Levi’s® At Yosemite: A Bear Of A Tale

Levi Strauss & Co.
April 19, 2018

In September 1933, with the country still recovering from the Great Depression and Stock Market crash just four years earlier, a married couple set their sights on Yosemite National Park for what was surely a welcome respite.

The couple’s first stop? Curry Village in Yosemite Valley. That’s where the woman bought a pair of Levi’s® overalls at the Village Store. These would have been men’s 501® jeans since LS&Co. didn’t introduce Lot 701 Lady Levi’s®, the first blue jeans for women, until 1934. The stiff, strong unwashed denim pants were perfect for someone heading into the rugged landscape where one would never know what kind of condition – or creature – they might encounter.

Then, as now, Yosemite National Park was renowned for its American black bears. While feeding bears is prohibited today, it was a common practice 80 years ago. According to Yosemite’s Park Bear Management Guide, “In the 1930s, visitors to California parks watched bears feeding at a garbage incinerator as an attraction.”

So it was likely little surprise for the touring couple to encounter a bear while hiking. Rangers had warned visitors to keep their distance, but the wife sighted a mother bear and her cubs and could not resist approaching. That’s when the protective mother bear took a swipe at her.

Miraculously, the woman managed to escape without any serious wounds thanks to that signature thick denim she was wearing which took the brunt of the attack. Sure, the Levi’s® jeans were shredded, but the woman sustained nothing more critical than a lacerated hip.

“The day after the accident the husband visited the Village Store there to tell the Proprietor, Mr. R. E. A. Stinson, of the incident, the overalls having been purchased from him,” according to a letter that was sent to the hospital where the woman was treated. “The husband was very happy that his wife had purchased the overalls for hiking and told Mr. Stinson that he felt sure these garments saved her from serious injuries which would have been sustained had she been wearing feminine apparel.”

While no one managed to get the names of the couple involved, the letters documenting the incident are among the records of the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives – a unique Levi’s® lesson from nature.

Heading out to a park this spring? Don’t forget your Levi’s® jeans!

Want to keep up with the LS&Co. Archives and other cool LS&Co. heritage news? Follow Tracey on Twitter, @TraceyPanek, and stay tuned to Unzipped!