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The Historic Grizzly

India brotherbear Offline
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#1

American Serengeti by Dan Flores - 2016.
 
But of course it wasn't just dinosaurs they were finding. Up and down the plains, from West Texas to the Canadian border and beyond, the paleontologists excavated boxcars of fossil materials pointing to other giants that had lived much more recently than 65-plus million years ago. As nineteenth-and-twentieth-century scientists began to recreate the world of the Late Pleistocene, they invented a term - "charismatic megafauna" - to characterize a suite of African-like animals whose bones they were unearthing. It turned out that the American Serengeti had possessed lions ( Panthera, the giant steppe lion ), elephants in the form of mammoths, cheetah-like cats related to modern cougars, along with saber-toothed and scimitar cats that preyed on mammoth calves, giant ground sloths, and probably huge, long-horned bison. Skeletal material showed what was a remarkably gracile short-faced bear that ambushed almost every prey speicies. The American Serengeti had hyenas, a fast, hunting version, and giant wolves called dire wolves, which pulled down distinctively American-evolved prey from bands of camels and the incredibly plentiful herds of wild horses. That American bestiary was the closest analogue of the creatures of the African Plains and veldt anywhere in the world. Teddy Roosevelt is supposed to have said of his train ride out of Nairobi in 1910 that it was a "railroad through the Pleistocene."
Because while the African grasslands had retained most of their charismatic megafauna, North America did not, or at least not all. The most high-drama extinction scenario in North American history since we humans have been here happened not during the lifetime of the United States, but instead between 8,000 and 14,000 years ago, when more than thirty genera of American Pleistocene animals completely vanished. There were survivors, to be sure, and across the next few thousand years evolution replaced that earlier version of the American Serengeti with a new one, the historic version that Lewis and Clark, Audubon, and many others left descriptions of from the 1530s on. Until we destroyed it, there was this other, historic version of the Serengeti on the plains, the poetry and spectacle of thronging bison playing the role of thronging wildebeests, pronghorns assuming the role of antelopes and gazelles, stallion bands of wild horses functioning ecologically much like wild bands of zebras, gray and red wolves filling the niche of wild dogs, and coyotes doing an almost exact impression of jackals. Africa might have retained its lions and elephants, hyenas and cheetahs, but the post-Pleistocene version of the American Serengeti had another king of beasts, the grizzly. which played a god-like, lion-like role on the prairies.
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India brotherbear Offline
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#2

Continued from post #1...

The grizzly was then - and still is - the historic Great Plains counterpart to the lion or leopard of the Masai Mara or the striped tiger of the steamy jungles of the Bengal: the largest and most powerful creature of the landmass, fully capable of killing humans, fully capable under certain unusual conditions of consuming humans, too. In Cary's time on the plains most Americans were still hunters - George Armstrong Custer took time off from chasing Indians to shoot a grizzly in South Dakota that same summer - but in the nineteenth century we still understood that we had been prey almost as much as we'd been predators. Naturally we look especially closely and with a certain primal dread at any animal that might configure us as a meal. And especially so at an animal like a bear that is so much more human-like in its attack than big cats or sharks.
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India brotherbear Offline
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#3

Continued...

Despite a scattering of encounters with grizzly bears as early as the seventeenth century, for two centuries after Europeans settled the continent, grizzly bears were little known to folk knowledge and only existed as rumors in the scientific grasp of North America. The first known description of grizzlies we have by a European was left by a Spanish explorer Sebastian Viscaino in the year 1602. Sailing along California's Central Coast, in the bay where Monterrey and Carmel ( and Pebble Beach ) would one day stand, two centuries before the Lewis and Clark expedition would bring "white bears" to the attention of Enlightenment science, Viscaino watched grizzlies clamoring with astonishing nimbleness over the carcass of a whale washed up on a Monterrey Bay beach. Almost a century later, in 1690 and far, far inland, a Hudson's Bay Indian trader named Henry Kelsey was traveling overland on the grassy yellow plains of Saskatatchewan when his party encountered a grizzly. This was not a view from the safety of a sailing vessel, but face-to-face on the ground, and Kelsey's first reaction was to shoot. He thus became the first European of record to kill a grizzly bear, an event pregnant with portents for the future of bears and of the Great Plains. Kelsey's act greatly alarmed his Indian companions, who warned him that he had struck down "a god."
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India brotherbear Offline
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#4

Continued...

Other unknown Russians, English, and American traders along the Pacific Coast no doubt encountered grizzlies by 1800, and the Spaniards in California and New Mexico and French traders penetrating the plains certainly had experiences with grizzlies by then. But at the beginning of the nineteenth century, journal-keeping Anglo-Americans began to push by boat and on foot into grizzly country. Archaeology and paleontology since have established firmly that the entire western half of North America, including the river corridors spilling from the Rockies out across the Great Plains, and even the island stepping-stone mountain ranges of the Southwest, was all grizzly country then. Except for Santa Fe and Taos and the Spanish missions along the Pacific Coast, no European settlements lay within this immense sweep of country. In 1800 it was inhabited by perhaps 2 million Indians, 25-30 million buffalo in times of good weather, and perhaps 50,000-60,000 grizzlies. So many grizzlies, indeed, that Ernest Thompson Seton says Spanish travelers along the rivers of Northern California could easily see 30-40 grizzlies in a single day. 
Biologist believe grizzlies were far out on the Great Plains because there were bison to scavenge there, so as soon as Americans reached the buffalo country, they were in grizzly country, too. Although not the first Americans to encounter grizzly bears, Lewis and Clark occupy a prominent place in this story, in good part because they stand as such an obvious culture template for this country's reaction to an animal so formidable. 
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India brotherbear Offline
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#5

Continued...

American attitudes toward wildlife like bears by the Jeffersonian Age were complex and deeply internalized across thousands of years of human history. Genetic programming from as far back as the Paleolithic obviously preserves a human memory of giant bears. Mammals of the Northern Hemisphere, they would have been a new thing for modern humans migrating out of Africa and into Europe and Asia 45,000 years ago. Our Neanderthal ancestors would have long since been familiar with bears, but our own species likely first confronted them in southern Europe. Among the oldest painted art locales anywhere in the world, the walls of Chauvet Cave in the Ardeche Valley of southern France preserve images that may be 37,000 years old. The large paintings here breathtakingly represent cave bears along with bison, horses, rhinos, lions, mammoths, and ibex. Indeed Chauvet Cave was a cave bear den. When Spelunkers discovered the site in 1994, the Chauvet floor preserved bear skeletons, bear footprints that looked days old, and a cave bear skull the ancient artists had placed atop a boulder as a kind of shrine. Cave bears were formidable beasts as large or larger than grizzlies. 
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India brotherbear Offline
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#6

Continued...
As for North America's own Pleistocene bear, the gracile and active short-faced bear, the Canadian biologist Valerius Geist believes that until it went extinct 14,000 years ago, this super-aggressive bear may have single-handedly kept humans from migrating across the Bering land bridge in America. 
Atop such a long-standing animus, whose outlines are sketchy but in pagan Europe indicate that bears once served as both totems and gods, later traditions like Judaism and Christianity, and eventually the scientific way of understanding the world, layered on a very complex cultural matrix about bears for Europeans. Almost all these strands are evident in the Lewis and Clark encounters, which were so widely read in early America that they became a kind of nineteenth-century guidebook to how to think about the West, its Indians, and its wildlife. 
Jefferson's explorers had heard before they ever left the East Coast about the possible presence of a bear in the West that was different from the well-known black bear. Wintering at the Mandan villages in 1804-1805 they got exposed to more direct evidence by the Indians. Indeed, they had already seen the tracks of a "white bear" in eastern South Dakota, where some of the hunters claimed to have wounded one. But Lewis and Clark's firsthand experiences with grizzlies actually began in April 1805, in present Mountrail County, North Dakota, about halfway between Minot and Williston.
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India brotherbear Offline
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#7

Continued...
According to the University of Nebraska's new edition of the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, edited by Gary Moulton, this is how Americans and grizzly bears interacted for the first time on the Great Plains:
April 13, 1805: ( Lewis ). we found a number of carcases of the Buffaloe lying along shore, which had been drowned by falling through the ice in winter an lodged on shore by the high water....we saw also many tracks of the white bear of enormous size, along the river shore and about the carcases of the Buffaloe, on which I presume they feed. we have not as yet seen one of these animals, tho' their tracks are so abundant and recent. the men as well as ourselves are anxious to meet with some of these bear. the Indians give a very formidable account of their strength and ferocity of this animal, which they never dare to attack but in parties of six eight or ten persons; and are even then frequently defeated with the loss of one or more of their party. the savages attack this animal with their bows and arrows and the indifferent guns with which the traders furnish them, with these they shoot with such uncertainty and at so short a distance, unless shot thro' head or heart wound not mortal that they frequently mis their aim & fall sacrefice to the bear. two Minetaries were killed during the last winter in an attack on a white bear. this anamal is said more frequently to attack a man on meeting with him, than to flee from him. When the Indians are about to go in quest of the white bear, previous to their departure, they paint themselves and perform all those supersticious rights commonly observed when they are about to make war uppon a neighboring nation. 
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India brotherbear Offline
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#8

Continued...
Over the next few days, as the party traced the Missouri across North Dakota towards the present Montana border, grizzlies continued to tease their imaginations. On April 14, Clark wrote in his journal that they had at last seen "two white bear running from the report of Capt. Lewis Shot, those animals assended those Steep hills with Supprising ease & verlocity." On the 17th Lewis moved to write that although they "continue to see many tracks of the bear we have seen but very few of them, and those are at great distance generally runing from us...the Indian account of them dose not corrispond with our experience so far." 
The party's first real encounter came on the morning of April 29, 1805, in what is now either Roosevelt or Richland County, near the far eastern Montana town of Wolf Point. Lewis describes their mounting adventures this way: I walked on shore with one man. about 8 A,M. we fell in with two brown or ( yellow ) bear; both of which we wounded; one of them made his escape, the other after my firing on him pursued me seventy or eight yards, but fortunately had been so badly wounded that he was unable to pursue so closely as to prevent my charging my gun; we again repeated our fir and killed him. it was a male not fully grown, we estimated his weight at 300 lbs....The legs of this bear are somewhat longer than those of the black, as are its tallons and tusks incomparably larger and longer....its color is yellowish brown, the eyes small, black, and piercing...the fur is finer thicker and deeper than that of the black bear. these are all the particulars in which this animal appeared to me to differ from the black bear; it is a much furious and formidable animal, and will frequently pursue the hunter when wounded. it is astonishing to see the wounds they will bear before they can be put to death. the Indians may well fear this animal equiped as they generally are with their bows and arrows or indifferent fuzees, but in the hands of skilled riflemen they are by no means as formidable or dangerous as they have been represented.
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India brotherbear Offline
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#9

Continued...
That optimistic arrogance, so classically American, coupled with a typical national faith in scientific technology's ability to prevail where tools of lesser cultures left them vulnerable. weren't destined to last. On May 5, 1805, in present McCone County, Montana, the American explorers were given considerable pause when they had their first encounter with a full-grown grizzly bear. Again, let Meriwether Lewis tell the story: 
Capt. Clark and Drewyer killed the largest bear this evening which we have yet seen. it was a most tremendious looking anamal, and extremely hard to kill notwithstanding he had five balls through his lungs and five others in various parts he swam more than half the distance across the river to a sandbar & it was at least twenty minutes before he died; he did not attempt to attact, but fled and made the most tremendous roaring from the moment he was shot. We had no means of weighing this monster; Capt. Clark thought he would weigh 500 lbs....this bear differs from the common black bear in several respects...the heart particularly was as large as that of a large Ox. his maw was also ten times the size of the black bear, and was filled with flesh and fish.
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India brotherbear Offline
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#10

Continued...
In his own journal, Clark called this bear "a Brown or Grisley beare" and "the largest of the Carnivorous kind I ever Saw." Lewis noted that after campfire discussion that night:
I find that the curiossity of our party is pretty well satisfyed with rispect to this anamal, the formidable appearance of the male bear killed on the 5th added to the difficulty with which they die when even shot through the vital parts, has staggered the resolution several of them, others however seem keen for action with the bear; I expect these gentlemen will give us some amusement shortly as they soon begin now to coppolate. 

Six days later, on May 11, having passed the mouth of the Milk River - which some biologists of pre-Columbian America believe was a kind of epicenter of grizzly bear range and numbers on the Great Plains, perhaps because it had long been in a buffer zone between warring groups like the Blackfeet, Shoshones, and Mandans where Indian hunting parties seldom ranged - the party had an experience that cemented the evolution in attitudes that was taking place. Once again, let's let Lewis describe it:
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India brotherbear Offline
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#11

Continued...

About 5 P.M. my attention was struck by one of the party runing at a distance towards us and making signs and hollowing as if in distress...he arrived so much out of breath that it was several minutes before he could tell what had happened; at length he informed me that in the woody bottom on the Lard side about 1 1/2 ( miles ) below us he had shot a brown bear which immediately turned on him and pursued him a considerable distance but he had wounded it so badly that it could not overtake him; I immediately turned out with seven of the party in quest of this monster, we at length found his trale and persued him about a mile by the blood through very thick brush of rosebushes and the large leafed willow; we finally found him concealed in some very thick brush and shot him through the skull with two balls...it was a monstrous beast...we now found that Bratton had shot him through the center of the lungs, notwithstanding which he had pursued him near half a mile and had returned more than double that distance and with his tallons had prepared himself a bed in the earth...and was perfectly alive when we found him which could not have been less than 2 hours after he received the wound; these bear being so hard to die reather intimedates us all; I must confess that I do not like the gentlemen and had reather fight two Indians than one bear; there is no other chance to conquer them by a single shot but by shooting them through the brains.
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India brotherbear Offline
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#12

Continued...
This initial American confrontation with the largest predator on the continent continued to worsen, primarily because the members of the party seem not to have learned the rather obvious lesson, and kept on shooting grizzlies. On the 14th six hunters spotted a grizzly on open ground and went after him, approaching to within forty yards. According to Lewis:

two of them reserved their fires as had been previously conscerted, the four others fired nearly at the same time and put each his bullet through him, two of the balls passed through the bulk of both lobes of his lungs, in an instant this monster ran at them with open mouth...the men unable to reload their guns took flight, the bear pursued and had very nearly overtaken them before they reached the river... ( they ) concealed themselves among the willows, reloaded their pieces, each discharged his piece at him as they had an opportunity they struck him several times again but the guns served only to direct the bear to them, in this manner he pursued two of them seperately so close that they were obliged to throw aside their guns and pouches and throw themselves into the river altho' the bank was nearly twenty feet perpindicular; so enraged was this anamal that he plunged into the river only a few feet behind the second man...when one of those who still remained on shore shot him through the head and finally killed him...they found eight balls had passed through him in different directions. 
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India brotherbear Offline
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#13

Grizzlies and Grizzled Old Men by Mike Lapinski - 1976.

I seen me a big grizzly back in the 1950s. Ol' Jack Horning and me were elk hunting up in the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River. We come around a corner on an old logging road and there the ol' boy stood, not more than 30 yards away. Oh, he was a big brute! He was a perfect silver-tip. He huffed and pounced stiff-legged at us and popped his teeth. Jack was gonna shoot him, but I told him not to. We just back off and let that ol' bear wander into the brush. It's nice to know there's a few animals out there that ain't afraid of man. 
- Lester Smith ... Red Ives Ranger Station, North Idaho.
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India brotherbear Offline
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#14

Continued...
Unfortunately, not all men, before or after Lester Smith, have shared his opinion. The first recorded meeting between a white man and a grizzly bear ended typically - with a dead bear, as noted in "The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition". The following decades didn't get any better for the great bear. Settlers and ranchers moved into grizzly country and depleted bear' natural food sources, forcing them to take an occasional cow. As a result stockmen and state governments, along with the federal government, embarked on a century of sustaining eradication - using guns, traps, poison, and fear - to push the grizzly to the verge of extinction in the West. 
Once totaling somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000, only a few hundred bears survived in the most remote, fugged mountainous areas. And still the killing continued. Whenever a grizzly bear was spotted, hunters, houndsmen, and trappers descended upon the area in a macabre show of bravado to lay claim to killing the last grizzly. With bear numbers so low and public sentiments so overwhelmingly against the grizzly, some naturalists went so far as to declare the bear virtually extinct in the lower forty-eight states. Only a miracle would save the great bear.
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India brotherbear Offline
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#15

Continued...
Yet in the midst of this unprecedented carnage, winds of change began to blow. Daring men stepped forward and questioned the accepted public opinion that the only good bear was a dead bear. Through the printed word and through their actions and deeds, these men spread a new gospel - that the universally vilified, feared, and loathed grizzly bear was instead a noble beast worthier of our admiration than a bullet through its heart.
This change in men's hearts took root in a most unexpected source. Grizzly Adams, a brutal bear trapper and sideshow exhibitor of California's giant grizzlies in the mid-nineteenth century, came to love the great beasts he once tortured. He took to sleeping with them and voiced regret for his misdeeds before he died. Then the great bear hunter, William Wright, who authored a book about his sordid exploits, wrote of his grudging admiration, and regret, for all the grizzlies he'd killed. Our great sportsman/conservationist president Theodore Roosevelt not only wrote about the lordly presence of the grizzly, but he also staved off its extermination by creating and enforcing laws to protect the last few great bears in our national parks. 
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