THE STORY OF OLD MOSE


Ranchers living in the Black Mountain country near Canon City never tire telling tales of Old Mose, a grizzly bear killed on Waugh Mountain near the Stirrup ranch forty-two years ago.

Old Mose lived among these ranchers for many years. He roamed over their land, tore down their fences, killed thousands of dollars worth of their cattle and even killed their friends. He was credited with being the largest grizzly ever killed in the Rocky Mountain region, possibly in the United States, and his age was estimated to be about forty-five years.

J.W. Anthony of Indiana killed the bear April 30, 1904. He was an excellent hunter and bears were his hobby. He owned a pack of thirty well trained bear dogs and it was with the help of these dogs that he was able to track Old Mose to his death. He was visiting at the Stirrup ranch, then owned by the late Wharton H. Pigg.

Killed in the month of April shortly after coming out of hibernation, Old Mose was not as heavy as he was known to have been in other season. But at that he weighed 875 pounds hog-dressed, and a clipping from the Canon City Record at that time says: "The skin of Old Mose measures 10 feet 4 inches in length and 9 feet 6 inches across the shoulders. It makes a rug large enough to cover the floor of an ordinary sized room and possesses the thickness of an Axminster carpet."

Anthony's luck in killing this much-hunted bear was due more or less to a fortunate meeting with a hunter who had been on the old predator's trail for years. In fact, Wharton H. Pigg, lately deceased, had tracked him almost constantly since he first saw his tracks in the year 1882.

Old Mose was named by Pigg and Henry Beecher, both old-time ranchers and hunters, who when they first noticed the unusually large bear tracks on their ranches, gave him this name after a notorious bear that used to range about Flat Top Mountain in Routt county in the early days and was killed in 1882.

At first these large tracks identified this bear and told of his periodic visits but later his tracks were more easily distinguished due to an accident when Old Mose lost one toe and part of another from his right hand foot. From then on it was easily known when Old Mose was about. But he must not be confused with "Old Four Toes" killed in Montrose county in 1903, considered at the time of his death to be the largest bear ever killed. Old Mose surpassed him in weight and size of skin. The skin of Old Four Toes was displayed at the St. Louis Fair and measured 12 feet in length, but its width was sacrificed very much in order to gain its length.

Although Mose lost his toes in a lake at the foot of Black Mountain years ago they were kept for a long time by Beulah Beeler Evans and since her death a few years ago they have been in the possession of relatives on the well-known Beeler ranch near Fairplay.

Wharton H. Pigg, for years a representative of the United States Biological Survey and also a noted hunter and writer of animal stories, was always on the lookout for Old Mose. A man of the mountains and well versed in the things of the wild he learned much of the bear and knew that he ranged from Tarryall creek to the Cochetopa range with Black Mountain as the center of his range.

This trip was usually made by this bear every thirty days. By close reckoning, Pigg figured one summer the exact day of the old bear's trip to Black Mountain and unable to there himself at that time, sent word to one of his men to set a trap for the old fellow.

The trapper, knowing the fondness of the bear for an early morning bath and his cunning in avoiding traps set in the brush, put a trap in the lake near the path where tracks had been seen leading to the water. Every morning after the trap had been set, someone would leave the ranch house nearby, climb a hill and look down upon the lake.

One morning a small boy, John Douglas who now lives in Guffey, was sent up the hill and it was his great delight to carry back the news that Old Mose was in the trap.

There was great excitement at the ranch house. Men ran for their guns and in one body ascended the hill, but Old Mose was gone. His fresh tracks near the lake showed that two toes were missing and these were later found in the trap.

Old Mose was seen many times and by many persons and all reported him to be of unusual size. His kills proved this. He would kill cattle of any size and for one man alone he killed three full grown bulls, one a five-year-old registered Hereford. Of unusual size at the time of his death, and just out of hibernation, it is a matter of conjecture what his weight might have been if he had fallen prey to the hunters' bullets in the fall. Some ranchers claimed that his weight at the time of his death was 1000 pounds alive and that in the fall months he easily could have weighed 1500 pounds.

Pigg, in his study of the bear, learned many interesting things about Old Mose and found a number of his dens. These were always on the north side of a hill in heavy timber where the snow lay deep all winter and where he would not be far from water. A grizzly goes into hibernation usually in November to remain until April. Smaller bears sleep longer as a rule and more soundly. A grizzly sleeps lightly and any warm spell is very apt to rouse him.

For many years when Pigg was on hunting expeditions, he followed Old Mose from feeding ground to feeding ground, in that happy-go-lucky way bears have of traveling, yet all the while confident of their safety. And always Old Mose evaded his hunter.

Nor could hunters ever find him asleep. Pigg often found his harm beds and by them learned more of the cunning of this grizzly. For Mose, upon retiring, would make an almost complete circle of great diameter, leaving a small place untrampled. This was done in case anyone was following his tracks and if the wind might change during his slumbers, he could easily make his geatway through the untrampled part. While his eyesight was poor his scent was keen and was his best way in evading his enemy.

Dr. E.G. Lancaster of Colorado College examined the brain of Old Mose and said it was one of the most interesting of all brains he had ever examined on account of its size and position. It as only six inches long and weighed but fifteen ounces. The brain ratio was only 1:1000 for Old Mose as compared to the ratio of a man's gbrain to his body of 1:45. "Two centers of te brain were enormously developed," Dr. Lancaster said at the time, "smell and hearing, and despite of what any hunter may say, he never did much thinking. He was cunning, not intelligent. It was all instinctive with him."

The crimes laid to Old Mose were many and ranchers were wont to say that he killed more cattle than Watkins ever thought of stealing. (Watkins, a cattle thief, was hanged for his crimes on the First Street bridge in Canon City years ago.) But the greatest crime ever placed upon the bear was the killing of Jake Ratcliff of Fairplay.

It was in the fall of 1883. Ratcliff, together with Hank Seymore and another companion, went out to hunt Old Mose who had been killing cattle in the vicinity of Black Mountain. The men had been out several days when they made camp for the night on the north side of a gulch now known as Ratcliff Gulch. The tracks of the bear had been seen nearby and his kill had been found still warm, but they could not find the wary killer himself.

Early the next morning it was decided that each of the three men would take a different trail, a shot could call the others to their aid in case they should come upon their prey.

It was a still fair day. There was no breeze to carry the scent of the hunters to the wise and crafty bear. Shortly after Ratcliff left his companions he went down a gulley where he noticed a pile of fresh dirt. He thought that someone was prospecting and walked over to the hole. But if proved to be the place Old Mose had chosen to hibernate. Old Mose himself was near at hand gathering twigs and leaves for his bed and saw Ratcliff.

Ratcliff was brought to a sudden start when he saw the bear but a few yards away and the bear was angry to be so rudely interrupted. Ratcliff aimed and fired hastily. The bullet pierced the shoulder of the beast but the gun was of small calibre (44.40) and he failed to kill him with repeated shots.

For a brief moment Old Mose stood shaking with pain and anger. Then making directly for his assailant, grabbed him in his huge arms and threw him high in the air. Ratcliff, torn and bruised, fell on the branch-strewn ground still conscious.

For a while Old Mose stood near sniffing and grunting angrily. Ratcliff lay still for what seemed a long time. Not hearing the bear anymore and suffering intense pain from his cruel cuts caused by the claws of the bear, he raised his head ever so slightly.

But all too soon. Old Mose, cruel and crafty, was waiting for just such a gesture. Back he bounded furiously mad.

Again he grabbed Ratcliff, then threw him down on the ground for dead. This time Ratcliff did not move and Old Mose walked away.

The men came up shortly after this and found their fellow hunter unconscious and immediately set about improvising a stretcher made from one of their camp blankets taid to aspen poles, to carry Ratcliff back to camp.

Ratcliff rallied and after his scalp which had been hanging over his eye was tied up, told the men his story. One of the hunters went to a nearby ranch for help and returned with R.M. Pope and R.W. Foster, who assisted in cutting a path through the aspen thicket and finally they all reached Fleming's ranch. A doctor was summoned but it was too late. Ratcliff's scalp was almost torn off, his side crushed and his back cruelly cut. He was taken to Fairplay where Frank Loomis and John T. Richards prepared Ratcliff for burial.

Old Mose was then hunted more than ever. The cave found by Ratcliff was watched for months but the bear never returned. Many were the traps set out but the old bear seemingly laughed at them and man's puny efforts to thus catch him. He knew traps and their deadly workings and someway he knew at once if they were set of sprung, and if sprung, he would walk into them and help himself to the bait. But if set, his tracks would show how he had circled the trap and gone his way. The awareness was amazing.

G.A. Hall, a cattleman living near Fairplay, made a trap by building a pen three feet hight with a gap in it. A dead cow was placed in the pen and a steel trap in the entrance. Old Mose robbed this pen three times before Hall discovered how it had been done. Mose simply reached over the walls and lifted the cow out and ate what he wanted.

Many ranchers would report having had a glimpse of the old fellow as he was on his foraging expeditions. C.W. Talbot met him on Beaver Creek. His tracks were found on Gribble Mountain and on the Stirrup ranch. He remained on the Dave Walker ranch above Guffey for almost a week one time. A horse had been killed by lightning and was left lying in the pasture which was surrounded by a stake and rider fence. Every night Old Mose would go into the pasture for a feast of this horsemeat and each evening he would choose a new entrance by knocking down the fence and walking through the break.

And many were the hunters' tales of shooting at him. John Lyle, riding along the top of a mountain one day a year before Old Mose was killed, was suddenly startled by seeing the grizzly wandering aimlessly below him. Lyle aimed at the old fellow and was sure that one bullet streak the bear in the back. He heard the bear give a cry of pain and surprise. Lyle told of this to his friends and day happened to mention it to Pigg.

When Old Mose was being dressed, Pigg found the bullet lodged in the backbone and found a vertebrae slightly nicked. He told his friends that the bullet had been fired by someone above the bear, possibly in a tree, and had made its way at about an angle of 45 degrees. Then it was later recalled that Lyle had claimed Old Mose was quite seriously injured and that he had seemed more or less paralyzed in his hind legs, but when Lyle had descended the mountain he could not even trace the victim of the shot.

Several bullets were found in the old fellow, some being bullets fired by Ratcliff. As the hide was being hung up for display in Wright and Morgan's market in Canon City on a May day, a slight scar was noticied by Pigg and Beecher on one of the bear's hips.
"Let's cover that up", Pigg advised, "for every fellow who sees it will claim that he made it."

The scar was carefully concealed but no sooner had they put the hide in place than in walked Dan Hall carrying an umbrella.

"So you got him," Hall remarked well pleased. "I took a shot at him one time up on Table Mountain and hit him, too. I was close enough to know. I remember I hit him right about there on the right hip." Hall raised his dripping umbrella and almost touched the spot so recently covered.

That one white scar was uncovered and creditably attributed to Hall.

To Wharton Pigg goes the credit of killing the mate of Old Mose on Cover Mountain a number of years before the death of Old Mose. Pigg ran across the mother bear and a yearling at the headwaters of High Creek. He killed them both, using up all his ammunition and then he said, he ran out of the country as fast as he could before the mate should arrive.

Old Mose was eventually killed about four miles from the Stirrup ranch then owned by Pigg. It is about 35 miles northwest of Canon City.

Anthony and Pigg with a pack of nine dogs were camped at the ranch of Ed Simmons near Dick's Gulch. Tracks were found near the ranch on their first day out but they followed the trail for three days before the dogs struck a fresh track. Old Mose had been eating a dead cow and then going into a thicket where he would rest. Due to the fact he was so recently out of hibernation, nature did not allow the partaking of much food at one time. The stomach, contracted, did not hold much more than five pounds. Consequently he did not go far from his kill.

The dogs were unusually excited that morning and ran eagerly over the dead twigs sniffing at the edge of the snow patches. Anthony followed a pack of four dogs and Pigg followed the over five and in this way they became separated.

Pigg had had ear trouble which caused a slight deafness and his hearing was not as keen as Anthony's Pigg did not hear the furious barking of the four-dog pack that had at last found their prey. Anthony, however, did hear and ran to the dogs. Anthony's account follows: "I soon came upon the dogs in a grove of quaking aspen where they surrounded the biggest bear I ever saw in my life. At first he took no notice of me and paid but little attention to dogs while he walked along, though they were pulling fur every minute. I fired at about 70 yards. Then I let go three more in succession, all of which were hits but none fatal. He stood on his haunches and looked at me, dropped down and started for me. At about three yards I took careful aim with my 30-4- Winchester. At this distance bears generally make a rush upon a man. I got him between the eyes and he fell without a quiver. It took seven men to get him to the Stirrup ranch and we figured he weighed close to a thousand pounds."

Besides killing Ratcliff, Old Mose was supposed to have killed James Asher, whose mutilated body was found in a place frequented by Old Mose between Canon City and Salida. Then the bones and the booted spurs of a cowboy were found by a party of prospectors on 39-Mile Mountain in Park County. The bleaching bones were found in a cave showing tracks of this enormous bear.

For a long time the hide of Old Mose hung here and there in Canon City until Anthony finally took it to Indiana but the memory of its beauty and size is still remembered and the tales of the old bear are still told by hunters and ranchers about Canon City.


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