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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

The Belle of Marble Falls
and the Bear King

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

If something’s printed in a newspaper, it’s got to be true, right?

Good. Now consider the amazing story of Miss Ramie Arland, a young woman said to have lived in Marble Falls with her family around the turn of the 20th century. Ramie, according to a story published in the May 11, 1901 edition of a weekly newspaper called the Washington Bee, was “a pretty girl and the acknowledged belle of Marble Falls.”

Ramie Arland on the back of Bear Man
On the Back of a Bear Man
From Muskegon Chronicle, Michigan

One recent evening, the newspaper told its readers, Ramie ventured out to gather her flock of sheep. “This was a common occurrence and her absence was not noticed by the family until her mother heard her daughter scream wildly a short distance from the house,” the story noted.

Mrs. Arland heard more screams from Ramie, and also the authorative cry of what she thought sounded like a cougar.

“The mother seized a gun and rushed into the woods,” the Bee buzzed, “but could find no trace of her daughter. She returned to the house and, collecting a hunting party, searched the woods all night.”

Alas, the searchers could not find Ramie.

The following day, according to the story, a hunter “wandering in the woods several miles from Marble Falls” discovered Ramie “aimlessly walking about.” He escorted her home, where she “quickly recovered from her experience.”

Fortunately, the suprisingly articulate Ramie shared an incredible story with an unknown journalist. Whether area newspapers published the tale is yet to be determined, but it ran nationally, appearing both in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Bee.

“I was walking along a narrow trail,” Ramie began, “when a large black bear suddenly appeared in front of me. He quickly turned to run away, when a curious looking animal, running on four feet, sprang out of the chaparral into the trail. I saw at a glance that the monster in some way resembled a human being, and it flashed across my mind that I was confronted by the ‘bear king’ of the Kickapoos.”

Indeed, as the Washington newspaper went on to explain, the Kickapoo people believed in a bear king “who rules all the bears of the mountains.”

Of course, unless some Kickapoo just happened to pass through the Hill Country on their way to Mexico in the mid-1860s, that tribe had never lived in that part of Texas. However, biologists do know that black bear once were common in Central Texas, including Burnet County. No native population exists there today, but occasionally one will wander into the Hill Country from West Texas or Mexico.

But to get back to Ramie’s story:

“[The bear king] threw one of its long arms about my neck, glared into my eyes and uttered a horrible sound. I expected to be torn to fragments. The creature seized me and ran toward the mountains.”

Eventually, the hairy critter with a human-looking face reached a cave and left Ramie lying on its floor. Ramie tried to escape, she said, “but the creature struck me repeatedly on the head when I did so.”

Ramie figured her life would soon be over. But then the bear, apparently worn out from toting the attractive young woman up into the mountains and then cuffing her around, lay down for a short hibernation. Ramie waited about an hour to make sure he was sound asleep and then slipped away.

“When the settlers and cowboys heard this strange story,” the Bee reported, “they at once set out in the direction of the Moon Mountains for the purpose of destroying the monster.”

No slackers at tracking, the “settlers and cowboys” soon found the bear king in or near his lair.

“It ground its teeth together, and, while pounding its breast, it would roar and scream like a panther,” the Bee went on. “It was now so apparent to the hunters that the thing was at least human in shape that they hestitated to fire upon it.”

While the men pondered what to do, the creature “suddenly bounded with rage straight toward the astounded hunters. They were compelled to kill it in self-defense.”

And with that revelation, the story drops deader than the Bear King. The newspaper piece also has just about as many holes in it as that bear must have had, assuming he ever existed.

Given that the Marble Falls area has no “Moon Moutains,” no chaparral, never had any Kickapoo and probably never had an Arland family, it is likely that this story was just another of the then-popular journalistic hoaxes found in the yellower sheets of the era. That, or the “belle of Marble Falls” simply needed a good cover story for a promiscuous night out and her parents, pastor and community actually bought it.

© Mike Cox - January 19, 2012 column
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