Joel McPherson
The Bear

by Joel Walter McPherson

A bear hunt taken December 1905 or 1906 in the Capitan mountains about 6 or 7 miles South or Southwest of the Headquarter Castle Ranch. There were in the bunch John L. Bryan, Mr. Shields, Matt Porter, an old bear hunter, Mr. Welch and son, Hez Welch, Raymond Meeks and myself, J. W. McPherson.

We left home one morning, went within six miles of where we were going up in the mountains. We had two horses to a spring wagon with our supplies and we all had a saddle horse. We camped that night. It began to rain but turned into snow next morning, the snow was about two feet deep. We ate our breakfast, started on and had gone about 200 yards when we broke the coupling pole of the wagon so we had to cut a sapling and make another coupling pole. Then we had to take two of our saddle horses with rope tied to their saddle horns to help pull the wagon in the snow. It took us all day to go that six miles. It snowed so much that it broke the limbs off the trees.

It still snowed two days after we got up there, making the snow about to our hips.

The second day I left the camp and went around the mountain to the south side after John Bryan and his bear-dog to help our two dogs run the bear. That day while I was gone Mr. Shields and Mr. Welch had gone out and found a bear and our two dogs wouldn't run it further than a little way and came back to camp. The bear lay down at the roots of a big tree and lay there until the next morning. Mr. Welch said he knew old Boone would catch it so the next morning we wrapped up some salt in a piece of paper so we could eat some of the bear broiled when we killed it. Boone wasn't gone long until he came back, but the other dog went on after it. When old Boone came back Mr. Welch threw his salt away and started back to his horse. They would ride up as far as the rocks, and then walk and crawl over them. The rest of us went up and killed the bear so Matt and I went back after the horses. We got to them before Mr. Welch had left the horses. He went back to help us get it. He dragged the bear accross the canyon to where we could get to it easy and showed us how to dress it. He cut the hide and meat together clean off the bones. When we got to camp we then had to cut the meat out of the hide so we wasted a lot of the meat.

Mr. Welch said we could eat all the meat we wanted without it making us sick; but it did make us sick.

Next morning Mr. Welch and Mr. Shields went back home, taking part of the meat. We four stayed to hunt more. The next morning John and Mattie went up one canyon with old Ring; Hez and I went up another canyon with Spot. We were leading our dogs to keep them from running deer. John and Matt jumped a big old black bear, put Ring after it. It was coming right down the canyon toward us. We couldn't see it but followed the dog. He took us on down the canyon through the trees. The bear was so high in a tree it looked like a cub. Matt and John knew Ring was after a big bear so they trailed around there awhile for the big bear's tracks. Then Matt shot the bear out of the tree. Ring was barking and standing on his hind feet. The bear broke off a big limb with a curve in it and the curve was across Ring, but it crippled him. It fell out, Ring crawled to the bear. We put the bear on my horse. It was so heavy we had to keep the horse moving to keep him from laying down.

After the bear hung in the tree 12 days skinned, it weighed 315 pounds. Hez Welch quit us then. Raymond Meeks came to us. We went out the next morning. John and Matt went up one canyon, Raymond and I went up the other. John put Ring after an old bear with two cubs. The dog took them over the hill toward us while we were in the canyon and it sounded like they were up on the mountain. We would go up half way and it sounded like they were in the canyon. We went up and down there twice, finally Raymond went to the top. I went back down toward the canyon. When I got in five or six hundred yards I saw the old bear and the two cubs. They stopped, I shot first at the old bear. The first shot I missed her, the second shot I made her jump right straight up. I hit her again and she jumped again but couldn't shoot her again so began to shoot at the cubs. I broke one of their sholders. When I went down there the trail looked like a big tree had been dragged in the snow. I followed the trail they had made up the side of the ridge to the top of the mountain. The bear separated and the crippled cub went down by the horses. The other two went down the other canyon, Spot following them. Ring followed the crippled cub. When I got to the top where they separated I heard Ring barking so I thought the old bear was hunting for me. I got into an opening, loaded my gun with 9 cartridges in the magazine and one in the barrell. I thought I could kill her before she could get to me. Soon I saw Raymond coming toward me. I asked him what kind of bear Ring was after, he said it was a cub. I told Raymond to follow Spot after the crippled bear and I would trail the other two. I didn't trail far till I saw lots of blood so went after my horse, went around the hill, thought I would head Raymond off and go with him after the other bear. When I got close to the ridge I saw Spot following the bear down the hill. He wouldn't get any closer than 200 yards to the bear. Its shoulder was broken so it couldn't climb a tree. I went up and headed it off, began scolding the dog so he ran and caught it by the hind leg and the other dogs came and caught it too. They bayed it by a pine tree. I got off my horse, shot my gun in the air to make them catch it. When I shot, the bear run down the hill dragging both dogs so I got back on my horse, put my gun in the scabbard, took down my rope, tied one end to the saddlehorn and made a loop in the other end. It was an old soft rope so I tried to rope his head but caught his good front leg, the other being broken it couldn't run too fast. I wanted to take him in alive. I pulled him down the hill where we could get to him. I thought Raymond would come back to me but he didn't so I shot and killed it, then went back to hun Raymond. We dressed it, hung it in the trees, went back to hunt Ring and the other bear. We rode as far as we could up the mountain. We just dropped the reins and left our horses to eat while we were gone. My horse hung his bridle reins over a bush and Raymond's horse started back to camp, but John and Matt brought him back to my horse, tied him close, built a fire and left a lunch for us.

We went on, found the cub and Ring between sundown and dark. We killed the cub and I told Raymond I'd drag it down to the horses. We were right on the North side of the mountains. The wind was hard and cold with all that snow.

Raymond said he was give out and couldn't go any further, that being his first day he had been with us. He wanted to say all night up there but I knew we would freeze to death. I told him I'd clean the bear and have it there and carry the two guns to the horses, so took the guns and was following the trail. I was ahead of him, the dogs behind. We struck the timber line. I was afraid of panthers jumping out of the trees on us after dark. I thought I heard a panther slipping on us in the leaves but it was the snow. I told Raymond to step out of the trail, let the dogs by. I stepped out and let them pass me. They ran down the trail a few yards and caught a skunk.

I put the dogs ahead then. Jack always went back to camp or the horses when he smelled a bear. When we got to our horses he was there. We warmed and ate our lunch, never seen or heard of my horse, so Raymond rode and I walked, got into camp about eleven o'clock.

The next morning we went back to get the two bears and my horse. He had stood tied there all night close to where we ate our supper. The next morning I took the three bears to Roswell, received about 20 cents a pound for the meat, also received $20.00 bounty on each bear we killed. While I was in the butcher shop selling the meat a man slipped up on the wagon and cut a toe off of one of the hides, wanted it for a watch charm. I went back to the camp. John and Matt had killed another old bear and we were all ready to go home.

This is the only bear hunt I was ever in that I killed a bear. I killed those two cubs and if we had gone back could have found the old bear for she had been shot through twice and was bleeding at both sides of the trail. We didn't think to go back to trail her up.

These men are all dead, only Raymond and Hez Welch and myself. I haven't heard from Raymond and Hez in years, so they may be dead too.

J.W. McPherson