A TRUE STORY FROM EARLY MONTANA
In the spring of 1804 the Lewis and Clark Expedition, known as the Corps of Discovery, left St. Louis in a keelboat and two large canoes. As they slowly made their way up the Missouri River they were warned by Native American tribes to watch out for “monsters” roaming near the great waterfalls of the Missouri. The Indians claimed that the bears were not easy to kill. In fact, they never attempted a bear hunt without at least six hunters in the hunting party.
The men of the Corps were not too worried. They figured their guns were so far superior to arrows that they had little to worry about. Nevertheless, they grew more and more curious about the mysterious bears as they traveled into the Montana area.
On May 14, 1805, about a year into the expedition, six men spotted a monstrous grizzly bear near the river’s edge. By that time they had already seen a few bears, but this beast was gigantic! Bear burgers for dinner, anyone?
They loaded their guns and sneaked up on the bear. Four of them shot at once. All four hit their target with two balls piercing the bear’s lungs. Well, this only made the grizzly bear angry. Crazy angry! It reared up with a bloodcurdling roar and charged. The other two men fired their guns. One ball broke the bear’s shoulder, but the grizzly kept coming, intent on ripping to shreds the first man it reached.
The men decided the time had come to forget about dinner. They ran for their lives. Two jumped into a canoe and paddled away. The other four hid in the willows and reloaded. Ready, fire!
Aha! The bear turned. Now he knew where the men were hiding. He charged again with a fearsome roar. The two closest men threw their guns to the ground and bolted to a 20-foot perpendicular bank. Feeling the bear breathing down their necks, they jumped from the cliff into the river below and swam like they had never swum before. The enraged bear leaped into the water after them, making quite a splash. The bear had almost reached the terrified swimmers when a shot rang out from the willows. It hit the grizzly in the head, killing it.
It had taken eight musket balls to bring down that “monster” grizzly bear. After many such close encounters, #Meriwether Lewis, one of the captains of the Corps of Discovery, wrote in his journal,
“I find that the curiosity of our party is pretty well satisfied with respect to this animal …”
The grizzly bear account is one of the stories you will find in my book #Where Did Sacagawea Join the Corps of Discovery? And Other Questions about the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Lerner Publishing Group, 2011). This book is part of Lerner’s “Six Questions of American History Series” and tells the story of the Lewis & Clark Expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back again. It is geared to 4th – 7th grade readers, but adults enjoy it as well.
Attribution: Bear By NPS photo (Public Domain), via Wikimedia Commons; Meriwether Lewis by Charles Willson Peale (Public Domain), via Wikimedia Commons