Campfire Bear Song


[The whole song is sung as a call and response. A line will be sung by the leader and then repeated by all present. After four unique lines, those lines will be repeated together by everyone to a different melody. To streamline reading I’ve not written the whole of the song like this. For the first ‘verse’ I’ve bolded the lines the leader sings alone and italicized the repeated section sung together. The rest of the song is written without this formatting, but when sung it is repeated in this way]

The other day

The other day

I saw a bear

I saw a bear

A great big bear

A great big bear

Oh way up there

Oh way up there

The other day

I saw a bear

A great big bear

Oh way up there

“He looked at me

I looked at him

He sized up me

I sized up him

He said to me

Why don’t you run

I see you aint

Got any gun

I said to him

That’s a good idea

So come on feet

Lets up and flee

And so I ran

Away from there

And right behind

Me was that bear

Now up ahead

There was a tree

A great big tree

Oh glory be

The lowest branch

Was ten feet up

I had to jump

And trust my luck

And so I jumped

Into the air

But I missed that branch

Oh way up there

Now don’t you fret

And don’t you frown

CauseI caught that branch

On the way back down

That’s all there is 

There ain’t no more

Unless I meet 

That bear once more

The end the end

The end the end

The end the end

The end the end

ME: where did you learn this song

P: I learned it growing up camping in Illinois

A: I learned it from my dad

F: I learned it from my dad too, in our backyard when we sat around a campfire and sang songs. 

A: yes indeed

ME: any personal analysis or thought on it?

P: it’s a campfire song for sure

A: It’s about a bear

F: and running away from said bear

P: and getting everybody to sing along around a campfire cause that’s good times

A: and questioning why he missed the branch and then didn’t miss the branch 

F: yeah he’s a good jumper 

A: yeah, he’s a really good jumper

P: Did ya ever think he was gonna get eaten by the bear?

A: I don’t know, I just remember knowing the song

F: as a kid: yeah

A: I just remember knowin’ it

F: what?

A: that’s it

ME: okay I’m gonna end the recording”

The following link leads to a recording of this performance:


The informants are my father (P) and sisters (A and F). All of us have gone camping together many times. All of us have gone camping during our childhoods. We all grew up in Illinois. Campfire stories and songs are common in the midwestern United States. Growing up my family would frequently sing them around fires in our backyard and when camping away from home.

P learned this piece while “growing up camping in Illinois.” A and F learned this song from P.

The song/tale is usually performed around a campfire, outside. It is also usually sung alongside other campfire songs and stories.

This performance took place in our living room, because I asked for it for my class collection project.


This song while maybe not obvious, is also a tale. the story is told from a first-person perspective, but it is not believed to be a true story. Additionally, the tree and woods this takes place in/near are not said to be any real location.

This tale references a bear attack; bears do not live wild in Illinois. This discrepancy would indicate that this story originated elsewhere, or that the trope of bear attacks while camping is very very common in this culture.

This tale also indicates a common fear of bears. And, the common ways of dealing with bears: guns/shoot them or run.

As P said this song is also popular because it is good at “getting everybody to sing along around a campfire cause that’s good times.” The call-and-response style of telling makes this tale easy to participate in and engage with. This would make it popular in an intimate setting like around a campfire.