Read CHAPTER IV - Mountain Charley of Bears I Have Met—and Others, free online book, by Allen Kelly, on

Charles McKiernan was a well-known lumber merchant of San Jose, Cal. To old timers he was “Mountain Charlie,” having spent most of his life in the Santa Cruz mountains, where he owned timber land and saw mills. McKiernan’s face was strangely disfigured. His left eye was missing and his forehead was so badly scarred that he wore his hair in a bang falling to his eyebrows to conceal the marks. From his own lips I heard the story of those scars.

This was also in the days of the muzzle-loading rifle. McKiernan and a partner were holding down timber claims in the mountains and living in a cabin overlooking a wide canyon. One morning they saw a Grizzly turning over rocks at the foot of a spur jutting from the main ridge into the canyon, and taking their rifles they followed the ridge around to the spur to get a shot at him from that point. It so happened that the bear also fancied that he had business on the top of the spur, and began climbing soon after the men lost sight of him.

The bear and the men met unexpectedly at the top, and the bear halted hesitatingly with his head and breast just showing above the rocks at the brink of the steep slope. McKiernan did not want to begin the fight at such close quarters, and he was confident that the bear would back down and attempt to return to the brush at the foot of the spur if given time. Then he would have the advantage of the up-hill position and plenty of time to reload if the bear should attempt to return after the first shot.

But McKiernan’s partner lost his nerve, turned tail and ran away, and that encouraged the bear to take the offensive, just as it would invite attack from a hesitating dog. The Grizzly sprang up over the edge of the steep and charged McKiernan, who threw up his rifle and fired at the bear’s chest. It was a Yeager rifle carrying an ounce ball, and it checked the charge for a moment by bringing the bear to his knees. As the bear gathered himself for another rush, McKiernan swung the heavy rifle and struck the bear over the head with the barrel. He was a powerful man, accustomed to swinging an axe, and the blow knocked the bear down and stunned him. The stock of the rifle broke in McKiernan’s hands and the barrel fell close by the bear, which had fallen upon the very edge of a steep slope at the side of the spur or knob.

McKiernan stooped to recover the rifle barrel with which to beat the bear to death, and in doing so his head came close to the bear’s. The Grizzly had partly recovered, and throwing his head upward he closed his jaws upon McKiernan’s forehead, with a snap like a steel trap. One lower tusk entered the left eye socket, and an upper canine tooth sunk into the skull. McKiernan fell face downward, his arms under his face, and the bear slid over the edge and rolled down the almost vertical wall into the canyon, having dislodged himself by the effort to seize the man.

McKiernan did not lose consciousness, but he was unable to move. He knew his left eye was gone, and he feared that he was bleeding to death. He heard the bear rolling down the slope, heard the crash of bushes as he struck the bottom, and knew because of his bawling that the Grizzly was mortally hurt. Then he wondered why his partner did not come to him, and sense of pain and fear of death were submerged under a wave of indignation at the man’s cowardice and flight. Presently he heard faintly a voice calling him across the canyon, but could not distinguish the words, and after a time he realized that his partner had fled back to the cabin, and was shouting to him. He could not answer, nor could he raise his head, but he managed to free one arm and wave it feebly. The partner finally saw the movement and plucked up enough courage to come back, and with his help McKiernan somehow got to the cabin.

A young doctor from San Jose attempted to patch up the broken skull after removing a large piece and leaving the envelope of the brain exposed. He had read something about trephining and inserting silver plates, and he hammered out a silver dollar and set it like a piece of mosaic into McKiernan’s forehead, where it resisted the efforts of nature to repair damages and caused McKiernan a thousand times more agony than he had suffered from the Grizzly’s tusks. Only the marvelous vitality of the man saved him from the consequences of such surgery. For days and weeks he sat in his cabin dripping his life away out of a wound that closed, swelled with fierce pain and broke out afresh, and the drain upon his system gave him an incredible appetite for meat, which he devoured in Gargantuan quantities.

Then old Doctor Spencer went up to “Mountain Charlie’s” cabin, took out the silver dollar, removed a wad of eyebrow that had been pushed into the hole made by the bear’s lower tooth in the eye socket, and McKiernan recovered.

And the first thing he did when he was able to travel was to load up a shotgun and hunt San Jose from one end to the other for the man who had set a silver dollar in his skull.