Compiled and introduced by David Rogers
Although the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) was a common member of the native fauna of California, the species was completely eliminated from the state by at least the first half of the 1920s1. Grizzlies were also common in the Santa Lucia Mountains, where, among other pursuits, they congregated at the mouths of coastal streams, presumably during fish runs2. I have come across a number of reports in old newspapers and other forms of literature about local grizzly bears being killed by early homesteaders and hunters, and some of these articles addressed the exploits of "Rocky" (Absolom) Beasley. Mr. Beasley, who had arrived in the Santa Lucia Mountains by at least 1870,3 was a hermit whose meager income was derived from selling animal hides4. A newspaper report about one of Rocky’s bear encounters stated the following:
Information reaches us that the famous pioneer named Beesley, better known as "Old Rock," had a terrific fight with a grizzly near Jolon, in this county, a few days ago, sustaining injuries from which he is not expected to recover… It is said that "Old Rock" has slain some 60 or 70 grizzlies in his day5.
Rocky did survive, and by the time of his death in 1910 he boasted of killing 139 bears6. Due to the onslaught of Beasley and others, grizzly bears probably became extinct in Monterey County before the turn of the century. Even though the following reports are unverifiable, they none the less provide an interesting (although perhaps erroneous) tale about what was believed to be the last grizzly bear in the Santa Lucia Mountains.
A Charles Nahl illustration of "Samson," a 1500 pound California
grizzly that was captured and exhibited by Grizzly Adams.
GRIZZLY BEAR IS AT LARGE IN JOLON COUNTRY
CAMPERS CAME UPON BIG BRUIN AND TAKE INEFFECTUAL SHOT AT HIM.
An interesting grizzly bear story was brought to Salinas last evening by Deputy Sheriff’s F. B. Nesbitt and Frank Shook on their return from a trip to Jolon. The story is one related to H. J. Redmond of Jolon by a party of hunters who had been camping in the country near that place. It is to the effect that the campers came upon bear tracks at midday a few days ago. They started on the animal’s trail and followed the tracks until night, when they pitched camp. The pursuit was renewed the following morning and the campers were rewarded by coming upon a big grizzly during the forenoon. The bear came out of the brush about 100 feet from one of the men. He fired at the bear but made no impressions. Others of the party also took shots at it but the bear got away apparently unharmed.
Redmond suggested a bear hunt to Shook, but the latter politely declined. Shook is understood to have told Redmond he hasn’t lost any grizzlies lately.
If the animal was really a grizzly it is the first one seen in this county in many long years.
"Monarch," the last captive California grizzly, in his final stuffed manifestation. He died in
1911, and his remains have been on display at the California Academy of Sciences since 1953.
From the Salinas Daily Journal, August 16, 1913:
HUNTERS CHASE A GRIZZLY BEAR
A party of hunters over in the wild country about Gorda, according to H. J. Redmond of Jolon, to whom they related their experience, one day last week came upon the tracks a big bear about midday. They followed the tracks all that day and camped on the trail at night. In the morning they started out and during the forenoon they ran into a huge grizzly bear. One of the men was within 100 feet of the dreadful bruin and he fired away at him. He did not make any impression on the beast and fired again. Others in the party also unlimbered their guns and turned loose, but the grizzly got away. They followed on, but found him not.
This is the first grizzly bear seen in this county in many years. This may spur up some of the daring sportsmen of these parts to take a vacation to go down into that wilderness and bring in a bruin’s pelt.
An illustration of a California grizzly from the Overland Monthly.
GRIZZLY BEARS AND THE NATIVE FAKERS
Faunal naturalists and nature fakers are in some dispute as to the natural habitat of the grizzly bear. This controversy was started by an article by Col. Roosevelt in which told about shooting a grizzly bear in the Rocky Mountains. This was disputed by old hunters who declared that no grizzly bear was ever seen in the Rocky Mountains.
Another man declares that the coast mountains of California is the only place where grizzly bears were ever seen outside of menageries.
Now miners and hunters in the southern coast region of Monterey county declare that there is a grizzly bear over in Los Burros district, roaming up and down. They have seen a specimen of Ursus horribilis, and others have seen him, and one party of hunters shot at him. The testimony of these men is placed against that of faunal naturalists who deny that any grizzlies ever existed there.
And, then, let them ask Allen Kelly, who was sent down into San Luis Obispo county by the [San Francisco] Examiner after a grizzly, and got one, months after the Examiner cut off his base of supplies in a vain attempt to call him off his detail, but Kelly always got his story, whether in New York City, Arizona or San Francisco. The Examiner’s Monarch was a grizzly bear, if there ever was one.
"Mountain Charley" McKlernan could tell about grizzlies, if he were alive, for his face was all torn up by one in the Santa Cruz mountains in the early days.
What remains now to be done is for a party of intrepid hunters going down into Los Burros and chasing this specimen of Ursus horribilis out of the brush and getting his pelt. He sure is there, probably one of the forbears of Monarch, which used to be a curiosity in Golden Gate park.
References. 1 & 2: "California Grizzly" by Tracy Storer and Lloyd Tevis, University of California Press, 1955. 3: Census of 1870. 4: "A Spa is Born" by Carol Card, in What’s Doing, 6.1949; "Tassajara Hot Springs- Once Sold for $700, It Grew to Be a World Famous Health Spa" by Dorothy Vera, in the Salinas Californian, 6.22.1963; "Rocky Place" in "Monterey County Place Names" by Donald Clark, Kestrel Press, Carmel Valley, CA, 1991. 5: "Fight with a Grizzly" in the Salinas City Index, 12.21.1876. 6: "Noted Hunter Hits Long Trail" in the Salinas Weekly Index, 3.31.1910.
1 & 2: "California Grizzly" by Tracy Storer and Lloyd Tevis, University of California Press, 1955.
3: Census of 1870.
4: "A Spa is Born" by Carol Card, in What’s Doing, 6.1949; "Tassajara Hot Springs- Once Sold for $700, It Grew to Be a World Famous Health Spa" by Dorothy Vera, in the Salinas Californian, 6.22.1963; "Rocky Place" in "Monterey County Place Names" by Donald Clark, Kestrel Press, Carmel Valley, CA, 1991.
5: "Fight with a Grizzly" in the Salinas City Index, 12.21.1876.
6: "Noted Hunter Hits Long Trail" in the Salinas Weekly Index, 3.31.1910.