So what would you think was the biggest bear ever seen in Mendocino County? Researching this history mystery turns up some pretty interesting stories.
Grizzly bears, once common in the county, are long gone. Bears were hunted, along with deer and elk, for meat to feed the loggers in the cookhouses during logging days.
Looking at a gazetteer for this county the place names with ursine focus are numerous. Included were Bear Creek, Bear Harbor, Bear Haven Creek, Bear Pen Creek, Bear Camp, Grizzly Peak, Grizzly Canyon, Grizzly Flats, and Bear Mountain.
Manchester, on the south coast, was famous for butter production, and the bears who liked to kill and eat the butter source, the cows. A bear called “Old Two Toes” was killed in 1907 and measured 6’ long. He had also wreaked havoc on the local sheep population.
“Reel Foot” was killed by Frank Asbill in 1881 and weighed 300 pounds with an 18” footprint. This bear was reputed to eat and entire common cow as a good meal. Over decades he was shot with flint arrowheads by Wylacki Indians and a variety of slugs were found imbedded in his bones. A two gallon tub of honey laced with strychnine killed him near Island Mountain. His head was said to be comparable to that of a good size cow.
James Hull, for whom Hull Mountain over Lake Pillsbury is named, was killed by a Grizzly Bear in 1856. He had been part of a party hunting for venison and went out alone to the site where they’d butchered the deer to collect brains for buckskin tanning and vanished. The search party looking for him found a big dead Grizzly and Hull’s body. There was a shot stuck halfway down in the barrel of the gun and he’d turned the gun around and beat on the bear with the gunstock. They both died.
In 1976 the Willits News reported a bear had dressed out at 394 pounds and had a live weight of 550 pounds. From a bear skull found in Eden Valley in 1959, the story goes the hunter said the bear weighted 670 pounds live weight and dressed out at 595 pounds with 20 gallons of rendered bear grease.
Maurice Tindall, former Anderson Valley judge, in his book “Down to Earth” wrote about bear hunting. Finding and killing one in an elderberry thicket they had hard work getting the hide and meat out of the woods. As Tindall said, “It had been a bear for quite a long time and it was impossible to chew the meat.”
Some of the best stories of Mendocino County bear encounters are the small publications by historical societies and self-published biographies done 50 years ago. Such items can be found in the research sections of libraries and museums locally.