BROWNSTOWN

The Jackson County History Center is home to a variety of artifacts related to local history.

Some have been there for a while, but the center also receives new items to add to the collection.

A recent donation by Bill and Helen Swain of Seymour gave history center officials something they hadn’t ever had — a bear pelt.

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Years ago, in northern Wisconsin, a young black bear, weighing about 250 pounds, was hit by a car. Helen purchased the bear fur from a taxidermist to give to her husband as a Christmas gift.

The pelt used to hang on the wall in their home in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. The Swains spend half of the year at their Seymour home, but it didn’t have sufficient space for the pelt.

“I tried to give it to our children, and none of them wanted it,” Helen said. “We don’t have a place for it. Our house isn’t conducive to hanging a bear skin on the wall, and it should be someplace where it can be appreciated.”

So they decided to donate it to the history center.

“I think it’s important to preserve history and to tell the story of a community and the people who lived in it and what happened,” she said. “I also think by having an animal like this, it’s a good opportunity to teach children about things where they can actually see it, touch it. The tactile part of it is important to kids. Hopefully, it will be useful and appreciated.”

History center officials assured the Swains that it would be used as an educational tool, especially when county fourth-graders visit in the spring.

Dianne Cartmel, who is involved with the history center, said they may use the bear pelt in some way during the Jackson County Fair.

“Bill and Helen Swain have been so generous in the past,” Cartmel said of the couple making previous donations. “They really are part of us.”

Helen said she was fortunate to come across the pelt, which she named “Bear with Me,” because the pelt was not in bad shape despite being hit by a car.

The taxidermist was Martin Bonack, who is known all around the world, Helen said.

“He said this was an exceptionally good pelt because it wasn’t damaged from the hit, and it wasn’t full of vermin, which normally they are,” she said.

Bill said the bear was about half-grown when it was hit.

Bears often are seen in the Three Lakes area, which is about 30 miles south of the Michigan peninsula and is part of the largest inland chain of lakes in the world, Bill said. Fishing and watersports are popular there, he said.

He recalled one time when he was walking up a hill to go to his woodworking shop and saw a small bear, which was one of the triplets of a three-legged female bear.

“My concern was, ‘Where was momma?’” Bill said, noting how bears typically don’t bother humans unless they are near their young.

Bill joked with history center officials while presenting the pelt, saying “How long has it been since a bear has been seen in southern Indiana?” Helen said she has heard of bears being spotted in Brown County.

Helen, who was involved in museums in Wisconsin, praised the “marvelous” job of the volunteers for making the Jackson County History Center what it is today. She and her husband were happy to make the pelt donation.

“Take good care of him,” Helen said.

If you go

The Jackson County History Center is at the corner of Walnut and Sugar streets in Brownstown.

It is operated by volunteers and supported by donations and fundraising projects.

The office and genealogical library are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday.

The Frederick Keach Heller Memorial Museum is open from 9 to 11 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Tours can be arranged at other hours by appointment by calling 812-358-2118.

Information also may be found by searching Jackson County History Center of Indiana on Facebook.

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.