Plains Folk

Kippy the Keystone Bear

 

Prairie towns across the northern plains have hunter houses. These are former family residences bought up by sportsmen who make them seasonal headquarters for hunting and fishing. Some little towns, the majority of houses extant are in this class.

Hunter houses are a mixed blessing. They do not house families, and so might be considered a weak link in the community. On the other hand, the hunters keep the houses from going to ruin, and they bring a fair amount of business in. Then, too, some of the hunters, whether or not they have deeper roots in the community, do take root and play roles of local consequence.

So, the first time I noticed Kippy the Keystone Bear, along Highway 3 in Dawson, I thought, how have I missed this roadside beast all these years? Inquiring of the ladies in the Dawson Cafe, however, I learned that Kippy is a fairly recent arrival in town.

Two guys, Terry Ganje and Reed Graf, bought themselves a hunter house in Dawson in the year 2000. It happened that Terry was working as, and now is retired from his position as, a maintenance foreman for the Fargo Park District. The city, it also happened, was in the process of removing from the parks certain features deemed unsafe or just obsolete.

Among them, a polar bear about twelve feet tall. The poor bear had suffered years of indignities in Fargo. After retirement from public use or view, he had been brought out annually for an archery contest, at the conclusion of which, the competitors were allowed to take hundred-yard shots at the bear. If you examine him closely in Dawson today, you can make out the arrow marks on his belly.

As to the ultimate fate of the bear, Terry says, “I couldn’t see it going to the landfill.” So he bought it and trucked it to Dawson, intending to place it on the lot of the hunter house, there joining small figures of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck from the same source. The ladies at the cafe said, put the bear out on the east side of your lot, facing the highway.

The boys also repainted their bear, giving him blue swim trunks and a tattoo, as well as transforming the container of Coca-Cola in his hand into a can of Keystone, their beverage of choice. Subsequently they added a covered wagon, also from Fargo parks, as well as a giant chair for Kippy’s imagined girlfriend, Daisy.

They have created a striking assemblage that draws travelers off the road for laughs and photo opps–travelers including Winona Judd, that day in 2013 when she stopped for lunch in Dawson and performed an impromptu concert in the cafe.

So that is the origin of this recent addition to the big-thing landscape of North Dakota, Kippy the Keystone Bear. Here are a few more details about Kippy and his ensemble: he holds a fishing rod, in keeping with his patrons, who enjoy angling for walleyes on Alkali Lake; he has only three toes on each of his feet, three fingers on each hand–or maybe all those are paws, I don’t know; and he stands underneath stately cottonwoods, alongside an American flag. God bless America, the hunters of Dawson, and Kippy the Keystone Bear.

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