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Grisly Bear

( Originally Published 1851 )



The strength and ferocity of the Grisly Bear are so great that the Indian hunters use much precaution in hunting them. They are reported to attain a weight exceeding eight hundred pounds, and Lewis and Clark mention one that measured nine feet from the nose to the tail and say that they had seen a still larger one, but do not give its dimensions. This is far above the usual size of other Land Bears and equals the largest specimens of the Polar Bear. Governor Clinton received an ac-count of one fourteen feet long from an Indian Trader, but even admitting that there was no inaccuracy in the measurement, it is probable that it was taken from the skin after it was removed from the body, when it is known to stretch several feet. The strength of this Bear may be estimated from its having been known to drag to a considerable distance the carcass of a Buffalo, weighing about one thousand pounds. The following story is well authenticated. A party of voyagers, who had been employed all day in tracing a canoe up the Saskatchewan, had seated themselves in the twilight by a fire, and were busy in preparing their supper, when a large Grisly Bear sprung over their canoe that was tilted behind them and seizing one of the party by the shoulders carried him off. The rest fled in terror with the exception of a Metif, named Bourasso, who, grasping his gun followed the Bear as it was retreating leisurely with its prey. He called to his unfortunate comrade that he was afraid of hitting him if he fired at the Bear, but the latter entreated him to fire immediately, with-out hesitation, as the Bear was squeezing him to death. On this he took a deliberate aim, and discharged his piece into the body of the Bear which instantly dropped its prey to pursue Bourasso. He escaped with difficulty, and the Bear ultimately retreated to a thicket, where it was supposed to have died; but the curiosity of the party, not being a match for their fears, the fact of its decease was not ascertained. The man who was rescued had his arm fractured, and was otherwise severely bitten by the bear, but finally recovered. " I have seen Bourasso," says Richardson, in his Zoology of British America, " and can add that the account which he gives is fully credited by the traders resident in that part of the country, who are best qualified to judge of its truth from their knowledge of the parties. I am told there is a man now living in the neighborhood of Edmonton House, who was attacked by a Grisly Bear which sprung out of a thicket, and with one stroke of his paw completely scalped him, laying bare the skull, and bringing the skin of the forehead down over his eyes. Assistance coming up, the Bear made off without doing him farther injury, but the scalp not being replaced, the poor man has lost his sight, although he thinks that his eyes are uninjured."

M. Drummond, in his excursions over the Rocky Mountains, had frequent opportunities of observing the manners of the Grisly Bears, and it often happened that in turning the point of the rock, or sharp angle of a valley he came suddenly upon one or more of them. On such occasions they reared upon their hind legs, and made a loud noise like a person breathing quick, but much harder. He kept his ground without attempting to molest them, and they on their part, after attentively regarding him for some time, generally wheeled round and galloped off, though, from their known disposition, there is little doubt but he would have been torn in pieces had he lost his presence of mind and attempted to fly. When he discovered them from a distance, he generally frightened them away by beating on a large tin box, in which he carried his specimens of plants. He never saw more than four together, and two of them he supposes to have been cubs; he more often met them singly or in pairs.

He was only once attacked, and then by a female, for the purpose of allowing her cubs time to escape.

This animal has long been known to the Indians and fur traders as a distinct species, inferior to all the varieties of the Black Bear in the quality of its fur, and distinguished by its great strength and ferocity, its carnivorous disposition, the length of its claws, 1116 breadth and length of its soles, and the shortness of its tail.

The Grisly Bear inhabits the Rocky Mountains, and the plains lying to the eastward of them, as far as latitude 61°, and perhaps still farther north. Its southern range, according to Lieutenant Pike, extends to Mexico. Necklaces of the claws of a Grisly Bear are highly prized by the Indian warriors as proofs of their prowess.

Courts of Justice among Crows.—Those extraordinary assemhlies which may be called crow-courts, are observed in the Perot. Islands, as well as in the Scotch Isles ; they collect in great numbers as if they had been all summoned for the occasion. A few of the flock sit with drooping heads; others seem as grave as if they were judges, and some are exceedingly active and noisy, like lawyers and witnesses: in the course of about an hour the company generally disperse, and it is not uncommon, after they have flown away, to find one or two left dead on the spot. Dr. Edmonstone, in his view of the Shetland Islands, says that sometimes the crow-court, or meeting, does not appear to be complete before the expiration of a day or two, crows coming from all quarters to the session. As soon as they are all arrived, a very general noise ensues, the business of the court is opened, and shortly after, they all fall upon one or two individual crows (who are sup-posed to have been condemned by their peers) and put them to death. When the execution is over, they quietly disperse.

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