G.G. Beardsley was very busy in the fall of 1878. Beardsley was a deputy land surveyor for the U.S. government and was charged with surveying the townships numbered 142 from the vicinity of the James to Sheyenne rivers.
Townships were numbered in rows that ran east and west. Range numbers ran north and south. By specifying a township and range, a person could define a particular township anywhere in the United States.
Townships numbered 142 ran in an east-west line about 12 miles north of the Northern Pacific Railroad tracks and include Plainview and Ashland townships in northern Stutsman County, among others.
An official survey was necessary for land to be opened for homesteading. The fact that Beardsley was out there would indicate settlers were showing more interest in this region.
Beardsley was having a bit of an adventure while he and his crew marked out the township and section corners.
According to his report, included in an article in The Jamestown Alert, Beardsley bagged a grizzly bear somewhere to the northeast of Spiritwood Lake.
Beardsley told the Alert’s reporter one of the survey crew initially spotted the bear. Beardsley took after the animal with a revolver and light rifle. The level of adventure increases when his horse’s hoof “entered, without special invitation, the domicile of a badger.” Briefly, Beardsley is pinned under his horse. When the animal does scramble to its feet, it manages to kick, “with both barrels,” striking the surveyor where he sits.
A horse wreck and a bruised behind weren’t going to stop Beardsley from facing the bear. He manages to dispatch the animal with pistol shots to the head at close range. The animal was described as a cinnamon bear with a 48-inch girth that took four men to lift into a wagon.
But that did not end the adventure for the survey crew.
The very next day, high wind fanned a grass fire that threatened not only the surveyors but their camp and equipment. Beardsley tries to outrun the fire on his horse but fails. All the camp livestock was turned loose to fend for itself and the survey crew took refuge in the water of a nearby pothole.
Beardsley stood in the water holding the satchel of the survey notes preserving the work of the survey expedition.
The fire burned one of the party’s wagons and singed the tents but all the crew survived. The fire also destroyed the bear skin taken just the day before.
I have to question the validity of a claim that a fire would only singe a canvass tent but completely destroy a fresh bear skin that had to be still damp.
It is quite possible Beardsley was just as good a story teller as he was a surveyor.
Still, anyone out in the country northeast of Spiritwood Lake should maybe keep an eye out for bears.
Author Keith Norman can be reached at www.KeithNormanBooks.com.