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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Journals Lewis and Clark as Naturalists

Brown Bear

In Bear Country

[This is the first account of grizzly bear.  Clark was a little below Hear River (contemporary naming) in North Dakota, just below Bismarck and Mandan.  This locality is approximate.]

Capt. Clark, October 20th, 1804--Great numbers of Buffalow Elk & Deer, Goats. our hunters killed 10 Deer & a Goat to day and wounded a white Bear, I saw several fresh tracks of those animals which is 3 times as large as a mans track.

Capt. Lewis, April 13th, 1805--we found a number of carcasses of the buffalo lying along shore, which had been drowned by falling through the ice in winter, and lodged on shore by the high water when the river broke up about the first of this month. we saw also many tracks of the white bear of enormous size, along the river shore and about the carcasses of the buffalo, on which I presume they feed. we have not as yet seen one of these animals, tho' their tracks are so abundant and recent. the men as well as ourselves, are anxious to meet with some of these bear. the Indians give a very formidable account of the streng[t]h and ferocity of this anamal, which they never dare to attack but in parties of six, eight, or ten persons; and are even then frequently defeated with the loss of one or more of their party. the savages attack this anamal with their bows and arrows and the indifferent guns with which the traders furnish them, with these they shoot with such uncertainty and at so short a distance, that (unless shot thro' head or heart wound not mortal) they frequently mis their aim & fall a sacrefice to the bear. two Minetaries were killed during the last winter in an attack on a white bear. this anamall is said more frequently to attack a man on meeting with him, than to flee from him. When the Indians are about to go in quest of the white bear, previous to their departure they paint themselves and perform all those supersticious rites commonly observed when they are about to make war uppon a neighbouring nation.

Capt. Lewis, 14th April, 1805--on my arrival, Captain Clark informed me that he had seen two white bear pass over the hills shortly after I fired, and that they appeared to run nearly from the place where I shot.

Capt. Clark, April 14th, 1805--on the side of those hills we Saw two white bear running from the report of Capt. Lewis Shot, those animals assended those Steep hills with supprising ease & verlocity, they were too far to discover their prosise colour & size.

Capt. Lewis, April 17th, 1805--A delightfull morning, set out at an erly hour. . . . we saw immense quantities of game in every direction around us as we passed up the river; consisting of herds of Buffaloe, Elk, and Antelopes with some deer and woolves. tho' we continue to see many tracks of the bear we have seen but very few of them, and those are at a great distance generally runing from us; I th[re]fore presume that they are extreemly wary and shy; the Indian account of them dose not corrispond with our experienc so far. one black bear passed near the perogues on the 16th and was seen by myself and the party but he so quickly disappeared that we did not shoot at him.

Capt. Clark, April 19th, 1805--Killed an Elk an[d] a Beaver to day. The beaver of this river is much larger than usial, Gread deal of Sign of the large Bear,

Capt. Clark, April 26th, 1805--I saw maney buffalow dead on the banks of the river in different places some of them eaten by the white bears & wolves all except the skin & bones, other entire, those animals either drounded in attempting to cross on the ice dureing the winter or seiming across to bluff banks where they could not get out & too weak to return we say several in this Situation.

Capt. Clark, April 28th, 1805--we saw great quantities of game today; consisting of the common and mule deer, Elk, Buffalow, and Antelopes; also four brown bear, one of which was fired on and wounded by one of the party but we did not get it; . . . Catp. Clark in the course of his walk killed a deer and a goose; & saw three black bear;

Bear Mettle

Capt. Lewis, April 29th 1805--Set out this morning at the usual hour. The wind was moderate. I walked on shore with one man. About 8 A.M. we fell in with two brown or yellow [white] bear, both of which we wounded. one of them made his escape; the other, after my firing on him, pursued me 70 or 80 yards but fortunately had been so badly wounded that he was unable to pursue so closely as to prevent my charging my gun; we again repeated our fir[e] and killed him. it was a male, not fully grown, we estimated his weight at 300 pounds, not having the means of ascertaining it precisely. The legs of this bear are somewhat longer than those of the black, as are its tallons and tusks incomparably larger and longer. the testicles, which in the black bear are placed pretty well back between the thyes and contained in one pouch like those of the dog and most quadrupeds, are in the yellow or brown bear, placed much further forward, and are suspended in separate pouches, from two to four inches asunder; it's colour is yellowish brown, the eyes small, black, and piercing; The front of the fore legs near the feet is usually black; the fur is finer, thicker, and deeper than that of the black bear. these are all the particulars in which this animal appeared to me to differ from the black bear; it is a much more furious and formidable animal, and will frequently pursue the hunter when wounded. it is astonishing to see the wounds they will bear before they can be put to death. the Indians may well fear this animal, equiped as they generally are with their bows and arrows or indifferent fuzees; but in the hands of skillful riflemen, they are by no means as formidable or dangerous as they have been presented.

Capt. Lewis, May 5th, 1805--Captain Clark and Drouilliard killed the largest brown bear this evening which we have yet seen. It was a most tremendous-looking animal, and extremely hard to kill. Notwithstanding he had five balls through his lungs and five others in various parts, he swam more than half the distance across the river, to a sandbar, and it was at least twenty minutes before he died. He did not attempt to attack, but fled, and made the most tremendous roaring from the moment he was shot. We had no means of weighing this monster. Captain Clark thought he would weigh 500 pounds. For my own part, I think the estimate too small by 100 pounds. He measured 8 feet 7 1/2 inches from the nose to the extremity of the hind feet; 5 feet 10 1/2 inches around the breast; 1 foot 11 inches around the middle of the arm; and 3 feet 11 inches around the neck. His talons, which were five in number on each foot, were 4 3/8 inches in length. He was in good order. We therefore divided him among the party, and made them boil the oil and put it in a cask for future use. The oil is as hard as hog's lard when cool-much more so than that of the black bear. This bear differs from the common black bear in several respects: its talons are much longer and more blunt; its tail shorter; its hair, which is of a reddish or bay brown, is longer, thicker, and finer than that of the black bear, his liver, lungs, and heart are much larger, even in proportion with his size. The heart, particularly, was as large as that of a large ox. His maw was also ten times the size of black bear, and was filled with flesh and fish. His testicles were pendent from the belly and placed four inches asunder in separate bags or pouches. This animal also feeds on roots and almost every species of wild fruit.

Capt. Lewis, May 6th, 1805--saw a brown bear swim the river above us, he disappeared before we could get in reach of him; I find that the curiosity of our party is pretty well satisfied with rispect to this anamal, the formidable appearance of the male bear killed on the 5th added to the difficulty with which they die, even when shot through the vital parts, has staggered the resolution [of] several of them [i.e., the men.], others however seem keen for action with the bear; I expect these gentlemen will give us some amusement sho[r]tly as they soon begin now to coppolate.

Capt. Lewis, May 11th, 1805--About 5 P.M. my attention was struck by one of the Party running at a distance towards us and making signs and hallowing as if in distress. I ordered the perogues to put to, and waited untill he arrived; I now found that it was Bratton the man with the soar hand whom I had permitted to walk on shore, he arrived so much out of breath that it was several minutes before he could tell what had happened; At length he informed me that in the woody bottom on the Lard. side, about 1l/2 [miles] below us, he had shot a brown bear which immediately turned on him and pursued him a considerable distance but he had wounded it so badly that it could not overtake him; I immediately turned out with seven of the party in quest of this monster, we at length found his trale and persued him about a mile by the blood through very thick brush of rosebushes and the large leafed willow; We finally found him concealed in some very thick brush and shot him through the skull with two balls; we proceeded [to] dress him as soon as possible, we found him in good order; it was a monstrous beast, not quite so large as that we killed a few days past but in all other rispects much the same the hair is remarkably long, fine, and rich, tho' he appears parshally to have discharged his winter coat; we now found that Bratton had shot him through the center of the lungs, notwithstanding which he had pursued him near half a mile and had returned more than double that distance and with his talons had prepared himself a bed in the earth about 2 feet deep and five long and was perfectly alive when we found him which could not have been less than two hours after he received the wound; these bears, being so hard to die, reather intimedates us all; I must confess that I do not like the gentlemen and had rather fight two Indians than one bear; there is no other chance to conquer them by a single shot but by shooting them through the brains, and this becomes difficult in consequence of two large muscles which cover the sides of the forehead and the sharp projection of the center of the frontal bone, which is also of a pretty good thickness. the fleece and skin were as much as two men could possibly carry. by the time we returned the sun had set and I determined to remain here all night, and directed the cooks to render the bear's oil and put it in the kegs which was done. there was about eight gallons of it.

Capt. Lewis, May 12th, 1805--Set out at an early hour, the weather clear and Calm; I walked on shore this morning for the benifit of exersize which I much wanted, and also to examine the country and its productions, in these excurtions I most generally went alone, armed with my rifle and espontoon; thus equipped, I feel myself more than an equal match for a brown bear provided I get him in open woods or near the water, but feel myself a little diffident with respect to an attack in the open plains, I have therefore come to a resolution to act on the defencive only, should I meet these gentlemen in the open country.

Capt. Lewis, May 14th, 1805--In the evening the men in two of the rear canoes discovered a large brown bear lying in the open grounds about 300 paces from the river, and six of them went out to attack him, all good hunters; they took the advantage of a small eminence which concealed them, and got within 40 paces of him unperceived, two of them reserved their fires as had been previously conscerted, the four others fired nearly at the same time and put each his bullet through him, two of the balls passed through the bulk of both lobes of his lungs, in an instant, this monster ran at them with open mouth, the two who had reserved their fir[e]s discharged their pieces at him as he came towards them, boath of them struck him, one only slightly, and the other fortunately broke his shoulder, this, however, only retarded his motion for a moment only, the men unable to reload their guns, took to flight, the bear pursued and had very nearly overtaken them before they reached the river; two of the party betook themselves to a canoe, and the others separated an[d] concealed themselves among the willows, reloaded their pieces, each discharged his piece at him as they had an opportunity they struck him several times again but the guns served only to direct the bear to them, in this manner he pursued two of them separately so close that they were obliged to throw away their guns and pouches and throw themselves into the river, altho' the bank was nearly twenty feet perpendicular; so enraged was this anamal that he plunged into the river only a few feet behind the second man he had compelled [to] take refuge in the water, when one of those who still remained on shore shot him through the head and finally killed him; they then took him on shore and butch[er]ed him when they found eight balls had passed through him in different directions; the bear being old the flesh was indifferent, they therefore only took the skin and fleece; the latter made us several gallons of oil.

Capt. Lewis, May 16, 1805-- . . . this morning a white bear toer Labuiche's coat which he had left in the plains.

Capt. Lewis, May 19, 1805--Captain Clark walked on shore with two of the hunters and killed a brown bear; notwithstanding that it was shot through the heart, it ran at its usual pace nearly a quarter of a mile before it fell.

[Clark records the same incident.]

Capt. Clark, May 19th, 1805--I walked on Shore with two men we killed a white or grey bear; not withstanding that it was shot through the heart it ran at it's usial pace near a quarter mile before it fell.

[On the Missouri River near the confluence with the Musselshell River, now in Garfield County, Montana.]

Capt. Lewis, May 22nd, 1805--We encamped earlyer this evening than usual in order [to] render the oil of a bear which we killed. I do not believe that the Black bear common to the lower part of this river and the Atlantic States, exists in this quarter; we have neither seen one of them nor their tracks, which would be easily distinguished by it's shorness of tallons when compared with the brown grizly or white bear. I believe that it is the same species or family of bears which assumes all those colours at different ages and seasons of the year.

We encamped earlier this evening than usual in order to render the oil of a bear which we killed. I do not believe that the black bear, common to the lower part of this river and the Atlantic states, exists in this quarter. We have neither seen one of them nor their tracks, which would be easily distinguished by its shortness of talons when compared with the brown grizzly, or white bear. I believe that it is the same species or family of bears which assumes all those colors at different ages and seasons of the year.

Capt. Lewis, June 2nd, 1805--Accordingly I walked on shore most of the day with some of the hunters for that purpose and killed 6 Elk 2 buffal[o]e 2 Mule deer and a bear, these anamals were all in good order we therfore took as much of the meat as our canoes and perogues could conveniently carry. the bear was very near catching Drewyer; it also pursued Charbono who fired his gun in the air as he ran but fortunately eluded the vigilence of the bear by secreting himself very securely in the bushes untill Drewyer finally killed it by a shot in the head; the (only) shot indeed that will conquer the farocity of those tremendious anamals.

[Along the Marias River}

Capt. Clark June 4th, 1805--at the river near our camp we saw two white Bear, one of them was nearly catching Joseph Field

Joseph Fields could not fire, as his gun was wet, the bear was so near that it struck his foot, and we were not in a situation to give him assistance, a clift of rocks seperate[ed] us the bear got allarmed at our Shot & yells & took [to] the river.

[Between the Marias River and the Great Falls of the Missouri]

Capt. Lewis, June12th, 1805--We arrived at the river about 10 am having traveled about 15.M. at this place there is a handsom open bottom with some cotton-wood timber, here we met with two large bear, and killed them boath at the first fire, a circumstance which I beleive has never happened with the party in killing the brown bear before. we dressed the bear, breakfasted on a part of one of them and hung the meat and skins on the trees out of the reach of the wolves.

How Many Speceis of Bear?

Capt. Lewis, June 13th, 1805--I am induced to believe that the Brown, the white and the Grizly bear of this country are the same species only differing in colour from age or more probably from the same natural cause that many other anamals of the same family differ in colour. one of those which we killed yesterday was of a creem-coloured white while the other in company with it was of the common bey or r[e]dish brown, which seems to be the most usual colour of them. the white one appeared from it's tallons and teath to be the youngest; it was smaller than the other, and although a monstrous beast we supposed that it had not yet attained it's growth and that it was a little upwards of two years old. the young cubs which we have killed have always been of a brownish white, but none of them as white as that we killed yesterday. one other that we killed sometime since which I mentioned sunk under some driftwood and was lost, had a white stripe or list of about eleven inches wide entirely arround his body just behind the shoalders, and was much darker than these bear usually are. the grizly bear we have never yet seen. I have seen their tallons in possession of the Indians and from their form I am preswaded if there is any difference between this species and the brown or white bear it is very inconsiderable. Ther is no such anamal as a black bear in this open country or of that species generally denominated the black bear.

Capt. Lewis, May 15th, 1806--at 11 A.M. the men returned with the bear which Labuich had killed. These bear gave me a stronger evidence of the various coloured bear of this country being one species only, than any I have heretofore had. The female was black with a considerable proportion of white hairs intermixed and a white spot on the breast, one of the young bear was jut black and the other of a light redish brown or bey colour. the poil of these bear were infinitely longer finer and thicker than the black bear their tallons also longer and more blont as if woarn by diging roots. the white and redish brown or bey coloured bear I saw together on the Missouri; the bey and grizly have been seen and killed together here for these were the colours of those which Collins killed yesterday. in short it is not common to find two bear here of this species precisely of the same colour, and if we were to attempt to distinguish them by their colours and to denominate each colour a distinct speceis we should soon find at least twenty. some bear nealy white have also been seen by our hunters at this place. the most striking differences between this speceis of bear and the common black bear arte that the former are larger, have longer tallons and tusks, prey more on other animals, do not lie so long nor so closely in winter quarters and will not climb a tree tho' ever so heardly pressed. the variagated bear I believe to be the same here with those on the missouri but these are not so ferocious as those perhaps from the circumstance of their being compelled from the scarcity of game in this quarter to live more on roots and of course not so much in the habit of seizing and devouring living animals. the bear here are far from being as passive as the common black bear they have attacked and fought our hunters already but not so fiercely as those of the Missouri. there are also some of the common black bear in this neighborhood.

Capt.Clark, May 15th, 1806--. . . Gibson and Hall accompanied them for the meat Labeech killed yesterday which they brought in by 11 A.M. this morning the female was black with white hares intermixed and a white spot on the breast    the Cubs were about the size of a dog also pore. one of them very black and the other a light redish brown or bey colour. These bear give me a stronger evidence of the various coloured bear of this country being one specie only, than any I have heretofore had. Several other colours have been seen.

Capt. Lewis, May 16th, 1806--Drewyer had wounded three bear which he said were as white as sheep.

Capt. Lewis, May 31st, 1806--Goodrich and Willard visited the indian Villages this morning and returned in the evening. Willard brought with him the dressed skin of a bear which he had purchased for Capt. C. this skin was an uniform pale redish brown colour, the indians informed us that it was not the Hoh-host or white bear. that it was the Yack-kah. this distinction of the indians induced us to make further enquiry relative to their opinions of the several speceis of bear in this country. we produced the several skins of the bear which we had killed at this place and one nearly white which I had purchased. The white, the deep and pale red grizzle, the dark bro[w]n grizzle, and all those which had the extremities of the hair of a white or frosty colour without regard to the colour of the ground of the poil, they designated Hoh-host and assured us that they were the same with the white bear, that they ascosiated together, were very vicisious, never climbed the trees, and had much longer nails than the others. the black skins, those which were with a white breast, the uniform bey, brown and light redish brown, they designated the Yack-kah; said that they climbed the trees, had short nails and were not vicious, that they could pursue them and kill them with safety, they also affirmed that they were much smaller than the white bear. I am disposed to consider them two distinct speceis. the white and the Grizzly of this neighborhood are the same as those found on the upper portion of the Missouri where the other speceis are not, and that the uniform redish brown black &c. of this neighbourhood are a speceis distinct from our black bear and from the black bear of the Pacific coast which I believe to be the same with those of the Atlantic coast, and that the common black bear do not exist here. I had previously observed that the claws of some of the bear which w had killed here had much shorter tallons than the variagated or white bear usually have bur supposed that they had woarn them out by scratching up roots, and these were those which the indians called Yak-kah. on enquiry I found also that a cub of an uniform redish brown hair had climbed a tree. I think this a distinct speceis from the common black bear, because we never find the latter of any other colour than an uniform black, and also that the poil of this bear is much finer thicker and longer with a greater proportion of fur mixed with the hair, in other [r]ispects they are much the same.

Bear as Foodstuff

Capt. Clark, May 14th, 1806--Collins returned in the evening with the two bears which he had killed in the morning one of them an old hee was in fine order, the other a female with Cubs was meagure. we gave the Indians about us 15 in number two sholders and a ham of the beaar to eate which they cooked in the following manner, towit on a brisk fire of dryed wood they threw a parcel of small stones from the river, when the fire had burnt down and heated the stone, they placed them level and laid on a parsel of pine boughs, on those they laid the flesh of the bear in flitches, placeing boughs between each course of meat and then covering it thickly with pine boughs; after this they poared on a small quantity of water, and covered the whol over with earth to the debth of 4 inches. in this situation they suffered it to remain about 3 hours when they took it out fit for use.

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