Violent Brawl With A Bear Made Wendell Man An Instant Legend
Let me tell you about the time a vengeful mother bear poked her head into the small tent of a Wendell trail builder who was resting after a day of work in a remote area of the Sawtooth Mountains, approximately 100 miles north of Twin Falls. What transpired that evening in 1980, is like something out of a Hollywood film.
When researching my family's history, there aren't very many related tales that the average person would find fascinating, or even mildly engaging. Nothing is really worthy of bold print. If I wanted to take a crack at impressing you, I might speak of my cousin, who designed Mustang chassis from the 1960s to the 1980s, and had a long career in Indy car racing; this fact that was recently shared by my mother after watching the 2019 film "Ford Versus Ferrari."
John Dixon was a very respected trail builder who lived on a farm of modest size near the city of Wendell. His grandson, Chris Dixon, is a coworker of mine. He recently showed me a copy of the The Wendell News, dated November 25, 1980. While the paper only sold for $.20 at the time, you can't put a price on its weathered, ink-faded lead story, as far as the Dixon family is concerned.
"Aside from his farm, he worked as a government contractor building trails in the mountains for the U.S. Forest Service," said Market Chief Engineer Chris Dixon, who is employed with Townsquare Media in Twin Falls. "He was also very well known as a prankster. I also heard stories of him helping many people in need."
One evening in 1980, John Dixon had hunkered down in his small tent following a day of work in the Toxaway Basin, in which he had toted heavy equipment over miles of terrain. The area he camped was about 20 miles southwest of Stanley. Whether by accident or deliberately, a bear cub was killed by a member of the crew Dixon was working with, and transported back to camp in the days leading up to the confrontation.
It took the cub's mother less than 48 hours to pick up the scent of her deceased offspring. She appeared multiple times over the course of a day or two, and was chased away by Dixon each time. Not having a gun and knowing the bear would surely return, Dixon went to sleep with his axe lying nearby.
According to the newspaper, the animal entered Dixon's tent in the middle of the night, and blows were exchanged. The bear struck Dixon on his chest, in which the surprised man retaliated with multiple, adrenaline-fueled axe swipes in the darkness. Hobbling, wounded and wailing from the demolished tent, the bear wandered away to a nearby water source, in which it reportedly fell into, not to be seen again by Dixon.
John Dixon survived the ordeal, and retired to farming his land in Wendell a few years later. He passed away in 2000, and his ashes were spread near his birthplace north of Gooding, in the Fir Grove Ranch area. Dixon's headstone still stands near a tree on what is now private land.
Had that been me that evening, the headline might have read something like "California Man's Remains Found In Idaho Bear Scat," which would have no doubt circulated well and delighted readers throughout the Gem State.
I want to thank Chris Dixon for sharing this story with me. Those of us who reside in Idaho can still head out into nature and enjoy these wooded pathways created by John Dixon and others. If that's not leaving a legacy behind, then I have no idea what it means to.