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Bear lithograph by  Henry C. Eno, 1853.
S.E. Hollister, depicted above, was one of many early American figures who made their fame as a hunter and trapper. Another was Grizzly Adams, whose trademark dress was emulated by Hollister. Lithograph by Henry C. Eno, 1853.
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Flash slide show of Bear in Mind exhibit
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"Bear in Mind" exhibit at UC Berkeley's The Bancroft Library to salute the California grizzly
22 August 2002

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations

Berkeley - The feared, revered and quickly annihilated California grizzly, which lives on today as the state animal, will be saluted in "Bear in Mind," a new exhibit opening soon at the University of California, Berkeley.

UC Berkeley bear hunt yields grizzly art, from silly to sublime

Alan Dundes bares the folklore of the bear

Nearly 100 objects will be displayed Aug. 26-Nov. 27 at The Bancroft Library to chronicle the brief but colorful history of the bear as its California habitat became home to explorers, adventurers, immigrants and others.

The exhibit will include diaries detailing the pre-Gold Rush slaughter of grizzlies, the original manuscript of Theodore Hittell's "The Adventures of John Capen" ("Grizzly Adams"), and a map and journal detailing grizzly sightings in Berkeley. Also on view will be a beautiful, John J. Audubon bear illustration that more closely resembles a wolf, based on a description by Lewis and Clark. Topping off the list: the skull of the "Richardson bear," killed in 1894 in Big Tujunga Canyon, with a bullet hole through its lower jaw.

One of the state's most visible and enduring symbols, the California grizzly adorns the state flag and seal, and is UC Berkeley's longtime mascot, celebrated with song and statues, said Bill Brown and Susan Snyder, co-curators of the exhibit.

The California grizzly also "serves as a fitting microcosm for the study of California history from the 1700s to the present," said Charles B. Faulhaber, the James D. Hart director of The Bancroft Library. "Through the lens of time, one can view the brutality, ignorance, romance, guilt and 'redefinition' that characterize our treatment of this icon of California history."

The grizzly, a largely vegetarian omnivore, is believed to have once numbered 10,000 within the state. With the arrival of European explorers, gold miners and others, however, California's growing population forced the bear, with its diet of acorns, roots and manzanita, from coastal areas and lowlands into inland areas in search of food.

The bear became the target of hunters who killed the bear for sport, to assist ranchers and farmers, or for simple bragging rights. Spanish caballeros roped grizzlies, dragging them into doomed public battles with wild bulls. Settlers in the late 1800s shot and poisoned bears to protect their livestock.

The first report of a bear being shot to death came in 1769, when members of Gaspar de Portola's expedition encountered grizzlies near present-day San Luis Obispo, in a location they named Los Osos ("The Bears" ). Three years later, trying to decimate the regional bear population, the group sent 9,000 pounds of grizzly bear meat to Northern California missions to help keep inhabitants from starving after food shipments from Mexico were delayed.

Few cooks - gourmets or anyone else - developed grizzly recipes, as bear meat was not considered particularly tasty.

The last known grizzly was shot in 1922.

"As soon as the repeating rifle appeared in 1848, the grizzly bear was essentially dead," said Brown, coordinator for research and instruction at The Bancroft Library.

"It's a sad story. The grizzly was here for centuries and, in a flash, he was eradicated," added Snyder, the library's head of access services. "They were gone before people realized what was happening."

In that era of Teddy Roosevelt-style trophy hunting, "the passing of the grizzly bear was not mourned," Snyder said, "at least not immediately."

"Few photographs recorded the grizzly in the wild, except for several photos of dead grizzlies," she added.

Ironically, as the grizzly decreased in population, it increased in symbolic import. It became the symbol of the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846 and decorated the state seal in 1849. Newcomers to California may have feared the grizzly, but admired it for its incredible size, power, beauty and determined struggle to survive.

Highlights of the exhibit will include:

* A letter describing the 1887 shooting of the last known grizzly in the Yosemite area. Its pelt later was sold to UC Berkeley, where it remains in carefully-controlled storage.

* "California Grizzly," a 1955 book by Tracy I. Storer, a UC Davis zoologist who also taught and conducted research at UC Berkeley. It is considered the "Bible on the California Grizzly," Snyder said.

* A John J. Audubon illustration of two grizzlies, based on descriptions by explorers Lewis and Clark

* The campus's recently-acquired original manuscript of Hittell's 1860 landmark biography, "The Adventures of James Capen Adams," or "Grizzly Adams." It contains several hundred handwritten pages and records Hittell's personal interviews with Adams in the 1850s. Adams hunted and trapped grizzlies and kept some as pets. He even trained bears, such as his "pet," Ben Franklin, to walk with him down San Francisco streets.

* Writings by naturalist John Muir about the grizzly. "They would meet and respectfully walk away from each other," Snyder said. Muir also wrote about the hunter who killed the last grizzly near Yosemite in 1887 and gave the pelt to painter Thomas Hill.

* William H. Davis' diaries of the pre-Gold Rush slaughter of grizzlies in the Emeryville area.

* An interview by Hubert Howe Bancroft (founder of The Bancroft Library) with hunter George Nidever, who said he killed more than 200 grizzlies in the 1840s and 1850s. A paper used by Nidever for bear target practice also will be on display.

* A 1772 map and diary by Franciscan monk Juan Crespi that detail grizzly sightings along Strawberry Creek, which runs through UC Berkeley.

Other items in the exhibit will include a Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. Collection lithograph of a bear at the edge of a mountain river; a portrait of a wig-wearing Mariposa man who lost his real hair in a grizzly encounter; and a statuette of "Oski," UC Berkeley's costumed mascot introduced in 1941 after the use of real bears at athletic events was discontinued.

Visitors will find an abundance of information about the California grizzly bear, a religious, political, social and economic symbol in the state for more than 100 years.

The Bancroft Library is working with several local museums and other institutions around the state in hopes of taking the exhibit on the road. Tentative plans are for the library to show some of its materials, and for local institutions to find Grizzly bear items within their collections to display in joint exhibits.

"Bear in Mind" will be free and open to the public Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and on Saturdays from 1-5 p.m.