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Mountain Charley McKiernan survives attack.
Mexican Silver Dollars Melted down to cover hole in his head.
From the book Irish Families on the California Trail
by Mike O’Laughlin
Mountain Charley was a most memorable Irish character in America.
I included special notice of him in the above book, and wanted to
share some of his remarkable experiences with you below.
In the California Hills
Charles Henry McKeirnan (also spelled as McKernan or McKeirnan), was born around 1825 in Co. Leitrim, Ireland. In California mountain men would boast of having known him, and children considered him a hero. One phrase often attributed to him was, Right wrongs nobody.
While in Australia and New Zealand his enlistment as a quartermaster in the British army came to an end. Word of the gold rush soon arrived and he quickly became part of a ships crew headed for San Francisco in 1848.
Comin Round the Mountain
A grizzly bear in the Santa Cruz mountains could easily weigh in at 1,000 pounds. It could take several shots to stop one of the beasts. McKeirnan was a bear hunter whose time had come. As he rounded the bend in the road, he came face to face with the huge grizzly he had been tracking. A few feet from him stood the enraged bear, offering a ferocious embrace. He fired immediately into the bears chest, then grabbed his gun by the barrel and clubbed the bear with it. His friend, Taylor, shot over Charley at the head of the bear. It was all to no avail. The year was 1854.
The bear took Charley’s head into its jaw. crushed his skull, and tossed him aside to go to the aid of her cubs which were being cornered by the hunters dog. Taylor, believing that old Charley McKiernan was dead, took off, to reload his weapon. He returned to find that Charley had been drug under an oak tree and left for dead. He was alive but paralyzed from the waist down. McKiernan later related that his ‘life had passed before his eyes’, and that he was conscious the whole time .. No one believed he would live long.
Life after Death
Doctors made a plate from Mexican silver dollars to cover the gap in his skull at his request. The bear had ripped a 3 inch x 5 inch section from the bone over the left eye to the frontal bone above it. The plate would be removed in about a week. Some say he had a continuing complaint of a headache from an infection. Others say a specialist from Redwood City either removed the plate in his head or found that a lock of hair (or abscess), was in the wound.
Wore A Hat
In any event he was operated on in San Jose in 1855 and an abscess was removed, and the complaints of a headache stopped. (Note that this was the first time in the ordeal that anesthesia had been used on Charley). He was known for always wearing his hat to cover the disfigurement, and survived the bear fight for 38 years. He died on January 18, 1892 from a stomach problem.
This story is true, but many variations of it exist today.
end of story.
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A Good Christmas to All of you this year. -Mike O’Laughlin