According to Yukon lore, a group of hunters were out one day looking for game when they happened across some strange tracks in the snow.
The men immediately recognised that the tracks had been made by a bear, but there was only one set of tracks. It seemed that this bear had mastered the skill of walking upright.
The hunters were perplexed, and “one chap is said to have remarked, “Here’s a darn bear walking on his hind legs, let’s bring our rifles tomorrow morning and put him out of business, he’s too damn smart,’” according to Who Lies Beneath, a Guide to Whitehorse Cemeteries.
The following day, the hunters followed the tracks straight to the door of a cabin but instead of finding a brilliant bear they found a French-Canadian trapper and prospector named Solomon Albert.
Albert had come to be known as Bear Man after suffering horrific frostbite and spending days marooned in the Yukon wilds.
The ordeal left him without a few important body parts, but still full of unique ingenuity.
Albert was breaking trail one spring, while out prospecting for copper far from his home and fell into some river water which drenched his legs and feet.
As the day wore on the temperature dropped and Albert’s lower appendages began to freeze.
His companions latched him to a sled and tried to take him to Dawson City, but provisions were running low and they had to leave him behind in hopes of finding help along the trail.
“They had no more grub, but to go on with the helpless man was impossible, as they themselves were weak from hunger and the dogs were about spent. They made camp and rested and talked things over,” according to a police report of the time.
“Solomon Albert was a brave man. In spite of his suffering, he persuaded the men to go on.
“‘Boys, you go on; I’m done for I can’t go on,’” he said according to the police report. “You hitch up and go as fast as possible to save yourselves; I’m dying and I don’t want to think I’m guilty of your deaths.’”
A few days later Albert’s friends returned with some food borrowed from a nearby cabin, but it would be nearly a week before help arrived.
Albert was out of provisions and nearly out of hope.
It took four more days for the Royal North-West Police officers to transport Albert to St. Mary’s Hospital in Dawson City and by then it was too late.
Though Albert would recover, his feet were beyond help and had to be amputated below the ankle.
After he recovered, Albert was fitted with special shoes, but after walking the rough trails around Dawson City the shoes quickly wore out.
Albert shot a bear and cut the hind limbs off and fashioned them into prosthetic feet.
“He would go stomping about in Dawson, the toe nails of the bear claws scraping on the boardwalks. For many years he had been known as the Bear Man,” according to one account of his story in The Summit and Beyond.
Today Albert is remembered in the Yukon Prospector’s Hall of Fame for prospecting in the Dawson and White River areas in the 1930s.
Albert died in 1943, and he was buried at the Old Catholic Cemetery in Dawson City.
This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history. For more information, or to comment on anything in this column e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.