Bear Stories


Fall has arrived in Rim Country and the hunters are out in force. Exotic animals have been on the loose recently in Zane Grey’s hometown of Zanesville, which makes it seem like a fitting time to look back upon some stories of one of the bigger animals around — the bear.

In the 1920s, author Zane Grey’s exploits were big news. Grey loved to hunt and brought hunting parties with him to the area during the month of October. But in October of 1921, it wasn’t Grey that made news for a kill, but instead young George Haught, as this story from the Oct. 9, 1921 Tombstone Epitaph shows.


“MIAMI, Oct. 3. — George Haught, fourteen year old boy, killed a giant grizzly bear on his way home from school yesterday. George, his little sisters and brothers were on their way from school near Payson when they suddenly rounded a turn in the path and were encountered by an 800 pound bruin. Bruin on being disturbed reared to his full height and was about to crush one of the smaller children when George shot him thru the neck with a high-powered .22 caliber Savage rifle, the shot was fatal and the bear was killed instantly.

“George is the son of Babe Haught, trapper and guide for Zane Gray, the author. The gun with which George killed the bear was given to him by Zane Gray and his name is engraved on it. The children, while on their way to school the day before had seen a bunch of wild turkeys. George was carrying the gun in hopes of bagging a turkey with the small gun, when he encountered the bear.”

Keeping animals such as bears as pets, wasn’t necessarily common, but did occur at times. Zane Grey actually had a couple of pet bear cubs named Topsy and Teddy. They had been raised from babies by an acquaintance of Babe Haught and Grey bought them, turning them over to the Pyles to manage. Here’s a clip about them, written by Grey, which appeared in a magazine in the 1920s.

“Teddy and Topsy were six months old when I first saw them. They looked like twins and were plump, shiny, black, with long silky hair and bright, keen little eyes. One of them made a good armful. Pyle said he penned them up only at night, and that because wild bears often passed by the ranch. Teddy and Topsy had the run of the cabin, to the despair of Mrs. Pyle, who evidently prided herself on her housekeeping. And it was impossible to keep house while the cubs were awake. Fortunately they slept a good part of the day. Pyle had twin daughters and when they came home from Payson, where they attended school, they spent all their time playing with the bears.”

If you think that someone having a bear as a pet is bad, a mountain lion is even worse, which this clip from the Jan. 10, 1901 Arizona Silver Belt shows.

“Mr. Johnson says that at the Cold Spring ranch H.W. Lawson has a half grown brown bear that has been raised from cubhood and that he is the pet of the camp.

“But pet bears are not notably uncommon, though they are always interesting. However, Mr. George Goswick, who lives in the same vicinity, goes them one better by his ownership of a pet mountain lion. He too was captured when a little cub and has been carefully but judiciously raised. Judiciously, because he is generally kept in his proper place by a chain. He is now half or two-thirds grown and every once in a while displays his breeding by his roughness. He is sufficiently tame to allow and submit to the fondling of those with whom he is acquainted, but he is not recommended as the proper playmate for young children, especially when he is hungry. Some time ago a dance was given at the ranch and the lion did not take kindly to the big crowd of strangers. He managed some way to break his chain, and as he made a break for the hills he grabbed the clothing of one of the girls present. When he got through with it her ball dress looked like thirty cents. The dogs treed him not far from the house and he was taken home again and properly punished.”

Normally though, bears were a foe to be conquered, as they typically are today. Here’s a story from the Oct. 23, 1895 Arizona Republican about hunting bears in the Sierra Anchas.

“A Curious Bear Fight — How Bruin is Caught in Tonto — The Strange Explicit of Three Young Cowboys -— Tackled A Bear Where Old Hunters Would Have Let Him Alone

“Ed Howell is a jolly youngster, well known in Phoenix, where he attended school for a year or so. This summer and the last month he has been helping his father on the Tonto Basin cattle range. The other day he and a couple young friends went up to the horse range on the northern Sierra Ancha slopes. Young Howell saw a bear and that was when trouble began.

Really wise hunters in the Sierra Anchas don’t hunt bears. They let them alone, if the bears will only return the civility. But Howell is young, and failed to see the wisdom of allowing a thousand pound Cinnamon to pursue unchecked its daily task of securing sustenance through the consumption of tree grubs and manzanita berries.

“Howell was a considerable distance from his companions, but boldly riding up to the bear, he deftly threw his riata over the creature’s head. The great animal simply tore the noose off and commenced to take in the rope, hand over hand, the now terrified lad trying to untwist the rope from the horn of his saddle. He succeeded in securing his riata, but his horse in the race over a rough patch of country was being rapidly overhauled by Bruin when Howell’s companions came on the scene.

“One of them roped the Cinnamon by a foot, when Howell again cast his rope. The bear then was stretched out at length as the two horses pulled away from each other, true cowboy fashion, as many a calf is stretched for branding.

“The third boy had a revolver, with but two unused cartridges. He fired the two bullets into Bruin, only making the beast more ferocious, and then got his rope around the animal’s neck and the three horses pulled out to choke the huge victim to death.

“But the victim stood the operation better than did the horses. Finally, their well-trained horses keeping the ropes taut, the cowboys dismounted, stunned the bear with rocks and then cut his throat.

“The skin they brought back to the Tonto store, and there it hangs, a trophy of the queerest bear fight ever known in Arizona.”

As fall progresses, just remember that new tales are potentially just around the corner. Bears are a part of our neighborhood and man’s attempts to conquer them have long been happening in the region.


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