Bear-Claw John

Reads: 1546  | Likes: 2  | Shelves: 1  | Comments: 2

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic

John and his wife are concerned about their son's behavior and his habit for getting into fights. John, who was known as Bear-Claw, decides to talk to him and help him understand that this won't be good for him later on down the road.

Bear-Claw John


John glanced out the window and saw his son, yet again leaning against a wood framed fence in the early morning of the day watching the wide expanse of the knoll lands ahead of him.  He sighed heavily.  He knew why he was there again.  Rilan had gotten himself into another fix with a kid and was looking for a fist fight.  He and his wife, Kate, had already gotten into many arguments with Rilan about his roughing behavior on numerous occasions, but always after he earned bloody cuts and purples bruises.

Kate saw the long tired expression on his face. “Not again John.” She knew what that face meant. “I don’t want to have another fight on our property again and you know it.”

“You know I do.” John was still gazing at his anxious son, “And you know that there’s nothing you or I can do to tell him otherwise.  We’ve tried that already, but his ears start swelling up and nothing is going to get in that hard head of his.”

“I mean it this time.” She wrung the curtain as she came beside John and watched with him. “Either he stops this nonsense or he leaves the ranch.  I don’t want to be the one to carry his dead body to the grave on my land.  I can’t bear it and I don’t want to.” She looked over to him.  John had a large, stocky frame, forearms the size of a big tree branch, dry brown wavy hair, and a blonde mustache over his lip, “There’s nothing I can say to him.  But you can.”

He shook his head, “No.” He moved solemnly away from the window. “I’m not getting involved in this.  This is his fight.”

He was heading towards the kitchen to the back door to work in the fields where he always went when Rilan was about to get into a fight. “John!” Kate said sharply. “I won’t have it.  I won’t have another quarrel here.  You need to talk to him or he’s never stepping another foot in this house or on this land.  Please.”  There was a long pause and Kate spoke softly with emotion “I don’t want to lose my son to this.  I don’t want the same thing that happen to you to happen again.  You know what I mean.”

John stood with his back to his wife for a while and then his shoulders rose.  He turned and walked to the front, throwing on his leather coat and hat, and went out the door.  It was early spring and the cold air chilled his face and hands as he went through the thin beaten path dividing the long lush grass closer to where Rilan stood.  Without much of an invitation, he leaned on the cross frame by his forearms without much word.  Rilan was a young man only as tall as Jubal’s shoulders, long dark brown hair, square jawbone, and also stocky himself but not as huge as Jubal.  His eyes were large with anticipation while he watched the land ahead like a hawk searching for prey.

John looked out on the horizon with him. “Who is it this time?”

“Tyson McCullen and his gang.” Rilan said without glancing. “They said they’d be here long before eleven o’ clock to settle things.” He made a wolfish grin, “I reckon they chick’d out and ain’t coming.”

John bobbed his head, nodded. “What’s it all about this time?”

“You’d just get mad at me like you and ma always do.” Rilan fidgeted.

“Humor me.”

Rilan gave a fortified silence, but then he spat out, “Making fun of you and insulting your name.”

“You think I care what anyone says about me?”

Rilan shot a glance at him, “I sure as heck do!” then his gaze went back on the horizon, “Ain’t no one gonna disrespect my family in front of me or else they’d regret it.”

John silently thought for a moment and then looked into Rilan’s eyes though they weren’t looking back. “Help me understand something Rilan.  What are you out to prove?  What does all this fighting do for you?”

“It proves that I’m not a kid and that I can take care of myself.”

“You don’t need to get defensive with me.  You remember, I’ve been in your boots and I know why I did the things I did and that makes you and me the same, you see.  I’ve had my fair share of fights as much as you have.  I’m asking you like a friend does to another.  Do you think I’m your friend, Rilan?”

Rilan thought for a moment and then replied, “Of course you are pa.” He shifted, “It’s like you said, you and I are the same.  I’m only doing this for you and that’s the only reason why I’m fighting today.”  He looked into his father’s eyes, “Excuse me for saying, but your also wrong.  You’re not the same as me because you don’t get it.  I’ve said it many times and you still just don’t get it.”

“Then help me.  Give me a look in your head and maybe I’ll get it.”

For a moment, Rilan shut his eyes in thought for a moment and then looked back up over the distance, “It’s like this.  People in town, they know you as Bear-Claw.  I mean, folks always call me ‘Bear-Claw’s cub’.  They know what you’ve done and they respect you.  You’ve been in many fights yourself.  Heck, you wrestled a bear and pried its claws off and that’s how you got your name.  No one’s ever done that.  You picked up Nicolas Smith with just one arm and threw him clear across the street, and that was when you were about as old as me.  The only reason why I heard about you and Nick was from Nick himself!  He won’t dare come talk to you now that you’re as big as a bear, kinda the other reason people call you your nickname.  I know you would never say anything about your past except for something as bland as your fighting attitude, but I hear these stories from others.  See, my point is that when people look at me, they’re expecting that I’ll be like you.  I mean, that’s a name to live up to when you’re the child of someone respected.  I want to be just like you pa.  People respect you and that’s what I’m fixing to get.”

John listened dully.  He remembered quite well about his own past, but was annoyed because that’s all people would talk to him about. “So your reason for this rough behavior is to prove you’re like me?”

“You bet that is.  I’m gonna show them that I’m good with what your known for.”

“What I’m known for is what I’m ashamed of.” John rubbed his hands together to keep them warm, “Have I ever told you why I quit?”

Rilan nodded, “Yeah I remember.  It was because of ma getting you to.”

John shook his head, “She didn’t get me to do stop the fights.  She’s the reason why I had to because it would’ve eventually ended with me buried under six feet of dirt and your mother widowed.”

“I still don’t see why you would when you got people who know not to get in your way.” Rilan pushed off and started for the other side of the fence.

“Your turn to have a look inside my head.” John called after him.  Rilan came to a stop and turned to face him, indifferent to whatever he was about to say.

“I assume people didn’t tell you the whole truth about me and my run in with that grizzly, so I’ll let you in on something folks don’t even know about.  I was only a few years older than you and I was bringing your mother out to the woods to a favorite spot of mine to have time to ourselves.  At least I thought we were alone, but I supposed that I could protect her from anything.”

“I didn’t know ma was with you.”

“No one does.  The only reason why people got wind of my run in was because of Jimmy the Red.  He wanted a quarrel with me for stealing your mother.  I didn’t expect it when I got slammed on the back of my head.  You already know how it feels when someone gets the jump on you and what you do after, right?”

“You go for anything that’s behind you.”

“Because if you don’t, he’ll get the second one on you.” John finished the thought, “I just turned and charged at anything behind me out of that rush.  But Jimmy was quick and, you know, I go so fast that I can’t stop and I ran into a grizzly.  I figure she was already heading our way for the food and I got unlucky that time.  She got agitated as was certain with her growling and roaring.  I would know.  My head was right up against hers.  At that instant, I was scared.  I thought I was going to die with her teeth tearing me apart.”

Rilan’s demeanor changed to awe, “You were scared?” Even though he had heard it from so many others.

“Yeah.  For a moment, I was afraid to die.  But then I thought about your mother and I was more scared for her than for me and nothing else mattered anymore.  So I hugged her tight and didn’t dare let go or if I did, she would’ve killed your mother.  I don’t remember much during that except that she was real mean and did everything she could to get me off of her.  Roll on the ground, try bite me, crush me, but I was determined not to let go.  But I was getting tired and then she broke free.  The next thing I knew I was on my back and she was coming at me with her paw.  I didn’t even think but my arm shot up and grabbed her arm and I started pulling away at her claws.  I sure don’t even know what I was thinking, prying at her like that.  But when two of them came off, she got off of me and got away.”

John reached into his shirt and held two black, thin claws tied to a black cord around his neck in his palm, “I think back on that moment every day and wonder why I’m not dead.  Any other grizzly would’ve gotten mighty furious if they lost those.  I believe that day God wanted me to learn a lesson in his miracle that he’s graced me with.  I sure learned that it was because of my fighting attitude that nearly got me and Kate killed.  I love your mother, Rilan, and I would do anything to keep her safe, even if it meant giving up fights and respect.”

He stuffed his claws back into his shirt.  Rilan asked, “What about Jimmy?”

“I made amends to him.  I told him that I love your mother and I did intend on having her to myself.  I told him that he could beat me senseless or kill me if it made him feel better.  He wouldn’t and then he left.  Never saw him again.  I had learned my second lesson from him that day: It’s more important about doing what’s right than who is right.”  He looked into his son’s eyes, “You’re still young.  When you find someone that you love so much, you’d do anything to keep her safe from anything.  Even if it means sacrificing a part of yourself in the process.”

John looked back over on the distance and saw four riders coming over the knoll, “Looks like your friends are here.”

Rilan shot over in that direction and his chest puffed up. “Sure does.”  John hung his head and sighed deeply.  Whether or not Rilan will fight them, these boys came thirty miles from town for this and they weren’t going to be turned away for anything.  That is, unless Kate comes out with a shotgun, which he hopes that she doesn’t.

“What are you going to do?” Rilan asked.

John lifted his head, “Nothing.  I’m going to do what any wise father would do.  Stay out of your way and let you be the adult.”

Rilan’s chest shrunk a bit, but he understood.  If he thought that John was going to be the middle guy, he was wrong.  The four riders stopped their horses a few yards from the fence line and dismounted.  All young men.  The one leading this group was probably Tyson McCullen.  John had made the stereotype assumption that with an Irish name like McCullen, he was likely going to have red hair and an accent.  He was right.  Though they all wore hats, the thin reddish hair stuck out by the ears.  Tyson was tall and skinny, but with a guy his height he’d be difficult for Rilan to take down.  The other three were shorter than Tyson and all of them were slick and fit.

Tyson glared at John, “Get lost old man!” He demanded in an Irish accent, “This ain’t none of your business.”

“You going to make me?” John challenged.  He wasn’t bent on fighting a kid, but he wasn’t going to be intimidated by him either.

Tyson stuffed his hands in his pockets, “Aw forget it.”

“You don’t need to worry about him, he ain’t gonna to get involved.” Rilan shot.

“He’d better.” He made a sideways glance at John then back at Rilan, “Alright Rilan, get your fists up for a beating of your life.”

Rilan made an advance but then stopped, clentching his fists tight until they were ghostly white and crushing cheeks that the muscles in his cheek protruded.  Then he breathed out heavily and released his hands, “I ain’t gonna fight you, Tys.  I’m not gonna fight anyone anymore.”

“You think I just came all this way just share glances at everyone!” Tyson said furiously, “I’m not turnin around til I get what I’ve come for.  You’re the one that insulted ma’ family and me and I’ll get what I want.”

“He’s gotten soft stomach on us.” One of Tyson’s friends quipped, “I’ll tell everyone in town that you chickened out, Rilan.”

“You can get what you came here for, Tys.  I don’t care what anyone says about me anymore.  I’m done.  If it’s worth anything to you, I’m sorry for my loose mouth and for insulting your family.  But it’s like I said, you can get what you’ve come here for.”

“What’s the matter with you Rilan!  Only yesterday you were egging me on with this and now you’ve gotten soft.  Or maybe you’re just making your just doing whatever da tells ye.”

“I told you.  He ain’t got nothin to do with this.  An’ people can change.  So either give me what’s coming or hit the road.”

Tyson marched up to Rilan and landed a hit to his gut, knocking the air from his lungs and hit him in the face.  Rilan dropped to the ground, catching his breath when he felt a warm saliva spray in his face.  Tyson looked at him writhing on the ground for a moment and then went back to his horse.  He and his friends saddled up and wheeled their horses into the direction they came and took off shouting and yipping.

“Ain’t got guts anymore!” the last one in the group yelled.

When they were a good ways out, John came to Rilan’s side helped him to his feet.  There was a blue mark on his eye.

“It don’t hurt.” Rilan said, “I’ve taken worse beatings than that.  I was just pretending he beat me down.”

John patted his shoulders, “What happened?”

Rilan shrugged and grinned, “I figured you said something true.  Better to do what’s right than who’s right.”

John nodded approvingly, smiling.

Submitted: May 21, 2016

© Copyright 2020 sethymaer. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:



This was a real nice story. You painted a clear picture of the background and the dialogues depict the western vibe of your story. It's interesting to see the length Rilan would go to be just like his dad. I liked the father-son learning moment and the way his father schooled him on the real story behind the legend of 'bear claw John.' There were only a few punctuation issues, a missing comma here and there. Also, not sure who Jubal is, did you meant to say, John? Nice job overall.

Mon, May 23rd, 2016 12:13pm


Thank you for your input. I'll be sure to look out for those errors in my next short story. I made a mistake with that name. Sorry. But seriously, I do appreciate the feedback you've given.

Mon, May 23rd, 2016 1:33pm

unmasked delusions

A great old fashioned story with a good message behind it too. I love stories like this. I liked it from the very start, you're very good at getting the readers imagination going, the way you described things was perfect, not too much detail yet not too little either, it was just right. Thought I'd come check out the western side of booksie and I wasn't disappointed at all. Great work

Wed, June 1st, 2016 6:51am

Other Content by sethymaer

Short Story / Science Fiction

Short Story / Westerns