California Grizzly. Start with that title. Nothing except gold is more identified with California than that bear, even though none are left. Have been left for nearly a century. I’m a native son and getting long in the tooth, but the only Grizzlies I’ve seen have been from long distances in Montana. Tracy Storer and Lloyd P. Tevis, Jr, both professors of Zoology at UC, Davis, took on the task in the 1950’s of compiling a volume devoted to the lore and science of this remarkable beast. Amazingly, despite the fact that everything from the state flag to the Cal sports teams derive from the animal, no one before Storer and Tevis had approached the task. I’m glad they finally did it, and sorry the job had to wait for them because much documentation and oral history that might have been available a half-century earlier was lost by the time the book was published in 1955. Remnants of the original bear flag fashioned during the Bear Revolt in Sonoma in 1846, for example, were burned in the fires of the 1906 S.F. earthquake.
There were things I knew about: that Bull and Bear fights were huge sources of amusement ever since Europeans and cattle invaded the state; that the Grizzlies were valley and seaside animals before settlers forced them into the mountains; that Grizzlies were extremely hard to kill; that cowboys liked boots and chaps fashioned from bear claws; that bear paws were a delicacy and that the modern pastry might derive its name from early hunger for same.
Then there were things I didn’t know. That the bears traveled in huge packs; that Grizzly Adams wasn’t just a Disney character; that Grizzlies were tameable; that so many bears were trapped and exhibited; that there was a Grizzly population explosion during the hundred and fifty years or so of cattle ranching before the 1880’s hunts began the extermination because, ironically, slow cows and slaughtering remnants from humans provided abundant new food from the very people that would eventually destroy them; that bear oil was an energy source for a while; that, apparently, the bear is hard to draw. Only one artist, Nahl, was successful. Most artists made the bear look like a pig or a dog; that some CA Indians were so afraid of the bear they wouldn’t attempt to kill one even during starving times; that some Indians hunted the Grizzly regularly; that bear hides were not generally commercially viable.
And other stuff, too, of course.
Naturally, the book is more than lists. The first few chapters read a bit too much like a Zoology text and are filled with speculation about bear habits, mating and gestation mysteries that have since been solved. Once we get to the fourth chapter dealing with Grizzlies and Indians, though, the book takes off nicely. Virtually every page is filled with something interesting and new. It’s a good read and a great reference. A must for the shelf of any CA history buff.