I grew up in the town of Big Bear California, which was known for many things. It had a beautiful lake, great ski slopes, and colorful locals. Oh, and it also had a ton of wild burros. Why were there so many wild burros in Big Bear? And why was Big Bear so well known for them? And more importantly, why the hell does a former stoner and party girl like me give a shit? Well let me take you into a little Big Bear history and my own experience with these not so majestic creatures, and maybe I can shed a little light on the subject.
When I was growing up, donkeys roamed free and Hee Hawed their way into our hearts. You could drive down the street and see any number of them just hanging out eating and doing whatever it is donkeys do. One night they were having sex in the backyard of the house I grew up in. I was just starting to learn about sex myself and the startling noise that they were making was enough to make a young girl shy away from sex for a lifetime. The Abstinence Groups don’t need purity rings to keep kids away from sex. They needed recordings of donkeys getting it on to scare the crap right out of us. I remember looking at my mom with terrified eyes saying, “Mom! What’s that noise?” I was so scared it was a monster about to devour me.
“Stacy relax, its just some donkeys having sex,” she said.
“Oh my God mom! We have to go help her! He’s killing her!” I screamed. But I soon got over it. She assured me he was not killing her and those were “happy” cries of pain.
Where did they come from? I did a little research on this one. According to the United States Forest Service, burros were introduced to the Big Bear area between 1900 and 1940. During this period, burros escaped from miners, movie sets, fox farms, and ranches. The present population most likely became solidly established as a result of burros that escaped or were released from annual burro races in and around Big Bear City beginning in 1955.
Then there is the story from The Press Enterprise. They talk about an 89-year-old man by the name of Ralph Bush who claims he put them there because he and his friends liked to rope burros. “All cowboys love to rope,” he said. Apparently so much so, that he brought in countless burros for said roping. Story has it that the local officials told Bush he needed to get rid of the burros. Which probably broke his poor grandchildren’s little hearts considering they liked to use the burros to play cowboys and Indians. I hope they weren’t expecting any high-speed chases. I can just envision it now. An Indian on the run with a posse behind him on burros meandering around doing what ever the hell they damn well pleased because everyone knows you can’t train a burro. Or can you? Anyhow, Bush didn’t know what to do with the burros so he took some to Reche Canyon and others to Big Bear to set them free. I guess you’ll just have to pick which story you like better. My mind tells me to go with the US forest Service but my heart tells me to go with Ralph Bush.
Once a year Big Bear has an annual parade known as the Old Miners Day Parade. Possibly the saddest parade on the planet. At the time there were a number features to this parade: the Miss Clementine contest being one, and (you guessed it) burros being another one. The Miss Clementine contest is essentially Big Bear’s own beauty pageant, where girls design and wear outfits that match the “old time” theme of the parade. The winner is crowned “Miss Clementine ” The burro segment consists of a burro “race” down main street. I bet you can guess which event gets more interest from the locals. The poor girls didn’t stand a chance. As you may know, donkeys are a stubborn breed, and watching a bunch of humans try and control them leads one to wonder who was the actual ass. I stopped going to the parade itself once I hit junior high but the beauty of the burro races was that they ran right past my street. So my girlfriends and I would just put our bathing suits on, lie out and wait for the fun to start. Truly high entertainment.
So clearly, Big Bear has a long history with its burro population. But other than one time a year, I didn’t really have much interaction with the jackasses until the day I met Bucco. I was in 7th grade and had gotten home from school one day to discover a donkey hanging out in my front yard. I had to go check it out. I walked out the door that was on the side of our house and came around the corner very slowly. We both saw each other, but neither of us moved. We just stared at each other for a while.
“Hello,” I said. Of course he said nothing. He was the strong silent type. “Are you hungry? Stay…right…there.”
I ran back into the house as quickly as I could and started tearing apart the kitchen to try and figure out what the hell we had that would make a donkey happy. Oreos? No. Turkey slices? No. Cat food? Perfect. So I grabbed a big bowl of dry cat food, ran back outside, and skidded to a stop about 3 feet away from him. I stood there for a second and slowly walked up to him.
“It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. Do you want some cat food?’ I put the bowl a couple of inches in front of him and he ate it. I was so excited. I already had 4 cats and now I had a donkey. He had a large scar running diagonally across his nose from right to left.
“I’m going to call you Bucco,” I told him, and proceeded to feed him the rest of the bag of cat food. Screw the cats. They were fat enough. After the food was gone Bucco turned around, walked back towards the main street and left for the day.
The very next day I couldn’t wait to get home. My mom had bought a brand new bag of cat food on her way home from work the night before, so I was ready if Bucco showed up again. I waited patiently on the front steps and just like clockwork, Bucco showed up at 3:00. Another bag of cat food gone. My mom got so pissed at having to buy a new bag of cat food every day that she bought me a HUGE bag of dog food for my new pet.
And so it went. Everyday at 3:00 Bucco showed up, and everyday at 3:00 I fed him. Then one day I reached out and touched his nose and he just stood there. He didn’t run away or anything. So I began petting him every time he showed up. Before I knew it Bucco was following me around the neighborhood like a dog. I was the talk of the neighborhood. Stacy and her pet donkey. I loved that damned donkey. One weekend I was feeding him and my mom called my name from inside the house. Not even thinking about it I ran up the porch steps into the house.
“What?” I said to my mom.
“I need you to…DONKEY!” She screamed and pointed behind me. Bucco had come into the house along with me. He was so cool. I was able to push him back out the door before we were both grounded for a month with no cat food.
“I’ve let you keep birds, tadpoles, and cats that “followed” you home, even the mud hen you and your cousin found at Baldwin Lake. But no donkeys in my house. Understood?”
“Sorry mom,” I told her and smiled, because I was now a Donkey whisperer.
Bucco and I went on like this for a couple of months when one day I had to take a shower for some reason I can’t remember. Probably something my mom made me do. I knew it was close to 3:00 but I was sure I would make it out in time. I didn’t. I remember running out of the house in my bathrobe with hair soaking wet and watching Bucco walk off down the street towards Greenway Dr. He made a left on Greenway and vanished. I called after him but he never turned around. I sat on the front porch the next day at 2:45 and for three days after. I never saw Bucco again. My heart broke that day. Not only did I lose my donkey but I was also stuck with a giant bag of dog food and I didn’t even own a dog. I had been gearing up my nerves to try to ride him in a week or so. I had so many plans for us. Vacations, family outings, I had even started making our family tree with Bucco as my brother. I still think about him and when I do it makes my heart smile. That was a great time in my life. I never thought I could feel so close to a donkey. Oh well, I still had the stupid cats.
A number of years later all of the wild burros were rounded up and moved from Big Bear to Lord knows where. They had to relocate the Burros because they had moved into residential areas, damaging landscaping and disturbing sleep with loud braying. Or crazy funky sex acts. It depends on how you look at it. There was a round up in 1997 and another one was announced in 2009. I didn’t mind the burros. We lived in the mountains and they were part of us and we were a part of them. But they started getting injured and in some cases killed by motorists so if relocation is what’s best for them then so be it. I just hope the Old miners Day parade can come up with something equally entertaining. I’ve been petitioning the city to add a segment to the Miss Clementine contest where the girls juggle raccoons. They haven’t returned my calls yet.