This lively scene was one that especially animated the sporting passions of Captain Stewart. According to Miller, the grizzly bear was the “most formidable of all the animals” the group encountered on their trip through the West (Ross, 32). In his pictorial telling of the story, it was important for the artist to situate Stewart in the lead of his fellow hunters, one Anglo and the other American Indian. Such placement certified Stewart’s stature as perhaps the most redoubtable hunter of the group. It was the first such experience that Stewart had, one that he repeated a number of times and that he relished in recalling. The preliminary version of this scene (CR# 141) was one of the 87 sketches that Miller provided his patron in a boxed portfolio of pictorial mementos in 1839. This watercolor was traced in part from that field study and was probably a preliminary study for the William Walters commissioned work, The Grizzly Bear (CR# 141A). (Conrads, 96)
The chase took place near the Laramie Mountains, a series of low mountains known in Stewart’s time as the Black Hills, in what is today southeastern Wyoming. The granite monadnock formations, for which the area is famous, appear to Stewart’s left as he pursues the beast.
Peter H. Hassrick
An Adventurous Bear Hunt
In a very dangerous game, Sir William Drummond Stewart, an un-identified trapper, and an Indian brave are in hot pursuit of the most dangerous animal in the mountains. Mountain men considered hunting and capturing a grizzly to be a great honor. Stewart is readily recognizable by his white steed, a flat crowned hat, mustachioed face and long buckskin coat.
Author Washington Irving declared: “The grizzly bear is the only really formidable quadruped of our continent. He is the favorite theme of the hunters of the far West, who describe him as equal in size to a common cow and of prodigious strength. He makes battle of assailed, and often, if pressed by hunger, is the assailant. If wounded, he becomes furious and will pursue the hunter. His speed exceeds that of a man, but is inferior to that of a horse…..The hunters, both white and red men, consider this the most heroic game. They prefer to hunt him on horseback, and will venture so near as sometimes to singe his hair with the flash of the rifle. The hunter of the grizzly bear, however, must be an experienced hand, and know where to aim at a vital part; for of all quadrupeds, he is the most difficult to be killed.”
While hunting, trapper Osborne Russell was chased by a wounded bear: “I was obliged to turn about and face him he came within about 10 paces of me then suddenly stopped and raised his ponderous body erect, his mouth wide open, gazing at me with a beastly laugh at this moment I pulled trigger and I knew not what else to do and hardly knew that I did this but it accidentally happened that my Rifle was pointed towards the Bear when I pulled and the ball piercing his heart, he gave one bound from me uttered a deathly howl and fell dead: but I trembled as if I had an ague fit for half an hour after, we butchered him as he was very fat packed the meat and skin on our horses and returned to the Fort with the trophies of our bravery, but I secretly determined in my own mind never to molest another wounded Grizzly Bear.”
In 1834, John Townsend reported:“We have sometimes taken young grizzly bears, but these little fellows, even when not larger than puppies, are so cross and snappish, that it is dangerous to handle them, and we could never become attached to any animal so ungentle, and therefore young “Ephraim,” (to give him his mountain cognomen,) generally meets with but little mercy from us….”
The Black Hills of Wyoming
During the era of the Rocky Mountain fur trade, the foothills of Laramie Peak northwest to present day Casper, Wyoming were referred to as the “Black Hills.” The name likely comes from the abundant dark green pine trees that look black from a long distance especially in winter, in contrast to the snow covered plains. John Townsend’s narrative illustrates this terminology: “On the 1st of June we arrived at Laramie’s fork of the Platte, and crossed it without much difficulty. Here two of our “free trappers” left us for a summer “hunt” in the rugged Black Hills … On the 2nd, we struck a range of high and stony mountains, called the Black Hills.” French Canadians Joseph and Francois Verendrye are thought to have explored portions of Montana and Northeastern Wyoming as early as 1743 making the Laramie range one of the first areas of Wyoming to be traveled by Euro-Americans. Today, they are known as the Laramie Mountains and should not be confused with the similarly named range in South Dakota.
DeVoto, Bernard A., The Course of Empire
Irving, Washington, Astoria
Russell, Osborne, Journal of a Trapper
Townsend, John K., Across the Rockies to the Columbia
UR: Black Hills. LR: Chasing [?] the Grizzly
The artist; by descent to Louisa Whyte Norton; [Old Print Shop, New York, NY, 1947]; The Boatmen’s National Bank of St. Louis, MO; Bank of America, New York, NY; present owner, 2013