Truth, or a tall tale: You be the judge!

’s Fabled Osidian Elk Story

This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 1960 issue of the Pioneer

Jim Bridger, courtesy Wikimedia

Among the early frontiersmen, few attained a greater reputation, as trapper, guide and scout than “Jim” Bridger.

Noble Warrum, scholar and historian of Western Pioneer life, in his “Utah Since Statehood,” tells the story which was, no doubt, suggested to Bridger’s lively imagination by his discovery of the Obsidian Cliff, about half-way between Mammoth Hot Springs and the Norris Geyser Basin. This Obsidian, or black volcanic glass, was used by the aborigines for lance and arrowheads and other weapons, large numbers of which have been found at various places in the Western states.

Bridger was something of a romancer and the stories he told of the wonders of the Yellowstone Park were somewhat “overdrawn” to say the least, according to the historian Warrum. One of his stories was that one day while passing through what is now the National Park, he saw an elk quietly grazing within easy rifle range. Taking deliberate aim, he fired his rifle, but much to his astonishment, the animal kept on grazing as though it had not even heard the report of the gun.

Two or three more shots were fired with no better results. When he determined to investigate, he approached the elk very quietly. He was again very much surprised when he was stopped by a solid wall of black glass, the polished surface of which acted as a magnifying mirror, and he had been shooting at a reflection of an elk. On turning around, he saw the elk and estimated that it was from twenty to twenty-two miles away. No wonder it failed to hear the report of Bridger’s rifle.

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