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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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Covers from British Columbia to Puget sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan. An evolving history dedicated to the principle of committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
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The paradise of bears

Where they take their turn at hunting men
Doings in the mountains near Lake Chelan
The story of a cub and its mother
Why a pack train yielded the road

This article originally appeared in the New York Times on July 10, 1892
Will Facklin and Will Most hang their bear trophy after hunting on Crater mountain in this photo from the book, Chechacos All, which is still for sale at the LaConner Historical Museum. The caption says that they were prospectors on Ruby creek just below the mouth of Grantie creek in the area of the upper Skagit river that was damned 30-40 years later.

      Last December I was in the Lake Chelan region. My headquarters was at Moore's Hotel. About half a mile from the inn, four hunters, farmers from the Palouse and Big Bend districts, had fitted up a cabin for use during the Winter. They intended to pass the cold season in trapping, hunting, and fishing, and enjoy a change of life.
      They had fair success in hunting mountain goats and black-tailed deer The skins of several of these animals were nailed to dry on trees that stood near their cabin. A bear had visited the camp for several nights in succession. It was during the dark of the moon, and the nights were cloudy and the hunters could not see to shoot the bear. The prowling animal pulled and clawed at the dry deer and goat skins and injured them. And nightly he clawed and misused a small dog, named Slasher, till he voiced aloud his troubles, retreated into the cabin through a hole in the door, and clambered into a bunk where two hunters pretended to be asleep. The ground was dry and hard. The bear left no tracks. His size could not be determined, and the doubts as to the size and length of claws and sharpness of teeth caused the hunters from agricultural regions, where the only hunting engaged in was for eggs, to hesitate to tackle the bear in the night.
      These men borrowed a bear trap, a large steel trap with springs sufficiently strong to snap the jaws together with bone-crushing force. The trap was set on the ground under the skins. That night the bear came as usual to enjoy himself, and unfortunately placed one hind foot in the trap. The jaws instantly slammed together The poor bear cried with anguish. The bones of his left leg were pulverized. The hunters, who had staid up expecting to catch the bear, rushed out and found a little baby bear moaning and pulling feebly at his injured leg. They left him to suffer till daylight; then, finding that his leg was past mending, they killed him. I had some of his flesh, it was strong, pig-like meat, and far from enjoyable eating.

Catching the cinnamon bear
      A few days after the death of this baby bear the hunters were busy in the forest near Moore's sawing wood. While they were so engaged the dogs gave tongue. In a few minutes they barked excitedly and looked eagerly up a near-by tree. We walked over and saw young cinnamon bear, the brother or sister of the departed cub, probably, sitting on a limb and gazing downward, through blazing yellow eyes, at the dogs that sprang high in futile efforts to bite the bear. Someone proposed to shoot the cub. The hunters instantly objected, saying that they had a customer — a mild-mannered storekeeper in the Palouse region — for a cub cinnamon; that they could catch the bear that sat snarling above us, and that their customer could tame him, as he was up in all things relating to bears.
      I wanted the young bear to live and enjoy life and I wanted to see him caught, so I strongly urged that it be caught and not shot. While one hunter went for a rope the others chopped a near-by tree so that it lodged against the tree the bear was perched in and just above him. When the man with the rope returned he clambered up the leaning tree till he was directly above the bear, which continued to gaze fiercely and growl savagely at the dogs. Having climbed to the proper place, the hunter made a running loop with the rope and lowered it over the bear's head and jerked it tight around his neck.
      The cub sat upright on the limb to push the loop off with his forepaws. He was instantly jerked off the limb, and lowered hand over hand till he swayed to and fro close to the earth. The dogs barked excitedly, the men shouted, the bear kicked and tore pawsful of hair from his neck with long, sharp claws, and growled ragefully. His hind legs were quickly strapped together, and a long rope was tied to the strap; then his forepaws were tied, and he was lowered to the ground. His head was firmly held and a strong strap was firmly buckled around his neck.
      The cub fought vigorously, as best he could in shackles, and his sharp, white teeth rattled like steel castanets, and he loudly protested against the liberties that the hunters took with him; but he was only a baby bear of fifty or sixty pounds' weight and he could not effectively defend himself against the powerful men who so rudely clutched his soft ears. Securely strapped around his neck, and the rope that was fastened to his hind legs tied around a tree, his forepaws were unbound, and he was turned loose to see what he would do. He sat up and pulled on the strap that was around his neck. He cuffed an inquisitive dog that came too close most heartily, and effectively, too, if the resultant howls testified to the soundness of the cuffing. Then he rushed to attack us, and was checked by the rope, and he sat up ragefully.
      Someone threw a half-dried deerskin at him. He caught it and tore holes in it with his sharp claws and bit a score of small holes in it. The men teased him, and he bit savagely and struck angrily at everything that was thrust or thrown at him. He struck quicker than the most expert boxer, and he bit with a powerful forward dart of his head and shoulders that was inconceivably quick, and his teeth snapped together with a clear, sharp click. Again he struck a dog, and that time he bit, too, and the bleeding dog rolled yelping from the contest, firmly convinced that cinnamon bears were not created for dogs to sniff at. Finally the rage of the animal became excessive. He stood up and called calf-like, only there was a note of supreme anger in his cry, to his mother to come help him. Again and again he called, and steadily he fought to get at us. I laughed when I saw the smiles fade from the faces of the hunters. I knew that they had conjured up the bloody row that would ensue if the mother bear heard her baby's cry of "Oh, mother, come help me fight!" and I laughed heartily and long when I saw the hunters sling the cub into the air and walk rapidly off with him, and he calling loudly the while.
      The men built a strong log pen in which to keep this young bear. They proposed to tame him, to teach him tricks, to have a right merry time with him, and to feed him heartily, so that he would grow large. They failed in all save feeding him. The cub was fully as savage-tempered after a month of enduring the taming process as he was when caught, and I am afraid to state the precise number of mountain goats he ate during the period. At any rate, to satisfy his hunger kept the hunters chasing goats over the rugged mountain flanks pretty steadily. All this cub ate seemed to run to bad temper.

      The late Harold Renfro supplied this photo of his father, uncles and good ole boys from Woolley after a bear hunt in the first decade of the 20th century. Bears were so common in the hills around the upper valley back then that they were adopted as the mascots for sports teams, first the Woolley baseball team in the 1890s and the Sedro-Woolley High School teams, starting in the late 1920s. From then on, those teams have been known as Cubs.

Mother bear
      One night his mother, cubless since the double incident of trap and rope, found him in the pen, and then there was a row. She was in a state of mind. The dogs, appalled at her size, dove through the hole in the cabin door, and crawled under the lower bunk and resolutely refused to go out to attack her. The mother bear attempted to tear the pen down. The pen proved too strong, and after an hour's work she abandoned the attempt to release her cub from the reform or training school and walked off. The night was dark, and the hunters did not sally forth to kill the bear as they burned to do. They restrained themselves nobly.
      The following morning the dogs were encouraged to track the bear, and the heavily-armed hunters were eager to kill the animal; so I went with them. Presently it was evident that the dogs that had seen the size of the bear the previous night were not keenly enthusiastic for the hunt. They lost the trail, and gleefully barked at the blue and gray grouse that they flushed and drove to perch in trees. I attempted to encourage a bright collie that had attached himself to me to hunt the bear by showing him the bear's track stamped into the mud by a creek — the print was about a foot long — but he ignored the track and gaily wagged his tail and barked delightedly at a non-belligerent blue grouse that cocked its head and spread its tail on a limb high above us. Plainly the dog said: "See here, old boy, I have lost no bears. Let's go grouse hunting," and we went.
      No, the hunters did not kill the mother bear. "The blamed dogs threw off on us," was their brief explanation of the cause of their failure. The youngest hunter, a moon-faced, callow youth, whose most dangerous adventure in lands agricultural had been the setting of a savage hen, afterward confided in me. Said he: "I saw the enormous beast. It was as large as a cow and had long claws and long, white teeth. I saw it sit up in a thicket, and it was eight feet high."
      I understood the case perfectly, and assured him that sensible men preferred to hunt goats and deer and grouse, whose flesh was good to eat, instead of hunting bears, whose flesh was rank and unfit for food. He agreed with me and expressed his views relative to bears in general and cinnamon bears in particular tersely, saying intensely: "Dog-gast bears, anyhow, they are no good."

Chasing the bears that chase the salmon
      At the hotel, one morning about 8 o'clock, Mrs. Moore was on her way to the chicken house to let the hens out. She met a large black bear face to face. This was a good-natured, jolly sort of a bear, and polite, too. He greeted Mrs. Moore with a pig-like grunt, which was the best he could do, and gave her the trail stepping into the woods. Mrs. Moore returned to the house to tell of the bear, but the animal had disappeared into the forest and could not be found. This bear was probably the mate of the large black bear Mr. Moore shot in front of his hotel a few weeks before I arrived, and whose skin was nailed to a large tree close by the hotel.
      Bears, cinnamon, white-faced, and black, are exceedingly plentiful in the Chelan region, on the headwaters of the Methow River, and in the Upper Wenatchee country. I saw a score of bears in those regions in a trip that did not last longer than a month. They afford exciting sport to men who love to hunt an animal that may show fight when wounded. One can never tell whether a bear will fight or not till after he wounds him. But I desire to illustrate the plentifulness of bears in the region by telling a story that was told me. I do not vouch for the truthfulness of the statement, but I believe it, because I know the man who told it to me and I know that he is not a liar. The time of relation was December, 1891.
      [Ed. note: The townsite of Chelan was laid out and staked at the south end of this extremely narrow lake in July 1889 by Probate Judge Ballard, just nine years after land on the Columbia (Chief Moses) reservation was opened to white settlers. Title was clouded until 1892 and during the boom of the early '90s, lots went for as much as $1,000 until the Financial Panic of 1893 dropped the bottom out of the market. Chelan Falls was a ferry crossing on the Columbia, which was homesteaded by Judge Joseph M. Snow in 1889 and then platted by Mrs. Sarah J. Snow in 1891. James (John) Robert Moore built a small hotel at Moore's Point on upper lake Chelan in the late 1880s and the three-story spectacular hotel was completed in 1892. Information from Lake Chelan in the 1890s, edited by the late Robert Byrd.]
      "Last season," he said, "the berry crop was a failure on the eastern slope of the Cascades. The bears depend on berries to get into condition to hibernate. Scores, yes, hundreds of hungry bears roamed these highlands," he indicated the whole Chelan region with outstretched, sweeping arm, "in search of food. They had become so accustomed to the presence of men that they no longer feared them. You see, the prospectors do not carry rifles through these rugged highlands. No man can afford to carry a pound more than the food that is necessary to enable him to live for a few days.
      "Well, the bears had seen and met so many unarmed men that they cared nothing for them. The animals were so bold that they would not give the trail when you met them. They amused themselves by treeing prospectors and sitting at the base of the tree for many hours to annoy them. They did not kill any man, nor did they really and savagely attack any of the prospectors, but they had lots of fun with the boys last Summer and led a merry life.
      "As I said, the berry crop was a total failure. Such a gang of lean, hungry bears as roamed these highlands was never before seen. I was working a pack train from the head of Lake Chelan to Horseshoe Basin at the time, and I saw bears every day and +met them in the trail frequently. Prospectors who had crossed the divide told me that the run of humpbacked salmon in the Skagit was exceedingly heavy, that the bears were congregating on the headwaters of the Skagit to catch and eat salmon. All bears that live in a region where the rivers carry salmon catch the tired fish and eat them. I have repeatedly seen bears catch salmon. The fact that there were plenty of salmon to be had for the catching just over the mountain had evidently been mentioned to the bears of the Chelan district. At any rate the bears possessed the information, and in September they began to migrate to the west.
      "Late in that month I saw twenty-three bears in one day. All of them were walking along the trail that leads through the Cascade Pass. All of them were lean and presumably hungry, and all of them had their noses pointed to the west. At one time two cinnamon bears followed slowly after my pack train, and a black and a cinnamon bear were walking in the trail ahead of me. I had to turn out of the trail to let the bears pass my pack animals."
      If New-York sportsmen desire to kill bears, let them enter the Chelan region in early September and hunt in the mountains that wall in the headwaters of Bridge Creek, Agnes Creek, and the Stehekin River, and they will find bears a-plenty.
      How do you get to Chelan Lake? At present the nearest railroad terminus is Coulee City, on the Northern Pacific Railroad, in Washington. From there to Lake Chelan is fifty-five miles. A daily stage runs between the lake and Coulee. On the lake are steamboats making daily trips from Chelan, at the foot of the lake, to the head of the lake. From the head of the lake into the mountains pack horses are necessary — and — and — well, I may as well say it — look out for rattlesnakes, you will see plenty of them. — Frank Wilkeson

      See a list of links to all of Frank Wilkeson's columns on our site. And read about Patricia N. McAndrew's new book, The Old Soldier Goes Fishing — planned for publication in winter 2005, a collection of his columns and a biography of Frank and his family. Also see the story about Cub Ramsey hunting bear in the 1920s north of Lyman.

Story posted on July 22, 2004
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