In the history of the Rocky Mountains, there have been many bears that roamed the mountains and fields. Early settlers knew the temperament of these animals, and that it was not wise to sneak up on a bear and surprise him. There was one such grizzly whose story has been told at several campfires to anxious young scouts who want to know about Old Ephraim. He was commonly known as “Old Three Toes” because of a deformity on one foot. He roamed the mountains from Soda Springs, Idaho to the Logan Canyon in northern Utah from 1911 to 1923.
The evidence of the strength and power of this bear was frightening. At one point, he bit a thirteen-foot log, twelve inches in diameter, into eleven lengths as though they had been chopped. He also bit off a six-inch aspen limb in just one bite, which was nine feet and eleven inches above the ground. He even broke the back of a cow with just one blow of his gigantic paw.
For twelve years, he had been wreaking havoc in the communities. Old Three Toes did some major damage to the flocks, crippling the sheep owners financially. He was becoming a bolder and a more ruthless killer as the years passed. Because of this one grizzly, sheep owners had a tough time hiring men to tend their sheep. Many of the existing sheepherders refused to stay on the job and quit. At last, the farmers and community members decided it was time to catch Old Three Toes. They set trap after trap at all his lairs and wallows. Sometimes the bear trap was found flung many yards away. Other times it was left alone, but his distinctive tracks were all around the trap. He seemed to know what the traps were. He was the smartest and strongest grizzly anyone had ever encountered.
Frank Clark from Malad, Idaho had had enough and decided to do something about it. When he saw how many sheep and other animals were being slaughtered by Old Three Toes, he made it his goal to trap the old grizzly. After a long and steady search for many years, he set a trap at the bottom of a pond that Old Three Toes bathed in. He swished the water around to create a cloud of dirt. When it finally settled upon the trap, he took a branch and wiped away his tracks as he backed away from the pond and then headed for camp. One evening, he heard the roar of the grizzly and when he went to the pond, the sight of the gigantic bear took his breath away. He had never imagined Old Three Toes would be so massive and enormous. The bear was angry and when he saw Frank Clark, he rose on his hind legs—all ten feet of him—and headed for his next victim.
Frank froze where he was, unable to move. Fear wedged in his throat and made it hard to breathe. When the bear got six feet away from him, Frank quickly got his wits about him and did the only thing he could. He finally shot Old Ephraim on August 21, 1923. The grizzly measured at exactly nine feet and eleven inches tall, and weighed 1100 pounds. A few weeks after he was killed, a Boy Scout Troop dug up the skull of the bear and sent it to the Smithsonian Institute to document what kind of bear it was and found that it was indeed a grizzly.
The research about this grizzly was intriguing to me because I had heard about Old Ephraim for years. I was from southern Idaho and the story was amazing. After reading about the grizzly from a pamphlet named “Old Ephraim” written by Newell J. Crookston (1959), I decided to put together a historical fiction novel with Old Ephraim as part of the story, using every bit of the information gleaned from this little pamphlet. “Jenny’s Dream” is the story of a young girl’s desire to become a writer and how she finds love in her own backyard, with the legend of Old Three Toes as the subplot.
The story of Old Ephraim still lives on, being retold at campfires, by scout leaders, and in the town of Malad, Idaho. Parents and grandparents retell this exciting tale to the youth, recounting the ten-foot grizzly that wreaked so much havoc on the communities.