26 October 2009
Northern Illinois University
24 Jun 2009. Look at that glass, freckled with dogs.
My memory of li'l DeKalb is unfairly clouded by the most awful traffic I have ever experienced, coming in and out of Chicago. Construction, unfamiliar territory, driving an unfamiliar vehicle, darkness, an ill-timed full bladder, and speeding (DePaul?) demons all contributed their part. All that was missing was a midwest ice storm. Running out of gas would have to substitute. Bless you, DeKalb highway oasis!
The Lewis and Clark expedition, on their way to their winter quarters with the Mandans in Dakota Territory, spent a night in Illinois Country. The lack of deer and other sustaining protein combined with smuggled adulterated whiskey made some of the enlisted men a bit wacko. Usually, in accommodating land with friendly Indians around, this would be only a nuisance to efficiency.
But with desperately hungry brown bears forced out to forage, recklessness was life-threatening.
Sergeant Ordway was one culprit.
He was hungry, cold, intoxicated, and he missed his matronly wife.
A sleeping bear caught his eye. No, Ordway did not mistake it for a huge steak, Looney-Tunes-style. His whiskey goggles showed him his dear wife, Hildegard.
He ambled over with a big, dumb grin, looking for a kiss. Captain Lewis saw Ordway's unarmed approach. It wasn't his duty to psychoanalyze his men, just to protect them.
Lewis couldn't load his own rifle quick enough. The bear was smooched.
Mauling, surprisingly fast for such a large beast, would follow.
Lewis got his shot off and downed the animal, but Ordway was already gone. His sacrifice earned a meal of bear meat for the magnificently-hatted corps.
The town of DeKalb, Illinois, was later founded on the spot where Lewis and Clark lost their friend and comrade. DeKalb, in fact, was a shortened form of the burial cross' warning to others: "Don't Ever Kiss A Live Bear."
NIU's Huskies owe their name as well to Ordway and his love of big hairy women.