A Short Story — “How The Teddy Bear Got Its Name”

A Family-friendly Story For All Ages

Have you ever wondered about how one of childhood’s favorite fluffy companions came by its name?  Find out in a fact-based Original Story by James R. Milson

“Grandpa, how did my Teddy Bear get his name? Why is it Teddy, and not Johnny or Susie? Or Billy? I think Billy Bear is cute. So why Teddy?”

“Well child, it’s kind of late, but I suppose we have time for one little story. Sit yourself down here and I’ll tell you, as best I know it anyways. Then off to bed. Okay?

“A long time ago before either of us were born yet, 1902 to be exact, the states of Louisiana and Mississippi were having a right good argument about what lands belonged to who, and who owned what, and where each ended and the other one began. They called it a “border dispute” and their fuss got so loud that the President of the United States himself, Theodore Roosevelt, heard the commotion all the way up in the White House where he lived in Washington, D.C.

“With it being November and Thanksgiving coming soon, and there being no Air Force One flying plane invented to hurry up the trip for Presidents yet at that time, supposedly the President was not very happy to have to trek all the way down there to settle the argument. Folks traveled on railroad trains in those days, darlin’, and it took a lot longer to get somewhere. Days, not hours.

“But President Roosevelt (and everyone called him by his nickname “Teddy” you know) was an outdoorsman, nature lover, and hunter, and he did start to get excited about going on a bear hunt that the Mississippi folks down there were talking about getting together for him, and the prospect of maybe bagging a trophy bear. Well, it seems the more he thought about it the more excited he got, so the President packed up his hunting gear and off to Mississippi he went, with a herd of newspaper reporters following him to report back on what happened with the border dispute and all.

“Now it seems when he arrived and they got the bear hunt going, it turned out not much was happening. Lots of deer and other critters were chased up out of the woods that nobody bothered with, but no bears. And this was supposed to be a bear hunt after all. But by and by, some other hunter in the area actually did shoot a great big black bear, and proudly had its hide nailed up on the lodge wall where they all were staying in camp on the Little Sunflower River. That big bear hide was there on the wall for everybody to see, including President Roosevelt.

“I’m sure you can understand, this made the President a little sad because he felt left out, not having had any success himself to that point. And with the reputation for being a great hunter, it was probably embarrassing. As time went on and still no bears in hand, he must have become powerfully disappointed, having traveled all that way.

“The reporters said he was dressed up in his finest hunting clothes with riding pants and heavy leather leggings, blue flannel shirt and corduroy coat, a brown slouchy hat, his ivory-handled hunting knife at his side and a cartridge belt around his waist. With his Winchester rifle, he was a sight to see. Kind of like all dressed up and nowhere to go if you know what I mean. And this went on for four days. Four days hunting and four days not even seeing a bear for President Roosevelt. And all after that long trip that he really hadn’t wanted to come on in the first place.

“Well, this just wasn’t working out right as far as his Mississippi hosts were concerned, them having invited him down and having made such a big deal of the trophy bear hunt, and wanting the President to be happy and entertained and such. Poor hospitality.

“They were concerned that it was reflecting badly on them all over the country too, because of that passel of newspaper folks reporting back on every little detail of the President’s trip, you see. Every night that he came back empty-handed after another unsuccessful hunt, those reporters let everybody know about it from one end of the country to the other. There wasn’t anything else happening at the time for them to report on, so the President’s hunts got all their attention.

“The Mississippi folks feared it wasn’t doing the President’s reputation as a top-notch hunter any good either. They were very worried and upset about the President not getting a bear so they got to work trying to fix the problem.

“Well, on the fifth day of the hunt they called out their very best tracker, a man named Holt Collier who had been a scout for the Confederate Army in the Civil War, and who was credited with being in on the deaths of 1,000 bears over the years, as many as 150 in a single season! He was mighty good at what he did, as good as they come, and he brought along the most famous bear hunting dog in the country to help.

“I don’t know the dog’s name, and that’s a shame, because he deserves some of the credit in the story, too. Anyway, this dog was old and it was to be his last hunt. But he was the best dog there was, so along he came with Mr. Collier. One more important job to do for the President before he retired. They were all mighty serious about getting President Roosevelt a bear on that last day as you can probably tell.

“They all set out from the hunting camp with the President very early that last morning, and soon enough that famous dog and other hounds caught the scent of a bear. They started barking up a storm and ran off together on the bear’s trail. Mr. Collier told the President, not wanting to see him ride on horseback through all the rough brush, woods and such, to just hold tight and sit a spell and wait here in this such and such spot with his friends, and he and the dogs would quick enough round up that bear and chase it back to him to shoot it. He was the best tracker there was so he could say something bold like that, you see. “Jest you wait right here”, he said.

“Then off Mr. Collier went on horseback lickety-splickety, with his group of helper fellas, the famous dog and a bunch of other hounds all a-bayin’, blewin’ and broo-hooin’ all through the forest in hot pursuit of the bear, making such a racket for all to hear.

“Now as time passed on things got quiet. There was still no sign of a bear and no one hearing any dogs broo-hooin’ anymore, just several hours of sitting and waiting around. It being past noon by then, the President’s companions gave up hope of ever seeing that bear and suggested they all go back to the lodge for lunch. They knew the President was let down over the hunt and didn’t want reporters telling everyone that he was hungry and unfed, too! Ever seen a picture of ol’ Teddy Roosevelt, darlin’? Don’t look like he missed out on many lunches in his time, so off they all rode back to the lodge.

“Well don’t you know it, low and behold just a bit later here comes the tracker man, Mr. Collier, and his helper fellas all on clippity-cloppity horses trampling thru the brush, together with the famous bear hunting dog leading the pack of noisy hound dogs ‘a barkin’ and broo-hooin’– all a-chasing after one very tired and worn out old black bear. What a commotion it must have been! And they were at the very spot where he had left the President and his friends to wait, darlin’, because he was the very best at that job after all and knew what he was doing all along. It just took a while longer than anyone had expected because that old bear had given them quite a chase.

“Now imagine, here they are with that bear exactly where he said for President Roosevelt to be– but no President Roosevelt to shoot it! So after all that, they kept on a-goin’ and hounded that bear yet another mile up the way until he plopped down into a water hole.

“Well that old bear was plum tuckered out from the chase by that point and when he splashed into that water hole and couldn’t run anymore, he turned to take a swipe with his paws at those pesky dogs, and got hold of a few of them, crushing one I heard. That’s when Mr. Collier leapt off his horse and smacked him upside the head and few other spots with the butt of his rifle. Bamm!! But he didn’t want to kill the bear, saving that for the President.

“Now remember, Mr. Collier had served in the Civil War some 40 years or so before, so he wasn’t exactly a spry young fella himself by that time. And that famous bear hunting dog was old to begin with too, you may recall. So after all that rough riding and chasing all morning, and all the loud bally-hooin’ of the dogs and the President having taken off for lunch and nowhere’s in sight, that old tracker was fit to be tied!

“But guess what? They got themselves a rope and tied that old bear to a tree instead so he couldn’t run off again and get away! Then Mr. Collier blew on his hunting horn to signal they had a bear and sent someone to hurry and fetch back the President.

“Now I say ‘old’ bear, because just like Mr. Collier and that famous hunting dog, that black bear was up in years too, long in the tooth as they say, and after having been chased all day by those yapping dogs and then clubbed upside the head and other places, bleeding, knocked half silly and tied to a tree—well, he was a pitiful sight! He didn’t have much of anything left as he just gave up and laid there at the base of that tree with a rope around his neck. He was finished and just called it quits.

“When Teddy Roosevelt returned, they said “Here ya go, Mr. President. Shoot yer bear!” And then they waited for the loud “KA-BLAM!!

But there was just silence. Teddy Roosevelt was an avid hunter but also a great sportsman, you see. And fair is fair he thought. He must have been disappointed, but when he took a look at that worn out, wet, helpless, defenseless, sad and bloodied looking old bear tied up to a tree, he held up his hand and said something along the lines of “No, thanks boys, but that just wouldn’t be sporting”, and walked away. He did say someone should put that poor old bear out of its misery, but it wasn’t gonna be him. Not that day. This was near Yazoo City, Mississippi on November 14, 1902, and that’s a fact, little one.

“Well let me tell you, when that happened all those newspaper reporters who’d come along to report on the border dispute wrote all about that incident- how the President had refused to shoot a defenseless bear, the President’s self-restraint, his fairness, act of compassion, true sportsmanship, and on and on. And the country ate it up like cake on a plate. Everybody read about it and talked about it. It was all the news.

“Back in Washington, a fellow by the name of Clifford Berryman drew political cartoons for a living, as they were very popular in the newspapers in those days. Now as it so happens, supposedly at that time he was in a spot of trouble for a newspaper cartoon because he was all out of ideas and there hadn’t been much news going on lately.

“But then he caught word of what had happened in Mississippi on the President’s trip from all the reporters, and two days later on November 16,1902 he drew a cartoon for the Washington Post newspaper showing the President holding out his hand saying “No” and refusing to shoot the tied up bear with a rope around his neck. He titled the cartoon “Drawing the Line in Mississippi”, referring back to that border dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana that started all the commotion, to begin with. Some folks say there’s a lot more meaning to that cartoon, but we’ll just leave it at that for now. We’re just talking about Teddy Bears tonight.

Teddy Roosevelt early cartoon

Early Berryman Cartoon

“Well that cartoon became very popular and Mr. Berryman became famous for it. He and others continued to include the bear in future cartoons of the President. And with each new cartoon that old, beat up, worn out bear got younger, smaller and cuter in the drawings. Quicker than ink can dry, that beat up old black bear had turned into a cute little bear cub! And maybe that’s why the story got a little muddy over the years, switching up the true story about what had really happened and all.

Drawing the Line in Mississippi Cartoon

Later Berryman Cartoon

“Word was the President laughed when he saw that first cartoon and enjoyed it all as much as anyone. The long and little of it is that as time went on, ol’ Teddy Roosevelt and that cute little bear cub in the cartoon drawings became inseparable.  Seems everywhere President Roosevelt went the cute little bear cub followed, helping the President out in some way or another.

“Then as one story goes, another man who owned a small candy and notions shop in Brooklyn, New York, Morris Michtom, saw Mr. Berryman’s cartoons and the cute little bear cub as he had come to be in the drawings, and encouraged his wife Rose to make a replica of the bear in the cartoons. He then asked the President if he could use his name for the new little toy bear she had made for their shop. Teddy Roosevelt said that he could although he didn’t see much benefit it would be, and Mr. Michtom put a little toy bear in his store window with a sign that said “Teddy’s Bear”.

“The little bears were a hit, selling as many as they could make and more. They soon became so popular and in demand that a couple years later Teddy Roosevelt and his Republican Party even adopted the cute little bear as their symbol in the election of 1904. Soon enough, by 1906 they were all the rage and “Teddy’s Bears” were everywhere and became beloved childhood companions. Just like yours here, darlin’. Mr. Michtom went on later to start the Ideal Toy Company, he did. And “Teddy’s Bear” is how they were known for quite a while until over time and several years the name was shortened to just “Teddy Bear” like it is today.

“Now, as I understand it mind you, it turns out that no less than three different people have been credited on their tombstones with having made the first teddy bear. I suppose maybe it was one of those things where nobody knew it was a race until after it was over and then everybody wanted to be declared the winner.

“Anyway, it’s getting late now and that’s a different story for another day. So that is how your Teddy Bear got its name—Teddy. Named after the 26th President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, after a cockeyed, topsy-turvy bear hunt in Mississippi a way back in 1902. Course, that’s a little before my time and I wasn’t there that day in Mississippi myself, but that’s how I heard it. Now, off you go, and be sure to brush your teeth before going to bed.”

“Grandpa- do I have to?”

“Of course not, darlin’.  Brush only the ones you want to keep.  G’night, child.”

Teddy Bears are frequently our closest childhood companions, sharing but keeping secret our feelings, thoughts, and dreams. The sight of a teddy bear can awaken and stimulate our most treasured memories of childhood.

My literary friend Little Red Bear and I hope you and your family enjoyed this little story on “How The Teddy Bear Got Its Name,”  and invite you to follow the Writing Pages here to be notified of every new post and feature! — Jim  (and Red!)

If you enjoyed this little story, you may also enjoy “Haystack Harry.”  What is a young boy to do when suddenly face-to-face with a seedy-looking stranger in a barn on his uncle’s farm?

“A teddy bear teaches us that if your heart inside is true and loving, then it really doesn’t matter much if your ears are ragged or your tail falls off.” – Little Red Bear

Teddy Roosevelt with bear cub

Linked Forever– Teddy and “Teddy”

“A teddy bear is your childhood wrapped up in faded yellow fur, and as such, he commands affection long after he is outgrown.” – Pam Brown

Meet Little Red Bear & His Friends —  “Once Upon A Time In A Very Special Woods . . . .”

Old-fashioned, Family-friendly Stories and Fun for All Ages! 
About an Uncommonly Special Bear and His Friends.

“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.” – Theodore Roosevelt

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“The lack of power to take joy in outdoor nature is as real a misfortune as the lack of power to take joy in books.” – Theodore Roosevelt


© James R. Milson     07-2010

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