Old Ephraim: Utah’s most legendary bear

Thursday , July 16, 2015 - 10:50 AM

By Lynn Arave
Standard-Examiner contributor

“Old Ephraim” was a legendary, giant, marauding grizzly bear who roamed the Wasatch Mountains in the early 20th century. Almost 92 years after his death, the bruin still lives on in campfire tales and various tributes.

For example, in Bear Lake Valley, there’s the Old Ephraim Pizza, 32 inches in diameter; in a remote side canyon of Logan Canyon, there’s a large stone monument where he was killed; and “Walking Thunder” (1997) was not only one of actor/singer John Denver’s last movies, but was inspired by the tale of Utah’s Old Eph himself.

“Grizzly bear killed near Logan” was an Aug. 22, 1923 headline in the Standard-Examiner, reporting on the bear’s demise.

“The largest grizzly bear that was ever known to inhabit the Wasatch Range is reported to have been killed in the Right Hand Fork of Logan Canyon by William (Frank) Clark, a sheepherder,” the story stated.

The bear was believed to have killed as many as 15 sheep in one night and Old Eph was indeed possibly the largest and most elusive bear ever in the Beehive State.

Clark set many traps for the bear over the years, but the animal evaded them. He was finally caught in a trap in the earliest of hours that fateful August morning. However, the bear, reputed to stand 9-feet-11 inches tall and weigh some 1,100 pounds, clawed down the 8-inch diameter tree the trap was tied to and ran up a hill with the trap still on his foot. Clark fired all his bullets into the bear before it dropped.

Years later, Clark reflected on Old Eph’s demise to a Deseret News reporter and stated:

“I sat down and watched his spirit depart from that great body and it seemed to take a long time, but at last, he raised his head a mite, gasped, and was still.

“Was I happy? No, and if I had to do it over I wouldn’t kill him. ... I could see the suffering in his eyes as he tried to climb that bank.”

Clark claimed to have killed 43 bears in his 34 years of sheepherding, but Old Ephraim was his last by choice. Various historical accounts of Old Ephraim credit his range as from Weber County to Soda Springs, Idaho. That’s because a Nov. 9, 1911 story in the Salt Lake Telegram newspaper reported that a bear hunting party was looking for Old Eph in Morgan County too. Led by former Utah Gov. John C. Cutler, this group spent several days in the wild and only found the bear’s huge tracks.

Eventually the bear was believed to have settled exclusively in Logan Canyon. Originally known as “Old Three Toes,” because of a deformity in one foot, it was a tale by P.T. Barnum that affixed the more fanciful name of Old Ephraim to the animal.

Old Ephraim’s legend is summarized concisely by Nephi J. Bott’s poem, inscribed in a plaque at the bottom of the stone monument, erected in 1966 by Logan Boy Scouts, where the bear was buried:

“Old Ephraim, Old Ephraim, your deeds were so wrong yet we build you this marker and sing you this song. To the king of the forest so mighty and tall, we salute you, Old Ephraim the king of them all.”

Lynn Arave is a veteran journalist who started writing for newspapers in 1970 at Roy High School and for daily papers starting in 1976 with high school game reports for the Standard-Examiner. He has been an avid history researcher for three decades. He can be reached at lynnarave@comcast.net.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.

×