Silas And The Grizzly

He knew he had trouble the moment he stepped out on his porch. Something just didn’t feel right. That feeling you get and can’t shake it off, like when you’re being watched. Turning back, he grabbed his rifle from the pegs over the door. His head on a swivel, he cautiously approached his barn and corral.

“Strange?” he thought, “I’m sure I shut that door last night. What’s wrong with it?”

As he got closer the reason became apparent. The door was almost torn off its hinges and there were fresh claw marks all over it.

“Oh, no! Betsy and her colt!” he cried as he raced into the barn.

What met his eyes was something he wouldn’t soon forget. Betsy lay on her side in her stall, her belly ripped open and her entrails strewn all over the stall. He knelt beside her and gently stroked her head. A tear rolled down his cheek into his beard as he knelt there. He saw slash marks on her flanks and blood on her hooves.

“Well, old girl,” he said to his mare, “you tried to fight back, didn’t you? What happened to your colt?”

Getting to his feet, he couldn’t help but notice the tracks on the barn floor. Huge grizzly tracks were everywhere. Angry, he stormed out of the barn.

He had been fortunate that his other horses had been in the pasture. He went to the gate and whistled. In reply, a large, black horse came running to him.

“Hello, Buck. Are you all right? Did you see the bear?” he asked while rubbing the stallion’s ears.

He went to the barn for a saddle and minutes later he was mounted.

“Let’s go to town,” he said as he raked Buck’s flank with the toe of his boot.

It was an uneventful trip. Arriving in town, he went straight to Leeman’s Mercantile.

“Hello, Silas, ain’t seen you for a while. Everything all right out at your place?” asked the storekeeper.

“Fred, I’ve got problems. A grizzly killed my best broodmare and her colt is missing. Have you heard about anybody else having any bear problems?”

“Matter of fact, yes. Several farms have reported losing livestock. Old man Sweeney saw it happen. He said the biggest grizzly he ever saw took a shoat out of his pen. Said the bear had it in his mouth, said it went through his fence like it was nothing. He wanted to go after it but his rheumatism was giving him fits and he couldn’t.”

“Fred, I need a box of 45-70’s for my Sharps.”

“Goin’ after it?”

Silas nodded yes in reply.

“Good luck and watch your backside. Sweeney estimated it north of a thousand pounds,” offered the storekeeper while getting the ammunition for Silas.

Silas nodded his thanks, pocketed the shells, and left. He had a rough idea of where to begin his hunt. He headed for home, figuring that was the best place to start. On the way, he stopped at Jeb Rawlin’s place.

“Hello, Jeb.”

“Silas, good to see you.”

“Jeb, I’ve got a bear problem. I was wondering If I could borrow one of your dogs to track it?”

“I don’t see why not,” came the answer.

“What do I owe you?”

“Nothing. Just get that bear.”

Silas left with two of Jeb’s best dogs. Both of them, Rip and Joe, had plenty of bear-hunting experience. He was pleased.

Arriving back home, he pitched hay to the horses in the pasture, packed some provisions, and left. Behind the house, he found tracks heading north toward the thickets that covered the surrounding hills. Turning the dogs loose, they immediately picked up the bear’s scent. They raced away with him in hot pursuit.

The bear knew what it was doing. It had been hunted before and knew how to evade its pursuers. The trail led through some of the roughest terrains in the area. Rocks, ravines, small streams, and fallen trees were just some of the obstacles in his way. Finally, he had to dismount and tie Buck to a tree limb.

“I’ll be back. Watch out for that bear,” he admonished his horse.

He thought the dogs had found the bear because they were raising a ruckus. What he found was far different. They were standing over what was left of the colt. Most of it had been eaten but he could still tell what it was. He glanced at it, shook his head, and urged the dogs back after the bear. The dogs picked up the trail and raced off into the trees, baying at the top of their lungs as they ran.

Minutes later he heard a deep growl and a dog yelping with pain. He raced through the underbrush toward the fight. Pushing his way into a thicket, he was confronted with a monstrous grizzly standing over a dead dog. It roared, stood on its hind legs, roared and again, dropped to all fours, and charged.

Silas had a split second before the bear was on him. He was able to get a shot off right in its face. He knew he hit it because it woofed as it bowled him over. Then it was gone with the surviving dog right behind it.

Badly shaken, Silas got to his feet, checked himself for any injuries, found none, and took off after the bear. This time there was a blood trail. He could hear the baying of the dog ahead. The blood trail got bigger as he got closer. But the situation was different now. He was hunting a wounded bear and there was nothing more dangerous. Countless hunters had been killed by a wounded bear. He was determined that his name wasn’t going to be added to that list.

Going slowly, his senses were on edge. Everything got quiet, deathly quiet. He knew that bears liked to ambush their pursuers so he was cautious, but not cautious enough. The bear charged from the underbrush. It knocked him off his feet and his Sharps slammed into a tree trunk, breaking its stock. It immediately straddled him and began biting his leg.

He was terrified and the pain was nigh on unbearable. Pulling his knife from his sheath, he began plunging it into the bear’s belly. The grizzly let loose of his leg and came for his face, its mouth gaping open, saliva dripping on his face. Desperate, he shoved his free hand into the maw of the beast. Grabbing its tongue, he held on tight as the bear clamped down on his arm.

Trying to avoid its claws, he slit the bear’s throat with his knife. Silas watched as the light flickered out in the bears’ eyes. It dropped to the ground and the battle was over.

“Good Lord,” he sobbed as he lie there. He was covered with blood, both his and the bears, and his whole body ached. Especially his leg and arm. He found that as mangled as it was he could still use his hand. He wasn’t sure about his leg. Sitting up, he looked at it and got scared. Blood was pouring from the puncture wounds and was soaking his buckskins. Taking his knife, he cut a strip from his shirt and used it as a tourniquet. He finally got the bleeding to stop. Weak from the loss of blood, he lay back and tried to go to sleep but the pain was too severe.

“Got me good, didn’t he,” he muttered as he lay there, “what am I going to do?”

Barely able to keep his eyes open, he finally went to sleep.

“What happened? Where am I ?” he asked.

“My cabin,” came the reply, “Rip came home by himself and I knew something was wrong. I came looking for you and brought you here.”

“Jeb, is that you?” he asked deliriously, “I’m sorry about Joe.”

“It’s me, now go back to sleep. You need the rest,” he answered.

After he was back on his feet he returned to the scene. The bear’s carcass was there, picked clean by the ravens. He wondered about the hide. It would be extremely large because the bear had been massive.

He was sitting on his porch one day when he saw a rider and pack mule in the distance. The rider was having a hard time with the mule and he could hear him cursing it as they got close.

“Jeb, is that you?” he called.

“Yep, it’s me,” came the reply, “I’ve got something that belongs to you.”

“And what might that be?” he asked.

“It’s on that fleabag of a mule of mine.”

Silas was stunned to find the bearskin.

“You did this for me?” he incredulously asked.

“Uh-huh. While you were delirious that first night I had someone watch you for me. I fetched the skin for you. I got it fleshed out and it’s ready for you.”

“Much obliged. I can’t believe you did this for me. I guess old Betsy’s death has been avenged.”

“You’re welcome, Silas, any time. You’d do the same for me. That’s what neighbors are for.”

June 17, 2022