In 1916, Cornelius Birket Johnson, a Los Angeles fruit farmer, killed the last known grizzly bear in Southern California and the second-to last confirmed grizzly bear in the entire state of California. Johnson was neither a sportsman nor a glory hound; he simply hunted down the animal that had been trampling through his orchard for three nights in a row, feasting on his grape harvest and leaving big enough tracks to make him worry for the safety of his wife and two young daughters. That Johnson’s quarry was a grizzly bear made his pastoral life in Big Tujunga Canyon suddenly very complicated. It also precipitated a quagmire involving a violent Scottish taxidermist, a noted California zoologist, Los Angeles museum administrators, and the pioneering mammalogist and Smithsonian curator Clinton Hart Merriam. As Frank S. Daggett, the founding director of the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art, wrote in the midst of the controversy: “I do not recollect ever meeting a case where scientists, crooks, and laymen were so inextricably mingled.” The extermination of a species, it turned out, could bring out the worst in people.



Letter, “Daggett to Merriam” April 21, 1917, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (hereafter MVZ) Historical Correspondence collection; The Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley.


John Boessenecker, Badge and Buckshot: Lawlessness in Old California (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 184; Cecilia Rasmussen, “Water Dispute Led to Train Robbery,” Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2003.


Joseph Grinnell, “California's Grizzly Bears,” Sierra Club Bulletin 23, no. 2, 74.


Tracy I. Storer and Lloyd P. Tevis, Jr., California Grizzly (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1955 [1996]), 26–27.


Hilda Wood Grinnell, “Joseph Grinnell: 1877–1939,” The Condor (January 1940): 3–34; Barbara R. Stein, On Her Own Terms: Annie Montague Alexander and the Rise of Science in the West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).


The California grizzly specimens collected by the USDA Biology Survey now reside in the Smithsonian National Museum of National History's mammal collection.


Grinnell, “California's Grizzly Bears,” 77.


Grinnell Field Notes, MVZ.


“Poaching in the Yellowstone Park,” Forest and Stream (February 15, 1908), 255; “Elk Slaughterers Also Man-Killers?” Los Angeles Times, 21 November 1906, II1.


Grinnell to Daggett, December 26, 1916, MVZ Correspondence.


Daggett to Grinnell, December 29, 1916, MVZ Correspondence.


Grinnell to Daggett, December 26, 1916, MVZ Correspondence.


Grinnell to Daggett, February 5, 1917, MVZ Correspondence.


Daggett to Grinnell, January 7, 1918; Grinnell to Daggett, January 9, 1918, MVZ Correspondence.


Daggett to Merriam, April 21, 1917, MVZ Correspondence.


Wyman to Bryan, September 27, 1921, MVS Correspondence.


Storer and Tevis, California Grizzly, 29; “Hunting Trip is Expensive,” San Diego Union, July 15, 1922, 7.

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