Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

August 18, 2013

Lifelines: Bear man's legend carries on 54 years later

Spike Horn didn’t smell like cologne. He was as cantankerous as his bears. He was a trickster, but an honest one. Spike Horn made life a lot more interesting at one of the first tourist traps in northern Michigan.

John Meyers was born on July 15, 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War. He died September 19, 1959. During his last three decades he became Spike Horn.

A folksinger friend, Louan Lechler, says her grandfather knew him when he was John Meyers, and a foreman of a coal mine in Williamston, Michigan. John told everybody he was going up north to become famous. In the mid to late 1920’s past Clare was “Up North”.

I don’t know how John Meyers reached Harrison. He never learned to drive, and old M-27 didn’t amount to much. He arrived carrying a backpack and slept under the stars.

The Detroit Free Press first featured him in 1931. John Meyers had become Spike Horn. Along came his parade of bears with names like Nip, Tuck, Joe, Strawberry, Raspberry, Stub, Snowball, Old Tucker, Jackson, Christine, and the notorious Bruno.

These days Spike Horn would be called a “Bear Whisperer.” One advertisement read, “Come and shake hands with a bear.” Things would’ve been okay if tourists drawn to the Bear Camp had understood and respected the animals like Spike did. They didn’t.

One lady slapped a bear cub for grabbing her pearl necklace. The mother bear immediately charged the abuser. The woman was lucky Spike stepped in between her and the beast just in time to interrupt a mauling.

Another serious incident included Old Bruno. He’d grown to 700 pounds and was seven feet tall standing on his hind legs. Some silly citizens entered his home with a jelly roll and a camera to take pictures. The photo shoot was going well until the couple ran out of film. The guy tried to take the jelly roll away from Bruno, while the woman reloaded her camera.

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