THE BEAR HUG
There’s a story about a wrestling bear that’s been told time and time again around the many mining camps and communities of Colorado. Even today versions of the story are still being told by the dwindling numbers of old timers able to find a tenderfoot who’ll listen… to a tired old miners recollections from the good old days of yesteryear.
Just where this particular story about a wrestling bear took place I don’t think anyone alive seems to know for certain. I know of no one who’s ever heard the story told where the event took place in another state. So, I reckon it’s an accepted thing that this story did take place somewhere in one of the many mining camps or communities of Colorado during its great mining heyday.
The Setting Not for a second do I think it makes much difference as to whether the story’s setting was Telluride, Fairplay, Cripple Creek, Leadville or Summerville: or for that matter pinpointing exactly the year, because during the times when Colorado’s miners were blastin’ and diggin’ out what surely seemed to be endless amounts of rich gold and silver ores from the rugged Rocky Mountains, most of the mining camps and communities were all pretty much the same.
Whether it was a mining camp or a small community supporting a group of nearby mines, there wasn’t very much that happened except work, eat, sleep and do it all over again. Maybe now and then in the camps things came to a halt for a holiday or the funeral of a frail miner who died of consumption… too much dry rock dust breathed into his lungs while drilling powder holes in mine shafts too poorly ventilated.
Life in Colorado’s small mountain mining camps and communities was pretty much the same, except for the bars that hardly never closed where table-stakes poker games were run by quick thinking, slick vested, nimble fingered, fast card dealing skillful gamblers always willing to add another miner’s gold poke to what had already been easily mined from previous suckers. There were often bathhouses proffering hot tub baths where days or weeks of grime, accumulated during long hours of laboring in a mine, was soaked and washed off making a man human again. Then too there were café’s sellin’ the kinds and quantities of freshly “home cooked” food and coffee that made a miner momentarily remember the good cooking left back home -- wherever that was. The big event was always when some kind of a sideshow or small circus act came to camp. Maybe the bear in this story was brought to a small mining camp. But, if I were a bettin’ man I’d put my money on a small mountain mining community.
So get comfortable, relax, close your eyes and follow along in your mind as I tell you this story. Envision a scene on a Saturday night in a crowded, dimly lit, noisy, dirt floored, sometimes rowdy, smoke filled bar located in a small Colorado mountain mining community.
The Bar The bar was lighted only by kerosene lamps suspended from the low log ceiling rafters and sounds of music poured from a rinky-dink player piano only so long as a five cent coin were re-occurringly invested by a lonesome and slightly drunk miner who sat listening to the melody, perhaps thinking why in the world he’s there, barely making ends meet, working deep underground in a damp, hot hole blasted into solid rock, chasing a thin quartz vain with the yellow metal called gold.
Belled-up to the bar were groups of two’s and three’s dringkin’ the not too cold draft beer or sloshin’ down cheap water-of-life rot gut whiskey sold freely for more’n it was worth. Miners, or drifters who hadn’t yet struck it rich and who now were hanging on, occupied all of the half-dozen or so wooden tables. Those who sat around the wood tables and who wanted a fresh round of drinks had to be nice to the tough rosy-checked waitress… she was said to have shot more than one deserving hooligan – treat her OK and she’d treat you the same!
The tall dark headed man with the classic mustache, wearing a long sleeved shirt buttoned at the collar, was the busy bar owner. Saturday nights were busy for this saloon owner who was big and tough enough to manage, with not too much difficulty, to keep the arguments, brawls and trouble under control.
Enter the Bear Around nine-thirty that Saturday night a strange sight walked in through the door… was a man leading a pretty good size bear. The bear wore only a heavy leather collar around his neck to which was attached a strong piece of chain of about twelve foot in length. It didn’t take long for the men in the bar to clear a place at one of the corner tables for the man and his big male bear. The beer’s owner ordered beer for both himself and the bear but had to go fetch em ‘cause the rosy-cheeked waitress said flatly “she’d not come close to that stinking critter.” The bear lapped his beer from a tin pail while the man drank from a glass mug… what a night it must have been. Men left the bar to fetch others they didn’t want to miss the sight of the bear in the bar… soon the bar was getting crowded with the center of attention being the stranger and his big male bear. An animal that smelled like a long dip in the creek with a bar of lye soap would have done him lots of good.
Maybe it was after the bear had two or three beers when the talk in the saloon got around to how strong a bear was and “could really a strong man out wrestle a bear.” Not long after that the crown of by now half drunk miners had somehow gone and done the impossible and talked the nice stranger fellow, the one with the immaculate beard who owned the big male bear, into a reluctant sportin' contest—a no holds barred wrestling match with winner take all stakes.
Seems the animals owner did say something ‘bout the big male bear having done some wrestling before… but, none of the half drunk miners, getting a bit more drunk by the minute and whopping it up louder and louder, let that bother them one bit. Also, the bruin’s owner did not say he wrestled the male bear at even odds and that’s how they made their living. Then too, the miners never bothered to mention Binky who, without a doubt, was the strongest man in any mine, mining camp or mining town in all of Colorado. Binky could, and surely would, out wrestle the bear and the miners would take all of the stranger’s cash, so surely thought each of the rowdy miners.
Fetch Binky Someone went to fetch Binky, the yet to be crowned hero, who was playing cribbage with his buddy Mel; directly they all returned to the saloon. Binky and Mel had several beers while they talked over the idea of Binky wrestling the big male bear, then they had several more beers to bolster their courage… and it was after several more schooners of suds when Binky stood up and proudly shouted he was ready to wrestle that “son-of-a bitch’n bear.” The bruins owner matched dollar of dollar the bets the miners made that Binky would win… the miners had managed to come up with enough cash and gold dust to cover all the strangers dough, except for maybe just a few dollars. Binky had by then gulped enough beer and he was real certain he was stronger and could out wrestle that big stinking male bear. The bear, who’d apparently given up on the men to get it together, had meanwhile curled up in the corner to sleep off some of the cool draft beer he’d drunk.
Making Ready Tables and chair were moved to grant room for a make shift circle outlined by pouring powdered white lime on the dirt floor. Binky did a few limbering up exercised and stepped into the ring… the bear was awakened and led into the ring opposite Binky and remained very still while his collar and chain were removed. A wire muzzle was placed over the bears nose and mouth strapped into place and checked by the bear’s owner for tightness. Some comments were made by the miners that the bear looked half asleep and that it shouldn’t take Binky long to whip the bear. When the bear stood up, sort of wobbly on his two hind legs, he was about six inches shorter than the miner’s hero but the bear appeared to easily out weigh Binky but at least fifty pounds.
Hazel’s Girls Word of the pending contest had by now spread all through the small mining community. Just to prove their support for their yet-to-be hero the sportin' dames, who offered professional good cheer and bought’n kisses, from Hazel’s arrived and promptly made their was into the front row of spectators.
The Match Begins The awaited moment was at hand! The proud, but not too timid to be a tad greedy, owner of the bear stepped into the makeshift ring announcing, in much the same manner as a circus ringmaster, the event as billed to be a “One round no holds barred, winner take all bear wrestling match”… he also said that the bear was trained and would obey his commands so nobody had any need to fret. With no further ado the stranger then asked Binky if he was ready. Binky replied loud and clear, “Let’s get going!” The bear’s master stepped to the side of his big bear and sharply said, “Wrestle!” And the match began.
Sparring From the start first Binky moved to his right while circling the big bear which easily followed the local hero’s movements step for step. Neither man nor beast took their eyes off of each other. Both of the combatants tried continually to get holds on their opponent but for the most part nothing much happened for a few minutes, all of which did nothing to please the crows of onlookers.
The big bear proved he could move quick as a lightening flash when all of a sudden he put the right side of his head up against Binky’s chest and wrapped his powerful fury arms around our hero in a real gear hug. Binky was not only startled by the sudden sure moves of the bruin but also by the strength of the bear’s hug, which was more than he had ever imagined the smelly critter capable. Mustering a surge of strength Binky momentarily broke free of the strong bear hug permitting our man to back off from the large fur covered animal.
Seeing Binky move away from him, the bear was not going to let his human opponent escape for very long and immediately went right after his prey who luckily dodged and fended off the bear several more times before the match turned into a contest of pushing and shoving. Each combatant attempted to push or shove the other out of the ring. By this time the crowd of half drunk miners, as well as the ladies of the night from Hazel’s had begun to think perhaps the bear was too strong and quite a bit smarter then they had all thought.
Back and forth, round and round the contestants went with not too much being accomplished. Once more the bear made a move to wrap his powerful arms around Binky, who himself almost had the animal in his own “bear hug.” More pushin’ and shovin’ was followed with a kind of ducking movement by the big male bruin as he moved in on Binky’s chest and again wrapped his powerful arms around the miner’s hero. This time the old male bear looked like he had Binky for good! They both turned first right, then left, moved backward, forward, circled and did it all over again and all the time the bear continued holding Binky tightly.
Every one of the on-lookers surely thought it soon had to be over for their hero, who was by then, sweating heavily due to the physical exertion. It probably went through Binky’s mind that unless he could figure out something that’d work to get himself out of the bear’s powerful grips he’d lose the contest. His reputation in the mining community would be no more and all the coin and gold dust he had wagered on himself to win this bear wrestling match would be lost.
First one than the other of the crowd of on-lookers in the bar shouted words to encourage Binky but those words didn’t help at all. Binky was caught and held in the very strong arms of the bear and nothing he did seemed to work until… well, it finally came down to a “do or die” situation and our hero sure as shootin’ wasn’t going to give up. Quick as a flash and with great effort Binky worked one of his arms down to the bear’s crotch, before anyone knew what was happening, and began to fondle the bears private parts. The crown of on-lookers soon caught on to what Binky was doing to the big male bear and uproars of laughter erupted from all. The big bear stuck his long tongue through the wire muzzle and vigorously licked Binky’s face and ears. Afterwards, some of the on-lookers in the front row of the crowd said that they thought the bear sort of smiled as he continued lickin’ Binky’s face and ears.
Binky had felt the grip of the bear relax while he worked both he and the bear over to the edge of the line of powdered lime on the floor of the bar, all the while thinking what he could do to get the bear to step over the line and thus lose the contest. Binky later said he saw the big male bear’s eye get sort of a glazed look just about the time the bear let go of Binky… it was just before the bear took one backwards step and crossed the white line… and became the loser.
The Winner Binky had won the “no holds barred bear wrestling match” fair and square by the thin margin of his cleverness – not by his great strength! Even though there was no man strong enough or quick enough to out wrestles Binky, he knew he’d never wrestle again. The events of the night had just been too close for the miner’s hero and it would be better to retire while he was a winner. After telling and retelling the events of the bear wrestling match, and much loud hooptedo celebration by the miners and the ladies of the night, finally, in the wee early hours of the then Sunday morning, all went home to sleep it all off.
The Losers The owner of the big old male bear paid-off the wagers he’d made on the contest and left the small Colorado mining community with very little jingle in his pockets -- the bear sitting beside him on the seat of the spring buggy. Neither man nor beast was ever heard from again.
Back To work Mel and Binky returned to working their small gold vein by day and playing cribbage after finishing their evening meal. Shipping ore from their small mine paid a fair return for their labors and both men managed to save enough money to eventually move to the Boulder area where at least one of the men worked in the Gold Hill and Jamestown mines while it is said the other man, for a while, became a railroader.
Played Out And Gone The small mountain gold mining community eventually was deserted after the mines played out, the people moved on to other bonanzas with greener pastures, or so they thought.
This story, however, about Binky and the wrestling male bear, continues to be told by old times able to find a tenderfoot who’ll listen to a story of yesteryear.
Author’s note: This is basically a true story about a man and a bear- wrestling contest. The story did not take place in a small Colorado mining community as I have written; the events took place on the CU Campus in Boulder Colorado during the mid 1960’s. Binky’s real name was Pinky and of course Mel was himself. It was from my friend Mel that I first heard the story and only later did Pinky tell me his version. Both Mel’s and Pinky’s versions caused me to have tears from laughter and side aches. I had permission from each man to rewrite the story and Mel at least read the original draft. My very good friend Mel went on to meet the Head Prospector during the summer of 1980; and, it is to the memory of this kind and caring human I dedicate this story.
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Written by: Don Alexander Copyright: November 1, 1988 Revision Copyrights: November 30, 1990, April 9. 2004 and March 4, 2006 All rights reserved.