In the days when Calaveras and Amador were one, the population of the ancient capital were wont to amuse themselves with bull and bear fights. Sunday, by custom, was the day set apart for these exhibitions, for, on that day, everybody came to town. A large portion of the population was Spanish, and anything pertaining to the fighting of bulls would draw out the full Mexican population, seniors senoras, and senoritas. Spanish cattle were plentiful, and there were plenty of men who had been trained to handle them; but bears, real grizzlies, were not so easily caught and handled. They were valued all the way from one to four thousand dollars; consequently, when a real grizzly was caught and caged, he was generally given an unfair advantage.

The black bear, a smaller animal, inhabits the Sierras and the northern part of Oregon. There are also the cinnamon bear and brown bear in the mountains, but none of these are so destructive or vicious as the black bear of Canada and the other British provinces; indeed, none of them will attack man unless pressed to the combat. But the grizzly is different. He is combative and destructive, especially if wounded or brought to bay by his pursuers. The weight of the grizzly is mush larger than other bears, weighing from eight hundred to sixteen hundred pounds; and some, more than seven feet in length and over two thousand pounds in weight, have been killed in the State of California. These bears are giants in strength and appearance, far surpassing the lion and tiger.



It was between these monsters and the fierce Spanish bull that the desperate struggles formerly took place, when a dollar a head was willingly paid to see the bull and bear fight in California. These savage sports are long gone, but to the lover of brute force their memory will always form a spectacle of deep interest. The puny efforts of cocks, dogs, and men are tame and insipid compared with the fierce struggle of the bull-pit as it was once seen in California. The pit was circular, formed upon the ground by many posts planted in the earth from eight to ten feet in height, with seats around like the amphitheatres of the Romans. In this pit the grizzly was placed: the bull, after having his nose scarred so that the blood would trickle into his mouth and nostrils, by tasting and smelling which he would become desperate and roar furiously, was ushered Into the presence of his mortal enemy. The sight and smell of each was the signal for the other to prepare for battle.

Normally the bull was lassoed just before the fight, his horns sawed off, and the fight pretty well taken out of him before he was turned into the ring. Because the bear was so valuable, his loss was often not risked. On one particular occasion, the gold miners, and other spectators, got rampant over the way in which a steer was sacrificed, "without any fight at all worth speaking of." Unfortunately, for the exhibitors, the bull-pen close by had several fierce, untamed, and undaunted steers, any one of which felt amply able to avenge their slaughtered companion. One of them especially attracted the notice of the spectators. He would have filled the old Mosaic requirements, being perfect in all his parts. Lithe as a cat, his horns long and slender, he commenced bounding around the limited arena as soon as he heard the bellowing of of his less able companero, that was being chawed and clawed in the hug of the grizzly.

The vaqueros were ordered to turn the anxious steer into the pen, a hundred revolvers being drawn to enforce the request. The proprietors knew that business was on hand, unless the request was acceded to, as the grizzly was sure to be shot, and, perhaps, some of their own number, too. There was no alternative, and they turned the anxious fellow in, though they expected the bear would be slain in a short time. The bull came in, proud and defiant, gave a snort of contempt, whirled his tail high in the air, lowered his head, and made a charge. His majesty seemed not to be aware of any unusual company, and looked as placid and serene as though he had just made an ample dinner of young and tender pig, and was going to take his daily afternoon nap. He received the bull with his usual affectionate hug, the bull's horns passing each side of his body. He caught the bull by the back of the neck with his mouth, and with the aid of his forepaws, held him firmly to his bosom, using his hind feet with terrible effect on the bulls neck and sides. One ear was stripped off in a twinkling. Every dig of those terrible claws left gaping wounds, while the bull seemed utterly powerless to inflict any damage on the bear. About five minutes of this kind of one sided fighting, served to convince the bull that he was not so invincible after all. His bellowings of defiance changed to notes of rage, and then to terror, and finally to cries for mercy; the last howls being so loud as to be heard a mile away.



After punishing the bull for a while, the bear, entertaining no malice, magnanimously let the bull loose, which, blinded by blood and rage, made a charge at the picket-fence, which separated him from the spectators, and went through it, scattering the crowd in every direction, like a whirlwind. A dozen vaqueros mounted their horses and started after him. Down through the town went the bull, charging with his bloody head at every gathering of men, until he got to the clothing stores of the nearby town. The bright red shirts attracting his attention, he demolished these places one after another, monarch of all around, until the vaqueros succeeded in getting their lariats around his horns and legs, curbing the further exhibition of his varying moods of temper. It is unnecessary to say that the several acts of the exhibition were highly satisfactory to the crowd, the general verdict being, " That thar bear's some, you bet."

It was not always the case that the bear whipped the bull. In early days, a bear and bull fight was advertised to come off at Coloma. No Spanish bulls being at hand, a lazy, good-natured old fellow, that crossed the plains some years previously, and had since lounged around the street at will, was selected to fight the bear, much to the disgust of the assembled multitude. The fight was very short, the bull killing the bear in two or three minutes, by goring him through. In this instance, as in the one before related, the victory was won by the cool and wary, the victorious bull retiring from the contest, seemingly unconscious of any unusual event. No matter which animal was the victor, in either case, the fight was not regarded a success unless one or both were killed, which was generally accomplished amidst a din of roaring, growling, and frothing of the expiring combatants, and the wild plaudits of the spectators, making the closing scene of these fearful combats the most herculean spectacles of animated nature.

Return To: California Gold Rush: True Tales of the 49ers



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