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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

The Transplanted Texan,
the Grizzly, and
the XXX Ranch

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Fighting 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 Hill Country community of Fredericksburg. The couple already had two young boys, and another daughter and five more sons would be born in Gillespie County.

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 "shepherding" dogs.)

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 bear.

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
"Texas Tales" - February 18, 2016 Column

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