In 1855, Ashland resident Henry Chapman was attacked by a grizzly bear on the slopes of today's Grizzly Peak.

When grizzlies attack — 'Memloos'

If you should come face to face with a snarling grizzly bear, you might want to try an old American Indian defense. "Memloos!" That's Chinook jargon for just "play dead" dummy.

That was the leap of faith Henry Chapman tried back in 1855 with decidedly disastrous results.

Readers reminded us of Henry's troubles after reading about Victoria Chapman Mickelson, Henry's sister, in our June 16 story about the Chapman-Mickelson Fountain in Ashland.

Early one morning, Henry and the Wells brothers, Erastus and Joe, left on a bear hunt near Henry's land claim along Emigrant Creek. They made the long climb up the mountain to look for game just east of Ashland, but when they reached the summit, they hadn't seen a single bear and decided to give up.

Fearing they might meet Indians while descending, the men separated and agreed to fire their rifles at the first sign of trouble.

Henry was in deep brush when he heard a rustling sound and turned to investigate. He heard a growl and a second later saw two female grizzlies and four cubs eating berries, all of them staring right at him.

"He had a hard-shooting, muzzle-loading gun," Victoria Mickelson told Oregon historian Fred Lockley in 1924. "He took careful aim and shot at the largest of the bears. It fell in its tracks "¦ the other ran off."

Henry approached the apparently dead grizzly with a now unloaded rifle. When he was just a few yards away, mama bear rolled over, got to her feet and began racing toward him. He ran toward the nearest tree, but it was too big to climb.

The bear caught up and with a swipe of its claws tore Henry's coat right off. It was time to play dead, or so Henry thought, but apparently that bear had missed the class on confronting a "dead man."

She bit into his hip and back, clawed at him until she turned him over and tried to bite his neck. Henry thrust his fist into the bear's mouth, the bear crushing bones in his hand and wrist. Then she bit into his back, broke his shoulder and stripped away skin and flesh from knee to thigh on his right leg.

Finally his friends arrived and killed the bear.

"My brother was still conscious," Victoria said, "and as they rolled the bear off him, he said, 'I'll never see Mother or Father or old Kentucky again.' Then he fainted."

Erastus and Joe brought Henry to their father's house.

"There was no doctor nearer than Jacksonville," Victoria said. "So, one of the boys rode at full speed to get the doctor, while Daddy Wells washed my brother's wounds and, with a sack needle and twine, sewed the flesh that was hanging loose back into place. When the doctor came, he had to rip out all the stitches so as to wash the torn flesh."

After six weeks of recovery, Henry went to San Francisco in a vain attempt to have a surgeon repair his shattered shoulder. Plagued by his disability and a subsequent dragging by a runaway horse, Henry for the rest of his life could walk only with the aid of crutches.

But he managed to become a successful and popular farmer and horse breeder. As for telling the story of his grizzly encounter, that was something he left to others.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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