THE TRUE STORY OF FREDERICK HAMBLIN'S FIGHT WITH A BEAR
An account written by his Daughter, Emily Jepson.
(This story of Great-Grandfather's fight with the bear should be especially interesting to any one whose ancestors came from Alpine, Arizona. Uncle Fred was Jacob Hamblin's younger brother and, of course an Uncle to my Grandmother, Ella. All of us Tenney kids called him "Uncle Fred" and most everyone else. Over the years there have been many versions of this story, the details of what happened and the area where it happened. This account written by his daughter, Emily Jepson, I believe, accurately gives the details of the struggle, how it happened and when. She did not define the area location where it took place. Lloyd Hamblin, Uncle Fred's nephew and the son of Frank Hamblin who was the son who helped his Father into the house that night, said this fight took place beginning on Uncle Fred's land about four miles South and East of Alpine. This land which became his son Frank's land, lies South of the highway, about a 1/4 mile before you get to the road going to the Blue and/or the Alpine Country Club. This fight culminated in the mountains West of the Old Tenney Homestead. We should be aware that Jacob Hamblin, the great Missionary to the Lamanites, was not the only one of that Surname in early Arizona Church History. His brother Frederick Hamblin, also settled here. Tammy Van Cleve, of Gilbert 4th ward, Gilbert Val Vista Stake, provided us with the following record of an event in the life of her husband Jerry's Great Grandfather. L.N.T., Sr.)
My Father, Frederick Hamblin, was the first Mormon settler in Alpine, Arizona. He was always a pioneer, first as a boy in Utah, and then in Arizona. He loved the freedom of the mountains and small towns. He loved to fish and hunt, that was his sport and recreation. In those days there was no restricion of game and fish, one could go at his will. As there was an abundance of both, Father went often and seldom returned empty handed.
One fall, 1890 or 1891, the snow came early. The first week in November a heavy snow covered the ground to a depth of a foot and a half and deeper in the mountains, making it ideal for hunting, as tracking or trailing could be done so easily. The morning was clear, so about noon, Father saddled his best horse, took his gun with a belt of bullets, and laughingly told the folks at home to have the grease hot and ready for a mess of fresh venison.
Some five or six miles from home, Father came upon a deer track, which he began following. After following it for half a mile or so, he saw the track of a big bear, which had come from another direction and was also following the deer. He decided to follow on and perhaps get both, especially if the bear overtook the deer. He followed a long way, perhaps three or four miles, then he saw the bear had given up and turned into a thicket. The sun was now getting low and he was getting very tired from the continual climb uphill in deep snow, so he decided to rest a little, then start back to his horse, which he had left at the foot of the mountain some four or five miles away. Father sat down on a fallen tree to rest, but soon became uneasy and had the feeling of being watched. He looked carefully in every direction but could see nothing to justify the feeling, so he sat still, perhaps a minute longer. He still had the creepy feeling, so he arose and started down the mountain when he heard a noise and, turning, saw a huge grizzly bear coming out of the thicket towards him. He quickly leveled his gun and shot the bear, wounding it badly. The bear ran up the mountainside and Father followed thinking it would die soon, but it went on and on. He came to a place where the bear and the snow all around was soaked with blood, but the bear was nowhere in sight.
Father was very tired now, and thought he would barely have time to reach his horse before dark, so he decided to give up the chase for that day. He would come back on the morrow and get the bear. In those days the gun only held one bullet at a time, and as the brush was so thick, Father took the bullet from the gun to be sure of no accident in going down the mountain. He had just emptied the gun and hadn't yet started back when he heard a terrible snarl, and the beast was upon him, striking him on the shoulder, its sharp claws tearing his clothes and also his flesh. Father used the gun as a club, striking the bear in the face with all his might, with little or no effect, with the bear striking the gun to ward off the blows. Father then took the gun in both hands, a hand at each end of the barrel, and when the bear would attack, strike it with all his strength in the mouth; this way he broke several of its front teeth out. He tried to turn the gun to get the end of the gun into the bear's mouth, thinking he might force it so far down its throat as to make it give up, but this he could not do. The angry bear kept trying to get its huge arms around him, which Father strove constantly to avert, as he knew one squeeze of those powerful arms would crush every bone in his chest.
It is impossible to know how long this fierce struggle lasted but long enough that both man and beast were almost exhausted. I suppose everyone knows that bears cuff each other in their play, and use the same motions or means in their fighting, only of course, putting all the force they can muster into the blows when fighting. This grizzly, finding he was unable to get his arms around Father, drew back his huge paws and struck at Fathers head with all his force, which Father dodged, but it hit the gun, knocking it several feet away, thus leaving him entirely without protection. Both man and beast were working to keep to the upper hillside, as that gave the advantage. The bear struck his right hand two or three times with its sharp claws, tearing his hand to shreds; it was now helpless. One of Father's heels caught and his strength seemed almost gone. He could feel the bear's hot breath on his face and decided he was lost. With his back downhill, and that fierce beast upon him, he was ready to give up. Just then it seemed an unseen power raised him up and gave him strength. As he righted himself, he caught the eyes of the bear in a close stare. Father was a large man standing six feet and three inches in his stocking feet. The bear was so tall his paws rested straight on Father's shoulders, and they were now in this position. The face of the bear was so near Father's face he could feel every breath. At the first stare, the bear stood still, then as Father continued to stare, he dropped down on all fours and started slowly away. Father stood and stared at the bear, which went a little way, stopped and looked back, then walked on.
Father dropped down exhausted, but kept watching the bear until it was out of sight. Then taking the red bandanna handkerchief from his pocket, he wrapped his hand, which was bleeding profusely, and picked up the remains of his gun. He found the gun with the stock broken off, the sights knocked off, the hammer bent, and marks of the bear's teeth all over the barrel. He knew the gun would never shoot again, but it had been the means of saving his life. He also picked up a claw that had been torn from the bear's foot, this measured three inches long. With these in hand, he started his weary way down the mountainside. Twice before he reached his horse he was overcome with exhaustion from the loss of blood and his trying experience, and lay down thinking he would die there, but after a little rest he would go on again.
Darkness fell, as the trees were so thick they shut out the light sky that is directly above so it is a wonder he ever found his horse. His clothing being wet and cold from the snow and the cold night air, made so stiff and uncomfortable that he decided to make a fire and warm up before starting for home. However, his hand being so badly torn as to be rendered helpless, and all the wood being wet made this impossible. Wearily he dragged himself into the saddle and gave the horse the reign. It being gentle, took the trail homeward without urging or guiding, which was a great advantage for Father as he was practically unable to anything more than balance himself in the saddle. While Father was going through this terrible, and never-to-be-forgotten experience, his family was at their ranch homestead, happily doing their daily tasks, unmindful of the fierce struggle taking place in the lonely, snow-covered mountain ten miles away. The sun slipped behind the western mountains, the evening chores were done, and soon after dark, a nice hot supper was waiting until Father returned to his place at the head of the table. Still, we weren't really worried, as we expected him to come each minute.
A pale cloud-streaked moon arose, giving very little light and an icy wind began blowing. By now we children could see that Mother was worried, But what could be done? We did not know just where Father intended to hunt, and if we had known, how far in another direction might he have gone. The two smaller children were put to bed. But Mother, my Brother, Frank, and myself could neither eat nor sleep. Two or three dreary hours passed by and still Father hadn't come, and the night was bitter cold.
At last Frank, who was just a boy, yet knew the country well, said he would get a horse and go into town and get someone to help him look for Father. He had been gone from the house for about ten minutes when he met Father coming. When he got near him he called "Is that you, Pa?" There were no words spoken for some time, as he was to weak and overcome with exhaustion, Great was our joy when we heard the approaching horseman. Mother hurried about replenishing the fires and seeing that supper was warm again, never expecting things not to go right with Father. He did not come as we expected, and from the sound we knew that something was wrong. Mother opened the door and saw Frank, half carrying Father, whose face was a deathly white, and his clothes torn, bloodstained and frozen to him. It was a sight one could never forget.
We got him into the house and seated him in a big chair before the open fire. The big handkerchief wrapped around his wounded hand was frozen stiff, but that had stopped the bleeding and perhaps saved his life. He was suffering from shock, exhaustion, hunger and cold, and could not speak. It was perhaps an hour before he could stand up to have any of his wet and bloody clothes removed. During that time Frank went to the kitchen to get a drink of water and I followed him and asked what had happened to Father. "I don't know," he said, "He couldn't tell me." Mother got him to drink a few swallows of hot soup, which revived him some. Then Mother asked, "What hurt you?" He only said "A bear." Mother dressed his hand with clean bandages, and finally got him into bed, although he didn't sleep that night.
Days passed, still Father did not say a word of what had happened, and his eyes had a kind of dazed, far away look, which was of course shock. It was five or six days before he told us a thing that happened, then one evening he told us the story, which I have tried to tell as he did, but that was a long time ago, and I may have omitted some things.
It may be at this period of history, germs hadn't reached this far west, for his hand healed nicely, as did the large gash in his shoulder. All of this without the aid of a doctor, for at that time there was no doctor in the country. Father polished the large claw that he picked up, and used it for years as a watch fob, afterwards giving it to his boyhood friend. The following spring a cowboy found the remains of the largest bear he had ever seen, and as several front teeth were broken off, and a claw was missing from one of its front toes, he knew it was the one Father had fought with. Father was modest and didn't tell this story often, and then only to ones he chose, not to everyone. Perhaps he wouldn't approve of my telling it now.
(We tell this story, not to aggrandize one man's memory, but to preserve a part of history, and to help us appreciate the trials and blessings our forefathers received in the early days. Incidentally, Sister Van Cleve informed us that several years ago the Mesa Public Library, when in its previous building, had a pioneer exhibit, which included Frederick Hamblin's gun as one of the items on display. The exhibit was burglarized, and the only thing taken was this gun.)
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