The very idea of shooting grizzly bears with the bow and arrow strikes most people as so absurd that they laugh at the mention of it. The mental picture of the puny little archery implements of their childhood opposed to that of the largest and most fearsome beast of the Western world, produces merriment and incredulity.
Because it seemed so impossible, I presume, this added to our desire to accomplish it.
Ever since we began hunting with the bow, we had talked of shooting grizzlies. We thought of an Alaskan trip as a remotely attainable adventure, and planned murderous arrows of various ingenious spring devices to increase their cutting qualities. We estimated the power of formidable bows necessary to pierce the hides of these monsters. In fact, it was the acme of our hunting desires.
We read the biography of John Capen Adams and his adventures with the California grizzlies, and Roosevelt's admirable descriptions of these animals. They filled out our dreams with detail. And after killing black bears we needed only the opportunity to make our wish become an exploit.
The opportunity to do this arrived unexpectedly, as many opportunities seem to, when the want and the preparedness coincide.
The California Academy of Sciences has in its museum in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, a collection of very fine animal habitat groups, among which are deer, antelope, mountain sheep, cougars, and brown bear. While an elk group was being installed, it happened that the taxidermist, Mr. Paul Fair, said to me that the next and final setting would be one of grizzly bears. In surprise, I asked him if it were not a fact that the California grizzly was extinct. He said this was true, but the silver-tip bear of Wyoming was a grizzly and its range extended westward to the Sierra Nevada Mountains; so it could properly be classified as a Pacific Coast variety. He cited Professor Merriam's monograph on the classification of grizzlies to prove his statements. He also informed me that permit might be obtained from Washington to secure these specimens in Yellowstone National Park.
Immediately I perceived an opportunity and interviewed Dr. Barton Everman, curator of the museum, concerning the feasibility of offering our services in taking these bears at no expense to the academy. Incidentally, we proposed to shoot them with the bow and arrow, and thereby answer a moot question in anthropology. The proposition appealed to him, and he wrote to Washington for a permit to secure specimens in this National Park, stating that the bow and arrow would be used. I insisted upon this latter stipulation, so that there should be no misunderstanding if, in the future, any objection was raised to this method of hunting.
In a very short time permit was given to the academy, and we started our preparations for the expedition. This was late in the fall of 1919, and bear were at their best in the spring, just after hibernation; so we had ample time.
It was planned that Mr. Compton, Mr. Young, and I should be the hunters, and such other assistance would be obtained as seemed necessary. We began reviewing our experience and formulating the principles of the campaign.
Our weapons we now considered adequate in the light of our contact with black bears. We had found that our bows were as strong as we could handle, and ample to drive a good arrow through a horse, a fact which we had demonstrated upon the carcasses of recently dead animals.
But we decided to add to the length of our arrowheads, and use tempered instead of soft steel as heretofore. We took particular pains to have them perfect in every detail.
Then we undertook the study of the anatomy of bears and the location and size of their vital organs. In the work of William Wright on the grizzly, we found valuable data concerning the habits and nature of these animals.
In spite of the reputation of this bear for ferocity and tenacity of life, we felt that, after all, he was only made of flesh and blood, and our arrows were capable of solving the problem.
We also began preparing ourselves for the contest. Although habitually in good physical condition, we undertook special training for the big event. By running, the use of dumbbells and other gymnastic practices, we strengthened our muscles and increased our endurance. Our field shooting was also directed toward rapid delivery and the quick judgment of distances on level, uphill, and falling ground. In fact, we planned to leave no factor for success untried.
My brother, G. D. Pope, of Detroit, being a hunter of big game with the gun, was invited to join the party, and his advice was asked concerning a reliable guide. He gladly consented to come with us and share the expenses. At the same time he suggested Ned Frost, of Cody, Wyoming, as the most experienced hunter of grizzly bears in America. About this time one of my professional friends visited the Smithsonian Institute at Washington, where he met a member of the staff, who inquired if he knew Doctor Pope, of San Francisco, a man that was contemplating shooting grizzlies with the bow and arrow. The doctor replied that he did, whereat the sage laughed and said that the feat was impossible, most dangerous and foolhardy; it could not be done. We fully appreciated the danger involved--therein lay some of the zest. But we also knew that even should we succeed in killing them in Yellowstone Park, the glory would be sullied by the popular belief that all park bears are hotel pets, live upon garbage, and that it was a cruel shame to torment them with arrows.
So in my early correspondence with Frost, I assured him that we did not want to shoot any tame bears and that we would not consider the trip at all if this were necessary. He assured us that this was not necessary, and reminded us that Yellowstone Park was fifty miles wide by sixty miles long, and that some of the highest portions of the Rocky Mountains lay in it. The animals in this preserve, he said, were far from tame and the bears were divided into two distinct groups, one mostly composed of black and brown with a few inferior specimens of grizzlies that frequent the dumps back of the camps and hotels, and another group of bears that never came near civilization, but lived entirely up in the rugged mountains and were as dangerous and wary as those in Alaska or any other wild country. These bear wander outside the park and furnish hunting material throughout the neighboring State. He promised to put us in communication with grizzlies that were as unspoiled and unafraid as those first seen by Lewis and Clarke in their early explorations.
After explaining the purposes of our trip and the use of the bow, Ned Frost agreed that it was a real sporting proposition and took up the plan with enthusiasm. I sent him a sample arrow we used in hunting, and his letter in reply I take the liberty of printing. It is typical of the frontier spirit and comes, not only from the foremost grizzly hunter of all times, but discloses the man's bigness of heart:
"My dear Doctor:
"Your letter of the 18th was received a day or so ago, and last night I received 'Good Medicine' [a hunting arrow] on the evening train, and I feel better away down deep about this hunt after a good examination of this little Grizzly Tickler than I have at any time before. I have, by mistake, let it simmer out in a quiet way that I was going to see what a grizzly would really do if he had a few sticks stuck in his innerds, and my friends have been giving the Mrs. and me a regular line of farewell parties. Really, I think it has been a splendid paying thing to do; pork chops are high, you know, and I really feel I am off to the good about nine dollars and six bits worth of bacon and flour right now on this deal. Maybe I'll be in debt to you before green-grass if I don't look out.
"Well, anyway, here is hoping we will all live through it and have a dandy time. Don't worry about coming to blows with the bear; I have noticed from long experience that it is not the times that you think a bear is going to give you trouble that it happens, but always when least expected. I have trailed wounded grizzlies time and time again, and was more or less worried all the while, but never had one turn on me yet. Then, too, I have had about three experiences with them that made my hair stand straight up, and when it finally settled, it had more FROST in it than ever before; and let me add right here, that one of the worst places I ever got into was when I had sixteen of the best bear dogs that were ever gotten together I believe, after an old she-grizzly, and I was like you, thought they would hold the bear's attention. BUT, don't let any notion like this get you into trouble. Now, I am not running down dogs as a means of getting bear; I love them and would now have a good pack if it was possible to run them in the game fields of this State, but you don't want to think that they can handle a grizzly like they do a black bear. In fact, I would place no value on them whatsoever as a safeguard in case a grizzly got on the pack, and I am speaking from experience, mind you. No, a good little shepherd would do more than a dozen regular bear dogs, but there is only about one little shepherd like I speak of in a lifetime.
"If you can use the bow from horseback, here is a safe proposition, and I believe a practical one, too. But I don't feel that there is really so much danger in the game after all, as it is only once in a great while that any bear will go up against the human animal, and then is most likely to be when you are not expecting it at all. Don't worry about it. What I am thinking about most is to get the opportunity to get the first arrow into some good big worthy old boy that will be a credit to the expedition.
"There are lots of grizzlies in the park all right, and some of them are not very wild, but if you get out away from the hotels a few miles, they are not going to come up and present their broadsides to you at thirty yards. So, as I say, I am thinking mostly about the chances of getting the opportunities. I don't know, of course, just how close you can place your arrows at thirty yards, and it is getting the first hole into them that I am most interested in now. I feel that we ought to get some good chances, as I have seen so many bear in the park; but, of course, have never hunted them and don't know just how keen they will be when it comes right down to getting their hides. There are some scattered all over the park that will rob a camp at night, and some of them will even put up a fight for it, but most of them will beat it as soon as one gets after them.
"It would be impossible, I believe, to keep dogs still while watching a bait, as they would get the scent of any approaching bear, and then you would not be able to keep them quiet, and they would most likely scare the bear out of the country. I can rustle a few dogs to take along if you want them, and pretty good dogs, too; but I am not strong for them myself only in this way, to put them on the trail of a bear and take a good horse apiece, so that we could get up to the chase and have a chance to land on him. This might be a good thing to try if all others failed.
"I know how you feel about killing clean with the bow and not having any shooting, and I can assure you that I would let 'em get just as close as you want them, and not feel any concern about their getting the best of anybody, and you would have a chance to use the bow well in this case; but I am more prone to think they will beat it off with a lot of your perfectly good arrows than anything else.
It was apparent from the first that dogs were of little use in taking grizzly. It would be necessary to shoot from blinds set conveniently near bait. Frost assured us that bears of this variety, when just out of hibernation and lean, would run out of the country if chased by a pack of dogs, and incidentally kill all that they could catch. In the fall of the year, when the bears are fat, they refuse to run, but wade through the pack, which is unable to keep him from attacking the hunter.
As an example of this, he related an instance where he started a grizzly with eight or ten Russian bear hounds, and chased the beast about thirty miles. As he followed on horseback, he found one after the other of his dogs torn to pieces, disemboweled, and dismembered. At last, he came upon the bear at bay in deep snow, against a high cliff. Only two of his hounds were left, and one of these had a broken leg. Mad with vengeance, Frost shot the grizzly. It charged him at forty yards. In quick succession he fired five bullets in the oncoming bear, seemingly with no effect. Up to his waist in the snow, he was unable to avoid its rush. It came on and fell dead on his chest, with the faithful hound hanging to it in a desperate effort to save his master.
This is one of the three or four maulings that Ned has received in his hunting experiences, which, he says, "have added frost to my golden locks." The dog became a cherished pet in the family for many years.
Frost killed his first bear when fourteen years of age, and has added nearly five hundred to this number since that time.
It is characteristic of the grizzly that he will charge upon the slightest provocation, and that nothing will turn him aside from his purpose. Later we found this particularly true where the female with cubs is concerned.
Instances of this are too well known to recount, but one coming under our own experience was related to me by Tom Murphy, the bear hunter of California.
In early days in Humboldt County, there lived an old settler named Pete Bluford, who was a squaw man. He shot a female grizzly with cubs within a quarter of a mile of what are now the town limits of Blocksburg. The beast charged and struck him to the ground. At the same time she ripped open the man's abdomen. Bluford dropped under a fallen tree, where the bear repeatedly assaulted him, tearing at his body. By rolling back and forth as the grizzly leaped over the log to reach him from the other side, he escaped further injury. Worried by the hunter's dog, she finally ceased her efforts and wandered off. The man was able to reach home in spite of a large open wound in his abdomen, with protruding intestines. This was roughly sewed together by his friend, Beany Powell. He recovered from the experience and lived many years with the Indians of that locality. As an example of Western humor, it is related that Beany Powell, when sewing up the wound with twine and a sack needle, found a large lump of fat protruding from the incision, of which he was unable to dispose; so he cut it off, tried out the grease in the frying-pan and used it to grease his boots.
Old Bluford became a character in the country. He was, in fact, what is colloquially known as "an old poison oaker." This is an individual who sinks so low in the scale of civilization that he lives out in the backwoods or poison oak brush and becomes animal in type. His hair grew to his shoulders, his beard was unkempt, his finger nails were as long as claws and filthy with dirt. Rags of unknown antiquity partially covered his limbs, vermin infested his body and he stayed with the most degraded remnants of the Indians.
One cold winter they found him dead in his dilapidated cabin. He lay on the dirt floor, his ragged coat over his face, his hands beneath his head, and two house cats lay frozen, one beneath each arm. These old pioneers were strange people and died strange deaths.
In our plans to capture grizzlies we took into consideration the proclivity of this beast to attack. We knew his speed was tremendous. He is able to catch a horse or a dog on the run. Therefore, it is useless for a man to try to run away from him. There is no such thing as being able to climb a tree if the animal is at close quarters. Adams has shown that it is a mistake to attempt it. One only stretches himself out inviting evisceration in the effort.
We decided if cornered either to dodge or to lie flat and feign death. So we practiced dodging, our running being more for the purpose of gaining endurance and to follow the bear if necessary.
Ishi, the Yana Indian, said that grizzlies were to be overcome with arrows and if they charged, they were to be met with the spear and fire. So we constructed spears having well-tempered blades more than a foot in length set upon heavy iron tubing and riveted to strong ash handles six feet in length. Back of the blade we fashioned quick lighting torches of cotton waste saturated with turpentine. These could be ignited by jerking a lanyard fastened to a spring faced with sandpaper. The spring rested on the ends of several matches. It was an ingenious and reliable device.
The Esquimaux used a long spear in hunting the polar bear. It was ten or twelve feet in length. After being shot with an arrow, if the bear charged, they rested the butt of the spear on the ground, lowered the point and let the bear impale himself on it.
When the time came to use our weapons, Ned Frost dissuaded us from the attempt. He said that he once owned a pet grizzly and kept it fast with a long chain in the back yard. This bear was so quick that it could lie in its kennel, apparently asleep, and if a chicken passed within proper distance, with incredible quickness she reached out a paw and seized the chicken without the slightest semblance of effort. And when at play, the boys tried to stick the bear with a pitchfork, she would parry the thrusts and protect herself like a boxer. It was impossible to touch her.
The fire, Frost thought, might serve at night, but in the daylight it would lose its effect. So he insisted that he would carry a gun to be used in case of attack. On our part, we stipulated that he was to resort to it only to prevent disaster and protested that such an exigency must be looked upon by us as a complete failure of our plans. We knew we could not stop the mad rush of a bear with our arrows, but we hoped to kill at least one by this means and compromise on the rest if necessary.
Indians, besides employing the spear, poisoned arrows, and fire, also used protected positions, or shot from horseback. We scorned to shoot from a tree and were told that few horses could be ridden close enough, or fast enough, to get within bowshot of a grizzly.