The much chronicled story begins in the 1890’s and takes place in Claude, Texas, a newly established small town along the Forth Worth and Denver Railroad about thirty miles east of Amarillo in the panhandle.
One of the saloon owners, Jim Scarborough, had an unusual pet and sometimes customer … a black bear rightfully name Blackie. A bear in itself would today be an oddity here, but a century ago there were many down in the Palo Duro Canyon.
According to the ol’ timers, Blackie was captured as a cub during a round-up in Ceta Canyon and taken to the Rush Creek Camp. Later he was adopted by Scarborough. The saloon keeper kept the animal on a long chain just outside the saloon door. Perfectly tame, Blackie furnished considerable entertainment for cowboys who stopped by for a slug. Frequently the bear would wander inside and beg for beer. A customer would usually buy him a little nip. Satisfied, Blackie would give the donor a grateful nudge before lumbering outside the saloon and resume his sentry duties.
Blackie sometimes caused a bit of commotion with dogs that ran loose through the dirt streets. They’d yap and snap at him when they passed the saloon. Needless to say, they annoyed the heck out of Blackie. It didn’t take long before the unusual saloon icon figured out a way to handle the suckers.
Knowing the length of his chain, he would allow the mutts to back him in a corner knowing full well the radius of a circle his chain allowed. Having plenty of chain length, he would then pounce, give the dogs a good whoopin’ and send them howling back home with their tails between their legs.
Every now and again, Blackie would manage to slip his chain and take a stroll through town. Although nobody was scared of him, he generally got into some kind of mischief when he went on the lamb.
Before he was fully grown, when roaming the streets, his favorite trick was to head for the hotel managed by a Mrs. Weaver. As was the custom in the day, she kept a rain barrel but hers was just outside the dining room window of the hotel.
One hot summer day while Mrs. Weaver was fixin’ the noonday meal she heard water splashing. Fairly certain it was Blackie, she grabbed up a broom and headed for the front porch. She clobbered the bear every time he raised his head above the rim of the rain barrel. Blackie finally managed to escape the barrel, the broom, and woman who was mad enough to peel the skin off a rattler with her bare hands.
But ol’ Blackie wasn’t about to let a woman get the better of him.
Seeing the front door open, he ran inside, down the hall, through the hotel’s dining room, leaving a dripping trail all the way. It didn’t say this in the account I read, but I’d imagine, like most furry animals, he shook and let water fly all over the place.
Blackie finally escaped — the hard way by jumping right through the dining room window … right into the rain barrel all over again!
Ol’ Blackie was a favorite of the whole town despite his many forays in Mrs. Weaver’s rain barrel; and I’m sure he was responsible for other mischief in the small Texas town.
I sometimes wonder if ol’ Blackie had something to do with the fact that for many years to come Armstrong County was dry … no liquor served or sold in the county, even today. What do you think?
To kick off the holiday season with Bloggin’ Tuesday, for one lucky person who leaves a comment, I’ll send them a signed copy of our anthology, A Texas Christmas.
I’m pleased to say that A Texas Christmas is a Rhapsody Book Club selection in their 2012 holiday catalogue in hardback, but it, along with our other five anthologies, are still available at BN.com and Amazon.com in both mass market and ebook formats.