- Historic Sites
Graves And Grizzlies
A search for a desecrated corpse, an encounter with a 900-pound bear, and a night of terror in Montana, 1879.
June 1967 | Volume 18, Issue 4
Getting our saddle horses, we returned to camp. We got there just in the nick of time. A large silvertip bear, as much surprised as we were, came bounding out of the tepee. On seeing us, he greeted us with a roar of welcome, then tore off down the trail toward the old Nez Perce camp, with our dogs who had been with us up the gulch right at his heels and making the valley resound with their wolfish howls. We found that His Royal Nibs had been more than busy. A saddle of venison that In-who-lise had hung on the limb of a tree had been pulled down by the bear and only the bones remained. This gent, after satisfying his appetite on venison, had been satisfying his curiosity. On going into the tepee, we found the bear had made a roughhouse out of it. Our dried meat was scattered all over, with the ground and everything else white from our sack of flour. Lucky for us, the bear had dumped most of it on the blankets.
Leaving In-who-lise to pick up the dried meat and save what flour she could, I cut down a small tree and fashioned a crude shovel. We made our dinner on some of the dried meat the bear had left. During this time In-who-lise is very quiet. We were soon ready to start back, leaving our dogs this time to watch the camp.
Going back to Red Heart’s grave, I scooped out all the loose dirt but found nothing that might have been interred with him. Unlike the remains of Gray Eagle, no particle of hair was in evidence, indicating that scalping had been done, and that most effectively. I replaced the skeleton the best I could. In-who-lise would not touch anything about the graves. I filled in the earth and knowing that nothing would disturb the remains, I dug a small pine tree and planted it at the head. Thus we left the brave Red Heart. Going back to the other grave, I cleaned it out and laid the remains of Gray Eagle therein. Kneeling by the grave, I joined In-who-lise, fervently saying all the prayers she knew in Indian. As I filled it in, In-who-lise cried pitifully and there was a welling in my own breast and a dimness came to my eyes. Mounding the earth above all that was mortal of the once-stalwart Gray Eagle, I prepared to leave that hauntingly silent gulch. Susie and I stood by the low mound for a time, and after some coaxing, I persuaded her to return with me to camp, leaving those two lonely graves with their bones now returned to mother earth. In-who-lise softly and reverently said, “In peace at last, now roam, happy spirits, in the land of the dead.”
Going back to camp, we found everything there all right. The bear had not returned, but we still were not feeling any too good with the large grizzly in the vicinity. I told In-who-lise I was going to ride up the valley hunting for deer, as the bear had eaten up all our fresh meat. In-who-lise told me not to stay away too long, as she is now afraid to stay alone in camp with that big sim-a-hi hanging around. She knows he is a bad one and that we have not seen the last of him.
After trying to quiet her fears, I drove the horses up to the mouth of the gulch. The grass was better than in the valley, and I would be sure to find them here in the morning. Then I rode on ahead for a mile or more still following the old trail the Nez Perce had made in the valley. There were plenty of deer signs, but no deer. I only saw two woodchucks. The air was sultry, not a breath of a breeze could be felt. The heat was oppressive; all was quiet and still as death. Suddenly the sky was overcast with a mighty shadow and I could see far away in the towering hills misty black clouds obscuring the setting sun. Now there came a vivid flash of lightning out of those black clouds, accompanied by a distant rumble of thunder. Disgusted at my hunting luck, I turned my horse around and started back the way I came. Passing the mouth of the gulch, I could see our pack horses about a hundred yards away, grazing peacefully with their heads turned up the gulch, and among them some black-tailed deer—two large does with young fawns, and another young doe.
It is a curious though well-known fact that the deer family, including antelope, elk, and moose, like the company of horses or cattle and will come out of their haunts to mingle with them in a friendly way. It is then an easy matter for a mounted hunter to ride up close to them. So sitting as still as a statue in the saddle, I let my horse graze his way till close to the horses. I plugged the young doe in the neck, and the report of my rifle rang out through the gulch. The other two does, with their fawns at their heels, took off up the gulch in wild leaps and bounds. Not waiting to remove the entrails, I threw the young doe up on my saddle horse and rode into camp holding it in the saddle in front of me.
I was surprised to see that during my absence In-who-lise had been working like a good fellow rustling wood, and had enough gathered inside the tepee and outside to last a good week. We were only going to stay for the night, but In-who-lise was thinking that silvertip is going to pay us another visit before morning. When she saw the young doe I brought back to camp, she said, “When that grizzly scents that venison in camp, nothing will stop him except a bullet, after he got away with our other venison so easy.” She was going to keep a fire burning in the tepee.