The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

Among stories of hunting bear and other game in Ozark County, Mo., we glean the following from an account of an early settler. Thomas Barnette located on Little North Fork in December, 1848. He was from Tennessee. Tom took much interest in killing deer and often told his associates in a jocular way that when he shot at a deer he would sight with both eyes. He said that if there were two deer standing near together he would take sight at one of the animals with one eye and shoot it down and watch the other deer run off with the other eye. Uncle Tom died many years ago. There was a brother of Tom Barnette who came to Little North when he did whose given name was Levi, who was a hunter and farmer. It is said of him that during one spring season soon after he come to Ozark County he killed 21 deer in the field and near the field while putting in his crop of corn. Levi died in 1867 and was buried in the cemetery known as the Jimmie Forest graveyard. Among Tom Barnette’s sons was Jim who was 21 years old when he come with his father to Little North Fork and worked at the blacksmith trade in the early days. His death occurred in the early part of 1897. He said he well remembered the fine growth of cane in the creek bottoms and the tall grass which grew in the hills. "Ozark County afforded the best stock range then I ever saw," said Mr. Barnette. "Buffalo had been very numerous here but there were none here when father pitched his tent on Little North Fork, but large numbers of buffalo bones and horns were found in the creek bottoms. There were a few elk here then. I recollect seeing two fine bull elks one day while Uncle Levi Barnette and I were hunting on Little Creek which empties into Little North Fork at Thornfield. They were in a prarie hollow some distance up the creek. Each carried a large set of horns. The ends of the points seemed to be six feet above their heads. The two animals saw us before we saw them and were too wild to allow us to get in shooting distance of them. I remember seeing four deer kill a rattlesnake near the mouth of Pond Fork while I was out hunting for game. The sight of seeing the maneuvers of the deer while killing the reptile was so entertaining to me that I stood and watched them without shooting at one. The deer would close their feet together when they leaped on it, then jump as far as they could. After the deer left I went to the spot and found that they had cut the snake to pieces with their hoofs, but I saw a sight once that was stranger than seeing the deer putting an end to the rattler. It is a singular story to tell but nevertheless it is true. Pleas McCollough and I were going down where Henry Bratton had a store at that big spring of water on Bratton Spring Creek where Dick Martin lives now. While passing down a hollow that runs into the creek above the spring we noticed a deer running around in a circle with an eagle sitting on its back. The deer was suffering severely for it was bleating in a pitiful manner, and its strength seemed to be nearly exhausted. McCollough, instead of shooting the eagle, shot the deer and killed it to end its suffering. To our surprise the eagle which was a bald eagle, did not fly. As we approached the eagle tried to get away and made a loud noise flopping its wings and jerking its feet and pulling the dead deer along for a few yards and we saw now what was the matter. Its talons which were large and sharp were hooked in the deer’s flesh and hide in such a way that with all the efforts the big strong bird made it was not able to extricate itself and I killed it with a club, then cut its claws loose with my pen knife. We took the deer and eagle to the store and showed them to a number of men gathered there. It proved to be of much interest and the result was more stories of eagles attacking deer. The eagle measured six feet across the spread. The first row with a bear I got into on Little North Fork was for disturbing a lot of cubs. Bill Howard and I had gone up the creek to hunt for deer. We were afoot and not wanting to be bothered with dogs we left them at home. We traveled on without seeing any game until we got one and a half miles above the mouth of Otter Creek, when we come onto a nest of bears which consisted of four small cubs lying down together near a cave. They were larger than full grown coons, fat and plump. When they discovered us they were shy and left their bed and started to run, and Howard shot one and crippled it. The young beast set up a noise that made our blood circulate more rapidly, for we now expected trouble and watched for the appearance of the old one. As strange as it may sound in telling it, but it is sure true that while the wounded one was crying the other three apparently changed their notion by stopping and returned to their bed and nestled down together and lay quiet. About the time Howard had reloaded his rifle we heard a crashing noise beyond us just over a low hill. The fuss resembled something big running over bushes. It is useless for me to say that we could not conjecture what caused the racket for we knew that it was the mother of the cubs. If we should have had the least doubt as to what created the racket it was removed quickly for she soon hove in sight. She showed strong evidence of anger. Her eyes sparkled vim and determination. She looked as ugly as any wild beast could look according to her size. We were in no humor for a parley or a fight with her. We felt more like we knew how to run than to fight a bear and so we fled. Each of us thought she would halt at the bed and caress the crying cub; not so though for she came right on behind us. Of course this spurred us on faster and we did some tall running, but Mrs. Bruin gained on us so fast that it was not long before the intervening space between us and the infuriated animal was short. Onward we went in a rush as fast as our legs would move and our scared senses would urge them on. Shorter and shorter grew the space between us. Though we could have held out to have run much further, but no faster for we were doing our best. But we did not have time for she was almost in the act of overhauling us. Something had to be done to prevent her from catching us for we did not feel disposed to be in close quarters with her. Howard and I stayed near together and talked as we ran and agreed to halt and shoot at her, but being excited and short of breath we doubted our marksmanship, but it was that or worse and maybe that and worse, too. At least we would risk it. So facing about as quick as possible we leveled our guns and aimed at her forehead and both fired almost at the same moment. She was in 20 yards of us but luckily both balls reached where we had directed them and she staggered and dropped to the ground and after a few struggles stretched out broadside and died. We had saved our carcasses but it was close call for us both. We positively did feel thankful that we were too fast for the bear and come out whole. After resting a while we went back to take care of the cubs, and after disposing of the wounded one by slaying it we contrived to capture the other three alive and carried them home but we had a troublesome and tiresome job. In a few weeks Jimmie Holt, who lived on Little North Fork too, paid his old home in Shelby County, Tennesee, a visit and we let him have two of the cubs to take with him to show friends and neighbors there a sample of the new country and the kind of game the Ozark hills afforded.

"Another short bear story and I will quit telling,hunting tales for the present," said Mr. Barnette. "I had heard that a bear sometimes when shot will utter a peculiar noise which resembles the voice of a human in distress. I felt somewhat incredulous about accepting it as true until I heard one myself, which happened in this way. One day in the fall of 1857 I and Tom Lord went on a camp hunt on Lick Creek below Gainesville. I had been living in Ozark County nearly nine years and knew almost every stock and deer trail in the forest for miles. We did not have the best of luck in collecting pelts but we met and killed a few bear. Among the latter was one we killed near one mile above the mouth of ‘Possom Walk Creek. When we first espied the bear it was some distance off. We took advantage of it by keeping a cluster of bushes between us and it until we got in rifle range, then creeping around where we got a good view of it I fired at it. At the report of the gun it gave vent to the human cry as I had heard. Its sound reminded me of a person suffering with acute pain and crying out "Oh. Lordy." The noise the wounded animal made seemed as distinct as a human could make. The sound seemed strange to be given by a wild beast. For a few moments I felt as If I had shot a human being. After the bear hollowed it fell but got up again and ran 100 yards and lay down. The beast showed indications of being very sick from the effects of the shot. By this time my imaginary spell of feeling as if I had shot a human had passed off and we advanced up close to it and shot it the second time and killed it."

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