by TERRY KONKLE
President, Rockford Area Historical Society
The bears of Clayton Cahill will be the focus of the column for this week. Several readers called me with questions about what happened to them. With lots of help and a bit of research, some interesting parts of Rockford’s caged bear history were revealed.
Jim Eadie got things started by telling me that one of the bears was shot and killed. It seems that the bear got loose and wandered out to Wolven Street and into the yard of Howard “Red” Wolven.
“Red shot the bear” said Eadie.
My next step was to see if the circumstances of the shooting could be found. Howard Wolven is deceased, but a phone call to his son Mike proved to be very profitable.
“My mother and father and Les Paepke and his wife had been to a pancake supper, and my dad took the Paepkes home,” said Mike. “My mother glanced out of a window and saw a bear. She got the dog inside and when my father returned she told him, and he went out and saw the tracks. Then he decided to go get Les to help and the two of them, armed with a 32 Winchester and a 20 gauge shotgun, went out to track the bear.”
Mike continued, “My dad was in front and Les was the backup. Suddenly the tracks ended by a tree. My father looked up and the bear was sitting on a limb. When he raised his gun to shoot, all he got was a ‘click’ but his second try was successful. The bear fell out of the tree dead. Les, the backup, then found that he did not have a shell in the chamber of his gun.”
Neither knew that the bear belonged to Mr. Cahill. My thanks to Jim and Mike for the history of one bear.
Ken Ploeg, whose father owned Morton Motor Sales, knew the story of the second bear. It died in the cage on Jericho Street. Ken, who often drove the firm’s wrecker truck, got a call to see if somehow the bear could be removed from the cage and transported to another location using the wrecker.
“I went there and was able to hook up to the bear and lift it onto the trailer. I took the carcass out to Royal Cooper’s farm west of town on Ten Mile and left it there,” Ken said.
I could not find what happened to the bear after being left at Mr. Cooper’s farm. If any readers know, contact me with your information. No rumors now, only facts!
Ken also related some other interesting experiences as a wrecker driver, and in a future column I will relate them to you. Thanks, Ken, for your help.
Bruce Turner, a longtime Rockford resident, called with a personal account of an experience with Constable Cahill. Bruce used to call him “Barney” after the character on “Mayberry R.F.D.” Well, when the constable saw the character on television, he read Bruce the riot act and told him not to call him that anymore.
Since last week I have talked with Jack Bolt, Bruce Turner, Vic Wolven and Barb Driscoll about Mr. Cahill and his bears. A lot of positive historical information has come out of the “Nuggets of Rockford History” question. Next week an account of where we are with our expansion project and a plea for auction items will be part of the column. As always, please contact me with questions or comments at (616) 866-0530.