desperately for his life that fall day in the tall pines of the
Arizona high country, 42-year-old Frederick Fritz had no time to
think about anything but survival. But if he had, he well might
have rued the day he decided to leave Fredericksburg
and head west.
His parents, Johann and Katherine Knopp Fritz, came to Texas
from Germany in 1853. They arrived at the old port of Indianola
and traveled by ox-drawn wagon from there to the seven-year-old
community of Fredericksburg.
The couple already had two young boys, and another daughter and
five more sons would be born in Gillespie
One of those boys was Frederick Joseph Fritz, born March 18, 1857.
Growing up, he later recalled, he never heard English spoken until
he left to work as a cowboy. While punching cattle, he learned to
talk Texan. At 16, he began following the advancing frontier in
pursuit of a livelihood.
For a time, he had a 30-mile stagecoach run out of Fort
Davis in far West Texas.
He later told his son he made his trips at night since Indians preferred
raiding during the day. From what was then Presidio
County (now Jeff
Davis County) he kept moving west.
Fritz's next stop was Tombstone, Arizona Territory. His son later
wrote that he had been there at the time of the famous OK Corral
gunfight of Oct. 26, 1881. Later, Frtiz hired on with a crew building
a railroad line from El
Paso into Mexico.
By 1884, he and a partner were trapping beaver on the San Francisco
River in eastern Arizona, not far from the New Mexico border. When
they went to Clifton to sell hides, they camped nearby on the Blue
River and the Texan liked what he saw.
After dabbling in mining for a while and working another railroad
construction job, Fritz had enough money to buy 60 head of Longhorns
in Silver City, NM. He pushed them west to the Blue River country
with a new partner, a former Army scout named Ned Wittum. Together
they started a ranch they called the XXX.
In the spring of 1885, Fritz left Wittum at the cabin they had built
and rode to Clifton for supplies. When Fritz returned, he found
that Apaches had killed him. A year later, the Army finally corralled
Geronimo, and the Arizona Territory became somewhat safer.
Ten years later, Fritz had a family, including a newly born son,
Frederick Jr. The elder Fritz enjoyed good health, ran a sizable
herd and life was good. That would hold for another four years.
In September 1899, Fritz rode with his nephew Willie into Maple
Canyon, on the east side of the Blue River. For whatever reason,
the two split up and agreed to rendezvous later at a well-known
spring farther up the canyon. Fritz, astride his favorite horse
Jug, had five dogs with him. (His son later referred to them as
When Fritz reached the meeting point, the dogs started chasing a
large grizzly that had just killed a grown cow. Fritz watched as
the dogs ran the bear into thick timber and disappeared, though
he could still hear their barking and the bear's growls in the distance.
Suddenly the bear came crashing down a hillside, the pack of dogs
hot behind him.
The furious animal jumped on the back of Fritz's horse. As one of
the bear's huge paws ripped Fritz's saddle, the Texan turned and
shot the grizzly in the mouth with his .45. That would have been
enough to drop any man and most animals, but it only further enraged
The pistol shot
spooked the horse and it broke into a wild run with the grizzly
momentarily still along for the ride. The dogs, not cowed by the
giant brute, kept fighting when the bear fell off the horse.
Any time he could get a shot without hitting one of his dogs, Fritz
put another slug into the bear. But despite all the lead, it kept
up a running fight with the dogs. Fritz dismounted, tied Jug to
a tree, and ran up the canyon to join the fight with his dogs. Once
again, however, the grizzly saw things differently and came barreling
out of the timber straight toward Fritz. Thinking fast, the rancher
fell face-down, figuring the bear would just keep going since he
still had the dogs after him.
Clearly more than annoyed, the bear instead attacked Fritz, clamping
his teeth around the Texan's neck. Luckily, his first pistol shot
had broken the bear's jaw and the animal could not exert enough
pressure to rip open Fritz's throat. That gave Fritz time to put
yet another .45 bullet into the bear.
Now it was hand-to-paw. The bear repeatedly clawed Fritz, and blood
-- from man and beast -- flowed freely. Fortunately, the dogs hung
in. That distracted the grizzly enough for Fritz to break loose.
As the fur continued to fly, Fritz crawled to a nearby pine and
shimmied up into its branches.
There he stayed as the dogs bravely worried the weakening bear until
Willie arrived. When Fritz's nephew got to the meeting place, he
had seen spilled blood and ripped-up ground, and followed the trail
until he found his uncle's horse. From there, he could hear the
ongoing fight and rushed to find the badly mauled Fritz still clinging
to the tree. Using his rifle, he ended the battle.
"It was months before father could do much," Fritz Jr. later recalled.
"In fact he never fully recovered from the encounter."
Even so, he lived another 15-plus years. When Fritz died on Jan.
12, 1916, his family buried him on the XXX. Today the ranch is part
of the Apache National Forest and the transplanted Texan's lonely
mountain grave is maintained by the U.S. Forest Service.
© Mike Cox
- February 18, 2016 Column
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