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Friday, July 22, 2011


(Thanks to Norma Carroll Shook Phelps, oldest daughter of Tom Shook for sharing this article she had in her family files.  It comes from The (Watauga) Democrat  in 1900 and was re-published in 1960 in the weekly column entitled "Sixty Years Ago". )


Old Time Bear Hunt Recalled

 Sixty Years Ago
December 20, 1900

        On the 7th inst, a party consisting of  Clarence Mason and Robert Farris, Norman and James Shook, Emanuel Brewer, Larkin Townsend, and James Cornell, eight of  Watauga's hardy mountaineers, went on Grandfather Mountain to hunt for a bear.  After traveling some distance their dogs bayed and they made great haste to the spot indicated by the noise.  Not knowing however that a bear den was near, but after an examination they discovered bruin in a dark cavity in a cliff, he being about the mouth of the whole in which in all probability was selected for his winter quarters.
        Bruin's movements indicated that he looked upon this high-handed invasion of his premises with disfavor, as the men were armed with six guns and an ax, he considered it nothing short of forcible trespass.  Cornell shot, the ball striking the bear above the eye.  Other snapped, but owing to the dampness their guns failed to discharge.  In about a minute after the shot the bear made for the mouth of the den, and as he passed one of the dogs snapped him on the hind leg.  The bear turned and caught the dog in his arms, wounding him seriously in several places.  About this time Monroe Shook shot him with a rifle.  The bear arose to his hind feet, released the dog and ran, but the dogs pursued him so closely that he was bound to stop at intervals for a fight, the hunters trying in vain to get close enough for another shot, but the bear would again flee.  This manner of procedure was kept up for three miles.  At about night one of the party gave him a third shot.
        He was lying stretched on the ground as if he was dead and the dogs standing around him.  Cornell fired, the ball striking him in the shoulder.  He rose and ran, going over a cliff fifteen feet high, snorting, growling and biting off laurel and other shrubs in his path.  The dogs pursued him some distance and again brought him to bay.  As night had now fallen the party concluded to camp on the trail.  They built a fire, arranged to spend the night, and the dogs soon returned.
        The next morning the chase was resumed, and the party was gratified to learn that the bear had not moved from the place where the dogs had left him.  He was still lying down and bleeding but the dogs soon had him up again, and before the parties could get in shooting distance he took his departure.  He would only go about fifty feet at a time and then stop and fight the dogs.  He kept this up for a distance of about two miles, retreating on the approach of the hunters, but finally getting tired of  constantly retreating, he took his stand in a cluster of laurel, where he would pitch first at one dog and then another, and while there he was again shot three times.  He ran a short distance and again stopped in another laurel thicket.  Charles Farris got within ten feet of him and snapped, but his gun failed to fire.  Townsend, not knowing the consequences that might follow, climbed about thirty feet in a tree almost directly over the bear.  The bear went a little farther and stopped for the final fray.  Cornell got behind a tree and as he was passing around it and was almost in the act of shooting, the bear made for him in a great rage with his mouth open for a fight.  Cornell fired, the bear turned and jumped on a log, and Cornell shot him again, and as the bear fell back, he caught Brewer’s dog in his arms.  Brewer, fearing the fate of his dog, could stand it no longer.  He rushed toward the bear, unarmed, and it took two strong men to hold him back.  But in the meantime Brewer had his pants torn off him, and in the excitement put them on hind part before.
        After the bear appeared to be dead, he was shot twice more for fear there would be a great mistake made.  When Townsend saw the bear going towards Cornells with open mouth he made for a tree and climbed about thirty feet and it took some little argument to persuade him that bruin was dead before he could be induced to come down, and I am informed that four of the men toward the closing exercises thought it safer to be perched from twenty to thirty feet in the timber than to be on the ground.
        The next thing was to get the animal out.  It took five and six of these strong men at a time to get him to the road half a mile away, where he was skinned and quartered.  Then each couple of the party bore off in triumph a quarter of the wild king of the Grandfather to the house of Mr. McRae, the Scotchman, whose residence is on the Yonahlossee Road about three miles from where the bear was brought into the road.  After depositing the game with Mr. McRae , the party proceeded to their respective, the most of whom live near Banner Elk, reaching home near midnight, tired and worn.  John Farris started at once for the treasure with wagon and team, reaching home the next night.
        The bear was very fat and weighed something over 400 pounds net, the fat in some places measuring near six inches in thickness and the hide measures eight feet in length.
        The writer had the pleasure of eating some of the meat, which was very fine.  I have but little doubt that this was the same bear that was caught in a trap by Samuel Aldridge, son of Harrison Aldridge, Watauga’s famous bear hunter two or three years ago, as this bear had a missing toe, corresponding with the toe left in the trap of Mr. Aldridge.    

L. D. LOWE  Banner Elk, N.C. (author)

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