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Saturday, April 30, 2011

An Old Hunter and the Bears

Another report of man-bear combat appeared in the Denver Tribune and was reprinted in the New York Times in 1884:
An Old Hunter and the Bears.

“Mountain Jim,” whose real name was James Nugent, was one of the old pioneers who antedated the '59ers by several years. He lived a hermit kind of life in Estes Park, making an occasional trapping and visiting trip to acquaintances of his own class in other parts of the State. He was a man of tremendous physical power, whose arm, shoulder, and back muscles stood out in rolls and balls, and he was, withal, as agile as a cat. On one of his trips to Middle Park he left camp at Hot Sulphur Springs one morning to kill a deer. Two or three hours afterward comrade found him lying in the woods, senseless, bleeding, and mangled. In one hand was a large bloody bowie knife, his gun lay close by but not discharged, and out of his revolver one shot had been fired. Across his legs lay a huge bear, and on either side was another, three in all, dead, cut, and slashed with the bowie knife. Jim was carried to camp, carefully nursed, saved, but horribly disfigured. His scalp as torn loose and hung over his face, his face was lacerated and the sight of one eye destroyed, one arm was broken and he was torn more or less all over his body. He gave the reporter an account of his fight. He said he was passing around the roots of a large pine tree which had blown down, its roots tearing up a large quantity of earth which had adhered to them, leaving a large hole. Just as he stepped around the roots he found himself face to face with a bear, which, surprised, immediately attacked him. He had no time to use his gun or to dodge away. He drew his knife and the fight began. He said he knew there were other bears there and that he was fighting more than one. He did not know how many--it seemed as though the woods were full of them. He had no distinct recollection of using his revolver, though it was evident that he had used it, for one cartridge was empty, and one of the bears had a bullet in his head. All that he could tell about it was that it was strike and dodge and stab and cut, and he did not know just how he was hurt.

Jim was never the same kind of a man after the fight that he was before. His brain was affected. He returned to his cabin in Estes Park and became possessed of the idea that that country was his. He resented any attempts to settle it. Griffith Evans, the first permanent settler in the Park, moved in there with his family, and one day, in a quarrel with Jim, was obliged to shoot him in self-defense. From the effects of the wound he died a few months afterward, in Fort Collins.
Here's another account from The Story of Estes Park, Grand Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park (1917), which reduces the body count of bears to one:
July 6, 1869, he lost an eye and very nearly lost his life, in a fight with a bear in Middle Park. While creeping upon some deer, near Grand Lake, armed with only a revolver and knife, his dog came running up, closely pursued by a bear and her cubs. The bear at once turned on Jim, who fired four shots into her before she downed him; then with his knife he continued fighting until he became unconscious. He was lying in a pool of blood when he came to, and near by was the dead bear. He was very weak and terribly "chawed up." His left arm was dislocated, his scalp nearly torn off, and one eye was missing. He crawled to his camp, mounted his faithful mule and started for Grand Lake. Twice he became unconscious and fell off. But each time, when he revived, the mule was found grazing near by, and remounting with great pain and difficulty, the journey was continued. At Grand Lake his yells for a time frightened the few settlers, who were expecting an Indian raid. When, at last, they ventured out and found Jim lying unconscious, one remarked: "Indians are 'round, sure; here is a man scalped."
That seems a bit more credible, but the other version appeared in the New York Times so it must be true.

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