STORIES OF HUNTING IN THE EARLY DAYS
By S. C. Turnbo
With the exceptions of a year or twos residence in Woodruff County,
Ark., "Thresher" Bill Yocum has lived in Marion and Boone Counties,
Ark., until his death on Music Creek July 20, 1900. He had lived on White
River 80 years. He was born on the Arkansas River in 1814 and was six years
old when he first saw White River in 1820. He was raised by Len Coker who
lived at the mouth of Bear Creek. He says he remembers seeing large numbers
of Indians here when he was a small boy but they were friendly as has already
been stated. Mr. Yocum had much experience with the wild beasts of the forest
and has contributed other stories of interest. he recollects about him and
Uncle Len Coker finding a rich bee tree on the bluff opposite the mouth
of Bear Creek near the spot where the big rattlesnake was afterward discovered
and slain by the surveyors. The bees were found in a large post oak tree.
They carried the honey across the river in homemade water bucks and wash
tubs made of cedar. The honey was not measured after it was strained but
Mr. Yocum said they estimated it at nine gallons. This was in 1829. "On
another occasion, " said he, "I remember me and Jess Yocum finding
six bee trees in the hills on the north side of the river opposite Horseshoe
Bend, but none of these trees were very rich, but in one of the trees which
was a cedar the comb extended over nine feet in the hollow of the tree.
The entire length of the comb was only slightly saturated with honey."
"You say you want to know whether I ever saw a snake charm a bird
or small animal. Well, I heard a fellow say once that it was nonsense to
talk on that subject and that there was nothing in it and that he did not
believe in such stuff no how. It is useless to debate with such people for
they claim to know anything and everything and what they know is not comparable
with what others know of animal and serpent nature. Yes, I saw a medium
size rattlesnake charm a gray squirrel which was fully grown. This was in
the river bottom where we lived at the mouth of Bear Creek. The squirrel
was greatly agitated and ran up and down a tree under which the rattler
was lying stretched with its mouth open. The squirrel chattered all the
time while in the tree. After awhile it got on the ground and ceased its
noise and advanced slowly toward the reptile until in reach of the serpent
when the latter took hold of it with its mouth and began swallowing the
squirrel head foremost. I stood nearby and watched the snakes actions
some time before I killed it. Apparently the death of the squirrel occurred
the moment the reptile touched it. Snakes must overpower their prey by fascination
but how they accomplish this I am not prepared to say," said Mr. Yocum.
About deer killing snakes, I saw that sight once, too. I was hunting one
day over in Taney County and while on Yocum Creek some two miles below where
Cedar Creek Post Office is now I saw a bunch of deer kill a coach whip snake.
The deer would run and leap high and alight on the snake then spring away.
Others would leap on the snake and back off and run and leap on it again.
When the deer jumped on the reptile they would close their feet together.
After awhile the deer became quiet and went to feeding again. Without trying
to shoot one of the deer I walked toward where they had killed the serpent
and the deer ran off. While the deer was attacking the reptile it contrived
to get 50 yards from the spot from where it was first attacked. The snake
was about five feet long and the deer had nearly cut it to pieces with their
hoofs. There were eight deer in the bunch."
"One day," said Mr. Yocum, "me and Joe Coker, son of Len
Coker, was hunting in the Horseshoe Bend and we saw a small deer standing
about 50 yards from us. Joe aimed and shot it down. Now there was nothing
strange about shooting at one deer and killing it, but when we went to the
dead deer we saw another deer in the agony of death 25 paces beyond the
one Joe shot at. The bullet had passed through the body of the small deer
and struck the other deer in the forehead. Neither of us saw this one which
was a large doe when Joe shot. At another time," continues Uncle Billy,
"this same Joe Coker while hunting in the hills between the mouths
of Bear and Bee Creeks, shot and killed a deer which in color was a curiosity.
It was a doe and her right side was white and the left side was gray. The
animal was well formed and full grown. We kept the hide at Cokers
a number of years and hunters who saw it pronounced the color very strange."
"During the earliest settlement of what is now Boone County, Ark.,
I was told by hunters that several white deer were seen by them. I seen
one white deer myself in the hills between Bear and West Sugar Loaf Creeks.
It was a buck and alone. I was at the time just old enough to carry a rifle
and hunt and did my best to get in rifle range of the animal, but it kept
at a distance and I failed to get a shot at it. It seemed to be the most
active deer I ever saw and was as white as snow."
"I have given you a sketch about witnessing a terrific fight between
two bucks on Yocum Creek. Now I will tell you about seeing two bucks with
their horns locked when I was about ten years old or in 1824. Me and Lon
Coker had went into the pineries on the head of Bee Creek to procure pine
knots for torches for use during fire hunting. They had fought under the
stately pine trees and got their horns interlocked and were starving to
death. From appearances they had fought the battle four days before and
were so nigh exhausted when we approached them that they paid but little
attention to us. Mr. Coker killed them both and after taking off their hides
we left their carcasses including heads and horns in the forest. I do not
suppose," said Uncle Billy, "I have seen as many deer in one bunch
as a few other settlers have but I had a fine view of a herd one day that
interested me a great deal. You remember Sebe Coker who was killed during
the war where Keesees Ferry is now. Me and Sebe were together and
were attacked. Sebe was shot in the river and sank and lay on the bottom
until he was taken out. He was buried on the bank of the river at the mouth
of the Becca Brown hollow by a few women. Many years before the Civil War
me and Sebe Coker were hunting together one day on horseback at the head
of Carrollton Hollow and saw a herd of deer traveling slowly over a bald
hill. It was wonderful sight. We were not in shooting distance and we sat
on our horses and watched them as they passed from view into the timber.
I do not know whether our count of them was accurate or not but we made
it out that there were 103 in the bunch. Talk about beautiful scenes in
the forest the sight of those pretty deer was fine indeed."
"Panther were not scarce here then. I saw plenty of them, but I
never met but one that gave me serious trouble. This one came nigh scaring
me to death. It was in 1827 and I was just 13 years old. Here is the way
it come about. Len Coker, while living at the mouth of Bear Creek, owned
several head of horses which kept fat on the range. One morning we heard
the tingle of the bell in the river bottom below the mouth of the creek
and Coker sent me down into the bottom to round up the horses and drive
them home and put them in the lot to be salted. I mounted a frisky young
mare barebacked and left the house at a lively gait. I was a good rider
for a boy and being full of mischief I made the mare out up more than she
would have done. I was not long in reaching the horses and starting them
toward home. They were following a trail and were running about 100 yards
in advance of me. I made the young mare I was riding gallop to keep in sight
of the other horses. As the lead horses were passing through a small hazle
thicket they scared at something in the thicket. Then the entire bunch took
fright and nearly ran over each other in getting out of the hazle thicket.
When I galloped up in a few yards of the edge of the hazle thicket I left
the trail with the intention of passing around to find what the horses scared
at. I soon found what was the matter by meeting a ferocious panther just
emerging from the thicket. The big creature swayed its tail like a cat and
growled fiercely. Of course, I stopped, but the panther came on toward me.
The mare began rearing and plunging. She was so impatient that she was almost
beyond my control, but I contrived to stay on her back. Then I remembered
what Mr. Coker told me. He said one day that when I met a panther that showed
an angry mood to look it in the eyes and it would not catch me. I kept the
mares head toward the beast and backed her into the trail again but
I never took my eyes off of the ugly beast. It followed me in a threatening
way. When I got the mare in the trail I turned her head toward the house
and told her to go and she did. I tried that mares mettle from there
to the house. The panther pursued and gave vent to terrible screams just
behind the mares heels. The mare did her best but I thought she was
not putting forth her best speed and I jerked my coonskin cap off of my
head and lashed her with it. I whipped the mare with the cap and yelled
at every breath. I hallooed faster than the panther screamed but the latter
seemed to go the loudest. Its cry seemed blood curdling. I was not long
in getting home. The other horses were overtaken in the race and they scattered
and I passed them. The panther pursued me nearly to the yard fence and then
it wheeled around and ran back into the bottom. Coker and the dogs met me
at the fence. The dogs chased the panther but I was scared too bad to talk
until my excitement grew calmer. The panther ran to the river and plunged
in and swam across. The dogs followed it into the bluff where it took refuge
by springing up the cliffs and escaped."
"A long time before a settler built a cabin above us on Bear Creek
me and Len Coker hunted together on many occasions in the rough hills and
valleys of this stream where we shot and killed many deer. In 1832 when
I was 18 years old a big snow came in December. The weather was pretty cold.
The snow was the first of the season and Coker said it would drive the remaining
bear to caves that had not already gone in. The following day after the
snow had fell me and Coker left early in the morning with the dogs and our
rifles to hunt for bear, but we did not discover any bear sign until we
were passing up a rough stream which was afterward known as Barren Fork
which is about seven miles long and goes into Bear Creek about six miles
above the mouth. Here we found where a bear and a panther had met and fought
a battle during the night or soon after daylight that day. The snow was
trampled and wallowed down in a big space around and was stained with blood.
Bear and panther hair lay thick all around that had been
torn from each other by their teeth and claws. It had been a desperate fight. Neither of the fierce beasts had been slain on the spot but the crimsoned snow indicated that they had fought until they were not able to fight any longer and they had separated and each had dragged himself away from the scene of the conflict in an opposite direction. We followed the bloody trail of the bear first and discovered it only 200 yards away lying down at the side of a log. It was so badly used up that it had but little life left. It did not offer to get up. Coker advanced in 15 yards of the
animal and shot it. The bear had been bit and clawed so severely that great gashes was torn all over its body and legs. We left it where it lay and went back and followed the trail of the panther. It had dragged itself through the snow ¼ mile and pulled itself up a tree. The great long beast was lying on a limb. Like the bear it was so desperately wounded and suffering so that it hardly noticed us when we went up near the tree. Coker ended its suffering by shooting it in the head. It is very doubtful whether either or both of them would have lived more than a day longer," said the old pioneer settler as he finished this interesting story.
Springfield-Greene County Library