Through the years, I've heard stories of a grizzly bear named Clubfoot. I hear he was notorious for killing livestock around the Pilot Rock area, and that he was caught in a trap; that's how he became Clubfoot. Any info on whether this is true or just a good tale?
— Boomer, by e-mail
Well, Boomer, it's both true and definitely a good tale. The grizzly bear you're referring to first was named Reelfoot, which was a reference to the club foot he gimped around on after losing three toes to a trap. After his death, he also became known as Clubfoot.
Reelfoot had a taste for prime beef and was indeed the scourge of cattle ranchers in the Southern Oregon-Northern California area.
According to a story published in the Mail Tribune in 1957, old Reelfoot finally came to his end in 1890 after inciting the ire of rancher Bill Wright by killing his best bull near Camp Creek, a stream flowing east from Pilot Rock into the Klamath River drainage.
Wright recruited a 17-year-old hand, Purl Bean, and the two of them set off in pursuit.
They knew exactly which grizzly they were after, because Reelfoot's distinctive footprint was all too familiar to ranchers. He had killed so much livestock and ticked off so many ranchers that a prodigious bounty of $1,800 — a virtual fortune at the time — was placed on his head.
Wright and Bean tracked Reelfoot for two days and, on April 10, 1890, came across him in a forest opening, about three miles east of Pilot Rock. After they fired on him from 80 yards, Reelfoot charged them. It took 10 rounds from their big-bore rifles to bring him down for good, by then only about 20 feet from the two men.
Reelfoot was huge, standing 8 feet tall and with a chest that measured 40 inches across. Wright estimated he weighed 1,800 pounds, but some suspect that estimate came after he'd spent too much of the reward money at a local watering hole. Others estimated him at 1,200 pounds.
Reelfoot was stuffed and mounted on a wagon pulled by mules as an early-day mobile exhibit. The exhibit toured the West and apparently took a few detours, including to the World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Reelfoot, who at some point also became known as Clubfoot, then seemed to vanish. There were reports he was destroyed in a museum fire and other reports that he was seen in museums in Europe.
For the ranchers near Pilot Rock, they were just happy he was no longer being seen around their herds.
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