THRILLING ENCOUNTERS WITH BEAR IN CAVES
By S. C. Turnbo
During the early settlement of Taney County, Mo., hunters in addition to their rifles and hack knives carried tommyhawks. The two latter weapons were handy to use when in close quarters with wild beast. One day three of Taney Countys old timers of the names of Jimmie Oliver, Tom Parrish and J. L. Huddlestone entered a cave near Forsyth one day while out hunting and discovered a bear lying asleep. Creeping up to where the animal was snoozing on its winter bed they struck it several blows on the head with their tommyhawks and killed it. This was dangerous work, but the early hunters were accustomed to this kind of work and thought little of the danger in such encounters. Ben Majors, the old time stock man and hunter, went into a cave one day on Turkey Creek in the vicinity of where Kirbyville now stands, which was occupied by a bear; with torch and rifle, he advanced up near the bear and shot and wounded it. Bruin made fight. Having no time to reload his gun, Majors jerked his tommyhawk from the belt and struck the bear twice with the spike end but as it come in contact with Bruins tough hide the weapon bounced back like Indian rubber. Quickly turning the to prevent it from doing him injury until he could reload his gun and shoot it again. Another early settler of Taney County was a man of the name of Bayles. He was an old man and they called him Grandpa Bayles like many other pioneers he was quite a hunter. One day in 1842 he followed the trail of a bear through the snow until it went into a cave In the hills in the Layton Pineries south of Forsyth. He soon entered the cave and discovering Bruin and shot and killed it. But this was not the only bear in there. But Bayles did not know it until on his way out and while passing through a narrow place in the cavern another bear rushed up behind him and knocked him on his face which put the light out and a struggle began between man in this dark hole in the ground. The bear in its efforts to pass by Bayles mashed and crushed him severely. Bruin surged clawed and bit furiously and finally succeeded in passing over the prostrate and suffering hunter. Bayles was so badly used up that he lay helpless in that dark hole 24 hours before reviving sufficiently to crawl out and began to make his way slowly toward home through the snow. His prolonged absence alarmed his family and they followed his trail to the cave then followed it back and overhauled him. The old man was in a sad plight. The bear had almost done him up and he was barely able to creep along. His clothes were torn into shreds almost and the remnants were red with his own blood which flowed from wounds inflicted by the bear. He was weak, hungry and cold and come near dying before he could be conveyed home where he lay many days before he recovered.
Dave McCord informed the writer that he was once well acquainted with a man of the name of Thomas who was sheriff of Carroll County, Ark. Thomas was a noted hunter as well as a prominent citizen, and had several encounters with bear, the last one of which come near ending his life. Mr. McCord said that Mr. Thomas give him the story in this way. "I and an Italian (native of Italy) had went over to Osage Creek where we come to a cave which showed evidence of being inhabited by a bear. I tried to persuade my companion to go in the cave with me but he declined and I went in alone. The Italian said he would stay at the entrance where he could shoot the bear if it come out. After getting into the cave several yards I found the way very narrow and I experienced much trouble in carrying the rifle and torch. While I was in this small opening I heard the bear coming toward me and I turned and tried to reach a more roomy part of the cave before Bruin overtaken me. But the animal was closer to me than I imagined he was and he overhauled me before I had time to pass out of the narrow place. To my surprise it made no attempt to pass me but followed behind me and bit me so severely that I left the gun and torch and groped my way as fast as I could through the dark. I supposed when I gained that part of the cavern where it was roomy the bear would go on and leave me but I was mistaken for he kept just behind me and bit me hard as I went on until I reached the mouth of the cave when he knocked me down and as the animal was rushing over me my companion shot it in the head and the dying bear sank down on me. The animal was a large one and as I had fallen into a shallow sink at the entrance and was suffering so with excruciating pain inflicted by the bears teeth and weak from loss of blood and the shock the beast gave me when it knocked me down that I was as helpless as an infant, and my friend of Italy had hard work in rolling the dead bear out of the sink hole off of me. The man then carried me from the mouth of the cave and laid me down where I could rest better and left me and went to a settlers house for help and the two took me home." "Years after the wounds healed over," said Mr. McCord, "Thomas showed me the scars as evidence of his close contact with the beast. These scars were deep and ugly. Thomas also said that he felt it his duty to be a very particular friend to his companion after his terrible encounter with Bruin in the cave."
June 23, 1902
Springfield-Greene County Library