Capt Samuel Pottenger's Clash with an Angry Bear, 1785
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Capt. Samuel Pottenger’s Clash with an Angry Bear
Salt River Arcadian, April issue, 1991
Old Nelson Notebook
David Hall

Though many installments we have traced the beginnings of Nelson County settlement. Chronological order was used to describe early exploration and building of the many forted ‘stations’ which made it possible for the pioneers to take up permanent residence.

However, with but few exceptions during our continuing saga, we have left various tales and stories which give color and dimension to that pioneer period to be woven together in sequel as a fitting climax to those exciting times.

Surely, there must have been hundreds of family anecdotes, relating the individual tales of daring, danger, courage, suffering, humor and resourcefulness which occurred during those romantic home-spun, and buckskin days.

Tragically, most were never set down on paper and finally passed into oblivion with the death of second and third generation descendants of those hardy pioneers.

A few have come down to us and these we will dedicate to all the unknown souls and their untold deeds which collectively settled an area today we revere and enjoy as Nelson County, Kentucky.

Again, we have Forrest Pottenger to thank for recording some of the best early incidents which illustrate the conditions faced by those who braved the wilderness. Although we hear more about the Indian menace than any other single danger confronted by the pioneers, there were other hazards which could develop unexpectedly as illustrated by the following:

“Late one Fall afternoon in 1785 Capt. Sam Pottenger walked out into the cleared field adjacent to the stockade to bring in the milk cows for milking and safe-keeping, overnight.

But one cow was missing and he judged form her tracks she’s wandered off down the creek valley.

Suspecting she hadn’t gone far and seeing nothing amiss, he followed the tracks down an old buffalo path, without returning to the Fort for his rifle. Only a few hundred yards down the hill he was suddenly attacked by large and ferocious she-bear.

Making immediate use of his powerful lungs and far-reaching voice, he began shouting for help from the nearby fort while utilizing the only weapon at hand – the broken end of a dead limb.

Capt. Pottenger knew all the men were out surveying except himself and must have wondered whether help could arrive in time.

His two sisters, Eunice and Ann, hearing his shouts down the valley, without hesitation, grabbed his rifle and ran as fast as possible to the scene of his desperate battle.

The girls were too young to use the weapon, but diverted the bear’s attention just long enough for the captain to drop the dangerous animal with one shot.

That done, he began to look around for the suspected cause of her instant ferocity and soon located two bear cubs in a large walnut tree. Climbing the tree, the cubs were “shook out”, captured and tied with bark to be carried back for pets.

When the Captain and the two girls arrived back at the for carrying the now orphaned bear cubs, the cause of all the trouble and commotion – the missing cow – was waiting at the stockade gate to be let inside for milking.”

(Paraphrased from the original as related by Eunice Pottenger).

Whether one set out to bring in the milk cows or “bring home the bacon”, the hunter often became the prey, with little or no warning.