5.15.2022 [archived ~ originally published 6.2.2016]
Like most of us who chose to live in Northern Minnesota, I pay attention to the wildlife. In fact, I record the activities around Chase Lake in the months there is no ice on the water. Two weeks ago, was the first time I saw a black squirrel. And last Tuesday was the first time I saw a black bear, and I don’t mean a fleeting glance, I mean right outside my window.
He ambled over to a suet feeder like he’d already cased the place and was just waiting for the right opportunity. In one neat swipe he had ripped it down, moved under a large pine and proceeded to eat the remains of the woodpecker’s suet. I snuck outside and watched in awe from a safe distance, until he left ten minutes later.
Boo-Boo as we dubbed him, was not wearing his customary bow tie, but a fancy radio collar. He also had tags of orange and blue in his ears. I read on MN DNR website that to keep bears from becoming a nuisance, bird feeders should be brought in at night, which I have since made a habit. When I saw Boo-Boo checking my deck for handouts again on Thursday, I made a visit to the “bear guy” at the DNR in Grand Rapids to find out more about the biggest furry critter to come into my yard
Based on their records and my description, we believe this was one of the recently collared bears in the Suomi-Deer River area. Apparently Boo-Boo has a range of about 100 square miles, and though he and other bears are still living off of winter body fat, they are struggling somewhat because of the late spring. As soon as the sarsaparilla is blooming, I was told, the bears should spend more time feeding in the woods.
In honor of Boo-Boo, who I hope to see only from afar in the future, I found a handful of articles from the Bigfork Settler newspaper, between 1903 and 1908.
The first is simply called “A Bear Story” and though published in December, it is assumed the event described took place in late autumn. “The most interesting story we have heard for some years comes from one of a party of land lookers in the region north of Deer River. A party of six ‘tender feet’ started out last fall to secure homestead and stone and timber claim on lands not yet opened to entry, intending to squat upon the soil and make entry as soon as declared open.
The party was camped one night on a hardwood ridge north of the Big Fork River and soon after the evening meal was partaken of, the young men and one woman were snugly curled up under the blankets for a nights rest. Sometime in the night, our informant does not know the exact hour, a rustling was heard in the bush just back of the camp and the warning danger signal was given to the party.
‘That’s a bear,’ said one of the campers, a dapper red haired clerk in a Minneapolis department store and this opinion was readily assented to all because none had experience and neither had ever seen or heard a bear in the forest.”
The story continues in great detail, but in summary, the very wide-awake campers chose the man with the steadiest hands to be in charge of the double-barreled shot gun. Another rustling in the woods, caused a yell of fright and two creatures could just barely be seen scrambling up a nearby spruce. When daylight came, there was no sign of the bears, not even cubs, but there were two porcupines!
And speaking of bear cubs, years ago there was an occasional woodsman, or maybe several trying to ‘best’ each other and that is probably what happened when these cubs were found. “Last Monday Will Norberg and John B. Rahier were on their way to Effie when they came in contact with an old bear and two cubs near Axel Damgren’s place.
The cubs were up a tree and Mr. Damgren was called who came with his rifle and then the three men proceeded to capture the cubs alive. Mr. Norberg climbed the tree after them and being unable to handle them both in the tree, he threw one to the ground which made its escape taking with it a red handkerchief belonging to Mr. Damgren, that had been tied around its neck in order to hold it. The old bear ran off through the woods and also escaped uninjured. Mr. Norberg gathered the remaining cub in his arms and started for his home.
Mr. Damgren now advertises as follows:
LOST – One black cub with red handkerchief tied around its neck. If the finder will return same, he can have the neck wear for his reward.” [12-31-1903]
I especially enjoyed this story from exactly100 years ago. “John Duff and Chas. Larson, two well-known and successful hunters in this vicinity, had a little experience last week which caused them considerable astonishment.
Near Mr. Duff’s place on Coon Creek fresh tracks were seen in the mud and the discoverers thinking they were bear tracks hastened to inform the two experienced bear hunters of the fresh signs. After making careful examination the two men started in hot pursuit after their game stopping occasionally to make sure they were on the right track and after they had covered several miles through the swamps and brush they began to feel quite anxious as the shades of night had begun to fall upon them and still no bear had yet been seen when suddenly two dark objects were noted ahead and with a look of triumph and determination written in their features the pursuers grasped their rifles firmly and cautiously drew near their eagerly sought prey but imagine their chagrin when they found our two old dusky friends, Busti and his wife who had been traveling through the woods wearing moccasins.” [5-31-1906]
And finally, bear meat for the supper table. “Arthur Gilbert and Fred Peloquin came in contact with a bear while out boating on the Rice River last Sunday and when they returned home Mr. Bruin rode in the boat with them with an ugly wound in his body which was the cause of his death.” [8-6-1908]
Boo-Boo and his friends are certainly not as numerous in our woods as they were back when these stories were written, but I am still glad the DNR is keeping a close watch on them. And I checked, and according to John Latimer’s phenology report on KAXE, the sarsaparilla is starting to bloom.