What Joseph Grinnell dearly wanted was to see a live California grizzly bear in the wild, and more than that he wanted to collect a perfect specimen.
Grinnell had become the first director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley in 1908. He was a highly respected zoologist who had gone on hundreds of trips collecting specimens of animals and birds, starting at age 19 with a trip to Alaska.
He had graduated from Throop Polytechnic Institute (California Institute of Technology) and then earned a master's degree from Stanford. He taught, he wrote and he collected. His aim was to preserve specimens of California fauna that were fast disappearing.
By the time he was old enough to go looking for a California grizzly, the animal had almost disappeared from the state.
Then in 1911 San Francisco papers had a marvelous tale to tell.
On Aug. 18 the headline in the Bulletin read, "Professor Chloroforms Big Grizzly U.C. Man Outdoes Nature Fakers."
The next day the San Francisco Call's headline read, "Perfect Specimen of Grizzly Caught."
"The expedition sent out by the department of zoology at U.C. in search of specimens of California animal life has obtained a perfect specimen of the mountain grizzly bear. The ardent quest which hunters have made for this species has made it very rare.
"The party headed for the woods about Mount Whitney where the animals are said to be the most plentiful. While Professor Joseph Grinnell of the department of zoology was being led through a deserted narrow valley by Andy Pekenhorn, packer and cow puncher he was met by a great male grizzly. The men promptly lassoed the animal, tied it to a tree nearby, chloroformed and killed it.
"This was in order to get the specimen without the blemish a bullet hole or two would make in the skin. The expedition will arrive in Berkeley shortly with the prize and many other valuable trophies," reported the Call.
The Bulletin said Pekenhorn and Grinnell were riding through a mountain meadow one evening with Pekenhorn's bride when they spotted the big bear.
"Wishing to display his prowess before his new wife Andy grabbed his rope, made a swing and saw the noose settle about the bear's neck. Bruin was then tied to a tree. He was restless at night and howled to his friends in the woods so mournfully that Andy decided to sell him for $5 to the University of California."
The Bulletin's story gets a little confusing. Pekenhorn supposedly tied the bear up and put it on his horse. The bear bit the horse. The horse bucked. The bear fell off and Pekenhorn then led the bear to the camp, where it was chloroformed and died.
Did it happen?
There was no follow-up story. Professor Grinnell as late as 1937 declared he had never seen a grizzly in the wild. There is no record in the museum's archives of such a specimen, according to Susan Snyder's book "Bear in Mind: The California Grizzly."
Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at email@example.com.