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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Mrs. Van der Heide and the Bear

Reverend Chrysostom Verwyst (1841-1925) was just a teenager living in the rural township of Holland, a few miles east of Appleton, when a neighboring farm wife wrestled with a hungry bear. He told the following story at the Society's annual meeting in 1916:

Bountiful Wisconsin

"In those days bears, deer, racoons, and wild pigeons abounded. In some years pigeons could be seen on the ground and in the air by millions, but alas! man's greed has exterminated the wild pigeons. Year by year they become scarcer until now I believe there is not a single one in the whole length and breadth of the United States

We have exterminated the pigeon as we have exterminated the buffalo, and as we are fast exterminating the deer, elk, whitefish, and lake trout. The white man's philosophy seems to be summed up in Mark Twain's observation when told that we should provide for posterity: 'Provide for posterity! Do something for posterity! What has posterity done for us?'

Bearly Escaped

"In those days bears were plentiful and occasionally they paid unwelcome visits to the farmers' cornfields and pigpens. They were fond of pork and would often catch a squealing pig and make away with him to the woods to enjoy a hearty meal.

"One day — it was on a Sunday and the people had all gone to church — a big bear invaded the precincts of Mrs. Van der Heide of Hollandtown. Hearing the squeals of one of her pigs, Mrs. Van der Heide rushed out of the house and saw a bear trying to carry one of them away. The animal was attempting to pull the struggling porker over a rail fence.

In this he failed, however, for Mrs. Van der Heide, forgetting all fear, grabbed the hind feet of the pig and pulled with might and main while the bear, growling fiercely on the other side of the fence, did likewise.

"It was a pitched battle between the undaunted woman and the bear for the ownership of the pig, but at length the woman won. She told her little boy to take a stick and hit the bear on his hind legs. The bear growled fiercely but had to give up.

"Mrs. Van der Heide saved her pig, but the animal had to be butchered as it was so badly lacerated by the teeth of the bear. Everyone wondered at the courage of the woman and that the bear did not attack her. Let her name be immortalized in the annals of Wisconsin!"

[Source: Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1917: 155-156]

:: Posted in on August 9, 2012
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