The Life and Death of Reelfoot
Reelfoot of the Siskiyou
Mountains, that is. Another Reelfoot inhabited the Napa County area and
was killed in 1898. Charles M. Russell wrote a story
about a third Reelfoot, setting the tale in Montana in the 1870s.
The Siskiyou Reelfoot, 1890s.
Wright & Bear 1890
Copied and Written by George Wright 1952 [apparently from a much earlier manuscript]
The following print sketch of the career of "Old Reelfoot" is a plain, unvarnished statement of the facts of interest concerning his years of depredation upon the livestock in the mountains of Southern Oregon, the many unsuccessful attempts to capture him, his death at last by the rifles of those who now have the fur on exhibition, and a description of the size, endurance, characteristics and habits of the great animal.
"Reelfoot" has been known as a denizen of the mountainous region of Jackson and Klamath counties, in Oregon, for more than twenty-odd years, his favorite haunts being in the wild canyon region of the Siskiyou Mountains in the neighborhood of Pilot Rock, and thence eastward to Mt. Pitt. He is of gigantic proportions and even more prodigious in strength and ferocity than the grizzlies now roaming the mountains, the difference showing in the finer hair of "Old Reelfoot." This race of mightier grizzlies was well known in California in days of earlier settlement, and they were greatly feared, but there are now only a few of the monsters left, and these inhabit regions seldom or never penetrated by man.
As remarked, "Reelfoot" had been a terror to the stockmen of the country for years. He was well known by his tracks, and [was] like "Jack the Ripper" by the way he killed and afterwards treated his victims. Hundreds of cattle have been killed by him in the mountains, and his prodigious strength enabled him to kill a full-grown steer with as much ease as an ordinary bear would kill a calf. It was known that he would rush upon a steer, usually from a point of vantage on an elevation above the fated bovine, and bearing him to the ground with his immense weight and strength would close his powerful jaws over the animal's back, just behind the shoulders, and crush the bones of the shoulder and back, just as a terrier would kill a rat. Many are the cows and steers that have been found killed in this way, and about the carcass would be found the telltale tracks of "Old Reelfoot."
"Reelfoot" possessed a remarkable cunning in eluding the many hunters who pursued him, and in avoiding the dangers of the many traps that were set for him. Most bears, after killing an animal, will eat of the carcass until it is about all consumed, but this cunning fellow, apparently knowing the danger to himself from the rifles of hunters who would watch near an animal that he had killed to get a shot at him, would hardly ever return to a carcass after leaving it, and seldom ate more than one meal from a beef that he had killed. It took a cow or a steer for every meal that he made on fresh beef. By keeping well concealed in the daytime and traveling at a rate almost impossible for man or horse to keep up with in the mountains, the bear for many years past had baffled the efforts of the best hunters in Oregon and California to kill or trap him. He was seldom, if ever, seen by the hunters, but his unmistakable tracks were often found, and his trail could be followed often by the dead cattle left in his path. The stockmen of the country, after many losses, finally combined and offered a reward for his scalp. This stimulated the hunters of this region to an extraordinary effort, and many a hard day's tramp and lonely night's watch resulted only in confirming the hunters in the belief that "Reelfoot" could not be caught.
William A. Wright tried repeatedly to trap him, but always failed. Then he tried the plan of setting a loaded gun to kill him. The intelligence and cunning of the bear may be imagined from the following. Mr. Wright at one time arranged a loaded gun in such a way that he thought it impossible for the bear to get at the bait without standing where he would receive the contents of the gun, and his astonishment was great when he found that the bear had studied out the combination for himself, and had taken the bait without being hurt by the discharge of the gun. He approached the gun from the lower side of the tree, where Mr. Wright thought he could not get, and then rising upon his hind feet and placing one paw against the tree for support, he had reached around with the other paw and taken the bait. The gun went off all right, but the bear was safe, for he was on the side of the tree next to the butt of the gun. The record of the whole proceeding was left in the soft ground about the tree (for it was muddy at the time), and in the muddy imprint the bear's actions were known almost as certainly as if he had been seen touching off the gun. Again and again Mr. Wright tried every plan known to hunters to effect his capture, but always failed, and for a time gave up trying to kill him.
Later, Bruce Grieve tried his hand at trapping him, and after repeated efforts finally succeeded in catching him by the toenails of the left front paw, three of which were left in the trap as stated above. At one time George Cook had the good fortune to get a shot at the noted bear, and lodged a rifle ball in his shoulder, where it was found when the bear was killed. Hunting parties of five or more together hunted for him again and again, but all to no purpose. His tracks were seen and he was known to be in the vicinity, but he kept out of sight and far in advance of the hunters. A party of good hunters started out in pursuit of him at one time and succeeded in finding the tracks and following them for several days, but failed to get a sight of the bear and finally became discouraged and disheartened and returned to their homes.
Many good hunters have hunted this bear for days in succession without once seeing him and would finally give it up, to again and again try it without success.
Among others who have tried repeatedly to hunt down this bear the writer knows of the following, all of whom are good hunters and experienced mountaineers and thoroughly familiar with the region in which "Reelfoot" made his haunts, namely: Messrs. Wm. A. Wright, Bruce Grieve, George Cook, George H. Bailey, Henry Moore, W. H. and Joe Shepherd, William Hollingsworth, Thomas J. Wright and others whose names I do not recall.
On the 5th of April, 1890, five good hunters started out for a hunt for this famous bear. Soon after starting they concluded to separate, three going in a northerly direction and the other two going in a westerly direction. The country most frequented by the bear is one of exceeding grandeur, with its high peaks and deep, rocky canyons mostly covered by thick brush, and consequently one that was very difficult for man or beast to travel over. These men were fully determined to capture the bear if possible. Let me assure the reader that it was no boy's play to hunt over these mountains in snow from three to four feet in depth, as it was at that time. They went up steep mountainsides and down into deep canyons whose sides were covered with thick brush. The two men who were together at last found the tracks of the bear and thought it best to let the rest of the company know of the finding of the trail. They at once started in search of the remainder of the party, and after tramping up hill and down for three miles they found them and reported. After a short rest they all started for the trail, and after reading it they then commenced a weary tramp of many miles. At last they sighted the bear, far in advance. One of the party, being the owner of some dogs brought along for the purpose, very soon turned the canines loose upon the bear's trail against the expressed wishes of the rest of the company, and in consequence both bear and dogs kept out of the way of the hunters in pursuit, and the chase ended unsuccessfully again. Weary and disheartened, the men were forced to return to [their] homes and leave the bear, much to their regret. Owing to the result of this hunt, two of the number then and there made up their minds to try it again and by themselves, which they accordingly did, and it resulted in the final capture of "Old Reelfoot"--a matter of vital importance to all stockmen of the country over which he roamed.
On the 10th of April, 1890, these two, Wm. A. Wright and Purl Bean, the latter a mere boy in years but of undoubted courage and hardihood for one of his age, started out to try once more to capture the bear. After a long and weary tramp over a very rough country they came suddenly upon the object of their hunt, high in the Siskiyous, not far from Pilot Rock. They both at once fired upon him, and both balls took effect. As soon as shot, "Reelfoot" showed fight and made for the hunters with great fury, tearing up with his teeth large grubs and brush in his anger as he went. The men bravely stood their ground and kept firing at him as fast as possible and with good effect. Two of the shots struck him in the head, and in consequence he began to show signs of weakening but still continued to try to get at his assailants. The men stood bravely up to their task, firing as fast as they could and notwithstanding the great work being done by dogs the hunters had loosed against the bear at the first shots. The brute was within forty feet of the men when he unexpectedly toppled over, and the scourge of the stockmen was at an end, for "Reelfoot" was dead.
Thus ended the career of this much-feared and noted bear. Herewith appended are the dimensions of the bear:
Length, 7 feet from end of nose to tail.
Height, 3 feet 4½ inches.
Width across hips, 2 feet 4½ inches.
Length of claws, 4½ inches.
Length of head, 18 inches.
Width between ears, 10½ inches.
Measurement of head around the jaws and front of ears, 42½ inches.
Weight eighteen hundred pounds (1,800 pounds).
From a manuscript in the possession of Jody Brockhausen, great-great-granddaughter of William Alfred White.
Death of Siskiyou's Old Reelfoot Recalled
Grizzly Among Worst Stock-Killing Bears in Southern Oregon
By DALE VINCENT
Just to mention the name of "Old Reelfoot," the grizzly, back in the '70s and '80s, was enough to raise the hair on a brave man's neck--and to make the frontier women call their kids inside their log cabins and drop the bar across the door.The Truth About "Reelfoot"
"Old Reelfoot" was one of the worst stock-killing grizzlies the West has ever known--crafty, and with immense strength, he would fell a beef critter with one blow, crush its spine with his powerful jaws, and eat his fill. For 20 years, from 1870 to 1890, Old Reelfoot killed literally hundreds of cattle.
Bear's Home Range
His home range was along the Oregon-California border, between Klamath River on the east and Pilot Rock on the west--a wild, rough piece of mountain country. Here on Camp Creek Bill Wright had a small, one-man cow outfit, a log cabin that sat on a bench overlooking his corrals and a hay meadow.
On a spring day in 1890, old Bill saw a large, brown grizzly bear rush from the edge of the timber straight across his meadow toward one of his bulls. The bull raised his head and snorted, but too late. The huge grizzly had felled him with one blow, and his powerful jaws crunched through his backbone. The bull sank to the ground.
Bill hurriedly took down his rifle from the buckhorn rack on the wall. Levering open the loading gate, he slipped home a cartridge. A few more he put into his pocket, and without a backward glance moved silently out of the cabin.
Bill was a good hunter. He had been raised in this wild frontier country, and he knew that a grizzly was "bad medicine." He swung in a wide circle until within 100 yards of the dead bull, then he stopped to listen. Everywhere was silence. He moved on to within 25 yards, but could see no bear. He stood, watching and listening, until finally a sense of being alone settled quietly over him. Then methodically he cut for tracks, and in the soil Bill found the huge print of a left front paw. Three toes were missing, unmistakably the brand of Old Reelfoot.
Bill Wright remembered when Bruce Grieve had tried to trap this great silver-tip, and after a number of failures had finally succeeded in catching him by the toes of the left front paw. Three of these toes were left in the trap, the toenails measuring 4½ inches long. From then on the grizzly was known as Reelfoot.
Bill also remembered that Major Barron, a cattleman of the Pilot Rock country, had tacked a notice on a pine tree which read: "A reward of $500 will be paid by me to the man who can prove he killed Old Reelfoot--Major Barron, Ashland, Ore."
Soon other stockmen joined the major in tacking their own personal pledges on the tree. Smaller ranchers offered $25, others $50. A few went to $100, and in the year 1889 the tree trunk was plastered with pledges that, when totaled, came to the prodigious sum of $1,700. In those days, truly a reward worth going after.
Many mountaineers had taken up the trail. Each had sworn he would nail the big bear's hide to his cabin wall, but each had failed. Old Reelfoot was a ghost that vanished so rapidly not even a man on horseback had ever caught up with him.
In every case, Old Reelfoot had won out over the best hunters in the Siskiyous. The far-flung trail of mutilated beef carcasses had continued. Invariably each beef would have its backbone crushed, and around the kill would be found the telltale track of Old Reelfoot. But the big grizzly knew the ways of man--knew that distance meant safety--and he rapidly put much of it behind him.
Slow Anger Starts
Now, right in his own pasture, the infamous old grizzly had killed Bill Wright's best bull. A slow anger started to burn in the old man's chest--an anger that grew until he could think of nothing else--and as Bill Wright walked back to his cabin, he knew that either he or Old Reelfoot was going to die.
Carefully, Bill laid his plans. He rode down [the] creek and asked Purl Bean to go on the hunt with him. Purl was only 17 years old then, but already a good mountaineer, a crack shot, and an exceptional tracker.
Purl brought along his 44-40 Winchester, and a wicked-looking homemade hunting knife. Bill Wright took his 56-52 rimfire Spencer. They both carried light packs, extra ammunition, and jerked venison.
They took off on the cooling tracks of the big grizzly that led up Camp Creek into the wild Siskiyou Mountains. At dusk the men camped on Soda Mountain, built a small fire and ate some of the jerky. Then, lying close to the coals, they slept soundly.
They felt the old grizzly was traveling while they slept, so at the first cold light of dawn they were on the trail--gnawing jerky as they fought their way around the mountainside. The tracks led over the roughest kind of country, and frequently they lost valuable time in searching for "signs." At other times the trail was clear, often marked by torn-up rotted logs where the bear had searched for grubs.
Reelfoot's trail soon gave evidence that he knew he was being followed. He took off straight west over the roughest country the Siskiyous could offer--through tangled masses of brush, across steep canyons--and then at last he doubled back toward the head of Camp Creek.
They caught sight of him once as he moved uphill and into the snow, almost to the crest of the Siskiyous. It was more difficult for Reelfoot to break trail through the crusted snow, and easier for them to follow.
It was on the cold frosty morning of April 10, 1890, in a brushy, snow-choked draw off the head of Camp Creek, just three miles east [George Wright says three miles south] of Pilot Rock, that the two mountaineers came into an opening in the trees and there--less than 80 yards away--stood Reelfoot.
Bill Wright and Purl Bean pulled up short. Men and bear stood facing each other. Standing on his hind feet the big grizzly spread his huge arms wide and charged straight for them.
The bear came forward with a rocking motion. Hate glared from the fierce black eyes, and breath came from his nostrils like smoke in the frosty air.
Bill snugged a leathery cheek to the stock of his rimfire Spencer, and putting the front bead on the bear's throat he turned loose the first shot. Deliberately, he levered out the empty shell and placed a new cartridge in the chamber.
Drops to Knee
Purl Bean had dropped to one knee, and the boy's repeating Winchester was sending one 44 slug after the other into the old bear's chest.
But a grizzly is hard to kill--and the leaden slugs seemed only to madden him. Thoroughly enraged, the grizzly came toward them--tearing up brush with his teeth and sending snow and sticks flying with his mighty paws.
At 30 yards Old Reelfoot stumbled and went down, fighting the reddening snow. The men stopped firing and stood watching. For a moment the bear lay quiet, then as the black-powder smoke drifted away, Old Reelfoot slowly got to his feet. He stood, dazed and blinded, sniffing the air. Then the big bear's nostrils got the scent and he came toward the men. There was still crushing strength in those powerful arms.
Bill and the boy fired point black at the head and throat--still it seemed as if nothing would stop that last rush. With terrifying speed the distance between men and beast was being used up.
Then, suddenly, as if hit in the head with a poleaxe, the bear dropped--stone dead--20 feet from where they stood.
Purl Bean's hunting knife was nine inches long, and with this as a "ruler" they computed the following measurements: length, 8 feet; width of chest, 40 inches; length of claws, 4½ inches; width between the ears 10½ inches; around head in front of ears, 42 inches. Bill Wright at the time estimated the bear's weight to be 1,800 pounds.
Horses were brought in, and the hide was packed out. The bear had been hit 10 times in many different places.
Old Reelfoot was mounted and placed on a wagon, drawn by mules. This wagon exhibit was shown many places throughout the West, and finally disappeared.
Gordon Jacobs, Hornbrook, Calif., was there in 1890 when the bear was killed, and has spent a number of years and quite a sum of money trying to locate the mounted Reelfoot. He cabled the London museum and also the museum in Paris, because one of the soldiers who returned from World War I reported that he saw the stuffed bear in Europe. The museums were very cooperative. They put in months of research, looked over many museums in Europe, and in the United States. They bent over backward in trying to help. But to this day, Jacobs has never found one lead as to where the old bear disappeared.
The only things remaining are some photos and one claw which is on exhibit in the museum at Yreka--one of the claws that was left in Bruce Grieve's trap.
Norman Campbell, gunsmith, who lives in Gold Hill, lived on Camp Creek at the time the bear was killed and furnished information about the guns and ammunition used by Wright and Bean.
Bill Wright's nephew, George Wright, now lives a few miles out of Hornbrook, Calif. and still has his uncle's old 56-52 Spencer.
Fred Bean, Purl Bean's son, now lives in Phoenix, Ore. and provided the pictures and much of the data contained in this account.
Medford Mail Tribune, March 17, 1957, page 12 There are significant differences between Vincent's account and George Wright's.
By Geo. F. Wright
April 10, 1958
In the past few years I have been urged by many people to write the facts concerning the noted grizzly bear, "Reelfoot," and after much thought and consideration I have decided it would be proper and fitting to do so, for I have spent sixty-two years in the Siskiyou Mountains where "Reelfoot" once roamed. In earlier years the story was told to me many times by one of the bear's slayers, my uncle, Wm. A. Wright, also by my father, Thos. J. Wright, who hunted unsuccessfully for the bear, as did other early settlers.
Although my experience as a writer is little, and my school days were few, I will try to give to my readers this print sketch of the plain, unpolished statement of facts concerning this grizzly monarch, and the events relative to his career of violence among the herds of cattle in the Siskiyou Mountains and vicinity for more than twenty years, the many unsuccessful attempts to capture him, and his death at last by the rifles of Wm. A. Wright and Purl R. Bean. As there has been so much told and printed about this bear, which in most cases is incomplete, or of dubious validity, many stories of speculation, misstatement and wild guesses [are] told and printed about this cattle-killing grizzly.
George Wright with the Spencer 56-46 and the No. 6 Newhouse
that claimed Reelfoot's toenails.
"Reelfoot" was tough and he lived to be old, his teeth were short and worn from many years of hard usage, and he was one of the largest grizzlies killed anywhere. Many incidents were related of the wanton killing of cattle in the vicinity of Pilot Rock and Jenny Creek; cattle men were awed by the giant size and his cunningness. The stories and killings of other grizzlies have about all been forgotten, but the tale of "Reelfoot" is still told.
The end of "Reelfoot" was a dawn of a new era for the cattle men, an era free from the torment of cattle losses. He was hated, feared and hunted, but always respected; after sixty-nine years his stuffed hide is still hunted.
I have often heard said that all things must someday come to an end. How true this was of the grizzly race after the coming of the white man, with his onslaught of expanding progress for fortune and fame; his onward push of the cattle industry into the remote areas spelled the end of at least one of the last remaining grizzlies.
Many years have passed since grizzly bears roamed the forest of southern Oregon and northern California, particularly in the Siskiyou Mountains, but the memory of "Reelfoot" still lingers. Tales of his great size, immense strength, his ability to outwit the human schemes to kill him, coupled with his uncanny instincts, are told wherever oldtimers meet.
During the late 1880s it was believed that "Reelfoot" was the last remaining grizzly in an [area] around the Siskiyou Mountains; however, in the spring of 1890, a large grizzly was killed in the vicinity of Secret Mountain by Rod. M. Frain, W. L. Frain and Frank Ream. This bear had killed a number of cattle in the mountains surrounding Butte Valley; a $500.00 reward was offered for his scalp. To my knowledge, the last known grizzly to roam the Siskiyou Mountains was killed in 1902 by Gordon Jacobs of Hornbrook, California, along the California-Oregon border west of Hilt. However, grizzly tracks were reported later.
When the rich and fertile lands of Siskiyou and Jackson counties were first settled and herds of cattle began to graze the surrounding hillsides, grizzly bears were quite numerous. As most of these were only average grizzlies, little attention was paid to those killed. Cattle men were expanding their land and increasing their herds; grizzlies were also increasing their forays. Cattle men hunted and killed, poisoned and trapped bears, while hunters and trappers killed them for food, until the grizzly bear population was reduced considerably. But still the number of cattle killed was at an alarming figure, and it became evident as time went on that two large grizzlies were doing most of the killing.
At that time the Grieve brothers were in the cattle business along Jenny Creek, and they also lost cattle. One of the brothers, Robert Bruce Grieve, an experienced hunter and trapper, set a trap in the vicinity of Skookum Gulch, and in time caught a huge female grizzly, said to be the largest yet killed in the Siskiyou Mountains. But still the cattle losses went on, and it was evident that one overgrown bear was doing the killing. For some time the cattle men tried to trap and poison him, and many hunted for him. Except for the huge tracks there was no way to distinguish his killings from other grizzlies'; he was of gigantic size, and the way he killed full-grown cattle was beyond the imagination of men.
Robert Bruce Grieve tried his luck at setting a trap for the bear in the Skookum Gulch area, and after repeated efforts succeeded in getting him in a trap, but he escaped, leaving three of his toenails in the trap. This made his left front footprint appear like it was turned in a little, hence the name "Reelfoot."
It was found that he roamed a great expanse of territory, his reelfoot tracks telling of his visits in many places. He would disappear from the Pilot Rock and Jenny Creek area for as long as six months at a time. Oldtimers claimed that he went as far as Silver Lake, Oregon. He seemed to kill, eat and move on, although his main travels were along the California-Oregon border between the Klamath River on the east and Pilot Rock on the west. His enormous strength and weight enabled him to kill a full-grown beef with as little effort as an ordinary bear would kill a calf. He would rush upon a beef, usually from a point of vantage on an elevation above his prey, and bear it to the ground, would close his powerful jaws over the animal's back just behind the shoulders, and crush the bones of the shoulder and back. Cows and steers killed in this manner had about the carcasses tracks of "Reelfoot."
In the spring of 1882, J. D. Williams, of Ashland, Oregon, was herding his flock of sheep in the vicinity of Bald Mountain. He witnessed one of "Reelfoot's" battles. His sheep were grazing on a hillside; below him in a glade a bunch of cattle under the leadership of a big bull belonging to David M. Horn, Sr. were quietly feeding. The instant the bear appeared Williams took to a tree and viewed the struggle from that vantage point at a distance of some fifty yards. The unsuspecting cattle did not see the bear until he rushed in and killed a calf standing beside its mother. The cow attempted to defend her calf, but a stroke from the big paw left the cow dead. The bull charged down upon the bear; "Reelfoot" was knocked off his feet by the impact. He arose with a growl and charged the bull several times until he succeeded in seizing the bull and bringing him to his death. The bear made a meal of the calf, then wallowed in a mudhole and left. Williams identified the bear by the tracks after the fight was over.
William A. Wright tried repeatedly to trap him but always failed. He then tried out a plan of setting his 50-70 Sharps carbine to kill him. The intelligence and cunningness of the bear was soon evident. Wright arranged his loaded carbine, tied to a tree along Slide Creek, in such a way that he thought it impossible for the bear to get at the bait without standing where he would receive the bullet from the carbine. The bear approached the bait from the lower side of the tree, reached around the tree, and started to pull the bait away when the carbine was discharged, but the bullet missed. Again and again Wright tried every plan known to effect his capture, but always failed, so for a time gave it up.
So for several years the herds of cattle were being depleted by this grizzly's vicious acts. The cattle men banded together and offered a sizable reward for his capture. Among those having the largest herds and suffering the heaviest losses were Major Barron of Ashland, Oregon, and David M. Horn, Sr. of Hornbrook, California. These cattle men, along with others, combined and offered a reward of $2,700.00 to any person or persons who could prove the killing of "Reelfoot." This stimulated the hunters of this region to extraordinary efforts, and many hard days' tramp and many lonely nights by campfires resulted only in confirming the hunters in the belief that "Reelfoot" could not be caught.
Hunters and cattle men, singly and in groups, hunted for him again and again, but all to no avail. His tracks were often seen, and he was known to be in the vicinity, but he kept out of the sight of the hunters.
"Reelfoot" possessed a remarkable cunningness in eluding all his pursuers, avoiding the dangers of the many traps set for him. He would seldom return to a kill after he had eaten a meal. It took a beef for every meal. By keeping well concealed in the daytime and traveling at a rate almost impossible for a man or horse to keep up with him, the bear for many years baffled the efforts of the best hunters to kill or trap him.
George Cook, a noted hunter and guide, put in quite a lot of time seeking "Reelfoot," and had the good fortune to get a shot at the noted bear; a 38-55 rifle bullet [was] lodged in his shoulder, where it was found flattened against the shoulder blade after the bear was killed years later.
During the spring following the hard winter of 1889 and 1890 hundreds of cattle had just been loosened on the range land to graze the southward slopes of hillsides between Hornbrook and Pilot Rock. "Reelfoot" frequently roamed the Pilot Rock area during the early spring, and it was believed he denned up in that area.
On April 4, 1890, William A. Wright saddled his horse on his home ranch at Camp Creek and rode to Hornbrook. On his return he met Pedro Smith, who lived on his homestead at the head of Dry Creek, on his way to Klamathon. He reported to Wright the killing of a cow by "Reelfoot" along Dry Creek, belonging to David M. Horn, Sr. The incident was also reported around Klamathon town. Wright continued on his way, stopping at the ranch of the Bean family on Pine Creek. He invited Purl R. Bean to go with him the following day to hunt for the cattle-killing bear. Bean, an experienced hunter himself, was delighted to try his luck. The next morning on arriving at the Bean ranch Wright found three other hunters eager to accompany them on the hunt. On that day, April 5, 1890, the five hunters started after the famous bear, fully determined to capture him if possible. They desired to separate, three going in a different direction than the other two. The country was exceedingly rough, with its high peaks and deep rocky canyons, mostly covered with thick brush and deep snow on the north hillsides, consequently one that was very difficult for man or beast to travel over.
The two men, William A. Wright and Purl R. Bean, who were together, found fresh tracks of the bear, and thought it best to report the finding to the rest of the party. After a brief rest the five men returned to the spot of fresh tracks, following them for several miles, soon sighting the bear in the distance. One of the party, being the owner of some dogs brought along for the purpose, unleashed them on the bear's trail, against the expressed wishes of the remainder of the party. Consequently both bear and dogs kept out of sight of the hunters, so the chase ended unsuccessfully again. Weary and disheartened after hunting for four days, the men were ready to return to their homes. Owing to the results of this hunt, William A. Wright and Purl R. Bean decided to try again later on and by themselves; in fact they decided on the very next day.
Both these men were good hunters and mountaineers and knew the area they were to cover. Wright was 41 years of age, seasoned with many years of experience on the frontier and having [had] three previous narrow escapes from grizzlies. His physical ruggedness and determined courage fitted him well for the hardships and dangers often met with on the western frontier. Bean was a youth of 17 [sic] years, but much older in experience, having grown up in the mountains. He was a good hunter and a crack shot, endowed with great courage.
William A. Wright (left), Purl R. Bean
So at the dawn of a new day, April 10, 1890, Wright and Bean, with two dogs, started on a bear hunt that resulted in the death of the much-feared grizzly, "Reelfoot," and was to grace the pages of history and the talk of the country far and near for years to come.
After traveling several miles they came suddenly upon the object of their hunt, about three miles south of Pilot Rock, near Wildcat Gulch, in Siskiyou County, California, and near the Oregon border.
The bear when first sighted had just gotten up from his bed, made on a flattened wood rat's nest. It was believed that he had gotten the scent of the hunters, and his cunning instinct started him to move along his way. The hunters were standing on a hillside, about one hundred feet from the little gulch, looking up at the bear on the opposite hillside, some three hundred feet from the gulch. They both at once fired from the rear at a distance of about one hundred and twenty-five yards as the bear left his bed; both bullets took effect. As soon as shot he showed fight and made for the hunters, tearing up with his teeth large shrubs and brush in his anger, and fighting the two dogs as he came. Blended with the rifle fire was the barking of the two dogs and the roaring growls of an enraged grizzly bear. The hunters stood their ground, to kill or be killed, taking good aim and firing as fast as possible and with good effect. By this time the bear had fought his way down to the bottom of the gulch, where the dogs "bayed" him for a few minutes, giving the hunters time to reload their repeating rifles.
Although the bear showed some signs of weakening, the dogs were tired also. The men agreed that Wright would shoot for his head, and Bean for the heart. With their rifles fully loaded again they started firing; still the weakened bear fought his way up the hillside of the gulch, trying to get at his assailants. When within forty feet of the men the great bear unexpectedly toppled over dead. Thus ended the career of this much-feared and noted grizzly. The hunters probably breathed a sigh of relief and no doubt felt a gratitude toward the two dogs for their much-needed help in bringing their hunt to a successful conclusion.
It was never known how many cattle this old and vicious grizzly killed during the twenty-odd years he was known to be a killer, but the figures were estimated to be in the hundreds.
With horses and sled the two successful hunters hauled the bear down from the mountains to the Bean ranch home, and began to prepare the hide for mounting. It was mounted by an amateur taxidermist, and in time the hide began to spoil, so it was necessary to dismount it and it was taken to another taxidermist, but due to the spoiled condition it was impossible to make a good job of mounting. This is the reason the mounted animal does not have the exact appearance of a grizzly bear. Missing is the hump so characteristic of the grizzly. However, the mounted bear was placed on a wagon drawn by a team of mules, and displayed for ten cents per person in the towns and villages throughout western Oregon and northern California.
Wright, a family man with a ranch and cattle, was anxious to sell the mounted bear and return to his home; this was accomplished in, I believe, 1892, for the sum of $500.00. The bear was then displayed in many cities and towns throughout the United States, and finally seems to have disappeared. In the late 1930s an effort was made to locate the mounted bear by Gordon Jacobs and others, to have it returned and placed in the Siskiyou County Museum in Yreka, California. Several clues were run down and checked, but to no avail. Servicemen returning from World War Two from overseas reported that they believed the bear was in a museum in London, England. So the hunt began again. All museums in England, France and Germany were contacted without success. At this writing the whereabouts of the memorable old bear "Reelfoot" are a mystery.
In 1912 I acquired the number six Newhouse trap used by Wright to catch the bear. In 1922 I acquired the number six Newhouse trap from which "Reelfoot" escaped, leaving three of his toenails. This trap was stolen from my ranch in 1950. In 1924 I became the owner of the 50-70 Sharps carbine used by Wright as a "set" gun, but this was destroyed by fire in the same year. The three toenails were for many years on display at the home ranch of the Grieve brothers; one of them was stolen. The remaining toenails, which are 4½ inches long, are owned by George A. Grieve and are on display at the Siskiyou County Museum in Yreka, California. I understand at this writing that Mrs. Mackey, sister of Purl R. Bean, still has the bullets taken from "Reelfoot" after he was killed. It is not known what became of Bean's 44-40 Winchester Model 1873 rifle, used in the slaying of the bear. The 56-46 Spencer rifle that Wright used was, before coming into the possession of the Wright family, owned by G. A. Nordheim, an early California gunsmith of Yreka, California. He had made a target rifle of the Spencer, by fitting a heavy barrel and set trigger, bringing the weight to thirteen pounds. I have handled the rifle many times at our old home ranch on Camp Creek. I have in possession some pictures of the mounted "Reelfoot."
In conclusion, I hope this article has given some of the real facts and will clear up many of the misleading statements that have been made and printed about "Reelfoot."
By Geo. F. WrightTranscribed from a typescript in the possession of the Rogue Valley Genealogical Society. Though the typescript is twice dated 1958, on it Wright's ZIP code is typed after his address, and a copy of a Reelfoot article from the August-September 1966 issue of Frontier Times is bound with it.
April 10, 1958
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Mr. Henry Newell informs us that it is estimated by Sprague River stockmen that over forty head of cattle have been killed by grizzly bear since spring. Jesse Parker killed one large bear and wounded another last week. Owing to a misunderstanding as to the bounty, he quit the hunt and returned home, promising to come back sometime in the future.--Examiner.Grizzlies Again.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, August 9, 1884, page 3
OLD TWISTY.--That old bear, "Twisted Foot," has killed over five hundred dollars' worth of cattle for Maj. Barron alone, besides what little butchering he may have done for other stock owners. He is now supposed to be an enormous cinnamon, instead of a grizzly, and the hunters are a little more careful than they were when they thought him a grizzly. When a man is up a tree he is safe from a grizzly, but the cinnamon bears are good climbers, as well as most desperate fighters. "Twisty's" foot leaves a track in the mud about the size of a Mexican sombrero, and his teeth penetrate the skull and meet in the brain of a big steer when he happens to make a square bite in his butchering business.
Ashland Tidings, September 12, 1884, page 3
BACK AGAIN.--The old grizzly surnamed "Old Twisted Foot," alias "Club Foot," who has preyed upon the cattle in the Siskiyou and Cascade ranges for several years, was supposed to have been killed by a set-gun trap last fall, but, lo, he turns up again, and is now ready for another summer's campaign. Kennedy, the Siskiyou bear sharp, would have sworn last year that Old Twisty had received his death wound, but the fresh imprint of the familiar wounded foot seen on the range last week convinces him that he was mistaken. He says he'll have him this year, sure.
Ashland Tidings, May 8, 1885, page 3
The old grizzly "Reel-Foot" killed a young steer within one or two hundred yards of Howard's station the other day. A reward of $150 is offered for his scalp, but he still carries the scalp with him.
"Brevities," Ashland Tidings, June 12, 1885, page 3
W. S. Webb shot a half-grizzly bear near Howard's station last Saturday which was at first thought to be old Reel Foot. It was a cross between a grizzly and a cinnamon, and had been wounded in the foot--also carried a bullet in its hip which had evidently been put there some years ago. Ed. Barron examined the carcass and reported that it was not Reel Foot. It was a good bear to kill, nevertheless--an old one which had no doubt killed some of the stock charged to old Reel Foot's account. It was chasing Howard's hogs when seen by Webb, and he gave it a center shot through the heart. The bear straightened up on its haunches and then Webb shot it again, the bullet entering its brain and laying Bruin out "cold."
"Brevities," Ashland Tidings, June 19, 1885, page 3
The Crippled Bear in Oregon,
for Whose Scalp a Reward of $150 Is Offered.
PORTLAND, ORE., June 17.--Four years since a monster grizzly bear commenced depredating the stock ranches twenty miles south of Ashland. He would descend from the fastnesses of the Rogue River Mountains whenever his appetite might prompt him to do so, and perpetrate wholesale slaughter on the horses, sheep and hogs of the ranchmen. During these years the ranchmen have planted half a dozen Winchester balls in his carcass, but still he refuses to succumb.
About a year since the grizzly walked off, leaving a good piece of his foot in a huge trap, cautiously prepared for him in a thicket. Since then he has had a gait peculiarly his own, and the wary huntsmen who have occasionally caught sight of him, but could not bring him down, have given him the name of Grizzly Reel-Foot.
Last week he ambled down to Howard's Station, on the Oregon, Idaho & California stage line, and, breaking the back of a two-year-old steer, sat upon him and ate him for lunch. This exasperated more than ever the ranchmen who had on divers occasions been forced to beat hasty retreats when coming unexpectedly upon him. They raised a purse of $150 for the Nimrod who would bring in the grizzly's scalp. Several noted bear hunters, including Jim Wilson, Harry Woodburn, Charley Taylor, and others, with trained dogs, are now in search of him in his mountain resorts. His tracks measure fourteen inches each, and when he descends the hills through the underbrush he is said to thrash the ground like a cyclone. His bulk is gigantic. Many aver that he does not weigh an ounce less than a thousand pounds. He is an ugly, vicious brute, and, unless the hunters get him, the chances are even that he will get them.
Ohio Democrat, New Philadelphia, Ohio, July 2, 1885, page 2
W. S. Webb and Alex. Zevely are still on the trail of old "Reel Foot," and expect to bring in his scalp before many days.
"Brevities," Ashland Tidings, July 3, 1885, page 3
The California papers are publishing as sober fact that yarn of the Chronicle about Reel-foot being killed by a couple of counter-jumpers from San Francisco. For the benefit of the editors who may be misled in this important matter, we will state that Reelfoot still lives, and the $150 reward still is offered for his foot and head.
"Brevities," Ashland Tidings, August 14, 1885, page 3
DO GRIZZLIES CLIMB TREES?
A Report Directly from California Showing That They Do.
San Francisco Chronicle.
Two months since the citizens of Howard's Station offered $150 reward for the scalp of an immense grizzly bear that had been depredating the stock ranches of Siskiyou County. The bear's career as robber of the corrals extended over four years, his last act being to kill a two-year-old steer, perch himself upon the animal and proceed to make a meal of him. The reward impelled several of the most noted bear hunters to look for him, but in a very wary way, for Bruin had made mincemeat of a dozen or more dogs, besides being alive and healthy after four Winchester balls had been planted in him and after he had lost a portion of one of his feet in a great trap. "Grizzly Reelfoot" has been the name by which he has since been known, owing to his consequent ambling gait.
Thomas Jones and Charles Meredith went up on the California and Oregon Railroad two weeks ago for a hunt. They returned yesterday, and report that Henry Woodburn and Link Wilson, of Linkville, Oregon, with themselves, succeeded at last in killing him. They got on his trail in the deep woods immediately south of Howard's Station, and, with the aid of Wilson's four trained dogs, succeeded in treeing him after following him through canyons and jungles for over seven miles. Hearing the dogs baying, Wilson, who was in the lead, rushed forward, only to find two of his favorite dogs lying dead on the ground. Blood covered the bushes, and great shreds of flesh appeared here and there. Looking upward, the bear appeared wending his way on a distended limb about forty feet from the ground. He was showing his teeth and growling fearfully. Wilson, quickly raising his gun, fired twice in rapid succession, but without dislodging him. The other three hunters then arriving, they also commenced firing, when the ponderous brute dropped to the ground. He was immediately seized by the remaining dogs, but, badly wounded as he was, he made a vicious fight, killing one dog and tearing the coat of Meredith, who had ventured too near, off his back. A final shot from Jones, however, finished him. The grizzly weighed over 900 pounds.
The Critic, Logansport, Indiana, August 30, 1885, page 7
Old "Reel-foot," the grizzly that has killed so many cattle up in the Siskiyous and Cascades during the past few years, is again making his familiar tracks up at the head of Kean and Sampson creeks, and has driven all the cattle down from that neighborhood to the low ranges in the valley. Old "Reel-foot" is an expert butcher, and the cattle all seem to know his reputation. A larger grizzly than he was killed last Saturday on the east or south side of Bald Butte by one of the Grieve boys, Joe Shepherd and others. He was first caught in a trap set in a spring where he regularly drank and bathed. The trap was chained to a fir tree over a foot in diameter, and the bear gnawed the tree in two and dragged off a part of it to a hiding place in a dense thicket. By the aid of dogs he was trailed and killed. He was an immense brute, and rolling fat--having had a choice beef range, this side of the Klamath, all winter.After "Old Reelfoot."
Some of Maj. Barron's cattle driven down from the mountains by old "Reel-foot" have the marks of big claws upon them, showing that old Reel's hold slips sometimes.
Wm. Wright, of Henley, and a son of Mr. Bean, of Kean Creek, had an exciting chase after a huge grizzly up among the great snowbanks of the Siskiyous recently. They were looking for stock and found the track of the bear and, concluding that it was old "Reelfoot" himself, thought the present a good season of the year in which to capture his hide and scalp and rid the range of his depredations. They came upon the bear somewhere in the region of Bald Mountain, and gave him a good dose of lead to begin with, but it didn't seem to damage him much, and he started off on a long trip across the country, with the men after him. They had snowshoes and the bear hadn't, and as he was compelled to plow his way along, with the snow up to his throat much of the time, they had the advantage of him, and were sure they would wind up his career. But old "Reelfoot" has fate on his side, and the snowshoes of the hunters soon "went back" on them and the bear made his escape, taking with him, however, eight rifle balls deposited in various parts of his thievish hulk. He was in good flesh and as strong as a grizzly can get, or he would never have escaped. The reason of his good condition was found in the discovery that his headquarters were in the midst of the carcasses of some forty horses that had been caught in the deep snow and perished during the winter.Old Reelfoot Killed.
Ashland Tiding, March 28, 1890, page 3
Two Bands of Horses Perish in the Mountains.
Messrs. Wright and Bean, while in pursuit of the old grizzly known as "Reel Foot" last week, found two bands of dead horses in the mountains up near Pilot Rock. In one place they found forty-three dead animals, and at the other place between fifty and sixty. Some of the horses had plunged into the deep snow and died in a standing position. The old grizzly had made camp right among them, and had an abundance of French beef for his subsistence. The horses were from the ranches of the Klamath River side of the mountains, belonging to Temple Horn and others, and gathering together after the storms began, in the most sheltered places, were soon surrounded with snow so deep that escape became impossible. In their pangs of hunger they had eaten trees three inches in diameter nearly through. The mountain storms always drive cattle to the valleys, but horses perversely keep on ascending when the storms come, unless followed and driven down by the ranchers. They were looking for stock and found the track of the bear and, concluding that it was "Reelfoot" himself, thought the present a good season of the year in which to capture his hide and scalp and rid the range of his depredations. They came upon the bear some, where in region of Bald Mountain, and gave him a good dose of lead to begin with, but it didn't seem to damage him much, and he started off on a long trip across the country, with the men after him. They had snowshoes and the bear hadn't, and as he was compelled to plow his way along, with the snow up to his throat much of the time, they had the advantage of him and were sure they would wind up his career. But old "Reelfoot" has fate on his side, and the snowshoes of the hunters "went back" on them and the bear made his escape, taking with him, however, eight rifle balls deposited in various parts of his thievish hulk. He was in good flesh and as strong as a grizzly can get, or he never would have escaped. The reason of his good condition was found in the discovery that his headquarters were in the midst of the carcasses of some forty horses that had been caught in the deep snow and perished during the winter.
The Eugene City Guard, April 5, 1890, page 1
A Henley, California correspondent sends us the following account of how old "Reelfoot," the noted grizzly bear, the terror of the Siskiyous, finally came to grief: "Last week a quartet of hunters, including a famous local bear hunter, started out with a solid determination to capture the old varmint or die in the attempt. They raised his majesty near Pilot Rock, but he was too active for them, and before they could come up with him night came on. The next morning Billy Wright and a boy named Bean started early on the trail and soon came to a small canyon, on the far side of which was a dense thicket. Feeling pretty sure that bruin was in there, Billy skirmished around the head of the little canyon, above the brush, and commenced to roll stones into the thicket. The old fellow reared up on his hind legs and the boy made signs to Billy, who returned at once, and none too soon, for the bear at once started out. Just as he reached open ground Wright shot him through the abdomen and he turned and charged on them. Just as he reached the bottom of the canyon both hunters began firing and two balls pierced the brute's heart. He kept on in his charge, however, and was within a few feet of the boys when he began to stagger, and, striking his shoulder against a juniper tree, he fell over dead. He is thought to have weighed 1400 pounds, and the hunters displayed great coolness in facing that amount of concentrated angry grizzly bear. He had lost the toes off one foot in a trip many years ago, giving his foot a deformed appearance, and for twelve long years has been a terror to stockmen. Time and again hunting parties have been organized to run him down, but none has been successful until now. Wright was offered $100 for the hide, stuffed and mounted, but refused it, and with the assistance of Mr. Grieve will preserve and prepare it for exhibition."
Democratic Times, Jacksonville, April 17, 1890, page 2
The Henley correspondent of the Yreka Journal says that Billy Wright and the Bean boy, whom the Tidings two weeks ago reported as starting out to capture old "Reelfoot," the king of the grizzlies, killed the big bear about seven miles from Henley. Says the correspondent:
"Wright and Bean found his track at 9 a.m. and followed it until noon, when they located him in a thicket of scrub oak, near Deihl Springs. Rocks were rolled down the hill, and the bear came out. Both fired at [the] same time, and the grizzly fell, but immediately got up again and started for the boys. He got within 30 or 40 feet of them and dropped dead. Ten shots were fired, and all were found in his body, two passing through his heart. He measured ten inches between the ears and 18 inches from nose to top of head. The toes were cut off in a trap 7 or 8 years ago, which gave him the name of "reel foot." His track was unmistakable, and he has killed hundreds of dollars worth of cattle in this vicinity and Southern Oregon in the past 12 years. He weighed over 1400 pounds. The boys skinned him carefully, and intend having the hide stuffed for exhibition. He has been systematically hunted for, for several years, and cattlemen consider this a stroke of good luck, that he has been killed at last."
Ashland Tidings, April 18, 1890, page 3
J. Lomas, who is an experienced taxidermist, so far at least as big game goes, went over to Henley yesterday to stuff the hide of the late "Reelfoot," the "holy terror" to the cattle of the Siskiyou Range for a number of years past. "Reelfoot" has become an "historical character," or at least a local celebrity, and it is a matter of public interest to know that his proportions are to be preserved for the inspection of future generations.
Ashland Tidings, May 16, 1890, page 3
ED. YREKA JOURNAL.--Your correspondent visited on Tuesday last the residence of Mr. Wright, one of the slayers of "Old Reel Foot," and witnessed Mr. J. Lomas' arrangements for stuffing and mounting the monster. This was undoubtedly the king of grizzlies for this part of the world. Mr. Lomas thinks he could not have weighed less than 2,000 pounds when killed. Some of the fineness of a front view of his countenance is lost, from the fact that his tusks or canine teeth are worn off to not more than one-half inch in length. But what he lacks in teeth he makes up in claws, which are simply immense. On one foot only two claws are left, and Mr. Greave has the other three, which he left in a trap some years ago, thus giving him the name of "Old Reel Foot." He will measure nine feet in length, and probably could reach up twelve feet when standing on his hind feet. It is the purpose of Mr. Wright and the boy Purl Bean, who was largely instrumental in getting the bear, and who, by the way, is not seventeen years old yet, and quite a hunter, to exhibit the stuffed animal in Oregon and California this fall. G."Reelfoot" on Exhibition.
Klamath City, May 23, 1890.
Ashland Tidings, May 30, 1890, page 3
W. A. Wright of Henley and Purl Bean of Jenny Creek, who killed the old grizzly "Reelfoot" last April, had the skin of the monster stuffed and mounted in the most lifelike manner, and had it on exhibition in the Ashland grove all day on July 4th. The bear has become such a historical character that everybody will want to take a look at him. He was truly a monster, weighing over 1700 lbs., and being able to get away with a full-grown steer, as he has done more than once. The mounting is very skillfully done, and old "Reelfoot" looms up as big and terrifying in appearance as when he used to follow his butchering business in the Siskiyous and thought nothing of catching a rifle bullet somewhere in his huge bulk occasionally, as he happened to get within range of a daring hunter, says the Tidings.
Democratic Times, Jacksonville, July 11, 1890, page 1
Many citizens of Medford viewed the mounted remains of "Old Reelfoot," the Siskiyou grizzly bear killed last winter, while the owners had same on exhibition here during the week.
"Medford Squibs," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, July 18, 1890, page 3
OLD "REEL FOOT."--The two men who killed the old grizzly bear "Reel Foot" had the stuffed skin on exhibition in Eugene Wednesday and Thursday. The bear had been known for 27 years and in that time had destroyed thousands of dollars worth of stock. They secured the standing reward of $500 for killing him. A part of one of his forefeet had been torn off in a trap which caused him to leave a peculiar trail and gave him the name.
The Eugene City Guard, July 19, 1890, page 5
Some doubt is expressed by the old hunters in the Siskiyous as to the identity of Messrs. Wright & Bean's stuffed "Reelfoot" with the real Siskiyou terror. As the old fellow has not been heard of on the range since this one was killed, however, the presumption is that the boys have the old depredator's hide.
"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, August 1, 1890, page 3
March 30th Monday, 1891
I eat dinner at Mrs Deronzos and took train back for Medford there I attended to business till freight train south and Come home at eight Oclock. I met Mr Hurley and Tom Guier come to Medford and made the trade Mr Hurley to take possession right away. I borrowed of W H Hurley ten dollars. A Man had a big black Bear on exhibition in Medford
Been nice day
Diary of Welborn Beeson, Talent, Oregon It isn't known if this was Reelfoot, though it seems likely..
Dwellers above Shovel Creek assert that the only and original grizzly bear called "Reelfoot" is still living, and that the one killed over a year ago in that section was only a distant cousin of the famous creature which outgeneraled a generation of hunters. Certain it is that one of the genus now operating in that region pursues very much the same line of tactics that has always characterized the wily old brute. If it is not he, he has a worthy successor.
"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, June 26, 1891, page 3
"OLD REEL FOOT."
A Story of the Siskiyou Range.
GRANTS PASS, Ore., Dec. 26.--For many years the construction of a railway across the Siskiyou Range was considered almost an impossibility. The Southern Pacific Company, however, did undertake and carry through the work, and now the trader can sit at his ease and view some of the grandest mountain scenery of the Pacific coast.
Previous to the completion of the road people crossed the long gap in stages. In many instances the stage and all the passengers were robbed at points in the mountains, which at that period were full of hiding places and retreats for robbers and grizzlies. Now the robbers no longer molest and make afraid, though an occasional grizzly may still be found in the high, wooded elevations that overlook Ashland and the head of the Rogue River Valley. The last one killed there was a fierce monster called "Old Reel Foot," because of a peculiar reeling motion he had when walking or running, owing to a loss of several of the toes of his left forefoot in a trap.
For many years "Old Reel Foot" was the scourge of the Siskiyou and Cascade Mountain ranchers. He killed for one rancher alone no less than $1,500 worth of stock, and the arena of his depredations embraced a territory some 100 miles long by 50 in width.
He was liable to turn up by night as suddenly and unexpectedly as the "James boys" used to in the Missouri River regions, and after tapping the jugular vein of a heifer, steer or cow, and drinking the blood, would disappear and remain away for months, for he never returned to make a second meal from the same victim, like most other bears and beasts of prey.
He was fat, unusually large, and, as he grew old, very unwieldy in appearance. And yet no creature that haunted the mountains could excel him in getting out of harm's way. It was next to impossible to follow him with hounds, because the dogs that once survived his intimate acquaintance were always glad to let him alone forever afterwards. The hunters dreaded seeking him alone, for he had several times turned upon the pursuer and caused him to flee from the wrath to come and seek salvation in the arms of some friendly tree. But as the boldest and luckiest beast of prey--in the woods as well as in the wheat and stock markets--at last crosses the deadline of doom, so "Old Reel Foot" met his fate at the hands of two hunters, a father and son, who sought him with their Winchesters early one morning in the spring of 1890.
"Old Reel Foot" had called at a ranch the night previous and left his familiar card and autograph in the form of a dead three-year-old steer bearing the well-known throat marks, and the hunters "loaded for bear" and followed his trail.
They were moving quietly along near the bottom of a gully when they heard a loud snort and looking across the hollow and up the slope they saw "Reel Foot" not over 150 yards away turning to look at them as he deliberately retreated.
They took good aim and fired simultaneously, both balls striking him.
With a horrible and deafening roar that fairly shook the fir trees, he turned and came rushing, or rather tumbling and tearing, down towards his foes, snapping and biting at everything in his way.
In the meantime the two men kept up their part of the business, well knowing that the fight meant death to them both unless the brute died before reaching them. When within about twenty yards, the creature rose on his hind feet and paused for a final charge, his mouth open, revealing all his fangs, and his little red eyes ablaze with fury. But just as he uttered his last war whoop two balls pierced his heart, and, with a mighty lunge, he rolled over dead at the very feet of his slayers.
The fact that he weighed some eighteen hundred pounds will give some faint idea of his formidableness as game, as it also proves that the eastern black bear hunts, to which the New York Sun used to give so much space, are mere squirrel play as compared to grizzly hunting in the Siskiyous.
"Reel Foot's" age could not have been less than fifty years. He had been shot at scores of times in the past quarter of a century, and his carcass carried enough cold lead to load a whole regiment of Mark Twain's "jumping frogs."
His captors mounted the skin and exhibited the stuffed emblem of competition all up and down the coast last summer, and crowds visited the tent and felt well paid for their "two bits apiece, please."
James G. Clark, St. Paul Daily Globe, December 27, 1891, page 11
J. K. Leabo has bought of Bean, the bear hunter who captured and killed the famous grizzly bear "Reelfoot" a year or two ago, his boss bear dog, "Watch," who took such an important part in the chase after this destructive old grizzly. "Watch" is a big savage fellow, and Leabo calculates to catch a few bears with him himself this season. Leabo says he paid $50 for the dog.
"Brevities," Ashland Tidings, May 6, 1892, page 3
Old Reelfoot, the dead grizzly which was such a terror to stockmen in the Siskiyous during his lifetime, and which is now being paraded about the country in his mounted condition, will participate in the coming 4th of July parade at Yreka.
"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, June 24, 1892, page 3
Old Reelfoot, the terror of the Siskiyous, is sure to be heard of all over the continent before his skin wears out. He has been properly mounted and will be exhibited at the coming California fair at Sacramento, and after that will be taken east and be in attendance at the world's fair at Chicago next year, in company with the small boy who made him bite the dust.
"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, August 19, 1892, page 3
W. A. Wright, the Henley hunter, who with Purl Bean killed the celebrated grizzly bear "Reel Foot," intends taking his carcass to the state fair at Sacramento and then to the world's fair. The Journal says of him: His measurement at the time of his death showed that he was 8 feet 7½ inches from tip to tip; between ears 14 inches; height while standing, 4 feet 9 inches; weight 1892 lbs. In death as in life, he is still an object of interest to the public, but less troublesome to the stock men of northern California and southern Oregon. At the last two 4th of July celebrations in Yreka, under the management of the N.S.G.W., "Old Club Foot" was exhibited on a float drawn by four mules, in forming a picture representing the great seal of the state of California, with a young lady seated in a chair, and a miner at work with pick, shovel and pan.
"Brevity Basket," Valley Record, Ashland, August 25, 1892, page 3
Purl Bean sold his half interest in the dead grizzly, Reelfoot, to J. L. Coyle for $250. W. A. Wright has been exhibiting him in California on his way to the Sacramento fair.
"Brevity Basket," Valley Record, Ashland, September 8, 1892, page 3
Old Reelfoot, the monster grizzly, which was killed in the Cascades a few years ago, and has been on exhibition in northern California for some time, has been purchased by P. H. Donehue [sic], who intends to exhibit the beast at Chicago next year.
"Brevity Basket," Valley Record, Ashland, November 17, 1892, page 3
Wm. A. Wright has returned to Henley after a trip through California with "Old Club Foot." Billy has decided that traveling in a wagon across the United States is too slow and will wait until spring to take a trip by rail and be on hand for the world's fair.
"Personal and Social," Valley Record, Ashland, November 24, 1892, page 3
W. A. Wright, of Henley, who had been on a tour through California with the stuffed grizzly, Old Reelfoot, returned home recently, and P. H. Donoghue brought the bear show over to Ashland last week, putting up the tent near the railroad depot to catch dimes from passengers who have leisure time for sightseeing while the train stops thirty minutes for refreshments. The mounted grizzly hide is owned by several Hornbrook men, and they will probably sell it to someone who wants to take it to the Chicago fair on a speculation venture.
"Brevities," Ashland Tidings, November 25, 1892, page 3
Old Reelfoot, the stuffed Siskiyou wonder, has been doing duty as a dime-catcher at the Ashland depot lately during the dull season, while he is recuperating for the labors incident to exhibition next summer at the Chicago fair. Patsy Donohue now has him in charge.
"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, December 2, 1892, page 3
P. H. Donoghue has been trying to organize a joint stock company to capitalize the celebrated grizzly "Reelfoot," at $50 per share, and take the stony-hearted monarch of the forest up to the world's fair exposition. But Pat found it a difficult job and says the people haven't a proper regard for local pride and home curiosities.
"Brevities Basket," Valley Record, Ashland, December 8, 1892, page 3
Old Reelfoot, the famous grizzly stuffed with straw, has been bought by Abbott, the man who had his head tomahawked by Martin, and has been shipped away somewhere. Reports as to the price paid vary from $200 to $600. The property was owned by roadmaster Burkhalter and others of Hornbrook.
"Brevities," Ashland Tidings, December 23, 1892, page 3
Geo. Abbott has bought the carcass of old Reelfoot, the grizzly terror of the Siskiyous, and will take it east for the purposes of exhibition.
"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, December 30, 1892, page 3
Geo. Abbott will show old Reelfoot at the world's fair in a few months behind a piece of canvas sign painting that is a stunner. The artist, H. S. Evans, will not have to depend on his fame being in the hands of connoisseurs, for his production will be constantly before the public at the Columbian exposition in the most conspicuous possible place.
"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, January 20, 1893, page 3
. . . on one pedestal will stand in stuffed grandeur the biggest grizzly bear ever killed in the state, and on an onyx pedestal opposite a bust of Mary Anderson, who is a native of California.
"California at the Fair," Daily Advocate, Newark, Ohio, February 13, 1893, page 6 There were at least two stuffed bears in the California Building at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. Neither of the two seen in photographs was Reelfoot.
The stuffed carcass of "Old Reelfoot," the huge grizzly who was the terror of the Cascade region for so long, was exhibited in Jacksonville during the week by Abbott & Evans, who propose taking it to the World's Fair. They also had a big eagle on exhibition. Reelfoot was probably the largest bear ever captured on the Pacific coast.
"Local Notes," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, April 7, 1893, page 3
Should see the old reel-foot grizzly bear, the largest ever captured in this country, now on exhibition at 68 North Third Street, with the great freak J. E. Barnum, with the largest eagle ever captured. Admission, adults 10¢; children 5¢.
Oregonian, Portland, May 2, 1893, page 5
The stuffed carcass of "Old Reelfoot," the huge grizzly which was the terror of the Cascade region for nearly a century, will be taken to the world's fair. This was the largest bear ever captured on the Pacific coast, his weight being 3,200 pounds.
"Items in Brief," The Dalles Times-Mountaineer, May 6, 1893, page 1
"Old Reel Foot."
"Old Reel Foot" was the name of a bear that has struck terror to the heart of many a rancher in the Siskiyous in years agone. This bear was a very large one and frequently slaughtered large beeves. He was hunted by many hardy trappers on various occasions, and always came off first best, except in one instance where he lost one of the claws and injured one of his forefeet. Thereafter he had a limping gait and could be traced by a peculiar track which established his identity. This largest of grizzlies was ever after most wary, and so cute had he become that on one occasion, it is related, when a bait of fresh meat had been artfully arranged on a suspended limb so as to discharge the contents of a gun into him, he stationed himself on the other side of the tree, pulled the bait to one side and downward, the tree being between him and the bait. The charge struck the ground and "Reel Foot" got the prize. Later he was killed by a party of three, and a dangerous bit of work it was. For the last three years he has been on exhibition in various coast towns, and is today in The Dalles. He will be taken to the world's fair.
The Dalles Daily Chronicle, May 9, 1893, page 3
Old Reel Foot Stuffed.
Pendleton East Oregonian.
The stuffed bear which was on exhibition last week seems to have a history. His name was "Old Reel Foot," and while in the flesh he struck terror to the heart of many a rancher in the Siskiyous for years agone. This bear was a very large one and frequently slaughtered large beeves. He was hunted by many hardy trappers on various occasions, and always came off first best, except in one instance where he lost one of the claws and injured one of his forefeet. Thereafter he had a limping gait, and he could be traced by a peculiar track which established his identity. This largest of grizzlies was ever after most wary, and so cute had he become that on one occasion, it is related, when a bait of fresh meat had been artfully arranged on a suspended limb so as to discharge the contents of a gun into him, he stationed himself on the other side of the tree, pulled the bait to one side and downward, the tree being between him and the bait. The charge struck the ground and "Reel Foot" got the prize. Later he was killed by a party of three, and a dangerous bit of work it was.
Oregonian, Portland, May 29, 1893, page 2
OREGON'S MOST FAMOUS BEAR.
Sensational Career of a Giant Grizzly.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN:--Sir: I read the editorial upon "American Game" in today's Sun. I always read The Sun--when I can get it--and next to the Portland Oregonian I think it is the greatest newspaper in America; but that has nothing, however, to do with the "game." Being an Oregonian, my heart naturally swelled at your allusion to the great state which rolls and thunders to the music of her own poet down to the sea, the headwaters of whose mighty river, the Columbia, exchange the whispered confidences with the bubbling springs that give birth to the Father of Waters on the backbone of the continent, the giant Rockies.
The average citizen knows little of Oregon and less of its attractions, its superb climate, its rich valleys, its stupendous mountain ranges, its cloud-piercing symmetrical peaks, its virgin forests, and last, but not least, the incentive of this screed, its game. And of all the state there is no part that excels in all the desirable attributes as does the Rogue River Valley, down in the southwestern part of the state, separated from California by the golden-ribbed Siskiyou Mountains and celebrated in story and legend as the Italy of America--a very truthful description, if you will select only the very best parts of Italy for comparison--a valley quite as large in area as the state from which I write, but not so well known. However, that may come later.
Now for real game and a variety the Rogue River Valley (a corruption by impertinent Anglicization of the Canadian voyageurs' Rouge Riviere by the first Yankee diggers of the abundant and flaky gold out of its "red" banks) [the author is mistaken about the derivation of the name] is not equaled by any portion of the United States--the four ranges of mountains which enclose it, the Coast Range on the west, the Rogue River Mountains on the north, the Cascades on the east, and the Siskiyous on the south, being the home of the cat, the panther, mountain lion, the deer-elk, the black cinnamon [bear] and that king of beasts the yet unconquered grizzly bear, with innumerable smaller varieties of such satellites as should grace the court and furnish the larder of his regal court with pheasants, grouse, mountain and valley quail, pelicans, geese and ducks, with salmon and trout everywhere, it is and should be known as a very hunter's paradise. It is so common an occurrence for mere boys to go out in the morning from one of the numerous prosperous towns in the valley and return the same day with one or more deer or black bear as a reward for their tramp that it excites no comment, but there was one old grizzly who for a score of years defied all sorts of traps and shooting irons, and lorded it over the denizens of the forests on the northern flanks of the Siskiyous, until nature in one of her angry moods played him false and assisted wily, puny man to his undoing, and his name goes down into history as "Old Reelfoot," and his fame is being perpetrated in story and song, and his immense hide, scarred with years of conflict, is an attraction in a museum. Perhaps thirty years ago, when the world yet was young to him, and an occasional calf or bullock out of a settler's herd a temptation hard to be resisted, the episode happened which ever after gave him a name. He walked into and then walked off with the largest and strongest-jawed bear trap that ever was set out, and as he could not wrench it off he carried it about with him until it rusted away and broke, but left him with a forefoot turned sideways and claws enormously grown, so that ever after his trail was plain to the veriest tyro, and he became known as "Old Reelfoot."
The number of hunters who hunted and found him, some to their grief, and the quantity of lead he had pumped into him (at long range) is almost incredible. With advancing years his appetite seemed to grow and his temper to sour, and Old Reelfoot became a terror to beasts and a nightmare to men. When the unusually heavy snow of the winter of '91 cut off a band of horses which had been feeding out in the "Dead Indian" country and little by little they made their way to the base of Pilot Rock--a natural monument that rises hundreds of feet out of the crest of the Siskiyous clear and clean, like the sword of King Arthur out of the lake--here they found a shelter from the icy blast, here they were found by Old Reelfoot, and here after days of search by their owners they were found all together--Old Reelfoot sleek, fat and contented, the few horses yet left out of a band of about forty that had not yet passed in their checks to their keeper, terrorized and starving under the mighty banks of snow which towered over them on three sides, and Reelfoot asleep under the ice of Pilot Rock; and to this day it is a mooted question: "Did Old Reelfoot die of a surfeit or did the contents of the magazines of the two 45-90 [sic] Winchesters in the hands of the vaqueros lead him down so he could not get away?"
And conclusions differ. There is much evidence adduced on both sides of the question, and the visitor from the East is allowed to find his own verdict. When brought into Ashland and his carcass weighed, it was said to weigh over 2,000 pounds, but as to the correctness of this I cannot say. I was not there to see him weighed.
MAX PRACHT, of Oregon.The Sun, New York City, January 20, 1895, page 7
133 WEST TWENTY-THIRD STREET, Jan. 13.
Old Reel Foot's pal has showed up in the vicinity of Dry Creek, a short distance east of Medford, and is making a wholesale slaughtering of beef cattle in that vicinity. He is nothing more or less than a huge grizzly bear, and is said to be larger than old Reel Foot. Last Saturday he killed three cattle, but Alex Ireland and Crit Tolman are now on his trail, and have been since last Monday.
"News of the City," Medford Mail, October 18, 1895, page 5
Married--In Medford, Nov. 28th, Mr. Pearl Bean, of Siskiyou County, Calif., and Miss Etta Brown, of Jackson County. Mr. Bean is a mining man of the above-named place and quite well to do. All their friends are extending congratulations and best wishes to the happy couple.
"Kane Creek Items," Medford Mail, December 7, 1900, page 3
Pearl Bean, who has been ill with the measles, has so far recovered as to be about again.
"Kane Creek Items," Medford Mail, January 24, 1902, page 5
Mr. and Mrs. Purl Bean and children, accompanied by Miss Ethel Brown, left on Monday's train for California, at which place they will remain. Mr. Bean has mining property near Henley, which he intends to develop this summer.
"Kane Creek Items," Medford Mail, March 28, 1902, page 5
The Slayer of Old Reelfoot
It is not generally known that Purl Bean, who lives on Kane Creek about seven miles from Gold Hill, is one of the two men who were "in at the death" of "Old Reelfoot," a famous grizzly that ranged Southern Oregon about twenty years ago. The big bear was killed by Mr. Bean and W. A. Wright, now a Klamath County cattleman. During a recent visit to Jackson County Mr. Wright told the story. The carcass was mounted and exhibited in towns through the Pacific Northwest. While in Washington a traveling man saw the dead grizzly and conceived the idea of taking him to the Chicago world's fair. He bought "Old Reelfoot" and made money by showing him at the big fair. Altogether Mr. Wright realized about $800 on his exploitation and sale of the remains of the old terror of the Siskiyous.
Gold Hill News, December 3, 1910, page 1
Duel Lands One in Jail and One in Hospital
[Special Dispatch to The Call]
YREKA, Aug. 28.--George Miller, twice wounded by bullets, is in the county hospital, and William A. Wright, the man behind the gun, is in the county jail as the result of a shooting that occurred yesterday morning near the Siskiyou Power Company's plant on Klamath River, near Jenny Creek.
The two men met on a train. No one saw the shooting. Miller tells one story and Wright is reticent.
Miller was shot once over the eye and once in the shoulder. He will recover.
San Francisco Call, August 29, 1911, page 4
William A. Wright, Slayer of the Famous Grizzly Reelfoot,
Mortally Wounds George Miller
A recent dispatch from Hornbrook says: As a climax to a long-standing feud between two of its well-known citizens, William A. Wright, for forty-two years a resident of Mountain township, is here in the custody of Constable C. L. Hughes, charged with attempted murder, while George Miller, his victim, is at Yreka, with one eye torn away and another bullet through his shoulder. He will recover.
Wright was on horseback and Miller was in a wagon when they met on a lonely highway. Each realized it was a question of who could shoot the most quickly.
After the shooting Wright went to his home and sent word to the brother of the wounded man where he would find Miller. Then Wright started for this place, thirteen miles distant, to surrender himself.
Wright refused to go into the details of his trouble with Miller or to describe the final scene further than to say the quarrel began with lawsuits, which grew more and more bitter.
Wright is 60 years old and has a family. Miller, aged 35, has a large family and is one of a family of boys who are very clannistic.
Valley Record, Ashland, August 30, 1911, page 1
H. H. Lampman of the Hill Billy Ranch caught and killed "Old Clubfoot," the largest bear in the Asbestos section. This old bear had his left hind foot clubbed and has been prowling over the hills of the Umpqua country for the last generation, and is well known to anyone who has ever hunted in that section. Many hunters have followed his trail without success. He was killed stealing pigs on the Hill Billy Ranch. He weighed 450 pounds.
"Local and Personal," Medford Sun, April 18, 1915, page 8
PURL RILEY BEAN PASSES SUDDENLY OF HEART ATTACK
Purl Riley Bean, 63, husband of Mrs. Etta Bean, passed away very suddenly from a heart attack at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Leon White, on Kings Highway Friday evening, November 5.
Mr. Bean was born in Independence, Ore., Feb. 14, 1874. With his parents he came to southern Oregon at an early age, and had spent his entire life in southern Oregon and northern California.
He was united in marriage to Etta Brown in Jacksonville, Oregon Nov. 27, 1900. His wife and nine children survive.
Mr. Bean's father was an early pioneer of this district, coming to northern California in 1852. He was a cousin of two well-known and respected citizens of Oregon, the past utilities commissioner Louis Bean and Robert Bean, federal probation judge at Portland. Mr. Bean was an old hunting partner of John B. Griffin, and was a member of the party that killed the famous large grizzly bear on the Siskiyou Mountains in 1890.
Mr. Bean was a miner and spent all his life at that occupation. He leaves many friends and neighbors who will grieve at his passing and will miss him very much.
He leaves, besides his wife Etta, seven daughters, Mrs. Rose Shaffer and Mrs. Lillie Nelson, Weed, Calif.; Mrs. Francis White, Medford; Mrs. Pearl Keffel and Mrs. Vera Johnston, Mt. Shasta, Calif.; Mrs. Elsie Shaffer, Grants Pass, Ore.; and Mrs. Edna Sherler of Seattle, Wash. Two sons, Robert Bean, Medford, and Fred Bean, Salt Lake City, Utah; two sisters, Mrs. Lottie Mackey, Callahan, Cal., and Mrs. Emma Brown, Izee, Oregon, and one brother, Hank Bean, Yreka, Calif.
Funeral services will be held at the Perl Funeral Home Tuesday at 2:00 p.m., Rev. Sherman L. Divine officiating. Interment will be in the Medford I.O.O.F. cemetery.
Medford Mail Tribune, November 8, 1937, page 3
It Was Wright Not Griffin
To the Editor:
I would like to have this mistake corrected in the papers. It was printed in the death notice of Purl Riley Bean. He was a hunting partner of William A. Wright and not John B. Griffin. He and Mr. Wright were hunting alone when they came upon the grizzly bear which they had trailed for nearly a month, Mr. Bean being the one that fired the shot that killed the bear known as old "reel foot."
The bear was killed on April 10, 1890. This is at the family's request.
Medford, Nov. 15.
Medford Mail Tribune, November 16, 1937, page 6
Last revised August 24, 2016