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A Bear Named Club Foot

Mendocino County pioneers loved to share stories about interactions with bears. Here’s one from a little booklet called “Lore of the Coast: Fact or Fiction” published by the Mendocino County Historical Society about 50 years ago. Historian Tom Moungovan said there were two country stores in Manchester and after evening chores were finished men gathered and told tales. Here’s one of them from the early 1900s.

Just north of Manchester on the south coast going up Alder Creek the first major tributary is called Grizzly Canyon Creek. Nearby was Brush Creek which had a great swamp for about two miles upstream, an ideal place for bears and raccoons. There lived an unusually large grizzly bear who was a real pest.

Since the 1850s settlers had been bringing in cattle and this grizzly seemed to think they were just for him and he ate nothing else. The settlers would hunt the grizzly with dogs and give chase to no avail. It was assumed the bear would light out occasionally and go over the hills to Anderson Valley, but he always came back. He was a wonder at avoiding traps but his “trap wisdom” ran out one day on the Biaggi Ranch.

He got his foot stuck in a trap but managed to pull most of it out. The foot healed into a long and narrow shape which resembled a club, hence the name “Club Foot” which stuck with him the rest of his life. After more depredations the farmers, ranchers and trappers with dogs were after him. The bear retreated to a shallow pond in the middle of the swamp where he had an advantage over the dogs. It would have been suicide for a man to try to get near the center of the swamp. In darkness the bear escaped to Alder Creek and perhaps beyond.

A month later a hired hand was getting cows into a barn for milking and found a large steer with a broken neck partially eaten and a deformed foot print was found in the soil. It was definitely Club Foot’s work. Brush Creek was being drained and cleared so the bear had lost its best lair. 

It was said bears like to eat sheep more than cattle but his visits to Anderson Valley found him chased away by vigilant dogs. Settlers were tired of losing stock and two men and a team of four dogs were imported from a large sheep ranch near Healdsburg to finally kill Club Foot.

The bruin wasn’t used to such focused single minded dogs and once they had his trail they didn’t let up. At bay, hiding in a clump of blue blossom where it was impossible for the men to enter, the bear waited. The hunters set fire to the thicket and the bear then came charging out. The hunters were taken by surprise but managed to fire two shots and one found its mark.

They saw the bear go over the rim of a very steep gorge and the hunters got to a vantage point where a final shot ended the career of a very fine bear. The tributary of Alder Creek has been called Grizzly Canyon Creek ever since and the old timers hoped future generations would never change this name dedicated to their really famous bear.

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