- 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
I whispered to In-who-lise that we are lucky them dogs for once in their lives did what was right, when they did not try to run inside the tepee with us, and that I hoped the sim-a-hi would chase them as far as the Big Hole battlefield. I ought to have known that praising the dogs and grizzly would only bring us bad luck again. My face must have turned a sickly white as I heard yelping draw nearer and nearer, leaving no doubt that the grizzly was after one of the dogs and coming back this way. In-who-lise starts to say something, but the words never left her lips. Now out of the darkness into the circle of murky light leaps one of our young dogs, howling as he comes on the dead run, and thirty feet behind him comes the grizzly. The dog makes a beeline for the bonfire, and with an acrobatic leap, jumps clear over it and lands straight as an arrow almost in the tepee door. One of his sides is bleeding badly. Howling in pain and terror, he bounds into the tepee, striking In-who-lise square in the breast, knocking her over on the flat of her back, with her head almost in the fire, her legs going up in the air. In-who-lise, as she was going over, must have pulled the trigger of the carbine. The gun went off with a loud bang, filling the tepee with powder smoke, and worse than that, the bullet came near getting me, singing by close to the back of my neck. The hot powder smoke singed a part of my hair and blackened my cheek. The dog goes by the fire and stands whining and cringing on the bed and robes, with the blood dripping down from his side where the bear had ripped him. All I can say was that hell sure broke loose in our house! At the report of the carbine, like a clap of thunder close to my face, first I thought I was shot. With a howl of terror that put the dog to shame, I forgot all about the grizzly outside, dropped my gun, and wildly clapped my hand up to my tingling ear and cheek to feel if there was blood. By this time In-who-lise had got up on her knees and was furious. She dealt the dog a smashing blow across the ribs with the butt of the carbine that made him howl worse than the raking he had got from the grizzly. The dog came crawling up behind me. This only took an instant. Feeling my ear and cheek, I realized I was not hit, but what little nerve I had before was now gone. A glance outside across the bonfire brought-the slobbers of fear running out of both corners of my mouth. I sure had to be thankful to In-who-lise for rustling all that wood and thinking about building that campfire outside. If that fire was not there, the grizzly would have made sausage meat out of us by now.
I could see him better now; he was not over twenty feet away. He must have weighed nine hundred pounds. He stood there, the incarnation of all that is powerful and terrible, his vicious eyes red, glaring with hatred and venom at us across the fire. The short, pointed ears are flattened back on his broad head. His powerful jaws open and shut, uttering vicious snarls, exposing his long yellow fangs as he crunches and snaps in his furious anger. He throws up his head, sending terrific roars of rage reverberating through the night. His unwieldy-looking body is now animated; it quivers and sways with seething life, making him terrible to behold, a monarch of the brute world in all his mighty strength. He works and braces his hind legs in unison with his powerful front legs as though he is about to spring; his front paws open and shut in their fury, tearing up the grass and ground under them with his long, sharp claws.
The loaded buffalo gun is forgotten, though still on the ground at my knee. I was petrified, as though in some horrible nightmare, unable to resist or help myself. The grizzly’s eyes are on mine, gleaming like two vivid coals of fire—compelling, penetrating. Some irresistible force in them draws and holds mine on them. There is a weird, uncontrollable fascination for me in those gleaming, bloodshot eyes and red-gaping, frothy mouth with its bared fangs.
The thousand thoughts and acts of a lifetime flashed through my mind in a furious jumble. I do not believe the man lives who could express all of this swift drama of horror. The terror I felt is not to be conveyed by pen or words. I can only say that in those few seconds that seemed ages, I paid with compound interest for all of the devilry I had ever done.
Time and again I made frantic efforts to lift up the buffalo gun, but my arms shook and my trembling hands were powerless. The gun refuses to budge and seems fastened to the ground. The grizzly has me mesmerized. My lips are now dry and feverish; my tongue refuses to move and is stuck to the roof of my mouth.
In desperation, like a drowning person who clutches at a straw, I thought of In-who-lise. I had forgotten about her, but any fool could see that In-who-lise is a badly scared squaw, as she crouches near my side with the carbine still clutched in her trembling hands. She was now only a woman, scared speechless, with beads of sweat dripping like rain from her nose and temples. Her teeth chatter through her trembling lips. Her eyes are pleading to me to save her. I tried to hide my fear from her, but she saw the terror in my face. For an instant a look of pity swept across her face. Then her breast heaved; her lips curled in contempt as her eyes flash me a look of withering scorn.
This was the hardest blow of all. My woman, now at death’s door, despises me—the only woman who before this had faith and believed in me. Her accusing eyes bore through me and bring me to my senses. I quickly pick up the gun, push the set trigger ahead, and cock the hammer.