Charles Cremin and the Black Bear

Adapted by Pat Cremin from a story published in the book BEARS,

by Ben East, a renowned writer for Outdoor Life Magazine

Here's what happened to my cousin Charles.  To help with the family line - His parents are Jim & Delores Cremin.  She was Delores Pierzina, daughter of Louise Blair and George Pierzina.  1 Simeon & Marie Nicole, 2 Peter, 3, Louise, 4 Alois, 5 Me, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Brown

Thank you in Elizabeth Brown which enabled us to put this history concerning the family Blais-Blair and Nicole


One of the strangest incidents that has ever come to my attention took place in the Ely district of Minnesota in 1962. A black bear invaded a family campsite on a small lake named Nels Lake along the Echo Trail, picked up a seven-month-old child, started to carry it off, then changed its mind.

James Cremin and his family, his wife and their six boys and two girls, were camped on the lake on a fishing vacation, with their tent pitched near the shore and a picnic table set up. When they decided to go fishing after lunch, one of the boys, seven-year-old David, offered to stay in camp and take care of the baby, seven-month-old Charles.

David and the baby took a nap in the tent, and when they awakened David put Charles, wearing nothing more than a diaper, on a blanket outside and gave him toys to play with. A little later, looking out over the lake, the seven-year-old sensed something behind him and turned to see a bear walking toward him, only thirty feet away. The boy panicked. He dove for the tent, not even closing the zipper front behind him, and crouched in a corner, clutching a medal and praying.

Not until then did he remember the baby on the blanket outside. When he peered out, the bear was going through food supplies stored next to the tent. It knocked aside a log that weighted down the cover of a Styrofoam cooler and ripped the lid away leaving huge claw marks in it. There were two half-gallon cartons of milk inside, both opened, and it proceeded to lift them out and drink the milk. It also handily dispatched eggs, bacon and everything else in the cooler. David started to step outside the tent to get the baby, but each time he heard or saw the bear walking around only a few yards away and his courage failed.

When he looked out again the bear was standing over the baby, licking his face and all over his body. In that same instant he heard a motor, approaching across the lake. Part of the family was returning from fishing. The bear scooped little Charles up in its right forepaw, much as a person might have done, and ran for the woods, hobbling on three legs and carrying the baby. The bear went out of sight behind the tent and down a deer trail and into the brush.

The two oldest Cremin boys, Patrick and Stephen, came ashore in the family sport boat, a square stern canoe with a 3 hp Johnson motor on it. David emerged from the tent and ran to the beach to meet them, shouting “There was a bear in camp and he picked up Charles and took him into the woods!” The look on his face let the boys know that this was no joke! Verifying that the bear was gone, the baby was found quickly approximately fifty yards from the point of abduction. The bear had dropped the child to be found lying in a bed of pine needles under a huge Norway pine.

Returning to camp, the boys cleaned the baby off, expecting to find mortal wounds of some sort. Little Charles had been rolled in the dirt and looked, his mother told me later, as if his body wore what resembled a coat of fresh, sticky varnish with pine needles stuck in it. Charles looked like a sprinkle dipped ice cream cone. Amazingly there were no puncture wounds, no blood, and no apparent trauma of any sort. At that point Charles started to cry for the first time since the ordeal began.

Patrick grabbed Charles and he instructed Stephen and David to take refuge in the station wagon parked near the tent. Patrick shoved the canoe off and raced for his parents, who were still on the lake. Stopping several times to wave his paddle and try and gain their attention, Patrick was unsuccessful. Pulling up alongside the boat that was trolling for walleyes Patrick repeated the same words David had stated earlier, however father Jim did not wait to hear the following part of the sentence “but he’s OK” and hit the gas of their 12 hp Scott_Atwater  trolling motor sending fishing poles flying and making for a most anxious and eternal ride across the lake.

The terror-stricken mother, Delores, jumped from the boat as it slowed in shallow water, and ran for the camp. She found David and Stephen and the baby huddled safely in the station wagon. A thorough and detailed examination ensued. But the bear had left no marks on Charles - and no evidence of injury.

A thoroughly shaken Jim Cremin and his wife were looking over their scattered camp gear. The children were asking David all kinds of questions, including “what did he look like?” when one of the youngsters asked “did he look like THAT bear”, pointing across the campground’s clearing! The bear was padding out of the woods once more.

The parents rushed the children into the station wagon. The bear was observed to move slowly back and forth, as if impatiently pacing and waiting for the return of the baby. Appearing almost sloth like slow in its movements the family was deceived into thinking that this was a slow, dumb animal.

Eventually everyone got outside the van, shouting and waving their arms and throwing rocks to drive it off. Indifferent, it kept up its agitated pacing until it had finally had enough and retreated at race horse speed 20 some yards, wrapping itself around a tree to eye the humans with both its head and rump facing them. It waited, sniffing and eying the people with no show of fear. If the bear had charged them instead of running away, it could have easily attacked one or more of the family before they could have sought the refuge of their vehicle.

The bear prowled the camp area for several minutes, pacing back and forth but molesting nothing. Finally it disappeared in the woods. The family saw no more of it, but they broke camp and left the next morning. There was no campground nearby and no garbage dump. The bear was a genuinely wild animal, apparently hungry and looking for a meal. The Cremin family had escaped tragedy by a very narrow margin.




As a post script to this story, a week later a Department of Natural Resources employee was doing work at the same camp site when a bear of similar size and description chased him up a tree. The bear climbed the tree after the worker and grabbed and tore off one of his work boots. Being unarmed the quick thinking fellow attacked the bear in the only manner available to him, he urinated in the bear’s face! This distracted the bear then climbed down the tree and promptly left the area.

A hunting party was formed to track this animal down with hopes of dispatching the nuisance turned dangerous critter. Unfortunately, it was never seen again. Perhaps fortunately, from the bear’s standpoint!

The story of Charles and the bear was first published in the St Paul Pioneer Press. Shortly thereafter it got on API and UPI and was recounted around the country and eventually around the world. My family still has a scrapbook with articles from friends around the globe that saw the story and recognized the Cremin name. It attracted some humorous responses also, like the lady that wrote wanting to know the shoe size of the bear. She said her dead husband had size 13 shoes and loved children and may have been reincarnated as that bear. Another fellow from Wisconsin wrote telling us that the story was so unbelievable that he shouldn’t have wasted his 5 cents to write and tell us what liars we were. My dad felt sorry for the chap and sent him a nickel back.

In talking with numerous bear experts over the years we have come to the conclusion that the bear was most likely a female (sow) bear that had lost her own cub and was looking to adopt this seemingly abandoned infant. A male (boar) bear will eat its own offspring and would have most likely had Charlie for a snack on the spot. We can only suppose…

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