The Black Bear
THE BLACK BEAR
Ben and the author
|The Story of Ben||3|
|The Black Bear: Its Distribution and Habits||51|
|Classification of Bears||53|
|Description and Distribution||56|
|Characteristics and Habits||68|
|Food and Feeding||91|
|The Happy Hooligan||105|
|Ben and the Author||Frontispiece|
|The next day we cut a hole in the sack so that he could ride with his head out||22|
|Ready for the start||30|
|Ben tries on his new chain and collar||36|
|A stop for a drink of water||44|
|Front foot of a black bear, front track of a black bear; front foot of a grizzly bear, front track of a grizzly bear||62|
|Hind foot of a black bear, hind track of a black bear; hind foot of a grizzly bear, hind track of a grizzly bear||64|
|A mother and two cubs||74|
|Taking a sun bath||88|
|She began to swing her head from side to side||106|
|A black bear at home||114|
THE STORY OF BEN
My story of Ben starts on the 22d of June, 1890.Ben’s own story had begun some four or five monthsearlier, in the den where his mother, who was a BlackBear, had spent the winter; but although I came toknow Ben rather intimately later on, he never spokeof his early childhood to me and I never asked himabout it. So we’ll take that part for granted.
Early in May of that year three of us, Martin Spencer,Jack O’Brien, and myself, had set out from Spokane,Washington, to hunt grizzlies and prospect for goldin the rugged and, at that time, largely unexploredBitter Root Mountains, in Idaho. We had a smallpack train and a large stock of enthusiasm, and wearrived at the foothills with both in good condition.But although it was well past the middle of the monthwhen we reached the mountains, we soon found ourselvesfloundering in snow-drifts that increased in depthas we climbed, and when, for several days on end, wehad cut our way with a two-handed saw through fallentrees that barred our progress and had dug the saddleand pack horses out of pot holes in the snow into whicha misstep or an act of deliberate stupidity had sentthem rolling, both men and horses had become exhausted.And so, when a cold storm had added itselfto our other troubles, we had pitched camp in a littleopening facing the south and settled down to wait forbetter days. And we had waited there three solid weeks.
Once, on the morning of the 19th of June, dawn hadshown us a clear sky, against which, fifty miles to theeast of us, we could see the main range of the jaggedBitter Roots; and after eating a cheerful breakfastwe had hastily broken camp, packed our horses, andstarted for the summit of the ridge along which weproposed to travel. But here, roaring up out of thenext valley, we had met another great storm of icy windand swirling snow, and I had soon been forced to leavemy companions with the horses while I stumbled downthe mountain and hunted up another sheltered spotwhere we could take refuge from the huge storm. Andso by noon we had once more found ourselves crowdedunder a hemlock bark lean-to, thankfully facing ablazing fire of logs and listening to the wind howlingoverhead. And it was not until the afternoon of the21st that the storm had passed. Then at last the sunhad come out hot and clear and had begun forcing thegreat masses of snow that clung to the limbs of thetrees to loosen their grip so that the forest was filledwith the splash of their falling, while laden bushesjerked their heads free from the weight that bore themdown and the horses stood steaming with the warm air.
But the burnt child fears the fire, and we had determinedto be dead sure of the weather conditions thistime before we went ahead; so we first climbed to thetop of the ridge to study the country through ourglasses and at the same time try to look a little bit intothe future in the matter of the weather. The storm, wefound, covered a tract of country about fifteen miles inwidth and fifty to sixty miles in length, and where westood was about midway of the western end of itsrange. Some two miles along the ridge on which wewere we could see a gap in the hills, and Spencer and Istarted over to explore this, while Jack took his rifleand a dog that he had brought along and started downthe mountain.
Spencer and I, after reconnoitring the gap, catchinga mess of small trout from a stream that flowed throughit, and following the track of a large grizzly for somemiles, reached camp after dark, and found that O’Brienhad returned some time before after having had amore interesting adventure. It seemed that, whensome two miles from camp, he had heard, above theconstant splash of falling snow, the crying of someanimals, and as the sound seemed to be coming nearerand nearer he had crouched down behind a large logand, holding his dog in check, had waited and watched.Shortly, out from among the trees, there appeared alarge Black Bear followed by three tiny cubs, the wholefamily having evidently just left their winter quarters.It must have been an amusing procession, for the oldbear was ploughing her way through the soft and slushysnow, making large holes into which the baby bearswould fall, and out of which, being so small, they werescarcely able to flounder. They were quite unable,therefore, to keep the pace set by their mother, and theold bear would slouch along for a while and then sitdown and watch them as they struggled to catch up.And all the time they kept up the whimpering, cryingsound that had attracted Jack’s attention.
But I am afraid O’Brien was more interested in bearmeat than in bear habits, for as soon as these animalsdrew near his hiding-place he let loose the dog, whodrove the mother up one tree and the cubs up another;and having shot the old one and decided that it mightbe possible to catch the youngsters alive next day,he returned to camp.
The next morning, as soon as we had had breakfast,we put pack saddles on a couple of ponies and, takingsome empty gunny-sacks along in which to put thecubs if we caught them, started out to bring in themeat and hide of the old bear. It had come on torain again during the night, and a cold drizzle was fallingas we started out; and in that steep-sided and unbrokenwilderness, half buried in the melting snows of amountain winter, the going was both slow and dangerous.However, we managed to reach the bottomof the ravine where Jack had seen the bears withoutaccident, and once near the place we tied the horsesand crept forward as silently as might be, thinkingto steal up on the cubs unheard and perhaps catch thembefore they could reach and climb a tree. The carcassof the dead bear lay about fifty feet from a huge fir tree,and we soon saw the three cubs, huddled together,and sitting on the body of their dead mother. But itwas evident that they were aware of our approach,for they were on the alert and keeping a sharp lookoutin our direction. So when we had worked up asnear as possible, and had reached the last cover betweenourselves and them, we crouched behind a fallenlog and laid out a plan of campaign.
It was plain to be seen that we were not going tocatch the cubs off their guard, and it was equally evidentthat we would have to do some mighty quicksprinting if we were going to beat them to the foot ofthe big fir tree. So we agreed to move forward littleby little until the bears began to be alarmed, and thento make a dash for the tree in hope of interceptingthem. But we had scarcely wormed our way overthe log and begun our sneaking approach, when allthree cubs rose on their hind legs for a clearer view oftheir suspicious visitors, and a moment later theybounded down from their bed in the dead mother’s furand began floundering through the snow and watertoward the fir tree.
The little fellows (the largest of them would not haveweighed over five pounds) had looked to be half deadwith cold and misery, and the snow and slush was overtheir heads; but for all that they reached the treeahead of us, and started up the rough trunk like somany cats. I just managed to grab the hindmost ofthem by one leg as she was scrambling out of reach,and after a good deal of squalling, clawing, and biting,the little woolly ball was landed in one of the gunny-sacks,the mouth tied up, and the package depositedon a log out of the way. Then we began figuring outways and means of catching the two cubs in the bigfir tree. The rough trunk of this old settler shot upforty feet from the ground without a limb, and thecubs looked down at us from the lowest branches,pushing out their