Arts & Culture

Old man Lepley tells me one time about a bear he was near enough to shake hands with but they don’t get acquainted. He’s been living on hog side till he’s near starved. So, one day he saddled up and starts prowling for something fresh. There’s lots of black-tail in the country but they have been hunted till they are shy, so after riding a while without seeing nothing he thinks he’ll have better luck afoot. So, the first park he hits, he stakes his hoss. It’s an old beaver meadow withbluejoint to his cayuse’s knees, and about the center (like it’s put there for him) is a dead cottoonwood snag handy to stake his hoss to.

“After leaving the park he ain’t gone a quarter of a mile till he notices the taller branches of a chokecherry bush movin’. There’s no wind, and Lepley knows that bush don’t move without something pushing it, so naturally he’s curious. ‘Tain’t long till he heap savvys. It’s a big silvertip and he’s sure busy berrying. There’s lots of meat here, and bear grease is better than any boughten lard. So, Lepley pulls down on him, aimin’ for his heart. Mr. Bear bites where the ball hits. It makes Old Silver damn disagreeable—he starts bawlin’ and comin’.

“As I said before, there ain’t no wind. It’s the smoke from his gun hovering over Lepley that tips it off where he’s hiding. He’s packing a Sharp’s carbine an’ he ain’t got time to reload, so he turns this bear hunt into a foot race. It’s a good one, but it looks like the man’ll take second money. When he reaches the park his hoss has grazed to the near end. Lepley don’t stop to bridle, but leaps for the saddle.

“About this time the hoss sees what’s hurrying the rider. One look’s enough. In two jumps,
he’s giving the best he’s got. Suddenly something happens. Lepley can’t tell whether it’s an
earthquake or a cyclone, but everything went from under him, and he’s sailin’’ off; but he’s flying low, and uses his face for a rough lock, and stops agin some bushes. When he wakes up he don’t hear harps nor smell smoke. It ain’t till then he remembers he don’t untie his rope. The snag snapped off, and his hoss is tryin’ to drag it out of the country, and Mr. Bear, by the sound of breaking brush, is hunting a new range and it won’t be anywhere near where they met. When his hoss stops on the end of the rope, that old snag snaps and all her branches scatter over the park. I guess Mr. Bear thinks the hoss has turned on him. Maybe some of them big limbs bounced on him and he thinks the hoss has friends and they’re throwing clubs at him. Anyhow, Mr. Bear gives the fight to Lepley and the hoss.

“Lepley says that for months he has to walk that old hoss a hundred yards before he can spur him into a lope, and that you could stake him on a hairpin and he’d stay.”

Editor’s note: Charlie Russell, who loathed writing, was a natural storyteller in addition to being a superb cowboy artist. Sometimes his main motive to write was to have something to illustrate. This story appeared in Trails Plowed Under, a genuine western classic.