Saturday, February 10, 2018

The bear facts about Chariton

Bears are rare these days in Lucas County and I may have discovered why. In the past, when one of these rare creatures appeared in or near Chariton, it was eaten by the natives.

I found the first indication of this on the front page of The Chariton Leader of Jan. 23, 1919, under the headline, "The Bear Feast: A Big Crowd Was at the Banquet of Bruin:"

"Several months since, a citizen of Tipperary became possessed of a cub bear, which he carefully raised as a zoological wonder until it reached that period in its existence when the instincts of its wild nature began to predominate and it became dangerous and troublesome, so he decided the best thing he could do was dispose of the beast at the best figures possible. So he loaded the animal in his Ford car, well chained and came over to Chariton.

"Soon a deal was struck up by and between him and several of our gamey citizens, and the carnivorous beast changed ownership. Here was a wild west feature in reality. There had been raccoon bakes in town on diverse and numerous occasions --- and Possum feasts galore, but here was a chance for bear steaks and all the accessories.

"On a propitious day after the transfer of bruin was made, the ferocious beast was set free and the chief Nimrod of the purchasing company, armed with a bear gun, did the execution and the bear soon lost his hide and his flesh was placed in the ice box in order to temper for the feast.

"On last Thursday night the occasion arrived which the epicurean hosts had been looking forward to and longed for, and the home of Dr. Sam V. Carpenter had been selected for the feast of the mountains. All day Lewis Jackson, the best chef in southern Iowa, with his assistants, had been preparing the savory repast and the company of gentlemen had been given notice to appear not later than 7:30 in the evening and the great culinary tragedy would be pulled off not much later, and between 35 and 40 responded.

"And what a feast it was --- bear steaks and a banquet of accessories worthy of the epicurean hosts there assembled. And what good cheer abounded. Toasts were proposed and responded to and the theme of friendship invaded the innermost thoughts, and sociability reigned until near the midnight hour. It was a merry feast and a lively occasion. If anyone else has unruly bears for sale, call the Epicurean Club, Chariton, Iowa, U.S.A."


Lucas was a dry county; the 18th amendment would kick in nationwide in a year; and Methodists were forbidden by their Book of Discipline to drink alcoholic beverages. So we can assume, of course, that all of those toasts involved sarsaparilla and nothing stronger.


Less than 10 years later, another unfortunate bear arrived in Chariton --- this one partially disassembled and in the back of George Steinbach's truck. It's arrival was reported upon in The Herald-Patriot of Feb. 3, 1927, as follows under the headline, "Bear Steaks Served: George Steinbach Slaughtered Bruin and Has It on the Shambrels:"

"There was a gentleman by the name of Johnson, at Knoxville, who owned a bear. This bear had become ferocious and unruly and the owner decided it was best to get rid of it, so he offered it for sale. George Steinbach, of the north side market, in Chariton, purchased it, so went over with the truck, and after slaughtering the beast, brought the carcass home, and now bear meat is for sale, a luxury never indulged in by many. The bear had a fine robe on, which is valuable. The owner will probably have this robe prepared according to the Indian formula, and convert it into a luxuriant rug."


There were no follow-up reports, so we have no way of knowing how many Lucas Countyans rushed to Steinbach Meat Market to bring bear steak home. Or if somewhere, deep in the collective Steinbach subconscious, is the memory of bear roast served up rather than chicken for Sunday dinner  that winter if the patriarch's marketing strategy failed.

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