In 1915 a giant grizzly that roamed between the Meeteesee region of Wyoming and Yellowstone Park was so well known that The New York Times published the news that he had been shot to death. He was Wahb, a bear made famous by the naturalist and writer Ernest Thompson Seton. Seton, who was instrumental in founding the Boy Scouts of America, described Wahb in his popular book, Biography of a Grizzly, and in his story “Johnny Bear.”
Seton’s wife, Grace Gallatin Seton, also wrote about Wahb. In her version, Grace called her husband “Nimrod,” after the mighty hunter of the Bible. She called A. A. Anderson, the owner of the ranch where she first saw Wahb’s tracks, “The Host.” Here’s Grace’s story.
A fourteen-inch track is big, even for a grizzly. That was the size of Wahb’s. The first time I saw it, the hole looked big enough for a baby’s bathtub. The Host said there was only one bear in that region that could make a track like that; in spite of the fact that this was beyond his range, it must be Meeteetsee Wahb. He got off his horse and measured the track Yes, the hind foot tracked fourteen inches. What a hole in the ground it looked!
The Host said the maker of it was probably far away, as he judged the track to be several weeks old. I had heard so many tales of this monster that when I gazed upon his track I felt as though I were looking at the autograph of a hero.
It was not till the next year that I really saw Wahb. It was at his summer haunt, the Fountain Hotel in the Yellowstone National Park. If you were to ask Nimrod to describe the Fountain Geyser or Hell Hole, or any of the other tourist sights thereabouts, I am sure he would shake his head and tell you there was nothing but bears around the hotel. For this was the occasion when Nimrod spent the entire day in the garbage heap watching the bears, while I did the conventional thing and saw the sights.
About sunset, I got back to the hotel. Much to my surprise, I could not find Nimrod; and neither had he been seen since morning, when he had started in the direction of the garbage heap in the woods some quarter of a mile back from the hotel. Anxiously I hurried there, but could see no Nimrod. Instead, I saw the outline of a Grizzly feeding quietly on the hillside. It was very lonely and gruesome.
Under other circumstances, I certainly would have departed quickly the way I came, but now I must find Nimrod. It was growing dark, and the bear looked a shocking size, as big as a whale. Dear me, perhaps Nimrod was inside—Jonah style. Just then, I heard a sepulchral whisper from the earth.
“Keep quiet, don’t move, it’s the Big Grizzly.”
I looked about for the owner of the whisper and discovered Nimrod not far away in a nest he had made for himself in a pile of rubbish. I edged nearer.
“See, over there in the woods are two black bears. You scared them away. Isn’t he a monster?” indicating Wahb.
I responded with appropriate enthusiasm. Then after a respectful silence, I ventured to say:
“How long have you been here?”
“All day—and such a day—thirteen bears at one time. It is worth all your geysers rolled into one.
“H’m—Have you had anything to eat?”
“No.” Another silence, then I began again.
“Aren’t you hungry? Don’t you want to come to dinner?”
He nodded yes. Then I sneaked away and came back as soon as possible with a change of clothes. The scene was as I had left it, but duskier. I stood waiting for the next move. The Grizzly made it. He evidently had finished his meal for the night, and now moved majestically off up the hill towards the pine woods. At the edge of these he stood for a moment, Wahb’s last appearance, so far as I am concerned, for, as he posed, the fading light dropped its curtain of darkness between us, and I was able to get Nimrod away.
— Condensed from Grace Gallatin Seton, “What I Know About Wahb of the Big Horn Basin,” A Woman Tenderfoot. Doubleday, Page and Co.: New York, 1900.
— Illustration from Grace Gallatin Seton, “A Woman Tenderfoot and a Grizzly.” The Puritan: A Journal for Gentlewomen. October 1900. Pp. 109-117.
You also might enjoy:
- An excerpt from Biography of a Grizzly by Ernest Thompson Seton.
- An excerpt from “Johnny Bear” by Ernest Thompson Seton.
- “Photographing Grizzlies With Flash Powder” by William Henry Wright.