How a passion for Daniel Boone turned into a very grizzly Christmas |

How a passion for Daniel Boone turned into a very grizzly Christmas

John L. Smith
Las Vegas Review-Journal

The recent news that a black bear wandered into Goldfield had townsfolk buzzing and reverberated south all the way to Las Vegas.

Half starved and possessed of an extremely suspect sense of direction, it wasn’t the most ferocious member of the species. But, still, a bear isn’t something you see in Goldfield every day — or ever, according to the locals.

It’s difficult to imagine how any critter would mistake Goldfield for bear habitat. But the proof was undeniable.

You’ll have to take my word for it, for photographic records are scarce, but I’ll never forget the time the bear came to Henderson for Christmas.

Not just any bear, mind you, but Ursus arctos horribilis himself. That’s right, the mighty grizzly.

In those days, Henderson was a chemical plant town known more for its distinctive smell and noxious clouds than its potential as a sparkling suburb. If any Henderson resident saw a green valley back then, it was because Stauffer Chemical had released too much chlorine gas.

We Smiths lived on Elm Street in a house that allowed the eight of us fewer than 100 square feet of living space apiece. But that was all right with me, for I didn’t actually live in the house. I dwelled in the tangled forest of my imagination just a musket shot from my hero Daniel Boone.

As those of you raised on black-and-white television might recall, Daniel Boone was a man. Yes, a big man. With an eye like an eagle and as tall as a mountain was he. He was brave, he was fearless, and as tough as a mighty oak. He was also the rippin’est, roarin’est, fightin’est man the frontier ever knew.

With Mingo guarding his back, Boone roamed the woods of a TV Kentucky throughout much of the 1960s. As a boy, for a couple years I longed for the coonskin cap from the top of ole Dan as well as his rawhide shoes and made my wishes known months in advance of Christmas.

But when the big day came, I was disappointed to find the usual assortment of clothes, athletic gear, and Lincoln Logs, the latter of which I immediately used to build a scale model Daniel Boone cabin. They were all perfectly reasonable gifts but nothing you could take to the wilderness.

It was then my father handed me the big gun and a fistful of ammunition. The rifle was plastic and its bullets were rubber-tipped darts, but at least Christmas wasn’t a total loss. Now I could target practice without depleting Henderson’s sparrow population or breaking any windows. And our collie Gertrude didn’t much mind being stalked like a marauding grizzly.

“We’re not finished yet,” my dad said. With that, he positioned me at one end of the hallway and signaled the family to close ranks.

From the other end of the hallway a roar emerged. A snarling, menacing, guttural growl. With that, they turned loose the battery-powered beast, a grizzly bear of such great size that it almost immediately overtook me.

I lowered my rifle, fired — and missed.

Then I did what all great hunters would in that situation. I dropped my rifle and ran out the door screaming.

When the dust of the moment settled, I realized that the great grizzly was actually about the size of a large house cat. The object was to use the dart rifle to shoot the animal. The beast would then spin around, giving the hunter time to reload.

Of course, if you missed, the bear would essentially run you down and mercilessly tear your flesh until someone came to your rescue and flipped the off switch. Or so I suspected. If all else failed, you could use the trusty Smith method and keep running until its batteries died.

My parents had done their best on a budget to make my Daniel Boone Christmas dream come true and they had succeeded — even if my aim needed a little work.

For days afterward I jumped whenever a family member flipped on the Christmas grizzly. Eventually, I managed to hit it a few times at a distance, but my near-death experience soured me on becoming the next Daniel Boone. Frankly, I was relieved when the holiday season ended and I could safely put away the bear.

I didn’t open that closet door for months.

• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295.