On a geographical basis, it seems to me a fellow would be hard put to find a more widely distributed form of terrestrial omnivore than bears in general. All sharing remarkably similar characteristics beyond such cosmetic considerations as color and size, bears are found in different flavors just about everywhere but in Antarctica, and if the polar bear ever was able to get past the equator, there’s little question that the bottom of the earth would not be bearless.
This not being a zoological reference book, I can’t believe that the total readership interest in the South American spectacled bear or the Asian sun or black bears would be worth the calories expended to include them, although Lord knows I have the spare calories. So, it is my dearest hope that you don’t feel shortchanged by only being violently dissertated to on matters pertinent to grizzlies, browns, polars, blacks and sloth bears, any one of which, believe me, is better encountered in these pages than in its natural habitat unless you have an emerging death wish.
With the possible exception of the great cats, there probably has been more speculation, both correct and otherwise, written about bears than any other animal group. With good reason, too: they’re big, scary looking, and they bite. A recently processed pile of still-steaming blueberries encountered in heavy cover has an astonishingly stimulating effect upon the sense of foreboding of just about any hunter, fisherman, hiker or backpacker you can think of. There is probably a case to be made that this natural apprehension is a residual reaction to the days of yore when we started to solve the housing shortage by some very rude treatment of Pleistocene cave bears, whose rocky homes we undoubtedly usurped. The most recent thinking on the matter, incidentally, indicates that the huge cave bear—whose Latin name I am not about to look up—was most likely a pure vegetarian judging by the cusps of its teeth.
Personally, I doubt this idea of fear of bears stemming from the very old days. It just seems common sense to me to be scared motherless of any animal that has the potential for carnage that any full-grown bear does. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re not afraid of bears you’re doing something wrong.
With the concept firmly in mind that we have to start somewhere, why not begin this horror-fest with the bear the psychoanalysts would have a ball with: Ursus horribilis? Really, now, what sort of behavior would you bloody well expect from an animal named, in formal Latin, no less, the “Horrible Bear”? Perhaps it’s one of those chicken-or-the-egg things, but I suppose whether the grizzly is a most terrifying man-eater when so prompted or became such just to live up to his name isn’t very important, particularly since he most likely cannot read and understands not a syllable of Latin. Sure, we’re kidding around, whistling in the graveyard on our way home through the dark, moonless, bear-filled night. But there have been many times recently when there was nothing funny about spending the night in Montana’s Glacier National Park. . . .
The August evening in 1967 was marvelous camping weather although the 60 glaciers and more than 200 lakes in the near 1,600 square miles of Montana wilderness probably had little to do with the coolness. A group of young people were bedded down in an area known as Granite Park, all asleep by midnight. Most probably thought they were having a nightmare when a bloodcurdling scream from 19-year-old Julie Helgerson raped the stillness, the teenager a little way off from the main body of sleepers. In the light of the anemic campfire, she was starkly outlined in the jaws of a tremendous grizzly bear. As she screamed and fought, it appeared for a moment that she might escape as the bear dropped her to severely bite a young man of the group in the legs and back. But, the bear seemed to prefer the more tender Julie and returned to bite her through the body and drag her several hundred feet where, for some unknown reason, he suddenly left the dying girl and ambled off into the night. By the time rangers from the park arrived, she was just a statistic. The young man who was also mauled survived after hospitalization.
It was a very bad night for 19-year-old girls in Glacier National Park. Just a few hours later, at four in the morning and 20 miles away, another group of campers were frightened awake by a grizzly who towered over them, growling like a thunderstorm. Like a flushing covey of quail, girls and boys scampered up trees and scattered into the blackness. All but one. Michele Koons of San Diego experienced the unspeakable terror of the zipper sticking on her sleeping bag! With the bear only feet away, she was bound and trussed by the unyielding nylon skin. The grizzly grabbed her. In numb panic, the rest of the party listened to her describe her own death. “He’s tearing my arm off!” was one shriek all agreed upon. “Oh, my God, I’m dead!”
Right she was.
If either of the girls killed that night in 1967 was missing any flesh, the press and my sources did not mention it. I cite the night of terror as a precedent of attack rather than of man-eating, although one must wonder what the bears would have done had they come upon solitary campers and were not disturbed with their kills. The odds against something as rare as fatal grizzly attacks upon two girls the same age, in the same park, 20 miles apart on the same night actually happening have given me a rather eerie feeling when I read the monthly Solunar Tables created and copywrited by my old friend John Alden Knight, which still appear in Field & Stream. These tables are purported to forecast periods of peak feeding activity for fish and game. That night they were pretty accurate.
The two grizzlies were shot and killed, proof of their perfidy having been confirmed by blood samples found on claws and muzzles.
Regarding the new class of man-eater, the “park killer,” the bear is the classic North American example of this syndrome. Thirty-six people were mauled in less than 20 years in parks by bears and one more killed in 1972 at Yellowstone by a grizzly. Considering that well over two hundred million people (most are repeats) enter national parks each year, this isn’t much of a toll. But, don’t forget, not many parks have grizzlies.
It was nine years later that the first substantiated case of man-eating, or, if we carefully note the preferences of the Glacier Park bears, woman-eating occurred. If was another college girl, Mary Pat Mahoney of Highwood, Illinois, a student at the University of Montana. Mary Pat was 22 years old. She would get no older.
Camped with four friends, all female, Mary Pat Mahoney’s tent was torn open shortly after dawn, and the girl, still in her sleeping bag, dragged away under the ripping, yellow fangs. Her friends, awakened by Mary Pat’s screams of terror and agony, attracted the attention of another camper, who ran to get ranger Fred Reese. Reese arrived a few minutes later where he was joined by another ranger, a Californian on a “busman’s holiday” named Stuart Macy. Just outside the shredded tent lay the gore-smeared sleeping bag and nearby, a bloody T-shirt. A clear spoor of blood and drag marks led off into a thicket, the partially-eaten body of what used to be Mary Pat Mahoney was found about 300 yards from the site of her probable death.
Fred Reese, half-gagging at the sight, gave his .357 Magnum revolver to Stuart Macy who agreed to stand guard over the remains in case of the bear’s return. Reese went for help. No sooner was he out of sight than a grizzly lumbered up and informed Macy that his presence was not appreciated. To top things off, the .357 was either defective or broken, which might be just as well as I, for one, have no interest whatever in putting any close range handgun bullets into any man-eating grizzlies while standing over their kills. Unless he’d gotten lucky with a brain or spine shot, Macy might well have found himself joining Mary Pat. As it was, the bear was sufficiently nasty and Macy had to climb for his life. His shouts and yells brought armed ranger help, two men with 12-gauge shotguns stuffed with rifled slugs. The first shot floored the bear, but, true to grizzly tradition, it got up and took off. Shortly thereafter, one of the rangers was able to pick out the form of a grizzly’s head and blew a big hole in it. As it turned out, there were two bears, probably siblings, and by the human blood identified on both, they undoubtedly shared breakfast with the body of Mary Pat Mahoney.
A Board of Inquiry was already established after the 1967 debacle, but it could not determine that the girls had done anything to provoke the attack. They had even made a point of not bringing any meat on the trip to avoid bears! They wore no perfume and were in no known way provocative. I do not wish to be in any way indelicate, but I wonder, since so many victims have been female, whether the key factor could be menstruation and the detection of such by a bear?
That the problem is not improving, in fact is eroding into rank man-eating by grizzlies, was proved three times just in 1980 in good old reliable Glacier National Park. On the night of July 24th (and the age factor is starting to get spooky) a grizzly tore into a tent occupied by a young man and a young woman, both 19, (who may have attracted it by the scent and sound of doing what came naturally, although I do not know their relationship). Employees of McDonald Lake Lodge, the two were killed by the bear and the young lady largely eaten.
In October, it happened again. On the 3rd, the mutilated and partly eaten body of a Texas backpacker was also discovered near his camp at Elizabeth Lake (Glacier Park) close to the Canadian border.
The grizzly is such an impressive carnivore that I am tempted to extoll his qualifications in a literary context where this is perhaps not warranted. He may weigh as much as 1,000 pounds, is in big trouble as the world crushes in around him and is the central figure of some of the greatest legends of the American West. He shares a well-earned reputation with the Cape buffalo and sand dunes in general for talent in the field of lead absorption, a characteristic learned by all on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. When he turns rogue, he’s a national migraine. One, sporting the title Old Mose, was at last killed in 1904 after having eaten more than 800 head of cattle and killed five men! That must have been a lot of bear!
Another terror, after years of raiding the sheep in the Wasatch Mountains of northern Utah in the 1920’s (near the same place where in the winter of 1846–47 the Donner party had been trapped and resorted to cannibalism) was finally killed in 1923 by a sheep rancher and hunter named Frank Clark, who out-foxed the phantom bear with a second or “sucker” trap which sank its teeth into the bear’s forearm. After dodging each other through a very nasty night, the bear, christened by the local Mormons as “Old Ephraim,” charged Clark, who was armed with only a .25-35 caliber Winchester lever action rifle. (For you gun buffs, this was wrongly called a “.25-.35” in F.M. Young’s account of Old Ephraim. It was a “nothing” cartridge in modern terms, firing a light 117-grain factory load bullet which has been called by the expert ballistician Frank C. Barnes, “. . . just about the minimum that should ever be used on deer, and in fact it won’t qualify for this purpose in many states.”) With the help of his little dog as a distraction, though, Frank Clark, after having twice shot the bear through the heart, stopped Old Ephraim with his last and seventh bullet at six feet, a brain shot in the ear. He was an inch short of ten feet long and held in such respect by the ranchers that he was actually granted a grave and buried, a suitable marker erected on the site:
“HERE LIES OLD EPHRAIM.
HE GAVE FRANK CLARK A GOOD SCARE.”
You can count on that! Copyright © 2007 by Tekno Books. All rights reserved.
MICHAEL TOUGIAS is the author and coauthor of sixteen books, including two bestselling true-adventure and survival books, Ten Hours Until Dawn: A True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do and Fatal Forecast: An Incredible True Tale of Disaster and Survival at Sea.