A 1911 Saved My Life!
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Army’s adoption of John M. Browning’s model 1911 pistol. The 1911 pistol is more popular today than it has ever been with one version or another being made by almost all of the major handgun manufacturers in the United States and abroad. Those who have been taken in by the allure and mystique of the legendary 1911 love it with ardent fervor. The tales of its effectiveness both in battle and at home are innumerable. Over the last century the 1911 has proven beyond a doubt that when the chips are down, anyone who stands their ground with a 1911 in hand stands a better chance of survival than if they were without it.
A 1911 Saved My Life!
By Mason Payer
This story is a legend in my family told to me and my brother, my cousins, my mother, and my uncles throughout our lives by my grandfather Al. While the minor details of the story have become cloudy over time, the facts are true. When my grandfather was 17 he killed a charging grizzly bear in Colorado with a 1911. He certainly didn’t set out that day to kill a grizzly bear with a pistol and this story isn’t intended as a testament to the 1911’s suitability for defense against a grizzly bear. I truly believe however, that had he not been in possession of the pistol that day and had he not used it when he had the chance, three subsequent generations of my family may not be here today.
Albert Lupien was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1917. By 1934, Grandpa was 17 and the country was deep in the Great Depression. Desiring a paying job and some adventure, he signed on as a ranch hand at a cattle ranch in Gunnison, Colorado. At this point in his life he had no experience with ranch work or the wilderness, so when he headed out West for a year, he was totally green to the ways of wild Colorado.
Shortly after arriving at the ranch, Grandpa discovered that though he wasn’t very good at working cattle, he was a pretty good shot with a rifle. One of the jobs that he was assigned to do was go out with a .22 and hunt grouse for the pot. The manager of the ranch was a stern old cowboy, and before each of Grandpa’s meat hunting trips the boss would issue him five .22 cartridges with the expectation that he would return with five grouse. He was instructed to only shoot the grouse through the head so as not to waste any meat. Once, he was fortunate enough to kill two grouse with one shot by waiting patiently for them to line up one behind the other. When he returned to the bunkhouse with five grouse and a live .22 shell left over, the boss didn’t believe what he had done.
Somehow, Grandpa ended up in possession of an Army issue 1911 pistol and web holster. Recollections of its source vary amongst family members. Some remember it being loaned to him by a friend in Chicago. Others remember it being loaned to him by a guest of the ranch who was there deer hunting. I just remember it being loaned to him by someone at the ranch who felt he should have it for protection while out grouse hunting. I clearly remember my Grandpa saying that he was so skinny; the web belt wrapped around his waist twice. Whomever the pistol came from is unimportant, what was important was that he had it on him that fateful day and he had the fortitude to use it when he had the chance.
The day of the grizzly started like any other, and Grandpa went out to collect some grouse for the pot. Hearing rustling in a thicket of bushes, he quietly dismounted his cow pony and crept up to the bushes, thinking he was getting the drop on a covey of grouse. When he peered into the brush, he was surprised to find himself looking at a grizzly bear feeding on berries. Being young, somewhat foolish, and not knowing any better, Grandpa took careful aim at the bear’s head, holding the front sight of his .22 squarely between the bear’s eyes! At the shot, he fully expected the bruin to fall dead, but instead it let out a roar of rage and began swatting at its face as though stung by a bee. Not having planned for this reaction, Grandpa quickly turned and began to run to his horse only to see it headed back to the barn at top speed.
Not knowing what else to do, Grandpa began to run all the while hearing the enraged grizzly rapidly gaining on him. As he ran, he felt a strange sensation of a heavy weight flapping against his leg. The pistol! Knowing it was his only hope; he drew the heavy automatic, and began to fire wildly over his shoulder while running. Firing several times with no result, he realized he was going to have to make his shots count. Running past a small tree, he turned and braced the pistol against the tree continuing to fire upon the rapidly closing bear. As the grizzly closed upon him with its mouth wide open ready to deliver a crushing bite, Grandpa fired his last round which entered the bear’s open mouth breaking his spine and dropping him dead at Grandpa’s feet.
When his horse showed up back at the ranch without him, the boss began to worry about Grandpa. Once they found him headed back on foot, everyone was relieved that he was alive, but extremely displeased to hear that he had tangled with a grizzly bear. Though he came out unscathed, things might have ended very differently had Grandpa not had the 1911 that day. He ended up selling the bear hide to guests of the ranch, and the pistol was returned to its owner, so no artifacts of the legend remain save for the memories of our Grandfather telling us the story of the day a 1911 saved his life.