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Not as mountainous as 'Revenant' figure, but still a legend

Meshach Browning
Meshach Browning

The legend of frontiersman Hugh Glass, the basis for "The Revenant," Alejandro Inarritu's cinematic tour de force starring Leonardo DiCaprio, made me reach for a book about Maryland's own legendary woodsman: Meshach Browning.

Unfortunately, Browning's memoir, "Forty-Four Years of the Life of a Hunter: being reminiscences of Meshach Browning, a Maryland hunter," was not where I thought I had left it. I might have given it to the neighbor's boy in return for some venison. Not sure.

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But the book, written by Browning with a turkey quill and first published in 1859, is still available, and fairly easy to find, especially in Browning's old stamping grounds of Western Maryland. I will probably order another copy.

I first read "Forty-Four Years" some 25 years ago, and enjoyed Browning's tales of stalking and hunting deer and bear along the Youghiogheny River and the North Branch of the Potomac in the early 19th century in what is now Garrett County. Browning's descriptions of life in the woods are vivid and amusing. He claimed to have killed 2,000 deer and 500 bears in his lifetime. There are references to wolves and panthers as well.

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As for my mentioning Hugh Glass and Meshach Browning in the same breath — I think that's OK.

Glass was born in Pennsylvania in 1780 and famously survived an attack by a grizzly bear in South Dakota in 1823. Various historical sources say he was killed in an Indian attack in Montana 10 years later. Meshach Browning was born in 1781 in Montgomery County and died in Garrett County in 1858; he's buried near Friendsville.

Browning's legend might not be as mountainous as that of Glass — the only bears in Browning's range were black bears, not grizzlies. But he built his cabin where few were willing to settle at the time. He explored. He hunted. He lived off the land and lived to tell about it.

I came across a review of Browning's book from the Atlantic Monthly of December 1859. The critic was disappointed in "Forty-Four Years." Apparently, an editor named E. Stabler at Browning's publisher, J.B. Lippincott & Co., had dressed up his prose with "unexceptionable English" and ruined the raw, rugged style the critic had expected to find in the frontiersman's memoir.

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"Mr. Stabler has not let [Browning] come before us in his deer-skin hunting shirt, but has made him presentable by getting him into a black dress-coat, the uniform of respectability and tiresomeness. … The book should have been shorter by two-thirds, for one bear story is just like another."

I don't remember having this reaction to Browning's book. I do not recall being at all bored by the man's telling of his exploits, and I remember feeling envy for Browning — not so much for his skill with a rifle and knife, but for what he saw as he roamed: rivers that ran clear and thick with trout in the years before the Industrial Age brought coal mining and aggressive logging to the forests of Western Maryland.

Jack Bowden, RIP

Many comments in social media about the death of former Baltimore TV reporter and anchorman Jack Bowden use the same adjective that I would use to describe him: "classy." He was a solid reporter and an affable man, always professional, and always with a smile and a good word, even for competitors.

In 1994, we made the same trip to Rome to cover the elevation of then-Archbishop William H. Keeler to cardinal at the Vatican. That was the year of "Forrest Gump," starring Tom Hanks, and Jack had a role in it. He grew back his 1970s-style sideburns for a reporter stand-up in front of the White House, setting the scene where Gump, by then a pingpong champion, meets President Richard Nixon. Jack didn't think he'd make the final cut. But he did. It was a speaking part, too.

Bill Howard, RIP

One last story about Dr. Bill Howard, the Baltimore surgeon and sports medicine pioneer who died two weeks ago, from his longtime friend and eulogist, Dr. Samir Shureih.

In 1986, Shureih needed surgery in a delicate area, the buttocks, and Howard agreed to handle it. Shureih decided to play a joke. He handed a nurse a marker and had "William Howard, kiss my ---" inscribed on the target area.

When exposed to this in the operating room of Union Memorial Hospital, Howard uttered an expletive and immediately started to devise a way to get back at his friend. After surgery, he coated Shureih's buttocks with benzoin, an adhesive solution, and applied an array of children's stickers that Howard had obtained from the pediatric ward.

A day later, Shureih thought something was odd and had his wife take a look. "She reacted with explosive laughter," Shureih said. "And it took several days for the stickers to come off."

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