Sissy, a Canadian Black Bear came to The Fort in the spring of 1963. Through unusual circumstances Sam Arnold adopted the bear at the young age of 4 months. Sissy had been abused and the Arnold’s had plenty of room at their Fort, so they gave her a home.
Explore the stories below of Sissy at The Fort and experience how Sam Arnold learned to talk with bears.
(Stories mentioned below are from “How I learned to Talk with Bears” and “The Fort Cookbook” written by Sam Arnold. Books and stuffed Sissy Bears can be purchased at The Fort or online by Clicking Here.)
I REMEMBER IT was a pitch black night. The stars were tiny bright lights shining through pinholes of infinity. I’d just returned from a cocktail party in the city, and decided to call on Sissy Bear for a bit of companionship. I hadn’t been spending enough time with her lately. As I entered her pen and approached her cave, she emerged from its depths, and together we stood enjoying the beauty of the sky. I stroked her under her chin.
It’s a wonderful thing when members of two different species can share a quiet moment like that, content in each other’s company and in the world. Yes, I had certainly come far with Sissy. How many people in the world could claimed to have stargazed with an affectionate five hundred pound black bear sitting tamely at their side? My musings were suddenly ended by a massive, bony, fur covered paw smashing hard against my jaw.
Perhaps Sissy smelled the martini on my breath. Or maybe she recognized a chance to repay me for my recent inattention. Whatever the reason – and bears do reason, in a bearish fashion – WHAMM! She’d hit me across the mouth and knocked me reeling.
As I staggered about, my head spinning, Sissy continued to stargaze as if nothing had happened. I now had a chipped front tooth and a broken watch crystal to remind me that Sissy, however much I loved her, was a full-grown bear, and would always be unpredictable.
But not ever in the ten years we lived with Sissy Bear did I regret the day that the long-snouted, round-bellied, belligerent, playful, and puzzling soul came into my life. Or rather, was brought into it, by the unlikely character of Tuffy Truesdale.
OVER THE YEARS, we took many groups of school children on tours of The Fort. The various attractions included a large six-pounder cannon and the half-pounder which we’d fire; demonstrations of flintlock and cap and ball arms; the root cellar; Indian style sweat bath; an ant-eating demonstration; the hanging tree and trapper’s canon; the pillory and the fur press; Cheyenne tipis; and Indian artifacts including a dried four-foot long buffalo penis and a string of scalps on the traditional little reed rings. The children ate an Old West lunch…either mountain man food or Indian washtunkala stew…and heard a talk about bears in general and Sissy in particular.
Then they’d file out to feed Sissy a cocktail cherry right from their lips. Sometimes Sissy ate a hundred or more cherries in a day, but she never tired of them, and she was always gentle. A conservative guess would be that she took more than 10,000 from guests’ lips over the years. Some of the adult friends that Sissy met this way included: Dr. Arnold Toynbee, historian; author James Michener; singers Judy Collins, Marty Robbins, Ian and Sylvia, and Michael Martin Murphy; actors Ann Margret and Roger Smith; Prince Ogun of Nigeria; the Governor of Bavaria,; a Soviet Artillery General; archeologist Louis Leaky; teaman Sam Twining, and many other luminaries. Always Sissy was a lady.
For a few years she had regular visitations from boyfriends. Although she was spayed, wild bears in the area came calling. One was a slick, handsome-Dan type. We never knew if her rejection of him was coyness, or plain disinterest.
Without a doubt, her real love was a scrawny, disheveled, raunchy, hippy of a bear…so nondescript that you couldn’t tell if he was a cinnamon, brown, or black bear. Sissy sniffed the air and became very agitated when he was in the area.
At Thanksgiving, we slowly smoke-cooked all the turkeys in big ovens right outside the back door of the kitchen and just around the corner from Sissy’s side of The Fort. It was young Keith’s job to get up every two hours all night long to check on the turkeys. Too hot a fire would dry them out, so small amounts of fuel had to be added during the night.
Sissy’s boyfriend was as enchanted by the delicious smells from the smoke-ovens as by Sissy. Just before dawn, as Keith arrived at the ovens in the early light, Sissy’s friends showed up at the ovens too. Keith recognized that the visitor was not Sissy but a wild bear. Both bear and boy took off in a hurry…in opposite directions!
When Sissy was grown, we discovered one night that she was making a strange sound. When Sissy – or any lady bear – is feeling “turned on” and is thinking lustful thoughts, and has no companion, she turns to what my children called “motorboating”. It’s a self-gratifying procedure where the bear puts her mouth over a nipple and makes a bubble-blowing sound with her lips.
This motorboat sound was described by the Indians in New England in olden days they’d hunt bear in Winter. The Indians called it a “humming” sound and they could locate bears in their caves by listening for it. It’s a quiet kind of sound…a gentle burbling you can imitate by holding your lips rather loosely together, then blowing against them.
In talking with children, I found they enjoy learning how to “talk with bears” at the zoo.
First one must learn the “whuff” sound of the angry, hunting, or horny male bear. It’s a deep, chesty, forcing of air out in a whuff. Next, there is the sound of the sick or sad bear. This is a calf-bawling sound Sissy used only once, to mourn a very close dog friend who was dying…”Oooouuuuuuu!” Finally, there is the “motorboating” “brrrrrr” or hum.
I advise youngsters who want to talk with bears in the zoo to advance near the bear pen cautiously so that , if possible, the bears don’t see them. Next they should hide behind or in a bush and shake leaves on a branch.
Begin with a few whuffs…then more leaves rustle, rustle. Now the stage has been set…there’s a boy bear in the bushes and he’s looking. Intensify the interest by beginning the motorboating sound…a girl bear thinking lustful thoughts. Next, alternate sounds…the whuff with the bbbrrr interspersed with rustle, rustles from the leaves.
It’ll fascinate the voyeuristic bears in the moat area, and soon they’ll be crowded together, swinging back and forth trying to get a look or a scent of what’s going on. One after the other will raise and twist an ear to catch the full effect of the interesting activity the bears believe is taking place in the bushes.
Once at the Ghost Ranch zoo in New Mexico, I had occasion to “talk” to a rather lonely looking brown bear. The old fellow may have thought it unusual to find a human who knew “bear talk”. He was quite interested in me, and seemed friendly. Eventually I moved on. My wife said the bear walked after me as far as he could. Then he climbed up a dead tree in his cage, and followed me with his eyes until I finally disappeared behind some trees!
HOW DO YOU TEACH a bear to drink from a bottle? you take a bottle of the bear’s favorite drink – root beer or Kool-Aid, in Sissy’s case. Hammer a nail through the bottle cp in three places to makes small holes, then give the bottle to the bear. She’ll worry it and worry it, first licking the cap, and when she realizes where the sweet bubbly liquid is coming from, she’ll suck at the cap. Soon you can give her an open bottle, and she’ll hold it up and guzzle the sweet stuff down.
It was a great fun to take Sissy into the barroom. Hermann, the bartender, filled up a bottle with fountain cola, and Sissy would belly up to the bar, standing up like a man, to swill it down just like anyone else. Some bar patrons were sure they had reached their drinking limit when Sissy showed up!
To purchase a Sissy Bear you can
To purchase Sam Arnold’s “How I Learned to Talk with Bears” call The Fort at (303) 697-4771.