Updated: Feb 25, 2021
Several years ago my old bear-hunter guide, Babe Haught, wrote me from Arizona about a couple bear cubs that had been captured when their mother was killed. They were three months old and had been fed on the bottle. The owner, a hunger acquaintance of Haught’s, had raised them from tiny babies, and wanted to dispose of them to some one who would be good to them. He had learned to love them, but had neither the time nor the money to give them further care. He claimed these cubs had never been hurt or frightened, and were as gentle and loving as kittens. So I bought the cubs and had them turned over to Pyle, one of Haught’s neighbors, with instructions that they have every care until I came for them.
Pyle named them Topsy and Teddy, and informed that they were thriving most wonderfully, and were so playful, funny and affectionate that he would hate to part with them. It was October when Igot down into the Tonto Basin, and I lost no time riding with Haught and his sons after my bear cubs. The stories they told about my latest addition to the ranch were highly amusing, if somewhat incredible.
“Wal,” said old Haught, “I been a bear-hunter all my days, an’ reckon I’ve seen nigh onto a hundred cubs, but never none like Teddy an’ Topsy.”
“What’s the difference between these cubs and others you’ve known?” I queried, with curiosity.
“Reckon it’s disposition,” he replied. “No kittens or pups we ever raised hyar could hold a candle to these bar-cubs. They’re nigh on to human.”
Teddy and Topsy were six months old when I first saw them. They looked like twins and were plump, shiny, black, with long silky hair and bright, keen little eyes. One of them made a good armful. Pyle said he penned them up only at night, and that because wild bears often passed by the ranch. Teddy and Topsy had the run of the cabin, to the despair of Mrs. Pyle, who evidently prided herself on her housekeeping. And it was impossible to keep house while the cubs were awake. Fortunately they slept a good part of the day. Pyle had twin daughters and when they came home from Payson, where they attended school, they spent all their time playing with the bears.
We packed the cubs on our horses to Haught’s ranch and turned them loose inside the wire-fence enclosure round my cabin. Fortunately this was high and close enough to keep out Haught’s dogs. These were bear hounds, and apt to take unkindly to my pets.
Teddy and Topsy proved mightily curious about their new quarters, and they pried into every nook and corner. There were a number of young pine trees in the yard and one large oak with a big branch growing at right angles to the trunk. The bears took an especial liking to this tree.
We found presently that we could not eat supper on the cabin porch, as usual, for the simple reason that Teddy and Topsy thought the whole proceeding was meant for them. They climbed into our laps and onto the table. Finally we had to move indoors to eat. Wherupon the bears began to paw at the door and cry. They actually cried like spoiled children.
Later, outside round the camp-fire, and after they had been given all they could eat, they became appeased. The bright blaze evidently was new to them, but they liked it. Neither of the cubs would sit or stand quietly on the ground, but would like contented in our laps.
Presently Haught and his son Ed came over to visit us. They brought Rock, the leader of our pack of bear hounds. Now Rock was a noble, dignified dog, seldom playful, though always friendly with us, and he bore scars earned in battles with many mean old bears, some of which perhaps might have been related to my pets. Rock must have scented the cubs before he entered the circle of light. The hair on his neck was bristling.
“Now see hyar, you Rock,” said Haught severely. He talked to dogs in the same way that he conversed with persons. “You shore ain’t agoin’ to fight these bars.”
Rock did not know what to make of the situation. He understood his master, but his large clear eyes had an insulted expression. A low growl attested to his resentment. Topsy saw him from her couch on my lap, but she did not seem impressed enough to get down. Teddy, however, ambled round the campfire, and without the slightest sign of fear, went directly up to Rock.
“Behave yourself,” ordered Haught, dropping to one knee beside Rock, and placing a hand on him. “Hyar’s Teddy wantin’ to make friends.”
It was indeed a singular sight to see Teddy approach Rock. I doubted not that this was the first dog the cub had ever seen. He was curious and friendly, but he halted short of trying to rub noses with Rock. He stopped to look. The firelight shone full on his face and into his keen dark eyes. It seemed to me that a dormant instinct roused in Teddy. This white and black animal with the long ears and big eyes sent out a subtle force of antagonism. Teddy caught it, and then he ambled back to my brother and climbed into his lap. In the succeeding year Topsy grew friendly with the hounds, but Teddy never.
That night we put the bears under the cabin, where we had made a warm nest of leaves and pine needles. I expected them to cry and whine all night, but they did not annoy us.
It would take a volume to tell all Teddy and Topsy did next month while we were in camp. We grew greatly attached to them. George Takahashi, my Jap, had the care of them, and he became exceedingly fond of them. They followed him everywhere, and upon most occasions would obey him. But sometimes they would hide from him or climb into the oak tree and stay there. No coaxing or commanding or offer of something to eat had any effect upon them. Topsy would like at length on the big branch with her nose between her paws and gaze solemnly down at George. Often I fancied I saw her eyes twinkle.
Once George, who did not like disobedience in pets, climbed the oak after them. The result was a circus. George himself was more like a squirrel than a man and he could climb anywhere. But he could not catch those cubs. Teddy ascended to the topmost dead snag of the oak and Topsy backed out to the very extremity of the branch, that swayed alarmingly with her weight.
And there they stayed unmindful of all George’s coaxing and his threatening.
What I enjoyed most was to see the cubs have their bath. Every day George would take them to the brook near by. When they saw the water they would whine joyously and dash pell-mell down the bank to plunge in. Then they would play. Every manner of antic appeared to be instinctive with Teddy and Topsy had an infinite amount of the feminine in nature. They splashed, swam, rolled, puddle. Then they would take turns chasing each other out of the brook and up into a tree. But only to hurry back into the water! Then Teddy would try to duck Topsy, and he often succeeded. If ever in my life I saw boys duck each other in a swimming hole, I saw these cubs do the same thing. Then the little bears would stand up on their hind feet and box. Presently they would get angry and have a regular fight, from which George would rescue them, and drag them wet and tousled and squealing back to the cabin.
I found out one day something that the cubs could not resist. Acorns! No matter where they were or what they were doing, if I shoed them a handful of acorns they would come for me with the same impetuosity as they rushed for the brook.
One afternoon when I rode into the yard Topsy and Teddy were not in sight. At last I located them in the tops of the pine trees, which were a good deal higher than the cabin. Topsy was lying on her back, held by the topmost fork and some cross branches, and she was sound asleep, swaying with the wind. Teddy lay stretched out a little below across other branches, with his nose between his paws, and he was looking down.
Without saying a word I held out my hand with the palm full of acorns. I expected Teddy to squeal. But he did not. He very quietly and quickly got up and began to back down the tree. It looked for all the world as if he were afraid he might awaken Topsy. He reached the ground, and was beside me before Topsy awoke. I sat against the tree-trunk looking up. Lazily Topsy turned her shiny black head, like a fully ball, and looked for Teddy. But he was not near.. At the moment he was crunching acorns with great avidity.
Topsy looked down. She saw him and me. And she let out a loud squeal that to me sounded keen with anguish. She came down so fast that she slipped part of the way. I had never before seen her move so swiftly. She never ceased her piercing whine until she had her nose in my palm, and was doing her best to catch up with Teddy.
One acorn at a time appeared to be all they could satisfactorily manage. They cracked and chewed, and expelled the hulls, with every sign of satisfaction. When they had exhausted my supply they pried into all my pockets.
Teddy and Topsy had been deprived of their mother. They had never known what a mother was. And I firmly believed that to them the hunter who raised them on the bottle, and later Pyle and Takahashi and myself, had taken the place of a mother. There was absolutely no doubt as to their affection.
We went home, leaving the bear cubs in charge of Haught. I heard from him oftener that winter—always telling of some prank of Topsy or Teddy. A year rolled round—how swiftly! And October came again, with its irresistible call to the colored woods. I found my cubs grown into good-sized bears, but wonderful to see they had not changed in any other regard. Haught had been faithful. Not yet had Topsy or Teddy been hurt or frightened. They were still pets, as spoiled as when they knelt with a pan o fmilk between their front paws.
Many and various were the tales related to me. I have space only for one.
Old Bill Haught, a brother of Babe, had come on from Texas for a visit. Teddy took great liking to Bill. One day when Bill was plowing the sorghum field he heard Teddy making a commotion in the huge corral. It appeared that Teddy had conceived the idea that Bill was plowing up all the soft fresh red earth just for his benefit. So Bill opened the gate and let him out. Topsy showed no particular interest in this plowing.
Teddy took to the plowed rut and followed Bill. He would amble along, poking his nose here and pawing there, always on the lookout for what he thought Bill was trying to dig up for him. For hourse he kept at Bill’s heels, and toward the end of that faithful vigil he manifested signs of impatience and doubt. Finally when he clawed at Bill’s boots Bill turned, and forgetting or unaware that Teddy had never been struck, he gave him a smart blow with the whip. Whereupon Teddy ran back in a hurry.
At noon Bill left off plowing and unhitching the horses he crossed the field to go in for dinner. He had left his coat hanging on a fence post at the corner of the field. It had happened by carelessness that Bill had worn his only good coat, a bran-new one.
The coat was gone. Searching for it Bill espied bear tracks in the path and at one associated loss of his garment with Teddy. So he trailed him. In a corner of the corral Bill found his coat, torn to shreds. His precious tobacco was gone. And further search discovered Teddy high up in a pine tree, his big fore paws folded under him.
There was nothing remarkable about this, but what it led to I consider very remarkable. Teddy smelled tobacco on Haught and gave ample evidence of wanting it. So Haught gave the bear a chew of tobacco. From that day Teddy became a corrupted bear. Now according to Haught tobacco was scarce and expensive, but he seldom refused Teddy.
Topsy weighted about two hundred and fifty pounds; Teddy not quite so much. It took a vast amount of corn-meal to feed them. Neither had outgrown the playful dispositions. But playing with them now was a risky business, though they did not mean to hurt.
One day we heard a terrible yelling on the back porch. Rushing around we discovered George Takahashi flat on his face with Topsy and Teddy on top of him. George was scared. But when we rescued him he grinned and said: “My goodnish! I just tease’m little. They stand up an’ fall right on me. Awful heavy!”
I had a habit, when I came out or in with gloves and chaps on, of picking a little contest with Teddy. It never lasted long. Once I made the mistake to punch him a good one and then run. He was after me like a rabbit. Bears are incredibly swift on their feet. As if I had been a tenpin he bowled me over and mauled me, not seriously, but quite enough. From that time I left him alone.
After thinking it was over I decided we would take Teddy and Topsy out into the wood and let them go free. The idea charmed me. They would go back to their natural element and be far happier. I calculated that they would soon fall in with other bears and develop their wild instincts. We led them out into the deep forest, where the thicketed canyon cut its yellow-walled way into the mountain, and there we let them go.
They had a grand time playing around. We waited for them to trot off into the wilderness. We waited hours. We slipped away from them and hid. And at last feeling that they had forgotten us, and had grasped the sense of their freedom and the wild, we took the long trail back to our cabin. I was glad, yet my conscience strangely haunted me. Had I done the right thing?
While we were at supper on the back porch we were amazed to see Teddy and Topsy come limping through the gate, dusty and ragged, with tongues hanging out. Like lost children finding home again they bawled their gladness.
Did you love this story? Find more Gila County history at www.discovergilacounty.com/blog
*Information gathered by Tim Earnhardt and passed to Jayne Peace Pyle.