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The Grizzly Bear - Harper's

 

The grizzly bear is the most terrible of all beasts. Its great strength, its enormous size, its ferocity, and its courage render it a more formidable enemy than the lion. It ranges the westward-lying slopes of the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to British America, and is a constant terror to the regions it inhabits.

The average length of the grizzly bear is about seven feet, and its weight nine hundred to a thousand pounds, although much larger specimens have been killed in Arizona and other Southern regions.

Grizzlies do not often attack men unless surprised or infuriated, or driven by desperate hunger to seize upon everything which crosses their path; but all animals, from a mouse to an enormous buffalo, fall an easy prey to this monarch of the far West.

GRIZZLY BEAR AND BUFFALOES. GRIZZLY BEAR AND BUFFALOES.

The immense daring of the grizzly bear, and its entire confidence in its strength, are evident from the fact that it will not hesitate to attack buffaloes even when a whole herd are together. It has been known to kill a buffalo with one blow of its terrible fore-paw, and afterward to drag it away and bury it. It can easily dig a hole with its cimeter-like claws, and it usually buries what it can not devour, as a store to fall back upon when provisions are scarce.

Hunters tell many stories of sharp contests between grizzlies and buffaloes. The bear will prowl by the side of a herd, keeping under cover of the bushes until some big fat fellow comes within easy reach, when it rushes on its victim, and with one blow fells it to the ground. The other buffaloes may rush to the rescue of their comrade, but the powerful grizzly is generally a match for them all, and instances are rare where the savage beast has been driven to crawl away defeated.

The claws of this beast are longer than a man's finger, and are very much prized as ornaments by the Indians. To wear a necklace of bear's claws, taken from an animal killed by himself, is one of the highest ambitions of an Indian brave; for if he is thus decorated, his courage and superior strength are acknowledged by his whole tribe. An Indian will sell his horses, his blankets, everything he possesses, but nothing can induce him to part with his bear-claw necklace, which marks him as an invincible warrior. To obtain this coveted prize Indians will run the most extreme risks. Are the enormous foot-prints of a grizzly discovered in the vicinity of the camp, the men all set out in hot pursuit, and many a poor Indian has lost his life in fierce encounter with this monarch of the mountains. If the bear can be traced to its den among the rocks, the Indians will lay trails of powder leading from the lair in different directions, which, as they burn, set fire to the dry grass and stubble. As the animal, startled by the smoke and flame, rushes from its hiding-place, the Indians, who lie concealed behind rocks and bushes, pelt it with blazing pine knots, and fire volley after volley from their rifles into its body, until some lucky shot enters the heart or brain, and the monster staggers and falls dead to the ground.

This beast has a strong hold on life, and has often been known to run with great speed, and even to swim deep rivers, with twenty or more large rifle-balls in its body. It is so difficult to kill, and so furious when aroused, that a hunter will never attack the grizzly single-handed if the encounter can be avoided. The hunter may escape by climbing a tree; for although young grizzlies can climb like a cat, the old bears can do nothing more than stand on their hind-legs in vain endeavors to reach the branches where the man lies concealed, and growl spitefully. Their extreme heaviness, however, is thought by the Indians to be all that prevents them from climbing.

A hunter once took refuge in a tree from one of these savage beasts, and having vainly discharged all his ammunition at the monster, he endeavored to hit it in the eye with cones, thinking to drive it away. But the grizzly only became more infuriated, and began a brisk war-dance around the tree, howling all the while in a terrible manner. At length the branch upon which the hunter was sitting began to give way, and the unfortunate man felt himself doomed to certain death. Closing his eyes, he resigned himself to the worst, when, instead of falling, as he expected, into the open jaws of the huge beast, he, together with the heavy branch upon which he had been sitting, landed with a tremendous thump upon the grizzly's head. The animal was so astonished and frightened at this sudden and unexpected assault, that it took to its heels, and soon disappeared in the forest. Such miraculous escapes, however, are not frequent, and the number of Indians and hunters killed by grizzlies is very large.

Young grizzlies have often been captured, and when very small are as playful and affectionate as dogs. But they are not to be trusted, for as they grow older, their savage nature develops, and they are liable to become dangerous property. Unless they can be surprised away from the mother, their capture is attended by the utmost peril. Nothing can exceed the fury of the mother bear if her little ones are molested. Rising on her hind-legs for a moment to survey the object of her hatred, she will utter a hoarse "huff, huff, huff," and charge madly, and wary and courageous must be the hunter who can overcome this savage monster.

Hunting the grizzly is usually accomplished by parties of men well mounted, and with bands of trained dogs, but the huge beast will make a desperate fight for its life, and often severely wounds numbers of its assailants before being forced itself to succumb.