grizzly bear

My nephew, Josh Griffith, who became my nephew when he married my niece, Susan Cook Griffith. That was 17 years ago, but recently, Josh had the idea to take Susan on their first “pack” trip. That is where the horses pack your gear into the camp site. The trip was just an overnight trip in the Beartooth Mountains, but it was just the two of them…no kids. Susan said, “It was just him and me, so it kind of felt like it was a date.” It was early in the season so the waters were running pretty high so they tried to find a spot to go to that didn’t involve crossing the creek because they were thinking that it would be pretty high. Probably a good plan. The area that they camped in was also rather deep in grizzly bear country…one of the reasons I wouldn’t like tent camping, but that’s just me. Anyway, they found a spot to set up camp that was about four or five miles from where they had parked the truck. When we finally decided where we were going to pitch the tent, they noticed that about 10 to 15 feet away was a pile of fresh bear scat. That made Susan…just a little nervous, considering the fact that “we were in their territory.” I think I would be nervous too. Nevertheless, they stayed.

Now that the trip is over, Susan says. “It was a pretty cool experience. Once we got the camp all set up, we were sitting around the fire and getting ready to cook dinner, our dogs were kind of like ‘what is going on here’ – like what are you guys doing? They could tell that there were predators out there, and they were keeping watch pretty close on our surroundings. It was kind of a spooky feeling. I kept making lots of noise, so no bears or wolves ever came up on us thankfully.” I agree. I’m thankful their trip went well, and they’re home safe.

Susan says that the trip made her really “appreciate the modern conveniences that we have – like running water, toilets, microwaves, stoves, fridges- just like the basic necessities are so nice. Haha! I didn’t realize how much I liked those things until you go a couple days without them and you’re like, OK I can’t wait to get home where there’s running water. We can just turn the faucet on and have an unlimited supply of water. Thank God for running water. Haha!” I’m sure that Josh hardly gave any of those things any thought, because…well, he’s a guy, and they don’t think about those things when they are camping. For Susan that trip was probably the most unusual “date” she has ever had, and if it weren’t for the fact that she trusts her husband implicitly, she might have backed out.

They have gone out almost every weekend this summer camping, riding horses, or doing something, so it’s been a pretty fun summer for them. Josh is always willing to go do things with the family, so there’s never a dull moment. Susan tells me that “Josh is such a great dad and husband. I’m the luckiest lady alive! I’m sure if it.” What a sweet tribute!! Today is Josh’s birthday. Happy birthday Josh!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Joe Meek was born in Virginia in 1810. He was a friendly young man, with a great sense of humor, but he had too much rambunctious energy to do well in school. He just couldn’t sit still well enough to focus on his studies. Finally, at 16 years old and illiterate, Meek gave up on school and moved west to join two of his brothers in Missouri. Still, he didn’t give up on all of his learning, just the formal learning. In later years, he taught himself to read and write, but his spelling and grammar remained “highly original” throughout his life.

Meek seemed to flourish in the West. It appears that he had found his calling, and in early 1829, he joined William Sublette’s ambitious expedition to begin fur trading in the Far West. Meek traveled throughout the West for the next decade. For him there was nothing greater than the adventure and independence of the mountain man life. Meek, the picture of a mountain man, at 6 feet 2 inches tall, and heavily bearded became a favorite character at the annual mountain-men rendezvous. The others loved to listen to his humorous and often exaggerated stories of his wilderness adventures. The truth is, I’m sure many people would have loved to hear about the adventures of the mountain man, especially this one, who was so unique. Like most mountain men, Meek was a renowned grizzly bear hunter. I suppose his stories of his hunting escapades could have been exaggerations, it’s hard to say. Meek claimed he liked to “count coup” on the dangerous animals before killing them, a variation on a Native American practice in which they shamed a live human enemy by tapping them with a long stick. To tap a grizzly bear with a stick, before the attempted kill, took either courage…or stupidity. Meek also claimed that he had wrestled an attacking grizzly with his bare hands before finally sinking a tomahawk into its brain. I suppose that if a grizzly bear attacked you, you would have no choice but to fight for your life, with your bare hands. Having the forethought to go for your tomahawk would be…well, amazing. Most people would try to cover their heads, and hope for the best. Still, that wouldn’t do much good. In a bear attack, you had better fight with everything you have, if you want to live. Maybe mountain men spent a lot of time considering the possibility of an attack, and practicing in their head exactly how they would handle it.

Meek soon established good relations with many Native Americans, effectively melding with the Indians. He even married three Native American women, including the daughter of a Nez Perce chief. Now, that didn’t mean that he didn’t fight with the tribes on occasion, or at least the tribes who were hostile to the incursion of the mountain men into their territories. Meek intended to fight for his right to be on the land, the same as the Indians. In the spring of 1837, Meek was nearly killed by a Blackfeet warrior who was taking aim with his bow while Meek tried to reload his Hawken rifle. In the end, the warrior nervously dropped his first arrow while drawing the bow, and Meek had time to reload and shoot. The warrior’s fumble cost him his life, while saving Meek’s life.

After a great run as a mountain man, Meek recognized that the golden era of the free trappers was coming to a close. He began making plans to find another form of income. He joined with another mountain man, and along with his third wife, he guided one of the first wagon trains to cross the Rockies on the Oregon Trail. Once he arrived in Oregon, Meek fell in love with the lush Willamette Valley of western Oregon. He settled down and became a farmer, and actively encouraged other Americans to join him. Of course, more White men on what had been Indian lands, came with safety issued. Meek led a delegation to Washington DC to ask for military protection from Native American attacks and territorial status for Oregon in 1847. Though he arrived “ragged, dirty, and lousy,” Meek became a bit of a celebrity in the capitol. Not used to the ways of mountain men, the Easterners truly enjoyed the rowdy good humor Meek showed in proclaiming himself the “envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary from the Republic of Oregon to the Court of the United States.” His enthusiasm prompted Congress to making Oregon an official American territory and Meek a US marshal. I wonder if he was shocked by his new role.

He might have been shocked, but Meek embraced his new role. He returned to Oregon and became heavily involved in politics, eventually founded the Oregon Republican Party. After his years of service, he retired to his farm, and on June 20, 1875, at the age of 65, Meek passed away. With his passing the world lost a skilled practitioner of the frontier art of the tall tale. It is said that his life was nearly as adventurous as his stories claimed, but there is no sure line to tell what was real and what was tall tale.

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