While doing research for my next book, Encounters in Yellowstone , I’ve kept a list of everbody who was in the park when the Nez Perce passed through there in 1877. I’ve discovered some interesting people who skedaddled before the Indians arrived.
Among them was an intrepid trio that was reprising a trip they had made to Yellowstone Park in 1874. They were “Texas Jack” Omohundro, a frontiersman and sometimes partner of Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show; The Earl of Dunraven, whose book The Great Divide popularized Yellowstone Park in England, and George Henry Kingsley, an English physician and adventurer.
After Dr. Kingsley’s death, his daughter, Mary Henrietta Kingsley, compiled his papers into a book entitled Notes on Sport and Travel. Here’s Dr. Kingley’s account of hunting grizzlies in Yellowstone Park in 1874 from that book.
We have had very poor sport, for though we have been in a country swarming with grizzly bears we have only killed one. I was mousing around by myself the other day with the little Ballard—(a little, single-barreled rifle)—and hearing something smashing about in the willow beds, and thinking that it might be a deer, I proceeded quietly to investigate, when out there lounged the great-grandfather of all the grizzlies.
He looked at me for a moment, and then turned and trotted off, and I trotted after him, when he, being suddenly struck with the idea that valor was the better part of discretion, faced round and walked straight at me, stopping about thirty yards off.
As I only had the Ballard, and was quite out in the open, away from any decently sized trees, I hardly knew what to do. We stood facing each other thus for a few moments, and I could plainly see his pink tongue licking his lips, and his bright little eyes twinkling with rage.
I put up the rifle, but could not cover any part of him where a ball would have been mortal, and if I had only wounded him, he would have been at me in a brace of shakes. After interviewing one another thus, he said “hough” and decided to advance, and I decided to retreat, which I did with considerable decision up the thickest sapling in the neighborhood, hoping, however, that he would follow me at least to the foot of it.
I was in no small state of exultation at the prospect of killing my bear single-handed, but before I was settled, he swerved and went crashing away through the willows, and I saw him no more. He looked as big as an ox.
Texas Jack quizzed me tremendously about this on my return, but the very next day he came back to camp with a far-away look in his eye and requested whisky. He too had come across a grizzly. He found him in a patch of trees, covering up the carcass of an elk—they are wonderfully cunning, these bears, and will plaster mud and moss over carcasses they don’t want at once, will even plaster over their wounds when they have been shot.
Jack fired. Hit him. The bear gave one tremendous yell—looked round a moment—then tore up the ground like mad and flew at the trees, sending the bark flying in all directions. Jack lay as flat as a flounder behind a tree, and when, at length, the bear made off, came home a wiser man.
After hearing his account I was rather glad, on the whole, that my friend had not followed to the foot of my sapling, for had I not killed him first shot, he would certainly have made it a very shaky perch to reload on.
— Frmm Notes on Sport and Travel by George Henry Kingsley, 1900.
— Illustration from Notes on Sport and Travel.
— For more stories about The Earl of Dunraven, click on “Dunraven” under the “Categories” button to the right.
3 thoughts on “A Tale: In a Country Swarming With Grizzly Bears — 1874”
Fun account. Love the language. Nobody talks like that any more. What a pity!
Another great story you’ve unearthed, Mark. Is Kingsley the father of Mary Kingsley, the traveler and writer who charmed the cannibalistic Fan of West Africa in the 1890s?
Two of Kingsley’s brothers were novelists and his daughter, Mary Henrietta Kingsley, was the author of Travels in West Africa (1897), which was an immediate best-seller, and West African Studies (1883). Sounds like BBC could make a helluva Masterpiece Theater series out of this family.