Ed McIlhany Gets a Bear

When Edward Washington McIlhany went home to his family in the East in December 1856, he took with him a pack of stories to tell. From his Recollections it’s not hard to tell that he enjoyed recounting his adventures. Here is one of them:

grizzly-bear-pvSitting around the campfire one night there were six of us concluded to try to kill a bear. We were all anxious to kill one. There was a very large pine tree that had been cut down about fifty yards from where the beeves were butchered. [They had butchered some beef cattle with plans to pack the meat to mining camps, and they knew the entrails would attract bears.]

The limbs had been cut off of this tree for fires. We made our plan; five of us, each with a rifle, were to get behind that log. It was arranged that I should give the word when to fire. It was a pretty night and very quiet. We got all arranged with our rifles pointing over the log, waiting for the bears to come.

Finally we heard them coming down the mountain. They were making a kind of growling noise. The hillside was not very steep. They came to the place where they had been in the habit of eating. They followed the scent of the entrails to where it was and they commenced eating.

There were three of them. Two would eat and one would sit up and watch; then that one would get down and eat and another one would sit up. I whispered to the boys that just so soon as another one stood up, I would give the word to fire. This was all done in a whisper. One of the men had a double-barreled rifle. Finally one bear sat up and I gave the word to fire.

The report was loud, but so closely together that it seemed that there was only one rifle discharged. Almost instantly all of us ran to this log cabin and climbed up on top of it. One man said, “What did you run for?” Others said, “We ran because you did.” The dog heard the shot and smelled the bear. He broke loose from his man and ran. The man, instead of running to the log cabin, climbed a tree that was close by and went up about thirty feet and was perched there, looking on. I remarked, “Boys, I hear that dog after the bear; we have crippled one. Let us run quickly and try to rescue the dog, as I would not have him killed for all the bear in California.”

We jumped off the cabin, grabbed a revolver or two, and one of the men an axe, having one rifle still loaded. We ran up the mountain 300 or 400 yards and found the bear and the dog rolling over and fighting together. The bear had the dog hugged up in his forepaws and we were afraid to shoot for fear of killing the dog. Thomas slipped up with his axe and gave the bear a blow on the head which stunned him. Another powerful blow on the skull killed him. I immediately examined the dog, and to my delight found that he was uninjured.

In our delight at having killed the first bear, we all took off our hats and yelled.

(Recollections of a ’49er, 70-71)



About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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