Bear Story

July 16th, 2021 5 Minutes

This story was taken from the Golden Era, July 19, 1901. A valid and fascinating account of life in the 1890s here in the East Kootenay:

Collection No. 0070.0017 – Image courtesy of the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History

One bright July afternoon, in the summer of 1892, three prospectors might have been seen with saddle horses and pack animals, crossing the Kootenay River Ferry at Bummers’ flat, in East Kootenay, B.C., heading for the mountains in the vicinity of the North Star mine, as this great strike by Joe Bourgeois at the time caused a stampede of prospectors to that locality.

After crossing the river, we followed a road for about two miles to Bob Mathew’s [Mather’s] ranch, here we ascended the high bench that borders the valley of the Kootenay River, our course from here lying in a north-westerly direction across rolling prairie-like bunch grass foothills, where roam in plenty the white-tailed deer, for some fifteen miles, to the base of the Selkirk range.

We purposed to make this our base of supply camp as we were unable to proceed further with horses on account of heavy underbrush, fallen timber, and the steep ascent of the range.

That night, as we sat around the campfire smoking our pipes, I proposed that Claus, who was born somewhat tired, and could do with a large amount of sleep, remain to protect our supplies from wolves and other wild animals, and our horses from prowling Indians, who were in the habit of stampeding and running off with prospectors’ stock, while Eric, a good-natured, broad-shouldered Swede, brim-full of anecdote.

I take our blankets and about two weeks’ supply of provisions each, and strike into the hills. Our main object on this trip was to prospect for any outcropping of the North Star vein farther to the north of the main property.

My plan being agreed to, Eric and I started the next morning bright and early, each with about two sixty pounds strapped on his back and armed with prospecting picks. We found travel exceedingly difficult for several miles after leaving camp; the great amount of fallen timber and thick, tangled underbrush, together with a 60-lb. pack, rendered our progress very slow.

Collection No. 0070.0194 – Image courtesy of the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History

However, the next day at noon found us just above timberline on top of the range, and at the extreme head of Mark creek, a small stream about twelve miles in length empties into St. Mary’s river, just below the North Star mine. After lunching on a hot bannock and piece of sour belly, we again shouldered our packs and, striking a well-beaten bear trail leading downstream, we proceeded to follow it.

We had not gone but a short distance when we emerged onto a beautiful grassy meadow, the grass being about 12 inches high, interspersed here and there with clumps of low willow, and small, second-growth jack pines, with limbs growing down to the ground.

As we were leisurely walking through the meadow, side by side, Eric, for probably five minutes, had been silent. Since then, it has always been a mystery to me how this Swede managed to let his tongue rest for that length of time. But he did, and probably to this fact alone we owe our lives, for as we rounded a clump of willows, and not more than thirty yards distant, we came upon a huge cinnamon bear, quietly feeding, with his head thrust down in the tall grass.

These are the most dangerous wild animals in the mountains of British Columbia. It was quite evident he had not heard us as he continued feeding. I whispered to Eric to stand perfectly motionless, that if the bear raised his head (which he did the next moment), he would not recognize us from any of the surrounding natural objects. Instead, the bear looked straight towards us for possibly half a minute.

We did not move a muscle, not even winked. He seemed satisfied that nothing unusual was in sight and again lowered his head in the grass and continued feeding, then we quickly stepped behind the clump of willows and divested ourselves of our packs. Finally, Eric said, “Now, I will shoost show you how doze bear will run.” I replied: “You had better be careful as this is a cinnamon.” Eric answered, “I shoost never saw a bear in my life, but what would run away from me.”

As we left our Winchesters in the camp with Claus and had nothing but our prospecting picks to defend ourselves, I said that each had better select a small jack pine to shin up, providing the bear run the wrong way.
Eric selected one about forty feet away.

Then he took out a tin cup and his prospecting pick and stepped from behind the clump of willows, in full view of the bear, and gave a few taps with his pick on the tin cup. I noticed on his features a broad grin. The bear raised his head at the first strange sound.

Eric then rattled the cup more vigorously when the bear only bristled up, ready for a fight. Then we both commenced to shout. At the first sound of our voices, the huge bear charged straight for Eric. I, of course, was up my tree in a twinkling, where I watched with much interest the race for life. I do not think that Eric’s race of forty feet to reach that tree will ever be beaten.

When he reached the tree, he made a spring to catch an overhead limb, which immediately broke with his weight, and down he came to the ground. Then I thought it was all up with him as the great hulk of a beast was close at his heels.

But not so, for Eric handled himself with the rapidity of greased lightning and swiftly glided up, but not in time to avoid a tremendous blow from the bear’s paw across his heavy prospecting boot, and which stripped the bark from the tree. As the cinnamon is not known to climb, we felt for the tree being comparatively safe, with leisure to view the fierce-looking brute just beneath us, who had no intention just yet to take himself off. Still, we stood quietly watching us for perhaps half an hour, when he very leisurely walked away.

I should judge that he would weigh fully on thousand pounds.
We remained in the trees for some time until we concluded he was well out of the way, then quietly descending to the ground, we shouldered our packs and hastily left the place.
Since this adventure, when travelling through the mountains, I have always carried my little 30-30 Winchester, with which I have killed many large bears.

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