SOLOMON'S GROUCH: THE STORY OF A BEAR
By Franklin W. Calkins
A pet grizzly bear had been for a number of years a feature
at Hartranft's. As a puny infant, barely able to crawl, Solomon,
as he was solemnly dubbed, was brought in off the Teton Mountains,
and as milk was scarcer than money at the horse-ranch, he was
aristocratically fed on malted milk.
On this expensive diet the cub throve amazingly. Good feeding was
continued after his weaning from the rubber nipple, and at the end
of three years Solomon had grown to be a fat wooly monster. He was
kept chained to a post in the warm season, and had an enclosed
stall in a big barn for his winter quarters. Ordinarily he was
good-natured, but he was a rough and not altogether safe
playfellow. The near-by bawling of cattle always aroused in him
ebullitions of rage.
"Solomon's got an awful grouch agin any noise bigger than what he
can make hisself," was the saying of the ranch hands.
When Joe Hartranft's sister, Mrs. Murray, and her two boys, Rufe
and Perry, came to the ranch to spend the month of June, Solomon
was promptly hustled into his stall in the barn. It was thought
best to have no boys fooling round the grizzly.
This would undoubtedly have been the safest disposition, but for an
oversight of the "stable boss." A big Percheron had been kept loose
in a closed stall adjoining Solomon's, and one day, when the bear's
voice was raised in remonstrance against his shrill neighing, he
had turned his heels loose against the partition which separated
them. His fierce battery had loosened two boards four or five feet
above the floor. And the cracks he made had gone unnoted, or at
least the mending had been neglected.
A few days after the visitors came, a fine shorthorn cow with a new
calf was turned into the barn for the day.
Men and work-horses were at work at the alfalfa-cutting, and the
bear and cow and calf were sole occupants of the barn when Rufe and
Perry mounted an outside ladder and entered its loft.
This loft, with its grain-bins, its huge empty space, its
cross-beams and braces, offered an attractive gymnasium. In one of
the bins, used chiefly for storage, they discovered a lot of
fishing-tackle, seines and spears of various sorts for taking the
salmon which annually ran up the Snake River and its tributaries.
They had ventured to drag out one of the seines and unroll it on
the floor of the loft, when the cow below them broke into
distressful bawling. Peering down a square aperture, through which
hay was lifted by machine forks in the season of storing, they saw
that the calf had got in between the wheels of two buggies which
were housed on one side of the driveway.
The feeble creature was stuck fast enough, and the helpless dam
could only bellow her distress. The boys, in spite of some fear of
the cow, would have gone down to extricate the calf, but at this
instant Solomon roused in his lair, and took a hand in the
His uproar became frightful as the cow, more than ever alarmed for
her calf, continued to bawl. There was a trap-door raised for
ventilation over Solomon's stall, and the boys ran eagerly to have
a look at the grizzly.
They were highly entertained for a moment. Hair on end, teeth
gnashing, Solomon charged back and forth in his enclosure. Then he
reared up on his hind legs and clawed at the pine planks which shut
him in. He had not long continued this performance when his claws
caught in the crack of a loosened board. There was a ripping creak
and a crash, and down came the board. Another followed, and
Solomon, ceasing his violent threats for the instant, peered
through a wide gap into another domain. His hesitation was brief;
he scrambled through, walked out of the open door of the
horse-stall into an alley, and sought wider range.
At first the boys were a little frightened, but they concluded that
Solomon would not be able to climb into the loft, and that it was
safer for them to stay above than to go down the ladder, for the
grizzly might easily push aside one of the half-dozen sliding doors
and get out of the barn.
The barn was at a considerable distance from the house, so they
determined not to alarm the women unless Solomon should get outside
and so make it necessary. They sat for a time listening to the
monotonous bawling of the cow. Solomon seemed to have lost interest
in her noise, as they heard him now and then rummaging among the
They had begun to hope that the bear would not find his way out of
the stalls, when they heard him scrambling heavily.
Then came a resounding thump as he dropped from one of the open
mangers to the floor of the barn.
Almost instantly a terrific bawling and uproar broke out below.
Solomon had reached the cow at last. The boys ran to the edge of
the hay-lift and peered down. The cow was directly underneath, had
backed up against the buggies, and stood tossing her head and
bawling like a crazy thing.
Dropping their eyes below the level of the loft floor, the lads saw
Solomon coming round a pile of new alfalfa which had been unloaded
in front of the central stalls. His rage was terrific, although he
advanced slowly to the attack.
He came under the wide opening and swayed back and forth before the
cow like a tiger in its cage, roaring his threats and watching for
an opening to get by the lowered horns. He was a creature of
instinct, and with a veteran's precaution before a wicked pair of
Nevertheless the cow, in a lightning charge, caught him broadside
on, and bore him, in a swift rush, into the midst of the heap of
clover. But for that soft padding for his ribs, it would have gone
hard with Solomon. He was doubled up and thrust into the soft mass,
Bear and cow were buried in a storm of clover and flying hay. They
twisted about. Then the bear got his back braced against a stall
and his hind feet against the cow, and he bowled her into the
middle of the barn.
With a huge grunt she alighted on her side and rolled clean over.
As she scrambled to her feet, full of pluck and snorting fiercely,
Solomon issued from the midst of the alfalfa-heap, and again the
two faced each other, filling the barn with loudmouthed threats.
It was a splendid and exciting battle, but Rufe and Perry, certain
that the bear would kill the cow unless prevented, felt that they
must do something. They had heard their Uncle Joe say that, since
Solomon was getting crosser, he would give him away if anybody
could be found to come and get him.
Since nobody else was within reach, they cast about for some means
of distracting Solomon from his fell purpose. Better kill the bear,
if possible, than let him destroy a valuable farm animal. Suddenly,
as the bear came directly beneath, Perry bethought him of the
In a twinkling he had one in hand, and was standing over the wide
"That's it! That's it!" shouted Rufe. "Stab him! Stick it clear
into him! That'll keep him busy for a while!"
Solomon was again weaving back and forth before the threatening
horns, and as he came within easy reach, Perry gave him a fierce
thrust between the shoulders. As the tines pierced his muscles, the
bear reared to his hind legs with a whining roar of pain. Perry,
still clinging to the handle of the spear, was suddenly thrown off
his perch and tumbled head foremost upon the grizzly!
Thus the peril of breaking bones in falling was avoided in the
peril of rolling on the barn floor in the clutches of a mad
The bear had twisted his neck to seize the spear-handle, and when
Perry hit him, was bowled over on his side.
The spear-handle snapped in his teeth, and as he wrenched
frantically at the fragment, its tines were twisted, cutting deeper
into his flesh.
This wound, the first he had ever received, set Solomon crazy.
He paid not the slightest heed to boy or cow, but rolled and
threshed, biting at the fragment of spear-handle, giving vent to
his rage and pain in a hoarse, distressful roar.
Perry might easily have scrambled to his feet and escaped, but he
also was flung at full length on the floor, and instantly Solomon,
in distress, rolled over him, crushing the breath from his lungs.
The terrified Rufe, looking down upon his brother's blackened face
and the bear's wicked claws waving above it, leaped to his feet and
started to run to the barn-loft door, to scream for help.
At less than half the distance, his feet caught in the meshes of
the unrolled net, and he measured his length on the floor.
As he quickly untangled a foot, the thought flashed into his mind,
"Throw this net upon the bear's legs!" In a flash he was at the
edge of the open floor and hauling the big seine in coils at his
When he had a heap to the height of his knees he gathered it in his
arms and dropped the coils upon Solomon's waving legs.
The bear's claws took instant hold of the stout meshes, and bruin,
feeling his feet entangled, wrenched at their fastenings, rolling
himself over on his side and off the body of the prostrate boy.
Perry, well-nigh smothered, had barely strength enough to crawl out
of reach of the whirlwind fight which now took place.
Even the cow was awed to silence by the uproar of Solomon's rage as
he fought with the entangling folds of the salmon net.
The seine needed no attendance. It did its own work once the
grizzly's legs had been thrust through its meshes.
Coil after coil, the hundred and fifty feet of seine came down out
of the loft as the bear rolled and pitched and tumbled. The more he
tore and threshed, the more meshes there were to enwrap and
In five minutes from the time its first meshes dropped upon him,
the net had Solomon so wound and bound that his legs were
immovable, and he could barely wriggle his neck.
Perry soon recovered his breath, and before they ran to the field
to tell of Solomon's plight, the two boys had the presence of mind
to pen the cow up where she could not, should she take a notion,
gore the helpless grizzly.
Amid both laughter and commiseration, blended with comments on the
pluck of the two youngsters, the ranchmen performed a surgical
operation on the helpless Solomon, extracting the spear from his
flesh. With much greater difficulty they freed him from the seine
and got him back into his lair.