AN INTERESTING TIME AMONG GAME AND FINDING BEE TREES
DURING THE PIONEER DAYS OF OZARK COUNTY, MISSOURI
By S. C. Turnbo
The early settlers had a merry time killing game and hunting bee trees. Some of these stories sound more like fairy tales than reality. However these strange stories as told by the old timers are said to be true and was not considered unreasonable when done and told in the early days. Mr. Joseph R. Haskins, or Uncle Rufe as he is commonly called, lives on Pond Fork. He first saw Ozark County in October, 1840. His parents, Preston D. and Jane (Glass) Haskins, settled on Barren Fork of Little North Fork. Preston was from Tennessee, where Joseph R. was born in Roane County, June 26, 1826. His father lived only five years after coming here. His mother survived his father 37 years when she, too, passed over the dark river of death. Both bodies received interment in a graveyard near the old Jimmie Forest land on Little North Fork. When I interviewed Uncle Rufe at his home in 1896 I was shown the family cemetery which is in the apple orchard near the dwelling. Among the bodies resting here is that of his first wife, Mrs. Betsey (Holt) Haskins, and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Lucindy Holt, wife of Herrod Holt, and a grown son named Joseph. The graves were adorned with fine rose vines which were in full bloom. In referring to the Civil War Mr. Haskins said that while it was being agitated his sympathy was with the south until he heard a man make a speech at Magnolia, Columbia County, Arkansas, who said in part that if war broke out "the black wool hats and copperas breeches would do the fighting for the rich slave holders." "There is no question but that hundreds of wealthy citizens went to the front when the war began and fought side by side with the laboring class. Yet this man wanted to make it appear that all the wealthy planters would push the poor class of men forward in battle to be shot down like dogs and they would set back in the rear and do the urging on. I also learned something during the war about the religious zeal of a few individuals who professed to be deeply in love with God. They would almost make you think they were angels while they attended meeting but after the war broke out they seemed to be transformed into robbers and would steal and take anything they could get ahold of." Rufus Haskins was a noted hunter and had much experience among deer and finding bee trees. A few of his best stories are given here.
He said that in 1843 he and Bill Roark were hunting on Brickya
Creek, a tributary of Bryants Fork, when they came across a big bunch of
deer. They did not appear much wild. Each one of us concealed himself behind
a pine tree about 50 feet apart. Roark shot and broke both hind legs of
a deer and I broke both forelegs of another. While the helpless animals
were floundering about the other deer seemed to be amazed and we shot and
killed three more before they left from the same trees. We had five deer
on our hands now and we had all the skinning and dressing of venison that
we wanted for awhile.
I saw 200 deer in a bunch one day in the hills on the east side of Pond
Fork. This was the largest number of deer I ever saw in one herd. The majority
of them were lying down. I was horseback but had no gun. The herd allowed
me to approach in 60 yards of them before they ran. As they went off they
made a loud racket with their feet against the stones. At another time about
150 came in 200 yards of the house where I live on Pond Fork. They were
in the road coming up the creek when the leader halted. The others closed
up like a herd of sheep. To see deer in large numbers is a beautiful sight
to enjoy," said Uncle Rufe. "At another time 65 bucks were seen
a short distance from my residence on the last named stream. They all carried
a good set of horns. The parties who saw them ascended a tree and counted
them as they went on by. They were traveling in single file. This gives
you some idea of the great number of deer in Ozark County as seen by the
You want to know if there were plenty of wild bees here. Well, I think
a short account or two of my own observation will convince you that there
were. I recollect about seeing my brother, Bob Haskins, finding two bee
trees one day only six feet apart and another one 50 yards from these two.
The three were sighted in a few minutes. Bee trees were numerous but everyone
did not turn out a wash tub full of honey, but there were numbers of rich
hives here. I will relate one brief sketch as a sample of the richest. Bob
Haskins and I were hunting once on Upper Turkey Creek which flows into Little
North Fork from the east side. Seeing a buck I shot at it. The animal started
off in a fast run, but before it got far it struck a post oak stump six
feet high and fell dead. On going up to where the dead buck lay at the root
of the stump I discovered a swarm of bees that the deer had disturbed. They
were living in a big hollow in the stump. As we were on a camp hunt and
had come prepared to take care of wild meat and honey, we went to work and
robbed the bees. The cavity which extended up nearly to the top of the stump
was full of rich comb. The largest roots were hollow and the honey was down
below the surface of the ground. We strained nine gallons of clear nice
honey from this find. We killed two more deer and found another rich bee
tree the same day. This was in 1846. Though the swarm in the stump was among
the richest, these finds were common in those days, but it was not an everyday
business to find such extremely rich hives.
Yes, about the wolves. It would take a man with a poor recollection to
forget the great number of them that once infested Ozark County. I never
had any serious encounter with them, but I remember the first I ever saw.
It was the first year we came to Barren Fork. I rode along through the timber
and saw two gray wolves devouring a deer. I galloped up and frightened them
off. They had just killed it. After I examined what was left of the deer
I rode on and I suppose the wolves returned and finished their meal.
In the early days of Ozark County, Rock Bridge, a small town on Bryants
Fork, was the county seat. While I was a young fellow I went over there
once afoot. It was common to travel in that kind of style them days on business
as well as hunting. Every body did not walk everywhere they went, but lots
of them did. So when I got ready to go to Rock Bridge, I lit out afoot.
As I was following a narrow trail on Upper Turkey Oreek I met seven wolf
pups. They were gray ones and big enough to run fast. The trail was so narrow
and the grass so rank I did not see them until I was in four yards of the
leader. When I saw them I stopped and so did the wolves. Thinking I could
catch one I darted at them and they yelped, rolled and tumbled over each
other in turning and getting out of my way. I never got in reach of them.
I raced with them over one hundred yards in trying to lay my hands on one,
but they outran me and escaped. But I and them wolf pups had a lively time
while the sport lasted.
As you delight to hear old time stories as told by pioneer settlers,
I will give you a bear tale," said Uncle Rufe. "There were an
abundance of bear here. Most every settler killed them for their meat and
every now and then you would find a settler that kept a good supply of bear
bacon on hand. Most everyone loved to eat bear meat and this accounts for
the great number being slain.
The single story of killing a bear without excitement attached to it
is hardly worth mentioning but I will tell you a story that will be of some
interest to the reader. The one I am going to tell you occurred in 1843,
on Pine Creek, eight miles northeast of the present site of Gainesville.
A deep snow lay on the ground. Arch Frost and another man were on this stream
hunting bear and soon tracked one into a cave. They were old men, and in
place of going into his den they thought it more prudent to smoke bruin
out. There were a few dry sticks and leaves lying on the inside of the mouth
of the cave and after gathering some other dead wood, they started a small
fire on the inside of the cave.
In order to make the smoke reach the bear they spread two or three blankets
over the mouth which held the smoke back. They seated themselves with guns
in hand to await the appearance of the bear.
It was not long before they heard a snuffle on the inside. They knew
it was the bear and that the smoke was driving him out. The next moment
he had passed over the fire and put his nose against the blanket to push
out. As it did so Frost placed the muzzle of his rifle against it and fired.
Supposing he had blown a hole through the animals head and had killed
it they jerked the blankets away. But it was not there; it had gone back
in the cave. They knew it was wounded, but to what extent they did not know.
They now decided to leave the cave and notify others to come and assist
to kill it. Next day over twenty men including myself with a large number
of dogs were at the cave. Not knowing whether the bear was dead or alive
we sauntered around there sometime before any of us made up our minds to
At last Henry Skaggs, Joe Thornburg, Arch Frost and I took a torch and
guns and went in. After getting twenty-five yards on the inside we heard
it breathing hard. Twenty yards further on we saw it leaning against the
side of the cave. Moving up a little closer we saw by the light of the torch
that its nose was shot to pieces. It was suffering badly. It never noticed
us; if it did it never paid the least attention. Approaching within a few
yards of it Skaggs held the light while Thornburg shot it. The torch was
held close to the gun and at the report of the gun the light went out, which
left us in total darkness. The groans of the dying bear were loud and terrifying
and we stampeded. We ran, crawled and stumbled over each other in the dark
cavern in trying to reach the mouth. As we rushed on we came in contact
with loose boulders and the walls of the cave. We all received hurts and
bruises but we got out. What made us retreat out of the cave in such a confused
manner I never could account for. It was the worst pellmell retreat I ever
took part in running from a bear, for we knew the bear was too near dead
to hurt us. I suppose when men get over excited and imagine great danger
is threatening them they sometimes lose their senses and away they go running
from nothing. After our nerves got quiet we asked some of the other men
to go in and see if it was dead. They shook their heads and refused to go.
Then us four scared fellows put on a little better face and lighting another
torch and taking the dogs with us, went in again and found the bear dead;
and going back to the entrance and announcing it all the others were willing
to go in and did. How the animal lived, suffered and breathed after its
nose was shattered into fragments is a mystery," said Uncle Rufe.
Rufe Haskins is dead now. Grim death entered his home January 6, 1906, and the famed hunter and old pioneer passed over the dark waters. His mortal remains were laid to rest in the family cemetery that we have mentioned in this sketch.
Springfield-Greene County Library