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Bears of Yosemite (1943) by M. E. Beatty


THE CALIFORNIA GRIZZLY

Unfortunately, the grizzly bear disappeared from the California scene before zoologists had a fair chance to study its movements, habits, and traits while it was actually alive. Only a few complete specimens are preserved in our museums, so complete information is lacking. Evidence indicates, however, that some seven different kinds (subspecies) of grizzlies once existed in California, one of which at least, was native to the Yosemite area.

The name “Yosemite” was derived from. the Miwok Indian word meaning full-grown grizzly bear, although. the Indians knew Yosemite Valley as Ahwahnee (deep-grassy place). [Editor’s note: For the correct meaning and origin of the words Yosemite (“they are killers”) and Ahwahnee (“(gaping) bear’s mouth”) see “Origin of the Word Yosemite.”—DEA.] It is interesting to note that the Indians of Yosemite were divided into two moieties or divisions: the land side and the water side. The coyote was the diety heading the water side, while the grizzly headed the land side. Some authorities believe that the name of the grizzly bear group (Yosemites) later came to be applied to all of the Indians living in Ahwahnee rather than to just those of the grizzly bear group.

Numerous written accounts of encounters with grizzlies in the Yosemite region are on record, one of the earliest being that of James Capen Adams, better known as “Grizzly Adams,” who captured and trained grizzly bear cubs for his travelling animal show. Adams visited Yosemite in the spring of 1854, and according to his diary, discovered a grizzly bear on the “headwaters of the Merced River.” After killing the mother, he found two very young male cubs in the den, one of which grew up to be the famous “Ben Franklin” of Adams’ animal show. Other grizzlies were captured alive by Adams along the Merced River below Yosemite, and sold at good prices (“Adventures of James Capen Adams,” pp. 191-197).

The last grizzly known to have been killed in Yosemite was shot “about 1895” at Crescent Lake, east of Wawona, and the skin of this bear is now in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology of the University of California (“Animal Life in the Yosemite,” p. 70). The last authentic record of the killing of a grizzly bear for the State of California was in August 1922, at Horse Corral Meadows, Tulare County (“Fur-bearing Mammals of California,” pp. 93-94).

The grizzly differs from the black bear both in structure and habits. In general, grizzly bears are larger

Indiscriminate Hunting Exterminated the Grizzly in California
Indiscriminate Hunting Exterminated the Grizzly in California
than black bears, although size is not a distinguishing factor in view of age variation. The weight of some grizzlies has been estimated at as much as 2,000 pounds, but most authorities give 1,200 pounds as the maximum weight of a California Grizzly. It is believed that the Yosemite subspecies was one of the smaller of the California Grizzlies.

The external outlines of the mature grizzly differ from the adult black bear in being higher in the shoulder region, giving the appearance of a hump behind the neck. The most reliable field distinguishing feature of the grizzly, however, is the length of the front claws, those of the grizzly averaging 3 or more inches as compared with 2 inches for a large black bear. In addition to being nearly 50 per cent longer, the claws of the grizzly are less curved making it difficult for the adult animal to climb trees.

California is well-known as the Grizzly Bear State, and the emblem of the grizzly is emblazoned on both the State flag and State seal. It is unfortunate that they can no longer be looked on as a part of our living wildlife, and must be remembered as among those many species of wild animals in California for which conservation came too late.



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