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Old April 12, 2000, 12:59 PM   #1
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Life in the Rocky Mountains

A Diary of Wanderings on the sources of
the Rivers Missouri, Columbia, and Colorado
from February, 1830, to November, 1835

By W. A. Ferris

then in the employ of the American Fur Company

Chapter LXVIII


This animal, well known to be the most formidable and dangerous in North America, is found in the Rocky Mountains of every shade and color, from black to white, but most frequently of a dark
grizzly hue, and is so large that those of a brown color are often mistaken by hunters who are accustomed to see them almost daily, for buffalo.

For instance - returning from the waters of the Columbia to those of the Colorado, in the spring of 1834, with four white men and several Indians, on our way over Horse Prairie, I discovered and
passed within one hundred yards of a very large female, accompanied by two cubs, but was prevented from firing upon her from the fear of arousing some lurking foe in this dangerous part of the
country, and permitted her to pass without molestation. At our encampment in the evening, the men, who usually discuss the occurrences of the day over their suppers, surprised me by inquiring if I had
ever before seen a female bison with two calves. I replied that I had not yet met with an instance of the kind. "What?" exclaimed all of them, "did you not see a cow followed by two calves, who passed
us this afternoon at ______ ?" describing the place - when I immediately discovered that they had mistaken the bear for a buffalo, and found them still incredulous when I asserted the fact.

A trapper, with whom I am acquainted, discovered, as he supposed, several years since, a herd of buffalo near Bear river, and being without provisions, resolved to approach them. Accordingly he
followed the winding of a deep gully, which at length brought him among them, but imagine his disappointment and terror, when in lieu of buffalo, he found himself surrounded by thirty grizzly bears,
whose aspects were any thing but amiable. Perceiving, however, that he was yet undiscovered, he retraced his steps, and fortunately escaped a horrible death, which in all probability he would have
suffered had they observed him.

I have often mistaken them for buffalo, and discovered my error only when they erected themselves to ascertain what passed near them, which they always do when they hear, see, or smell any thing
unusual. They are numerous throughout the mountains, particularly when fruit is most abundant, which serves them for food in the fall; roots being their chief subsistence in the spring. Through-out the
long inclement winter season, like the black bear, but unlike the white, they penetrate and lay dormant in caverns.

Most animals, from their superior speed, can escape them; hence, though extremely fond of flesh, they kill very few; yet they often rob wolves of their prey, and devour it at leisure; and sometimes, but
seldom, catch a deer or elk that happens to pass near without discovering them.

When wounded they are terrible and most dangerous foes; and unlike all other animals, are so extremely sagacious and vindictive, that though their enemy is concealed from their view, they will rush to
the spot whence the smoke of his gun arises in search of him, and if he has not already secured his safety, he will hardly have an opportunity.

Many of the trappers bear the most incontestible proofs of having been roughly handled by them, of which the most shocking instance, together with attendant circumstances, is told of a well known
trapper by the name of Hugh Glass, which is so extraordinary, that I shall give a brief sketch of it here. The same incidents have already been related, I believe, in the Southern Literary Messenger.

Glass was an engaged trapper in the service of Major Henry, who was the leader of a party of beaver hunters several years in the mountains. In the year 1822 or '23, during an excursion to the sources
of the Yellow Stone, Glass was employed in hunting for the subsistence of the company. One day, being as usual in advance of his friends, in quest of game, he reached a thicket on the margin of a
stream, which he penetrated, intending to cross the river, as it intersected his course. But no sooner had he gained the center of the almost impenetrable underbrush, than a female bear, accompanied by
her two cubs, fell upon him, cast him to the ground, and deliberately commenced devouring him. But the company happening to arrive at this critical moment, immediately destroyed the grizzly
monsters, and rescued him from present death, though he had received several dangerous wounds, his whole body being bruised and mangled, and he lay weltering in his own blood, in the most
excruciating agony. To procure surgical aid, or to remove the unfortunate sufferer, were equally impossible; neither could the commander think of frustrating the object of his enterprise by remaining
idle, with a large party of men, engaged at high salaries. Under these circumstances, by offering a large reward, he induced two men to remain with, and administer to the wants of poor Glass, until he
should die, as no one thought his recovery possible, and proceeded on with his party to accomplish the purpose of the expedition. These men remained with Glass five days, but as he did not die
perhaps as they anticipated he soon must, when the company left them, they cruelly abandoned him, taking his rifle, shot-pouch, etc., with them, believing that he would soon linger out a miserable
existence. Leaving him without the means of making a fire, or procuring food, the heartless wretches followed the trail of the company, reached their companions, and circulated the report that Glass had
died, and that they had buried him. No one doubted the truth of their statement until some months afterward, when to the astonishment of all, Glass appeared in health and vigor before them; but
fortunately for one of the villains, he had already descended the Missouri and enlisted in the service of the United States. The other, though present when Glass arrived, being a youth, received a severe
reprimand only from the justly exasperated hunter, for his unpardonable crime.

After Glass was deserted, he contrived to crawl, with inexpressible anguish, a few paces to a spring, the waters of which quenched his feverish thirst, and a few overhanging bushes loaded with buffalo
berries and cherries, supplied him with food for ten days. Acquiring by degrees a little strength, he set out for Fort Kiawa, a trading establishment on the Missouri, three hundred miles distant, a journey
that would have appalled a healthy and hardy hunter, destitute as he was of arms and ammunition. By crawling and hobbling along short distances, resting, and resuming his march, and sustaining life
with berries and the flesh of a calf, which he captured from a pack of wolves and devoured raw during his progress, he finally reached the fort and recovered his health. After innumerable other
difficulties and adventures, Glass finally fell a victim to the bloody-thirsty savages on the Missouri.

There is also a story current among the hunters of two men, whose names I have forgotten, who being one day some distance from the camp, discovered a large bear, busily engaged in tearing up the
ground in search of roots. One of them, who was reputed an excellent marksman, desired his companion to ascend a tree, and after selecting one as a refuge for himself in case he should only wound
and enrage the bear, deliberately elevated his piece and fired. In an instant the huge and vindictive beast rushed like a tiger toward him, seized him in the act of ascending the tree, a branch of which had
caught his coat, and prevented him from accomplishing his purpose, and tore him in pieces. Having thus consummated his vengeance, the bear sank down beside his victim and expired. The other
person, terrified at the bloody scene enacted beneath him, descended and ran to camp, informed his comrades of the melancholy circumstance, and returned to the spot with them. They interred the
remains of the ill-fated hunter, and on examining the bear, found that he was shot directly through the heart. Hunters usually shoot them through the head, when, if the ball is well directed, they always
expire instantly; yet they dare not molest them unless they have the means of escaping, either on their horses or by ascending trees. I have often heard trappers say that they would willingly, were it
possible, make an agreement with them not to molest each other. I knew a bear to charge through an encampment of hunters who had fired upon him, knock down two of them in his progress, bite each
of them slightly, and continue his flight, with no other demonstrations of anger at the warm reception he met with. John Gray, a herculean trapper, has fought several duels with them, in which he has
thus far been victorious, though generally at the expense of a gun, which he usually manages to break in the conflict. A Shawnee Indian in the Rocky Mountains, has acquired much fame by attacking
and destroying numbers of them, with an old rusty sword, which he flourishes about their ears with no little dexterity and effect.

When they are attacked in a thicket, they charge out into the prairie after their pursuers, and return back, and continue to do so when any of their assailants come near them. Hunting and chasing them
on horseback is a favorite amusement of both whites and Indians, and is attended with no great danger, for a good horse will easily avoid and outstrip them; but daring hunters, by charging too close
upon them, have had their horses caught and frightfully lacerated before they could extricate them, which is only effected by leaving portions of their bodies in the claws and teeth of the bear.

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Old April 12, 2000, 10:22 PM   #2
Art Eatman
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Join Date: November 13, 1998
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Have you ever read of the early days in California, where the vaqueros would actually rope grizzlies? Of course, their skill level was very high, and they used braided rawhide ropes of up to 60 feet in length. Two or three would gang up and try to keep the bear in between the vaqueros, choking him...
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Old April 13, 2000, 11:47 AM   #3
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Join Date: July 28, 1999
Location: Denver
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more than a few tall tales in this posting.. but the hugh glass story is supposedly 100% true..i REALLY doubt that this trapper/outdoorsman encountered a "herd or 30 bears" unless at that time in the west, bears hung out on river systems like the coastal bears of alaska at the salmon spawnings.

Fun stuff to read though.

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Old April 13, 2000, 05:56 PM   #4
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Join Date: February 6, 1999
Location: Western Nevada
Posts: 357
Thanks for the post. I enjoyed reading it.

The story of Hugh Glass is re-told in a 1971 film titled "Man in the Wilderness." It stars Richard Harris and John Huston. Of course, in the Hollywood version, the Glass character, played by Harris, is out for revenge on the men who left him to die. This quest takes up a good part of the film, building up to predictable conclusions. The film is available on video tape. It also runs, from time to time, on the AMC cable movie channel.

Thomas Hobbes: "The reason I help the man is that by doing so I end my discomfort at seeing his discomfort."

[This message has been edited by Trevor (edited April 13, 2000).]
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