Well, you want to have some fun, you want to try and carry in a bear that weighs about 175 pounds, bring him in alive, that’s the way to get him in.
Well, there’s an old fella from down Hinton up there. He’d build bear pens, and he’d catch bear. He had one tied up down there at the camp. He was fattening him up; going to have bear meat. Well, this fella Hivick, he was a master mechanic and train master, general train master for the Greenbrier, Cheat, and Elk; he run around with me a lot, and he’d come with Shaffer up with another driver to Spruce.
And he wanted to go to Elk, he’d get me. We’d go to Elk, we’d go down the Cheat. They generally go opposite directions, and I’d wait there at the Spruce line. I had my headquarters at Spruce.
Well, anyway, this old fella, he had us some bear pens set, and he was there at Spruce, stayed all night, and he was going down to the camp. He was making car stakes. Hivick would devil him, and me, too. If you catch a bear, we want to bring him alive.
Hivick said, “Oh, yeah, Bruce and I’ll lead him. We’re gonna carry him in.” Hivick was six foot six, great big tall man, big for his size. He said, “I’ll go in front coming down the hill and that way we can hold him about level.”
Well, anyway, we was going down the railroad, here Daddy was out there, and he flagged us down.
Says, “I got that bear up there for you to carry out.”
Hivick said, “All right.” Asked where he was.
“Well, he’s up the holler here, you can go up an old skid road.”
Hivick said, “Well, we better get a push truck and tie on behind the motor car, and when we bring him out, we can throw him right on the push truck and bring him into the camp.”
Well, that was all right. Well, we went up there, and we took the bailing wire, gathered up around the barn what they used to bail hay with, and a small link chain, he had, was just small links, but it would slip, you know, and it had a ring in the end, had a hook on the other end. It was about 10 or 12 feet long.
First, what we’d do is chop a hole in the lid of the bear pen — I don’t know whether you ever seen a bear pen or not, built out of big logs. Oh, as big as that. You have ‘em big ’cause they’d eat out through the side of ‘em.
So is big logs on top, and when the lid falls and they’re in there eating and snaps the trigger, why, it knocks the bear down. It knocks him down, cramps his legs up till don’t have any power.
Well, we chopped a hole in the lid, had an ax, put a hole in it so we could get the chain down punched around through, goes around his neck, so you can put a choker on him. Well, that was all right. Well, we decided . . . well, had his feet wired, after he got in through under there and got the wired snares around it and wired his feet, Daddy said, “I don’t know whether I can get his mouth shut or not.”
Well, he finally got a snare around the bear, and got his mouth wired shut. Then he got sticks and got it around his nose and twisted till he couldn’t open his mouth nearly at all. Got his mouth wired shut. Well, he said, “I believe we can let him out.” And I said, “All right.” And I took my chain around two pine saplings there and got off to the side.
He said, “Now hold tight, hold your chain tight. He’s gonna come out of there.” Just as soon as they raised that lid that much, that bear just come out of there like a bullet. Of course, had that chain around his neck. Had a collar on him too with a rope on it. But the bear come out of there, and of course, he just up-ended when he run the length of that chain. He come out of there so fast, flopped over on his back.
Hilvick hollered, “Here, let’s put these poles between his legs, so we can carry him.” But we didn’t have time. The bear scrambled around there.
We finally got the pole between his legs, and got him on there. Hivick was holding one end of the pole, and I was on the upper end. Hivick was down the hill. It was on a slope down the road, and he was holding the pole up.
Daddy, he took that chain that it had around his neck, and it was drawed tight enough to choke him to death. He took the chain and wrapped it around and around the poles, you know, to keep it tight. He had his head down the hill, and I said, “Daddy, you better take a rope and tie his feet back here, so he can’t slide far.” “Oh, he won’t go very far on that chain,” he said.
Well, we started down the log road. It was a pretty good grade, but the road was open. And we’d go about a hundred yards and that bear would just “Ooooooooh”—squeal— and make the awful-est noise. Well, he just wore the skin off your shoulder, that old rough pole, you know.
I said to him, hollered to Hivick, “Let’s lay him down! I can’t stand it any longer.” Laid him down and let him draw a few long breaths, but he couldn’t do much with his mouth wired shut. Let him lay there, and of course, I had loosened the chain when we let the pole down, you know the chain had, the loops would slip and that’s all there was to it. He’d be very quiet. He was breathing hard, but . . .
Well, we’d pick him up and go about the same distance, the same thing over. Boy, oh, he took some awful fits.
So, we had about half a mile, I reckon, or three quarters to carry him, but we spelled on and worried along. Finally, we all got him down there, and I’d pulled off my shirt. It was in July and the sun was just awful hot, and I just melted. I’d pulled my shirt off and put it on my shoulder. Was just in my BVD’s, and I was seeing if I could stand that.
Well, come to a kind of a flat place and going across there. The bear just rode along fine, but just as soon as we broke over another break, well the same thing, he just I said, “Let’s throw him down, Hivick.”
“Oh, let’s take him a piece further.”
And I said, “No, I’ll just lay him down here and let him rest.”
We took about a dozen trips like that, spells on him and got down where they had this rough tumble place. That’s where they brought logs and just rolled ‘em over. They didn’t deck ‘em, you know, they had to load logs with loaders. Well, the landing was all torn down and cleaned out, and we come down where the log loaders come back. Oh, I get down off an awful steep place where this landing had been, creek run right along the bottom. It was practically dry. Well, I wanted to lay him down before we started down over this steep hill.
Hivick said, “Hell, no. Let’s put him on the truck.”
I said, “You can stand to put him on the truck,” and I said, “Well.”
Going down that steep place that bear just, uh, cut an awful shine. Well, was going through the creek, and still he was, “Mmmmmmmm” . . . And he was making that noise, and took an awful spell when we got about halfway in the creek. And I wanted to throw him down in the creek.
I said, “Let’s throw him in that hole of water. That’ll cool him off.” I said, “Let’s put him on the truck.”
And he just went on. He weighed about two hundred and fifty pounds, the big man says, “Ah, come on. I’ll drag you through there.” And I said, “All right, go ahead.”
We took him up and laid him down on the truck, and he was dead as a hammer. Choked him to death; that last spell there. We had a pole in there about as big as his leg. Well, the old bear weighed about a hundred and seventy-five pounds, I’d say. But he was dead.
I said, “Daddy, you won’t have to fatten that one.” So then we told Daddy, “Now the next one you catch, we’re gonna make him come in under his own power. We’re gonna lead him in. We’re gonna put a chain on each side.”
“I’ll let you know,” he says.
But we never did bring in…never did have another bear to bring in.
R. Bruce Crickard (1889-1977)
Native of Valley Head, WV
Interviewed shortly before his death by Dr. Robert P. Alexander, Marshall University