A BEAR CREATES A PANIC AMONG A LOT OF HUCKLEBERRY PICKERS
By S. C. Turnbo
It is amusing to listen at some of the stories of old settlers and hear them relate their experience in the wild forest where the beasts of the field roamed at will and held away until they were swept out by the fearless hunter with his trusty rifle and trained dogs. It was many years after the invasion of the white hunter before the wild beast were forced from their haunts in the mountain gorges. Though we have said that some of the accounts of getting in close quarters with the more dangerous wild animals were amusing while other stories of contacts were serious. The funny side of the old timers tales are as entertaining and as true as other information gathered from those gray haired veteran citizens and hunters. We have already given a sketch or two of Clinton Mountain in Van Buren County, Arkansas, in other series of these stories and we propose to relate another one of this locality which occurred many years ago.
Page Hatchet lived near 20 miles north of Clinton, the county seat of Van Buren County. His residence consisted of a comfortable hewed log house which stood at the foot of the mountain and was a noted stopping place for travelers. Mr. Hatchet was a son in law of the old man Hunter who lived on Choctaw Creek 5 miles below Clinton. Hatchet was a prominent citizen as well as a hunter of considerable renown and was among the earliest settlers of that section. His stories of exciting scenes among the wild beast that once Inhabited that part of Arkansas if put in print would fill a big book of entertaining reading. But as we cannot tell all of them we will tell one of them which he considered one of his best which he declared was true and relates to a bear entering a huckleberry patch while a lot of women and children were gathering huckleberries. One day in the last days of January, 1866. I met Mr. Hatchet where he lived and he told me several interesting stories of pioneer life in that region. Among them is the one referred to which he told in the following way, and we are convinced that his account of it will cause a smile to crawl over the readers countenance as he peruses the story.
"On top of the Clinton Mountain near one mile from my house is a pond of water where cattle and horses as well as deer and other animals quench their thirst. This water is surrounded by a fine huckleberry thicket. The growth of these bushes are so vigorous that I have not known them to fall of bearing fruit at the proper season, especially in the more earlier years. These bushes were found in numerous places on all the mountains when I first come here and afforded all the huckleberries the settlers needed. This thicket I refer to was more noted than other patches I knew of for the reason that when the berries were ripe men, women and children would assemble here day after day when the small but delicious fruit was ready for use. The denizens of the forest are plentiful now but more so several years back. It was considered dangerous for women and children to go there alone for fear they might be attacked by a wild animal and they were hardly ever allowed to go there without protection, and it was often the case that the men would go along with guns and dogs and stand guard while their wives and children gathered the berries. But no one was ever attacked by "a varmint" or other mishap occurred to anyone that visited this place until one day a goodly number of women assembled at the pond to take in a big lot of the ripe berries. That kind of wild fruit hit well that year and it seemed that every woman who lived in reach of that huckleberry thicket wanted to collect a big supply of the berries. On the occasion just mentioned my wife and children were with the bunch of ladies who had collected. Besides my own children there were a number of other boys and girls. I went along with my gun to keep the wild beast from interfering should any attemp to molest them. There was not a dog brought along for company even. All the women carried a vessel of some kind to hold the berries in and consisted of coffee pots, cedar pails, nogging, wooden buckets, half bushels and so on. Each woman carried some sort of a vessel and so did all the children that were old enough to do anything. The majority of the little men and women carried half pint, pints and quart cups. On arriving at the pond the women and children were soon busy at work and began to scatter all through the thicket to fill their vessels with the pretty ripe berries which were so plentiful that they could fill them rapidly and so they all worked like honey bees. I took my station to watch for the approach of bear, panther, or wolves until finally I grew weary of guard duty and apprehending no danger from wild animals I placed my rifle against a tree and In 5 minutes more I was as deeply interested as the others were in gathering berries. In the meantime the women and children grew more separated and were too busy to notice anything but the loaded huckleberry bushes and they gathered the fruit as fast as they could work their fingers. There was no talking and laughing and silence reigned supreme. In a half an hour I was so absorbed with my work that I had left my gun some distance. It was now that I happened to raise my head and was astonished to see a big bear approaching the pond of water to drink. None of the others had as yet discovered it, for he did not happen to pass near any of them. I gave a signal of alarm at once and they all raised up to see what was the matter, and I gave another signal for all to conceal themselves and every woman and child hid among the huckleberry bushes. Bruin did not seem to pay the least attention to what was going on but walked on slowly toward the water. Mr. Bear was only a short distance from my rifle and I ran to the tree where I had left the gun and grabbed up the weapon and aimed it behind Bruins shoulder and pulled the trigger, but being in a hurry, excitement got the best of me which made my aim bad and the bullet struck the bear too high up. But he fell and lay still. Believing I had only wounded him and that he might get up I stood where I shot from and poured a charge of powder into my gun and rammed down a naked bullet on top of it. Just as I jerked my gunstick out the infuriated animal rose to its feet and charged at me with its mouth wide open. As the black beast made its rush the woman and children all raised up to see the bear and were terror stricken at once and such a panic among them was never witnessed before on Clinton Mountain. Such screaming and hallooing the forest fairly echoed with the noise. They all dashed their vessels down as they ran and spilled the berries on the ground all over the thicket. The scene at that moment would have afforded an artist an interesting and ludicrous picture. Every one except myself was rushing pell mell to escape the enraged beast. I was scared bad enough to run too but I knew it was best to make an effort to stand my ground. The bear made no halt but come as fast as he could toward me. I did not forget to prime my gun and by the time he was in a few yards of me I was ready to shoot, and hurriedly pointed the gun at the bears forehead, but from some cause I did not pull the trigger until his bearships nose almost touched the muzzle of the rifle and then I shot him in the mouth. At the report of the gun I raised it and punched the animal between the eyes with the muzzle of the gun. By this time I felt like running too and I dropped the empty rifle and fled like a frightened hare. I kept up the wild race over 200 yards before I stopped to look back and finding that Bruin was not following me I waited an hour and seeing nothing of it I ventured back and found the bear lying dead where I had shot it the second time. The women and children were so terrified they never halted until they reached my house. Some of the vessels they were using in the huckleberry thicket was never found. I have met and killed several bear on Little Red River and Archies Fork and have had a few scrimmages with wounded ones, but this one gave me the worst scare I ever had with a bear."
Springfield-Greene County Library