Peno and the Bear

Some stories are just too good to let die. The following story came from the trapper/mountain man period of Wyoming history (1820-1840s). Tall tales made for great sitting around the fire conversations and fun. One of my favorites and one of many nearly lost tails is the story of, “Peno and the Bear”. Like so many other stories old timers would, “swear” this one is true. Whether it is true or only a tail to pass a long winter night I hope it will not go away. Following is my version of the story.


A Canadian trapper named Peno, short on powder and ball, shot a bull buffalo with a light load, wounding but not killing or dropping the animal. The stunned buffalo charged Peno goring his horse to death and breaking the trapper’s leg. In the process Peno lost his rifle, food and possible, but not his senses. He was able to crawl into heavy brush and lucky for him the buffalo lost interest in the mess he created and left.

Peno crawled for hours, intent on reaching a large Indian village he had passed a few days back. Hungry and in shock he finally reached the creek that today bears his name. Along the way he ate as many choke cherries as he could reach and upon reaching the stream drank his fill before blacking out.

When Peno awoke a huge silver tip Grizzly stood over him. Peno did the only thing he could think of—he played dead. After what seemed like an eternity the old trapper opened one eye only to see the bear still waiting. Then a strange thing happened, the bear held out a front paw as if wanting to shake hands. Figuring, why not, Peno took the bear’s paw in his hand and immediately saw a huge festering spot on the soft pad of the bears paw. By this time Peno believed he had nothing to lose, he took out his Green River Knife. Very carefully he removed a long tangled sliver from the bears paw. Once the surgery was complete the bear laid down a few feet from Peno and fell asleep.

Peno knew it was time to exit and he moved away, even trying to walk with the aid of a piece of a cottonwood limb he used as a staff. Over the next few days every time Peno stopped to rest or sleep the bear was near, sometimes within a few feet. Peno took to talking to the bear and danged if it didn’t seem like the bear understood.

After a few days Peno reached the village looking down on it from a sage brush hill less than a half mile away. Now that the trapper was safe the bear held up his fast healing paw to say goodbye, turned and disappeared.

Although this is purportedly a trapper tale it very much sounds like a teaching story, maybe for young Indian children. It may have taught the age old idea of everything, including animals and people, having a good side no matter how ferocious or bad they may seem.
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