Monster Bear: The Legend of Clubfoot

Category: General Article

Back to the Klamath Mountains

Approximate GPS Coordinates to Sampson Creek: 42.265114, -122.519531

The Pacific Northwest is filled with all kinds of strange animal legends. Such is the case of a massive Grizzly Bear called “Clubfoot” who once roamed the southwest corner of Oregon in the Klamath Mountains. This heavily forested area is located south of Medford, about 40 miles (64 km) from the coast.

Although the bear was real, the legend surrounding him is undoubtedly a mixture of fact and fiction.

According to popular tales, the bear had an early and ugly encounter with humans when he stepped into a bear trap. Although he was able to free himself, he lost three toes in the process and had a pronounced limp and distinctive footprint from that day forward. Ranchers and settlers originally called him “Reelfoot” or “Clubfoot.”

Starting in the mid-1800s, Clubfoot began to periodically raid local ranches and kill livestock. More sensational versions of the legend claim the bear didn’t even kill to eat, but only to satisfy his “lust for blood.” According to some published accounts, this went on for nearly thirty years.

A newspaper report from 1886 read in part:

Old “Reel-foot,” the grizzly that has killed so many cattle up in the Siskiyous and Cascades during the past few years, is again making his familiar tracks up at the head of Kean and Sampson creeks, and has driven all the cattle down from that neighborhood to the low ranges in the valley. Old “Reel-foot” is an expert butcfher, and the cattle all seem to know his reputation…

Clubfoot finally met his end in 1890 after killing a bull belonging to a rancher Bill Wright. Along with a seventeen-year-old ranch-hand named Purl Bean, Wright tracked the bear inland for over seventy-five miles (120 km) and cornered it. The bear charged Wright and Bean even as they shot round after round into the huge animal. He dropped a mere twenty feet from the ranchers, his thirty-year rampage finally ended.

The animal was apparently of extraordinary size, measuring nine feet (1.8 m) long and weighing approximately 1,200 lbs. (544 kg). This is about a third larger than an ordinary adult male bear – see the diagram above. In fact, Clubfoot was so unusual he was stuffed and put on display at the World’s Fair three years later.

No one seems sure what happened to Clubfoot after the fair ended. He seems to have vanished and was possibly destroyed in a museum fire.

In the end, Clubfoot may stand as a tragic example of what can happen when wildlife comes into conflict with human beings.

Related Information: Grizzly Bears on the Oregon Coast?