John W Searles‘ bottle full of his own teeth was a reminder of one of the most remarkable encounters with the grizzly bear ever related in San Bernardino County.
While hunting deer in March, 1870, Searles, a miner and hunter, came to the brink of a precipice, and saw in the valley that spread out before him two fully grown bears and a cub. Although he had only for good cartridges, he had contrived to make a few extra makeshift loads for his gun from a misfit box of ammunition which had been sent to him by mistake.
Searles entered the valley and road for hours over rough, snow-covered country, looking for the bears, before he finally came upon one sleeping under a clump of brush. He fired a shot and the bear rolled over from the impact of the bullet. two more shots finished them. Then, nearby, Searles heard the sound of another bear.
Wet with snow, Searles worked his way cautiously through the brush, only to be surprised when a second massive bear reared up before him, its nose scarcely 10 feet away. the thick brush made it impossible to step back and aim. Searles jammed another bullet in his rifle and pulled the trigger, but there was no report. It was one of the off size cartridges.
Before he could try a third time, the grizzly charged, mouth agape. Searles tried to jam his rifle down the bear’s throat. The animal flung the weapon aside and threw Searles to the ground. With one foot on the hunter’s breast, the grizzly bit off a large section of Searles’ lower jaw, then gashed his throat and laid bare his shoulder bone. Searles managed to roll over, his coat doubled up on his back in a hump. The bear bit the coat once and left.
Despite his mangled condition, Searles recovered his horse and, with the freezing cold sealing his ruptured veins, road 4 miles to a camp, where he received first aid before proceeding on a three-day trip to a Los Angeles hospital. Doctors gave him no chance to live, but three weeks after they had patched, sewed and pieced him together, the hunter was up and able to get around.
For years afterward, Searles kept in his desk a 2 ounce bottle containing 21 pieces of broken bone and teeth, torn from his lower jaw by the grizzly. And, in the corner of his office, his old Spencer rifle stood, its lock showing clearly the dents of the grizzly’s vicious teeth.
Pioneer tales of San Bernardino County
WPA Writers Program – 1940