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
More Encounters With Bears
If you doubt (these stories about Black Bears) ask Sailawe of Stuart Lake. Paddling one day alone on Babine Lake in his little canoe, he saw not far from the bank, a Black Bear. He fired and thinking it was mortally wounded, he left his rifle in the canoe and ran (to it)! The experience of his friends should have told him that the Black Bear is treacherous and usually goes to hide himself and await the coming of the hunter who has only wounded him.
This was the case with my man. He had no sooner climbed the slope at the top of which he expected to find his prey stretched lifeless on the ground, when it jumped for his throat and would have got the mastery if the hunter had not the presence of mind to seize hold of its ears, which every native does in such circumstances, to hold his mouth at a distance and so prevent it from tearing him to pieces.
So there the two of them are, fighting hand to hand, body to body, sometimes on foot like two gladiators, more often tumbling and rolling each other over the ground. Sailawe never letting go of the monster’s ears while it on its side belaboured his shoulders and arms with its terrible paws.
How long the fight lasted is something that no one can say. What is certain is that the hunter came out of it terribly bruised. He was beginning, he said to lose his breath and the bear was about to gain the upper hand, when he thought of letting go of the animal while they were both on the ground and gave it a vigorous kick which made it tumble down the bank while he himself escaped towards the canoe and pushed it out. Once there, he had no thought of returning to avenge with his rifle the wounds he had received. He had had enough.
Perhaps he had learned from his father how to battle with the bear. (His father) was going down the Stuart River in the company of three other Natives when a bear was spotted, shot at and wounded like the other one (mentioned earlier). The animal, following its instinct went to hide where it foresaw its pursuers would come. Two of the party searched through the forest a little upstream from where they got out of the canoe while Atzoul, the father of Sailawe, left in the other direction.
After vainly trying to find the animal, the two Natives went back to the canoe thinking to find their companion there, but he was not there. After waiting a while they went back to find him, fearing an accident.
They had gone nearly a quarter of a mile when they saw Atzoul some distance away and not moving.
“Come quietly, don’t be afraid,” he called to them, “I’ve got him by the ears!”
To be sure, the bear was there, upright and face to face with the Aboriginal, who was preventing it from manoeuvering otherwise than with its paws. Closing in on this statuesque group, they shoot the animal point blank.
I know of other natives who still carry the marks of wounds which they have received in such encounters. What am I saying? One of my friends, Denys, a native whose truthfulness could not be questioned, has coped with a fierce grizzly bear!
Along with another hunter he was following the tracks of caribou across the mountains.
“Go to the right, I will head left so we will fire at him between two directions,” his companion had said to him.
So Denys was going on, alone and confident when he came upon the caribou, shot at it and missed. He was going to reload and had just come to an open spot at the top of the slope when he saw, to his horror, a grizzly bear coming out of the forest on the far side and making toward him on the small grassy area.
What should he do? Retreat? That was certain death. Go forward? He would not have time to reload his rifle; and beside who would be so rash as to take on a grizzly with a single shot rifle? Should he call for help? His companion was too far away and he would not be able to hear him.
He remembered then that in a fix such as he was in, the essential point is not to show even the least bit of fear. So bravely he faced the monster which was still advancing, and stood stock still. The remembrance of his wife and children came suddenly into his mind. This caused for him some seconds of regret, then he said ‘goodbye’ to them.
Meanwhile the animal was only a few paces away. Quite taken aback by seeing himself so fixedly regarded by a being who seemed to dare it, it stopped where it was and sat down in front of Denys. Denys never took his eyes off the grizzly for a moment. As he later said, he had no feeling of fear.
“I had already offered my life,” he said, “I was only waiting for my executioner.”
However, the moments succeeded each other. The bear did not budge, it seemed fascinated by the gaze of the man. Five minutes or who can say? A quarter of an hour passed thus in mutual contemplation when suddenly the monster lifted its ears, listened with attention, turned around and saw a second adversary coming out of the forest.
It was Denys’ companion. Denys was at that moment saved. As soon as the bear had seen the newcomer standing at the edge of the wood, it went back slowly by the way it had come. Neither of the hunters dreamed of following the bear and to this day my Denys passes for a sorcerer.