Unique encounters in bear tales

  • Bear drawing by Will James in 1921. Library of Congress

  • Bear drawings by Will James in 1921. —Library of Congress

For the Monitor
Published: 12/14/2020 10:24:37 AM

There are times in life when society can be overwhelming, and peace and solitude become the quest. Schedules are busy, appointment calendars are double booked and the mailbox is full. It is moments like these that cause some to reflect on the things that are most important.

When the basic needs are satisfied during stressful moments, it is rest and relaxation that creeps into our thoughts, as well as the items that provide the best ways to find that peace. A good book, a warm fire on a cold night and certainly your family pet.

It is human nature to enjoy the companionship of our pets, just like our ancestors that lived many years before us. Our ancestors residing right here in Concord kept their favorite pets close as well as their livestock on their farms. The farm animals sustained them and held much value, especially when they produced eggs, milk (and the means to make butter and cheese).

The family pet during the early years in Concord was most commonly a domestic cat or dog and loved as much as we love our cats and dogs today. There was a practical reason to own a family dog, such as a hunting dog or simply a means of security for the families during days from the past. A dog would fiercely protect the family that loved them, alert the family if there were intruders or concerns with a fire. The practicality of the family dog and cat today is primarily an expression of love and the species has expanded greatly over the past century to include a wide variety of family pets.

Just over a century ago, in the year 1902, there was much publicity surrounding a bear and the president of the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt ventured on a bear hunting trip with his group near a town named Onward, Miss. It was on Nov. 14, 1902, and he was invited to hunt bears by Mississippi Gov. Andrew H. Longino. As the fall day progressed and the group continued the bear hunt it became apparent to all of the hunters that the president was not able to locate a bear during his hunt. The gentlemen assisting Roosevelt ventured further into the forest and located a bear, which they promptly tied to a tree so the president could claim his victory. Theodore Roosevelt was very disturbed by this and it troubled him immensely. Not only was it unsportsmanlike, but it was also something that he just would not do. He ordered his men to release the captured bear and the story became known far and wide. That Christmas in 1902 President Roosevelt and his compassion for the bear tied to the tree was the topic around every Christmas dinner. It has been said that the term “Teddy Bear” was derived from this incident.

Our story does not end here, the very same compassion visited our neighborhood during the same era. I was told my very own Concord bear story as a young man growing up in the north end of Concord. My father shared a story that his father passed on. 

It was back in the cold months of 1902 here in Concord that we find Martin living alone in his cabin in the woods. Martin made his living as a logger, cutting down trees with his ax each and every day. A rugged individual with a keen eye for nature, he loved to be in the Concord forest surrounded by the creatures he enjoyed. Martin enjoyed his routine and certainly made every effort to be a fine woodsman, allowing him to make a living and he lived comfortably in his little cabin in the woods. He would travel to Main Street when needed to procure supplies that he could not grow, make or find in his beloved forest.

One very cold day, Martin walked through the dense forest en route to the current section of forest that he was clearing. He was bundled against the cold New Hampshire winter and moved quickly to stay warm. As he walked his trail, he noticed movement off to his side, stopping he gazed deep into the forest. The slow movement continued in the early morning light so he moved closer to investigate with caution. As the seconds passed, he came upon a very small bear, this young cub should certainly have been shadowed by her mother. Martin remained quiet and very still as he scanned the surrounding forest in search of the mother bear. As the minutes passed and a period of almost an hour came and went, he realized the young cub was most certainly orphaned and close to death. The frigid temperatures and lack of nourishment had taken their toll and the cub would not survive another night alone in the forest.

Without hesitation Martin approached the cub and gently picked it up, placing it within his wool jacket against his broad shoulder. He walked the miles back to his cabin and provided food, water and the heat of the fireplace. After the bear was gently bedded down Martin secured his cabin and ventured off to work once again. As he swung his broad ax all day his thoughts wandered to the young cub safely nestled in his cabin. Time and again he questioned his actions with the same satisfying conclusion, the bear would be nursed back to health until the day that it would no longer need his help.

The days turned to weeks and the weeks to months. The fall of 1902 turned to the winter of 1903 and the bear grew more and more comfortable within her adopted home. There was much joy each evening as Martin returned to his cabin in the woods to find himself greeted warmly by his little bear. The relationship continued to develop and the bear viewed Martin as her father. The spring of 1903 brought a great thaw and the streams began to run, Martin and his bear would wander the forest together and explore. There was a close bond between Martin and his pet bear, a bond that grew as the weeks passed.

Sadly, the day arrived when the Concord bear grew to a size that required it to return to the forest and live life independently. Martin realized this and would leave his cabin door ajar each morning as he left for his day logging in the forest. One day, as Martin returned home, he realized his bear had moved on, leaving the cabin to return to the surrounding forest where he had found it so young. Though Martin felt forlorn he realized this day would come and he was very pleased that he was able to raise the bear and allow it to live the life that nature intended.

The winter returned as well as the routine that Martin so desired. He swung his ax and continued to cut timber as he always did. Martin continued to enjoy his peace and solitude in his little cabin in the forest. It was just three years after his orphaned bear had left for greener pastures that Martin experienced a very frightening encounter. He left his cabin early one morning, walking through the dense forest to the woodlot he was currently clearing. His sharpened ax was left at the woodlot for it was heavy and a burden to carry. Martin never carried a pistol and felt that his natural environment where he spent his days were safe.

As Martin rounded a curve, he noticed three small bear cubs very near and stopped in a startling way. His eyes quickly scanned the area in search of the mother bear, he felt frightened. As he stood on the path deep in the forest the mother bear immerged from the tree line and without hesitation charged towards him in defense of the cubs. Martin did not have a chance, no means of defending himself as the large bear approached. The bear hit him very hard, knocking him to the ground. Martin prayed for a quick ending as he closed his eyes one last time. His fear consumed him and he could not view his impending death.

As he waited a minute passed. The bear that had attacked him was still near but not aggressive. Martin stood and looked at the bear for a long period, the bear simply staring back. The cubs came forward and nuzzled against their mother. Within moments the bear approached Martin and began licking his face, his hands and nuzzling against him.

Martin had been reunited with the bear cub he had saved years before.

With much relief and some heartfelt moments with his bear he once again started his journey to his woodlot. He was closely followed by his bear and her little cubs all the way. When he was safely at work the bear and her cubs returned to the forest once again.

There are times when our love of nature spans mountains, streams and even different species. Sometimes peace and contentment are found in the strangest places.

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