A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from January 01, 2007
Bear Sign (doughnuts)

“Bear sign” is a cowboy term for doughnuts. In the Pacific Northwest, “bear sign” means berry jam. “Bear sign” is first recorded from the 1830s to mean “bear droppings or tracks” (literally, the signs of a bear).
No one knows exctly why or when “bear sign” came into cowboy lingo for doughnuts, but it appears on Andy Adams’ Log of a Cowboy (1903).
Western Slang, Lingo & Phrases
Bear Sign -  A cowboy term for donuts made while they were on the range. A cook who could and would make them was highly regarded.
Log of a Cowboy
Literature Network » Andy Adams » Log of a Cowboy, The » Chapter XVIII. The North Platte
“‘There was a little woman at the ranch,’ said he, ‘wife of the owner, and I was helping her get up dinner, as we had quite a number of folks at the ranch. She asked me to make the bear sign—doughnuts, she called them—and I did, though she had to show me how some little. Well, fellows, you ought to have seen them—just sweet enough, browned to a turn, and enough to last a week. All the folks at dinner that day praised them. Since then, I’ve had a chance to try my hand several times, and you may not tumble to the diversity of all my accomplishments, but I’m an artist on bear sign.’
“Miller arose, took him by the hand, and said, ‘That’s straight, now, is it?’

“‘That’s straight. Making bear sign is my long suit.’
Google Books
Cowboy Lingo
by Ramon F. Adams
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books
(Copyright 1936)
Pg. 145:
Doughnuts, something he rarely had the opportunity of eating except when he went to town, were called “bear sign.”

Google Books
The Chisholm Trail
by Ralph Compton
New York: St. Martin’s Press
Pg. 327:
For Christmas dinner there was fried chicken, ham, fish, roast wild turkey, and venison. There were dried apple cakes, driped apple pies, rice pudding, and bear sign.*
Google Books
Texas Born
by Kerry Newcomb
New York: St. Martin’s Press
Pg. 161:
“Bear sign!” Colby exclaimed as he espied the sugared doughnuts on the table.
Google Books
Creed of the Mountain Man
by William W. Johnstone
New York: Pinnacle Books
Pg. 12:
She was carrying a platter of still-steaming bear sign, the sweet doughnuts that cowboys had been known to ride ten miles for.
Pearlie’s eyes widened and he let out a whoop. “Hey, Cal, Miss Sally’s got some bear sign for us!”
(Dictionary of American Regional English)
bear sign
1. Bear droppings or tracks.
1839 S. Lit. Messenger 5.377/1 GA, To be sure I did see a powerful sight of bear signs.
2. Transf: doughnuts. West
1903 (1965) Adams Log Cowboy 280 NM, She asked me to make the bear sign—doughnuts, she called them. 1942 Berrey-Van den Bark Amer. Slang 926 West, Bear sign, doughnuts. 1944 Adams Western Words bear-sign—The cowboy’s name for doughnuts.

3. Transf; among loggers; berry jam. West
1942 Berry-Van den Bark Amer. Slang 513, Logging terms, bear sign, berry jam. 1958 McCulloch Woods Words Pacific NW, Bear sign—Blackberry jam, particularly if very seedy.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • Monday, January 01, 2007 • Permalink

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