Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the puppet show is about to begin!
It was Pioneer Day in Mendon, and the puppeteer’s loud cry brought the little kids running to the puppet theater on the town square. They settled down on the grass in a hushed silence as the narrator began:
This is a true story. It took place in early pioneer days in Mendon about 130 years ago.
And now introducing: the bravest man in Mendon, Tom Graham. He was so brave he would grab a rattlesnake by the neck and spit tobacco juice right down its throat.
A hidden water pistol shot a stream of water out into the audience, which caused some oohs and ahhs in the front row.
The Tom Graham puppet took a bow and disappeared
And now introducing: the biggest and baddest bear in Cache Valley at the time, The Big Slough Grizzly!
The puppeteers booed loudly. If there was any doubt that the bear puppet was the villain in the story, these doubts soon disappeared.
A small wooly lamb popped up and the bear pounced on it. Baaaaa went the lamb as it sank out of sight. The same thing happened to a calf and a small pink pig.
It was time for the hero, Tom Graham to take action.
Tom and another puppet popped up. Let’s go find that bad bear, Tom said.
They bobbed across the stage in single file, looking at the ground. Then they saw a bear paw print and they jerked back.
It’s 8 inches wide! And 12 inches long!! Not counting the claw!!!
We need to go get help, they said as they ran off the stage
In the meantime, Tom went down to the watery sloughs below Mendon to get some firewood. Bad luck. He ran right into the Big Slough Grizzly. The bear took a mighty swing at Tom and knocked his head right off his shoulders!
Now the Tom puppet was made out of a leg of panty hose. So Tom’s long neck stretched out a good two feet as his head flew out over the audience before snapping back and disappearing.
This caused quite a sensation in the audience. In fact, I used to judge the success of each show by how high the kids came off their seats.
But the story wasn’t over. After Tom lost his head, every man in Mendon picked up his rifle and headed for the slough. They found the bear’s den. Two very brave men stepped into the entrance and got a couple shots off. The bear did not come out.
Another man pushed his old flea bitten mare up to the entrance. This brought the bear out. The men opened fire.
It got really noisy as two young boys in the puppet theatre shot off their cap pistols like mad. The Big Slough Grizzly keeled over and sank out of sight. That was the end of the story.
This is Mary Heers, puppeteer (now retired), bringing you this Pioneer Day true bear story for Wild About Utah.
Photos: Courtesy Pixabay, Angela-AMBQUINN, Photographer, https://pixabay.com/photos/bear-grizzly-bear-grizzly-7860673/
Featured Audio: Wagner Hoedown, Courtesy & © Sons of the Pioneers, https://sonsofthepioneers.org/
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Postings
Grizzly Bear, FWS Focus, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.fws.gov/species/grizzly-bear-ursus-arctos-horribilis
Mendon City Pioneer Day Celebration, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100066990000950
In the Shade of the Mountains, Histories of Mendon and Petersboro, Exemplar Press, Watkins Printing, Logan, Dec 2011, https://library.mendoncity.org/
Call Number 979.212 MENDON