Bitterroot Ecosystem Map
By Joseph Mussulman
The last time the Corps saw a grizzly east of the Rockies in 1805 was on the lower Jefferson River near the Three Forks. They saw no bears in the Lemhi, Salmon, or Bitterroot river valleys along the east side of the Bitterroot Range, nor on the Indian trail over the mountains. They noticed some bear sign in the vicinity of Celilo Falls in October of 1805, and came upon some tracks in the vicinity of Fort Clatsop that winter, but made no mention of which species had made them.
Nonetheless, in February of 1806 Captain Lewis felt himself ready to summarize what he had so far discovered about four-legged animals in the Northwest. He wrote:
The quadrupeds of this country from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean," he wrote, "are first the Domestic Animals, consisting of the Horses and Dogs only; 2ndly the Native Wild Animals, consisting of the White, brown or Grizly bear (which I believe to be the same family with a merely accidental difference in point of Colour). . . .
And so on, devoting most of his remaining 800 words that day, February 15, to a discourse on Indian horses and mules.
On the 16th he wrote briefly of the Indian dog, then continued his remarks on the grizzly.
The brown, white or grizly bear are found in the rocky mountains in the timbered parts of it, or Westerly side but rarely; they are more common below the rocky Mountain on the borders of the plains where there are copses of brush and underwood near the watercou[r]ses. they are by no means as plenty on this side of the rocky mountains as on the other, nor do I beleive that they are found atall [sic] in the wody country, which borders this [Pacific] coast as far in the interior as the range of mountains [the Cascade Range] which pass the Columbia [river] between the Great Falls [Celilo Falls] and rapids [Cascades] of that river.
It wasn't until they got back to the west slope of the Bitterroot Range in May that Lewis had occasion to expand on those conclusions. During their month-long residence at "Camp Chopunnish" (see map)
near the Nez Perce chief Twisted Hair's village on the Clearwater, while waiting for snow to melt among the peaks and ridges of the Bitterroots, bear meat became a staple in their diet, the spring chinook salmon run wasn't due in for several more weeks. They killed at least seven grizzlies
On May 15, after the hunters brought in two brown bears that Private John Collins had bagged, and three that Private François Labiche had killed, Lewis observed,
These bears gave me a stronger evidence of the various colored bear of this country being one species only, than any I have heretofore had. . . . In short it it is not common to find two bear here of this species presicely of the same colour, and if we were to attempt to distinguish them by their callers and to denominate each colour a distinct species we should soon find at least twenty.
By the end of the month, Lewis turned to the Indians for their knowledge and experience; they called the grizzly Ho-host, or white bear, and the black bear Yâck-kâh. "This distinction of the Indians," said Lewis, "induced us to make further enquiry relative to their opinions of the several species of bear in this country."
The white, the deep and pale red grizzle, the dark brown grizzle, and all those which had the extremities of the hair of a white or frosty colour without regard to the colour of the ground of the poil [or pile, the dense, fine-textured undercoat], they designated Hoh-host, and assured us that they were the same as the white bear, that they ascosiated together, were very vicisious [vicious], never climbed the trees, and had much longer nails than the others.
"The white and the grizzly of this neighbourhood are the same of those found on the upper portion of the Missouri," Lewis concluded, but he decided that they were not as ferocious as the grizzlies of the Missouri because they fed mainly on roots rather than on live animals such as bison. "They have attacked and faught our hunters already, but not so fiercely as those of the Missouri." Nevertheless, the hunters were ordered to go out only in pairs.
The last grizzly they saw west of the crest of the Bitterroots was in the vicinity of Weippe [pronounced WEE-eyep] Prairie in mid-June of 1805. They saw no more until Lewis reached the Great Falls of the Missouri on July 15, and Clark chased one on the Yellowstone on the 16th.