Monday, May 14, 2007

Meet Mr. Grizzly

I've been dreaming of deadlines, typing memos and organizing items on my desk in my sleep. This has made of Matt a dull (or duller) boy.

But like the time, three weeks after my twins were born, when I ate six grapefruits in a sleep and vitamin-deprived orgy of gorging, I've just devoured the book Meet Mr. Grizzly---a story set far from any office anywhere.




(Thanks to Gregg B. for this great escape!)

Montague Stevens, the author, was a one-armed English gentleman; a horseman, houndman, hunter, and one hell of a good writer. He tells of southwestern New Mexico in the late 19th Century, a time when big brown bears still descended from the hills (as Steve B.* once wrote, "like goblin kings") to kill sheep and steer with the swipe of a large paw.

Stevens dedicates himself (mind you, mostly after losing his arm) to hunting these pirate grizzlies on horseback with a pack of various trailing and fighting dogs, intricately trained for the purpose. The building and handling of this unique pack (made of bloodhounds, sighthounds, terriers, pitbulls and a Great Dane!) makes for the meat of the story and amounts to a lifetime accomplishment greater than most of us will ever claim.

In a word, the story is a marvel. Steven's Cambridge education, exotic subject matter and gorgeous setting help make it so. If the book is still in print, and you'd like to spend a few hours hunting grizzlies in the high lonesome desert, please don't hesitate to make the buy.

* More on the Bodio connection: Steve's home village of Magdalena plays a role in Stevens' story, being the nearest thing to a big town at the time (though not much bigger now I bet!). And the copy of Meet Mr. Grizzly from which this latest edition is reprinted came from Steve's own library, complete with the author's signature, circa 1944.

28 comments:

Steve Bodio said...

Three additions. After becoming a great hunter of grizzlies, Stevens was "premature" in (unsuccessfully) advocating their protection. The last New Mexican griz was carried out of the Magdalenas in the Thirties-- 1937 I think-- on the back of a burro.

Betsy Huntington met his son George in the 1980's.

And Magdalena was MUCH bigger than it is today in Stevens' time. It was for a time the biggest cattle shipping railhead in the US, and had a populaton of over 10,000, with its satellite mining town of Kelly, now completely abandoned, numbering 5000 (as opposed to 1000 or so in Magdalena nowadays). There was a rail link to the Rio Grande; now a dirt mound is all that is left. In 1912 Aldo Leopold gave a lecture on conservation in the (now nonexistent) Sportsman's Hall, to a crowd of 700!

(Leopold also wrote famously of the death of one of our last Grizzlies, just over the state line with Arizona on Escudilla Peak: "It's only a mountain now").

M.L. Miller said...

It is still in print from High Lonesome Books, www.high-lonesomebooks.com

I just finished "Slash Ranch Hounds", another High Lonesome reprint, this one about hunting lions and bears in the Southwest. Another fine read from a publisher that puts out good books on history, hounds and catfish, among other topics.

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

Once there were grizzlies at Whitewater Ranch as well. Breaks my heart to erase even the land they walked on.

Anonymous said...

Stevens' book is great. I always considered him the American Corbett. His rapport with animals was amazing and his intelligence was evident in everything he discussed.

mdmnm said...

Stevens description of the country and habitat the grizzlies were using is also interesting. I think the flora has changed a fair bit, at least in terms of aspens on the mountaintops not being present to the same extent described in the book. However, his description of the topography is amazingly clear. I remember reading about the chase of the sow grizzly near Crosby Mountain and being thrilled to realize "I've hunted that ridge!". I envy anyone's chance to read the book for the first time, as it is one of my favorite examples of (auto)biography being better than fiction.

Steve Bodio said...

It often sounds like it was wetter and snowier in his time (as were the 1980's). I wonder if vegetation will change if wet years like this one become the rule?

mdmnm said...

O ja la!
Was it rain & snow or a higher water table due to less grazing, timbering, and erosion? I'd love to see the effect of a really wet cycle.

PBurns said...

pfcHow come no one names their kid "Montague" anymore?

And with modern prosthetics being what they are, could it be that America is losing its edge in one-armed men stories a-la- John Wesley Powell and Montague Stevens?

Or it is just change? In the future, will the great American characters and stories be about men named "Q-Tip" who overcame the burden of their colostomy bags in order to hunt and stalk the wild Tupac?

However it goes, I am happy that Montague Stevens stories will live on, and so too will his legacy as one of the "first fathers" of modern dog training. See >> http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com/2004/10/short-history-of-dog-training.html

Patrick

Dennis said...

In these early years (1880's) there was plenty of grass for grazing. An acre was enough for each head. The decline of the grass came about because the cattle were allowed to graze on the tall grass when it was seeding out leaving no seeds to start new grass growing. After about ten years the range was damaged to the point that it took about ten to fifteen acres for each head. Today 60 acres per head is considered the proper ratio in this area, and the cattle require supplemental feeding in the winter months. The only fences were used to hold horses and mules so they wouldn’t have to be chased all over the state every day. Fences on the range would have made it possible for the cattle to be moved from time to time so the range could be managed but they would have made trail drives impractical. So, unfortunately, without the use of any such conservation efforts the abundant grazing disappeared.

Dennis said...

In these early years (1880's) there was plenty of grass for grazing. An acre was enough for each head. The decline of the grass came about because the cattle were allowed to graze on the tall grass when it was seeding out leaving no seeds to start new grass growing. After about ten years the range was damaged to the point that it took about ten to fifteen acres for each head. Today 60 acres per head is considered the proper ratio in this area, and the cattle require supplemental feeding in the winter months. The only fences were used to hold horses and mules so they wouldn’t have to be chased all over the state every day. Fences on the range would have made it possible for the cattle to be moved from time to time so the range could be managed but they would have made trail drives impractical. So, unfortunately, without the use of any such conservation efforts the abundant grazing disappeared.

Dennis said...

In these early years there was plenty of grass for grazing. An acre was enough for each head. The decline of the grass came about because the cattle were allowed to graze on the tall grass when it was seeding out leaving no seeds to start new grass growing. After about ten years the range was damaged to the point that it took about ten to fifteen acres for each head. Today 60 acres per head is considered the proper ratio in this area, and the cattle require supplemental feeding in the winter months. The only fences were used to hold horses and mules so they wouldn’t have to be chased all over the state every day. Fences on the range would have made it possible for the cattle to be moved from time to time so the range could be managed but they would have made trail drives impractical. So, unfortunately, without the use of any such conservation efforts the abundant grazing disappeared.

Dennis said...

In these early years there was plenty of grass for grazing. An acre was enough for each head. The decline of the grass came about because the cattle were allowed to graze on the tall grass when it was seeding out leaving no seeds to start new grass growing. After about ten years the range was damaged to the point that it took about ten to fifteen acres for each head. Today 60 acres per head is considered the proper ratio in this area, and the cattle require supplemental feeding in the winter months. The only fences were used to hold horses and mules so they wouldn’t have to be chased all over the state every day. Fences on the range would have made it possible for the cattle to be moved from time to time so the range could be managed but they would have made trail drives impractical. So, unfortunately, without the use of any such conservation efforts the abundant grazing disappeared.

Anonymous said...

In these early years there was plenty of grass for grazing. An acre was enough for each head. The decline of the grass came about because the cattle were allowed to graze on the tall grass when it was seeding out leaving no seeds to start new grass growing. After about ten years the range was damaged to the point that it took about ten to fifteen acres for each head. Today 60 acres per head is considered the proper ratio in this area, and the cattle require supplemental feeding in the winter months. The only fences were used to hold horses and mules so they wouldn’t have to be chased all over the state every day. Fences on the range would have made it possible for the cattle to be moved from time to time so the range could be managed but they would have made trail drives impractical. So, unfortunately, without the use of any such conservation efforts the abundant grazing disappeared.

Tumbleweed said...

In these early years there was plenty of grass for grazing. An acre was enough for each head. The decline of the grass came about because the cattle were allowed to graze on the tall grass when it was seeding out leaving no seeds to start new grass growing. After about ten years the range was damaged to the point that it took about ten to fifteen acres for each head. Today 60 acres per head is considered the proper ratio in this area, and the cattle require supplemental feeding in the winter months. The only fences were used to hold horses and mules so they wouldn’t have to be chased all over the state every day. Fences on the range would have made it possible for the cattle to be moved from time to time so the range could be managed but they would have made trail drives impractical. So, unfortunately, without the use of any such conservation efforts the abundant grazing disappeared.

Tumbleweed said...

In these early years there was plenty of grass for grazing. An acre was enough for each head. The decline of the grass came about because the cattle were allowed to graze on the tall grass when it was seeding out leaving no seeds to start new grass growing. After about ten years the range was damaged to the point that it took about ten to fifteen acres for each head. Today 60 acres per head is considered the proper ratio in this area, and the cattle require supplemental feeding in the winter months. The only fences were used to hold horses and mules so they wouldn’t have to be chased all over the state every day. Fences on the range would have made it possible for the cattle to be moved from time to time so the range could be managed but they would have made trail drives impractical. So, unfortunately, without the use of any such conservation efforts the abundant grazing disappeared.

Tumbleweed said...

Sorry about multiple entries. I was setting up account and didn't know it was posting. Let me know how to delete the above and I will.

Richard said...

One of my favorite pictures is of the author and me -- and Montague's son, George; and George's son, George Jr., and George Jr's son -- me (about two years old, about 58 years ago)! It's nice to know that people still enjoy Meet Mr. Grizzly. I haven't read it in years, but I'll do so soon. I think I have an autographed copy or two lying around.

Dennis said...

Richard,
I would love to have one of those autographed copies of Mr. Stevens' book. He is one of my all time heros.
dennis.sumrak@sbcglobal.net

Justin Stevens said...

I am the great-great grandson of Montague Stevens. This book has been a fascinating look at my family's past. I highly recommend it.

Dennis said...

Steven,
I am a great fan of Montague Stevens. I know more anout him tan my ow great grand father.
Do you live in El Paso?
Dennis

Steve Bodio said...

Still in Magdalena NM a few hours north of El Paso.

Justin Stevens said...

Yes, I lived in El Paso (I currently am at college). His son George died before he was born, but his son was Gordon, my grandfather (who sadly also recently passed away). We visited Reserve, NM about 10 years ago as a family trip, visiting the places my great-great grandfather once owned, including a schoolhouse (although it is now owned by private interests). My aunt is currently compiling a family history dating all the way back to medieval times, should be a fascinating read when it's done!

Justin Stevens said...

Sorry, it should say his son George died before I was born.

Dennis said...

Justin,
Thanks for the information. Last year about this time I traveled to Catron Co. and found the WS Cemetery near Alma. There is much I would like to talk to you about. One thing would be the location of the SU. I think it was near Horse Springs.
There is a post above by a man named Richard. He said that he has some autographed copies of Montague’s book. I would love to have one. Do you know him?
I have done some research on Stevens and have transcripts of interviews, letters, and a copy of the 1895 Harpers that Remington in which wrote about his bear hunt with your great, great grandfather.
If you would like to continue a discussion please email me I may be able to contribute to your knowledge of this unique man.
dennis.sumrak@sbcglobal.net

Dennis said...

Justin/ Steve,
I was aware that Gordon Stevens passed away. While doing some research on Montague I came across this story about a week after he died: http://obits.abqjournal.com/obits/show/194044 I thought of this discovery as quite a coincidence.
Dennis

Jim Hutcheson said...

Hello,

Just a quick note to say that the SW grave area near Alma has the ramains of my GGG Uncle, Edward W. Lyon who was friend of M. Stevens and was killed by Apaches while visiting the ranches in 1885.

Jim Hutcheson

Dennis said...

Jim,
I have a photo of your GGG uncle's head stone. Let me know if you want me to send you a copy.

Dennis said...

The October issue of "Wild West Magazine" is going to have a great story about Stevens and the Jewett Gap Grizzly.