Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Life as a frontiersman could be a real bear

Several years ago, I met a stranger I liked from the first. Later, discussing Mid-Missouri history, Sandy mentioned that a man in her ancestry, James Davis, had been a frequent hunting companion with Daniel Boone.

"Tell me more," I said, "I’m a long-ago niece of Boone’s wife, who was Rebecca Bryan."

That was about five years ago. Occasionally, we joke about our "kinship."

Davis was not in our lineage, and the name Bryan did not ring a bell for her.

I was thrilled to meet this charming younger woman. There were a few long-ago marriages between her relatives and mine, and some of our ancestors came in the large Boone party of pioneers from Kentucky, arriving in eastern Missouri in 1800.

Today we share true stories of Davis and my relative Jonathan Bryan. She recently gave me this: Davis was called "picturesque ... a hunter and trapper ... rough and courageous character ... a hunting companion of Daniel Boone." By trade he was a shoemaker!

However, in the winter of 1813 - probably because of infirmities of age - Boone did not go on a hunt with Davis. Few men ventured alone, but Davis fearlessly set out and had "reached the western boundary when he was captured by Indians who robbed him of everything! They didn’t torture him, just turned him loose, naked, in winter’s cold, to meet his fate."

In mockery, they gave him an old English musket - with only one load!

While seeking shelter from fierce winter winds, the naked Davis discovered a bear taking its winter’s sleep. With the cunning and caution of a frontiersman, he approached the bear and, born of experience, he placed the old musket within a few inches of the bear’s head. He fired his only charge into the bear’s brain, instantly killing it.

With the flint of his old musket, Davis finally succeeded in skinning the bear! Then, before the natural heat left the dead bear’s skin, he fashioned a rough garment and clothed himself with it. Arms and legs went where the bear’s feet had been.

"Drawing the bear’s head well up over his own head and face, he then lay down beside the carcass and slept through the night."

At daylight, he set out on his long journey to the settlement, taking enough bear meat to last him through the toilsome journey. Davis had more than 100 miles of snow and wilderness to traverse, and he had no implements with which to make a fire, but Davis’ fur suit kept him warm, and the bear meat provided food.

Finally, after several days, he arrived late in the evening at Bryan’s home in the settlement. When he pushed the door open, he found, sitting alone by the fire, an old Scottish schoolmaster.

The opening of the door attracted the schoolmaster, and by the light of the fire, he could only see a rough outline, which to his excited imagination was transformed into an excited evil shape.

The schoolmaster ran from the room crying, "Devil, Devil, Devil!" Bryan rushed into the room and quieted the man.

Bryan recognized Davis and began the laborious task of removing the bear’s dry skin and restoring Davis to a human shape.

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