Thursday, September 18, 2014

My 4x Great Grandfather Had a Pet Bear!!!

As a child, I loved to watch Grizzly Adams on television along with his pet bear, Ben. I had no idea that my own ancestor, Robert Stewart, also had a pet bear! His bear's name was "Bruin" (which means "bear") and they lived in Pennsylvania in the mid-1800's. While doing research, I uncovered an article titled "Mike Swartz and the Black Bear" in "History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania" which was published in 1883. The "black bear" in this story was Bruin, and I'm assuming things turned out alright. Robert died about 30 years before this book was published, but I can imagine the stories of him & Bruin being told at gatherings throughout the county. I'm thankful this story was preserved in print.

Grizzly Adams & his pet bear, from Wikipedia

Mike Swartz and the Black Bear

A tame bear belonging to the family of Robert Stewart was missing one morning, whereupon a man by the name of Mike Swartz and Mr. Stewart went in pursuit of him. After a while he was discovered in a tree a short distance from the house. One of the men, who had a gun, fired at the bear, and succeeded in bringing him to the ground, but slightly wounded. In order to prevent Bruin from escaping Mike ran up and caught hold of the bear, which in turn Bruin caught Mike by the hand with his mouth, at the same time giving him a hug such only as bears can give; at which Mike called out to his companion, who was at a safe distance, to come to his assistance, but Stewart, who no doubt thought "self-preservation the first law of nature," coolly replied, "Mike, if you were my own born dear brother I could do nothing for you under the circumstances."

For Sale, Public Ledger, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 10 Sep 1845, page 2, column 5;
digital image, ( accessed 18 Sep 2014)
As I looked for any newspaper article about my ancestor and his bear, I came across a lot of pet bear stories even into the 1900's. As could be expected, many of them did not have happy endings. Above is one clipping from Pennsylvania in 1845 offering a pet bear for sale. I wonder if Robert bought his bear or found an orphaned cub and raised it.

Do we share common ancestors? I'd love to talk! Please leave a comment or email me at

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