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Club Foot the Outlaw

A Page of History

While looking through files of my mother – Marion Deaver –, I found some old bulletins from the Kern Antelope Historical Society, this one from 1972. This story was a follow up from an article written by John Covington that was included in the 1965 publication of “Bears, Borax, and Gold.”

That article was about John Searles and his fight with a bear. This one is also about the same bear. John Covington was the great uncle of Dorene Settle, one of the founders of the historical society.

In the early spring of 1870, in a little valley called the Rincon, in the Tehachapi Valley, Covington recalled that his step-father Elias Dearborn built a two room cabin from oak logs. Before doors were hung, large blankets were placed over the openings.

One day the men butchered a steer and made jerky out of it. They hung the jerky way up high out of the reach of bears who frequented the forest nearby.

They placed the bones in a metal tub right inside the house by the blanket covering the door. Covington, a child then, was lying on a bed made up by his mother in the corner of the room. The embers lit the room and everyone else had gone to bed.

All of a sudden the blanket was pushed aside and the head of a huge grizzly bear poked into the room. He sniffed the bones and then pulled the tub outside and preceded to chomp down all the bones outside.

Covington said he just lay there scared, and eventually fell asleep. “That was my first introduction to Club Foot. The men checked the tracks and saw that the tracks were that of Club Foot. He had his foot caught in a trap some years before and part of one foot had been partially torn off as he escaped from the trap.

Club Foot was the most feared grizzly bear in all of the coast range. He traveled by night and was a man killer after being caught in the trap and injured. He broke into corrals at night and carried off pigs and calves, tearing down the bars on the fences.

One day Covington, still a child, was left to play in a little stream by the garden while his older brother worked in the potato patch. All the dogs had gone to sleep and Covington was alone. All of a sudden his brother shouted and Covington looked up right into the mouth of Club Foot. His brother grabbed him and hit the bear with a hoe, and ran to the house and left the dogs to chase off the bear.

They did not hear from Club Foot for about a year until one night he got into the corral and was trying to steal a calf. Covington’s father shot at the bear and chased it off, but did not hurt it. The calf escaped.

Later John Searles, who discovered and developed the San Bernardino Borax Mines, was horribly mangled by Club Foot.

He offered a reward of $5,000 which was to include the hide and all four feet. Ranchers tried all kinds of ways to hunt the bear with no luck. One old man, who called himself Colonel Norman, laid in wait for the bear and managed to shoot him as he came up a stream in the woods.

It only wounded the bear, which then started chasing Norman.

He ran around a big oak tree, about six-foot in diameter, loading his old muzzle gun and firing at the bear as it chased him. The bear, crippled and wounded, finally ran into the brush. Norman was afraid to chase him and ran back to one of the stock ranches for help.

The men saw the tracks but could never find him. Covington said they never heard from Club Foot again and the reward was never collected.

Thus was life in 1870 in Tehachapi....