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November 06, 2008
Montague Stevens And Grizzly Bears In Catron County
SOCORRO, New Mexico (STPNS) -- Montague Stevens, an Englishman, was one of the first and the last to hunt grizzly bears in Catron County.
Stevens moved to New Mexico Territory in the 1800s and went into the cattle business establishing ranches near Alma, Reserve and Datil with his headquarters at Horse Springs.
He published a book in 1942 titled Meet Mr. Grizzly and wrote about his move to New Mexico: ?It was in the fall of 1882 that I bought my first ranches from early settlers and so little was known of New Mexico in the East that I was several times asked if we had monkeys and parrots here ? I have ranches scattered over an area of some 80 by 30 miles, generally known as the SU Ranches and range, the SU being my cattle brand.?
Stevens, an avid hunter, first visited the United States in 1880 while on a hunting vacation in Wyoming from Cambridge University.
After graduating with a law degree, he returned the following year on a second vacation and decided to remain in America.
Grizzly bears were a major problem for Stevens and early settlers. They often attacked without warning, taking livestock and supplies. Stevens and his ranch foreman, Dan Gatlin, started training hounds to hunt grizzlies in 1889.
By trial and error, Stevens and Gatlin raised an exceptional group of hunting dogs, which consistently tracked down grizzly bears when other hounds failed.
Stevens described their pack of dogs in his book: ?I had a great number of different breeds of dogs. Besides the wolf hounds, I had a Great Dane, an English bob-tailed sheep dog, an English mastiff, a greyhound, two Scotch deer hounds, Scotch collies and a various assortment of terriers, including Scotch, Irish, fox and bull terriers.?
Stevens and his grizzly-hunting dogs were soon much in demand. He wrote about one rancher having problems: ?One day, a neighbor, who lives some 10 miles, came to me and told me that a she-bear (a term for grizzly) had killed one of his yearlings, not far from the ranch.?
He writes about another grizzly causing problems near Datil: ?Dan and I were camping in the Datil Mountain s, at the White House Ranch, which was owned by Mrs. Morley. We were told by her daughter that a big grizzly was watering at her trough.?
In both cases, Stevens and his dogs tracked down and killed the grizzlies.
Bounties were offered on troublesome grizzlies. Stevens described two grizzly bears and the naming of Bear-Trap-Canyon in the San Mateo Mountains.
He wrote, ?On a mountain 30 miles southwest of Magdalena, two grizzlies had been killing a good many cattle and a generous bounty was offered to anyone who would kill them. Two trappers, therefore, decided to try to catch a big grizzly in a bear-trap, so they camped near the place where the tracks of these bears seemed to show up the most and set their trap.?
They waited outside the trap for longer than a week, but did not see the grizzlies.
Next, they built a log cabin, about 8 feet by 10 feet with sturdy log walls. A trap door was placed at one end and a deer carcass at the other.
When the trappers returned the next morning, the trap had been sprung and was empty. They found another grizzly had dug under the trap from the outside and helped free the one inside. They both escaped, and since the area has been referred to as Bear-Trap-Canyon.
Stevens quit hunting grizzlies when his favorite dogs ate poisoned baits and died.
His ideas about hunting the silver tips changed as reflected by his writing.
?As soon as I became resigned to the loss of my hounds ? and derived some consolation from the fact that there were very few grizzlies left to hunt in the section of the Rocky Mountains over which I had hunted, and feeling that I had already had my full share of them, from that time on, I became a zealous convert to their preservation, to prevent so noble an animal becoming extinct,? he wrote.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition in the early 1800s left behind the first documented account of a grizzly encounter. At one time, grizzly bears ranged throughout the entire western United States.
They have survived only in the states of Alaska, Idaho, Washington, Montana and Wyoming.
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