grizzly bears -- 12/23/14

Today's selection -- from Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman. In the late 1800s, California was teeming with grizzly bears:

"Until the latter half of the nineteenth century, the forests, meadows, and riverbanks of California were thick with grizzly bears. If you knew what you were doing, it was fairly easy to capture one. In 1858 a sheriff in Sacramento sold a wild grizzly for $15.50; a trained one went for $20.50. When the trapper George Yount arrived in California in 1831 and settled in Napa Valley, he said that the bears 'were everywhere -- upon the plains, in the valleys and on -- the mountains, venturing even within the camping-grounds, so that I have often killed as many as five or six in one day, and it was not unusual to see fifty or sixty within twenty-four hours.'

"In the 1850s, Grizzly Adams, the famous bear hunter and showman, traveled with two trained bears, Lady Washington and Ben Franklin, and exhibited dozens more in a menagerie in San Francisco. Ben Franklin had been captured as a still-nursing cub, so Adams gave him to a greyhound dog who had recently had a litter of pups and made buckskin mittens for the bear's paws so he wouldn't hurt the dog. Benjamin nursed from the greyhound for weeks, until Adams started feeding him meat. Both bears traveled hundreds of miles with Adams, sometimes chained to the wagon, other times walking freely alongside, and occasionally inside the wagon with him and the dog. Lady Washington also carried a pack, dragged a sled, and moved timber, and both bears helped Adams hunt grizzlies and other game that they shared at mealtime.

"Well into the 1860s captive bears could be found chained or caged at train stations, where they performed tricks or ate sweets and cakes fed to them by waiting passengers. One bear was said to have played the flute. People bought tickets to watch bears fight with bulls. Some Californians even kept them as pets. The actress and dancer Lola Montez chained two large grizzlies by the front door of her cottage in Grass Valley. By the late nineteenth century, however, the bears were few and far between. Those that hadn't been killed had become more reclusive, and captive bears were harder to buy. The animals who, only a few years before, had been everywhere were now hunted almost out of existence.

"William Randolph Hearst, the eccentric California newspaper magnate, watched shrewdly as the bears became ever rarer. He decided that he could exploit his readership's interest in the impending extinction of such a charismatic animal. In 1889 he hired Allen Kelly, a newspaper reporter with a bit of hunting and trapping experience, to capture a grizzly bear as a mascot for one of his papers, the San Francisco Examiner, known as the 'Monarch of the Dailies.' Hearst hoped that the tale of capturing one of the state's last grizzlies would boost readership. He would name him Monarch, after the paper.

"Kelly began his hunt in the hills behind Santa Paula in Ventura county, but the bears avoided his traps. A few weeks became months and still he had nothing. Kelly's editor at the paper fired him, but he continued undeterred. A few months later a Mexican man trapped a large grizzly in the San Gabriel Mountains of Los Angeles County and offered to sell it to Kelly. The bear furiously tried to escape his wooden trap, biting and tearing at the logs, hurling his body against the walls. For a full week he raged and refused to touch food. It took an entire day just to chain one of his legs. Finally, the bear was hauled onto a rough sled to be pulled by a team of skittish horses. The rest of the long trip to San Francisco was made by wagon and then railroad.

"Egged on by wildly embellished tales of his capture in the Examiner, twenty thousand people came to see Monarch on his first day at Woodward's Gardens, an amusement park in the city's Mission District. He was kept there, in a steel cell, for five or six years, until visitors lost interest in watching him. Hearst gifted the bear to the new Golden Gate Park in 1895. Shortly after Monarch arrived, the park commissioners were preoccupied with a number of more pressing issues than the bear, such as bicycles, new machines that the park leadership worried would frighten horses or lead to violent collisions. Monarch's arrival took up a mere two sentences in the commissions' annual report. The large gift from the Examiner first 'objected to its strange surroundings and tried to make his escape but now seems reconciled to his fate, and is a very popular attraction.' "



Laurel Braitman


Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves


Simon & Schuster


Copyright 2014 by Laurel Braitman


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