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Margaret's Bear

Vern: Well, part of my district was up just north of Yellowstone Park and, uh, there is a private...a private ranch up there called the Silver Tip....There are a lot of grizzlies up there. I can tell you several more grizzly stories about that area. Grizzlies are a common everyday occurrence.

Anyhow, I came down Slough Creek one day. This was during the hunting season and I came down Slough Creek from Cooke City and the caretakers down there were good friends of mine. The caretakers were Jock MacDonald and his wife, Margaret. They'd been there for, I don't know, four or five years as caretakers. And the only way you could get in to the place, except by saddle horse from Cooke City, was to come up from the Park. And there was a road that ran in there...in fact I've got a sign that says Public Campground. In the old, old days you could drive your car up there and there was a campground there. It said Public Campground. I took that sign and kept it because there isn't any longer a campground and you can't get a vehicle in there any more for 14 miles.

Dominique: Why?

V: Park Service doesn't want people to drive up there. But they [the MacDonalds] had the right to go down, and down there by where this trail meets the road, there was a big iron pipe across the road and no way to get around it and it was always locked of course.

At any rate, they had a team and a wagon, you know, that they'd use to go to town to get supplies and so forth. They didn't go to town very often. Just two or three times a year. As I said, it was fall. Because it was fall there were hunters out and so forth. They didn't think it wise to leave this very fancy place...the Guggenheimers [Guggenheim family] built it. And I was down there another time, another story, trying to arrest the president of Kodak Company. But at any rate, it's a very fancy place.

Being the fact it was hunting season, they didn't think they should leave the place unattended, because some hunters come through and so forth. Not many, but a few. So Margaret stayed home while Jock went to town to get the winter supply of grub He was going to go back the next day or so. It's a full day, it's 14 miles to ride down, and the Park Service let them have a garage there and they had a car there--a pickup, and then they could go into Gardiner and buy the grub, come back, leave the car there, and transfer the stuff into the wagon--that's why they call it the transfer point--and then drive 14 miles back with a team. So it would always take three days—one day to go down and buy the groceries and Jock would have to visit a few people and all of the bars and so on and come back on the third day.

Well, Margaret was there all alone. They had a nice cabin. The cabin...because winter being what it is, they had a shed that was built along the back of the cabin and at the door of the cabin at that end of the cabin, there was a shed coming out like this...always kept that full of wood. It wasn't all that wide--about that wide [gestures].

She heard someone at the doorway. She knew it wasn't Jock because she hadn't heard the team coming. And she hollered out,“Who is it?” Nobody answered. She thought it was a hunter, probably, but nobody answered and she was spooked about that. Pretty soon she heard the noise again. Then she went over by the window. She looked out the window. She could look out the window but she couldn't really see. She was right there, being very quiet. Then she heard sniffing and so forth and knew it was a bear. Well, she hollered at the bear and banged on the window, I guess, and off he went.

But it wasn't long before he was back there again and this time he was raising quite a fuss, he was scratching on the door and so forth. And so in this passageway out here she had a big washtub and she ran out there and she was banging on her washtub and scared the bear away and he left again. But he wasn't gone too long this time and came back and she went out and got the tub and brought it in the house and went over by the window and was banging on it. But this time it didn't bother the bear and he smashed that door and came down the passageway. It was just an ordinary door, a cabin door. He was banging on that door because he could smell cooking or something. She knew he was serious about it because it was a big enough bear it could get through that door.

But anyhow, she was afraid that bear was going to get in there so she went back, got her light out and she sat on a chair. The door was like this and she was sitting as far away from it as she could get in the room. But the bear kept on working on that door and it was one that opened in rather than out so he couldn't get ahold of it. He was...this has happened. I've seen it happen. Bear come up against the glass. You see the prints on the glass where they bang on it like this [demonstates with two hands]. Well, that's what this bear was doing on the door.

And finally down it came and he came in. There was that bright light there and he was blinded by that bright light and he was standing there in the doorway like this and so forth, and she shot him like this. [Demonstrates].

D: Good shot.

V: She shot him and he was a big bear. Well, he was right in the middle of that doorway. He tore down the outside door and that door was gone, too. And so she took a blanket and hung it up over the door and the bear to keep out some of the cold but it wouldn't keep out any more bears if any more bears decided to come in for the night. So she set there all night. She was quite concerned, and rightly so.

D: Quite concerned. You make it sound like...

V: Well, Margaret was a pretty good woman. I tell you, she was a tough woman. A nice big woman.

She could wrestle that bear if she hadn't had a rifle.

So, anyhow, no more bear came that night. And, uh, Jock didn't come the next day. He was partying longer than he normally did. Well, it was going to be a long, cold winter and I guess he figured he wasn't going to get back down to the pubs for a while and here she was another night with that bear in the doorway, and no door, and grizzly bears all over the place.

J: Unhappier and unhappier.

V: She was getting unhappier and unhappier, as your mom said. And she was quite concerned...she was quite concerned. Well, she wasn't concerned about Jock. She knew what happened—he just stayed in the bars too long. Well, anyhow the following day, then, it was toward evening, it was getting dusk and here's the team coming and Jock pulls up in front of his cabin and it's got half a ton of grub in there in boxes and they had to take it all in the house. They couldn't leave it outside there...bear might get it.

And so, he hollers to her, “Come on, hon! Give me a hand in getting the horses unharnessed and fed.” So she goes out and helps him unharness the horses and so forth. By this time it's getting quite dark. They had enough light to get this stuff in. And so, he loads up an armload of grub and goes down the passageway, gets to the door, and falls across a bear.

There he was laying on top of a big bear, hair in both hands...and it was long hair, you know, it could only be a bear...and he runs out and he says, “Margaret! Margaret! There's a bear in the house! Margaret, There's a bear in the house!. He got in while we were down at the horses!”

And she said, “Yeah, I know there's a bear in the house.”

Now, Jock probably drank most of a quart of whiskey from the transfer point to getting on home and he's pretty happy and didn't understand everything that's going on. But she takes a pile of groceries in her arm and starts for the door.

“MARGARET! YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND ME! THERE'S A BEAR IN THE HOUSE!”

“I KNOW THERE'S A BEAR IN THE HOUSE YOU GODDAM OLD FOOL! WHO DO YOU SUPPOSE SHOT HIM?!”

I was in there about three or four days after this happened. And I was always more than welcome there, you know and I'd go and stay with them a couple of days when patrolling that particular area, then I'd ride on and then I might not see them again until a couple weeks later, and the last trip...this was the last trip before snow ..I wouldn't see them again until next summer. So I was expecting Margaret to make an apple pie and Jock to bring out the Jack Daniels and so forth and we'd have an evening of it.

I hollered in at the door when I came up, “Anybody home?” Of course the door was open. “Anybody home?” Margaret hollered out, “Yeah, yeah, come on in.” I said, “I'm going to take care of my horse first and then I'll be in.”

And so I took my horse out to the barn and fed him some oats and some hay, went back, and Jock wasn't there. He was out cutting wood. But Margaret was very...there was something bothering her. I didn't know what, but there was something bothering her. It wasn't Margaret, you know. She was always so friendly and so forth. And she was friendly but..she..something was worrying her. And I thought it was Jock. Did she run him off finally after all these years of putting up with that drunk? But I didn't say anything and we drank a couple cups of coffee and I asked how things were going, trying to get around to...I didn't really want to ask where Jock was if she'd sent that bum packing. I didn't want to open that wound. Anyhow, I kept hinting and asking, round-about, where he was. I thought maybe he was out hunting and didn't have a license. They depended on moose for their meat, or elk...each one of them would get an elk or moose every year. I thought maybe he didn't have a license or forgot to get his license and Margaret knew that, and here I was, the Game Warden, waiting for Jock to come all bloodied up from killing a moose or an elk and I thought that's what the trouble was.

Finally I did say, “When is Jock going to be in?” “I don't know. He's out cuttin' wood. He'll probably stay out till dark.” So then I knew where he was, he was out cutting wood, after she said that.

So she started getting supper ready and we visited, and after awhile I hear the team coming and wagon. And Margaret was still concerned. She's concerned because she thinks there's going to be an elk on top of that load of wood just like I do. Anyway, it comes into sight. Whew, there's no elk on top of that load of wood. And boy I felt better about that, so I steps out of the door when Jock pulls up past and is going to unload the wood. “Well, you've got some help today. I”ll help you unload the wood.”

And he was startled to see me. And there was something wrong. There was something wrong. But I didn't know what it was.

We unloaded the logs and came back and had supper. I thought Margaret would have made a pie and Jock would get out the liquor and we'd have a party...celebrate...because I wouldn't see them again until in July. But they'd look at one another and didn't want to look at me and they'd look at one another...talk was hard to keep going and so on. So finally it was embarrassing all of us and so I said, “Well, I'm tired. I'm going to go to bed. I'm going to leave early in the morning, but could I get just a sandwich made up or something, put in the refrigerator to take with me?” because they'd done that many times. Normally she'd get up and fix me a big breakfast--ham and eggs and flapjacks and so forth, but she didn't offer to this time. “Yup, yup, I'll make you up a sandwich.”

So I went to bed. I was tired. I don't know when they'd gone to bed. I tried to stay awake for a little while but I went to sleep. Then I didn't see them until the next year. And when I first saw them that time they were a little concerned, not really like it was before, but they were a little bit concerned. And so I, well we...we got along pretty good this time and I saw them a couple more times that year and things got back to normal.

About two years after I retired, I went over to see them. They had come off from the place, they weren't working there anymore. Their daughter had a ranch down by Gardiner and they'd gone there to live because they're getting kind of old and so forth...in bad health.

And so, I went over...I called them up and asked if I could come over. “Oh, you bet. We'd like to see you.” So I goes over to see them. Spent the day with them. Suppertime, we were talking about the good old days. I brought it up, I said, “I'm going to have to tell you something...back there some years ago when I came in and you people were very cool toward me. I didn't know what the trouble was. I thought at first it was that your were hunting...you'd killed an elk without a license. But that wasn't what it was. Then I thought that you were having trouble, that you were going to break up.”

Jock says, “What's the statute of limitations on Fish and Game violations?” And I said, “Five years. Why? What're you going to tell me?”

Well, he had been an old poacher, he trapped illegally down in the Park and so forth. I knew about this, you see, that he'd done it in the past and hadn't been caught. But any rate, he said, “Well, since the statute of limitations have run out, I'll tell you” and there I got the story. But I was there about two or three days after it happened and they thought I'd got word of it somehow and I was in there to pinch them, investigating the kill and they thought they'd had it. And boy, killing a grizzly bear is a big-time violation.

D: Wouldn't it be like self-defense? If the grizzly bear is knocking down the door?

V: Yeah...They didn't know about that.

And then I got to see the grizzly bear hide. They had the grizzly bear hide in their room and they'd had it tanned. It was big enough to cover the wall. It was a big bear! It was nine feet high. It was a big bear.

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