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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Kitty Ryan Subdues the Bear

Early in the last century, Jack Ryan kept a saloon for woodsmen at Mercer, Wisconsin. Fresh from a long winter in the forest, lumberjacks would often blow their entire season's wages on a grand spring bout of drinking, gambling, fighting, and debauchery. Ryan kept a pile of old gunny sacks in a corner where they could pass out on the floor and sleep it off.

But an even bigger attraction at Ryan's tavern was a live bear cub chained by the door. Lumberjacks would buy it bottles of beer, which it would drink standing up on its hind legs. This gave the customers a good laugh every time, and kept a reliable stream of silver flowing into Ryan's cash register.

One day Matt Stapleton, a veteran logger and sometime sheriff of Oneida Co., asked Ryan for a lift to a nearby lumber camp operated by a foreman named Dan Shea. Ryan decided to take the bear along for a ride in his car.

"Ryan unchained the bear," Stapleton recalled, "and took him in the front seat with himself and another man. After a block or so there was a real scuffle in the seat. The bear then weighed close to 75 pounds. The bear did not want to ride, but Ryan was determined that he should."

The bear climbed into the back seat with Stapleton and then jumped out of the car altogether, but was halted by its chain. Ryan, a muscular man weighing more than 200 pounds, wrestled it back into the front and started up again, only to have it leap out a second time. By then they were outside Ryan's home.

"Ryan called his wife, Kitty. Out she came and looked the situation over. 'Give me that poor bear,' said she, 'and get in the car.' She took the bear by the collar and swung him into the back seat and got in with him. When the car started again the bear tried to leave. Kitty took him by the ears and cuffed him just as she would one of her own boys, and he soon settled in a corner of the seat and rode along like a good boy to Dan Shea's place."

[Source: Note in Box 5 of the Charles E. Brown Papers headed, "Jack Ryan's Bear. (Told by Matt H. Stapleton, December 5, 1935)"]

:: Posted in Animals on September 3, 2013

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