The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Bear Paw or Bears Paw: No Mystery Here


October 11, 2017

One of "The Mountaineer" readers, Elaine Thompson, said that she had kept a story from "The Mountaineer" about whether the mountain range to the south of us should be called the Bear Paw Mountains or the Bears Paw Mountains. She had lost the story and wondered if it could be reprinted.

So, here goes. First let's look at it through the eyes of journalists. Several years ago "The Tribune" in Great Falls did a survey and ran a story saying that the range should be called the Bear Paw Mountains because that was what most people thought they should be called.

Secondly, a few years ago, "The Havre Daily News" did a similar survey and found out the same thing, most people think they should be and are called the Bear Paw Mountains

I have always thought they should be called the Bear Paw Mountains and once even boldly said that anyone calling them the Bear's Paw Mountains was trying to impress you or pulling your leg or putting on the dog so beware of those people at all costs!

Funny thing is that if one goes by the old Indian story of how the Bear Paw Mountains got their name, the name Bear's Paw sort of fits. An old Chief was coming down Duck creek with a deer for his people when an angry bear spirit (now Mount Centennial) reared up his huge foot and put in on the trail so the Chief could not pass. A bolt of lightning came out of the sky at that time and severed the foot from the bear and pushed it out on the prairie. It became Box Elder Butte. Hence, the Bear's Paw Mountains.

However, word of mouth and the common usage of names soon changed the name to the Bear Paw Mountains. A town was formed on Clear Creek and it was called Bear Paw.

These days there are over seventy listings for Bear Paw this or that in the phone book and not a single one for Bear's Paw. So, the language changed and place names changed along with it. That is the thing about language, it is always changing.

Chinook residents took great offence when the Chief Joseph battlefield was named the Bear's Paw Battlefield. There was enough outcry that it went back to Bear Paw Battlefield soon enough.

Even though the State of Montana road sign people think they are called the Bear's Paw Mountains and that is simply awful on their part, the rest of us all know they will always be the Bear Paw Mountains. Right?


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