KEMMERER — Along the desolate dirt roads of Lincoln County stands a remote and mysterious landmark that’s sparked local debate for a century or more.
While its story has faded with time, Teddy Bear Corner has become etched into the local lore and the rugged Wyoming landscape. A relic of the past, it’s waited decades to share its secrets.
Nestled in the Ham Forks area 35 minutes from the once-thriving coal mine town of Kemmerer is Teddy Bear Corner, a solitary spot where teddy bears have mysteriously been piled for as long as anyone can remember. Most have been placed by locals over the years. A few have also been left by visitors passing by.
It really is in the middle of nowhere about 25 miles north of Kemmerer on Highway 233. Once you hit the end of the pavement, go another five miles.
Something all those who leave bears there have in common is not knowing why they’ve been leaving bears on this spot for perhaps a century or longer.
“People have been bringing teddy bears up here since I can remember. I brought my teddy bears up here as a kid and then I brought my daughter up here to leave her teddy bears when she got too old for them,” said Chad Nielson, a lifelong resident of Kemmerer.
While no one is sure who started Teddy Bear Corner, why or when the tradition began, the landmark is steeped in folklore and tales have been passed down through the generations.
Teddy Roosevelt’s Connection
The oldest legend tied to Teddy Bear Corner traces back to President Teddy Roosevelt, known for his love of Wyoming and bear hunting.
As the story goes, Roosevelt was on a hunting expedition on Raymond Mountain near the Hams Fork area when he shot a small bear.
While unconfirmed, the story follows another hunting trip in 1902 in Mississippi, where it's rumored Roosevelt refused to shoot a black bear someone had tied to a tree. That event was satirized in a popular editorial cartoon of the time, leading to the popularization of the “Teddy Bear.”
Nancy Combs, a lifelong resident of Kemmerer, found the story about Roosevelt possibly hunting in Wyoming while investigating the origin of Teddy Bear Corner.
Her research indicates that if the story were true, it would have happened in the early 1900s. Interestingly, historical records show that the former president was hunting in Wyoming in 1903 — a year after a New York store owner memorialized teddy bears after Roosevelt.
“The story is that the people who were with him in Wyoming made fun of him (Roosevelt) because it was such a small ‘teddy bear,’” Combs said. “So, they marked the area with teddy bears because of the president possibly being in the area.”
Combs Gives Teddy Bear Corner A Makeover
While investigating Teddy Bear Corner’s history during summer 2021, Combs also embarked on a mission to revitalize it, giving it a full makeover.
To protect the teddy bears from nearby cattle and wildlife, she installed a fence around the site, blending it with the rustic surrounding ranch fences in the area. She also relocated the old post that held the teddy bears.
Combs also had a sign professionally made, complete with an image of a teddy bear, to let people know where they are.
Her time was spent completely in volunteer hours and given only as a labor of love to the community.
A Deep Dive
Combs worked on the project all summer. Through her dedication to the site’s preservation, she also uncovered countless stories that speak to the history of the landmark; all of these, except Roosevelt’s, were able to be verified.
“I went to all limits to find the history of Teddy Bear Corner,” Combs said. “I wanted to find the real story and tell that story.”
Through the years, as the site has welcomed new teddy bears, stories have continued to evolve. The following timeline of events captures these vibrant stories and heritage that shape the community’s connection to the cherished landmark locals lovingly call Teddy Bear Corner.
“There were many people I talked to who swore they started Teddy Bear Corner, and I think they did,” Combs said.
“Through the years, the lapse in time and the wind and the weather, teddy bears got torn apart. The cows dragged them off or whatever dragged them off and then someone else would find another teddy bear, put it up there, and then they thought they started it,” she said. “So I believe each person who says they started it actually did restart it.”
Timeline Of Teddy Bear Corner
1900: The local legend of Teddy Roosevelt hunting on Raymond Mountain, near the Hams Fork area. Roosevelt’s story came from John Giorgis, who died in 2022 in his 70s, and Linda Taylor, a former resident of Kemmerer.
1920-1930: Lola Martin was walking up the road near the area where Teddy Bear Corner is, found a teddy bear and put it on the post. The exact date of this event could not be validated, but the timeline was somewhere between 1920 and 1930, Combs said.
Martin’s granddaughter, Pat Greenfield, shared this story with Combs.
“She (Greenfield) is my age (69) and remembers that big as day her grandma finding that teddy bear,” Combs said. “So maybe it was a child in a covered wagon back then that was going somewhere who lost a teddy bear and Lola found it.”
1950: Jake Antilla, who worked for the Lincoln County Road and Bridge Department, as it was called at the time, found a teddy bear on the road and put it up on the post while grading the road. Antilla has since died, but this story is remembered by many locals, Combs said.
Another story during this time was about a local group called the Commissary Commandos that would go on camping trips into the mountains. It was during one of these trips that one of the members found a teddy bear in the area and put it on the post.
Combs heard this story when she interviewed Judith Borino. Borino’s late husband was one of the members of the group. She remembers her husband sharing the story with her when it happened.
1958: While mushroom hunting one day in the Ham Forks area, Betty Marshinsky lost her teddy bear. She was about 6 at the time. Someone found the bear and put it on the post where Marshinsky later recognized it as hers. This story came from an interview Combs conducted with Jimmy Brent, Marshinsky’s son. He had heard the story from his grandmother, Annie Marshinsky.
1960-1970: During this time, the Commissary Commando group would always take a teddy bear with them when they went on their camping trips. This became a longstanding tradition. Comb’s mother-in-law, Verna Povsche, remembers her second husband Paul, who was a member of the Commissary Commandos, telling her this story. “They’d stop there on their way up the mountain and have a beer and leave a teddy bear,” Combs said.
1968-1969: The Gomez family found a teddy bear in the area and the kids wanted to take it home, but Pete Gomez made them put it on the post. This story was retold to Combs by Pete Gomez Jr.
It’s Not A Memorial To A Killed Child
“Back in the day,” Robert D. Combs and Jerry Borino both remember two cowboys roping a bear cub in the area.
Some residents also have memories of Teddy Bear Corner being a marker they used as children while traveling with their parents to go camping or fishing.
“It was a place that when they saw it, they knew they were almost there,” Combs said.
Combs also has her own memories of taking teddy bears there when she was a child.
“We were poor so we didn’t have a lot, but I can remember having some old, shambled teddy bears that we took up there,” she said.
One story relating to the site’s origin is about a car crash that killed a little girl at Teddy Bear Corner, and that started it. While this story has continued to circulate with the help of media reports, there is absolutely no proof it’s true, Combs said.
Local historians spent several decades researching this rumor, but were never able to find any evidence to lend it credibility, she said.
A Connection To The Past
As Kemmerer's coal mines carved out a niche in history, Teddy Bear Corner silently witnessed the shifts in the landscape.
Its weathered fence post, like the remnants of the town’s mining infrastructure, stands resilient, bearing witness to the bygone eras that have gently faded the stories into the echoes of time.
But for Teddy Bear Corner, its story has been revitalized with the help of Combs and the community. Now as each new teddy bear finds its place, the site regains its charm, emerging as a symbol of the past and inviting all to discover the rich tapestry of Kemmerer’s history, one teddy bear at a time.
“It’s starting to regrow again,” Combs said. “When we redid it, we kept as many teddy bears in the area as we could. A lot of them had fallen apart. The stuffing was coming out of them, going everywhere. We kept what we could and started it, to keep it going and people are slowly adding teddy bears again. And now it's protected.”
Even after Combs’ extensive research, the origin of Teddy Bear Corner still remains a mystery. Maybe it’s enough that for perhaps more than a century, it’s been there and holds meaning for everyone who leaves a new teddy bear there.
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