Who is Eddie Little Bear?

They call me Eddie Little Bear. That's not my real name, but on just about every weekend from April through October, that's the name I go by. I am a "Living History Reenactor". Or, to put it another way, on the weekends I portray a historical character. Here is the story of Eddie Little Bear;

Eddie Little Bear is a poet, a scholar, an adventurer, a philosopher and a teller of tall tales. He could be described as a "Mountain Man". But that isn't quite right. He has spent some time with Mountain Men, as well as with various Indian Tribes. He is a white man by birth and an Ojibwa by adoption. His grandparents, on his mother's side, were an English Colonial woman and a French Canadian fur trapper (or Voyageur). His Father's side is Irish and Scottish, although his exact lineage is somewhat clouded. His paternal grandmother was the Irish wife of a Scottish Clansman. She was sent to the Colonies as an indentured servant after her husband was hung for "Sedition against the Crown". Her indentures were bought by an English garrison in New York, where she was to work as a maid for the officers. Eddie's paternal grandfather was one of those officers. But there's no knowing which one. The tale is not a pretty one. She got even though. When the Revolution began, she grabbed all the important looking papers she could find, gave them to her son (Eddie's father, who was about 6 years old then) and sent him running to the Colonial Militia. He never saw her again.

Eddie spent his early years living on his family farm in Kentucky, on the banks of the Ohio river. All summer long, he watched the flat boats moving their mysterious cargos up and down the river. And, at an early age, he decided that he wasn't interested in becoming a farmer, like his father. Which was okay because he had an older brother who did want to be a farmer. Instead, Eddie dreamed about being a Voyageur, like his grandfather had been. So, when he came of age (about 16), he said goodbye to his family, went down to the river bank and hitched a ride on the first boat that would stop. It didn't matter where it was going. He soon learned that he could get free rides to just about anywhere by offering to help move the cargo. If he stayed on for the whole journey, he might even get paid as well.

Eddie spent several years moving cargo up and down all of the major rivers, the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Wabash, the Illinois, the Sangamon and even parts of the Missouri (after Lewis and Clark opened it). And, like most people of his day, St. Louis became his "Home Port". During this time he made a number of, what he hoped would someday be, important business contacts. One of these was a shopkeeper in St. Louis named Humer. Mr. Humer was very closed mouth about his past, saying only that his life began the day he set up shop in St. Louis. Eddie felt that he was of German or Austrian heritage. And, with Napoleon trying to conquer all of Europe by "purging" many royal families (especially those from Austria), Eddie didn't press him for any more.

Mr. Humer had a daughter named Sarah and, to make a long story short, Eddie and Sarah eventually fell in love and got married. Now Sarah was a smart woman. And she knew that she would have a hard time stopping Eddie's wandering ways. So she devised a plan to control them instead. She convinced her father that, now that Lewis and Clark had opened the Northwest Territory, many trappers and hunters would follow them. And they would need supplies. Supplies that they would trade dearly for - if those supplies could be brought to them. She arranged for Eddie (representing Humer's Dry Goods) to join up with a group of merchants who planned on taking trade goods to the trappers every year. As Sarah hoped, the annual treks kept Eddie's wander lust in check quite well.

Then, on one trip, Eddie was headed back home. It had been a pretty good trip, though he still had a small amount of trade goods left. While on the road, he ran into a group of Indians he had met when he was working cargo. They wanted some of his trade goods, but they had no pelts to trade. Eddie, being a little soft hearted, traded them anyway. He got fancy beadwork and stone tomahawks in trade for knives and hatchets. He knew his father-in-law would be upset. But, the rest of the trip had been profitable, so he wouldn't be too upset. Well, Mr. Humer did forgive him, but he hung the beads and such in the store as a reminder not to do it again.

Then a strange thing happened. One of the members of the St. Louis upper class came in one day, admired a string of beads and offered Mr. Humer a goodly sum to buy it. And suddenly Indian artifacts became the rage with the upper class in and around St. Louis. Eddie and Mr. Humer quickly realized that it might just be more profitable to trade with the Indians than it was with the trappers and hunters. And the advantage that Eddie had over the other merchants around was that he already had the "contacts" for such an enterprise. During his years moving cargo, he had made a number of friends among the Indians, including being adopted by the Ojibwa.

Since this would be a somewhat secret venture, Eddie broke away from the merchants group in order to be able to travel alone. However, his wife Sarah decided he wasn't going to be alone. She and their children would be at his side, where she felt they belonged. Neither Eddie nor Mr. Humer were thrilled by this idea, but both knew Sarah well enough to know she would eventually get her own way. So, they gave in. Now Eddie Little Bear, his wife Sarah and their children, Elizabeth, Jessica, Anthony and Dorothea, spend their spring and summer traveling all over the Northwest Territory, visiting the various Indian tribes. Eddie used to travel into the Dakotas and out onto the Plains as well, but he doesn't do that much anymore. You see, not all of the Tribes out west are as friendly as they are in the Midwest. And, as Eddie puts it " Sarah's hair is just too dang pretty to be hangin' on anybody's lodgepole but mine!"

The family lives in a Tipi, which Sarah was given by a group of Cheyenne women, who decided she was a pretty dang good wife - for a white woman. They set up wherever they think there might be a trade to make. Sarah tries her best to keep Eddie and the children "civilized", properly dressed and washed. But she seems to be fighting a losing battle. Eddie and the children become more "native" with each passing year. Sarah has even adopted some of the Indian customs herself, though she still carries herself like a proper St. Louis lady. In the fall they return to St. Louis where they spend the winter. It is an exciting and profitable way of life.

So, the next time you are at a Living History Rendezvous in the Northwest Territory (Illinois, Wisconsin, and parts of Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri), look to see if there is a great big Tipi (with red streamers and a long auburn scalp hanging from the lodge poles). And if out in front of it is sitting a fella in a feathered top hat (who looks kind of like a bear), a "city-fied" looking lady (whose hair sorta matches the scalp on the lodgepole) and a passel of kids, just walk up to him and say "Are you Eddie Little Bear?"


Who is Eddie Little Bear / Ed "Eddie Little Bear" Emerson / elb@elbtipi.com / updated 03/12/97