David Thompson’s Story

David Thompson was a surveyor and trader for the Northwest Company and is considered to be one of the greatest land geographers of all time.  He explored much of the Pacific Northwest and made it to the mouth of the Columbia River only five years after Lewis and Clark found it.

It was on this trip that David Thompson made a strange discovery.  In January of 1811, David Thompson and his band of explorers and native american guides were in the process of crossing the rockies.  Somewhere in the vicinity of the current townsite of Jasper, Thompson and his followers came upon the tracks of an unknown animal.  Here is David Thompson’s narrative of that day.January 7, 1811Continuing our journey in the afternoon we came on the track of a large animal, the snow about six inches deep on the ice; I measured it; four large toes each of four inches in length; to each a short claw; the ball of the foot sunk three inches lower than the toes, the hinder part of the foot did not mark well, the length fourteen inches, by eight inches in breadth, walking from north to south, and having passed about six hours.  We were in no humour to follow him; the Men and Indians would have it to be a young mammoth and I held it to be the track of a large old grizzled bear; yet the shortness of the nails, the ball of the foot, and its great size was not that of a Bear, otherwise that of a very large old Bear, his claws worn away; this the Indians would not allow.This event must have stayed in Thompson’s mind because he again mentions the incident later on in his narrative.  Here is what he had to say.I now recur to what I have already noticed in the early part of last winter, when proceeding up the Athabaska River to cross the Mountains, in company with….Men and four hunters, on one of the channels of the River we came to the track of a large animal, which measured fourteen inches in length by eight inches in breadth by a tape line.  As the snow was about six inches in depth the track was well defined, and we could see it for a full one hundred yards from us, this animal was proceeding from north to south.  We did not attempt to follow it, we had no time for it, and the Hunters, eager as they are to follow and shoot every animal made no attempt follow this beast, for what could the balls of our fowling guns do against such an animal.  Report from old times had made the head branches of this River, and the Mountains in the vicinity the abode of one, or more, very large animals, to which I never appeared to give credence; for these reports appeared to arise from the fondness for the marvellous so common to mankind: but the sight of the track of that large beast staggered me, and I often thought of it, yet never could bring myself to believe such an animal existed, but thought it might be the track of some monster Bear.

David Thompson was not satisfied that the prints he found were those of an old grizzled bear.  Another thing that should be noted is the fact that David Thompson only describes one kind of track and if the tracks he found were those of a bear, both front and rear paw tracks would have been noted.  One other thing to note is the fact that neither the french voyageurs or the native american guides thought the tracks were those of a bear.  For something like this to “stagger” David Thompson, it must of been quite the sight.