FROM THE ARCHIVES: ‘These ursine quadrupeds’

From the Archives | Sandy Main

Black bear sightings in the Greenville area are nothing new, according to past issues of local newspapers.

The Greenville Independent on July 24, 1866, noted, “By a tradition of hunters, when the red squirrels swarm look out for the bears! The red squirrels have come, and the bears are becoming rather familiar on short acquaintance. In some of our northern townships these visitors prowl around houses, enter pig pens and seize unlucky porkers, and play havoc generally. Two or three have already been shot.”

The Independent followed up with this report in October: “These ursine quadrupeds have not yet all passed South. Many pay the forfeit of invading the corn fields and orchards of our farmers, yet southward they wend their way. The largest one killed we have heard of was shot in this township, on the 26th inst., by Byron Nichols. It weighed 418 pounds.”

Reminiscent of the scene in Greenville a couple of weeks ago, a large black bear caused some excitement in Greenville in October 1874 when it wandered through town in broad daylight.

The Independent reported: “A bear in the city of Greenville in open day is certainly an event worthy of record.

“On Monday between 9 and 10 o’clock, a large black bear entered the city in vicinity of the old school house in the west part of the city, and jogged along southward. It passed through J.W. Belknap’s grounds and reached Washington street by trotting down the walk from the front door of Dr. Martin’s (Mrs. Slawson’s) residence. It had some difficulty in climbing the fence but succeeded and crossed the street and attempted the picket fence of E.H. Jones which was something of an obstacle; but it surmounted the fence after tearing loose two pickets.

“It passed between the houses of E.H. Jones and B.H. Leaming and went through the Congregational parsonage grounds, halting a few moments near J.M. Fuller’s residence not far from the high school building. It then traveled rapidly westward toward Baldwin Lake, the northern arm of which it swam.

“Its advent and passage through the city created much excitement and many citizens followed it in ineffective pursuit.”

Many bears were reported in the area in 1874, according to a 1972 Daily News item by Elsie McNiel under “Historical Odds & Ends”: “Oct. 24, 1874 — During the past month 13 bears have been shot in the vicinity of Greenville and one within the city. Three of them were two cubs and their mother. One bear was seen wandering down Cass St. and another on W. Washington but they escaped the local marksmen.”

The Independent in September 1874 noted: “Bears have become numerous in this section this season. A few days since, Jas. Coleman was chased up a tree by a bear which he afterwards killed with his revolver. On Saturday last Chas. Van Kuren shot a bear of 250 pounds near Henry Van Allen’s residence in Eureka, two miles from the city. The demand for bear meat at Robinson’s meat market was lively after it arrived in town.”

But as the Independent reported a few weeks later, “Bears are yet plenty in this region and bear meat has ceased to be so much a rarity because of the great number which have been killed. A man who has not killed his bear has not much of a reputation as a hunter.”

All the talk about bears prompted this reminiscence in November by a frequent Independent contributor who signed himself “Oneonta”: “We well recollect the first bear we saw in Michigan — some eight years ago. He came upon us near Smyrna. We were terribly scared and immediately ran for home while the bear ran in an opposite direction from us; we succeeded in reaching home and could only articulate the word ‘bear’ as we entered the house. We have never heard from that bear since — don’t know whether he reached home or not.”

A different sort of bear sighting was reported in the Independent in 1886. A mystery was unearthed in Belding when some workmen came across the skeletons of what were thought to be bears.

“Some workmen in the village of Belding, while drawing earth from the river bank recently, discovered what appears to be, or to have been, a den of large wild animals, as indicated by the presence of seven skeletons. The den was about 10 or 12 feet beneath the top of the bank and could not have been reached from either side without passing into the bank several rods.

“The animals must have been of the bear species, but a comparison of the bones with similar ones taken from a common black bear, now in the possession of J.E. Taylor of Eureka, shows the animals to have been of quite different proportions, having larger heads and shorter legs. The bones are in a very good state of preservation and the teeth indicate that they were a powerful carnivorous animal.

“The theory is advanced that these bears went into the den to winter and were entrapped there by the caving in of the bank. Who shall unveil the mysteries that enshroud the fate of these strange relics of antiquity?”

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