Ever hear of Ephraim the Giant Bear?
Novel Magic heads out West with Marilyn Barr, author of Dance to a Wylder Beat.Read on to see how the Old West and paranormal romance melt together. Get a sneak peek at this upcoming release.
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Animal Shifters in the Old West
by Marilyn Barr
I love animal shifter legends and one that caught my attention when researching for “Dance to a Wylder Beat” was the legend of the Ephraim shifters. When Lewis and Clark began their exploration of the western United States, they were surprised to find it teeming with giant bears. It is estimated, in Lewis and Clark’s time, there were over 50,000 grizzly bears and many (now extinct) species of giant black bears in their path. (Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee) Any bear on his hind legs taller than a human man was given the name “Ephraim” and known as a danger to herds, crops, and humans.
As towns sprung up along the east-west railway line, these bears grew in reputation. The original Ephraim legend (as far as I could trace) comes from an 1811 pamphlet detailing the banishment of a man to the mountains from his town. The fur trader was a swindler, a thief, and subsequently forced to winter in the mountains. When he was found by hunters the following spring, he was more bear than man. It was said he “shifted (changed) into an Ephraim”. The nomadic fur-trading mountain men were common in the wild west. Many of them lived off the land after being ousted from towns. They were called “mountain men” but the least civilized were given the designation of “Ephraim”.
Then I came across the legend of “Old Ephraim” who was a giant grizzly bear who seemed to possess human-like intelligence. Old Ephraim was a nine-foot eleven-inch bear who ate flocks of sheep like bags of potato chips. He had distinctive tracks because one of his paws had three toes. (University of Utah). He harassed the farmers of Utah for 92 years until his death in 1923. However, his legend lived on for decades when P.T. Barnum named his oversized bear “Old Ephraim” in his traveling circus. (Legends of Old Ephraim)
As a paranormal romance author, I couldn’t resist resurrecting the Ephraim legend. What if one of these mountain men had a feral family with feral children? If they continued with their wild existence, they would adapt to become more and more like bears. What if one of these children got separated from the group and had to fend for him/herself? An Ephraim child wouldn’t have the option of the foster system in the wild west. Who would be connected enough to nature with a sense of community that overrides their suspicion of the paranormal to take care of such a child? Roaming the wilderness would nurture them into a feral adult, right?
These questions became the backstory for Olive Muegge in my upcoming release Dance to a Wylder Beat. She relocates to the civilized town of Wylder (1878 Wyoming Territory) at the request of a cryptic telegraph ad. It was written by Nartan Sagebrush who lives on the edge of Wylder as a leather tanner with his brother, Ikshu. Nartan longs for the community he had as part of the Arapaho tribe before they moved onto the reservation in 1874 without him. He asks his spirit guides for help to assimilate into the settler social circles of Wylder. When Olive arrives, Nartan wonders if his request was misinterpreted or if his guides have decided to mess with him…again. Will Olive destroy Nartan’s life like a true Ephraim or find a place in the Wylder community for his family?
Find out in Dance to a Wylder Beat in the spring of 2021 as the newest installment of The Wylder West series from The Wild Rose Press!
Dance to a Wylder Beat
Nartan Sagebrush’s name may mean “to dance” in Arapaho, but he dances in secret. Forced to abandon his Shamanic apprenticeship, he is overwhelmed with homesteader life, and even his spirit guides are at their wit’s end. Nartan takes fate into his own hands. Instead of divine intervention, a wife will help with his responsibilities and in assimilating into the Wylder community. Olive Muegge answers Nartan’s “wife wanted” advertisement. Fiercely independent, she has secretly dreamed of a family to call her own. The secret she carries inside makes her an outcast and her wild ways don’t fit the quiet wife Nartan thinks he desires. Despite their differences, they are drawn to each other but a mistake may drive them apart. Will Nartan embrace his Shamanic past to save them both or will he choose to rid himself of Olive forever?
A Sample of Dance to a Wylder Beat by Marilyn Barr
“It’s not a name I want in a show of appreciation, Dear Miss, but the action I require,” he replies while cupping his groin at me. He’s had way too much who-hit-john and is looking for more than I bargained for. Who does this reprobate think he is? He takes a step toward me, and if I were smarter I would back down. Instead, I stare him down with fire building in my belly.
“That’s more than I’m prepared to give,” I snap, “you should be ashamed of yourself. You are in mixed company on the main street of this town. Children are watching your crude behavior. I thought you were a well-mannered man, but I was mistaken. You are a scoundrel!”
“Mistaken now, but with a few coins you will be taken too,” he says with nods to his friends. They throw their heads back in laughter as he grips my arm hard enough to leave marks.
“Hey,” I yell loud enough to call the attention of the whole territory of Wyoming. “Unhand me, you swine!”
I hear my name being called, but I’m too engrossed in my battle with “Dead Eyes” to answer. One of Charlotte’s brood answers with my location as I continue to struggle. The reply behind me is muffled but sounds a lot like, “why me.” Dead Eyes starts to drag me into the loud building when I notice the sign outside…the Longhorn Saloon.
“Wait a darn minute, Buster. I ain’t no saloon girl,” I yell as I beat my fists against his arm.
“You’re bold as brass, coming over here,” Dead Eyes says with a chuckle. “You will make a fine addition to the group inside. A proper lady would have a chaperone or at least shoes. I’m sampling you for quality.”
My shouts turn to screams, and my fists turn to claws. I plan to draw blood until he lets go. Men love my curves but tend to back away when I show my crazy. We are nearly through the door when I’m grabbed by the waist and pulled outside to the edge of the porch.
My shoulder is pulled out of the socket before Dead Eyes releases it. My back slams against a wall of muscle so hard my breath comes out in a whoosh. I stop screaming to recover, and then silence rings in my ears.
“You heard the lady. If you want a good time, Miss Adelaide will set you right, but this one is spoken for.” The rumble at my back adds to the tingles on my skin as the deep voice rolls over my head. My rescuer’s voice is steady and quiet compared to my hysterics. Surrounded by the scent of tobacco, incense, and wild man, I am reminded of sacred lodges and their mystic Shaman inhabitants.
“The woman is born for whoring. Look at her hips and how she shoves her assets out. She came over here,” Dead Eyes spits. He brushes his hand against his holster to flash the butt of his gun.
“You saw her plain as day step out of the arrival coach when you helped with the luggage. She doesn’t know Longhorn from a general store. I want no trouble, but she’s my bride and not on the shoot.”
“Why don’t you let the woman speak for herself, Injun?”
I bristle at the slur from my assailant. I’m ready to unload a tirade on the villain when cool breath caresses the shell of my ear in contrast to the afternoon heat. “You skedaddle to my travois with the black horse and let me handle this, okay?” I nod before spinning out of his embrace. So this must be Nartan, a true thoroughbred just like Sorrel Horse said. Only an Arapaho would have a travois instead of a buggy. The man must be uglier than the toothy grin of an opossum with a voice like that.
Back at the stagecoach platform stands a black stallion the size of a saloon with two long poles crossed at his neck. The travois is a leather sling at the other end of the poles which Arapaho use to migrate all over the country. The poles double as framework for their teepees, and I have set up my share of teepees in exchange for temporary lodgings or food.
I run over to the black horse, who startles at my approach. Despite traveling with the native tribes all my life, horses hate me. Not that I can blame them. Unlike people, the horses can smell the predator I hide within.
A noise has me whirling toward the station. My stagecoach is carrying on to the next stop. Blasted driver doesn’t even tip his hat in my direction as it passes…still containing my shoes. Sorrell Horse used a whole week’s rations outfitting me like a lady and paying my way. I have already let him down by starting a ruckus and losing my shoes. I need to try something extra to make Nartan happy, perhaps I’ll try keeping my trap shut.
When I turn back, the men are wrestling in a cloud of dust. Dead Eyes’ friends hoot like owls while a small crowd gathers around the scene. Being half-drunk, Dead Eyes is two steps slower than Nartan, who is landing punches on both sides. When Dead Eyes slams his gun on the ground in surrender, the dust settles, and I can study my future husband.
Nartan’s muscular body straddles the smaller man while his broad chest billows. His hat has blown off in the scuffle, revealing two thick black braids adorned with feathers. Tendrils of raven-black hair wave around his head. “Quiet wife for a quiet life” my bloomin’ butt. This man is a sweet lick of passion wrapped in a delicious exterior. I think I’m gonna like being Mrs. Sagebrush just fine. I can handle an odd stick as long as he has the countenance of Nartan because I’m not as normal as I appear myself.
Meet Marilyn Barr
Marilyn Barr currently resides in the wilds of Kentucky with her husband, son, and rescue cats. She has a diverse background containing experiences as a child prodigy turned medical school reject, published microbiologist, special education/inclusion science teacher, homeschool mother of a savant, certified spiritual & energy healer, and
advocate for the autistic community. This puts her in the position to bring tales containing heroes who are regular people with different ability levels and body types, in a light where they are powerful, lovable, and appreciated. When engaging with the real world, she is collecting characters, empty coffee cups, and unused homeschool curricula. She is a sucker (haha) for cheesy horror movies, Italian food, punk music, black cats, bad puns, and all things witchy.
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2 thoughts on “Novel Magic: How a Giant Bear Inspired a Shifter Legend”
Thank you so much for hosting me!
A belated ‘you’re welcome.’ Thanks for letting me share your books!