Sidetracked (Just the bear facts…Oh deer…)

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By Darla Sathre (from The Depot Express newsletter, Fall 2015)

While browsing through some Bemidji history publications, I (more than once) came across the famous 1897 photo that looks east on 3rd Street toward Lake Bemidji. Immediately one notices a bear cub and a fawn among the people.

The Carson family owned two bears, one of which is seen in the photo along with Evan Carson. The first year they let the bear cubs hibernate over winter in the root cellar behind their family hotel, but come spring Evan got too close and one of the bear cubs stripped off his trousers!

The young lady in the photo petting the fawn is Maude Near, a relative of the Carson family. (Sidetrack: She later became a teacher at Campbell Lake School, and then married F.O. Sibley. They lived on a farm near Solway, and he later became one of the early county commissioners.)

The Alexander Cameron family, early area settlers, had a pet fawn, which they bottle-fed. As it grew, it became quite a pest, loving to find a house door left open so it could come in and eat food off the table. To protect it during hunting season the family tied a bell on a red ribbon around the deer’s neck, but it got shot anyway.

The Rhodes family lived on the south shore of Lake Bemidji. They also found a fawn and took it in as a pet. They fed it soft bread and milk from a beer bottle. To keep dogs away from it they built a wire fence. When complaints were made, the deer was picked up and taken to the train platform and put in a crate to be taken away.

(Sidetrack: Waskish, north of Kelliher, is named for the Ojibwe word for deer – waawaaskeshi.)
In researching these stories of deer and bears as pets, I was sidetracked by my own childhood bear memory. In the late 1950s, the Jim Warfield family (who owned the Log Cabin Court tourist cabins) acquired a bear cub to use as a tourist attraction. Smokey, as they named him, had been rescued after his mother had been shot. The Warfields built a cage for him and put a collar on him so he could be leashed. He was on display mainly for people to look at, but sometimes friends could feed and pet him. Smokey loved to drink pop, and doing so made him more docile. Feeding him a bottle of pop and petting him is what I remember doing. Jim’s son, Marshall, remembers entering Smokey in a pet show sponsored by Jake’s Drive-In. Smokey entertained the crowd by drinking a bottle of pop while crossing the street and won first prize. Smokey was with the Warfield family for two years before they released him back into the wild.

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