All posts tagged: historical records

California Grizzlies Got More Carnivorous. Blame Humans.

California Grizzlies Got More Carnivorous. Blame Humans.

On the subject of grizzly bears, the San Francisco Call—a short-lived newspaper that went out of print in 1913—wasn’t what you’d call kind. Describing the 1898 downfall of a California grizzly nicknamed Old Reel Foot, a supposedly 1,350-pound “marauder and outlaw,” an unnamed journalist cataloged the bear’s sins: Old Reel Foot broke into a pigpen and “sat him down in the midst of the squealing porkers until his belly was made full”; he infiltrated an Indigenous tribe to abscond with an infant in a papoose; he disemboweled and “partly devoured” a sheep herder while his young son watched—actions all motivated, according to the writer, by the bear’s thirst for revenge on humanity. Despite its drama, the account was typical for the time. Especially in the years following the Gold Rush, newspapers and other historical records billed California grizzlies as an unusually meat-loving, bloodthirsty bunch. “They were built up as monsters that had to be overcome,” Peter Alagona, a historian at UC Santa Barbara, told me. And overcome them we did. Throughout the latter half of …