Historian’s Column: Pioneer resident in Albion nursed a bear cub after mama bear was killed

Posted 28 August 2022 at 9:06 am

‘Inter-species nursing’ is well documented

By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian

Illuminating Orleans – Vol. 2, No. 30


This headline caused a minor media sensation recently and elicited reactions of incredulity and derision. But perhaps we should not condemn quite so quickly.

Lansing Bailey was one of Orleans County’s early settlers. In 1811, he bought land “lying one mile west of where Albion now stands” from the Holland Land Company. He moved to the area in 1812. The following incident occurred shortly thereafter. It is included in the Arad Thomas book Pioneer History of Orleans County which was published in 1871.

“When we went to the Five Corners to fetch our kettle, while the snow crust was hard on our return, our dog barked earnestly at a large hollow tree that had fallen down. On looking into the hollow, we saw two eyes, but could not tell what animal it was within. My brother went after an ax and gun, while I watched the hole.

“After filling the hollow with sticks, we cut several holes in the log, to ascertain the character of the animal. Soon, however, she passed one of the holes and we knew it was a bear. We then removed the sticks and put in the dog. The bear seized the dog, and my brother reached in and pulled the dog out. The bear presented her head at the hole, and I killed her with the ax.

“On searching the log, we found a cub, which we took home with us. It could not bite but would try.

“A Mrs. Adams, who had recently lost a babe, took it and nursed it, until it got to be quite a bear, and rather harsh in its manners.”

The concept of “inter-species nursing” has indeed been documented. This photograph is from the Library of Congress collection. It appeared in the 1921 book Wild Brother: Strangest of True Stories from the North Woods by William Lyman Underwood which describes how the wife of a logging camp cook in Northern Maine nursed an orphaned newborn bear cub along with her own daughter in the early 1900’s.

“Mr. Underwood took this picture of Ursula and Bruno and me with my consent and I am glad to have him use it in his book. Bruno’s Foster Mother”

Bruno, as the bear was named, thrived and lived for many years. We hope the cat that was nursed on the plane does too.