Read CHAPTER XIII - Smoked out of Bears I Have Met—and Others, free online book, by Allen Kelly, on

What a bear may do under given circumstances may be guessed with reasonable certainty by one who has had experience, but it is not always safe to risk much on the accuracy of the guess. Bruin’s general nature is not to be depended upon in special cases. He has individual characteristics and eccentricities and is subject to freaks, and these variations from the line of conduct which he is expected to follow are what makes most of the trouble for people who are after his pelt. Morgan Clark, the old bear hunter of Siskiyou, never hesitates about going into a den in the winter to drive out a bear, provided the cavern is wide enough to let the bear pass him. He takes a torch in his hand and stalks boldly in, because his experience has made the proceeding seem perfectly safe.

“All you’ve got to do,” says Morgan, “is to stand to one side and keep quiet, and the bear’ll just scoot by without noticing you. It’s the light that’s bothering him, and all he’s thinking about is getting out of that hole as fast as he can. He don’t like the smoke and the fire, and he won’t pay any attention to anything else until he gets outside, but then you want to look out. He goes for the first live thing in sight when he’s clear of the cave and the smudge, and he don’t go very slow either. Jim Brackett found that out over in Squaw Valley one day. He found a bear in a den, and built a fire at the mouth to smoke him out. The fire was burning rather slowly, Brackett thought, and he stood looking around and waiting for something to happen. While he had his back turned to the den something did happen, and it happened dog-gone sudden. That fire was plenty fast enough for the bear, and the old cuss came out without waiting to be choked. He came out galleycahoo, and the first thing he saw was Brackett leaning on his gun and waiting for the show to begin. He just grabbed Brackett by the back of the neck and slammed him around through the manzanita brush like a dog shaking a groundhog, Brackett told me that he never felt so surprised and hurt in his life. He hadn’t cal’lated on that bear coming out for a good two minutes more; but mebbe the bear had stronger objections to smoking than Brackett knew. If it hadn’t been for Brackett’s little cur dog, that he supposed wasn’t fit for nothing but barking at chipmunks, I reckon the bear would have chawed and thumped the life out of him. The cur seemed to tumble to the situation right away, and he went for the bear’s heels in good shape. It generally takes time and a few knock-out cuffs from bear’s paw to teach a dog that there’s two ends to a bear and only one of them safe to tackle, but that little ornery kiyi knew it from the start. If there’s anything a bear can’t stand, it’s a dog nipping his heels, and when the cur began snapping at his hind legs and yelping, he lost interest in Brackett and attended to the disturbance in the rear. The little cuss was cute and spry enough to keep out of his reach, though, and he made such a nuisance of himself, without doing any serious damage of course, that the bear got disgusted with the whole performance and hiked out through the brush. Brackett was hurt too badly to follow him or to fire a gun, and it was two months before he was able to get around. But he wouldn’t have sold that little scrub cur for all the money he ever saw.”

Budd Watson, who used to hunt and trap on the Pitt River and the McCloud, had an adventure with a bear that didn’t conduct his part of the hunt according to Hoyle. Budd and Joe Mills tracked a big Cinnamon to a den in the mountains near the McCloud and built a big smudge to smoke him out. The wind blew the wrong way to drive the smoke in, and so Budd took a torch and went after the bear, leaving Mills on guard outside. Like Morgan Clark, he knew the bear would pass him head down and make for the open air without delay, and he wasn’t afraid. When the bear got up with a growl at the appearance of the torch and started for the exit, Budd quietly stepped aside and gave him room to pass, but the Cinnamon developed individuality in an unexpected direction and made a grab for Budd’s right leg as he passed. Budd threw his leg up to avoid the grab, lost his balance and fell flat on top of the bear. Instinctively he caught hold of the thick fur on the bear’s hind quarters with both hands, still holding the torch in his right, but dropping his gun, and winding his legs about the bear’s body he rode out into the daylight before he hardly knew what had happened.

Mills was ready to shoot when the bear appeared, but seeing his partner riding the game, he was too much surprised to take the brief chance offered at the bear’s head, and in another instant it was too late. To fire after the pair had passed was too dangerous, as he might hit the rider instead of the steed. The Cinnamon, in his first panic, plunged wildly down the hill, trying to shake off his strange burden, and went so rapidly that Budd was afraid to let go. But Budd’s principal fear was that the bear would recover his presence of mind and turn upon him, and his game was to keep the beast on the jump as long as he could, trusting to chance for a way out of the scrape.

The torch, made of rags soaked in oil, was still blazing in his right hand. Taking a firmer grip with his legs and a good hold just above the tail with his teeth, he applied the torch to the bear’s rump. This application and the hair-raising yells of Mills, who was plunging along madly in the wake, caused an astonishing burst of speed, and the Cinnamon thundered through the brush like a runaway locomotive on a down grade, with such lurches and rolls and plunges that Budd dropped his torch and hung on, tooth and nail, for dear life.

The unfeeling Mills was taking a frivolous view of the case by this time, and as he strode rapidly along behind, losing ground at every jump, however, he encouraged Budd and the bear alternately with flippant remarks: “Stick to him, Budd! Whoaouw! Go it bar!” “You’re the boss bar-buster, old man. Can’t buck you off!” “Whoopee Hellitylarrup!” “Who’s bossing that job, Budd; you or the bar?” “Say Budd, goin’ ter leave me here? Give a feller a ride, won’t ye?” “Hi-yi; that’s a bully saddle bar!”

But Budd was waiting for a chance to dismount, and as the bear rose to leap a big log in his path, Budd let go all holds and slid head first to the ground. He bumped his forehead and skinned his nose on a rock. His legs and back were scratched and torn by the brush, his clothes were in tatters, and he was almost seasick from the lurching motion of his steed.

Mills came up roaring with laughter. He thought it was the funniest thing he ever had seen in his life. But Budd was not a man of much humor and he failed to appreciate the ridiculous features of the adventure. He got up slowly, ruefully brushed away the blood and dirt from his face, and solemnly and methodically gave Joe Mills the most serious and matter-of-fact licking that a man ever got in this world.