Tag Archives: bear

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: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1p7GPZLqfs9hA5d5ZCgvwC448XQJtGZr-/view?usp=sharing


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.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes

Main Piece:

Informant: So in terms of where I grew up there are like sand dunes and they’re called The Sleeping Bear Dunes. And so there was there’s like a story. I’m gonna butcher the story, but we would learn it growing up. So, like a long time ago a mother bear and her two cubs had to swim across Lake Michigan to escape a forest fire. And so the bears swam for many hours, because the lake is massive, but soon the cubs got tired? And the mother bear reached the shore first and climbed to the top of a hill to like watch and wait for the babies. And it’s like so so sad, but the cubs drowned within sight of the shore. And so the Great Spirit created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and then created a solitary dune to represent the mother bear and how she had to watch her babies in the lake. And we would go like in third- It’s usually around third grade. We would go on field trips to the dunes and before you go, they would read that story to you. 


My informant learned this as part of her education in Michigan. She was actually homeschooled after elementary school, but she said this was one of her most vivid memories from the Michigan school system. 


My informant is one of my roommates, a 20-year-old dance major at USC. She’s from Michigan and this performance took place in our kitchen as she was cooking. 


This legend is told before children visit the actual site of the dunes, but it’s taught as a story rather than the truth of what happened and why the dunes and the island are there along Lake Michigan. I didn’t realize it until halfway through the performance, but this is a Native American legend and when I asked her if she knew which tribes had this legend, she said that she was never taught the tribes’ names, just that it was a Native American myth. It struck me how this story is told as a Native American legend, but with most of the context stripped from it, so it becomes part of Michigan’s history while still being othered. 

For more information on the legend of the Sleeping Bear Dune, see, https://project.geo.msu.edu/geogmich/bearlegend.html

or for more on the appropriation of this story see,


American Alabama Tribe Myth: Fire

Informant: I have a myth I heard from an Alabama tribeswoman I used to work with. Want to hear that one?

Interviewer: Sure.

Informant: At the start of the world, Bear owned Fire. It kept him and his people warm and let them see even when it was dark. One day, Bear came to a forest. On the forest floor, he found tons of acorns. He set Fire at the edge of the forest, and began to gorge himself on the delicious acorns. As the acorns around him began to run out, the wandered deeper into the forest.

While Bear was eating, Fire was burning at the edge of the forest. Soon, though, Fire had burned up nearly all of its wood. It began to shout “Feed me! Feed me!” to Bear, but Bear was too far away.

Man, however, was not far away, so he, hearing Fire’s cries, wandered over. Man hadn’t seen Fire before, so he asked it what he could feed it to help out. Fire explained that it ate wood, so Man picked up a stick and fed fire. Then he grabbed another, and another, until Fire’s hunger had been quenched. Man, meanwhile, warmed himself by the Fire. He sat nearby, feeding it wood and enjoying its warmth and colors.

After a while, Bear returned to Fire, but Fire was angry at Bear for abandoning him. Fire blazed brighter and brighter until it was blinding to Bear, and told Bear to leave it alone. Fire’s heat scared Bear away, and Bear could not get close enough to carry Fire back with him. Man and Fire were left alone, and that is how Fire came into the possession of Man.

Context: My informant is an eighty year old woman from a very scientifically/factually inclined Midwestern family. This performance was done over Facetime with my informant, since she lives in Seattle. Otherwise, however, it resembled a classic storytelling situation.

Background: My informant heard this story from one of her coworkers while working at a company in Alabama. It stayed with her because she enjoyed how well the story personified the wildness of Fire, but also thought its dependence on other beings for “food” made a lot of sense. Furthermore, the fact that Fire had not been found by Man, but rather had been inherited by a member of the natural world also stuck with her.

Analysis: Personally, I thought the story was great. It shares many similarities with myths I’ve heard from my own home region in the Pacific Northwest, primarily through its use of animals as characters and its personification of elements such as fire. It also demonstrates a really interesting progression where an important facet of our own life – in this case Fire – is not discovered by the ingenuity of mankind alone. Rather, mankind receives Fire from nature, as if we were successors of animals and part of the natural world, rather than detached from it.

Coconut butter lotion

Main piece:

Out on the trail I saw plenty of bears. And there’s all kinds of advice now where you’re supposed to hoist your bag up in a tree, or spray stuff to mask your smell, piss in a ring? You name it.

I slept with my food in my tent every night. And I knew a ton of folks who did the same! People’d say it was crazy now, but we did it. And the whole time, believe it or not, not a single bear in a tent.

The only guy I ever knew to get bit by a bear was in his tent, sleeping. And the bear bit him straight through the tent! We found out later he was a segment hiker – just in for one night. Not doing the whole trail, and he wasn’t sleeping with his food! But he was slathered in coconut shea-butter lotion. Must’ve smelled pretty tasty.


Maggie hiked the Appalachian Trail (The AT) in Spring to Fall of 2004. She took the South-to-North Route, passing over 2,200 miles of wilderness trail.


Bears are a nuisance along the AT, as they are attracted to human activity because of the prospect of food. They are dramatically overpopulated along the trail, especially in the Smoky Mountain region.


This is a cute story which emphasizes an important reminder – that proper food storage, which contains smell, will prevent bear attraction. However, use of scented cosmetic products is just as bad, and can lead to hikers being bitten or attacked!

In that sense, this is is a warning tale!

Professor Thompson’s How To Get Rid of A Bear Story

A fellow classmate and I went to Professor Thompson’s office hours to ask him for any folklore. ME is the classmate, PH is myself, and TT is the informant.

PH: We were wondering if we could collect folklore from you for the project.

ME: Specifically, any stories about Alaska, the Alaskan wilderness, maybe about animals

TT then proceeded to tell us a story not related to animals that is documented in a separate post. That other post has more background about the town he grew up in, where these stories come from.

TT: Oh, and I have one about …

There are plenty of stories about their encounters with animals and whatnot, um and especially with bears, that was the main thing you had to watch out for, especially brown bears, so there was all these stories of people getting, you know, attacked by bears and chased by bears, um, and the one that kind of sticks out in my mind, that my dad told me as if it were true, but I, I kind of wonder, (laughs) iit sounds a little traditional to me. Um, so this guy was out, um, somewhere and this uh, this brown bear started chasing him, and he climbs up this tree, which is what you can do when you’re chased by a brown bear, people are climbers, and uh, so the bear wouldn’t go away though, he just kind of waited for the guy underneath the tree, so the guy would try to climb down the tree and the bear would run over right underneath the tree, ready for him, so after a while, this kept going on, the guy would yell at him, try throwing sticks at him, nothing, the guy’d be up there for, like, hours, and he’s getting really annoyed, you know, the bear’s not getting him, but he’s not leaving either, and see it’s going to get dark, and he’s up in the tree, and so then he gets really annoyed, and he realizes he has to, uh, he has to take a leak, so he comes down, uh, about most of the way out of the tree, the bear rushes over right underneath the tree, and he just starts peeing right on the bear’s face, and the bear gets so upset, so annoyed, that he tears off, and then the guy can go home.

(We all laugh)

PH: Alright!

ME: That’s interesting…

TT: So as a kid, I always remember that story, so in case I ever got chased up a tree by a bear that was going to be my fallback move

(We all laugh again)

PH: Good to know!

ME: Now we know what to do, too