Excerpt from Au Pays de l’Ours Noir,
Dispatches of a Missionary, 1897 by Father
Adrien Gabriel Morice
Translated by Neil Wylie and Garry Girvan
Return to the Chilcotin
As there was not a mouthful of food left at Lake Louskeuz when we left, we had only what powder and lead could procure for us on our home journey. But it must be said that Good Providence watched over us and except on the last day, when we failed to shoot anything, the hares and the wild chickens took care always to be killed on time.
One day also, I was saying my beads as we were walking along the Blackwater River when all of a sudden I heard Tommy, my interpreter, call out to me in a tense voice. “Stop! Stop!”
“What is it?” I asked him, turning back.
“Do you not see, the other side of the river, a little way behind that aspen?”
I look in that direction and I see an enormous bear regaling himself peacefully on roots growing in the valley. In a second Kloeth, my other companion, checks his weapon and runs toward the bear concealing himself as best he can. But the animal having a sharp ear, hears my friend and takes off in majestic flight. Tommy to pursue, and when he thinks the moment is favourable, fires a shot from his rifle. But the distance is too great. As the hunters say, the ball only grazes the bear’s skin and he bids us goodbye and does not return.
Since according to the first title of this volume we are in the land of the black bear, it is fitting that we make the reader better acquainted with this animal which is so common in our forests.
From the zoological point of view, our district has only two species of bear, the black bear (Ursus americanus) and the grey or grizzly bear (Ursus horribilis). But we have also the brown bear which for the naturalist is only a variety of the black. In fact quite often both coulours are found in the same litter. We encounter the black very often in Northern British Columbia. Without even troubling to hunt it, it is not rare to see a number of them. Its habits are known. In summer it live on roots, wild grasses, fish stranded on river banks, and above all on little berries that grow in this country. It passes the long winter months asleep in the depths of a cave, carefully closed off from the severities of the season. Only the thaw of the first days of May can interrupt its sleep and force it to leave. Then dogs trained for the work help the Natives find its lair and administer the coup de grace.. I need hardly say that Martin (the bear) usually sells his life at the highest price, and more than one hunter owes to an encounter of this sort, the loss of blood-hounds which he estimated to be his most valued possession. In summer the black bear is either hunted or taken in a snare or trap.
The grey bear ( Grizzly) is a quite different animal and we will have something to say later on about it.
In the day after our first encounter with the black bear, while we were at the campfire drying our clothes, which had been soaked to the last thread by a half day’s rain, I saw a buck come to drink at the same stream. I told my companions but they were not quick enough and by the time they were ready to fire it had gone back into the forest.