The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Grizzly Peak
More bear stories here.

Was Baptized So in Memory of the Thrilling Experience of the Henry Chapman Party
with a Band of Grizzlies in 1855, When Chapman Was Literally Chawed and Clawed to Pieces and Left for Dead by a Monstrous Grizzly--
Equals the Events of Daniel Boone and Kit Carson.

    Grizzly Butte is a prominent projection of the Cascade Range overlooking Bear Creek Valley, opposite Ashland, which attains a height of 6000 feet. Seen by the traveler from Ashland station, with its bald southern face flecked with the light and somber tints as the sun is nearing the crest line of the mountain range on the west, the origin of its name is easily suggested from the garb with which nature has clothed the mountain mass. But the traveler would be in error. It was named for the grizzly bear, and the name dates from a terrible encounter with one of the big plantigrades on this mountain 45 years ago, in which Henry Chapman was shockingly mangled, and nearly lost his life.
    That portion of the Cascades east of Ashland was once the favorite haunt of the grizzly bear; they were the kings of the wilds there, and old settlers say they were more numerous than in the adjacent Siskiyou Range. Mr. Chapman, an aged and respected pioneer citizen, now resides on his ranch a few miles south of Ashland, and it was from him the narrative of the battle with the bear is obtained, and of which his body bears the scars of the cruel wounds he suffered.
    The year 1855 was marked by an Indian war in Southern Oregon, and the few pioneer settlers in Upper Bear Creek Valley were placed in great peril. They were always watchful for Indians, and hence when on September 5th of that year Henry Chapman, W. F. Songer, E. Wells, Joe Wells, Frog Wells, Frost and Coyote Johnson started out on a bear hunt. They were prepared to fight Indians as well. They camped the first night on Frog Creek, above where the "sweat" house now is.
    Erastus Wells was put on guard. He discovered a signal fire of the Indians at Boone ranch, now known as the Mickelson ranch, which aroused the party who then stood guard until daylight. After breakfast Chapman, accompanied by Erastus and Joe Wells, went out to look for bear. They went over to the foot of the mountain (Grizzly) and discovered the tracks of five or six grizzlies. Taking up the trail, they followed the bears into and through a thicket of firs, hearing them run out on the upper side. Thence they tracked the bears around and up the east side of the mountain to the summit of Big Prairie, where they separated, Erastus going down next to Antelope Creek, Chapman along the south side, and Joe about midway between them, all going west.
    "After some little time," said Chapman, "not seeing the other boys, I began to feel uneasy. Directly I looked to my left I saw something in the thick fir brush, and on hearing a bear squall, I worked around cautiously to get a view a little further around the bush, when I saw two old grizzlies and four cubs feeding on berries. I was armed with a double-barreled, muzzle-loading shotgun. I had previously loaded it heavily with buckshot for Indians. I now put an ounce ball in each barrel, and aiming carefully off my knee, let go at one of the old bears. He fell, and the other big fellow and the cubs ran away, but there were others, for, glancing to my right, I saw another one running down through the prairie. I ran out on the prairie and shot at this one as he went by. He fell down, rolled over, then got up again and made off in his original course across the opening.
    "Turning my gun down to reload, I heard the first one I had shot, and which I supposed dead, coming my way. The bear made directly for me, and I started on a run for three trees which I saw standing in a bunch on the prairie. Making tracks as fast as my legs would carry me, one of my shoes came off and I lost my shoe, hat and gun all in the same place. As I ran on some distance, I saw Erastus and Joe looking ahead as if they thought I was in pursuit of something. Glancing over my shoulder, saw the bear within ten feet of me, and I cried to them that it was a bear. Just then the bear roared, which so terrified the boys that they dropped their guns and ran, Erastus making for some neighboring brush and Joe climbing an old stump about 10 feet high Now the bear was all but on me; I had powder and shot in my coat pocket, and in running the coat flew back, and as the bear came within reach of me, the first swipe he made caught the coat pocket and tore off the flap. This gave me a little start of the bear, and I reached one of the trees, the bear close after me.
    "I did some active dodging as I ran around the tree. The bear raked at me first on one side and then on the other with her paws, and it was plain I could not last long there. I then called to the boys for help and made a dash for another tree, but had to keep an eye on the bear all the time to avoid a blow. I had not gone far when she struck me on the head, splitting the flesh to the bone from the top of my head to my eyebrows. I was knocked down and the ferocious beast was on top of me. She first caught me by the right thigh, mashing the flesh from the bone. I made a desperate effort to get up, when she seized me by the shoulder, mashing it, then snapped at my throat, cutting the leaders all off, and for a miracle just missing the jugular vein. I continued in a blind way trying to do something, and thrust my hand in the bear's mouth. She bit through my hand and then caught me in the shoulder and bit into the hollow, which made me faint, and I could not see.
    "I suppose the bear thought me dead, for she now gave her attention to Erastus and Joe. Each had a navy revolver tied over his shoulder with a buckskin string, but in the excitement and hurry they pulled them so tight they could not get them untied. Joe fired at the bear with the pistol tied to him, and yelled to Erastus that the bear was coming. The latter made up a limb on a log, the bear scraping his foot as he went up. The bear now appeared to be master of the field. I was plainly a goner, and Joe and Erastus were in a mighty tight place. But good luck was to turn the tide for us; Joe fired at random with his pistol and broke the bear's back; another shot broke her neck, and Erastus now turned loose on her and emptied his revolver into her body.
    "By this time I had regained my senses and tried to get up, but I could not do so. I sat up and put my hand to my throat. I thought my jugular vein was cut, and supposed, of course, I could not last long. Joe came to me, asking how bad I was hurt, and I told him my jugular vein was cut. Then Erastus came up and immediately turned to go away. I called out not to leave me, as l could not live long. When he came back and I said all I asked of him was not to write to my folks. They then took their silk handkerchiefs and bound them around my neck. Erastus then asked how many bears there were, and I said about 15 or 16. Then bears and Indians would both be upon us soon, he said, and he grabbed me up, threw me over his shoulder and started on a run, calling to Joe to bring the guns. After a time Joe said I was dead, and Erastus laid me down, face to the ground. I had fainted again, but with the shock on the ground I recovered, and told them I was not dead, whereupon Erastus picked me up again and threw me over his shoulder, but this I could not stand, and insisted on being left in the brush, as I could not live anyway. They declared they would take me out, and after further delay so much time had elapsed that I concluded my jugular vein was not cut, and that there was a chance for me.
    "Well, they finally raised me to my feet, and, supporting me, one on each side, we got to the foot of the hill, where we found some others of our party, who helped us to camp. The desire of this party for bear hunting had been fully satisfied, and the boys broke camp and hastened to get me home. I was carried to Daddy Wells'. The old man sewed up the wounds, and the only available doctor at Jacksonville was sent for to dress my wounds. He came the next day, cut open, probed and sewed up my wounds. I laid helpless about six weeks in bed, being fed on soup with a spoon. It was a year before I was well."
    So we have the story of Grizzly Peak, which, together with other well-accredited tragical and adventurous incidents in the pioneer life of the Oregonians, should be gathered and collected by those interested in the work of the Oregon Historical Society. Mr. Chapman has passed the 45 years since his hard day with the bear on Grizzly Peak as a successful rancher, and has seen the pretty city of Ashland grow up almost in sight of that summit plateau where big grizzlies and hostile Indians were to be looked for at every step. W. F. Songer, who constituted one of the party, is now a well-known resident of Ashland.
Valley Record, Ashland, February 7, 1901, page 1

    "My brother Henry Chapman was 8 years older than I; he was born in 1883," said Mrs. V. S. C. Mickelson when I visited her at her home at Ashland recently. "He was a frail and sickly child, and he was never strong. I was a light sleeper; so from the time I was a little tot I slept on a pallet beside his bed so as to cover his feet at night or give him his medicine. The doctor said a complete change of climate might be beneficial to him; so in 1853, when I was 12 years old, he and my brother Daniel started across the plains for Oregon. Daniel got a job driving a prairie schooner for Enoch Walker, while Henry, who was 20, drove a wagon for Enoch's brother, Fruit Walker. I cried because I could not go to Oregon with my brother Henry. I remember they laughed at me when I cried and said, 'Poor Henry! who will cover his feet and give him his medicine if I do not go along?'
    "On the way across the plains one of Fruit Walker's drivers, a man named Griffiths, quarreled with another teamster and, picking up an ox yoke, tried to brain him. Fruit Walker grabbed the yoke in time to save the man from being killed. This made Griffiths crazy with anger, so, pulling an Allen pepperbox revolver from his pocket, he shot Fruit Walker through the groin, killing him. Fruit Walker's young widow had two small children and was expecting another shortly. My brother Henry took charge for her and brought her safe through to Oregon. Shortly after she reached the Willamette Valley she gave birth to a son, who, of course never saw his father and knew of him only by hearsay. Not long after arriving in Oregon she married Fruit Walker's brother John.
    "My brother Daniel Chapman settled near Ashland. Some of his children and grandchildren still reside in Jackson County. My brother Henry went to Yreka, Cal., to work in the mines, but his health was so impaired that he could not do hard work; so he came back to Southern Oregon and took up a donation and claim on Emigrant Creek, seven miles from Ashland.
    "During the second Rogue River war, in 1855-56, Henry, with two neighbors, was out in the hills looking for hostile Indians. He saw several grizzly bears on the hillside eating serviceberries. Henry was a good shot. He had a hard-shooting muzzle-loading gun. He took careful aim and shot at one of the largest of the bears. It fell in its tracks. He loaded his gun and shot another bear, which made off in the direction taken by the other bears. Henry, carelessly, did not reload his gun, but went up to examine the dead bear, which was a huge one. Just as he got to it the bear came to and made for Henry. Henry started to run. The bear struck at him, tearing Henry's coat nearly off. Henry ran for a tree, which proved too large for him to climb. He ran toward a smaller tree, but the bear overtook him and with one blow knocked him down and tore his shoulder blade loose. The bear with one or two strokes of his claws tore Henry's clothes off. Henry had heard an Indian say that if a grizzly attacked you, if you 'memaloosed' the bear would leave you alone; so Henry played dead. The bear had never heard that bears do not molest dead men, for he bit my brother in the loins and back so that Henry screamed from the pain. Then the bear clawed his head and turned him over to bite his neck. My brother rammed his fist into the bear's mouth. The bear crushed the bones in his hand and wrist. Then the bear bit him through the shoulder and stripped the flesh from one leg from the thigh to the knee. The two young men with my brother heard him scream when the bear bit him in the loins, and hurried back. They shot and killed the grizzly. My brother was still conscious, and as they rolled the bear off him he said, 'I'll never see Mother or Father or old Kentucky again.' Then he fainted. They thought he was dead; so they tied him across his horse to bring him in for Christian burial, The motion of the horse brought him to. They took him to the home of 'Daddy' Wells, a nearby settler. There was no doctor nearer than Jacksonville; so one of the boys rode at full speed to get the doctor, while Daddy Wells washed my brother's wounds and with a sack needle and twine sewed the flesh that was hanging loose, back into place. When the doctor came he had to rip out all the stitches so as to wash the torn flesh better. Henry's neck was terribly lacerated. They thought he could not live; but he kept alive day after day, and at last they decided to send him to San Francisco to secure the services of a surgeon to fix his shoulder, which was so badly shattered when the bear crunched it that the local doctor could not fix it. Even the San Francisco surgeon could not restore its strength and usefulness.
    "My brother proved up on his donation claim, and in 1862 went back home by way of the Isthmus. They still call the mountain where the bear and my brother had their fight, Grizzly Butte. Come out on the porch and I will point out Grizzly Butte to you."
Victoria Elizabeth Chapman Mickelson, in
Fred Lockley, "Impressions and Observations of the Journal Man," Oregon Journal, Portland, September 2, 1924, page 6

Last revised June 21, 2022