The original narrative behind this scene involved Stewart confronting an aroused grizzly bear head on. His horse stopped and turned his head aside allowing the captain to raise his powerful Manton rifle for what must have been the fatal conclusion to the episode. The field study for this account survives today (CR# 143C), as does a large oil of 1838 that once hung on the walls of Murthly Castle (CR# 143).
In later versions, Miller substituted an Indian hunter for the captain and the pursuit is not face on but rather a running confrontation with the hunter and the hunted side-by-side. According to Miller, the hunters have chased this bear, what he calls simply “Bruin,” from some wild cherry bushes. The lead hunter aims at the bear’s head which is supposed to be the most vulnerable spot for an arrow. (Rough Draughts, 107)
This present watercolor appears to be a study for two slightly larger and more finished watercolors in The Walters Art Gallery (CR# 143A) and the Public Archives of Canada (CR# 143B). Why Miller abandoned Stewart as the protagonist is not known. Most likely the new patrons wanted Indian scenes rather than Scottish noblemen in their pictures of the West.
Peter H. Hassrick
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Often called a “white bear” in early records, the grizzly was a formidable creature. In this painting, the Indians have driven the bear from its cover, probably from a stand of wild cherries according to notes for a similar canvas, and are preparing to run him. Regarding the rider in the forefront of the illustration, Miller points out that “an arrow sometimes fails to pierce his body, owing to the thick matted hair,” so the bow-hunter aims for the bear’s head. Indians learned to fire arrows in rapid succession while riding their horse at top speeds, a skill particularly useful for hunting buffalo. A second rider appears to use his riding quirt to haze the bear during the chase.
Uses of Grizzly Bear
Though many Indians feared the ferocity of the grizzly, they hunted the large bears for food, clothing, and creating items of adornment. The animal’s hide was used for garments and its claws were made into necklaces of great value. Because of tribal beliefs that the bear had some spiritual power, wearing a bear claw necklace was a sign of honor and bravery to the person wearing it.
Meriwether Lewis, one of the leaders of the Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-1806), frequently noted the bear being hunted for its meat and that its fat could be rendered into a serviceable oil for keeping metal implements lubricated.
Dangers of Hunting Grizzly Bears
Meriwether Lewis aptly described his experiences with grizzlies in 1805: “these bear being so hard to die reather intimedates us all; I must confess that I do not like the gentlemen and had reather fight two Indians than one bear.”
In July 1833, Nathaniel Wyeth found a grizzly holed up in a thicket. Throwing rocks and shooting his pistol, Wyeth spooked the bear from its cover and fired his rifle as the bear loomed forth. As the enraged and wounded bruin advanced from the underbrush, Robert Campbell pulled the trigger, but his percussion cap “snapped,” and the gun failed to fire. Milton Sublette moved his mule clear as the bear charged. The attack was short-lived and the wounded silver-tip was brought down by four more bullets from other hunters on the scene.
Leonard, Zenas, Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard
Moulton, Gary E., ed. The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition Vol. 4
Wyeth, Nathaniel, The Correspondence and Journals of Nathaniel J. Wyeth, 1832-36
Verso UL: 107. UR: Driving the Grizzly Bear From His Covert – near Black Hills
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