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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 22. Bear Hunt of 1842


ONE day in winter my brother-in-law, Reuben Crandell, and myself started to go hunting deer, as we supposed. We went south across the windfall, started a flock of deer and were following them. We had a good tracking snow and thought it was a good day for hunting. We followed the deer south across Reed Creek and saw a little ahead of us quite a path. It appeared as though a herd of ponies had passed along there. (Then there were plenty of French ponies running in the woods.) When we came up to the trail or path, that we saw they had made, in the snow we discovered it was four bears which had made the path. They had passed along a little time before for their tracks were fresh and new. There seemed to be a grand chance for us and we started after them. We either walked very fast or ran, sometimes as fast as we could stand it to run.

In this way we had followed them several miles and expected to see them every minute. We were going a little slower when I looked one side of us and there was an Indian, on a trot, going in the same direction that we were. I told Crandell that he had seen our tracks and knew that we were after the bears and that he was trying to cut us off and get the bears away from us. Just then I saw the bears and drew up my rifle and shot at one, as he was standing on an old log. The Indian then turned and ran up to the bear tracks to see, probably, if I had killed one. I told Crandell to go on with him and not let him get the start of us and I would load my rifle, as quickly as possible, and follow.

Being in a hurry, I did not place my bullet right on the patch, in the muzzle of the rifle and it bothered me in getting down. When it was loaded, I broke for them. I could just see Crandell putting in the best he could and trying to make two-forty time; but he was alone; the Indian had left him. Then there might have been seen some long steps and tall running done by me, in those woods, (if any one had been there to witness it) for about eighty rods. When I came up with Crandell I asked him where the Indian was; he said, "Yonder he goes almost out of sight." I asked him what he let him get ahead for; he said that he could not keep up with him, and that he had told him, two or three times, to stop and wait for me, but he would not pay the least attention to what he said. I told him to keep on the tracks as fast as he could, and I would try to stop the Indian.

I saw that the four bears' tracks were all together vet, and Crandell said I didn't hit one when I shot. I thought it was singular and that perhaps my bullet had struck a bush or twig, glanced off and saved Mr. Bruin's hide. Now it looked as though the Indian was going to get our bears away from us, sure enough, and now for a chase that is more excitable than is often seen in the woods.

The Indian was on a good lope after the bears and I on a good run after him. I had the advantage of the Indian, the bears would run crooked. Sometimes they would run on a large log and follow it its whole length right in another direction from the way they had been going. The Indian had to follow their tracks; I followed him by sight and cut off the crooks as much as I could. In this way I ran at least half a mile after leaving Crandell and was cutting off and gaining on the Indian fast, and had got near enough to have hallooed at him and told him to stop. But I thought that would do no good, that it was necessary for me to overtake him, and I was bound to stop him. I had got up to within fifteen rods and as good luck would have it, the bears turned from an easterly course around to the northwest. The Indian turned also and I struck across the elbow and came to the tracks ahead of him. I stood facing him when he came up and informed him that the bears were ours. I told him that he should not follow them another step, and to wait, right where he was, until the other man came up. I am sure the Indian thought the white man had outrun him and maybe he did not think how it was done. He stood there perfectly still, and I guard over him. I thought he looked ugly and mad; he would hardly say a word. In two or three minutes Crandell came up, puffing and blowing like a porpoise. The sweat was running off him in profusion, and while wiping it from his brow with his hands, he said to the Indian: "You would not stop when I told you to, if I had got a good sight of you I would have shot you." Of course Crandell only said this because he wanted to scare the Indian as he had no thought of shooting, or hurting him in the least.

We started slowly off on the bear tracks and left the Indian standing and looking at us. I told Crandell I thought the Indian was scared and very mad at us for his threatening to shoot him, and my stopping him; that if he got us both in range, it might be possible he would shoot us. I told him to walk at least a rod one side of me so as not to get both in range of his rifle and I thought he would not dare to disturb us. As we walked away I would once in a while turn an eye over my shoulder and look back to see the Indian. He stood there like a statue until we were out of sight and I never saw that Indian again.

As soon as we were fairly out of sight of him we walked fast and finally tried running, some of the time as long as we could stand it. One of the bears was large, another about the common size and two were small; the small ones followed behind. They were a fine sight passing through the woods, but they led us a wild chase. Late in the after- noon they crossed the Reed Creek going north, partly in the direction of father's home. Crandell said, Now I know where we are. I can follow up the creek until I get to the Reed house and then take the path home. I am so tired I cannot follow the bears another step." So he sat down to rest. I told him to come on, it was necessary for us to have two or three of those bears and I thought if we could kill one of the large ones the small ones would be likely to hang around until we could shoot them. But I could not get him to go another step. He said he was going home and I told him I was going to follow the bears. I went after them as fast as it was possible, and after awhile came in plain sight of them. The large one was standing with his fore feet upon a log, broadside to me and looking back at me. I thought Crandell would see how much he missed it leaving me. I drew up my rifle and fired, "ping went the rifle ball" and it made the woods ring, but away went the bears. I expected to see the bear drop, or at least roll and tumble. I loaded my rifle and went up to where Mr. Bruin had stood. I looked to see if I had not cut off some of his hair, but could see no signs of having touched him with the bullet. I followed along a little ways and made up my mind I had not hit him. I thought it strange; it was a fair broadside shot, not more than twenty or twenty-five rods off, and what the reason was I had missed him I could not tell. I followed them on, very much discouraged and miserably tired, after a little they were making almost straight for father's clearing. I followed them into the windfall within half a mile of home. It was then about sundown and as their tracks turned off I thought I would leave following them until next morning, and would then start after them again.

As I came in sight of our clearing I thought, as usual, I would fire off my rifle at a mark which was on the side of a tree, about ten rods off; I drew it up and shot. My parents knew by the report and sharp song of my rifle that I was coming; it was my parting salute to the forest. As the sound of it penetrated the lonely gloom and died away in the darkness of the woods I looked at the mark on the tree, to see where MV bullet had struck. I had shot nearly a foot right over it. Then I looked at the sight of my rifle and found that the back sight had been raised clear up. Strange to say, I had not noticed it before. No doubt it was done by one of my little sisters or John S. They must have taken it down and been fooling with it, on the sly. Then I knew the reason of my bad luck. I think a more tired and discouraged hunter than I was, never crawled out of the woods. With my, hitherto, trusty companion I had met with a signal defeat. I had carried it hundreds of miles on my shoulder and was not afraid, with it, to face anything in the woods, day or night; but this time it failed me and the bears escaped.

The report of my rifle, that evening, seemed changed as if the very sound told of my bad luck. I made up my mind, as I went into the house, that the next morning we would raise as many men and as many dogs as there were bears and try them again. Of course I was too tired to notify any one that night myself, so John S. went down to Mr. Purdy's. I knew he had a large dog, which he called Watch, that was not afraid to tackle anything that ran in the woods, on four legs. I told J. S. to tell Mr. Purdy that I had been following a pack of bears, and that I wanted him to come early the next morning, and be sure and bring his dog to go with me after them. We had a good dog, and I sent Crandell word to be ready with his dog. James Wilson volunteered to go with us and take his dog; they were to be on hand at daylight in the morning. After we got together ready to start after the bears I told them that I thought the dogs would at least tree the small bears. We all started for the bear tracks. We took my back tracks; when we got to the tree I showed them the shot I had made the night before, and told them the reason I was not able to take one, or more, of those bears by the heels the day before, and then I might have examined them at my leisure.

We followed my tracks until we found where I left the bear tracks, then we followed them. I supposed they were so tired they would lie down and rest, probably in the windfall. But they were too badly scared for that. They seemed to have traveled all night. We followed them across the north part of the town of Taylor, through the oak openings, into what we called the west woods and into the town of Romulus. They had given us a wide range before we came up to them, but here in a swamp or swale, between two sand ridges, we found them. They saw us first and ran. As soon as we saw we had started them we let the dogs go. They started with a rush.

"And then the dogs the game espy;
An ill bred and uncivil pack;
And such a wild discordant cry!
Another fury on his track!"óBishop.

We could hear them yelp, yelp, yelp, while they were on the tracks and heard them when they came up to the bears. Then there was a wonderful confusion of voices. We could hear our dogs and they seemed to be struggling hard for their lives. "Bow-wow, bow, bow-wow, yelp, yelp, yelp, tii, tii, tii."

When the dogs got to the bears we were about half a mile from them. We hurried through the brush and over the logs, as fast as possible, to help our canine friends for we supposed that they were in a life and death struggle. It is now my opinion that there never was such a noise and conflict in those woods before, nor since, at least heard by white men. When we were about half way to where the battle raged most furiously, it was all at once still; we could not hear a sound from them any more. We went a little farther and met old Watch, and some of the other dogs crawling back. Watch, by his wounds, gave a good report of his courage himself. He was bleeding; had been wounded and torn badly. He was hurt the worst of any of the dogs. Before we reached the battle ground we met the last one; he was not hurt at all, he had kept a proper distance. But they were all badly whipped or scared. They had got enough of the bears.

"Sir Bruin to his forest flew,
With heart as light as paws were fleet;
Nor further dare the curs pursue,
It was a 'masterly retreat.'"óBishop.

When we got to the battle ground we could see where they had fought, clenched and rolled over and over. The blood of the dogs was sprinkled all around on the snow. We saw that it was the large bears which did the fighting. They would not leave the small ones but fought for them. We saw in one place, where the fight was the most severe, one bear had attempted to climb a tree. He went up a piece on one side of it and down the other, then jumped off, before we got in sight, and ran. We could see by the marks of the claws, on the bark of the tree, and the tracks, where he jumped on; that he had climbed part way up.

I have seen hundreds of times in the woods where bears had reached up as high as they could around little trees and scratched them. It showed the plainest on beech trees as their bark is smooth. It is easy to see the size of the bear's paws and his length from the ground by these marks on the trees.

That day we saw where the bears had done some marking of dogs as well as trees. We found that the dogs had separated the bears, some having gone one way and some another. The grit had been taken out of us as well as out of the dogs, and the bear hunt had lost its charms for us. We were a long ways from home and we thought it best to get our wounded dogs back there again, if we could. We gave up the chase and let those bears go. I felt the effects of the previous day's chase and tired out more easily; I wished I had let the Indian have the bears to do what he was a mind to with, and that I had never seen them.

I presume there are now many persons in Wayne County, who little think that thirty- three years ago, 1842, there could have been four wild bears followed, in different towns in that county, for two days; yet such was the case. This was about the last of my hunting. My attention was called to other business, of more importance which I thought it was necessary for me to attend to, so I hung up my rifle and have not used it to hunt with, in the woods, six full days since. That Indian, who wanted the bears, was the last Indian I ever saw in the woods hunting for a living. I don't think there is a wild deer in the town of Dearborn at this day and but very few, if any, in Wayne County. I heard that there was one bear killed by a man, near the mouth of the Ecorse, last fall, 1874. He was a stranger and, no doubt, far from his native home. He was the first one I have heard of being seen in this country for years.


 


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