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THE ONE-EARED BEAR
 "YOU, Tom! You, Jerry! Come here!" called Balser one morning,
while he and Jim were sitting in the shade near the
river in front of the house, overseeing the baby.
"You, Tom! You, Jerry!" called Balser a second time
with emphasis. The cubs snoozing in the sun a couple of
paces away, rolled lazily over two or three times in an
effort to get upon their feet, and then trotted to
their masters with a comical, waddling gait that always
set the boys laughing,—it was such a swagger.
When they had come, Balser said, "Stop right there!"
and the cubs being always tired, gladly enough sat upon
their haunches, and blinked sleepily into Balser's
 face, with a greedy expression upon their own, as if to
say, "Well, where's the milk?"
"Milk, is it?" asked Balser. "You're always hungry.
You're nothing but a pair of gluttons. Eat, eat, from
morning until night. Well, this time you'll get
nothing. There's no milk for you."
The cubs looked disgusted, so Jim said, and no doubt he
was right, for Jim and the cubs were great friends and
understood each other thoroughly.
"Now, I've been a good father to you," said Balser.
"I've always given you as much milk as you could hold,
without bursting, and have tried to bring you up to be
good respectable bears, and to do my duty by you. I
have whipped you whenever you needed it, although it
often hurt me worse than it did you."
The bears grunted, as if to say: "But not in the same
"Now what I want," continued Balser, regardless of the
interruption, "is, that you tell me what you know, if
 concerning a big one-eared bear that
lives hereabouts. Have you every heard of him?"
Tom gave a grunt, and Jim, who had been studying bear
language, said he meant "Yes."
Jerry then put his nose to Tom's ear, and whined
something in a low voice.
"What does he say, Jim?" asked Balser.
"He says for Tom not to tell you anything until you
promise to give them milk," answered Jim, seriously.
"Jerry, you're the greatest glutton alive, I do
believe," said Balser; "but if you'll tell me anything
worth knowing about the one-eared bear, I'll give you
the biggest pan of milk you ever saw."
Jerry in his glee took two or three fancy steps,
awkwardly fell over himself a couple of times, got up,
and grunted to Tom to go ahead. Jim was the
interpreter, and Tom grunted and whined away, in a
mighty effort to earn the milk.
"The one-eared bear," said he, "is my uncle. Used to
hear dad and mother talk
 about him. Dad bit his
ear off. That's how he came to have only one. Dad and
he fought about mother, and when dad bit uncle's ear
off mother went with dad and wouldn't have anything to
do with the other fellow. Couldn't abide a one eared
husband, she said."
"That's interesting," answered Balser. "Where does he
Tom pointed his nose toward the north-west, and opened
his mouth very wide.
"Up that way in a cave," interpreted Jim, pointing as
the cub had indicated.
"How far is it?" asked Balser.
Jerry lay down and rolled over twice.
"Two hours' walk," said Jim.
"How shall I find the place?" asked Balser.
Tom stood upon his hind legs, and scratched the bark of
a tree with his fore paws as high as he could reach.
"Of course." Said Balser, "by the bear scratches on the
trees. I understand."
Jerry grunted "milk" so Jim said, and
 the whole
party, boys, bears, and baby, moved off to the
milk-house, where the cubs had a great feast.
After the milk had disappeared, Jerry grew talkative,
and grunted away like the satisfied little pig that he
Again Jim, with a serious face, acted as interpreter.
"Mighty bad bear," said Jerry. "Soured on the world
since mother threw him over. Won't have anything to do
with anybody. He's as big and strong as a horse, fierce
as a lion, and meaner than an Injun. He's bewitched,
too, with an evil spirit, and nobody can ever kill
"That's the name he has among white folks," remarked
"Better be careful when you hint him, for he's killed
more men and boys than you have fingers and toes," said
Tom. Then the cubs, being full of milk and drowsy,
stretched themselves out in the sun, and no amount fo
persuasion could induce them to utter another grunt.
 The bears had told the truth—that is, if they had
told anything; for since it had been learned throughout
the settlement that it was a one-eared bear which had
pursued Liney, many stories had been told of
hair-breadth escapes and thrilling adventures with that
same fierce prowler of the woods.
One hunter said that he had shot at him as many as
twenty times, at short range, but for all he knew, had
never even wounded him.
The one-eared bear could not be caught by any means
whatsoever. He had broken many traps, and had stolen
bait so frequently from others, that he was considered
altogether too knowing for a natural bear; and it was
thought that he was inhabited by an evil spirit which
gave him supernatural powers.
He certainly was a very shrewd old fellow, and very
strong and fierce; and even among those of the settlers
who were not superstitious enough to believe that he
was inhabited by an evil spirit, he was looked upon as
 a "rogue" bear; that is, a sullen, morose old fellow,
who lived by himself, as old bachelors live. The
bachelors, though, being men, should know better and
act more wisely.
Notwithstanding all these evil reports concerning the
one-eared bear, Balser clung to his resolution to hunt
the bear, to kill him if possible, and to give Liney
the remaining ear as a keepsake.
Balser's father knew that it was a perilous
undertaking, and tried to persuade the boy to hunt some
less dangerous game; but he would not listen to any of
the warnings, and day by day longed more ardently for
the blood of the one-eared bear.
So one morning shortly after the conversation with the
cubs, Balser shouldered his gun and set out toward the
northwest, accompanied by Limpy Fox and the dogs.
In truth, the expedition had been delayed that Limpy's
sore toe might heal. That was one of
Limpy had no gun, but he fairly bristled with knives
and a hatchet, which for several
 days he had been
grinding and whetting until they were almost as sharp
as a razor.
The boys roamed through the forest all day long, but
found no trace of the one-eared bear, nor of any other,
for that matter. So toward evening they turned their
faces homeward, where they arrived soon after sunset,
very tired and hungry.
Liney had walked over to Balser's house to learn the
fate of the one-eared bear, and fully expected to hear
that he had been slaughtered, for she looked upon
Balser as a second Saint Hubert, who, as you know, is
the patron saint of hunters.
One failure, however, did not shake her faith in
Balser, nor did it affect his resolution to kill the
Next day the boys again went hunting, and again failed
to find the bear they sought. They then rested for a
few days, and tried again, with still another failure.
After several days of fruitless tramping through the
forests, their friends began to laugh at them.
 "If he ever catches sight of Tom," said Liney,
"he'll certainly die, for Tom's knives and hatchet
would frighten any bear to death."
Balser also made sport of Tom's armament, but Tom, a
little "miffed," said:—
"You needn't be so smart; it hasn't been long since you
had nothing but a hatchet. You think because you've got
a gun you're very big and cute. I'll bet the time will
come when you'll be glad enough that I have a hatchet."
Tom was a truer prophet than he thought, for the day
soon came when the hatchet proved itself true steel.
The boys had started out before sun-up one morning, and
were deep into the forest when daylight was fairly
abroad. Tige and Prince were with them, and were
trotting lazily along at the boys heels, for the day
was very warm, and there was no breeze in the forest.
They had been walking for several hours, and had almost
lost hope, when suddenly a deep growl seemed to come
from the ground almost at their feet. The
sprang back in a hurry, for right in their path stood
an enormous bear, where a moment before there had been
"Lordy! it's the one-eared bear," cried Tom, and the
hairs on his head fairly stood on end.
My! what a monster of fierceness the bear was. His
head, throat, and paws, were covered with blood,
evidently from some animal that he had been eating, and
his great red mount, sharp white teeth, and cropped ear
gave him a most ferocious and terrifying appearance.
Balser's first impulse, now that he had found the
long-sought one-eared bear, I am sorry to say, was to
retreat. That was Tom's first impulse also, and,
notwithstanding his knives and hatchet, he acted upon
it quicker than a circus clown can turn a somersault.
Balser also started to run, but thought better of it,
and turned to give battle to the bear, fully determined
to act slowly and deliberately, and to make no mistake
about his aim.
 He knew that a false aim would end his own days,
and would add one more victim to the already long list
of the one-eared bear.
The dogs barked furiously at the bear, and did not give
Balser an opportunity to shoot. The bear and dogs were
gradually moving farther away from Balser, and almost
before he knew it the three had disappeared in the
thicket. Balser was loath to follow until Tom should
return, so he called in an undertone:—
Soon Tom cautiously came back, peering fearfully about
him, hatchet in hand, ready to do great execution upon
the bear—he afterward said.
"You're a pretty hunter, you are. You'd better go home
and get an ax. The bear has got away just because I had
to wait for you," said Balser, only too glad to have
some one to blame for the bear's escape.
The boys still heard the dogs barking, and hurried on
after them as rapidly as the tangle of undergrowth
would permit. Now
 and then they caught a glimpse
of the bear, only to lose it again as he ran down a
ravine or through a dense thicket. The dogs, however,
kept in close pursuit, and loudly called to their
master to notify him of their master to notify him of
The boys and bears played at this exciting game of
hide-and-seek for two or three hours, but Balser had no
opportunity for a good shot, and Tom found no chance to
use his deadly hatchet.
When the bear showed a disposition to run away rather
than to fight, Limpy grew brave, and talked himself
into a high state of heroism.
It was an hour past noon and the boys were laboriously
climbing a steep ascent in pursuit of the bear and
dogs, which they could distinctly see a few yards ahead
of them, at the top of a hill. The underbrush had
become thinner, although the shadow of the trees was
deep and dark, and Balser thought that at last the bear
was his. He repeated over and over to himself his
 advice: "When you attack a bear, be slow
and deliberate. Do nothing in a hurry. Don't shoot
until you're sure of your aim."
He remembered vividly his hasty shot when he wounded
the bear on Conn's Creek, and his narrow escape from
death at that time had so impressed upon him the
soundness of his father's advice, that he repeated it
night and morning with his prayers.
When he saw the bear at the top of the hill, so close
to him, he raised his gun to his shoulder and held it
there for a moment, awaiting a chance for a sure shot.
But disappointment, instead of the bear, was his, for
while he held his gun ready to fire, the bear suddenly
disappeared, as if the earth had opened and swallowed
It all happened so quickly that even the dogs looked
astonished. Surely, this was a demon bear.
The boys hurried to the spot where they had last seen
the animal, and, although they carefully searched for
the mouth of a cave, or burrow, through which the bear
 have escaped, they saw none, but found the
earth everywhere solid and firm. They extended their
search for a hundred feet or more about them, but still
with the same result. They could find no hole or
opening into which the bear could possibly have
entered. His mysterious disappearance right before
their eyes seemed terribly uncanny.
There was certainly something wrong with the one-eared
bear. He had sprung from the ground, just at their
feet, where a moment before there had been nothing; and
now he had as mysteriously disappeared into the solid
earth, and had left no trace behind him.
Balser and Tom stood for a moment in the greatest
amazement, and all they had heard about the evil spirit
which inhabited the one-eared bear quickly flashed
through their minds.
"We'd better let him go, Balser," said Tom, "for we'll
never kill him, that's sure. He's been leading us a
wild-goose chase all the morning only to get us up here
to kill us. I never saw such an awful place for
 The bushes and trees don't seem natural.
They all have thorns and great knots on them, and their
limbs and twigs look like huge bony arms and fingers
reaching out after us. I tell you this ain't a natural
place, and that bear is an evil spirit, as sure as you
live. Lordy! let's get out of here, for I never was so
scared in my life."
Balser was also afraid, but Tom's words had made him
wish to appear brave, and he said:—
"Shucks! Limpy; I hope you ain't afraid when you have
"For goodness' sake, don't joke in such a place as
this, Balser," said Tom, with chattering teeth. "I'm
not afraid of any natural bear when I have my hatchet,
but a bewitched bear is too much for me, and I'm not
ashamed to own it.
"How do you know he's bewitched?" asked Balser, trying
to talk himself out of his own fears.
"Bewitched? Didn't he come right out of the ground just
at our very feet, and didn't
 he sink into the
solid earth right here before our eyes? What more do
you want, I'd like to know? Just you try to sink into
the ground and see if you can. Nobody can, unless he's
Balser felt in his heart that Tom told the truth, and,
as even the dogs seemed anxious to get away form the
dark, mysterious place, they all descended the hill on
the side opposite to that by which they had ascended.
When they reached the bottom of the hill they
unexpectedly found that they were at the river's edge,
and after taking a drink they turned their faces toward
home. They thought of dinner, but their appetite had
been frightened away by the mysterious disappearance of
the bear, and they did not care to eat. So they fed the
dogs and again started homeward down the river.
After a few minutes' walking they came to a bluff
several hundred feet long, and perhaps fifty feet high,
which at that time, the water being low, was separated
from the river by a narrow strip of rocky, muddy
 This strip of ground was overgrown with reeds and
willows, and the bluff was covered with vines and
bushes which clung in green masses to its steep sides
and completely hid the rocks and earth. Tom was in
front, Balser came next, and the dogs, dead tired, were
trailing along some distance behind. Suddenly Tom threw
up his hands and jumped frantically backward,
exclaiming in terrified tones:—
"Oh, Lord! the one-eared bear again."
When Tom jumped backward his foot caught in a vine, and
he fell violently against Balser, throwing them both to
the ground. In falling, Tom dropped his hatchet, which
he had snatched from his belt, and Balser dropped his
gun, the lock of which struck a stone and caused the
charge to explode. Thus the boys were on their backs
and weaponless, while the one-eared bear stood almost
within arm's length, growling in a voice like distant
thunder, and looking so horrid and fierce that he
seemed a very demon in a bear's skin.
 Tom and Balser were so frightened that for a
moment they could not move; but the deep growls which
terrified them also brought the dogs, who came quickly
to the rescue, barking furiously.
The bear sprang upon the boys just as the dogs came up,
and Balser received the full force of a great flat
horny paw upon his back, and was almost stunned. The
long sharp claws of the bear tore through the buckskin
jacket as if it were paper, and cut deep gashes in
Baser's flesh. The pain seemed to revive him from the
benumbing effect of the stroke, and when the bear's
attention was attracted by the dogs, Balser crawled out
from beneath the monster and arose to his feet,
wounded, bloody, and dizzy.
Tom also felt the force of the bear's great paw, and
was lying a few feet from Balser, with his head in a
tangle of vines and reeds.
Balser, having escaped from under the bear, the brute
turned upon Tom, who was lying prostrate in the bushes.
The dogs were still vigorously fighting
 the bear,
and every second or two a stroke from the powerful paw
brought a sharp yelp of pain from either Tige or Prince
and left its mark in deep, red gashes upon their
bodies. The pain, however, did not deter the faithful
animals from their efforts to rescue the boys; and
while the bear was making for Tom it was kept busy in
defending itself from the dogs.
In an instant the bear reached Tom, who would have been
torn in pieces at once, had not Balser quickly
unsheathed his long hunting knife and rushed into the
fight. He sprang for the bear and landed on his back,
clinging to him with one arm about his neck, while with
the other he thrust his sharp hunting knife almost to
the hilt into the brute's side.
This turned the attack from Tom, and brought it upon
Balser, who soon had his hands full again.
The bear rose upon his hind feet, and before Balser
could take a step in retreat, caught him in his mighty
arms for the
 purpose of hugging him to death,
which is a bear's favourite method of doing battle.
The hunting knife was still sticking in the rough black
side of the bear, where Balser had thrust it, and blood
flowed from the wound in a great stream.
The dogs were biting at the bear's hind legs, but so
intent was the infuriated monster upon killing Balser
that he paid no attention to them, but permitted them
to work their pleasure upon him, while he was having
the satisfaction of squeezing the life out of the boy.
In the meantime Tom recovered and rose to his feet. He
at once realized that Balser would be a dead boy if
something were not done immediately. Luckily, Tom saw
his hatchet, lying a few feet away, and snatching it up
he attacked the bear, chopping away at his great back
as if it were a tree.
At the third or fourth stroke from Tom's hatchet, the
bear loosened his grip upon Balser and fell in a great
black heap to the ground, growling and clawing in all
direc-  tions as if he were frantic with rage and
pain. He bit at the rocks and bushes, gnashed his
teeth, and dug into the ground with his claws.
Balser, when released from the bear, fell in a half
conscious condition, close to the river's edge. Tom ran
to him, and, hardly knowing what he did, dashed water
in his face to remove the blood-stains and to wash the
wounds. The water soon revived Balser, who rose to his
feet; and, Tom helping his friend, the boys started to
run, or rather to walk away as fast as their wounds and
bruise would permit, while the dogs continued to bark
and the bear to growl.
As the boys were retreating, Tom, turned his head to
see if the bear was following, but as it was still
lying on the ground, growling and biting at the rocks
and scratching the earth, he thought perhaps that the
danger was over, and that the bear was so badly wounded
that he could not rise, or he certainly would have been
on his feet fighting Tige and Prince, who gave him not
 moment's peace. Balser and Tom paused for an
instant, and were soon convinced that the bear was
"I believe he can't get up," said Balser.
"Of course he can't," answered Tom, pompously. "I cut
his old backbone in two with my hatchet. When he was
hugging you I chopped away at him hard enough to cut
down a hickory sapling."
The boys limped back to the scene of conflict, and
found that they were right. The bear could not rise to
his feet, but lay in a huge struggling black heap on
Balser then cautiously went over to where his gun lay,
picked it up, and ran back to Tom. He tried to load the
gun, but his arms were so bruised and torn that he
could not; so he handed it to Tom, who loaded it with a
large bullet and a heavy charge of powder.
Balser then called off the dogs, and Tom, as proud as
the President of the United States, held the gun within
a yard of the bear's head and pulled the trigger. The
 great brute rolled over on his side, his mighty
limbs quivered he uttered a last despairing growl which
was piteous—for it was almost a groan—and his fierce,
turbulent spirit fled forever. Balser then drew his
hunting knife from the bear's body, cut off the
remaining ear, and put it in the pocket of his buckskin
The boys were sorely wounded, and Balser said that the
bear had squeezed his "insides" out of place. This
proved to be true to a certain extent, for when he got
home it was found that two of his ribs were broken.
The young hunters were only too glad to start homeward,
for they had seen quite enough of the one-eared bear
for one day.
After walking in silence a short distance down the
river, Balser said to Tom:—
"I'll never again say anything bad about your hatchet.
It saved my life to-day, and was worth all the guns in
the world in such a fight as we have just gone
Tom laughed, but was kind-hearted enough not to say, "I
told you so."
 You may imagine the fright the boys gave their
parents when they arrived home wounded, limping, and
blood-stained; but soon all was told, and Balser and
Tom were the heroes of the settlement.
They had killed the most dangerous animal that had ever
lived on Blue River, and had conquered where old and
experienced hunters had failed.
The huge carcass of the bear was brought home that
evening, and when the skin was removed, his backbone
was found to have been cut almost through by Tom's
When thy cut the bear open somebody said he had two
galls, and that fact, it was claimed, accounted for his
Where the bear had sprung from when the boys first saw
him in the forest, or how he had managed to disappear
into the ground at the top of the hill was never
satisfactorily explained. Some settlers insisted that
he had not been inhabited by an evil spirit, else the
boys could not have killed him, but others clung to the
belief with even greater faith and persistency.
 Liney went every day to see Balser, who was confined to
his bed for a fortnight.
One day, while she was sitting by him, and no one else
was in the room, he asked her to hand him his buckskin
jacket; the one he had worn on the say of the bear
fight. The jacket was almost in shreds from the
frightful claws of the bear, and tears came to the
girl's eyes as she placed it on the bed.
Balser put his hand into one of the deep pockets, and,
drawing out the bear's ear, handed it to Liney,
"I cut this off for you because I like you."
The girl took the bear's ear, blushed a deep red,
thanked him, and murmured:—
"And I will keep it, ugly as it is, because