The California grizzly bear had been around for more than a million years by the time of the Gold Rush. Then it lasted only another 70 or so years.
The newspapers of the 1850s through the 1880s were filled with stories of grizzlies battling men. Men were badly injured, even killed, but it was the bear that really lost the fight.
"Stories of extraordinary recontres (sic) with grizzly bears have been quite common this winter in the Southern mines. As a general thing, when man and a bear meet face to face in the woods, they are both glad to sneak off in opposite directions. Old huntsmen meeting with one of these formidable creatures generally consider prudence the best part of valor and allow him to pass unnoticed," wrote a correspondent from Stockton to the Alta California on Feb. 15, 1850.
"A short time since two young men in passing through a thicket on the Merced, came suddenly upon an enormous bear who without an instant's warning sprung upon one of them, and with a blow of his paw struck his rifle from his hand and dashed him to the ground," the story continued.
The young man was severely hurt and his friend went for help.
"War was immediately declared against the monster, and after a severe fight which lasted some hours, he was killed ... five bullets brought the bear down. He weighed about nine hundred pounds."
The California grizzly was transported across the country to be viewed in side shows. On June 16,
"One of the California grizzly species recently broke loose in Cincinnati and threw the whole town in commotion ... he broke his fastenings yesterday and got into the street causing a terrible consternation among the citizens. In his flight the bear got among a number of children and terribly lacerated one of them. ... The bear was followed by a number of gentlemen and finally killed."
On Nov. 4, 1851, the Alta carried an ad for "Superfine new style grizzly overcoats" sold at the Iron Store at the foot of Clay Street in San Francisco.
The Sacramento Transcript ran this story on March 12, 1851:
"Mr. Pearson who resides some 30 miles west of this city brought into market yesterday a wagon load of wild meats, an old grizzly with three cubs together with a dozen deer. ... Mr. Pearson states that the grizzlies may be found in the tulles 20 miles west of the city. ... He is an excellent hunter and is realizing a good deal of money by this pursuit."
Pearson sold the deer meat for 20 cents a pound and got 50 cents a pound for the bear meat.
The grizzly was not respected. As late as 1911, when the grizzly was quite rare, the San Francisco Call reported that Maj. J.B. Hughes, in charge of troops guarding national parks in the Sierras, had recommended in his annual report that the grizzly should be exterminated. The grizzly lasted only 11 more years in California. The last, according to the state library, was killed in 1922.
Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at email@example.com.