Old Ephiram

Old Ephraim

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When Frank Clark came to Logan Canyon, the legend of Old Ephraim, was already alive and strong. Frank had joined the Ward-Clark Sheep Company and was running sheep in the canyon all summer long. He went days without seeing another human, and that was the way he liked it. His friends were always a good horse or two, a good dog and a good rifle. When he came to Logan Canyon in 1911, Frank was told that the canyon was infested with bears. “The Clark Family and the Bear family have always gotten along fine,” Frank would say. But that all changed as he would find sheep after sheep killed by a bear. In fact, by 1913, Frank had sworn eternal vengeance on the bears. Why? One morning and this wasn’t an isolated incident, Frank found twenty-eight sheep that had been attacked by a bear. They had been knocked over, and their tender underbellies had been eaten. Many of the sheep were still alive when Frank found them, and he had to put them down. It was the tracks next to one sheep, that morning, that told Frank which bear had done it. It was Old Ephraim.

Old Ephraim was named after the great bear that was in a P.T. Barnum’s story. Before that, Eph was known as Ol’Three Toes. At some time, when he was just a cub, Eph had stepped into a trap, andit deformed his paw. The three-toed track was very identifiable. It might have been that trap that helped make Eph the legendary bear he became. The print and the stories that Frank was told about Old Ephraim, reminded him of the stories he had heard as a child in Malad, Idaho, about a clever large bear.

The stories Frank grew up with, and are still being told today, were of a family of bears; a big male bear, a mamma bear, and their cub. Unlike most bears, this family stayed together and hunted together. Bears are omnivores, meaning that they will eat everything from berries to fish to deer. But once a bear discovers how easy it is to kill sheep, they will hunt nothing else if they can. These bears hunted the sheep of the Malad area and did a lot of damage to the flocks. One trick this Papa and Mamma bear taught their cub was that if you hunt the sheep in the same area as you sleep, you will get caught. But if you hunt the sheep in other flocks, they won’t find you. Within time, the Papa bear was killed, but the Mamma and the cup, who was now two years old and bigger than his Papa, were still doing damage to the sheep. As the cup grew up with humans all around, his legend grew, and he was given the names, Three Toes, and Bigfoot. His tracks were recognizable with his three toes and their size. The cub, so the stories tell, began to disguise his tracks by walking on his hind paws for long stretches. As a result, instead of looking like a bear print, the track looked like a large human footprint, wearing moccasins. This footprint earned him the name Moccasin Joe. These bears avoided traps, could sneak into ranches without waking the dogs, and they were never seen. Some of the Native Americans in the area started calling them spirit bears.

But all bears are flesh. After the Mamma bear was killed by government agents, Three Toes, or Moccasin Joe expanded his territory. He was reported as far south as Ogden, Utah. He was seen in the Cache Valley, the Bear Lake Valley, over in Afton Wyoming, and some say they saw his tracks even farther away than that. As Frank was told the stories of Old Ephraim, he knew he was dealing with the same bear. From 1911 to 1923, Frank said Eph was in Logan Canyon most summers. The sheep were plentiful, and the climate was just right to make a large bear happy. All the sheepmen hated and feared Old Ephraim. They all wanted him hunted down and killed. None of them worked as hard as Frank, though.

Like Moccasin Joe’s family, Old Eph was seldom seen, and those who did see him were too scared to shoot. One shepherd said he saw what he thought was a brown bull walking through the trees until it stood up and looked at him. The most famous sighting was that of Sam Kemp. He reportedly came face to face with Old Ephraim on a hilltop. Kemp was riding his horse up the hill when Eph came up the other side of the hill. Eph stood up, and Kemp said he had to look up from the back of his horse to look into Eph’s eyes. Neither bear nor man attacked, but both turned around and went back the way they came. Frank saw him once, caring a full-grown sheep in his mouth. Frank shot at him, but Eph was out of range. In the end, Old Ephraim was said to be nine feet, eleven inches tall, and weighed in at eleven hundred pounds.

Frank finally got his chance to kill the great bear, but it was at night, with Frank in his long-johns and boot. It came on the night of August 21, 1923. It happened because Old Ephraim carelessly stepped into one of Frank’s traps. Frank heard the roar of pain a mile away at his camp and went out to investigate. Eph seemed to know who had set that trap, knew where to find him, and went to get him. The two met up by a stream, in the dark. It was a battle for the history books. It ended with the great bear dead and the now old shepherd shaking in his boots and regretting that he had to kill the bear. Old Ephraim’s skull is on display in the special collection at the Utah State University library.

The story of the battle was told to scout groups and interested people by Frank Clark himself, until his death in 1960. The story then passed from one storyteller to the next. 

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