Live animals made big attractions in Willmar area

The first business firm of record in what is now Kandiyohi County to display a live animal to attract potential customers was the Hanscom and Mountain butcher shop in the new town of Willmar.

The animal was a black bear which Andrew Nordsted, of now New London Township, managed to trap close to his cabin. The bear must have liked Nordsted because it seemed to ignore the man’s several attempts to capture it and kept coming back for more. It was taken finally while it was sleeping, being pinned down by a heavy forked tree branch. In the meantime the trapper made a crude cage and, after several attempts, the bear did go into it.

Nordsted treated it well and kept it in its cage near his cabin for a couple of months — until all his neighbors had had a chance to pay a visit to his pet.

He did realize that keeping the pet in its cage through a Minnesota winter was not feasible so he brought it in to Willmar, which was barely a year old at the time, and put it on display near several businesses. There were offers a plenty, but he turned them all down until Hanscom and Mountain came up with the offer he just couldn’t refuse. There is no record of what those two butchers did with the bear, except that they spent a good deal of time recapturing it after its many escapes. The bear is remembered, however. Bear Lake, west of New London, is named after it.

Quite a few years later a local filling station had several monkeys in a cage where everyone passing by could see them. Here, too, there is no record of what happened to the monkeys, although there must be some photos of the setup, since this dates back to the good old days when making a gasoline purchase got the buyer a wipedclean windshield.

International Harvester dealer Jack Quinn appears to have traded some machine or other for a bear cub, which he kept at his place of business for several years as a very successful attention getter. He kept it in a cage inside the building through the winter months and built increasingly larger outdoor cages in succeeding summers. There were plenty of visitors (lots of children) during the daylight hours, when bear was on display. This went on for several years. The growing bear was on display near the main entrance to the business, which was located at the intersection of highways 40 and U.S. 12 on what was then the west edge of town. Finally, much to the dismay of many regular visitors, the bear had to be put down because it was growing too big too fast.

Now Quinn was a man who never missed an opportunity. He had the meat processed just the way he wanted it, hired a person who knew how to prepare bear meat, and had it served at a special private dinner for some of his best customers.

The hide became a rug.