Au Pays de L’Ours Noir: Part 22

Excerpt from Au Pays de l’Ours Noir,

Dispatches of a Missionary 1897, by Father

Adrien Gabriel Morice

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Translated by Neil Wylie and Garry Girvan

  Encounters with Bears

These poor people (the Sekani of British Columbia) have reason to listen to the priest. The thread which holds them on earth is so fine! Hunger is one of their worst enemies and often enough it strikes a victim or two among them. Fierce animals also sometimes take away a relative or a friend. Consequently the Sekani who goes off to hunt is even less certain than the Carrier that he will see his lodge again.

Oezuh, this dark, small, thick set fellow who comes calling everyone to our exercise has a brother with whom he went out hunting one day. Oezuh was not very fit at the time and the chase among the rocky places of the mountain had soon tired him.

“I can’t go on. Let’s rest a while”, he said to his brother.

The two agreed and sat down on the bare ground.

A few minutes had gone by when the younger of the two noticed an enormous grizzly a short distance away.

“I must kill him!,” he said getting up.

Oezuh tried in vain to dissuade him and entreated him not to listen to his own temerity. The young man would not hear it. He went down and approached the huge beast and fired a shot at him from his rifle.

But what is a rifle shot to a grizzly bear, the raging lion of the mountains, the terror of the rare wanderer who strays across its path? The animal rushed on the foolish boy, seized him by the neck then by the stomach and made him into a shapeless bundle, all that in the presence of his brother who was powerless to bring him help.

Next day they found him a few paces away, a mass of bruised and bloody flesh, the entrails spread over the ground.

Even more recently, since my first visit to the Sekani, a child of 12 years had the same fate, eaten by a grizzly bear.

For the reader who is not well informed on American fauna, I should point out that the grey or grizzly bear (Ursus horribilis) is a quite different animal  from the black bear (Ursus americanus): much bigger, of a different shape and instincts, of astonishing strength and ferocity. Our Denes, who are by nature so mild in the presence of man are so courageous face to face with wild beasts that although we know of examples of Indians eaten by the black bear, a man would not pass as a man among them if he were afraid of this animal. Many an individual, still living, has had these encounters where he has had to fight hand to hand with the black bear and has come out of it perhaps with some loss of blood, but at least with his life.

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