- 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
Slowly but surely I raise the gun up to my shoulder. This time my nerves are iron; the gun does not wobble or tremble while I try to catch the grizzly between the eyes. But the flickering campfire light made the front sight dance. The grizzly, in the moments that seemed a thousand years, is still uttering his roars of rage that seemed to shake the tepee and awake the valley. He kept wagging his head from side to side, still tearing up the ground with his claws. His head was too hard a shot to take a chance on. I lowered the muzzle until the top of the burnished copper front sight gleamed like a small star through the rear sight, catching the grizzly at the base of his neck. Bracing myself and pulling the gun tight against my shoulder, a slight touch on the trigger sent Betsy Ann off with the kick of a mule and a roar that filled the tepee with smoke.
The grizzly staggered backward with a moan that seemed almost human, then reared up on his hind legs, clawing at his bleeding breast for an instant. He plunged forward, then toppled over, falling in a huddled heap, with his nose close to the campfire. His bulky form lies quiet and still across the fire from us.
Slipping in another shell, I cocked Betsy Ann and waited. Except for my heart now beating like a trip hammer, everything is still as death as I gaze exultantly at our fallen enemy. In-who-lise gets impatient; she touches me and whispers to give the grizzly a bullet in the head to make sure he is dead.
Then a slight tremor ran through the grizzly’s huddled form, and In-who-lise wrings her hands in terror, screaming, “See, the sim-a-hi is not deadl Shoot him again!” The grizzly was now moaning and gasping in pain. Slowly at first he feebly struggles, then tries to raise up his huge body off the ground. He rolls back helpless, only to try it again. Now with a mighty effort, an awful sight to behold, groaning in pain, with the blood spurting out of the gaping bullet hole in his breast, he slowly raises part way up on his front legs, swaying as in a drunken stupor, with his hind legs sticking out sideways paralyzed and helpless. His bulky form now half sits up on his haunches, with his head lying helpless on his breast. Time and again he struggles and tries to raise his head, only for it to fall back on his breast again.
I watched the grizzly with the gun cocked and ready. I could see plainly the death haze beginning to cover his bloodshot eyes, and hear the death rattle in his throat. His breath, like steam, comes wheezing, panting, thick and fast as he gasps and utters low, piteous moans of pain. The blood is still squirting out of the wound, leaving his breast a crimson red, and trickling down his front legs and dripping on the ground. The grizzly was a very sick bear.
I slowly raised the buffalo gun until the top of the front sight caught the dying grizzly between the eyes; it was with a feeling more of pity than of triumph. Pressing the trigger, Betsy Ann again went off with a roar. Without a moan, the grizzly rolled over—blood trickling out of a round hole in his forehead. A convulsive tremor ran through his body and legs as he opens and shuts his murderous claws. Then with a long sigh he stretched out in death.
A few minutes after this we stood outside viewing the bulky form. I told In-who-lise, “Here is one grizzly who will never scare the daylights out of us again.” We called the dogs to see if the grizzly had killed any of them, but it was some time before they showed up. When they came I could see that Spe-lee is limping and one side of her face is bleeding; Kalo-o-too and Ku-ton-a-can have long bleeding slashes along their sides. None of the dogs would come up to us at the campfire, on account of the dead grizzly lying there. They sat on their haunches at the edge of the light made by the fire, uttering fierce growls and sniffing over toward the dead bear.
We could now see by the grayness of the sky it would soon be daybreak. There was no use in trying to get any sleep. I put more wood on the campfire and went back in the tepee. In-who-lise, after pounding coffee berries in a rag with a rock, starts in to make coffee. She also pounded some of the dried buffalo meat that the grizzly had mauled around in the afternoon. It was as hard and tough as sole leather, but it was good stuff after it had been softened between two rocks. When the coffee was boiling, In-who-lise tried to wash the black burn off my face, but with poor success. The gun had put it in to stay till I wore it off. As she was doing this, her midnight eyes are aflame with love. Her face is wreathed in smiles of pride as she says that now I am an Indian hero. As soon as it is daylight and I go after the horses, she says she is going to cut off the grizzly’s front claws so that she can make a hero’s necklace out of them for me to wear. When the Indians see them and she tells them how bravely I killed that grizzly, they will hold a powwow and christen me Sim-a-hi-chen (Grizzly Bear). Then the men will envy me and the women will be jealous of her, that she has a man who killed a grizzly, a great honor. I had plenty doubts about my being in any hero class, still I did not dispute her. Let her dream.
We had a sumptuous repast of dried buffalo meat and straight coffee. It sure tasted good to us, who were young, had good teeth, and didn’t know any better.