Roosevelt and Merrifield spent the long night with fingers on their rifle triggers, but the bear did not come back. The next morning Merrifield picked up the bear’s trail over the pine needles and moss and led them through the woods. The hunters breathed in the cold, clean scent of pine needles as they crept forward. Roosevelt was following Merrifield “when in the middle of the thicket we crossed a breastwork of fallen logs, and Merrifield, who was leading, passed by the upright stem of a great pine,” Roosevelt wrote later.6 “As soon as he was by it, he sank suddenly on one knee, turning half around, his face fairly aflame with excitement; and as I strode past him, with my rifle at the ready, there, not ten steps off, was the great bear, slowly rising from his bed among the young spruces.”
To Merrifield’s surprise, Roosevelt walked past him briskly. The nine-foot, twelve-hundred-pound grizzly had already heard them and was back on his haunches, baring his needle-sharp teeth. “He had heard us but apparently hardly knew exactly where or what we were,” Roosevelt continued, “for he reared up on his haunches sideways to us, then he saw us and dropped down again on all fours, the shaggy hair on his neck and shoulders seeming to bristle as he turned toward us. As he sank down to his forefeet, I had raised the rifle.”8 Roosevelt’s heart was pounding and his mouth was dry as he faced down the fiercest creature in the West. He lifted his rifle, feeling his heart, telling himself that this was the moment; this was where the man confronted himself.
If he missed, he would be dead. Roosevelt aimed between the fierce gleaming eyes and fired. “Doubtless my face was pretty white,” he later wrote his sister, “but the blue barrel was as steady as a rock as I glanced along it until I could see the top of the bead fairly between his two sinister-looking eyes . . . ”
Forging A President How the Wild West Created Teddy Roosevelt