- 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
In-who-lise prepared her bonfire, all ready to touch off. Since it began to drizzle, she covered the woodpile with saddle blankets. While she was doing this, I cleaned and skinned the deer, giving our dogs their share and a good-sized chunk to In-who-lise to broil over the coals for our supper. I threw a lariat over a high limb of a tree and hauled the remaining venison up to the limb, thinking, “If that bear wants that venison, this time he is going to have to climb for it, and grizzlies are too big to climb.” It was now dusk and still drizzling. I wrapped the entrails, liver, and head in the deer hide, and went up the trail a hundred yards. I bent down a good-sized sapling and fastened the whole works to it as a peace offering to the grizzly. When the sapling sprung up straight, the bundle hung too high for our dogs to reach. Still, it would be easy for the bear to bend down the sapling to get it. I could not decide what to do with my saddle horse. First I was going to picket him close to the tepee. I could cut the lariat and let him go in case of trouble, but I thought that the horse picketed in camp would only be in the way of the dogs, and more liable to get shot up than the bear. I did not think the grizzly would tackle the horse on picket outside of camp, so I took him a good seventy-five yards and picketed him extra good so that he couldn’t pull the picket pin if he smelled that bear.
By the time I got back to the tepee it was dark, and heavy rain was beginning to fall; it became a continual downpour, with fierce gusts of wind coming and going. Vicious flashes of lightning cut across the sky and lit up the night like day. The closeness of the terrific thunderclaps told us only too well that the lightning had struck nearby. This, with the heavy beating of the rain against the tepee, made us think at least that we were lucky not to be out in that storm and to have a good stout tepee to keep us warm and dry.
I was hungry and tired, after being on the go since daylight this morning. Susie had finished broiling the venison for our supper and along with it had made coffee and frying-pan bread. The bread contained considerable fine gravel and sand that Susie had raked up with the flour, but I was now used to squaw cooking and it tasted good.
I cleaned both of my rifles, and loaded them and laid them down where I could get them quick and handy. The patter of the rain together with the warmth from the fire in the tepee soon makes one drowsy. Though Susie is nodding from want of sleep, she is still squatting squaw-fashion on the blankets and robes on the bed at my feet, and says she ain’t going to bed with that grizzly around and take a chance on the fire dying out. I dropped off to sleep and must have been asleep for some time, when she nudged me. I awoke to find the rain and storm had ceased. All is quiet, except for low half-whines and growls coming from our dogs outside. Susie is whispering, “Wake up. Don’t you hear the dogs? They are telling us that sim-a-hi is coming. Yaw, yaw, we should have camped some other place. Now the dogs will make him mad and he will kill both of us.” In-who-lise rakes the coals and puts wood on the fire and soon has the tepee lit up as bright as day. Grabbing the carbine, I lifted the tepee flap to look outside. A streak of light from the fire gleams past me into the dark, but all else is darkness. I could see nothing, not even the tree where the venison was hanging; I could see nothing wrong outside. I went back and sat down on the foot of the bed with In-who-lise, and it was not long till either the heat of the fire or the suspense had the sweat rolling off both of us. Then, through the still night air came snorts of terror from my saddle horse, followed by the piercing, whistling noise a wild horse makes to warn and call the others for help. And we could hear him plainly as he would stamp the ground with a forefoot, then would dash madly around in a circle the length of the lariat, trying to pull the picket pin and get away. Susie was nagging me to go outside and start the bonfire near the tepee door. I kept saying maybe the bear won’t come, to wait till he did. There would be plenty of time then. Time slowly went by, and the horse on picket was quiet again, but the dogs kept up their low moaning growls, some distance from the tepee, but no bear had showed up.
I began to get brave, and said to In-who-lise that all our scare over that bear was for nothing. I was going back to bed. If the grizzly was going to show up, he would not have taken all this time since the dogs first started to growl; he would have been here long before this. In-who-lise disputes this, saying I can go to bed if I want to, but it won’t be for long. That grizzly will come yet. He has been all this time eating the guts I had hung up on the sapling. After he is through, he will want the venison hanging in camp; a big bear like him eats plenty.