The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

The mouth of Bear Creek is one of the earliest settled places on the upper White River. The place I refer to is where the Missouri state line divides Taney County, Mo., and Boone County, Ark. The division line between Missouri and Arkansas crosses the river at the mouth of the creek named at the beginning of this chapter.

Girard Leiper Brown was the first settler at the mouth of Bear Creek. Brown married Miss Katie Coker in Alabama. They left Alabama for the wild west soon after their marriage and arriving on White River above where Batesville now stands, they dug out a big canoe of black walnut and in the late summer of 1816 they started up the river with their household. Among their effects was a small barrel filled with salt. The weather was dry and the water in the shoals was shallow and they experienced great difficulty at times in pushing and pulling the craft over the shoals. It was In the middle of October of the year 1816 when they reached the mouth of Bear Creek and unloaded their stuff from the canoe. They selected a spot of ground near the bank of the river and built a small cabin and covered It with long boards and used mother earth for a floor, then they dug a cellar and shaped it up to store their provision In and as cool weather advanced Mr. Brown began laying in a supply of wild meat for winter use. There was a big thicket of blackberry vines near the house which were loaded with berries on the following summer after their arrival here, and the family had visited the patch frequently to gather the berries. One day during that summer or in 1817, Mr. Brown went off early in the morning on a days hunt leaving his wife and two children—Tom and Alex—alone. The last named child was just beginning to walk. The first named was just old enough to barely sit alone. As we have stated the cluster of blackberry vines were loaded with nice ripe berries and after Mrs. Brown had finished her housework and the heavy dew had dried off she took the children and a small vessel and went out to the vines to gather berries. They had been living here several months among the wild beast, though the nights were made hideous by the howl of the wolves and the scream of the panther and the wild cat poured forth its nocturnal plaint to the silent stars. They both realized they were living in the midst of a howling wilderness. Yet they were not discouraged and they had built a new pole house and floored it with puncheons which they had made by felling common sized trees and cutting off in proper lengths and splitting open and dressing the faces with the ax.

After Mrs. Brown put the children down on the ground she soon become busy picking off the wild fruit but before she had filled the vessel she noticed that some of the briars had just been wallowed down by a wild beast and on Investigation she found that it had been done by a bear. Its big tracks were imprinted In the soft dirt. This alarmed her for she realized that the animal was close by. Throwing the partly filled vessel down she ran to her children and snatched them up in her arms and ran to the house. When she reached the door she glanced back toward the briar thicket and to her consternation she saw the bear coming toward the house. Then she rushed into the house and putting the children down in the middle of the floor she closed the door and made as fast as she could with the means at hand. Then she raised a puncheon and put the children down in the cellar. The moment she turned them loose in there where it was dusky dark they both began to cry. The barrel containing the salt but only partly filled now was sitting In the room and she put it endways on the puncheon she had raised. Then getting down In the cellar where her frightened children were she carefully pulled and worked the puncheon back in its place. She had worked in haste and had barely sit down on the floor of the cellar to quiet her children and listen for the approach of the beast when she heard it push against the door shutter which he soon pushed open and she heard his bearship come into the house. Then she heard him walking on the puncheons. Directly it stopped and put its nose down to a narrow space between two puncheons and she could hear it sniffle and smell. Not being satisfied with that part of the floor it moved directly over the cellar and put its nose down again and repeated its smelling and sniffles and in a short space of time it located her and the children. Then It quit smelling and went to scratching at the puncheon to raise it up, and in doing this it turned the salt barrel over and Mrs. Brown heard the barrel roll across the floor. The mother and children were in a fearful position. The hungry bear had only to raise the puncheon out of its way with its paws, then raise a second one which would give It plenty of room to get down into the cellar where it would have a delightful time while destroying the woman and her precious babes. She screamed out In terror and gave up for lost and abandoned all hope of escaping with her life. If her children were safe she could face death more easy. But her poor innocent children, how sad the thought that they would be torn to pieces by the monster wild beast. Mother and children were all screaming and crying. In the meantime bruin did not let up In trying to get into the cellar. After Mr. Brown had arrived there the fall previous and got settled down, he went back down the river to his father in law’s, Buck Coker, who lived at the lower end of what is now called the Jake Nave Bend and bought a cow of him and brought her home and kept her lassoed in the cane near the house until she dropped her calf. Then they kept the calf in the yard which was enclosed by a good fence. When the bear attacked the house, the calf which was quite young was on the back side of the house, but while the bear was at work it was supposed that the calf had come around to the door where the bear could see It and the next thing the mother knew her black enemy suddenly quit scratching at the puncheons and ran out of the house Into the yard and she heard it catch the calf and kill it In front of the door. The little calf bellowed pitiful as the black beast was slaying It. The sight of the calf caused bruin to leave its human victims for a mess of veal, but Mr. Bruin did not have the pleasure of enjoying his feast very long for while he was devouring the calf the husband the father made his appearance and hearing the cries of his wife and children he rushed up with gun in hand within plain view of the house and seeing the bear in the yard devouring something which greatly alarmed him and taking quick aim at a vital spot he shot the bear down and while it was kicking and struggling in its dying moments he rushed into the house and found his wife and children safe in the cellar. The report of the gun had given Mrs. Brown new life for she knew her husband had arrived and had killed or wounded the bear. But the fright had almost unnerved her and when Mr. Brown lifted her out of the cellar she was hardly able to stand. But realizing that her man had come in time to save her and the children from the black beast and seeing the bear as it lay dead in the yard, she nearly swooned with joy.

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