Sunday, August 2, 2015

Old Silver Tip or Old Crackfoot, The Last (Natural) Bear on Pine Valley Mountain

This is an abbreviated version of the story as told to Budd Iverson by Mitt Moody, for the full story you can go to this link:

            Mitt Moody was an early resident of Pine Valley and the first ranger for Dixie National Forest. A couple of years after he became the ranger, 3 steers were killed one night not far from the ranger cabin in Pine Valley. From all indications it looked like the work of a big bear, but no bears had been seen in the Pine Valley area for 15 years or nevertheless, the broken neck and deep rake marks along the bodies indicated not only a bear, but a very big one. Mitt and several other men hunted for the bear without luck, but found the remains of another large steer that the bear had been able to kill and then carry across a meadow and up a steep mountain slope without making any drag marks. A few more days passed and several more head of cattle were killed. Other cattlemen joined the search, but they found only more victims but no bear.
            Every day for more than a month, Mitt rode the trails to White Rock, across to Mill Flats, to Anderson Valley, off the Syler Spring Trail to Browse Creek, then over the hump to Wet Sandy Trail to climb again to the top through Whipple Valley and all the meadows in that area, then back across Further Water and back toward Pine Valley. All the while, he carried a Savage 32-30, one of the best guns of the time, in the scabbard slung on his saddle, hoping for signs of the bear, but found no tracks or sign at all.
            Together, the cattlemen of the area posted a reward of $250.00, which was a summers wage at the time, so there were quite a few hunters searching all over that mountain. For weeks, they found only more dead cattle or ones with deep rake marks that has apparently just gotten in the bear's way during a kill. Even when the reward was raised to $500.00 and more people joined the search, the bear was not found.
            When winter came, the depredations ceased temporarily, but early the next spring two yearlings were killed and others soon followed. At each of these places of slaughter that Mitt inspected, each time finding a broken neck. Apparently the bear would attack by knocking down the animal with a terrific blow to the top of the back or head. Sometimes the carcass would be slashed and raked with his great claws like the bear was venting anger because the animal had run. The tracks indicated this bear had a left front paw that had been severely injured at one time; possibly he had ripped his foot out of a bear trap, which had left it badly damaged.
            When the killing continued, the bounty was raised to $1,000.00, a huge amount for the time. Two professional hunters, brothers by the name of Ganet, came from Colorado with their hounds, confident that they would get the bear. Within a few days of their arrival, a big steer was killed in the meadows east of Grant's Ranch. The ten dogs picked up the bear's trail. Because of the difficulty of the path, one brother followed after the dogs while Mitt and the other brother lead two packhorses and rode south. By the evening, the dogs had cornered the bear and were heard baying. It soon grew too dark for the riders to see to continue, so the dogs were called back. Eight dogs returned but two didn’t and were later found to be dead. Early the next morning, they tried to pick up the bear’s trail again. One of the old dogs bellowed, indicating he had picked up the scent, but after an hour or so of trying to climb the steep ledge mountainside they gave up and the dogs were called back. Even as the hunters had been pursuing him, the bear had killed two heifers during the night and broken the neck of an old milk cow that had been in the same pasture.
            It was decided to give the dogs a rest until the next kill which came a week later. From the spot, the hunters followed a trail from Grass Valley toward Mountain Meadows. It was hard country to ride through on horseback, but the dogs were able to pick up a scent and, at first, by hard riding, the men kept up with them as they worked in the general direction of Pine Mountain. As the day went on, the bear moved closer to the mountain and the dogs followed. The heavy brush became impossible for the riders to penetrate so some followed on foot. Finally in the evening, the dogs were again called in with only five of the remaining eight returning. The brothers had started with ten good tracking dogs and now had only five. Saying that bear hunters were no good without his dogs, they got on the train and went back to Colorado.
            Mitt didn’t give up and neither did the bear. Cattlemen began putting their cattle in corrals at night and posting a guard over them that cut the slaughter, but not entirely. By this time, the bounty had been raised to $2,000.00 but still there were no sightings. A heavy snow fell in early November and Mitt found signs that the bear was looking for a place to bed down for the winter. He continued tracking for days along a heavy growth of timber not far from the bottom of a canyon. As he traveled through area that no cattle or riders ever ventured, a winter storm developed into a blizzard and trapped him for several days until finally he was able to travel back to the valley on the snowshoes he had brought in his pack, knowing that the bear had won again for that season.
            The next spring another tracker with his hounds came to collect the bounty. The dogs were eventually able to pick up a scent but the hunt continued over a hard, difficult trail all through the rest of June and July. Sometimes they lost his trail for a week at a time. When the bear eventually killed five of their dogs, the Wyoming hunters also gave up. They went back to the country where the bears were not so mean and tough, the mountains so darn rough, and the brush didn't pull a man out of his saddle.
            Mitt continued tracking through August and September, when one evening just before sundown, he crossed a small stream and saw in the mud a fresh track of the bear. Mitt pulled his rifle out of the scabbard and loped up into and on through the thick bunch of trees. On the other side they thinned out again and there, about 100 yards distant, was the big bear moving rapidly through the trees toward the mountain. Bringing his horse to a sliding stop he shot from the saddle just as the bear disappeared. The solid thunk of the slug told him the bullet had either hit the bear or a tree but soon saw drops of blood leading to the mountainside. Knowing a wounded bear was dangerous, he went to find help to hunt for the bear. Three men offered to assist and the next morning they followed the blood trail, climbing up through heavy brush to where the ridge blended into the mountainside. As he looked upward at the ledge above, Mitt saw the bear stand up at the base of the cliff where he had apparently been lying down. Mitt took careful aim and squeezed the trigger. A blood chilling squall echoed down the canyon as the bear reared upward to clasp his front paws across his head. Then he drooped back on all fours and headed down through the aspen trees toward Mitt. The Savage 32-30 had 6 more cartridges in it and each time he shot, Old Bruin squalled but kept coming. He was only a few yards away when Mitt shot him in the head with the last bullet and then shoved another cartridge from his gun belt into the chamber and pulled back the hammer. At the last second the rifle blasted into the bear's open mouth, knocking him down.
            Lying practically at his feet was the huge animal about the size of Mitt's saddle horse in weight and bulk. Just to make sure the bear was dead, Mitt reached out to cut his throat when the bear’s hind foot came forward to catch Mitt and throw him about 20 feet into some brush that cushioned his fall. Mitt carefully climbed over to his gun and shot the bear again through the ear. It took a team of horses to get the bear to the Pine Valley ranger station where it was dressed out. It weighed 1,000 pounds or better and the women of the town rendered out more than 100 pounds of bear grease.
            Because Mitt was a public employee and had killed the bear while on duty, he could not accept the reward money offered by the stockmen but earned the thanks of the area. The skull and hide of the bear were sent to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC where it was mounted and proved to be one of the largest Silver Tip Grizzly Bears ever killed in the United States.