June 23, 2012

The Old Mose Memorial Tour

Black Mountain. Old Mose was killed just over the horizon and outside the frame to the left.
The Jeep rocked and pitched as we rolled slowly down a two-track dirt road coming off Black Mountain.

I wondered if Wharton Pigg's ranch wagon lurched down this same drainage — or one parallel to it — laden with a thousand pounds of dead grizzly bear, headed for his ranch, the Stirrup, still the largest in Fremont County.

With it went several ranch hands and James Anthony of Cañon City, who had shot the bear they called Old Mose, and the dogs who tracked him on Anthony and Pigg's final hunt: Ray, Dummit, Penny, Ginger, Ring, Prince, Jet, Gale, Zepher, Dowey, and Bluff, no doubt with tails high, knowing that they were Important and Successful Dogs.

It was the afternoon of April 30, 1904.

Old Mose, the Denver Post reported a few days later, was the "King of the Grizzlies." He was 45 years old, had killed three men (or four, or five) and countless livestock. The Cañon City Clipper called him "the largest and oldest bear criminal of Fremont County." He was the "terror of stockmen."  He ranged clear to the San Juan Mountains, over eleven Colorado counties, said the Post.  Moving more slowly, as befits a magazine, Outdoor Life, then published in Colorado, hyped Old Mose's reputation more later that year.

None of it was true. Except that he was a grizzly bear, and he might have killed two Hereford bulls — but no people.

According to later lab analysis of his teeth, he was 10 or 12 years old, but he was blamed for deaths occurring as far back as 1883.
The Stirrup Ranch today, with a newer, grander residence.
His range covered only parts of two counties, Park and Fremont, and with his death the population of grizzlies in Colorado, perhaps 800 in 1880, continued to plunge until it flickered out (as far as is officially known) in 1979.

When I lived Cañon City, I read and heard about Old Mose, the terrible mankiller. Periodically the Canon City Daily Record trotted out the story, and it was in the little local-history books as well.

But one writer had gone back to the original sources, walked the ground, and even arranged for the Arizona Fish and Game Department to analyze a tooth taken from Old Mose's head, now at the University of California, Berkeley.

Stirrup Ranch cattle. Waugh Mountain in background.
That was James E. Perkins, author of Old Mose: The King of the Grizzlies (2002). It contains a couple of errors (black bears do not have retractable claws), but it still ranks far above many works of local history that I have seen, because Perkins' narrative is supported by actual research instead of merely copying.

He makes a convincing case that the lives of at least three bears were conflated to produce the legend of Old Mose — and his argument is worth reading.

It is from him, to give one small example, that I got the names of the dogs. As Abbey Quillen said in her review for Colorado Central, it is "easy to read in one sitting, but you’ll probably find yourself flipping back through it again and again."

I have indeed been flipping through it again and again, for last week M. and I decided to tour Old Mose's home ground, at least by Jeep. Call it a mini-staff ride.

He deserves a shrine. Instead, I left a geocache on the nearest county road. So far, no one has looked for it.

1 comment:

Darrell said...

I worked with a guy up at Climax 30 years ago who was born and raised in Canon City. He said his grandfather was present when they brought Old Mose in on the wagon.

I worked with an old timer Summit County native in the '70s who told me he knew of a mama grizzly with cubs crossing from Summit into Park County (near Boreas Pass, IIRC) in 1963.