to track animals, and how to track someone trying to evade capture.
In retirement, he noted with sadness that the Border Patrol had shifted away from tracking. “They did away with everything I had spent my life building up,” he told the Associated Press in 2001.
— Los Angeles Times