The Last Bear

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

The date traditionally given as when the California grizzly became extinct is 1922. A rancher in Tulare County shot a bear he caught on his property. He skinned the bear and nailed the hide to his barn door. He also sent a tooth to the National Museum of Natural History, where a zoologist identified it as that of a California grizzly. Since this was the last grizzly for which there was any physical evidence, 1922 is listed in all the reference books as the year the last California grizzly died.

But . . .

In 1954, a zoologist examined the hide the rancher nailed to the barn door, and to his surprise, he discovered it was quite clearly the hide of a black bear, not a grizzly. It proved impossible to re-examine the tooth that had identified the bear as a grizzly–the museum had lost it. If the 1922 bear was misidentified, that means that Little Black Bear, whose hide is in the Smithsonian, is the last wild California grizzly for which there is any physical evidence. It would also mean the California grizzly became extinct 11 years earlier than traditionally thought.

Excluding the 1922 bear, there is only one other California grizzly we have any firm evidence for after the death of Little Black Bear. Monarch the grizzly was a popular attraction in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. He died in 1911. If he was the last California grizzly, that means California's official animal became extinct the same year the state Legislature officially adopted the bear flag as California's state flag.

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