Monday, June 20, 2016


One of my favorite bear stories was told by my father-in-law, who came from Quebec where they tell tales about French-Canadians.  This time Frenchie was hunting when there was snow on the ground.  He was going along, when he heard, “Snuffle, snuffle, snuffle”, right behind him.  It was a big bear smelling his tracks.  “Ah,” said Frenchie, “You like-a my tracks?  I make you some more, damn queeek!”  And off he shot through the woods.

The other one was Bob’s story.  A man was charged by a bear.  He waited until the bear was up close, reached down his gaping mouth clear to his tail, grabbed hold and pulled hard.  The bear suddenly found himself turned inside out and facing the opposite direction.  It took off running that way.

The family story about myself and bears is about picking huckleberries in the Tillamook Burn in the Thirties.  The first link below is factual and the second link is to a poem by William Stafford, a much-beloved Portland poet, here fitted to photos.  No bears but it explains the Tillamook Burn.

By the Forties there were miles and miles of huckleberry bushes and not many bears, all of which were black bears so I’m cheating to include this story.  There were no freezers yet but my mother was a diligent canner, and the folks were out for quantity.  The Great Depression taught them well. 

They had the idea they had trained me to stay on a quilt spread on the ground.  As they moved away, they told me if a bear came around, to stop moving, make no sound, and wait.  Just watch the bear until it left.  When they came back in an hour or so, I was staring down the charred remnant of a tree — it DID look like a bear. And my eye-lock had worked.  It had not moved any more than I had.

The sensational book, Night of the Grizzlies, about the sultry night when thunderstorms wracked the sky, and two young women on separate sides of the Rockies were killed and eaten by grizzlies, was published about the time Bob divorced me, because I was becoming disobedient and he was beginning to make money, and most of the women he knew would have divorced HIM in order to take the money and leave.  Or so he was convinced.  

So when I read this scary book I was living in a derelict house in East Glacier while beginning to redeem it, and when at its two AM closing time the saloon across the block came out to dump its empties with great clashing and smashing, my sleeping brain was invaded by grizzlies.  Do not read this book at bedtime.

When the gruesome event had happened a few years earlier, there were all sorts of crazy theories.  The bears had been electrified by lightning, they had been driven crazy by the angel-dust used to tranquilize them, and so on.  Bob felt he was an authority on grizzlies because he had tracked and shot them since he was a teenager and because Scriver Taxidermy Studio handled so many grizzly corpses.  Beyond that, he felt a kind of psychic affinity with them that was not hard to imagine if you knew him.  He was miffed that the media failed to take him seriously.

His idea was that the trouble was due to closing the Big Hotel food dumps that had fed so many bears, including the kind that were sick, aggressive, or bad hunters — bears that soon had to be culled, but only after tragic interactions with people.  That interfered with the image of wilderness as a magical Eden where people could be totally free.  Other experts agreed with him. 

This was the era of John and Frank Craighead, identical twins who had started out as young falconers back east.  They became pioneers in using radio and satellite technology to learn more about bears, aided by their wartime experience teaching survival to Air Force personnel.  

When studying bear hibernation, they used a syringe on a stick to poke the sleeping bear in her den.  Then they might actually crawl in to get blood samples and check out the babies.  One time the bear roused and had to be injected over again.  Until that could happen, whichever brother was in there kept her trapped by basically inflating and bracing himself against the walls of the cave.  “Don’t stick ME!” he urged.

Chuck Jonkel was as much about people as bears and could be impatient with both, but dared to go up into the Canadian north to check out the polar bears.  If the Craigheads were scientists of the cool head type, Jonkel was a little bit shaman and mountain man.  The sons of both sets have continued their father’s work.

BOOKS ABOUT GRIZZLIES at the Valier library.

by Roland Cheek, 1997.  Self-published.

BEAR ATTACKS OF THE CENTURY:  TRUE STORIES OF COURAGE AND SURVIVAL  by Larry Mueller and Marguerite Reiss, 2005.  Lyons Press imprint of Globe Pequot.

NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLIES by Jack Olsen, 1969.  Signet book from Borzoi.

THE ONLY GOOD BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR: A COLLECTION OF THE WEST’S BEST BEAR STORIES by Jeannette Prodgers, 1986.  Self-published with the help of Falcon Press.

GRIZZLY COUNTRY by Andy Russell, 1967 and 1978.  Borzoi Book from Alfred A. Knopf.


LEARNING TO TALK BEAR: SO BEARS CAN LISTEN  by Roland Cheek, 1997.  Self-published.

TRACK OF THE GRIZZLY by Frank C. Craighead, Jr., 1979.  Sierra Club Books.

THE GRIZZLIES OF GLACIER by Warren L. Hanna, 1978.  Mountain Press.

THE GRIZZLY by Annabel and Edgar Johnson,1964.  Harper Collins.  (Juvenile)

BEAR ESSENTIALS: A SOURCE BOOK AND GUIDE TO PLANNING BEAR EDUCATION PROGRAMS by Peter Clarkson and Linda Sutterlin.1984.  Distributed by C. Jonkel.

LOADED FOR BEAR: A TREASURY OF GREAT HUNTING STORIES,  Edited by Marin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh

HOW TO LIVE IN BEAR COUNTRY by Charles Jonkel.  Undated.  Self-produced.

WO(MEN) AND BEARS: THE GIFTS OF NATURE, CULTURE AND  GENDER REVISITED.  Edited by Kaarina Kailo.  Inanna Publications and Education, Inc, Toronto, CA 

THE GRIZZLY by Enos A. Mills, 1919 and 1947.  Comstock Editions.

BEAR CROSSINGS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF NORTH AMERICAN POETS, edited by Anne Newman and Julie Suk, 1978  The New South Company.

NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLIES by Jack Olsen, 1969.  Signet book from Borzoi.


THE ONLY GOOD BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR: A COLLECTION OF THE WEST’S BEST BEAR STORIES by Jeannette Prodgers, 1986.  Self-published with the help of Falcon Press.


THE BIOGRAPHY OF A GRIZZLY by Ernest Thompson Seton, 1900 (Century) and 1987 (U of Nebraska Press).

THE SACRED PAW: THE BEAR IN NATURE, MYTH AND LITERATURE BY Paul Shepard and Barry Sanders.  1985.  Arkana, Penguin.

BEAR, MAN AND GOD: EIGHT APROACHES TO WILLIAM FAULKNER’S “THE BEAR,” Edited by Francis Lee Utley, Lynn Z. Bloom, Arthur F. Kinney.  (With the complete text of the story.)  1964 and 1971.

I used to have several big photo books of grizzes, but they have disappeared.  

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