The Last Bear

Teddy Roosevelt, race suicide and the killing of Orange County's last grizzly

And Roosevelt's favorite big-game animal was the grizzly.

Roosevelt's obsession with race may sound strange to the contemporary ear, but these ideas were perfectly common at the turn of the 20th century, particularly in Southern California–more specifically in the region's cultural capital, Pasadena.

No one in Pasadena exemplified the Southland's interest in racial questions better than prominent physician Dr. Joseph Widney. According to Widney, while he was serving as an army surgeon in the Arizona territory in the late 1860s, God revealed to him His plan for the white race. The Southwest would become the homeland of the Aryan people, and Los Angeles would be its capital. Widney spent 40 years working out the details of his vision, and in 1907, he published his magnum opus, Race Life of the Aryan Peoples. It must be stressed that Widney was not considered a crank. Some people might have found his evangelical fervor, or his advocacy of polygamy, or his habit of eating a raw onion every morning to be off-putting, but Widney was a respected member of society. He was the first dean of USC's medical school, after which he became the university's second president. His racial views may have been extreme, but in his day, they were not considered bizarre.

Pasadena was also home of Southern California's sportsmen hunting movement. In 1888, Charles Frederick Holder, a friend of Roosevelt's, founded the Valley Hunt Club, the first of the region's elite hunting clubs dedicated to building moral character through shooting animals. Other clubs soon followed. Three of the region's most important were in OC: the Westminster Gun Club and the Bolsa Chica Gun Club, both of which primarily hunted waterfowl; and the Santiago Hunt Club, which chased game big and small. Other hunting clubs, such as Holder's Valley Hunt Club, made trips to OC as well. In his 1906 book on hunting in Southern California, Life In the Open, Holder describes Orange County as "very attractive hunting country, with an abundance of game, long reaches of well-wooded and sloping lands covered with live oaks, [and] picturesque canyons filled with trees."

Holder was also the president of the Wild Life Protective League of America, and he used this position to lobby for regulations to restrict hunting to those capable of enjoying its moral splendor. Backed by the elite hunting clubs, Holder campaigned for the "non-sale of game" (effectively putting the market hunters out of business) and other measures such as a $25 hunting fee for noncitizens (effectively putting hunting out of reach of newly arrived immigrants). Again, the aim was conservation, not preservation.

With the arrival of the elite hunt clubs, the remaining grizzlies in Southern California faced a new challenge: rich men with the best equipment and the finest dogs looking to make trophies out of the biggest of the region's big game. Sometimes these hunters, most of them newly arrived from the East and Midwest, dressed up in sombreros and serapes in order to recapture some of the flavor of what they imaged the California of the dons must have been like. It made them feel like participants in a noble tradition–it was the strenuous life Roosevelt recommended, with a California accent.

By the time Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Los Angeles, there would have been very little point in inviting him to hunt for grizzly. The last grizzly in Ventura County was killed in 1882. San Bernardino's last grizzly was shot in 1868. Riverside's last grizzly was recorded in 1895. And no one in Los Angeles County had seen a grizzly outside a zoo since 1897. In 1903, when Teddy Roosevelt was making speeches in Los Angeles, it's very likely there were only two wild grizzlies left in Southern California. In a few months, the number would be one.

Seventy years later, Richard Shrewsbury's memory of Orange County's grizzly was tangled up with other memories. The bear that was killed in 1903 was known as Old Whiteface, not Old Clubfoot. Old Clubfoot had died years earlier, killed by a fire in that swept through the mountains.

Shrewsbury got the location wrong as well. Old Whiteface was killed in Coldwater Canyon. Throughout most of 1903, the bear had been raiding beehives on Ed Atkinson's property in Trabuco Canyon, destroying apiaries and doing other damage as well, but no one could catch him. Sometime that Autumn–Atkinson was never clear on the date–while returning from a deer hunting trip on Santiago Peak, Atkinson spotted the honey thief–easily recognizable thanks to the white markings on the elderly bear's face–in Coldwater Canyon. Ed shot Old Whiteface, who disappeared howling into the thick brush and was never seen again.

The grizzly Richard Shrewsbury remembered seeing on display in Santa Ana must have been Little Black Bear, the last wild grizzly in all of Southern California. In January 1908, a party of hunters led by Ed Atkinson set out to get a grizzly seen raiding apiaries and sniffing around the refuse from slaughtered cattle on properties near the San Diego County line. On Jan. 5, in Trabuco Canyon on the San Diego side of the line, their dogs picked up the scent. The hunters pursued the small female grizzly for five miles before the dogs caught up with her. The dogs brought the grizzly down; fierce fighting between the animals ceased when Atkinson shot the bear three times with his .30-.30 rifle.

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