As a follow up to the earlier post about The Revenant, where the historical (not Hollywood) Hugh Glass is mauled by a grizzly bear on the Great Plains, it occurred to me that some people might not know that the Great Plains was historically part of the habitat for the grizzly. Today most people think of the grizzly residing in remote forested mountain areas, and that’s true enough, but it hasn’t always been that way.
Today, outside of Alaska and Canada, most grizzlies are in Montana or Wyoming, plus a patch or two in Idaho and Washington. The total number is under 2,000. Historically speaking, the big griz had a much wider territory to roam which included most of the West (minus the desert areas), as far east as Minnesota, and as far south as Mexico. The total number in the lower 48 was likely more than 60,000. In the Great Plains, not surprisingly, they tended not to stray too far from rivers. Lewis and Clark encountered a number of them of their journey in the early 1800s, and although this particular encounter did not occur on the plains, I can never resist a quote from William Clark:
“In the evening we saw a Brown or Grisley beare on a sand beech, I went out with one man Geo Drewyer & Killed the bear, which was verry large and a turrible looking animal, which we found verry hard to kill we Shot ten Balls into him before we killed him, & 5 of those Balls through his lights This animal is the largest of the carnivorous kind I ever saw we had nothing that could way him, I think his weight may be stated at 500 pounds [227 kilograms]…. we had him skined and divided, the oile tried up & put in Kegs for use.”
Speaking of history, Hugh Glass saw the historic Great Plains, and therefore he encountered a historic grizzly bear. You won’t find them on the Great Plains today, but then again, there’s this story from just this week: A hunter, who was hunting pheasants on the plains just east of the Rocky Mountain front in Montana (and therefore on the Great Plains), encountered a grizzly coming out of the nearby willows that his dog had been combing. It was a sow bear with two cubs. The bear charged and the man shot the bear. The bear eventually died of its wounds, but later, the cubs were nowhere to be found. Perhaps those cubs will survive and once again make their home on the Great Plains.