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Story of the Mighty California Grizzly

by William B. Secrest, Word Dancer Press, Sanger, Calif., 2007, $25.

What would California be like without the grizzly bear? Well, it would be like now. Californians haven’t spotted a big grizzly since 1926. A better question might be, What would California be like with the grizzly? Well, there would be fewer Californians, as grizzlies are mighty ferocious. That’s the tongue-in-cheek answer, of course. But there is some truth to it. “The grizzlies were too big—too big in size, too big a threat to stockmen, too big a danger to families,” explains Secrest, who has written much about two-legged California outlaws over the years. He has adopted a documentary approach in this 244-page book, reproducing accounts from diaries, journals, books and early newspapers.

The California Gold Rush led many Americans, including adventurer John Capen “Grizzly” Adams, to close and personal encounters with the big bears. Adams wrote about his friendly grizzly companion Lady Washington, who had “shared my dangers and privations, borne my burdens and partaken of my meals.” More often, grizzlies were utilized for sport fighting and/or killed for meat. Some of the encounters were bloody for the men involved, too, for the grizzly was large, fast and unpredictable and could “slap down a horse and rider with one swipe of its paw. ” By the 1930s grizzlies had all but vanished from the California wilds. When a man reported seeing grizzly tracks in Yosemite Valley, rangers asked him not to discuss his sighting, as it would scare off tourists. But don’t worry. Secrest’s book will entertain tourists and natives.


Originally published in the October 2008 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.