Minnie and Roy Crumb, photographed in Montana in 1906.

'A Hunter's Tale'

The grizzly bear was massive, with legend saying it stood nearly 12 feet tall.

Kit Crumb's grandad, a mountain man from Montana who lived on traps and worked a gold mine, leveled his sight and pulled the trigger on his .45/120 Sharps single-shot rifle. The 500-grain bullet found its mark with lethal effect. A shot right in the bear's eye.

That day, May 9, 1883, "The Hunters Tale" was born in the Crumb family, says Kit Crumb, 56, owner of Ashland Fitness Studio on Water Street.

A true man of the wild, Ryland R. Crumb, commonly known as Roy Crumb, spent the long Montana winters carving and polishing his headstone, which one of his sons — he had nine children with his wife, Minnie — placed over his grave in Missoula, Mont., after the elder Crumb died in 1928, Kit Crumb says.

Kit keeps a 1960s copy of "Montana: The Magazine of Western History," which includes an article about Roy Crumb that was written by the mountain man's daughter-in-law and Kit Crumb's aunt, Katherine Crumb.

Straight out of the Old West, the story is a riveting read.

"In the spring of 1882 hunters and trappers were informed that Montana Territory would pay a bounty on predatory animals: $8 for a bear, $8 for a mountain lion, $1 for a wolf and 50c for a coyote," the article starts.

Katherine Crumb, living in Montana at the time she wrote the article, goes on to write that Roy Crumb and his partner, "an excitable Frenchman named Frank Ratelle," were mining in the Whitetail Basin when an April storm "spread a six-inch blanket of wet snow over the land, which made for good tracking. Roy and Frank decided it was a chance to get some fresh meat."

Soon, the pair spotted bear tracks, she writes.

"Frank trembled as he gazed in awe at the size of the tracks," the article reads. The Frenchman soon told Roy he needed to get back to their cabin to make some bread.

" 'Sure, Frank,' Roy agreed, 'You do that. We don't want to be without bread. I'll just follow this big fellow a ways and see if I can catch up with him. We could use that bounty the Territory has just put on bear,' " Katherine Crumb writes.

Sure enough, Roy Crumb meets up with the bear, and crouching 30 feet away from it he thinks it "looked bigger than anything imaginable," his daughter-in-law writes. "... Roy stared at the bear, thinking uneasily of the place along the trail where he had paced off 40 feet where the huge animal had made one leap to catch a cotton-tail rabbit."

After blowing some snow off his gun sight, Roy takes aim and fires.

"The shot boomed like a cannon. Black smoke rolled across the park. Roy reloaded quickly, but the bear sank to the ground with a low moan and died instantly," the tale continues.

Hearing sounds from the brush, Roy thinks another bear — maybe a cub — is coming, but in fact it's Frank, who never went back to make that bread and instead stuck by his partner.

Katherine Crumb wraps up the story by recounting Roy and Frank's exploits as they render 300 pounds of lard from the grizzly, "a commodity that had many frontier uses; for cooking, for shoe grease to water-proof boots, even pomade to slick down their hair for special occasions."

"It took two men to pack the hide, which Roy later sent east to his mother," Katherine Crumb's story ends.

Kit Crumb, who leads hikes into local wilderness areas and plans to co-publish a book next year on hikes to historical landmarks in the region, says his grandfather's tale has always inspired him.

"I spent most of my high school and early college years in the Sierras. My father used to take us out in summer, sometimes in winter, and show us how to track animals, start fires from dry tinder, things like that. It's absolutely been an influence on me."

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