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This is a work of fiction and not intended to be historically accurate but merely a representation of the times. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental and unintentional. Historical characters used are strictly for dramatic purposes. This story contains some violence.
Joseph Nathan Meeker - 'Sleeps With Bears'
Rain had threatened to fall for several days. Winter was behind them; summer not yet beating down its heat on them. The north coast of Maine produced a hardy people with a bit of adventure in their souls. Joseph Nathan Meeker was no different from others from Maine. At Fourteen years old, he wanted to see what there was to see.
Many Maine adventurers turn to the sea. Not Meeker; he possessed a yearning to see what lay to the west. And so it was on a fine March morning, in 1830 Meeker's mother and father watched as he walked out of their life. Walking down the small rock walkway in the front yard of the house Meeker mounted a horse, his horse, a big bay Morgan.
Meeker's father knew he would never see his boy again. Meeker's mother feared he was far too young for the adventure he set out on. Having raised him the Maine way, teaching him self-reliance, responsibility, and that he had a right to do whatever he wanted as long as he harmed no one else by what he did ... they found it hard to tell him, "You can't do this." Even so, he was only a boy of fourteen.
Meeker's father argued with him through the nights leading up to his departure. Yelled at him, accused him of breaking his mother's heart, but in the end he could not bring himself to say, "No." They never had really said no to Nate. Always a good boy. He never got in trouble. The boy had excelled in school but was leaving school short of where his parents had hoped for him.
His father had a dream, a foolish one in retrospect. A dream his boy would share law offices with him. This was America and they were Americans, a rougher cut of human than their ancestors back in England. Somewhat lacking in the social graces, or so it would seem in 1830.
Riding less than a mile before the rain started; it fell on him for over 100 miles. By the fourth day of his trip, he thought the rain would never quit. Eventually the rain did stop, the sun shone down on him improving the mood he was in, still he missed his folks. Nate Meeker would never return to Maine in his life. Never again, stand watching the sea from the cliffs less than 100 yards from the back door of his parent's house. He would write to his mother once a year and she would write back.
His father would be dead for more than six months when he found out. The exchange of letters ended in 1847. He received a letter from an Uncle in 1850 telling him of the death of his mother 3 years before. Joseph Nathan Meeker hated letters and telegraphs; they only brought you sorrow and sad news.
The boy went westward meeting with others with the same intentions as he. As some fortuitous piece of luck would have it, or perhaps the hand of God, Meeker fell in with a hearty good-natured lot of men. They possessed foul mouths and some hideous habits but still they were what you would call good men.
Meeker became a trapper, he learned enough of many of the languages of the Natives he would contend with to communicate. He also learned sign language, which enabled him to talk to almost any member of any tribe. In the year of our lord 1835 at the ripe old age of twenty, Joseph Nathan Meeker was an experienced trapper and mountain man. The respect afforded him by his fellow trappers, 'the company' to whom he sold his pelts, and the many Indians he dealt with spoke as much of his temperament as his work ethic. In mid-October of that year, while exploring a new area he wanted to trap; a sudden, unexpected snowfall turned in to a blizzard.
The storm howled through the mountains and the snow fell so hard that Meeker could barely see his hand in front of his face. Moving as fast as he could, Meeker searched for some place of safety. At last, he spied an opening in the side of the mountain he was on just as the last rays of sunlight faded and darkness began to cover the land. Riding up to the opening, Meeker dismounted his horse and began to lead the animal into the cave. His horse dug his hooves in; whinnied and snorted protesting this decision. Meeker, not wishing to freeze, tethered the animal just outside the cave entrance. Gathering some twigs, sticks and other firewood, he entered the cave.
Quickly the man busied himself with building a fire. Once the fire was going, he went out to the horse and tried one more time to get the creature inside the cave. The animal put up even more protest.
"Well, the hell with you, you can freeze to death for all I care." Meeker took his bedroll and saddlebags into the cave. He huddled up next to the fire; chewing his jerky ... Then he heard it; a soft, snorting sound almost like snoring. An enormous hulk lay on the cave floor only about twenty feet from him. Lifting its massive head; eyes open and staring at him. The bear peered at the other inhabitant of 'her' cave. Emitting a soft growl the terrifying animal put a paw up over its eyes; shielding them from the glare of the firelight. Laying her massive head down; she moved slightly, settling in to get more comfortable. Soon the sound of snoring filled the cave again.
To say Meeker was afraid would be wrong; he damn near soiled himself. He was firm in his knowledge of just how defenseless his position was. He wondered whether he should go out and retrieve his rifle from the scabbard. Perhaps his pistols from their holsters hanging from the saddle horn would be the better plan.
Looking at the slumbering beast; a sense of peace passed over him. Why should I kill her? She did not seem bothered by his presence. He was not in any particular need of meat at this point. Why should I murder her in her sleep? Some would say his decision was foolish. I'll just get me some shuteye, rise early in the morning and be gone. He reasoned that more than likely he was safe, she would hibernate there for the entire winter. At least that was what he thought.
Meeker, felt the sting of hot moist breath blast across his face. Opening his eyes; the colossal face of the bear stared at him while a huge paw pushed on his shoulder. She sniffed him and continued to push. Grasping the handle of his knife, Meeker stared back at her and spoke softly.
"I'm okay 'little lady; just sleeping like you," the bear turned and walked back to her side of the cave. Again, she lay down and wiggled about until she was comfortable. Soon her snoring filled his ears and he slowly went back to sleep.
The next morning Meeker ventured out of the cave and looked at his horse. He stood there; still tethered to the tree. The snow was deep as he waded through it. The horse seemed nervous and still pawed the ground. He wanted to get away from this place.
"Coward!!" he told the beast as he loaded his gear back on the horse. Mounting up, he saw two Crow Indians looking at him. They stood by the stream, debating between themselves who would wade into the frigid water to catch breakfast. He knew the two men and signed to them, "Good morning!"
They signed back the same. Suddenly the big grizzly lumbered out of the cave. The horse tried to bolt but Meeker kept the reins tight on him, telling him, "whoa." The bear held her head high; rising on her hind legs; she growled at the two men. Then she roared at them. Dropping down in the snow on all fours, she turned from them, making her way back up the mountain.
"She's a friend of mine... ," Meeker hollered out to the men. He then signed it and added in sign language, "Leave her alone."
From that day forward, 'Sleeps with Bears' was how Meeker was known to all the tribes.
Twenty-nine Years Later 1864
Screaming, hooping and hollering filled the air. The bloodcurdling yell filled hearts with fear. The Rebel Yell preceded the attack. Rifle balls flew through the air, men fell on both sides. It always started that way ... that God-awful yell! The dream, or rather nightmare, invaded peaceful sleep, shattering his rest. Jerking upright in the bed looking around the darkened hotel room he quickly realized ... it was just the dream. He had the same awful dream for over a year now disrupting his rest. Cold sweat covered his face while a deep fear gripped him hard. All those bodies piled like cordwood one atop another.
The fear begins to drop as his minds eyes see's him standing there sword drawn determined not to break. Smiling, his fear gone just by thinking of the man, Chamberlin, the Colonel gave instruction for an assault on advancing Confederate soldiers at Little Round Top. It was an instance; a dreadful memory coupled with great pride. Chamberlin led the men in a charge down the slopes of that rocky, steep hill. They attacked while nearly out of ammunition. That attack saved the day along with saving the Union Army.
He quickly moved to the dresser in the room. The sound of the water pouring from pitcher to basin breaks the silence. Cool water bathed his face as he washed the sweaty mist away. Fumbling around he eventually strikes a match and lights the lamp. Three forty, the gold pocket watch shows the time with precision; performing its duty.
.... There is more of this story ...