One hundred years ago, President Teddy Roosevelt went on a bear hunt near Tallulah, La., as guest of John Parker and John A. McIlhenny, and that time he was successful.
“We got three bears, six deer, one wild turkey, twelve squirrels, one duck, one opossum, and one wildcat. We ate them all except the wildcat, and there were times when we almost felt as if we could eat it. I think it is a pretty good record. I am perfectly satisfied.”
that was Roosevelt's summary of the results of his hunt on Bayou Tensas and Bear Lake at the Bear Lake Hunting Club in October 1907.
Satisfied he was, for he vowed after his 1902 Mississippi bear hunt that he would return to the Southland for another try. That hunt, however, ended in disappointment when he refused to shoot a bear that had been lassoed and tied to a tree.
Such a kill would be unsportsmanlike, and he knew the press would play havoc with him. They did anyway, because the incident created a media frenzy when Clifford Berryman drew a cartoon of the President refusing to shoot the helpless bear.
After the Mississippi bear hunt, he remarked that he “was especially anxious to kill a bear in these cane-brakes after the fashion of the old southern planters, who for a century past have followed the bear with horse and hound and horn in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.”
For his Louisiana hunt, he was guided by the two Metcalfe brothers and Holt Collier. Joining these three was another legendary bear hunter: Ben Lilly. For 13 days, from dawn to dusk, he was in the saddle, except for one or two days lost on account of rain. And his bronzed skin bore evidence of his hard work, as did his clothes, which were tattered from contact with the cane and other brush.
“Was the 'possum good?” the president was asked.
“Absolutely, the best dish we had, except bear liver,” he responded with relish.
While the President elaborated, the dogs laid around licking their lacerated bodies, the result of long chases and contact with wild hogs, wildcats, and other wild things.
The she-bear slain by the Roosevelt had been chased by the dogs for three hours, the president following the entire time. When at last they came close, Roosevelt dismounted, threw off his coat, dashed into the canebrake, going within 20 paces of the bear.
The dogs came up rapidly, with the president's favorite, Rowdy, in the lead. When the bear stopped to fight the dogs, Roosevelt fired a fatal bullet. With a little life left in it, the bear turned on the dogs. Roosevelt then lodged a second bullet between its shoulders.
Other members of the party soon came up, and Roosevelt rejoiced so over his success that he embraced each of his companions.
The third bear was killed while it was in a fierce fight with the dogs, and one of their best dogs was killed by a boar after they had encountered “a drove of wild hogs, which are more ferocious than bears.”
There were daily swims in Bear Lake by several members of the party, including the president. “The water was fine,” he said, “and I did not have the fear of alligators that some seem to have.”
After the hunt, Roosevelt left Stamboul, La., for Vicksburg, Miss., where he spent four hours and delivered a speech. From there, he boarded a special train for Nashville.
Collier was a noted African-American bear hunter and sportsman who contributed to popular culture by helping to create the Teddy Bear phenomenon. Although born in 1848 as a slave in Mississippi, he joined the Confederate military during the Civil War. Holt Collier National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi is named in his honor.