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1837 - Trapper Peter LaBeck killed by grizzly bear at El Tejon [story]


Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Jan 17, 2013

evelynevandersande_mugSometimes children from the inner city come off the bus with some apprehensions.

They have no experience with wilderness and aren’t sure what they’ll see on the trail. “Are we going to see bears?” We reply, “You will see a bear, but it is in the classroom. It is a real bear, but it is taxidermied, and you can come close to him.”

About 10 years ago, we had a juvenile black bear that raided the picnic area during the night for a few weeks. He had a sweet tooth and would look for soda cans to lick the last drops of the sticky drink. We made a whole collection of soda cans with his teeth marks on them … but then he moved on.

The bear in the classroom is a grizzly bear.

We received it in October 2005 from Sandy Tietjen. At that time, I called Sandy to get more details; specifically, how does one become the proud owner of a grizzly bear? She told me the story.

bear1Her grandfather hunted the grizzly bear in Alaska in the 1950s. The skull had been removed and bleached, and was hanging on the wall of her grandfather’s house as a prized trophy. The taxidermied grizzly was standing next to the skull and Sandy, as a child, was always impressed when she visited her grandfather. She liked to stand next to the imposing bear.

When her grandfather died, no one in the family wanted the bear and Sandy, then 18, claimed it for her bedroom. She thought: This beautiful creature died, I am not going to abandon it now. Her parents were perplexed by the new décor of their teen-aged daughter’s room.

bear8When she was newly married, she was excited at the first Halloween in her new home and the opportunity to give candy to the children. The first time the bell rang, she opened the door and three young boys around 6 years old were standing in front of her. Their eyes were huge, their jaws had dropped and they stood petrified. They did not even ask for candy. Sandy had forgotten her bear was standing in front of the window and the massive silhouette was in the light. She said she was upstaged by the bear the whole evening.

Why did she decide to give away the grizzly? Sandy was in the process of revising her insurance policy and came to the conclusion that insuring a grizzly was just too expensive for her young family. She thought about Placerita as a potentially appreciative new home – and we are happy she did.

Because of its medium size, our supervisor at the time, Ian Swift, estimated he was killed around 2 years of age, so he was a juvenile, not a full-sized adult.

 

Who wouldn't want one of these in his bedroom?

Who wouldn’t want one of these in his bedroom?

The Bear Moves

In November 2007, the Nature Center was closed for reconstruction. The bear was put into a large metal storage container in the parking lot.

At first it was a good solution, but more and more boxes needed to be shoved in, and both the bear and a stuffed mountain lion were in the way, so they got pushed around.

On one hot day, the temperature inside the container became really high. We were concerned the animals would be damaged. So at the next board meeting, the question was asked: “What are we going to do with the bear and the mountain lion?” I answered, “I have room at home, and they will be welcomed in my guest room.” I do not think the board had expected such a solution, but after talking about it, they thought it would work just fine.

I was secretly thrilled to be able to host the mountain lion and the grizzly.

bear4When little children would visit, I made sure they took a peek in the guest room. Their faces were indescribable, but after the initial surprise they were interested and intrigued by the big creatures. A little girl told me, “You have a very scary house.” When you look at the pictures, both of the animals do look intimidating, at best.

Even my son, who was in college at the time, flatly refused to sleep in the guest room any more. “Mom, it is just too scary,” he said. “They stare at me.” When I proposed covering them with sheets, exasperated he exclaimed, “That would be even worse.”

Obviously, his mother did not understand why sharing the same room with those two large animals with snarling expressions was not conducive to a peaceful night’s sleep.

Minor repairs needed.

Minor repairs needed.

The bear needed some minor repairs and went to the taxidermist, returning restored to his original splendor, and we are happy to have him back at the Nature Center. A new glass display case was made to protect him from too eager visitors.

You might not even be aware that Santa Clarita has its own famous grizzly bear story. It was in Soledad Canyon in the 1870s, and the shooter was John Lang. The bear is said to have weighed 2,300 pounds, and supposedly its hide was sent to a museum in the United Kingdom.

The San Francisco Examiner's Monarch, California's last grizzly, in the zoo at Golden Gate Park in the early 1900s.

The San Francisco Examiner’s Monarch, California’s last grizzly, in the zoo at Golden Gate Park in the early 1900s. Photo: Bancroft Library

California proudly displays a grizzly bear on its state flag, but California’s last grizzly was captured in the Ojai Valley in 1889 by one of William Randoph Hearst’s reporters, taken to a San Francisco zoo, euthanized in 1911 and taxidermied. Today you can see it at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco where it, like its kin at Placerita, is on display.

To see a grizzly bear enjoying life to the fullest in the wild, you’d have to travel to Alaska.

 

 

Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.

 

 

After his death, Monarch was the model for the 1911 version of the California state flag. Today he's on display at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

After his death, Monarch modeled for the 1911 version of the California state flag. Today he’s on display at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

bear3 bear2 bear9bear6

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