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The Big Bear of Arkansas
by [?]

A steamboat on the Mississippi, frequently, in making her regular trips, carries between places varying from one to two thousand miles apart; and, as these boats advertise to land passengers and freight at “all intermediate landings,” the heterogeneous character of the passengers of one of these up-country boats can scarcely be imagined by one who has never seen it with his own eyes.

Starting from New Orleans in one of these boats, you will find yourself associated with men from every State in the Union, and from every portion of the globe; and a man of observation need not lack for amusement or instruction in such a crowd, if he will take the trouble to read the great book of character so favorably opened before him.

Here may be seen, jostling together, the wealthy Southern planter and the pedler of tin-ware from New England the Northern merchant and the Southern jockey a venerable bishop, and a desperate gambler the land speculator, and the honest farmer professional men of all creeds and characters Wolvereens, Suckers, Hoosiers, Buckeyes, and Corncrackers, beside a “plentiful sprinkling” of the half-horse and half-alligator species of men, who are peculiar to “old Mississippi,” and who appear to gain a livelihood by simply going up and down the river. In the pursuit of pleasure or business, I have frequently found myself in such a crowd.

On one occasion, when in New Orleans, I had occasion to take a trip of a few miles up the Mississippi, and I hurried on board the well-known “high-pressure-and-beat-every-thing” steamboat “Invincible,” just as the last note of the last bell was sounding; and when the confusion and bustle that is natural to a boat’s getting under way had subsided, I discovered that I was associated in as heterogeneous a crowd as was ever got together. As my trip was to be of a few hours’ duration only, I made no endeavors to become acquainted with myfellow-passengers, most of whom would be together many days. Instead of this, I took out of my pocket the “latest paper,” and more critically than usual examined its contents; my fellow-passengers, at the same time, disposed of themselves in little groups.

While I was thus busilyemployed in reading, and my companions were more busilystill employed, in discussing such subjects as suited their humors best, we were most unexpectedly startled by a loud Indian whoop, uttered in the “social hall,” that part of the cabin fitted off for a bar; then was to be heard a loud crowing, which would not have continued to interest us such sounds being quite common in that place of spiritshad not the hero of these windy accomplishments stuck his head into the cabin, and hallooed out, “Hurra for the Big Bear of Arkansaw!”

Then might be heard a confused hum of voices, unintelligible, save in such broken sentences as “horse,” “screamer,” “lightning is slow,” &c.

As might have been expected, this continued interruption, attracted the attention of every one in the cabin; all conversation ceased, and in the midst of this surprise, the “Big Bear” walked into the cabin, took a chair, put his feet on the stove, and looking back over his shoulder, passed the general and familiar salute “Strangers, how are you?”

He then expressed himself as much at home as if he had been at “the Forks of Cypress,” and “prehaps a little more so.”

Some of the company at this familiarity looked a little angry, and some astonished; but in a moment every face was wreathed in a smile. There was something about the intruder that won the heart on sight. He appeared to be a man enjoying perfect health and contentment; his eyes were as sparkling as diamonds, and good-natured to simplicity. Then his perfect confidence in himself was irresistibly droll.