Monday, January 3, 2011

A Tale of Bonnie the Bear





I recently had the privilege of a visit from a lady who was born in our home. In fact, America Estelle Meadows Pennington’s father, Azel Meadows, built our home in the early 1900s. She had many stories to tell, but one of them resonated more than the others.


About 1916,  a gentleman named Meadows brought his new wife to Meadows Heights, now Verde Farm, to raise a family consisting of  two boys and a girl. Meadows was in real estate and owned a lot of property in the area and around the state. One day, he was visiting the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. and was told a small female black bear had been trapped on the resort property. Several men were discussing what to do with the bear when Meadows said he would like to have it.  Happy to oblige,  the men loaded Bonnie (as Meadows named her) into a metal cage and transported her to Huntington--our current home.


Meadows had a good size metal cage built in his side yard to house Bonnie. He thought it would be a great conversation starter and unique experience for his children growing up with an unusual animal like a bear.


As time passed, Bonnie settled in and was doing well. Meadows decided it would be a great thing to introduce her to a fella so she could have a baby. But, how would he find a male bear for his Bonnie?Well, it just so happened a circus was coming to town. Meadows worked it out with the circus owners to bring Bonnie to visit with one of the males.




All went well at the circus. However, Meadows had no way of knowing if his idea to mate Bonnie with the male circus bear actually worked in the short window of opportunity he had. Weeks passed and spring came into full bloom. But, the tranquility would soon be shattered. One day, Meadows was sitting by a window watching his four-year-old son playing in the yard when the little boy walked over to Bonnie’s cage and stuck his hand inside to pet her.


Mr. Meadows didn’t think. He bolted from his chair, grabbed his gun, walked to the cage and shot Bonnie. He told his wife he had never worried about the bear harming the children until the moment his son stuck his hand inside the bear cage. He couldn’t take a chance on losing the child. Disheartened, and without the will to simply bury Bonnie, he had her stuffed.


The taxidermist took the bear’s body to his workshop. As he was preparing Bonnie he found that her trip to the circus had been a successful one: she was pregnant with a bear cub. Meadows felt pretty bad after receving the news and spent the evening in contemplation, his daughter said.

The bear cage in fall 2010
The muscovies love to roost on Bonnie’s old cage

The old bear cage is still standing today, although a bit rickety and rusted. Many visitors ask why we have that old rusty cage in our yard and Richie and I both reply, we could never take it down. Bonnie’s history will live on as long as we are here. As stories are orally passed down through the years they begin to take on a life of their own and the truth sometimes gets lost in the years. Before Pennington set the record straight we heard Bonnie was a bear on the lam from the circus and had lived on our property as recent as the ‘60s. However, we got the story firsthand.  



44 comments:

Country Gal said...

What a wonderful post and story ! Have a great day !

peggy said...

well, that was a good story to go with my morning coffee. I would never give up the cage either. You should have a plaque to go with it.

Deb said...

what a fun post...I love finding out history of things...

connie said...

Great story thanks for sharing it..

Unknown said...

How wonderful to be able to hear the story first hand and have such a detailed account of the history of your property. I loved this post Amy!

~Andrea~

Judy said...

That is a beautiful story. How neat to have a bit of history of your place still there. I wouldn't take the cage down either. Thanks for sharing your story.

TexWisGirl said...

Poor Bonnie. Through no fault of her own, she was ended. I know this was a more humane way than some to be handled, but I feel sorry for her. Maybe her spirit is with you still at Verde Farm. :)

Verde Farm said...

I agree Texwisgirl, I feel terrible for Bonnie. It broke my heart. The story had a sad ending and I wish it would have ended on a much more positive note. I am thinking of getting a plaque for that cage too :)

Angela said...

I'm glad that she stopped by to visit and tell you the story about the bear. Even though it is a very sad sorry it is very interesting to know the history about the cage on your property. I too wish it had a happier ending. That really is a small cage for a bear to live in though don't you think? I couldn't do that to an animal. I don't even cage in my dogs. They run free on our farm.

Have a Great Day!
Angela

Sharon said...

That is so sad. Though I am not a great lover of bears, they do not belong in a cage. I do not think that was nice of him to put her in that small cage for his own amusement. Poor thing, to be shot like that, through no fault of her own. Oh, it's just sad.

Pondside said...

What an unusual story. You were, indeed, fortunate to have a visit from someone who lived in the house before you. The stories that go with a house are like layers of personality and add such richness. Are you keeping a history of the property?

Missouri Gal said...

So did the Bonnie rip the boys arm off or he just shot her because she could have? Poor bear. I don't think anyone should be able to keep a wild animal. Indigenous or not.
Have a great day Amy!

Anonymous said...

That is a crazy story....wowow. I could never imagine having a husband that would want to keep a bear as a pet.

Maura @ Kisiwa Creek Photography said...

Hello Amy! I hope you had a wonderful New Years and are enjoying being back on a regular schedule...well maybe ;) Isn't that wonderful to know the true story about the bear...sometimes the true story isn't quite as romantic a story but it's always nice to know for sure. Enjoy your day!
Maura :)

Rebecca said...

This story is so interesting but sad(I'm sure you feel the same way). What a great pleasure to get to hear these stories firsthand-I wish I could hear more about our home built in 1855.

Nancy C said...

Although I imagine the story today is more folklore than fact, I enjoyed it immensely, Amy. You really do have a way of telling a tale.

Fantastic! :)

Farm Girl said...

I am glad you keep the cage up in Bonnie's memory. People did things differently back then. Who knows what might have happened had the baby bear been born and a child stuck their hand in the cage. The Father might have sat there and had a premonition. You just never know. I always think about the harshness of life like that but in someways it is the reality of life. My grandmother used to lecture me about how we were stewards of "dumb animals." That was her word. She was always adamant the never should animal suffer. That human life was more precious. It was hard then and it is still hard now but I do understand.
Now you can call it Bonnie's cage in remembrance. It is also why you keep wild animals in the wild too I think. That was a very good history story, Thanks

Heritage Farm Village said...

i love this post though i do not love the fact that bonnie was shot due to an ignorant idiot who selfishly did not think her captivity through. poor bonnie could not defend herself. yes a plaque is very fitting and is a must! i love those cute bear pics. lol...those are perfect! still have those morning glory seeds for bonnie's cage.

Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

Tragic. Another animal dies because a human contains it, and the result is it's death. Poor Bonnie. I was wondering too, if the kid got hurt. Seems to be a harsh punishment for what the child done. This happens with dogs too.

Sharon said...

Everything I read about your farm makes me even more anxious to see it first hand. I'm hoping to get to Huntington in the spring and would like to stop by. I'd also like to meet Angela.

Country Whispers said...

What a great story!
I'd have to leave the cage too!
Too much history to lose.

Staci said...

Wow. So wonderful yet so sad. Great to hear it firsthand. Now it's something you can pass down. I'm glad you haven't taken the cage down. A lovely symbol of rememberance.
Staci

Michelle said...

What an awesome story!!!

Terry said...

Poor Bonnie!

Lori Skoog said...

What a story!

Teresa said...

We also had a former resident stop by our place and tell us many stories of how things used to be. However, the most exciting thing we learned was that our pond used to be a manure pit for the dairy that was here many years ago! I'm glad you had the chance to get your story first hand.

Bee Lady said...

Hi there,

I'm glad the lady stopped by and told you the story. I feel sorry for Bonnie the Bear though. I think back then people were not so in tune to animals and how they must feel caged up. If you think about how zoos used to be, they'd just put animals in cages and people would walk from cage to cage and look at the animal. Now they put them in a natural environment. I'm glad you kept the cage and are getting a plaque to go with it in Bonnies memory.

Cindy

thecrazysheeplady said...

Ugh - the pull of history vs animal cruelty. How neat she stopped by to tell you the story though.

Cheryl @ TFD said...

Poor Bonnie, I feel so sorry for her, but I'm glad she didn't have to live out her life in that small cage. Too bad the owner didn't think ahead to the possibilities of what might happen when curious little ones are around. I think your cage is a real conversation piece and a plaque in Bonnie's memory would be nice. Thanks for sharing this sad, but interesting story. Have a great day, Cheryl

Genny said...

What an amazing story, but what a sad ending. It's wonderful to know the history of your wonderful property.

Inger said...

What an interesting story. It must be wonderful to find out about the history of your farm.-- Inger

From Beyond My Kitchen Window said...

You have such interesting posts Amy. Poor Bonnie, what a sad fate for a wild animal who didn't asked to be caged. I think its wonderful that her cage still stands on your property.

Chris at Red Gate Farm said...

Hi Amy,

It's so special that you were able to get history on your place and something so unusual too. I do feel bad for the bear though, especially the little baby cub...

I just love to learn about people and places that are local and what can be better than your OWN place!! I love that you guys are leaving the bear cage too.

Thanks for sharing... I look forward to hearing more stories, past, present and future about Verde Farm!
Chris

Rural Rambler said...

Such an interesting story with more history to add to Verde Farm. But it is so sad for Bonnie. I think a plaque is a great idea too Amy. Thanks for this post.

Teresa@1800 Farmhouse Rd said...

How great it must be to have all of that history with your home, and to be able to get it first hand, but how sad about Bonnie.

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

What a cool story about Bonnie the Bear! It's wonderful to learn the history of a place. I was raised in a house over a hundred years old. We had an elderly gent come by once and ask to go through our house. As a youngen' I still remember the wonderful stories he told room by room.

God bless ya and have a marvelous day sweetie!!!

FarmHouse Style said...

Oh, what a bitter-sweet tale. How incredible to have learned the true meaning of the bear cage from Ms. Pennington. I think it is wonderful that you want to preserve your property's history.

Rhonda

PS the idea of a plaque does seem like a nice way to pay tribute to Bonnie.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating story and history. A plaque is a wonderful idea to honor Bonnie.

matty said...

What a great story! Poor Bonnie! Don't you love learning more about your wonderful home??

Vintage Country Girl said...

Wow. That's some story! Did you know what the cage was for when you bought your home? Amazing.

Melodie said...

It is so cool to be able to find out some of the history of your place! The story is a little sad but so very interesting!

Janice Grinyer said...

Oh the story, how bittersweet! And the lovely conversation you must have had with America - truly a gift :).

History is to be passed down - you are right not to destroy the cage. Monuments tell stories; and this one is certainly one to pass down!

Rainy Day Farm said...

What a story. That is why the past is so important. So glad she passed on that story. Sorry for Bonnie.

Lisa Sall - Sall's Country Life said...

Catching up on reading your blog here this morning...oh, what a sad ending for poor Bonnie and her baby! Do you think her stuffed body is still somewhere? I agree, her memory deserves a plaque of some kind. Now I need to reread about the ducklings to cheer up!