BILL CLARK, THE DEER SLAYER AND BEE HUNTER
By S. C. Turnbo
Bill Clark was well known many miles along White River. Almost every pioneer settler in Taney and Ozark Counties, Mo., and Marion County, Ark., knew him, or had heard of him, for his fame as a hunter went far and wide. As a deer and bee hunter he had but few rivals. It is told of him that he never done but few days work on a farm, entirely depending on hunting for a living. When he was hungry for bread he would approach a farmer and purchase a turn of corn on credit, promising to pay for it with a fat buck. It might be a month or a year before he fulfilled his promise, but it is said he hardly ever failed to bring the deer according to contract. He tramped the woods so frequently in search of game that the front part of his pant legs unless they were made of tanned buck hide were worn into tatters by the saw briars. To avoid the wear and tear on his pants he would often step high through the grass like a blind horse.
Referring to his renown as a bee hunter, a settler who lived on White River sent for him one day to find a bee tree that he and others failed to locate. When Clark arrived several men were sitting around watching the bees alp the bait. Some timber prevented the men from getting the proper direction the bees came and went. Bill seated himself to watch the bees for a few minutes, then he stationed himself on the bank of the river. He soon discovered that they flew across the river (his eyesight was so good he could see the flight of a bee a long distance). After getting the direction the bees flew he prepared to locate their home. Every man in the crowd had his eyes on Clark, for he was acknowledged to be a great bee hunter. Soon he noticed a bee heavily laden, which flew very slow. Bill watched it intently and said to the men, "Look, boys, look, look, look, boys, look. Into a tree it went, by jacks." His eyes had followed the bee into the face of a bluff on the opposite side of the river and saw it go into a tree. The men crossed the river in a canoe and discovered the bees in the tree Bill had named. He had located the tree in less than half an hour, where others had hunted for days and failed to find.
I remember seeing great numbers of wild bees visit our spring on Elbow Creek in 1850. The direction they came and went indicated that there was more than one hive nearby. Father was not a bee hunter, but he enjoyed eating wild honey and he sent for Bill Clark and when he made his appearance which was in a day or two father employed him to find bee trees. I was only six years old, but I recollect how Clark coursed the bees from the spring.
The hunter seated himself near where the bees were sipping the water and watched those that flew across the creek; then he ran and followed one to the creek and halted and waited for another one. In a few seconds another one appeared which flew just over his head. Bill began to repeat the words, "There it goes; there it goes; there it goes; over the hill it went, by jacks." Then he climbed the bluff on a line the bee had went and stopped on the top of the bluff where he saw the bee pass over. In a little while another bee went buzzing just over him. His eyes quickly perceived it and I heard him sing out, "Yonder it goes! Yonder it goes! Yonder it goes into a post oak tree, by jacks." The man had located it in a few minutes. Returning to the spring he proposed to find another swarm in less than an hour. Another course was followed west from the spring. Some timber intervened and so obstructed the course that Clark had some difficulty in finding the tree, but in about 40 minutes he treed the bees in a large cedar tree a few hundred yards from the spring. The bees went into the tree near the ground.
In the early forenoon the weather was clear and bright, but soon after locating the swarm in the cedar tree the sun was hidden by clouds which broke up the bee hunt. Going to the house for ax and vessels the hunter chopped a big block out of the tree and exposed to view a fine quantity of rich honey comb which filled the cavity in the tree. Rain began falling while we were feasting on the honey. In a day or two we felled the post oak tree on the creek bluff that Clark had found first, but it contained only a small amount of honey.
Many years ago when the fine valley of Big Creek in Taney County, Mo., was wild, Bill and his brother, Calvin Clark, were hunting one day on the right hand prong of the creek. The weather was warm and the weary hunters had stopped at a spring of water to quench their thirst. Before either one had time to drink a bee alighted and began sipping at the water. Bill remarked, "By jacks, Mr. Bee, I will find your house before I drink of this water."
Both men waited patiently until the bee filled itself and started. Bill watched it move off and followed it with his eye and saw it enter the cavity of a post oak tree just 15 paces from the spring. This proved to be a rich tree and the comb had a peculiar formation. The tree was large with a big hollow. A column of honeycomb was on two sides of the cavity, from the ground to seven feet above where the hollow terminated. From the center of the termination of the cavity was a round column of rich comb three inches in diameter and 2 ½ feet in length, which hung between the two columns of the main comb. It was held in place by a small neckthe lower part was not attacked to anything. Both of the men said that the formation of the comb in this tree was strange to them.
As we have given some samples of how the noted hunter located bee trees we will now relate some stories of how he slew wild turkeys and deer.
One night in the month of January, 1844, while his father, Billy Clark, lived at the mouth of Shoal Creek just over the line in now what is Boone County, Ark. He and his brother, Calvin, went up to the upper end of the river bottom above the mouth of the creek to shoot turkeys. Great numbers were roosting in the timber. The night was cold, but it was brilliantly lighted up by a full moon. In a large sycamore tree the limbs were crowded with turkeys. Both men took a station at one tree and shot, time about, until 14 fat turkeys fell dead. Thinking it wrong to kill more than they could make use of for awhile, they ceased the slaughter and swung the dead turkeys on a pole and carried them home.
Where the little hamlet of Dugginsville, Ozark County, Mo., now is, is several fine springs of water. Here on this spot of land Bill Clark often camped and killed scores of deer on Cedar Creek. The hills and valleys in this section were a garden spot for deer. Some 200 yards from the main spring, Bill said that he killed the largest buck he ever saw. The animal was so fat and heavy that it gave him and his brother Calvin a hard lift to carry it to camp at the spring. Campbell Barry, who was then County Clerk of Taney County, had offered a fine pocket knife as a premium to the hunter who brought in the largest buck hide in proper shape. Clark said that the hide from this buck after being well dried weighed 12 lbs. and 2 oz. at Forsyth. Bill took in the knife by a close call, for another hunter had brought in a buck hide that weighed 12 lbs. and one ounce. Besides the knife he received 30 cents per lb. for the hide.
On another occasion Bill, accompanied by his brother Calvin, were on a camp hunt at this last named spring on Cedar Creek. The men needed a supply of pelts more than they needed venison. This time out they killed deer for the hides only. They soon killed enough for a fair load. One morning the wind was blowing brisk and the hunters thought they would have no success that day on account of the blustery weather. But they went out to try their luck at least. Just below the spring on the creek they met a herd of deer which divided, and each man followed a bunch of them. The deer were not wild and soon stopped. Calvin said that he killed three of them as fast as he could load and shoot. The second one fell across the first one and the third one fell in a few feet of the other two. The other deer ran off.
"In the meantime," said Cal "I heard Bill shooting, and knew he was putting in good time. When he quit firing I went to him, he being near ¼ mile from me, and found that he had slain four deer and they were all lying within ten feet of each other. This was seven deer killed in a few minutes. This gave us a spell of work to remove the hides. We had enough green pelts on hand now to care for, and we loaded them on our ponies and returned home. At the mouth of Shoal Creek." Bill Clark has left his earthly hunting grounds and has passed over to the other shore where we hope he is "resting under the shade of the trees." His death occurred in the month of May, 1886. He died on the south side of White River above the mouth of Little North Fork and just below Blanket Bottom. On the 26th day of December, 1905, as I stood on a hill on the north side of the river and viewed the locality where the old pioneer hunter gave up his unerring rifle to occupy his resting place under the sod my heart seemed to throb slower then it beat faster at the memory of this man who once was so noted among the wild bees, wild turkeys and deer. After his death his family and friends conveyed his body to the north bank of the river and deposited it in a grave dug in the cemetery in the lower part of the bottom opposite the mouth of Music Creek. Clark had hunted until he was too old and feeble to follow the fat bucks or kill the big fat gobbler or hunt the rich bee trees.
A few years ago the writer met his widow, Mrs. Celia Clark. She was at that time residing near Dugginsville, a part of her husbands old hunting grounds. She is a daughter of Arch and Elizabeth Tabor. Her mother was a daughter of Tommy Morris who died on Big Creek in 1858.
In referring to old times on Big Creek Aunt Celia Clark said that, "some of the women in the early days knew how to use a rifle as well as men. One evening in 1840, when I was about ten years old, " said she, "I went to Uncle Isaac Tabors to stay all night. Next morning before breakfast a large flock of wild turkeys alighted in some trees near the house. Uncle Isaac was gone but Aunt Tilda, his wife, says, "Let us have turkey for breakfast." Then she took down the rifle and walked out into the yard and taking deliberate aim at a fine gobbler, shot and killed it."
Springfield-Greene County Library