Shrill protests from the henhouse suddenly rocked the peace and quiet of the farm in the Alberta foothills. When the commotion occurred, Cecilia Taylor was peeling potatoes at the kitchen sink that late August morning. She squinted out the window in the direction of the hullabaloo.
“Well, for goodness sake!” she probably muttered under her breath.
Cecilia didn’t see anything amiss, but the elderly woman’s vision was poor. She had lost the sight of one eye in a farm accident and a cataract was slowly masking the other. It was also difficult for Cecilia to view things in a normal range because her 4-foot 9-inch frame was curved in a painful widow’s hump.
What’s going on out there?
However, these physical impairments didn’t slow down Cecilia’s mind. She knew what she had heard. Drying her hands crippled with arthritis on her apron, Cecilia pulled a baseball cap over her white hair and hobbled out the back door.
Her jaw set, she made her way slowly up the yard, leaning on the walking cane in her right hand.
Was it a coyote or maybe a skunk that had wandered into the farmyard? It didn’t matter. She planned to run off the marauder.
At least that was Cecilia’s plan.
To her great surprise
Rounding the corner of the granary, Cecilia stopped dead in her tracks. Her breath caught in her throat. She’d lived on that farm for 81 years and had never witnessed such a sight.
A grizzly bear standing on his hind feet was assessing the situation, not 40 feet from where she stood. A second grizzly bear was sitting on its haunches in the chicken pen eating the chicken’s chopped grain out of a trough.
“My arthritis left me!” Cecilia said later. “I tossed my cane in the air in fright and rushed back to the house.”
Cecilia called her daughter, Shirley. “There are two grizzly bears at the henhouse,” she told her oldest child.
“Harvey and I will be there in 15 minutes,” Shirley replied.
Would the bears stick around?
During that interval, Cecilia couldn’t help herself. Rustling up another walking stick from the porch, she went back outdoors. Then she gingerly proceeded to a point where she could monitor developments at the henhouse.
Cecilia was worried.
Would the grizzly bears attack her old Jersey milk cow? Far from intimidated by the intruders, Dolly was standing her ground just a stone’s throw from the henhouse.
What if the bears wandered off before her daughter and son-in-law arrived? They would think Mother had gone off her rocker in reporting the alleged sighting!
Always trust your mother
But Cecilia need not have worried on either count.
Although grizzly bears were virtually unknown in this area of Southern Alberta, Shirley never doubted her mother’s report.
“If Mom said two grizzly bears were eating her chicken feed, then two grizzly bears were eating her chicken feed,” Shirley recalls.
Upon their arrival, Shirley and Harvey hustled Cecilia back into the house and took stock of the situation.
“If Mom’s old cow had been capable of putting her hooves on her hips to display her displeasure, Dolly would have done so. She seemed aggravated rather than afraid. Dolly was likely offended that the bears were allowed to eat the chicken feed and she wasn’t,” Shirley said.
Shirley frantically phoned the local Alberta Fish and Wildlife office only to get a recording inviting callers to leave a message. Deeming the bears’ appearance an emergency, Shirley called the RCMP office in Okotoks and put her in touch with a fish and wildlife officer.
“Now where did you say this farm is located?” he asked.
Highly skeptical of Shirley’s report, he informed her that grizzly bears didn’t venture that far beyond their natural habitat. That was at least 20 to 30 miles west in the Rocky Mountains than the location of this sighting.
Shirley handed the phone to her husband, who confirmed these were not little black bears. They were, indeed, grizzly bears.
Once convinced, the officers sprang into action. Later that afternoon, Cecilia’s farmyard swarmed with men driving matching white trucks. This included a team of ‘bear specialists’ from the office in Lethbridge, Alberta, more than 100 miles away. They brought a frozen beaver as bait, traps and a special cage mounted on a trailer.
“It looked like a military zone with fish and wildlife officers walking around the yard with guns on their shoulders. They were treating it as a dangerous situation, which it was,” Shirley says.
Shirley also recalls the sounds the bears made.
The bears were not quiet
“It was a loud, alarming noise that made me shiver,” she explains.
About that time, Cecilia’s oldest grandson drove down the winding road to the farm. From his vantage point on the hill above the farm, he saw multiple white trucks and men milling around.
“What in the world is Grandma up to now?” Robert Taylor asked himself.
Meanwhile, in the house, Cecilia decided to offer the fish and wildlife officers a bite to eat and drink as the day turned to night. After she sent Shirley home for her big coffee urn, Cecilia began taking bread, cakes and cookies from her freezers.
Before long, grateful fish and wildlife officers were taking turns coming into the house for an impromptu feast set out on the kitchen table. Cecilia also took pleasure in relaying phone messages between the men and their wives because there were no cell phones in those days.
How the capture played out
By the time the experts arrived, the grizzlies had finished their excellent meal and wandered off to the nearby brush. One was captured promptly, but the other proved elusive.
When darkness fell, the officers went home with one bear still on the loose. At 5:30 the next morning, the officers shot the second bear that was up in a tree with a tranquilizer gun. Then they carried it to another cage.
When Cecilia’s friend and neighbor, Carol Poffenroth arrived, the truck pulling the bear trap was parked in the trees outside the farmyard. It resembled a 500-gallon fuel tank on wheels with a strong mesh front and guillotine-type of back door.
“I remember the bear in the cage was growling and barking like a very unhappy dog. The other bear that had avoided the trap had stayed close to his pal until he was captured, too. We were told they were two or three-year-old bears. Maybe they were siblings. We all know that siblings can talk each other into all sorts of mischief!” Carol says.
The grizzlies were transported to the Blairmore, Alberta, region, approximately 125 miles southwest of the Taylor farm.
Later, Cecilia was asked if she had feared for her life during the incident.
“The big one looked me over,” she said. “But when the grizzly bear saw how old and crippled I was, he decided he wasn’t that hungry!”
“Grandma’s experience makes a great story, but the fact is, her encounter could just as easily have been deadly,” according to grandson Robert.
An avid sportsman who spends several weeks a year hunting big game in the high country of the Rocky Mountains, he occasionally comes across grizzly bears. When that happens, Robert gives them a wide berth.
“Grandma’s bears were intent on eating the chicken’s feed. Had she gotten between them and that food source, or between them and a cub stashed nearby, Grandma easily could have been mauled to death,” he says.
“Grizzly bears are very dangerous wild animals and there’s a reason they were hauled so far away. The distance was meant to discourage them from visiting Grandma again.”
A day or two after the bear episode, life on Cecilia’s farm returned to normal. The bears hadn’t touched the flock of chickens, so they went back to clucking and laying eggs. Dolly, the cow, got over her annoyance and began filling Cecilia’s pail with rich Jersey milk.
As for the grizzly bears, they never returned.
Why do I find this story so compelling? That sweet, tough, little old lady, Cecilia Taylor, was my mother. Wasn’t she something?
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