These twin babies were black. They were black as coal. Indeed, they
were blacker than coal, for they glistened in their oily blackness.
They were young baby bears; and so exactly alike that no one could, in
any way, tell the one from the other. And they were orphans. They had
been found at the foot of a small cedar tree on the banks of the
Sacramento River, near the now famous Soda Springs, found by a
tow-headed boy wh
was very fond of bears and hunting.
But at the time the twin babies were found Soda Springs was only a
wild camp, or way station, on the one and only trail that wound
through the woods and up and down mountains for hundreds of miles,
connecting the gold fields of California with the pastoral settlements
away to the north in Oregon. But a railroad has now taken the place
of that tortuous old packtrail, and you can whisk through these wild
and woody mountains, and away on down through Oregon and up through
Washington, Montana, Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and on to Chicago
without even once getting out of your car, if you like. Yet such a
persistent ride is not probable, for fish, pheasants, deer, elk, and
bear still abound here in their ancient haunts, and the temptation to
get out and fish or hunt is too great to be resisted.
rose up.--Page 40.]
This place where the baby bears were found was first owned by three
men or, rather, by two men and a boy. One of the men was known as
Mountain Joe. He had once been a guide in the service of General
Fremont, but he was now a drunken fellow and spent most of his time at
the trading post, twenty miles down the river. He is now an old man,
almost blind, and lives in Oregon City, on a pension received as a
soldier of the Mexican war. The other man's name was Sil Reese. He,
also, is living and famously rich--as rich as he is stingy, and that
is saying that he is very rich indeed.
The boy preferred the trees to the house, partly because it was more
pleasant and partly because Sil Reese, who had a large nose and used
it to talk with constantly, kept grumbling because the boy, who had
been wounded in defending the ranch, was not able to work--wash the
dishes, make fires and so on, and help in a general and particular way
about the so-called "Soda Spring Hotel." This Sil Reese was certainly
a mean man, as has, perhaps, been set down in this sketch before.
The baby bears were found asleep, and alone. How they came to be
there, and, above all, how they came to be left long enough alone by
their mother for a feeble boy to rush forward at sight of them, catch
them up in his arms and escape with them, will always be a wonder. But
this one thing is certain, you had about as well take up two
rattlesnakes in your arms as two baby bears, and hope to get off
unharmed, if the mother of the young bears is within a mile of you.
This boy, however, had not yet learned caution, and he probably was
not born with much fear in his make-up. And then he was so lonesome,
and this man Reese was so cruel and so cross, with his big nose like a
sounding fog-horn, that the boy was glad to get even a bear to love
and play with.
They, so far from being frightened or cross, began to root around
under his arms and against his breast, like little pigs, for something
to eat. Possibly their mother had been killed by hunters, for they
were nearly famished. When he got them home, how they did eat! This
also made Sil Reese mad. For, although the boy, wounded as he was,
managed to shoot down a deer not too far from the house almost every
day, and so kept the "hotel" in meat, still it made Reese miserable
and envious to see the boy so happy with his sable and woolly little
friends. Reese was simply mean!
Before a month the little black boys began to walk erect, carry stick
muskets, wear paper caps, and march up and down before the door of the
big log "hotel" like soldiers.
But the cutest trick they learned was that of waiting on the table.
With little round caps and short white aprons, the little black boys
would stand behind the long bench on which the guests sat at the pine
board table and pretend to take orders with all the precision and
solemnity of Southern negroes.
Of course, it is to be confessed that they often dropped things,
especially if the least bit hot; but remember we had only tin plates
and tin or iron dishes of all sorts, so that little damage was done if
a dish did happen to fall and rattle down on the earthen floor.
Men came from far and near and often lingered all day to see these
cunning and intelligent creatures perform.
About this time Mountain Joe fought a duel with another mountaineer
down at the trading post, and this duel, a bloodless and foolish
affair, was all the talk. Why not have the little black fellows fight
a duel also? They were surely civilized enough to fight now!
And so, with a very few days' training, they fought a duel exactly
like the one in which poor, drunken old Mountain Joe was engaged; even
to the detail of one of them suddenly dropping his stick gun and
running away and falling headlong in a prospect hole.
When Joe came home and saw this duel and saw what a fool he had made
of himself, he at first was furiously angry. But it made him sober,
and he kept sober for half a year. Meantime Reese was mad as ever,
more mad, in fact, than ever before. For he could not endure to see
the boy have any friends of any kind. Above all, he did not want
Mountain Joe to stay at home or keep sober. He wanted to handle all
the money and answer no questions. A drunken man and a boy that he
could bully suited him best. Ah, but this man Reese was a mean fellow,
as has been said a time or two before.
As winter came on the two blacks were fat as pigs and fully
half-grown. Their appetites increased daily, and so did the anger and
envy of Mr. Sil Reese.
"They'll eat us out o' house and hum," said the big, towering nose one
day, as the snow began to descend and close up the pack trails. And
then the stingy man proposed that the blacks should be made to
hibernate, as others of their kind. There was a big, hollow log that
had been sawed off in joints to make bee gums; and the stingy man
insisted that they should be put in there with a tight head, and a
pack of hay for a bed, and nailed up till spring to save provisions.
Soon there was an Indian outbreak. Some one from the ranch, or
"hotel," must go with the company of volunteers that was forming down
at the post for a winter campaign. Of course Reese would not go. He
wanted Mountain Joe to go and get killed. But Joe was sober now and he
wanted to stay and watch Reese.
And that is how it came about that the two black babies were tumbled
headlong into a big, black bee gum, or short, hollow log, on a heap of
hay, and nailed up for the winter. The boy had to go to the war.
It was late in the spring when the boy, having neglected to get
himself killed, to the great disgust of Mr. Sil Reese, rode down and
went straight up to the big black bee gum in the back yard. He put his
ear to a knothole. Not a sound. He tethered his mule, came back and
tried to shake the short, hollow log. Not a sound or sign or movement
of any kind. Then he kicked the big black gum with all his might.
Nothing. Rushing to the wood-pile, he caught up an ax and in a moment
had the whole end of the big gum caved in, and, to his infinite
delight, out rolled the twins!
But they were merely the ghosts of themselves. They had been kept in a
month or more too long, and were now so weak and so lean that they
could hardly stand on their feet.
"Kill 'em and put 'em out o' misery," said Reese, for run from him
they really could not, and he came forward and kicked one of them flat
down on its face as it was trying hard to stand on its four feet.
The boy had grown some; besides, he was just from the war and was now
strong and well. He rushed up in front of Reese, and he must have
looked unfriendly, for Sil Reese tried to smile, and then at the same
time he turned hastily to go into the house. And when he got fairly
turned around, the boy kicked him precisely where he had kicked the
bear. And he kicked him hard, so hard that he pitched forward on his
face just as the bear had done. He got up quickly, but he did not look
back. He seemed to have something to do in the house.
In a month the babies, big babies now, were sleek and fat. It is
amazing how these creatures will eat after a short nap of a few
months, like that. And their cunning tricks, now! And their kindness
to their master! Ah! their glossy black coats and their brilliant
And now three men came. Two of these men were Italians from San
Francisco. The third man was also from that city, but he had an
amazing big nose and refused to eat bear meat. He thought it was pork.
They took tremendous interest in the big black twins, and stayed all
night and till late next day, seeing them perform.
"Seventy-five dollars," said one big nose to the other big nose, back
in a corner where they thought the boy did not hear.
"One hundred and fifty. You see, I'll have to give my friends fifty
each. Yes, it's true I've took care of 'em all winter, but I ain't
mean, and I'll only keep fifty of it."
The boy, bursting with indignation, ran to Mountain Joe with what he
had heard. But poor Joe had been sober for a long time, and his eyes
fairly danced in delight at having $50 in his own hand and right to
spend it down at the post.
And so the two Italians muzzled the big, pretty pets and led them
kindly down the trail toward the city, where they were to perform in
the streets, the man with the big nose following after the twins on a
big white mule.
And what became of the big black twin babies? They are still
performing, seem content and happy, sometimes in a circus, sometimes
in a garden, sometimes in the street. They are great favorites and
have never done harm to anyone.
And what became of Sil Reese? Well, as said before, he still lives, is
very rich and very miserable. He met the boy--the boy that was--on the
street the other day and wanted to talk of old times. He told the boy
he ought to write something about the old times and put him, Sil
Reese, in it. He said, with that same old sounding nose and sickening
smile, that he wanted the boy to be sure and put his, Sil Reese's
name, in it so that he could show it to his friends. And the boy has
The boy? You want to know what the boy is doing? Well, in about a
second he will be signing his autograph to the bottom of this story
about his twin babies.