Bill Cross And His Pet Bear

When my father settled down at the foot of the Oregon Sierras with his

little family, long, long years ago, it was about forty miles from our

place to the nearest civilized settlement.

People were very scarce in those days, and bears, as said before, were

very plenty. We also had wolves, wild-cats, wild cattle, wild hogs,

and a good many long-tailed and big-headed yellow Californian lions.

e wild cattle, brought there from Spanish Mexico, next to the bear,

were most to be feared. They had long, sharp horns and keen, sharp

hoofs. Nature had gradually helped them out in these weapons of

defense. They had grown to be slim and trim in body, and were as

supple and swift as deer. They were the deadly enemies of all wild

beasts; because all wild beasts devoured their young.

When fat and saucy, in warm summer weather, these cattle would hover

along the foothills in bands, hiding in the hollows, and would begin

to bellow whenever they saw a bear or a wolf, or even a man or boy, if

on foot, crossing the wide valley of grass and blue camas blossoms.

Then there would be music! They would start up, with heads and tails

in the air, and, broadening out, left and right, they would draw a

long bent line, completely shutting off their victim from all approach

to the foothills. If the unfortunate victim were a man or boy on foot,

he generally made escape up one of the small ash trees that dotted the

valley in groves here and there, and the cattle would then soon give

up the chase. But if it were a wolf or any other wild beast that could

not get up a tree, the case was different. Far away, on the other side

of the valley, where dense woods lined the banks of the winding

Willamette river, the wild, bellowing herd would be answered. Out from

the edge of the woods would stream, right and left, two long,

corresponding, surging lines, bellowing and plunging forward now and

then, their heads to the ground, their tails always in the air and

their eyes aflame, as if they would set fire to the long gray grass.

With the precision and discipline of a well-ordered army, they would

close in upon the wild beast, too terrified now to either fight or

fly, and, leaping upon him, one after another, with their long, sharp

hoofs, he would, in a little time, be crushed into an unrecognizable

mass. Not a bone would be left unbroken. It is a mistake to suppose

that they ever used their long, sharp horns in attack. These were used

only in defense, the same as elk or deer, falling on the knees and

receiving the enemy on their horns, much as the Old Guard received the

French in the last terrible struggle at Waterloo.

Bill Cross was a "tender foot" at the time of which I write, and a

sailor, at that. Now, the old pilgrims who had dared the plains in

those days of '49, when cowards did not venture and the weak died on

the way, had not the greatest respect for the courage or endurance of

those who had reached Oregon by ship. But here was this man, a sailor

by trade, settling down in the interior of Oregon, and, strangely

enough, pretending to know more about everything in general and bears

in particular than either my father or any of his boys!

He had taken up a piece of land down in the pretty Camas Valley where

the grass grew long and strong and waved in the wind, mobile and

beautiful as the mobile sea.

The good-natured and self-complacent old sailor liked to watch the

waving grass. It reminded him of the sea, I reckon. He would sometimes

sit on our little porch as the sun went down and tell us boys strange,

wild sea stories. He had traveled far and seen much, as much as any

man can see on water, and maybe was not a very big liar, for a

sailor, after all. We liked his tales. He would not work, and so he

paid his way with stories of the sea. The only thing about him that we

did not like, outside of his chronic idleness, was his exalted opinion

of himself and his unconcealed contempt for everybody's opinion but

his own.

"Bill," said my father one day, "those black Spanish cattle will get

after that red sash and sailor jacket of yours some day when you go

down in the valley to your claim, and they won't leave a grease spot.

Better go horseback, or at least take a gun, when you go down next


"Pshaw! Squire. I wish I had as many dollars as I ain't afeard of all

the black Spanish cattle in Oregon. Why, if they're so blasted

dangerous, how did your missionaries ever manage to drive them up here

from Mexico, anyhow?"

Still, for all that, the very next time that he saw the old sailor

setting out at his snail pace for his ranch below, slow and indolent

as if on the deck of a ship, my father insisted that he should go on

horseback, or at least take a gun.

"Pooh, pooh! I wouldn't be bothered with a horse or a gun. Say, I'm

goin' to bring your boys a pet bear some day."

And so, cocking his little hat down over his right eye and thrusting

his big hands into his deep pockets almost to the elbows, he slowly

and lazily whistled himself down the gradual slope of the foothills,

waist deep in the waving grass and delicious wild flowers, and soon

was lost to sight in the great waving sea.

Two things may be here written down. He wouldn't ride a horse because

he couldn't, and for the same reason he wouldn't use a gun. Again let

it be written down, also, that the reason he was going away that warm

autumn afternoon was that there was some work to do. These facts were

clear to my kind and indulgent father; but of course we boys never

thought of it, and laid our little shoulders to the hard work of

helping father lift up the long, heavy poles that were to complete the

corral around our pioneer log cabin, and we really hoped and half

believed that he might bring home a little pet bear.

This stout log corral had become an absolute necessity. It was high

and strong, and made of poles or small logs stood on end in a trench,

after the fashion of a primitive fort or stout stockade. There was but

one opening, and that was a very narrow one in front of the cabin

door. Here it was proposed to put up a gate. We also had talked about

port-holes in the corners of the corral, but neither gate nor

port-holes were yet made. In fact, as said before, the serene and

indolent man of the sea always slowly walked away down through the

grass toward his untracked claim whenever there was anything said

about port-holes, posts or gates.

Father and we three little boys had only got the last post set and

solidly "tamped" in the ground as the sun was going down.

Suddenly we heard a yell; then a yelling, then a bellowing. The

yelling was heard in the high grass in the Camas Valley below, and the

bellowing of cattle came from the woody river banks far beyond.

Then up on the brown hills of the Oregon Sierras above us came the

wild answer of the wild black cattle of the hills, and a moment later,

right and left, the long black lines began to widen out; then down

they came, like a whirlwind, toward the black and surging line in the

grass below. We were now almost in the center of what would, in a

little time, be a complete circle and cyclone of furious Spanish


And now, here is something curious to relate. Our own cows, poor,

weary, immigrant cows of only a year before, tossed their tails in the

air, pawed the ground, bellowed and fairly went wild in the splendid

excitement and tumult. One touch of nature made the whole cow world


Father clambered up on a "buck-horse" and looked out over the

stockade; and then he shouted and shook his hat and laughed as I had

never heard him laugh before. For there, breathless, coatless,

hatless, came William Cross, Esq., two small wolves and a very small

black bear! They were all making good time, anywhere, anyway, to

escape the frantic cattle. Father used to say afterwards, when telling

about this little incident, that "it was nip and tuck between the

four, and hard to say which was ahead." The cattle had made quite a


They all four straggled in at the narrow little gate at about the same

time, the great big, lazy sailor in a hurry, for the first time in his


But think of the coolness of the man, as he turned to us children with

his first gasp of breath, and said, "Bo--bo--boys, I've

bro--bro--brought you a little bear!"

The wolves were the little chicken thieves known as coyotes, quite

harmless, as a rule, so far as man is concerned, but the cattle hated

them and they were terrified nearly to death.

The cattle stopped a few rods from the stockade. We let the coyotes

go, but we kept the little bear and named him Bill Cross. Yet he was

never a bit cross, despite his name.