141            American Black Bear

                           URSUS AMERICANUS.--PALLAS.

                              AMERICAN BLACK BEAR.
                                  [Black Bear]

                         PLATE CXLI.--MALE and FEMALE.

     U. Naso fere in eadem linea cum fronte, convexiore quam in U. feroce
plantis palmisque brevissimis, colore nigro vel fuscescente-nigro, lateribus
rostri fulvis.


     Nose, nearly in a line with the forehead, more arched than in Ursus ferox;
palms and soles of the feet, very short; colour, black, or brownish-black; there
is a yellowish patch on each side of the nose.


     BLACK BEAR.  Pennant, Arctic Zoology, p. 57, and Introduction, p. 120.
     BLACK BEAR.  Pennant's History of Quadrupeds, vol. ii. p. 11.
     BLACK BEAR.  Warden's United States, vol. i. p. 195.
     URSUS AMERICANUS.  Pallas, Spicil. Zool., vol. xiv. pp. 6-24.
     URSUS AMERICANUS.  Harlan, Fauna, p. 51.
     URSUS AMERICANUS.  Godman's Natural History, vol. i. p. 194.
     URSUS AMERICANUS.  Rich., Fauna Boreali Americana, p. 14.
     URSUS AMERICANUS.  Dekay, Nat. Hist. State of New York, p. 24, pl. 6,
       fig. 1.


     The Black Bear is commonly smaller than the Grizzly Bear.  Body and legs,
thick and clumsy in appearance; head, short, and broad where it joins the neck;
nose, slightly arched, and somewhat pointed; eyes, small, and close to each
other; ears, high, oval, and rounded at the tips; palms and soles of the feet,
short when compared with those of the Grizzly Bear; the hairs of the feet
project slightly beyond the claws; tail, very short; claws, short, blunt, and
somewhat incurved; fur, long, straight, shining, and rather soft.


     Cheeks, yellow, which colour extends from the tip of the nose on both sides
of the mouth to near the eye; in some individuals there is a small spot of the
same tint in front of the eye, and in others a white line commencing on the nose
reaches to each side of the angle of the mouth; in a few specimens this white
line continues over the cheek to a large white space mixed with a slight fawn
colour, covering the whole of the throat, whence a narrow line of the fawn
colour descends upon the breast.  The hairs on the whole body are in most
specimens glossy black; in some we examined they were brown, while a few of the
skins we have seen were light brown or dingy yellow.  From this last mentioned
variety doubtless originated the names Cinnamon Bear, Yellow Bear of Carolina,
&c.  The outer edges of the ears are brownish-black; eyes and nails, black.


     A very large specimen.
                                            Feet.    Inches.

       From nose to root of tail, .  .  .  .  6         5
       Height to top of shoulder, .  .  .  .  3         1

     A larger Bear than the above may sometimes be captured, but the general
size is considerably less.


     The Black Bear, however clumsy in appearance, is active, vigilant, and
persevering, possesses great strength, courage, and address, and undergoes with
little injury the greatest fatigues and hardships in avoiding the pursuit of the
hunter.  Like the deer it changes its haunts with the seasons, and for the same
reason, viz. the desire of obtaining suitable food, or of retiring to the more
inaccessible parts, where it can pass the time in security, unobserved by man,
the most dangerous of its enemies.
     During the spring months it searches for food in the low rich alluvial
lands that border the rivers, or by the margins of such inland lakes as, on
account of their small size, are called by us ponds.  There it procures
abundance of succulent roots and tender juicy plants, upon which it chiefly
feeds at that season.  During the summer heat, it enters the gloomy swamps,
passes much of its time in wallowing in the mud like a hog, and contents itself
with crayfish, roots, and nettles, now and then seizing on a pig, or perhaps a
sow, a calf, or even a full-grown cow.  As soon as the different kinds of
berries which grow on the mountains begin to ripen, the Bears betake themselves
to the high grounds, followed by their cubs.
     In retired parts of the country, where the plantations are large and the
population sparse, it pays visits to the corn-fields, which it ravages for a
while.  After this, the various species of nuts, acorns, grapes, and other
forest fruits, that form what in the western States is called mast, attract its
attention.  The Bear is then seen rambling singly through the woods to gather
this harvest, not forgetting, meanwhile, to rob every bee-tree it meets with,
Bears being expert at this operation.
     The Black Bear is a capital climber, and now and then houses itself in the
hollow trunk of some large tree for weeks together during the winter, when it is
said to live by sucking its paws.
     At one season, the Bear may be seen examining the lower part of the trunk
of a tree for several minutes with much attention, at the same time looking
around, and snuffing the air.  It then rises on its hind-legs, approaches the
trunk, embraces it with the fore-legs, and scratches the bark with its teeth and
claws for several minutes in continuance.  Its jaws clash against each other
until a mass of foam runs down on both sides of the mouth.  After this it
continues its rambles.
     The female Black Bear generally brings forth two cubs at a time although,
as we have heard, the number is sometimes three or four.  The period of
gestation is stated to be from six to seven weeks, but is mentioned as one
hundred days by some authors.  When born the young are exceedingly small, and if
we may credit the accounts of hunters with whom we have conversed on the
subject, are not larger than kittens.  They are almost invariably brought forth
in some well concealed den, or great hollow tree, and so cautious is the dam in
selecting her place of accouchment, that it is extremely difficult to discover
it, and consequently very rarely that either the female or her cubs are seen
until the latter have obtained a much larger size than when born, are able to
follow their dam, and can climb trees with facility.
     Most writers on the habits of this animal have stated that the Black Bear
does not eat animal food from choice, and never unless pressed by hunger.  This
we consider a great mistake, for in our experience we have found the reverse to
be the case, and it is well known to our frontier farmers that this animal is a
great destroyer of pigs, hogs, calves, and sheep, for the sake of which we have
even known it to desert the pecan groves in Texas.  At the same time, as will
have been seen by our previous remarks, its principal food generally consists of
berries, roots, and other vegetable substances.  It is very fond also of fish,
and during one of our expeditions to Maine and New Brunswick, we found the
inhabitants residing near the coast unwilling to eat the flesh of the animal on
account of its fishy taste.  In our western forests, however, the Bear feeds on
so many nuts and well tasted roots and berries, that its meat is considered a
great delicacy, and in the city of New York we have generally found its market
price three or four times more than the best beef per pound.  The fore-paw of
the Bear when cooked presents a striking resemblance to the hand of a child or
young person, and we have known some individuals to be hoaxed by its being
represented as such.
     Perhaps the most acrid vegetable eaten by the Bear is the Indian turnip
(Arum triphyllum), which is so pungent that we have seen people almost
distracted by it, when they had inadvertently put a piece in their mouth.
     The Black Bear is a remarkably swift runner when first alarmed, although it
is generally "treed," that is, forced to ascend a tree, when pursued by dogs and
hunters on horseback.  We were, not very long since, when on an expedition in
the mountains of Virginia, leisurely making our way along a road through the
forest after a long hunt for deer and turkeys, with our gun thrown behind our
shoulders and our arms resting on each end of it, when, although we had been
assured there were no Bears in that neighbourhood, we suddenly perceived one
above us on a little acclivity at one side of the road, where it was feeding,
and nearly concealed by the bushes.  The bank was only about fifteen feet high,
and the Bear not more than twenty paces from us, so we instantly disengaged our
gun, and cocking both barrels, expected to "fill our bag" at one shot, but at
the instant and before we could fire, the Bear, with a celerity that astonished
us, disappeared.  We rushed up the bank and found the land on the top nearly
level for a long distance before us, and neither very thickly wooded nor very
bushy; but no Bear was to be seen, although our eye could penetrate the woods
for at least two hundred yards.  After the first disappointing glance around, we
thought Bruin might have mounted a tree, but such was not the case, as on
looking everywhere nothing could be seen of his black body, and we were obliged
to conclude that he had run out of sight in the brief space of time we occupied
in ascending the little bank.
     As we were once standing at the foot of a large sycamore tree on the
borders of a long and deep pond, on the edge of which, in our rear, there was a
thick and extensive "cane-brake," we heard a rushing roaring noise, as if some
heavy animal was bearing down and passing rapidly through the canes, directly
towards us.  We were not kept long in suspense, for in an instant or two, a
large Bear dashed out of the dense cane, and plunging into the pond without
having even seen us, made off with considerable speed through the water towards
the other shore.  Having only bird-shot in our gun we did not think it worth
while to call his attention to us by firing at him, but turned to the
cane-brake, expecting to hear either dogs or men approaching shortly.  No
further noise could be heard, however, and the surrounding woods were as still
as before this adventure.  We supposed the Bear had been started at some
distance, and that his pursuers not being able to follow him through the almost
impenetrable canes, had given up the hunt.
     Being one night sleeping in the house of a friend who was a Planter in the
State of Louisiana, we were awakened by a servant bearing a light, who gave us a
note, which he said his master had just received.  We found it to be a
communication from a neighbour, requesting our host and ourself to join him as
soon as possible, and assist in killing some Bears at that moment engaged in
destroying his corn.  We were not long in dressing, and on entering the parlour,
found our friend equipped.  The overseer's horn was heard calling up the
negroes.  Some were already saddling our horses, whilst others were gathering
all the cur-dogs of the plantation.  All was bustle.  Before half an hour had
elapsed, four stout negro men, armed with axes and knives, and mounted on strong
nags, were following us at a round gallop through the woods, as we made directly
for the neighbour's plantation.
     The night was none of the most favourable, a drizzling rain rendering the
atmosphere thick and rather sultry; but as we were well acquainted with the
course, we soon reached the house, where the owner was waiting our arrival.
There were now three of us armed with guns, half a dozen servants, and a good
pack of dogs of all kinds.  We jogged on towards the detached field in which the
Bears were at work.  The owner told us that for some days several of these
animals had visited his corn, and that a negro who was sent every afternoon to
see at what part of the enclosure they entered, had assured him there were at
least five in the field that night.  A plan of attack was formed:  the bars at
the usual entrance of the field were to be put down without noise; the men and
dogs were to divide, and afterwards proceed so as to surround the Bears, when,
at the sounding of our horns, every one was to charge towards the centre of the
field, and shout as loudly as possible, which it was judged would so intimidate
the animals as to induce them to seek refuge upon the dead trees with which the
field was still partially covered.
     The plan succeeded:  the horns sounded, the horses galloped forward, the
men shouted, the dogs barked and howled.  The shrieks of the negroes were enough
to frighten a legion of bears, and by the time we reached the middle of the
field we found that several had mounted the trees, and having lighted fires, we
now saw them crouched at the junction of the larger branches with the trunks.
Two were immediately shot down.  They were cubs of no great size, and being
already half dead, were quickly dispatched by the dogs.
     We were anxious to procure as much sport as possible, and having observed
one of the Bears, which from its size we conjectured to be the mother of the two
cubs just killed, we ordered the negroes to cut down the tree on which it was
perched, when it was intended the dogs should have a tug with it, while we
should support them, and assist in preventing the Bear from escaping, by
wounding it in one of the hind-legs.  The surrounding woods now echoed to the
blows of the axemen.  The tree was large and tough, having been girded more than
two years, and the operation of felling it seemed extremely tedious.  However,
at length it began to vibrate at each stroke; a few inches alone now supported
it, and in a short time it came crashing to the ground.
     The dogs rushed to the charge, and harassed the Bear on all sides, whilst
we surrounded the poor animal.  As its life depended upon its courage and
strength, it exercised both in the most energetic manner.  Now and then it
seized a dog and killed him by a single stroke.  At another time, a well
administered blow of one of its fore-legs sent an assailant off, yelping so
piteously that he might be looked upon as hors du combat.  A cur had daringly
ventured to seize the Bear by the snout, and was seen hanging to it, covered
with blood, whilst several others scrambled over its back.  Now and then the
infuriated animal was seen to cast a revengeful glance at some of the party, and
we had already determined to dispatch it, when, to our astonishment, it suddenly
shook off all the dogs, and before we could fire, charged upon one of the
negroes, who was mounted on a pied horse.  The Bear seized the steed with teeth
and claws, and clung to its breast.  The terrified horse snorted and plunged.
The rider, an athletic young man and a capital horseman, kept his seat, although
only saddled on a sheep-skin tightly girthed, and requested his master not to
fire at the Bear.  Notwithstanding his coolness and courage, our anxiety for his
safety was raised to the highest pitch, especially when in a moment we saw rider
and horse come to the ground together; but we were instantly relieved on
witnessing the masterly manner in which Scipio dispatched his adversary, by
laying open his skull with a single well directed blow of his axe, when a deep
growl announced the death of the Bear.
     In our country no animal, perhaps, has been more frequently the theme of
adventure or anecdote than the Bear, and in some of our southwestern States it
is not uncommon to while away the winter evenings with Bear stories that are not
only interesting on account of the traits of the habits of the animal with which
they are interspersed, but from the insight they afford the listener into the
characteristics of the bold and hardy huntsmen of those parts.
     In the State of Maine the lumbermen (wood-cutters) and the farmers set guns
to kill this animal, which are arranged in this way:  A funnel-shaped space
about five feet long is formed by driving strong sticks into the ground in two
converging lines, leaving both the ends open, the narrow end being wide enough
to admit the muzzle of an old musket, and the other extremity so broad as to
allow the head and shoulders of the Bear to enter.  The gun is then loaded and
fastened securely so as to deliver its charge facing the wide end of the
enclosure.  A round and smooth stick is now placed behind the stock of the gun,
and a cord leading from the trigger passed around it, the other end of which,
with a piece of meat or a bird tied to it (an owl is a favourite bait), is
stretched in front of the gun, so far that the Bear can reach the bait with his
paw.  Upon his pulling the meat towards him, the string draws the trigger and
the animal is instantly killed.
     On the coast of Labrador we observed the Black Bear catching fish with
great dexterity, and the food of these animals in that region consisted
altogether of the fishes they seized in the edge of the water inside the surf.
Like the Polar Bear, the present species swims with ease and rapidity, and it is
a difficult matter to catch a full grown Bear with a skiff, and a dangerous
adventure to attempt its capture in a canoe, which it could easily upset.
     We were once enjoying a fine autumnal afternoon on the shores of the
beautiful Ohio, with two acquaintances who had accompanied us in quest of some
swallows that had built in a high sandy bank, when we observed three hunters
about the middle of the river in a skiff, vigorously rowing, the steersman
paddling too, with all his strength, in pursuit of a Bear which, about one
hundred and fifty yards ahead of them, was cleaving the water and leaving a
widening wake behind him on its unrippled surface as he made for the shore,
directly opposite to us.  We all rushed down to the water at this sight, and
launching a skiff we then kept for fishing, hastily put off to intercept the
animal, which we hoped to assist in capturing.  Both boats were soon nearing the
Bear, and we, standing in the bow of our skiff, commenced the attack by
discharging a pistol at his head.  At this, he raised one paw, brushed it across
his forehead, and then seemed to redouble his efforts.  Repeated shots from both
boats were now fired at him, and we ran alongside, thinking to haul his carcase
triumphantly on board; but suddenly, to our dismay, he laid both paws on the
gunwale of the skiff, and his great weight brought the side for an instant under
water, so that we expected the boat would fill and sink.  There was no time to
be lost:  we all threw our weight on to the other side, to counterpoise that of
the animal, and commenced a pell-mell battery on him with the oars and a
boat-hook; the men in the other boat also attacked him, and driving the bow of
their skiff close to his head, one of them laid his skull open with an axe,
which killed him instantly.  We jointly hurraed, and tying a rope round his
neck, towed him ashore behind our boats.
     The Black Bear is very tenacious of life, and like its relative, the
Grizzly Bear, is dangerous when irritated or wounded.  It makes large beds of
leaves and weeds or grasses, in the fissures of rocks, or sleeps in hollow logs,
when no convenient den can be found in its neighbourhood; it also makes lairs in
the thick cane-brakes and deep swamps, and covers itself with a heap of leaves
and twigs, like a wild sow when about to litter.
     The skin of the Black Bear is an excellent material for sleigh-robes,
hammer-cloths, caps, &c., and makes a comfortable bed for the backwoodsman or
Indian; and the grease procured from this species is invaluable to the
hair-dresser, being equal if not superior to

                       "Thine incomparable oil Macassar!"

which we (albeit unacquainted with the mode of preparing it) presume to be a
compound much less expensive to the manufacturer than would be the "genuine real
Bear's grease" not of the shops, but of the prairies and western woods.
     The Black Bear is rather docile when in confinement, and a "pet" Bear is
occasionally seen in various parts of the country.  In our large cities,
however, where civilization (?) is thought to have made the greatest advances,
this animal is used to amuse the gentlemen of the fancy, by putting its strength
and "pluck" to the test, in combat with bull-dogs or mastiffs.  When the Bear
has not been so closely imprisoned as to partially destroy his activity, these
encounters generally end with the killing of one or more dogs; but occasionally
the dogs overpower him, and he is rescued for the time by his friends, to "fight
(again) some other day."
     We are happy to say, however, that Bear-baiting and bull-baiting have not
been as yet fully naturalized amongst us, and are only popular with those who,
perhaps, in addition to the natural desire for excitement, have the hope and
intention of winning money, to draw them to such cruel and useless exhibitions.
     Among the many Bear stories that have been published in the newspapers, and
which, whether true or invented, are generally interesting, the following is one
of the latest, the substance of which we will give, as nearly as we can
recollect it:
     A young man in the State of Maine, whilst at work in a field, accompanied
only by a small boy, was attacked by a Bear which suddenly approached from the
edge of the forest, and quite unexpectedly fell upon him with great fury.
Almost at the first onset the brute overthrew the young farmer, who fell to the
ground on his back, with the Bear clutching him, and biting his arm severely.
Nothing but the utmost presence of mind could have saved the young man, as he
was unarmed with the exception of a knife, which he could not get out of his
pocket owing to the position in which he had fallen.  Perceiving that his chance
of escape was desperate, he rammed his hand and arm so far down the throat of
the Bear as to produce the effect of partial strangulation, and whilst the beast
became faint from consequent loss of breath, called to the boy to come and hand
him the knife.  The latter bravely came to the rescue, got the knife, opened it,
and gave it to him, when he succeeded in cutting the Bear's throat, and with the
exception of a few severe bites, and some lacerations from the claws of the
animal, was not very much injured.  The Bear was carried next day in triumph to
a neighbouring village, and weighed over four hundred pounds.
     Such assaults are, however, exceedingly rare, and it is seldom that even a
wounded Bear attacks man.
     Captain J. P. MCCOWN has furnished us with the following remarks:  "In the
mountains of Tennessee the Bear lives principally upon mast and fruits.  It is
also fond of a bee-tree, and is often found seeking even a wasp's or
yellow-jacket's nest.  In the autumn the Bear is hunted when 'lopping' for
chestnuts.  Lopping consists in breaking off the branches by the Bear to procure
the mast before it falls.  When pursued by the dogs the Bear sometimes backs up
against a tree, when it exhibits decided skill as a boxer, all the time looking
exceedingly good-natured; but woe to the poor dog that ventures within its
     "The dogs generally employed for pursuing the Bear are curs and fice, as
dogs of courage are usually killed or badly injured, while the cur will attack
the Bear behind, and run when he turns upon him.  No number of dogs can kill a
Bear unless assisted by man.
     "In 1841, the soldiers of my regiment had a pet he-Bear (castrated) that
was exceedingly gentle and playful with the men.  It becoming necessary to sell
or kill it, one of the soldiers led it down the streets of Buffalo and exposed
it for sale.  Of course it attracted a large crowd, and was bid for on all sides
on account of its gentleness.  But unfortunately Bruin was carried near a
hogshead of sugar, and not disposed to lose so tempting a repast, quietly upset
it, knocking out the head, and commenced helping himself in spite of the
soldier's efforts to prevent the depredation.  The owner of the sugar rushed out
and kicked the Bear, which, not liking such treatment, gave in return for the
assault made upon him, a blow that sent his assailant far into the street, to
the terror of the crowd, which scattered, leaving him to satisfy his appetite
for sugar unmolested."
     The number of Black Bears is gradually decreasing in the more settled parts
of the "back woods," but in some portions of Carolina and Georgia, where the
vast swamps prevent any attempt to settle or cultivate the land, they have
within a few years been on the increase, and have become destroyers of the young
stock of the Planter (which generally range through the woods) to a considerable
     Sir JOHN RICHARDSON says that when resident in the fur countries this Bear
almost invariably hibernates, and that about one thousand skins are annually
procured by the Hudson's Bay Company from those that are destroyed in their
winter retreats.  "It generally selects a spot for its den under a fallen tree,
and having scratched away a portion of the soil, retires to it at the
commencement of a snow-storm, when the snow soon furnishes it with a close, warm
covering.  Its breath makes a small opening in the den, and the quantity of
hoar-frost which occasionally gathers round the aperture serves to betray its
retreat to the hunter."
     The Black Bear is somewhat migratory, and in hard winters is found to move
southwardly in considerable numbers, although not in company.  They couple in
September or October, after which the females retire to their dens before the
setting in of very cold weather.
     It is said that the males do not so soon resort to winter quarters as the
females, and require some time after the love season to recover their lost fat.
The females bring forth about the beginning of January.
     The Indian tribes have many superstitions concerning the Bear, and it is
with some of them necessary to go through divers ceremonies before proceeding to
hunt the animal.

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     The Black Bear has been found throughout North America in every wooded
district from the north through all the States to Mexico, but has not hitherto
been discovered in California, where it appears to be replaced by the Grizzly
Bear (Ursus ferox).

                                GENERAL REMARKS.

     This species was in the early stages of natural history regarded as
identical with the Black Bear of Europe.  PALLAS first described it as a
distinct animal, since which its specific name has remained undisturbed; its
varieties have however produced much speculation, and it has frequently been
supposed, and not without some reason, that the Brown Bear of our western
country was a species differing from the Black Bear.
     In order to arrive at a correct conclusion on this subject we must be
guided less by colour than by the form and structure of the animal and its
length of heel and claws; it is evident that the size can afford us no clue
whereby to designate the species, inasmuch as some individuals may be found that
are nearly double the dimensions of others.