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Bear vs. Jedediah Smith, Bonnie Springs Ranch, Nevada.

Men vs. Bears

Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you -- but in the battle of man vs. bear, man often prevails. Walk into any wildlife museum or Cabela's store and you'll see the result of these often one-sided encounters -- a stuffed, dead bear.

Bear vs. Man.

But bears sometimes get in a enough licks to get remembered, particularly in brawls from years ago, in pioneer days. Famous bears from that time include the grizzlies that ripped apart mountain men Hugh Glass and Jedediah Smith, and the bears recounted in the tall tales of Jim Bridger, who kept his grizzly encounters at a safe distance.

Daniel Boone, a gentleman by mountaineer standards, marked his bear fights by carving graffiti into trees near the sites of the encounters. A generation later, Tiger Whitehead and Wilburn Waters had their dead bear tallies recorded on their tombstones. The more nuanced Little Balser killed bears but also befriended them, as did Grizzly Adams. Both were immortalized, long after they were dead (along with their bears), in books and TV shows.

The roster of respected bears is short, which can seem unfair by modern standards -- but bears did thin the ranks of the reckless, the unlucky, and the now-forgotten. The next time you see a dead bear somewhere unexpected, such as a bar or a casino or an outdoor box on the street, remember that some man probably had to fight it. And you wouldn't be standing there, snapping away with your smartphone, if the bear had won.

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