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The big mountain man hunting on a mountain slope encountered a great bear. They fought, the mountain man overwhelmed. But years later another encounter would generate folklore shared around many a campfire by Indian and white man.

Submitted: February 02, 2019

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Submitted: February 02, 2019




Painting and Story by Virgil Dube’ – Copyright 2019


“I’ll hide my canoe along yonder lake shore in the thicket,” the massive man clad in buckskin that most frontiersmen called Bull, murmured, a pattern of speaking to himself when alone in the wilderness.

Benjamin ‘Bull’ Ogilvie steadily paddled, strokes generating gentle splashing sounds, the soft rush sound of the canoe through water, sounds obvious to him in the dead quiet highland surroundings. The big man guided the Indian canoe past the wooded island at the broad lake’s center, the flat plane a broad medium mirroring majestic peaks surrounding the once volcanic caldera devoid of even a ripple this placid day, except the canoe forging ahead of the fanning wake behind it. Bull awestruck by the raw natural beauty was nevertheless wary of the dangers facing a lone man in this mountain wilderness.

His close-set hawkish eyes scanned for his objective, the long high mountain slope of jagged rock, which loomed a distance before him. His gaze ultimately steadied in the direction of another sound - that of water spilling, the distant cascading stream flowing down the slope, then descending to the point the rushing water spilled over the cliff forming a lofty waterfall feeding the very waters he traveled.

To dismiss rising anxiety, Bull threw back his head. He gazed into the cloudless eternal blue sky, taking a deep breath in awe and to relish the fresh chilly air.

Though I love this wild beautiful country, why am I returning here after ten years of healing? He questioned himself repeatedly every few paddle strokes. His actions strong were an act of self-challenge to face with resolution what had happened.

His only justification was an irresistible compulsion … a test to toss aside instinctive fear from a time when his life once hung on a thread.

The passion to return grew stronger with each stroke of his mighty arms propelling the canoe across the pristine lake. The impulse to divert his course struck him earlier as he traveled west to hunt a season in the Rocky Mountains, trap and prepare pelts for rendezvous. There, he would join fellow trappers and friends, Jim Bridger, and Mark Head, prior to the big rendezvous at Jackson Hole. Today’s diversion off course might even bag him game. The closer he approached the shoreline, the faster his heart beat.

Reaching the shores’ shallow water, Bull stood in the canoe to stretch his full six-eight cramped body and listen intently for impending danger. As he stepped into the water relieving the canoe of its two-hundred-seventy-pound burden, the bobbing craft drove ripples splashing against shoreline rocks, and hidden places under brush projected over water. Briefly, he watched the ripples fan outward, and fade into the reflecting distant expanse. Along with the pistol and knife secured under his waist belt, he grasped his musket always primed and loaded.

He placed leather boots Indians had made him solidly on ground, and moved the canoe away securing it under loose brush. “Now, I’m ready for bear,”he proclaimed with a growl.

Bull stepped inward beyond shoreline brush, and moved parallel to the shore on rock that had rolled downhill ages ago. Somewhere nearby, he expected to locate the very spot near the base of the falls where he had turned to ascend the rocky slope. Finding the approximate location changed over the years by nature, he began to climb, slowly, pausing intermittently to locate the exact trail more commonly used by animals, sporadically natives who might wish to lift his scalp. Stopping often as he climbed higher, he studied his surroundings, keenly, scanning the landscape full-circle. Motionless several minutes most stops, he listened for hidden danger along the treacherous terrain consisting of sparse brush and huge boulders smoothed over eons by running water, the nearby stream a constant and pleasant sound actually keeping him company.

Soon, Bull approached massive boulders adjacent the stream. He paused at this point to eat a strip of jerky he took from his belt pouch. Every few swallows, he bent and swooped up fresh water from the swift-flowing stream and drank it from his cupped hand.

“I’ll swing to the right around these boulders, the ole trail continuing on better ground if memory serves me right,” Bull muttered. Though he spoke softly, a curious wolf concealed behind boulders fifty yards away, heard, and followed him out of curiosity.

“I had forgotten how dang steep it is up har’,” Bull muttered, following the trail occasionally between dense brush and climbing over then meandering around massive rock. Fifteen minutes lapsed when he finally stood atop his objective, a broad flat slab of rock beside the swift downward flowing stream where he had once met misfortune. The elevation offered him a magnificent view of the surrounding mountain vista, the stream guiding his view downward to the lake below, where he heard then saw a bald eagle swoop along the shoreline in search of prey.

Glancing roundabout, he recalled that day wasn’t much different from today - magnificent. The conditions hauntingly similar impelled him again to check his surroundings. The sly wolf hadn’t escaped his scrutiny, the animal no danger. Nor had he missed the cougar below on a steeple summit stalking an elk grazing in a grassy meadow, the great cat perched above its prey but in no position to attack. Nor did he miss the curious beaver not far below him that emerged alongside the stream then shyly climb rock into brush. Sightings across the mountain slope showed game out and bountiful today, promising for a sharp-shooting hunter, as it was for him on that fateful day long ago. Fear mixed with excitement riveted Bull, just as it had prior to the horrific attack.

He stood quiet, motionless, as he recalled what Strong Elk had repeated to him and the tribe numerously around evening campfires, his account of what they had horribly witnessed.

What happened next on this day revisiting an old haunt would become legendary and capture the imagination of frontier fans and the public at large for many a year.

* * *

Following is a published account by one of Bull’s relative’s of the horrific incidents, first 1836, and then 1846. First witnessed by Kiowa warriors, their tale was spread by Indian and fur trapper, recorded in dime novels, and handed down arbitrarily to the modern-day family author. Appearing in Billings Rocky Mountain Daily Gazette, the story captured the imagination of a post-war nation coveting gallantry one hundred years later in 1946.



By Harold C. Ogilvie


Fall was approaching with gusto in that year, 1836.

Benjamin ‘Bull’ Ogilvie seeking to work alone parted company with fellow trapper Mark Head at Jackson Hole. He set out in a forested valley bountiful of running water where he observed game plentiful enough he might make a sizeable profit at rendezvous.

Bull had secured his canoe and climbed to reach the table rock where he paused to catch his breath and evaluate his surroundings. The view was excellent for observing the countryside before pushing farther up the mountain in pursuit of the big buck he had spotted moments earlier. With luck, he might get close enough to bag sufficient meat to place in his canoe for the remainder of his trip to his expansive hunting ground further north in the Rockies. Deep in contemplation, plotting strategy perhaps to skirt to one side and surprise the buck with a clear closer shot, he scarcely heard the claws scrapping rock behind him.

Reacting too late to lift his rifle and fire, or draw knife or pistol, he spun about catching but a glimpse of the huge grizzly prior to the beasts’ powerful claw impacting his head. Knocked to one side and sprawled semi-conscious on the flat rock, his head for an instant hung over the rocks’ edge submerged in an icy stream of water. The rapid moving water shocked Bull to his senses. He rebounded, propping his upper body on the rock by an elbow, shaking his bloody head, his focus fuzzy momentarily before it settled on his antagonist, a huge grizzly ten feet away, growling, daring him to recover. By sheer instinct, Bull drew his hunting knife. Exerting gargantuan strength, he stood to face the looming bear standing on hind legs, taunting him before he charged again. The standoff brief, the two finally collided with great force. Frantically, Bull held his ground, stabbing, slashing. The bear in close quarter responded likewise to the punishment inflicted him; size his substantial advantage battering his foe. Despite Bull’s initial superhuman strength and willpower, the all-consuming grizzly suffocated and shook him violently, bite with fang and slash with claw weakening him bleeding profusely. Finally, and mercifully, Bull’s great strength diminished, and then failed him. Tossed across the stream and unable to recover, he fainted into darkness.

A Kiowa warrior standing alongside fellow warriors at an elevated distant, stopped to observe the clash below. The stunned Indian party watched the bear sniff the prone seemingly lifeless man, then lift his body with his snout and roll it, the wounded beast finally amble off on three legs, one front leg limp. The lead warrior left his comrades and made his way down to what he assumed a dead or certainly dying man. His companions fell in line to follow him.

Though the bear too was badly injured, the Kiowa warriors approached the body cautiously. Strong Elk noticed immediately the man lying upon the bloody table rock wasn’t dead. Though breathing shallow, he was alive, even if barely. Conferring with uncertain companions, he argued the man though white deserved to live after putting up a gallant fight against the grizzly. Finally, he persuaded his companions to assist him moving the man on a quickly made trellis to their village miles away.

Following six months of intense care from village squaws, Bull miraculously recovered, healing steadily in time. Strong Elk’s daughter, Sweet Sunrise, became his favorite caregiver, and eventually his wife. So fond of him, and admirable of his great girth, the Indians named Bull, ‘Bear Man - The Great White Hunter’.

Bull grew to love not only his rescuers but also their free-spirited way of life. The village had become his home, not by rescue but by choice, and his new life had become that of the Indian.

In 1846 and ten years later while traveling westward to hunt for a final rendezvous, Bull swung impulsively north to return to the very spot of his tragedy.

Perplexed by his being on the very spot of his tragedy years later, Bull asked himself repetitively, why am I here chancing another encounter?However, deep within him he acknowledged he was an adventurer, a lover of the wilderness and all it had to offer a free-spirited man. To hunt and live fearlessly was to take bold chances, a voyager destined for a certain bad fate or grandiose experience. To face and understand danger was imperative to his survival, to his inner person and true nature, to be here on the flat table rock, or to be away in some wild bitter cold recess in the Rocky Mountains, or to be crossing a frozen stream naked, clothes held overhead to reach the other side and quickly build a fire and re-dress in dry clothes not to freeze to death.

Satisfied and more at ease before leaving to resume his journey, Bull took one last glance around, curious to see if there remained any telltale evidence of that fateful encounter. Satisfied that nature had wiped away any, he started to descend the slope when suddenly a warm rush of air swept across his neck and ears fixing him in his tracks. The hairs on his neck stood as the slight sound behind him spoke of the unmistakable. Wheeling about he came face-to-face with the angry grizzly, his left arm badly damaged, scars on his body telltale he was clearly the rival that attacked him ten years ago.

“Bar, I was quicker this time, an’ bigger an’ tougher … ready for taking on your agin’ carcass,” he bellowed, and followed with his own growl. “If you want more of me, lets have at it. Come on you cussed rancid-mouth beast, to hell wit’cha’!”

Old Strong Elk voiced the story many times around campfires before he passed into the spirit world in 1851. The bear seeking revenge, charged Bear Man … but this time his foe wasn’t a mere man but a Kiowa brother and seasoned powerful and cunning beast in his own right.

From that day, Benjamin Bull Ogilvie’s name would jump notches on the conversation list of growing American frontiersmen. When Indian or White Man spoke of Jim Bridger, John Colter, Kit Carson, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Davy Crocket, Mark Head, Daniel Boone, Crazy Horse, Jeremiah Johnson, invariably there would pop up in the same breath, ‘Bear Man’, and his famous last fight with the grizzly on the slope of what would become his namesake, Ogilvie Mountain.

Bull bore the scars from that victorious battle the rest of his life. He never saw his old friend Mark Head again. The great mountain man and trapper simply disappeared. The tale commonly told professed Mark died at the hand of Mexican regulars on a scouting expedition in the desert southwest. For sure, a marauding grizzly didn’t kill him.

Bull battered, but alive, returned with bear meat to his Kiowa village and his wife and family. Never again did he enter or partake in the white culture that was steamrolling across the ancestral hunting grounds, sea-to-shinning-sea.

For Benjamin ‘Bull’ Ogilvie – legendary Bear Man - and all other mountain trappers, the annual fur company rendezvous’ had run their course. Fur trading because of European and international shifting market interests, had diminished and was no more.

Nevertheless, tales of the mountain men’s challenging lives endured; Bull’s incredible yarn of survival then victory told over many a campfire and revived in print this very day.

Editorial Comment: if we as individuals followed example of our brave adventurous pioneers, life for us would have better productivity and meaning, be marked and inspired with prideful tradition and furthered by our posterity to take up by example old battles worth fighting. Bull battled the grizzly solely for his own survival. Unknowingly, he fought for the conscience of a greater nation on the horizon - America, an independent republic destined for strength and righteousness, by its birthright to be fair to all peoples everywhere, always to hold it’s head high in advancing freedom, be great in the true sense of greatness, the shinning beacon of liberty for which its founders fought and set forth.

Historical Editor - Billings Rocky Mountain Daily Gazette, Harold C. Ogilvie, Bull’s great grandson.


© Copyright 2019 Virgil Dube. All rights reserved.

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