Thursday, July 16, 2015

Old Ephraim: Utah’s most legendary bear

                 The stone monument to Old Ephraim, erected in 1966 by Boy Scouts.

By Lynn Arave

“OLD Ephraim” was a legendary, giant, marauding grizzly bear who roamed the Wasatch Mountains in the early 20th Century. Almost 92 years after his death, the bruin still lives on, in campfire tales and various tributes.
For example, in Bear Lake Valley, there’s the Old Ephraim Pizza, 32 inches in diameter; in a remote side canyon of Logan Canyon, there’s a large stone monument where he was killed; and “Walking Thunder” (1997) was not only one of actor/singer John Denver’s last two movies, but was inspired by the tale of Utah’s Old Eph himself.
“Grizzly bear killed near Logan” was an Aug. 22, 1923 headline in the Standard-Examiner, reporting on the bear’s demise.

                           One of the inscriptions on the monument.

“The largest grizzly bear that was ever known to inhabit the Wasatch Range is reported to have been killed in the Right Hand Fork of Logan Canyon by William (Frank) Clark, a sheepherder,” the story stated.
The bear was believed to have killed as many as 15 sheep in one night and Old Eph was indeed possibly the largest and most elusive bear ever in the Beehive State.

               The Right Hand Fork is still a somewhat pristine area off Logan Canyon.

Clark set many traps for the bear over the years, but the animal evaded them. He was finally caught in a trap in the earliest of hours that fateful August morning. However, the bear, reputed to stand 9-feet-11 inches tall and weigh some 1,100 pounds, clawed down the 8-inch diameter tree the trap was tied to and ran up a hill with the trap still on his foot. Clark fired all his bullets into the bear before it dropped.
Years later, Clark reflected on Old Eph’s demise to a Deseret News reporter and stated:
"I sat down and watched his spirit depart from that great body and it seemed to take a long time, but at last, he raised his head a mite, gasped, and was still.
"Was I happy? No, and if I had to do it over I wouldn't kill him. . . . I could see the suffering in his eyes as he tried to climb that bank."

                     Even today Old Eph's turf is a rugged place.

Clark claimed to have killed 43 bears in his 34 years of sheepherding, but Old Ephraim was his last by choice.
Various historical accounts of Old Ephraim credit his range as from Weber County to Soda Spring, Id. However, make that from Morgan County to Idaho as a Nov. 9, 1911 story in the Salt Lake Telegram newspaper reported that a bear hunting party was looking for Old Eph in Morgan County too. Led by former Utah Governor John C. Cutler, this group spent several days in the wild and only found the bear’s huge tracks.
Eventually the bear was believed to have settled exclusively in Logan Canyon. Originally known as “Old Three Toes,” because of a deformity in one foot, it was a tale by P.T. Barnum that affixed the more fanciful name of Old Ephraim to the animal.

                 Part of the rough backcountry road leading to Old Eph's grave.

-Old Ephraim's legend is summarized concisely by Nephi J. Bott's poem, inscribed in a plaque at the bottom of the stone monument, erected in 1966 by Logan Boy Scouts, where the bear was buried:
"Old Ephraim, Old Ephraim, your deeds were so wrong yet we build you this marker and sing you this song. To the king of the forest so mighty and tall, we salute you, Old Ephraim the king of them all."
-Note that the bear's remains were later dug up and the skull and various bones were taken away. The huge skull ended up at the Smithsonian and was later put on exhibit at Utah State University as proof that this grizzly was indeed one of the largest of its kind. 

(-Originally published on-line and in print on July 16-16 by Lynn Arave in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:

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