By Charles Towne
In rage and fury, Old Scoria attacked. His intent was nothing less than murder.
The following incident happened in the Shoshone River country of western Wyoming and powerfully illustrates the black bear’s unwillingness to surrender a kill, even against incredible odds.
The region where the encounter took place remains one of the most primitive areas in the United States, unspoiled and almost inaccessible to the average person. It was in this rugged wilderness sometime in 1948 that three hunters came upon the spoor of an enormous grizzly.
The tracks measured over eighteen inches in length. The grizzly that had left the tracks was obviously a king of grizzlies and would more than likely weigh far in excess of a
thousand pounds. This particular bear had left his mark upon the land before as he had proven to be a stock killer extraordinaire. One rancher discovered seven of his purebred steers dead, all with their necks broken with the swipe of a grizzly’s paw.
A professional hunter was hired. His orders? “Kill that damn grizzly, no matter the cost!”
The professional hunter failed miserably, as did everyone else that went up against “Old Scoria”. The grizzly was so named because the Scoria creek flows through the area where most of his depredations took place.
Others tried to kill the Scoria creek grizzly; all to no avail. Dogs were brought in to track the gigantic bear, but also failed. Baited traps were set, to no avail. Men rode the area, rifle at the ready, hoping to earn the large bounty that had been placed on Old Scoria’s scalp; but none of them proved up to the task.
Les Bowman, a Cody Wyoming outfitter, put out his first bait in 1948 hoping to lure in this bear of all bears. For a week the bait, a dead horse, lay there ripening in the summer sun. It wasn’t touched. Then one night when it was black as the devil’s heart, the entire rear end was clawed out of the carcass and eaten.
The next night the bear didn’t show, but on the next two nights the rotten carcass was ravaged until all that remained were pieces of hide and bits of bone. Old Scoria gorged himself on that dead horse without ever being seen.
It was obvious that this bear was one clever grizzly.
Les Bowman baited the area for the next six years without ever setting eyes on the huge bear. Three other hunters did see Old Scoria, but to little advantage as he was always out of rifle range.
By 1954, Bowman had racked up such an expense to the bears account that he determined that, if it was his last earthly act, he was going to bring the big boy down. But what’s that old saying, “…the best laid plans of mice and men”?
Bowman set up his next bait 200 yards from a natural logjam on Scoria creek. The spring floods had piled huge pines and cottonwoods in a jackstraw heap and it was here that Bowman would wait for the king grizzly.
On the third day, Bowman and another hunter cautiously approached the logjam and began glassing the area for bears. They were disappointed to discover that the “bait”, a horse
weighing over a thousand pounds, had been dragged nearly 150 yards farther away.
Now a 200-yard shot is not difficult for a good marksman, but 350 yards is reaching some.
As the two hunters settled in to watch the distant carcass, they were not exactly happy when two large black bears showed up to the bait. Bowman was not after blacks, so the two men just watched. The two blackies didn’t fight over the carcass; they just gorged on
it. The way those two bears were scarfing down that ripe horse meat it would be gone in two nights, and another year would be gone before Bowman would have another chance at what he had come to consider ‘his’ bear.
Dusk was rapidly approaching making any shot iffy, when suddenly both black bears suddenly jerked to attention. Their focus was up the creek in the deep timber. Through his
binoculars, Bowman could see the muscles of each of the black bears stiffen and their ears point as they stood tense and immobile, staring intently. Bowman later said, “I knew just as surely as we lay there watching what was happening. The blacks had detected a grizzly
coming to the kill, and I just knew, without understanding why, that it was Old Scoria.”
In heart-stopping fascination the hunters watched as suddenly, from the edge of the timber, lumbered the biggest bear either had ever seen. He was enormous to the point of being incredible. The immense bear headed straight for the kill. The grizzly had only gone a short distance when he detected the blacks at what he considered “his” kill. He reared up to his full height and let out an awesome bellow that seemed to shake the earth.
It is an interesting phenomenon that occurs at times like this, when man seems to shrink to insignificant proportions.
With that blood-chilling roar hardly out of his mouth, the great beast dropped down to all fours and charged down on the two blacks. Grizzly bears frequently kill black bears and devour them. It is a well-known and documented fact that black bears invariably
run from grizzlies. They know that they are outmatched in every way, and so they run for their lives. But, as the two men watched, an incredible thing happened. At the grizzly’s first bounding leaps, both black bears also began moving; but not away. With ears laid back flat against their heads, a sure sign of an attack in and of itself, and snouts curled, they ran directly at the more horrible bear, not away from him!
The air seemed to vibrate with the sounds of the fight as the combatants roared and snarled and tore into each other, their heavy bodies smashing into trees. The bloody battle was savage, fast, and obviously to the death. The bears moved into the timber in this fight of all fights. All that the two men could see was the tops of trees swaying as the raging bears crashed into them. They watched in spellbound fascination as trees, four and five inches in diameter, were violently crushed to the ground as the bears fought tooth and claw. Terrifying sounds continued as the battle raged over an area roughly an acre in extent.
The fight raged for what seemed like hours to the two men, but probably lasted only about thirty minutes. Then, quite suddenly it was over, and all sound ceased and through their binoculars, the two men saw the great grizzly climbing up the nearby cliffs.
Now those cliffs are hundreds of feet high and almost impossible to climb, very much like the walls of the Grand Canyon; but the grizzly dragged himself upward. Bit by bit, sometimes sliding backward, and then after a brief rest, continuing. Yard by yard he moved upward. Occasionally the bear would turn his great head and gaze downward in the direction of the battle ground before proceeding onward. Old Scoria, impossible as it may seem, dragged himself nearly straight up that cliff… until finally, he lumbered over a top ledge and lay down out of sight.
The next day the two hunters visited the location of the fight. It looked as though it had been plowed. All the brush and trees had been leveled. Bushes had been ripped out of the ground. Blood was everywhere and chunks of hide and flesh were scattered all over the place. The black bears had quit the area, perhaps to recover, but who knows.
The cattle depredations ceased and the Scoria Creek grizzly was never seen again. Perhaps his bones are still there, high up on that cliff face, a fitting resting spot for a king. Old Scoria, remarkably, had been bested… completely fought out… by two black bears!
AN OUTDOORSMAN’S PRAYER
Dear Lord God, what puny little creatures we humans are! I am humbled at your awesome power. I look upon your works and am humbled, and in awe. You are mighty and full of power and glory… and yet, man seems to believe that he is in control when, in reality, he has no control. We are here and then we are gone, blown away as so much fine dust. Help me, oh mighty God, mighty Creator, help me to be that which you designed me to be. Help me to bring you all honor and glory. In Jesus’ most holy name I ask it. Amen
Author’s Note: The above account, illustrating the unpredictability and ferocity of the black bear, has been borrowed from the out-of-print book, BEAR! By Clyde Ormond.
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.