Recent news stories about bears get people thinking about these bruins. Almost every summer it seems the news reports a story about someone in Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks being mauled by a grizzly. Stories around black bear sightings around Bear Lake are becoming more frequent every year, although most have not been substantiated.
Stories about bears are fun to listen to and an encounter with a bear would make for a very memorable vacation. However, none compare to the monster that terrorized an entire community more than 80 years ago.
This is the story of Old Ephraim, a bear who stood almost 10 feet tall and weighed a full 1,100 pounds. Old Ephraim’s statue can be seen in downtown Montpelier in Kings parking lot.
Old Ephraim roamed the Cache Nation Forest from about 1911 until his death on August 22, 1923. During his reign of terror, Old Ephraim killed hundreds of sheep and cattle, making life difficult for area ranchers.
Even with his massive size, Old Ephraim was sighted in daylight only two or three times over the years, but he left his distinctive tracks where he traveled. The bear had a deformed foot with only three toes on it, making it easier for anyone to recognize his mark.
Just like in the movies, however, this villain met his match in Frank Clark, an energetic, nature-loving man from Malad, Idaho. Clark herded sheep on the Cache Forest from 1911 to 1945, but history remembers him for a different deed.
During the summer of 1911, bears killed at least 154 sheep and maimed dozens more. This was a serious loss to the ranchers of the area and something needed to be done.
Clark helped out and in the next several years killed 50 bears. One bear, however, eluded him, for a while.
Like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, Clark set out to find and kill his “white whale.” Unlike the good captain, however, Clark was not destroyed by his quarry.
By the early 1920s, Clark had become so familiar with Old Ephraim’s habits that he was certain he would be able to trap the monster. During the early summer of 1923, Clark set out a trap in one of the grizzly’s favorite wallows, but the wily bruin wasn’t going to be caught that easily.
Every time he found the trap, Ephraim either sprung it or simply picked it up and flung it into nearby bushes. This went on all summer until either Clark became smarter and was able to hide the trap better, or the bear just got careless.
In an excerpt from his own account about the incident, Clark wrote, “... I visited the trap and he had drummed the wallow into a newly built one, so I carefully changed the trap to his newly built bath. I was camped one mile down the canyon in a tent. That night was fine, beautiful, a starlit night, and I was sleeping fine when I was awakened by a roar and a groan near camp. I had a dog, but not a sound came from Mr. Dog. I tried to get to sleep, but no chance, so I got up and put on my shoes but no trousers. I did take the gun, a 25-.35 cal Carbine with seven steel ball cartridges, and walked up the trail. I did not know it was Eph’ In fact, I thought it was a horse that was down. Eph’ was in the creek in some wallows and after I had got past him, he let me know all at once that it was not a horse. What should I do? Alone, the closest human being three miles away and Eph’ between me and the camp.”
Clark decided to climb a hill and wait for the bear. When daylight came, the bear still had not shown himself, so Clark began throwing sticks in to the willows to scare him out. Ephraim slipped out and Clark tracked him close to his tent where he glimpsed a small patch of hide.
“I fired at it and grazed the shoulder. Now for me to get the greatest thrill of my life. Ephraim raised up on his hind legs with his back to me and a 14-foot, log chain wound around his right arm as carefully as a man would have done it, and a 23 pound bear trap on his foot, he turned around, and I saw the most magnificent sight that any man could ever see. I was paralyzed with fear and could not raise my gun. He was coming, still on his hind legs, holding that cussed trap above his head. I was rooted to the earth and let him come within six feet of me before I stuck the gun out and pulled the trigger. He fell back, but came again and received five of the remaining six bullets. He had now reached the trail, still on his hind legs. I only had one cartridge left in the gun and still that bear would not go down.”
Clark turned downhill and ran for 20 yards before looking back at the bear. Old Ephraim was still standing, but Jennie, Clark’s dog, was nipping at his heels. Clark turned to help Jennie, and the bear started toward the man.
“I could see that he was badly injured, as at each breath the blood would spurt from his nostrils, so I gave him the last bullet in the brain. I think I felt sorry I had to do it.”
After skinning the beast, Clark and another herder buried him. Not long after that, Boy Scout Troop No. 43, out of Logan, UT., dug up the body and the bear’s huge skull eventually found its way to the Smithsonian Institute where it was displayed for many years.
It was returned to Logan several years ago and is now part of a display in one of the museums on the Utah State University campus. The Boy Scouts built a monument of rocks on his grave and a new stone monument was later erected at the historical Old Ephraim grave site in Blacksmith Fork Canyon. It was dedicated on September 23, 1966.
Although the bear is dead, his memory lives on. Stories are told around campfires about this huge grizzly. And more than one Boy Scout will swear he heard the bruin snuffling around his tent during a scout camp-out.