PREPARATIONS FOR MY SECOND MARRIAGE. -- DANGEROUS ADVENTURE. -- MY WIFE'S NOCTURNAL VISITOR. -- WE PREPARE FOR THE RECEPTION OF OUR UNINVITED GUEST. -- BRUIN'S UNWELCOME VISIT TO AN IRISH SHANTY. -- OUR BEAR HUNT. -- MAJOR ELLIOTT'S DUEL WITH BRUIN. -- HIS WOUNDS AND VICTORY.
I SPENT the spring of 1827 very pleasantly in the company of my new friends. I used to go down to my farm every morning, and return in the evening to a cheerful fire-side and agreeable society, which rewarded me for the toils of the day. I had fenced in my fields, planted my spring crops, Indian corn, and potatoes, which looked promising; and I had my house nearly finished. I, therefore, considered it was time I should go and reside in it, and not trespass any longer on the hospitality of my kind and generous friends. As, however, I did not like the thought of living the life of a hermit, and my little boy; for whom I had sent, was weaned, and growing healthy and lovely under the kind hospitality of my friends, required now a watchful parental care, I proposed to, and was accepted by, my friend's eldest daughter, in whom I found what I sought--a faithful mother for my child, and the most devoted and affectionate wife for myself. A better woman, indeed, never existed. For upwards of twenty-two years she shared my various fortunes, and formed my greatest earthly blessing. A few days before my marriage--an event to which I naturally looked forward for an increase of happiness--an accident occurred, which might have been attended with fatal results to myself, and actually was so to a lad who was in my service. A kind Providence, however, watched over my life, and delivered me from this danger.
My farm was situated on the east shore of the Otonabee river, the town of Peterborough being on the west of that line; and there was no bridge communication between us and that place, so that we were obliged to cross in skiffs, canoes, or any other craft we could get. When the river is flooded in the spring, it is dangerous for persons crossing, unless they are well acquainted with the management of a canoe. Several fatal accidents have indeed happened to the inexperienced at that time of the year, from this cause. Such was the state of the river, when I had to cross it to reach the store, where I wanted to purchase some articles for my intended marriage. The stream was then at its greatest height, running with extreme rapidity, and I had, to contend with its force, only a small log-canoe, about twelve feet in length, by thirty inches at its greatest breadth, in which three of us ventured upon the turbid water, namely, John Fontaine, a French boy; Michael Walsh, and myself. We crossed a little above the new mill-dam, which had been constructed at the expense of the Government for the Irish emigration, and we managed to get over pretty well. Not so, however, on our return. I was near the middle of the canoe, with a pair of small oars, one of the boys at each end, and all seated at the bottom for greater security. In this manner we got over the main channel; but owing to the swiftness of the current, we were carried down much nearer the dam than we intended. This alarmed the boys a good deal. I begged them to sit still, assuring them I should be able to fetch the canoe into an eddy a little lower down the stream. We were at this time close to an island, which was deeply flooded, owing to the raising of the water by the construction of the dam. From the point of this sunken island, a cedar tree had fallen into the river. It was therefore necessary that we should drop below this, before we could make the eddy. In the act of passing, the boy Walsh--I suppose from fright--caught hold of the tree, which caused the canoe to swing round broadside to the current, and it instantly filled and upset.
A large quantity of timber had been cut on the island, for the use of the mill and dam. The workmen had piled the tops and limbs of these trees in large heaps, which now floated above the surface of the island. To one of these I immediately swam, and succeeded in getting upon it. I then perceived that Walsh had been swept from the tree to which he had clung, by the force of the current, into the middle of the river, and close to the edge of the falls. I saw at a glance, that his only chance was to swim for the opposite side, which I called on him to do, but he appeared to have lost all self-possession; for he neither swam for one shore nor the other, but kept his head facing up the stream, uttering wild cries, which, in a few seconds, were silenced for ever.
In the meantime, John Fontaine, the French boy, had succeeded in getting partly across the canoe, which was floating past the heap on which I had taken refuge, and only a few yards from where I was standing. I immediately plucked a long stick from the brush-heap, and swam near enough to the lad for him to grasp one end of the pole, bidding him leave the canoe, which I told him would be carried over the dam to a certainty, and him with it, if he did not abandon his hold. He, with apparent reluctance, followed my directions, but I had a hard struggle to regain my former place of refuge, with the boy's additional weight. I had some trouble to persuade him to trust himself again in the water. And no wonder; for darkness was fast approaching, and both the island and a narrow channel of the river had still to be crossed. However, trusting to the mercy of God, we again committed ourselves to those wild, swollen waters, which, by the providence of the Almighty, we successfully accomplished. I was obliged to hold the stick between my teeth whilst crossing the channel, drawing along with me my terrified companion, it being necessary for our preservation, that I should have the free use of both my arms. I had on at the time a velveteen shooting coat, the large pockets of which were filled with things I had just purchased from the store; among which I remember there was a dozen cups and saucers, which added no inconsiderable weight to the swimmer.
As soon as we made the shore, we ran down to the falls, to see if we could hear anything of the poor boy. We shouted, for it was now quite dark, but all in vain; indeed, I had not the slightest hope, as I had seen him carried backwards over the dam into the boiling rapids below, where the best swimmer would not have had the least chance. We failed to discover his remains then, but found his mangled body six days afterwards in a small lake, a mile and a half below the dam.
I was much concerned at the fate of my poor young servant, but felt deeply grateful for my own preservation and that of Fontaine.
A few weeks after my marriage, I was detained one night from home by business, leaving my wife, her little sister, and a small dog, called Suffolk--so named by me in honour of my native county--the sole occupiers of my house, of which the kitchen was still in an unfinished state, part of the floor only being laid. We, however, had to make use of it, until I could procure more boards to finish it, which, in those days, were not very easy to obtain.
In the middle of the night, my wife and her sister were awakened and dreadfully alarmed by a terrible noise in the kitchen, accompanied by the sharp barking of the little dog. They were quite sure by the low growls and the fury of Suffolk, that it was some wild animal, but whether a bear or wolf they could not tell. Towards morning, this unwelcome visitor took himself off, to their infinite joy. When I came home, they told me the story, at which I laughed very heartily, for I thought their fears had magnified the visit of some neighbour's dog into a bear, or some other wild beast; but they appeared unconvinced, being both frightened and positive. My wife declared, that in the morning she found some of the salt-pork had been abstracted from the barrel, which stood in one corner of the kitchen, by the savage guest.
Now, I knew very well that master Bruin was fond of fresh pork, and I thought it possible that he might think the salt an improvement. At all events, I resolved to be prepared, in case he should pay us a second visit. Accordingly, before going to bed, I loaded my gun with ball, and tied Suffolk up in the vicinity of the pork-barrel. At midnight we were suddenly awakened by the piteous howlings of the poor dog, and by a noise, as if everything in the room had been violently thrown down. I jumped out of bed instantly, and seizing my gun, crept cautiously along the passage, till I came to the kitchen-door, which I threw open, whereupon some large dark-looking object made a rush for the unfinished part of the floor. I immediately fired; but it was so dark, and the beast so quick in its movements, that I had little chance of hitting him. Whether or not, it had the effect of scaring him so much that he never resumed his nocturnal visitation. Indeed, I stopped his supplies from my larder by finishing the floor and building up the hole between the lower log of the house and the ground.
But to return to my story. As soon as the beast had made his exit, we lighted a candle and examined the room, which we found in confusion and disorder. The barrel of pork was upset and the brine running in miniature rivers over the floor, while poor little Suffolk was bleeding from his wounds--indeed nearly killed. From what I could make out of the footprints outside I am inclined to think my unwelcome visiter was a bear; but this, of course, will for ever remain a mystery.
I have heard many stories of their boldness, to some instances of which I have been an eye-witness. Not very long after the occurrence I have just related, the wife of an Irish emigrant saw a large bear walking very deliberately towards the shanty, which no doubt he mistook for a pigsty, and the inmates for pigs, for they were quite as dirty, therefore it was no great mistake, after all. The woman and her three children had barely time to get into the potato-cellar and shut down the trap-door, when his bear-ship made his forcible entrance through the feeble barrier the door opposed to his strength, much to the dismay and terror of the subterranean lodgers, who lay shaking and quaking for more than an hour, till the dying screams of their fatted pig told them he was after game of a more savoury nature.
In the fall of the year it is no uncommon thing for farmers to have their pigs killed by the bears, particularly in the new settlements.
Bears are, we know, very fond of good things. They are epicures in their way. They like honey, and love pork, and, you may be sure, often pay the settler a visit for the sake of his pigs. As Bruin makes very good eating himself, these visitations are sometimes made at the risk of his own bacon; his warm jacket, which makes comfortable robes for the settler's sleigh, keeping him warm during his journeys on pleasure or business throughout the long Canadian winters.
One day, I was assisting my father-in-law and his sons in logging up his fallow, when we heard a great outcry among the pigs in a belt of woods between Mr. Reid's and Mr. Stewart's clearing, when, suspecting it was a bear attacking the swine, we ran for our guns, and made the best of our way towards the spot from whence the outcry proceeded.
Near the edge of the clearing we met Mr. B-----, who was on a visit to his friend and relative Mr. Stewart, driving before him Mr. Reid's sow, which he had just rescued from the grip of an immense bear, that, alarmed by his shouts, dropped his prey and made off in the direction of a small cedar-swamp. We immediately proposed surrounding the place, as there were three of us provided with double-barrelled guns. Mr. B----- took up his station behind a large tree, close to where a small creek ran into the swamp. My brother-in-law John and myself went round to the opposite side, which we entered a few yards apart. We had not proceeded far, when an enormous brute popped up his head from behind some fallen logs and brush, for we had disturbed him in the act of devouring a pig. We both fired at the same instant, but apparently without effect; for he scampered off, passing within a few feet of where B----- was hid, who fired only one of his barrels, reserving his second in case the bear should turn on him. We ran as fast as we could to the river, for we knew he had gone in that direction. Indeed, Bruin took to the water in fine style, swimming across gallantly. Before we could get another shot at him he had gained the opposite bank. There we gave him a second volley, which did not appear in the least to retard his ascent, so we concluded that it was a regular miss all round. B----- maintained, however, that he had hit him, and wanted us to cross the river and follow the track. We only laughed at him for not firing his second shot, and returned home very much crestfallen at the ill success of our expedition.
Had we but complied with B-----'s wish, we should have found our hunt had been more successful than we imagined, for eight or ten days afterwards John Morison was going on the opposite side of the river to Peterborough, when, upon crossing a small creek, he came quite unexpectedly on the carcass of a large bear, not thirty yards from the bank we had seen him climb. No doubt B-----'s shot was the fatal one, as he was not more than five or six yards from him when he fired. The stream, where the beast was found, is in the township of Smith, about a mile and a half from Peterborough, on the river road, and is well-known by the name of Bear Creek to this day.
There is very little danger of being attacked by Bruin, unless you first molest him. An old she-bear, with cubs, is the most dangerous customer to meddle with.
Major Elliott, of the Canadian Militia, a gentleman with whom I was well acquainted, residing near Rice Lake, in the township of Monaghan, was out one day in the woods partridge-shooting, near the big swamp on the boundary line between Monaghan and Cavan, when he fell in with several old bears and their cubs. He had only one ball with him which he fired at the biggest fellow he could see among them, and wounded him very severely, though not enough to stop him from following his companions. But Elliott was not the man to be baulked without an effort to capture his wounded adversary; so, being in want of a ball, he cut of from his waistcoat some open-work brass buttons, with which he loaded his gun, and followed the track of the wounded bear, which he soon overtook.
Bruin, however, being possessed of considerable pluck, immediately faced about and attacked the major, who gave him a taste of the buttons, as he advanced. But the bear, nothing daunted, returned to the charge, which Elliott met with a blow from the butt-end of his gun, that was instantly struck from his hand by his formidable antagonist, who immediately closed with him. It now became a regular stand-up fight between Major Elliott and Ursus Major. For a long time it was doubtful which would come off victorious. Elliott was severely wounded about the breast and arms; notwithstanding which, he boldly maintained his ground, and ultimately succeeded in rolling the beast over the trunk of a large pine tree which lay on the ground beside them. Bruin was too much exhausted to climb over the tree, to renew the combat.
Luckily, Elliott received no internal injury, though his flesh was severely lacerated in the contest, which only ended with the bear's life. Ireland, indeed, never sent from her shores a bolder hunter, braver man, or more active backwoodsman, than Major Elliott.* [* This gentleman was afterwards returned as Member of the Provincial Parliament for the county of Durham.]
Last revised 2005-03-04