Wahb: The Biography of a Grizzly

Wahb: The Biography of a Grizzly

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First published more than a century ago, The Biography of a Grizzly recounts the life of a fictitious bear named Wahb who lived and died in the Greater Yellowstone region. This new edition combines Ernest Thompson Seton’s classic tale and original illustrations with historical and scientific context for Wahb’s story, providing a thorough understanding of the setting, cultural connections, biology, and ecology of Seton’s best-known book.

By the time The Biography of a Grizzly was published in 1900, grizzly bears had been hunted out of much of their historical range in North America. The characterization of Wahb, along with Seton’s other anthropomorphic tales of American wildlife, helped to change public perceptions and promote conservation. As editors Jeremy M. Johnston and Charles R. Preston remind us, however, Seton’s approach to writing about animals put him at the center of the “Nature-Faker” controversy of the early twentieth century, when John Burroughs and Theodore Roosevelt, among others, denounced sentimental representations of wildlife.

The editors address conservation scientists’ continuing concerns about inaccurate depictions of nature in popular culture. Despite its anthropomorphism, Seton’s paradoxical book imparts a good deal of insightful and accurate natural history, even as its exaggerations shaped early-twentieth-century public opinion on conservation in often counterproductive ways. By complicating Seton’s enthralling tale with scientific observations of grizzly behavior in the wild, Johnston and Preston evaluate the story’s accuracy and bring the story of Yellowstone grizzlies into the present day.

Preserving the 1900 edition’s original design and illustrations, Wahb brings new understanding to an American classic, updating the book for current and future generations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806152325
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 07/30/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 27 MB
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About the Author

Ernest Thompson Seton (1860–1946) was a British-born author, wildlife artist, cofounder of the Boy Scouts of America, and an early pioneer of the modern school of animal fiction writing whose best-known book is Wild Animals I Have Known.
Jeremy M. Johnston is Curator of the Buffalo Bill Museum and Western American History, and Managing Editor of The Papers of William F. Cody at the McCracken Research Library, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming.
Charles R. Preston is the Willis McDonald, IV, Senior Curator of Natural Science at the Draper Natural History Museum, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, in Cody, Wyoming. His publications include Golden Eagle: Sovereign of the Skies (with G. Leppart, photographer) and An Expedition Guide to the Nature of Yellowstone and the Draper Museum of Natural History.

Read an Excerpt

The Sooner Story

The University of Oklahoma: 1890â?"2015

By Anne Barajas Harp


Copyright © 2015 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-5232-5




DAVID ROSS BOYD stepped off the train in Norman, Oklahoma, on August 6, 1892, and looked to the southwest. "There was not a tree or shrub in sight," said the man who had been hired to serve as the University of Oklahoma's first president. "All I could see was the monotonous stillness of prairie grass. ... Later I was to find out that this prairie grass wasn't so monotonous as it seemed, for its sameness was broken at quite frequent intervals by buffalo wallows. Behind me was a crude little town of 1,500 people, and before me was a stretch of prairie on which my helpers and I were to build an institution of culture.

"Discouraged?" he wrote. "Not a bit. The sight was a challenge."

David Ross Boyd was the son of staunchly religious, hardworking Midwesterners. The Ohio native started teaching at the age of seventeen and worked his way up through the secondary education profession until he became school superintendent at Arkansas City, Kansas, a town that in 1888 was teeming with thousands of people anxiously waiting for the opening of Oklahoma Territory.

In his book The University of Oklahoma: A History, Volume 1, 1890–1917, OU professor emeritus and historian David W. Levy relates the impressions of Boyd's wife, Jennie Thompson Boyd, who recalled having fifteen different neighbors in just one year of living in Arkansas City. Jennie Boyd said the town was so crowded that stores could barely keep supplies on the shelves, and strangers would approach townspeople to ask if they could sleep on their porches.

David Ross Boyd was able to form a beneficial plan from this turbulence. He convinced the city to hire men and their teams of horses at $1.50 a day to improve the school grounds and city parks, to grade new streets, and to plant much-needed trees. Boyd met the crews every morning at seven and sent them off to work under supervision. His scheme helped transform Arkansas City. It also burnished Boyd's reputation; he soon was encouraged to run for state superintendent of schools.

Instead an ironic twist of fate and a heater system would bring Boyd to the fledgling University of Oklahoma. Barely a year after the Land Run of 1889, Territorial Governor George W. Steele signed a bill to establish three institutions of higher education. There would be an agricultural and mechanical college in Stillwater, a normal school in Edmond, and a state university in Norman — if, and only if, the residents of Cleveland County came up with forty acres of property and $10,000 to construct a new building. Norman townspeople quickly helped approve a bond issue for the $10,000, but the bonds had to be sold and converted into cash before the State Legislature could accept them. The bonds were sold to an Oklahoma City man for $7,800, which left a $2,200 deficit. The deficit was covered by more bonds, this set sold to Norman businessmen via subscription by Delbert Larsh, an ambitious town father who had partnered in several projects with Norman's first mayor, Tom Waggoner. Both men had put their political acumen behind the push to bring the state university to Norman, and Larsh was able to gather the remaining $2,200 to meet the required $10,000 in cash just five days before the deadline.

The question of where OU should be located in Norman was equally challenging. A contentious debate — the first of many over the next century — erupted between east and west Norman. Democrats tended to live on the east side of town, and Republicans on the west. According to David Levy, an eastern campus was proposed near existing Porter Avenue, on the site of what is now Griffin Memorial Hospital. The suggested western site was owned by Seth "Dad" Moore, who sold the property "bordered today by Boyd Street on the north and Brooks Street on the south, by Elm on the west and Asp on the east" to the territorial government for $1,000. Moore's offer settled the issue.

But OU's new campus sat isolated from Norman's downtown. Delbert Larsh and Tom Waggoner owned abutting properties between downtown and the university site. Each donated a strip of land from the outermost edge of his property, and the conjoined space would become University Boulevard, linking Norman to the campus.

The next important step came when the university's new Board of Regents, all appointed by Governor Steele, awarded a contract to builder C. H. Holcraft for a building to house OU's future students. The cost was not to exceed $15,739. Although Norman had funded the bonds and a building was already in the works, OU's future was still not assured. Territorial Governor Steele had resigned after one year in office and was replaced by Abraham Seay. It was rumored that Seay would move the university to his hometown of Guthrie, the territorial capital, but President Grover Cleveland settled the matter by appointing W. C. Renfrow as territorial governor. Renfrow, with many ties to Norman, chose to leave OU where it was.

Earlier in spring 1892, as Levy explains, two members of the OU Board of Regents had visited David Ross Boyd in Arkansas City. The Regents had traveled to Arkansas City to see the high school's heating system, which was advanced for its time and manufactured by the Smead Company. The system was being considered for OU's campus. Coincidentally one of the Regents was Andrew F. Pentecost, a Civil War veteran whom Boyd had helped to earn a teaching certificate. When Boyd gave the Regents a tour of the heating system, they asked him to suggest candidates for OU's new president. Boyd offered two names and thought no more of it until much later, when he was en route to Oklahoma City by train on other business. There he had a chance meeting with a Smead Company representative, who asked Boyd to do him the favor of dropping by an OU Board of Regents meeting in Oklahoma City to offer a testimonial about Smead's products. Boyd agreed. He showed up at the meeting and ran into OU Regent Pentecost, who seemed surprised to see him there.

In a 1932 interview between David Ross Boyd and Roscoe Cate, the Sooner Magazine editor who later became OU's financial vice president, Boyd said, "When the board convened, they left the [Smead Company] agents and me in an outside room, separated by sliding doors from the room in which the session was held. ... I could plainly hear the president of the board ask if the special committee on selecting the president was ready to report. I immediately became very much interested, wondering if by chance either of my friends ... had been selected." Boyd overheard Regent Pentecost talk about his trip to Arkansas City "to make investigations," and then was stunned to hear the Regent close with, "We are, therefore, ready to report recommending the election of Professor David R. Boyd, Superintendent of Schools of Arkansas City, Kansas, to be the first president of the University of Oklahoma."

Boyd was led into the meeting, where he told the Regents that he had never considered himself a candidate for the job. Regardless, he left Oklahoma City with an offer in hand. Several friends urged him to take the challenge of forming a new university, and with further consideration, Boyd accepted the position for a yearly salary of $2,400.


When Boyd arrived in Norman in August 1892, he had little more than a month to hire a faculty, find space for classrooms and offices, locate and purchase supplies, and arrange student housing before OU's first classes began. As Levy explains, "using a cramped hotel room as an office, with almost no help from anyone else, he had to do everything at once."

Boyd's top priority was hiring a faculty. "I received many applications to teach," Boyd said. "These I first answered by asking them what their motives were in coming here. Too often the reply was that the applicant wanted to do research work or to write. These I didn't even consider. What I wanted was teachers, men and women who would be willing to devote all of their energies to developing fiercely earnest young students."

Boyd had begun hiring before he even left Kansas, employing William N. Rice, a professor of ancient languages and literature from Southwest Kansas College, in July 1892. A month later, Boyd selected Edwin C. DeBarr, a professor at Albion College, as OU's new professor of chemistry and physics. French Amos, a teacher from Lampasas, Texas, would instruct English, history, and civics. At thirty-nine, Boyd was the eldest of the faculty. Taking the title of professor of mental and moral science, he prepared to teach math, grammar, and elementary Latin. "Our first faculty meeting was held on a warm evening out of doors," Boyd recalls, "and the first business we attended to was the cutting of a large watermelon. After we ate the melon, we discussed arrangements of classes."

Because OU's first building would not be completed on time for fall classes, Norman businessmen offered to lease the university the Adkins-Welch building at 12 West Main Street in downtown Norman. OU rented what was known as "The Rock Building" for twenty dollars a month. "In comparison with the magnificent plants of older and wealthier states, it seemed a gross exaggeration to call that stone building and its modest confines a university," said Professor William N. Rice. "Only three rooms without ornament, barely comfortable, cheaply furnished with tables for teachers' desks and chairs for the students; no libraries, laboratories, traditions."

OU's first students were due to arrive in just one week. The territorial government offered free tuition to all potential students and encouraged enrollment through active advertising, promising that "any young man or woman who has finished the course in a good country school may enter the University and find educational work and a welcome." Boyd took an active role in promoting the university and, with the help of French Amos, devised a four-page brochure that was printed at the Norman Transcript and mailed to prospective students. Boyd crisscrossed many miles by horse and buggy to recruit students in small towns across the Oklahoma Territory. His hard work was rewarded when, on the morning of September 15, a crowd of fifty-seven college prospects lined up outside the Rock Building. Most students came from the counties surrounding Norman, and each met with President Boyd and his faculty personally so that his or her readiness for college-level work could be formally assessed. Rice recalled the first group of students as "the unspoiled products of pioneer life, without pretension and without conventionalism. But best of all, they are dead earnest and feel that they are facing a great opportunity."

Most were not yet ready for such an opportunity. High schools in Oklahoma Territory had not been in existence long enough to graduate anyone, and many of OU's first generation were adults who had given up education to work or members of nomadic families who had lost the chance for formal secondary education in the years just before and after the 1889 Land Run. "As there was scarcely a well-organized high school in Oklahoma, it was the policy of the university to take the young people as it found them, to accommodate itself to existing conditions. We were building for a future, and, for the sake of a thereafter, it seemed better to grow up than to blow up," Rice said frankly, adding, "I am not disposed to blush as I record these humble beginnings." Boyd recalled: "It was the hardness of the prairies, the days full of labor, the necessity of facing life in the raw that matured them. ... And it was this realization that at home, in dugouts and cabins and one-room shanties, mothers and fathers were sacrificing to aid them and dreaming that education would lift their children from the drudgery of the soil."

Boyd began to do his part in that endeavor by placing every one of OU's first students in what was called the "Preparatory College," which offered courses in reading, spelling, grammar, geography, physiology, and U.S. history. Almost all students took beginning Latin, but only the most advanced were prepared for such topics as civics, general history, algebra, or composition. The university's first student class was roughly half male and half female, unusual in higher education at that time. Levy writes that, at its founding, OU likely had the highest enrollment of women among the nation's public institutions. African American students would not be eligible to enter OU until 1949, with the admission of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher. But Native American students were most likely part of OU's student body from its earliest days.

The Rock Building served as classroom, assembly hall, recitation room, administrative offices, and chapel. Each day started with chapel, and class instruction began immediately thereafter. Small class sizes, sometimes a blessing as male students navigated a clear view around women wearing large hats, resulted in a tightly knit cadre of students who were well known by their teachers. "We were from everywhere, and we had neither customs nor traditions in common," Rice said. "The university was an infant in everything except the hopes and ambitions of its founders."

Those ambitions were furthered by the doubling of OU's student body in the fall of 1893, when 119 students enrolled. The increase was due in part to population growth in the Twin Territories and from the fact that Indian Territory students could now attend OU tuition-free. As in the university's first class, many students lived with family in Norman, and the number of students was still equal by gender. Students who did not have any family in town often lived in "boarding clubs" — houses that offered a cook and housekeeper for a fee. Many of OU's first students were full-grown adults, some as old as forty-five, who had experienced very little formal schooling. As a result, Boyd designed something he called the "Push Class." He would keep a special eye on Push Class students and in attempts to create a cohort, he suggested that four or five adults live together in a rental house and do their own housekeeping. Boyd took it upon himself to visit Push Class members at their rental homes and shared meals with them, which gave him the chance to offer encouragement to the adult students.

Both on campus and off, mature and young students alike dealt with the realities of territory life, where electricity was nonexistent and students studied by candlelight or kerosene lamp. Most walked everywhere they went, since bicycles were rare and could cost as much as $150, roughly equivalent to $3,700 today.

Social events played an important role in college life from OU's earliest days. Informal parties were hosted at local homes, and double and group dating was the norm. Popular outings included light operas, candy pulls, and square dancing. A local religious population, dominated by Southern Methodists and Baptists, frowned upon public dancing, card playing, and smoking. Even with this scrutiny, discipline issues were rare at OU, perhaps because President Boyd dealt with discipline head-on. In one case, Boyd followed up on rumors that OU minors had been visiting local saloons. He visited the local watering hole in question and asked for the saloonkeeper's help. "Now here is a list of all the students who are not minors," Boyd recalled saying, adding that there were not more than fifteen or twenty people on the list. "You can sell to them. They are old enough to know what they are doing. But I wish you would not sell to minors, and I wish you would get all the other saloon keepers to agree not to sell to minor students." Boyd said the saloonkeeper did as he asked, "and no officer of the law was ever more vigilant in seeing that the law was enforced."

Despite rapid growth during its first few years of operation, OU still faced challenges in recruiting students. Potential candidates were often drawn away by competing private schools. OU's fiercest competitor was High Gate College, a Southern Methodist school that had attracted as many as 130 students per semester since its opening in 1890. High Gate, located where Griffin Memorial Hospital stands today, was on the same site where east Norman residents initially wanted OU to be located. A business school was also operating in Norman, and Epworth College, which would later become Oklahoma City University, was only thirty miles away.

Preconceived ideas and misgivings about the value of an OU education presented another significant challenge. Many territorial settlers traditionally sent their children "back home" to attend college. Boyd served as a member of the territorial school board and strategically tackled the issue from there. "I used this position to preach the gospel of the University of Oklahoma and of culture all over the Territory," he said. "I accepted every invitation to speak, and each speech I concluded with an invitation to come to our school. It was 'educational work and a welcome' which I promised them, and if their means were limited, I aided in finding work for them to do."


Excerpted from The Sooner Story by Anne Barajas Harp. Copyright © 2015 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword, by Carol J. Burr,
DAVID ROSS BOYD, 1892–1908,
PETE KYLE McCARTER, 1970–1971,
MARTIN CHARLES JISCHKE, February–September 1985,
DAVID SWANK, 1988–1989,
JOHN RANDOLPH MORRIS, August–November 1994,
DAVID LYLE BOREN, 1994–Present,

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