By Joanna Bastian
In October 1886, Tom Robinson and his brother Jim first met Narcisse, a Methow Indian who lived below the stony bluffs at the mouth of the Methow River. Narcisse and his friends, seeing Tom’s blonde hair and blue eyes, nicknamed him “Hyas Pretty.”
Narcisse saddled up horses for the two men and guided them to the upper reaches of the Methow Valley, where they were soon joined by Alfred “Parson” Smith, a fur trapper and poet by nature. The men became fast friends and trapped together that season.
Tom and Parson were eating lunch one fine spring day along Slate Creek when a grizzly bear suddenly joined them, growling fiercely. What followed was what anyone might do should a bear try to bully away a tuna sandwich: namely, lots of yelling, running and sheer chaos until someone shimmies up a tree, bear in tow.
Parson captured the action in an epic poem on par with Homer’s “Iliad”: a vast setting over mountains and valleys, deeds of superhuman strength, over-the-top narration, and a hero.
Parson wrote other poems, and perhaps the most famous one is a short verse that he carved into a tree, proclaiming his love for this area. After the tree died, a bear set to snacking on the juicy grubs that had taken up in the wood. The U.S. Forest Service removed the stump with the poem emblazed, and you can see it today preserved at the Winthrop Ranger station.
Hyas Pretty and the Bear
By Alfred (Parson) Smith, 1887
I’ve a vivid recollection of a valley
Of a man called Hyas Pretty and
A monster grizzly bear.
I can shut my eyes and see them
Yet; the valley, man, and bear.
The narrow strip of bench land,
And the lakelets silver glare.
On the right there rose a mountain,
Towering high and capped with
On the left a ragged rock bed
In the valley far below.
In the foreground Hyas Pretty; with
A smile serene and fair.
Followed close in all his movements,
By the playful old she bear.
When first I saw them goin’ I
Marveled at their speed;
With the old she bear to rearward,
And Hyas Pretty in the lead.
And I stood convulsed with laughter;
For it seemed to me a pun.
A bear slayer in such frantic
Haste that he could not use his gun.
As they charged along the benchland
It at first appeared to me,
That the race was well worth
Climbing those ragged heights to see.
But like some moving panorama,
Or some frantic midnight dream,
While the actors still were moving,
A change came o’er the scene.
And while I mused and speculated
On who should get the pelt,
Hyas Pretty cast his gun aside
And loudly called for help.
‘Twas a time sore fraught with danger;
As plainly I could see
And Hyas Pretty in a time of
Stress, had placed his faith in me.
And I could not, would not fail him;
Yet it caused my blood to boil.
That Hyas Pretty when in danger,
Should from the fray recoil.
And I felt the strength of Sampson
In every pore and vein.
As I shed my roll of blankets and
Charged across the plain.
While Hyas Pretty sorely winded,
High had climbed within a tree,
And left the old she grizzly with
The battle ground to me.
Yet I neither flinched nor faltered;
As I grappled with the bear.
And felt her hot breath flowing
In my face, and eyes and hair.
While we pulled, and tugged, and
Tussled, back and forth, time and again.
And sometimes I was uppermost
And sometimes on the plain.
And as we strove and wrestled;
Hyas Pretty, from the tree,
Raised his voice and shouted;
“Say! Give her one for me!”
And he often times has told me
That it nearly froze him stiff,
TO SEE ME RAISE THAT BEAR
ON HIGH AND TOSS HER
O’ER THE CLIFF.
And when we stripped the old
bear’s skin from tip of tail to head,
Hyas Pretty brought the pelt to me,
And this is what he said.
“Honored Sir, I bring this trophy,
And lay it at your feet.
‘Tis the just reward of victory,
The hide and half the meat.
And in all the years to follow, if
I by chance should meet,
With other famed bear slayers,
And be asked to name some feat.
Where a brave man all unaided,
Free handed, and alone,
Had fought an old she grizzly on
The front step of her home,
I shall give to you the glory;
For you saved my life to me,
And slew the fierce old monster,
While I was up a tree.
Unarmed and all unaided, ‘twas a
Noble thing to do,
And my hat I’ll doff in honor
When’er I meet with you.
I shall paint your name upon the
Cliffs, that all who pass may read,
How you rescued Hyas Pretty in
His hour of greatest need.”