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  • Writer's pictureNotes From The Frontier

Bear Whisperer – Spikehorn Meyers

Updated: Apr 6, 2020


Spikehorn Meyers was a character. He wore fringed buckskin with a rawhide belt, long white hair and a long mountain-man beard, also pure white, he lived in a log cabin, carried a pre-Civil War flintlock blunderbuss musket, and he had bears—lots of bears—as pets. He lived the frontier life in the 1870s-1950s in the upper peninsula of Michigan, still pretty much a wilderness even then. In his youth, he worked as a lumberjack and miner. Later in life, Spikehorn found a baby black bear that he raised from a cub. Then he began to collect more bears. By his 60s, he had many bears, grown bears and baby bears, all of which he raised from cubs. They were all tame, very tame, almost human.

In his old age—in the 1930she decided to start a bear and wildlife sanctuary where people could play with and feed his bears. He also had other critters like deer, fox, buffalo, porcupines, raccoons, and birds. He put up a sign at the entrance of his wildlife park that said: "Only bear den in the world that visitors are allowed to shake hands with bear.” Adults, children, even babies did. He gave his visitors sweets and popcorn to feed the bears. And the bears loved to drink soda out of bottles too, although they were a little messy. The bears were not in cages, they intermingled with the visitors like pet dogs. But they were not pet dogs exactly. And some visitors got mauled, although no ones was killed. Some visitors brought lawsuits against Spikehorn, but he loved his bear den, and visitors (who didn't get mauled) loved it too. He would not give it up.

Spikehorn had an Indian friend named Red Eagle. Red Eagle dressed in native buckskin too and, together, the old white-haired mountain man and his Indian friend told stories about their frontier life, which the visitors loved. The old man had a vivid imagination and his tales were richly embellished, to be sure.

Spikehorn became famous in Michigan and beyond. He had his extraordinary “bear den” for 27 years until his sanctuary was damaged by fire. He was in his later 80s at the time and too old to rebuild. The cantankerous old man had for years had a running feud with the Conservation Department who took him to court for failure to get a permit to keep bears. In retaliation, Spikehorn put up a sign in front of his business that read: “FEED CONSERVATION OFFICERS TO THE BEARS.”


Read these related posts:

-Grizzly Adams

-Grizzlies, The Lords of the Frontier

-The True Story Behind The Revenant

© 2020 NOTES FROM THE FRONTIER

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Deborah Hufford

Author, Notes from the Frontier

Deborah Hufford is an award-winning author and magazine editor with a passion for history. Her popular NotesfromtheFrontier.com blog with 100,000+ readers has led to an upcoming novel! Growing up as an Iowa farmgirl, rodeo queen and voracious reader, her love of land, lore and literature fired her writing muse. With a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa, she taught students of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, then at Northwestern University, Marquette and Mount Mary. Her extensive publishing career began at Better Homes & Gardens, includes credits in New York Times Magazine, New York Times, Connoisseur, many other titles, and serving as publisher of The Writer's Handbook

 

Deeply devoted to social justice, especially for veterans, women, and Native Americans, she has served on boards and donated her fundraising skills to Chief Joseph Foundation, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Homeless Veterans Initiative, Humane Society, and other nonprofits.  

 

Deborah's soon-to-be released historical novel, BLOOD TO RUBIES weaves indigenous and pioneer history, strong women and clashing worlds into a sweeping saga praised by NYT bestselling authors as "crushing," "rhapsodic," "gritty," and "sensuous." Purchase BLOOD TO RUBIES online beginning June 9. Connect with Deborah on DeborahHufford.com, Facebook, and Instagram.

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