THE BIG BEAR
 AWAY back in the "twenties," when Indiana was a baby state,
and great forests of tall trees and tangled underbrush
darkened what are now her bright plains and sunny
hills, there stood upon the east bank of Big Blue
River, a mile or two north of the point where that
stream crosses the Michigan road, a cozy log cabin of
two rooms—one front and one back.
The house faced the west and stretching off toward the
river for a distance equal to twice the width of an
ordinary street, was a blue-grass lawn, upon which
stood a dozen or more elm and sycamore trees, with a
few honey-locusts scattered here and there. Immediately
at the water's edge was a steep slope of ten or twelve
feet. Back of the
 house, mile upon mile, stretched
the deep dark forest, inhabited by deer and bears,
wolves and wildcats, squirrels and birds, without
In the river the fish were so numerous that they seemed
to entreat the boys to catch them, and to take them out
of their crowded quarters. There were bass and black
suckers, sunfish and catfish, to say nothing of the
sweetest of all, the big mouthed redeye.
South of the house stood a log barn, with room in it
for three horses and two cows; and enclosing this barn
together with a piece
 of ground, five or six acres in extent, was a palisade
fence, eight or ten feet high, made by driving plies
into the ground close together. In this enclosure the
farmer kept his stock, consisting of a few sheep and
cattle, and here also the chickens, geese, and ducks
were driven at nightfall to save them from "varmints,"
as all prowling animals were called by the settlers.
The man who had built this log hut, and who lived in it
and owned the adjoining land at the time of which I
write, bore the nanie of Balser Brent. "Balser" is
probably a corruption of Baltzer, but, however that may
be, Balser was his name, and Balser was also the name
of his boy, who was the hero of the bear stories which
I am about to tell you.
Mr. Brent and his young wife had moved to the Blue River
settlement from North Carolina, when young Balser was a
little boy five or six years of age. They had purchased
the "eighty" upon which they lived, from the United
States, at a sale of public land held in the town of
 Whitewater, and had paid for it what
was then considered a good round sum—one dollar per
acre. They had received a deed for thieir "eighty" from
no less a person than James Monroe, then President of
the United States. This deed, which is called a patent,
was written on sheepskin, signed by the President's own
hand, and is still preserved by the descerdants of Mr.
Brent as one of the title-deeds to the land it
conveyed. The house, as I have told you, consisted of
two large rooms, or buildings, separated by a
passageway six or eight feet broad which was roofed
over, but open at both ends—on the north and south. The
back room was the kitchen, and the front room was
parlcur, bedroom, sitting room and library all in one.
At the time when my story opens Little Balser, as he
was called to distinguish him from his father, was
thirteen or fourteen years of age, and was the happy
possessor of a younger brother, Jim aged nine, and a
little sister one year old, of whom he was very proud
 On the south side of the front room was a large
fireplace. The chimney was built of sticks, thickly
covered with clay. The fireplace was almost as large as
a small room in one of our cramped modern houses, and
was broad and deep enough to take in backlogs which
were so large and heavy that they could not be lifted,
but were drawn in at the door and rolled over the floor
to the fireplace.
The prudent father usually kept two extra backlogs, one
on each side of the fireplace, ready to be rolled in as
the blaze died down; and on these logs the children
would sit at night, with a rough slate made from a flat
stone, and do their "ciphering," as the study of
arithmetic was then called. The fire usually furnished
all the light they had, for candles and "dips," being
expensive luxuries, were used only when company was
The fire, however gave sufficient light, and its blaze
upon a cold night extended halfway up the chimney,
sending a ruddy, cozy glow to every rook and corner of
 The back room was the storehouse and kitchen; and
from the beams and along the walls hung rich hams and
juicy side-meat, jerked venison, dried apples, onions,
and other provisions for the winter. There was a
glorious fireplace in this room also, and a crane upon
which to hang pots and cooking utensils.
The floor of the front room was made of logs split in
halves with the flat, hewn side up; but the floor of
the kitchen was of clay, packed hard and smooth.
The settlers had no stoves, but did their cooking in
round pots called Dutch ovens. The roasted their meats
on a spit or steel bar like the ramrod of a gun. The
spit was kept turning before the fire, resenting first
one side of the meat and then the other, until it was
thoroughly cooked. Turning the spit was the children's
South of the palisade enclosing the barn was the
clearing—a tract of twenty or thirty acres of land,
from which Mr. Brent had cut and burned the trees. On
 the stumps stood thick as the hair
on an angry dog's back; but the hard-working farmer
ploughed between and around them and each year raised
upon the fertile soil enough wheat and corn to supply
the wants of his family and his stock, and still had a
little grain left to take to Brookville, sixty miles
away, were he had bought his land, there to exchange
for such necessities of life as could not be grown upon
the from or found in the forests.
The daily food of the family all came from the farm,
the forest, or the crock. Their sugar was obtained from
the sap of the sugar-tree; their meat was supplied in
the greatest abundance by a few hogs, and by the
inexhaustible game of which the forests were full. In
the woods were found deer just of the shooting; and
squirrels, rabbits, and turkeys, pheasants and quails,
so numerous that a few hours' hunting would supply the
table for days. The fish in the river, as I told you,
fairly longed to be caught.
 One day Mrs. Brent took down the dinner horn and
blew upon it two strong blasts. This was a signal that
Little Balser, who was helping his father down in the
clearing, should come to the house. Baler was glad
enough to drop his hoe and to run home. When he reached
the house his mother said:—
"Balser, go up to the drift and catch a mass of fish
for dinner. Your father is tired of deer meat three
times a day, and I know he would like a nice dish of
fried redeyes at noon."
"All right, mother," said Balser. And he immediately
took down his fishing-pole and line, and got the spade
to dig bait. Where he had collected a small gourdful of
angle-worms, his mother called to him:—
"You had better take a gun. You may meet a bear; your
father loaded the gun this morning, and you must be
careful in handling it."
Balser took the gun, which was a heavy rifle
considerably longer than himself, and
 started up
the river toward the drift, about a quarter of a mile
There had been rain during the night and the ground
near the drift was soft.
Here, Little Balse noticed fresh bear tracks, and his
breath began to come quickly. You may be sure he
peered closely into every dark thicket, and looked
behind all the large trees and logs, and had his eyes
wide open lest perchance "Mr. Bear" should step out and
surprise him with an affectionate hug, and thereby put
an end to Little Balser forever.
So he walked on cautiously; and, if the truth must be
told, somewhat tremblingly, until he reached the drift.
Balser was but a little fellow, yet the stern
necessities of a settler's life had compelled his
father to teach him the use of a gun: and although
balser had never killed a bear, he had shot seven deer,
and upon one occasion had killed a wildcat, "almost as
big as a cow." He said.
I have no doubt the wildcat seemed
 "almost as big
as a cow" to Balser when he killed it, for it must have
frightened him greatly, as wildcats were sometimes
dangerous animals for children to encounter.
Although Balser had never met a bear face to face and
alone, yet he felt, and many a time had said, that
there wasn't a bear in the world big enough to frighten
him, if he but had his gun.
He had often imagined and minutely detailed to his
parents and little brother just what he would do if he
should meet a bear. He would wait calmly and quietly
until his bearship should come within a few yards of
him, and then he would slowly lift his gun.
 Bang! And Mr. Bear would be dead with a bullet in
But when he saw the fresh bear tracks, and began to
realize that he would probably have an opportunity to
put his theories about bear killing into practice, he
began to wonder if, after all, he would become
frightened and miss his aim. Then he thought of how the
bear, in that case, would be calm and deliberated, and
would put his theories into practice by waling
very politely up to him, and making a very satisfactory
dinner of a certain boy whom he could name. But as he
walked on and no bear appeared, his courage grew
stronger as the prospect of meeting the enemy grew
less, and he again began saying to himself that no bear
could frighten him, because he had his gun and he could
and would kill it.
 So Balser reached the drift; and having looked
carefully about him, leaned his gun against a tree,
unwound his fishing-line from the pole, and walked out
of the end of a log which extended into the river some
twenty or thirty feet.
Here he threw in his line, and soon was so busily
engaged drawing out sunfish and redeyes, and now and
then a bass, which was hungry enough to bite at a worm,
that all thought of the bear went out of his mind.
After he had caught enough fish for a sumptuous dinner
be bethought him of going home, and as he turned toward
the shore, imagine, if you can, his consternation when
he saw upon the bank, quietly watching him, a huge
If the wildcat had seemed as large as a cow to Balser,
of what size do you suppose that bear appeared? A cow!
An elephant, surely, was small compared with the huge
black fellow standing upon the bank.
It is true, Balser had never seen an elephant, but his
father had, and so had his
 friend Tom Fox, who lived down the river; and they
all agreed that an elephant was "purt nigh as big as
The bear had a peculiar, determined expression about
him that seemed to say:—
"That boy can't get away; he's cut on the log where the
water is deep, and if he jumps into the river I can
easily jump in after him and catch him before he can
swim a dozen strokes. He'll have to come off the
log in a short time, and then I'll proceed to devour
About the same train of though; had also been rapidly
passing through Balser's mind. His gun was on the bank
 had left it, and in order to reach it he
would have to pass the bear. He dated not jump into the
water, for any attempt to escape on his part would
bring the bear upon him instantly. He was very much
frightened but, after all, was a cool-headed little
fellow for his age; so he concluded that he would not
press matters, as the bear did not seem inclined to do
so, but so long as the bear remained watching him on
the bank would stay upon the log where he was and allow
the enemy to eye him to his heart's content.
There they stood, the boy and the bear, each eying the
other as though they were the best of friends, and
would like to eat each other, which, in fact, was
Time sped very slowly for one of them, you may be sure;
and it seemed to Balser that he had been standing
almost an age in the middle of Blue River on that
wretched shaking log, when he heard his mother's dinner
horn, reminding him that it was time to go home.
 Balser quite agreed with his mother, and gladly
would he have gone, I need not tell you; but there
stood the bear, patient, determined, and fierce; and
Little Balser soon was convinced in his own mind that
his time had come to die.
He hoped that when his father should go home to dinner
and find him still absent, he would come up the river
in search of him, and frighten away the bear. Hardly
had this hope sprung up in his mind, when it seemed
that the same thought had also occurred to the bear,
for he began to move down toward the shore end of the
log upon which Balser was standing.
Slowly came the bear until he reached the end of the
log, which for a moment he examined suspiciously, and
then, to Balser's great alarm, cautiously stepped out
upon it and began to walk toward him.
Balser thought of the folks at home, and, above all, of
his baby sister; and when he felt that he should never
see them again, and that they would in all probability
 know of his fate, he began to grow heavy
hearted and was almost paralyzed with fear.
On came the bear, putting one great paw in front of the
other, and watching Balser intently with his little
black eyes. His tongue hung out, and his great red
mouth was open to its widest, showing the sharp, long,
glittering teeth that would soon be feasting on a
first-class boy dinner.
When the bear got within a few feet of Balser—so close
he could almost feel the animal's hot breath as it
slowly approached—the boy grew desperate with fear, and
struck at the bear with the only weapon he had—his
string of fish.
Now, bears love fish and blackberries above all
other food; so when Balser's string of fish struck the
bear in the mouth, he grabbed at them, and in doing so
lost his foothold on the slippery log and fell into the
water with a great splash and plunge.
This was Balser's chance for life, so he flung the fish
to the bear, and ran for the bank with a speed worthy
of the cause.
 When he reached the bank his self-confidence
returned, and he remembered all the things he had said
he would do if he should meet a bear.
The bear had caught the fish, and again had climbed
upon the log, where he was deliberately devouring them.
This was Little Balser's chance for death—to the bear.
Quickly snatching up the gun, he rested it in the fork
of a small tree near by, took deliberate aim at the
bear, which was not five yards away, and shot him
through the heart. The bear dropped into the water
dead, and floated downstream a little way, where he
lodged at a ripple a short distance below.
Balser, after he had killed the bear, became more
frightened than he had been at any time during the
adventure, and ran home screaming. That afternoon his
father went to the scene of battle and took the bear
out of the water. It was very fat and large, and weighed,
so Mr. Brent Said, over six hundred pounds.
 Balser was firmly of the opinion that he himself
was also very fat and large, and weighed at least as
much as the bear. He was certainly entitled to feel
"big"; for he had got himself out of an ugly scrape in
a brave, manly, and cool-headed manner, and had
achieved a victory of which a man might have been
The news of Balser's adventure soon spread among the
neighbours and he became quite a hero: for the bear he
had killed was one of the largest that had ever been
seen in that neighbourhood, and, besides the gallons of
rich bear oil it yielded, there were three of four
hundred pounds of bear meat; and no other food is more
strenghtening for winter diet.
There was also the soft, furry skin, which Balser's
mother tanned, and with it made a coverlid for Balser's
bed, under which he and his little broher lay many a
cold night, cozy and "snug as a bug in a rug."