The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

Jack Coffee, an old timer of Ozark County, Mo., who lived on Lick Creek below Gainesville for many years, relates an account of several old timers going into a cave to kill a bear. Mr. Coffee’s story about it is a little amusing. He tells it in the following way.

"Near the head of Little Creek, a tributary of Lick Creek, which enters the latter stream ¾ of a mile above the mouth of Possom Walk Creek, is a noted cave that was known in the early days of Ozark County as the Bear Cave. There Is another cave nearby that bear inhabited and hunters have killed a few of them in this cavern but the one I referred to first is the most important one. A few yards in the interior of this opening is a large room. Beyond this the cave forks Into two prongs. Both passage ways traverse the interior of the earth some distance. I am told that a few people who live in the neighborhood of this cavern visit It ever now and then for the sake of curiosity and delight to enter this roomy space and tell the same stories that was once told by the famed bear hunters that use to repair to this cave to lay in a fresh supply of bear meat. When the valley of Lick Creek was Infested with wild beast, hunters enjoyed the sport of capturing Bruin in his lair. Some of the encounters were as amusing as they were dangerous. Not every hunter was brave though. The, would often back out before any danger was In Bight. A story of a case of this kind I will tell now, it said Mr. Coffee. "One winter a long time ago while a mantle of snow wrapped mother earth in these parts, Steve Sanders picked up his rifle and went in search of game. He soon struck the trail of a bear and followed it to this cave, where his bearship took shelter on the inside. Sanders declined to face Bruin alone and returned home for help from his brothers and neighbors who were all anxious to enjoy the sport of seeing the bear took out of his den. The following day late when I and Dave McGinnis reached the cave the Sanders boys, Steve, John and Jim, and Dave Smith were there. Steve Sanders had shot and wounded Bruin which caused him to retreat back into the left prong. We met Jim Sanders at the entrance coming out to procure a pole to attach the torch to in order to be more convenient in searching for Bruin. When me and McGinnis entered the big room the other men were discussing the problem of getting at the bear which we could hear growling and taking on with the wound. The men said it was dangerous to attempt to reach him where he was now, but they thought when the torch was ready for use they would try to locate him. When the torch was prepared some of the men remarked that they were not going to venture any further. This put a damper on some’ of the others and Steve Sanders said, "By Golly, boys, who ever wants to go to that bear can do so. This boy is not going to take anymore risks." The men reported that It was a small one and I did not believe it would take a brave man to search for it and kill it, and I says, "Men, I won’t go alone but if one of you will go with me and carry the torch I will try to shoot it." John Sanders said he was willing to accompany me with the torch and we started Into the left prong. By this time the bear was silent. We searched nicks and offshoot in the passage for several yards back without locating Bruin. We decided now that we had went too far and went back to the room where we had left the other boys. Me and my companion were now in a notion of backing out too., but we had come here with the intention of killing Bruin and If we backed out every hunter in Ozark County would laugh at us when they heard about it. This time we were successful for we soon discovered him jammed into a small pocket above a ledge of rock. After examining his position we found that owing to the stones surrounding the pocket it would be a difficult matter to reach him with a bullet. He could neither stand nor turn round. All the way he could get out was to back out. We climbed up the ledge and crawled up in a few feet of where he had scrouged in where he lay. The animal now began to growl fierce and loud. There were openings into the pocket and I told John as he had a revolver I would hold the torch while he could shoot. He shot it twice but owing to the way it lay the balls entered a foreleg instead of its body. The only perceivable effect the shots had was to aggravate Bruin and make him growl much louder and try to push his way further into his hiding place. Seeing that it did not want to come out we made a better examination of the pocket and discovered a small opening where we could reach the bear’s head with a ball and John reached around into it with his revolver. I held the torch near the opening while John sent a bullet into Bruin’s head. Soon after the report Bruin struggled and slid out of the pocket backwards and rolled down the ledge to the floor of the cave. At this juncture Steve Sanders rushed out of the room to where the bear lay and yelled out, "Boys, we’ve got him at last," and sent a rifle ball into the body of the already dying beast. It was such a little bear that it weighed only about 350 lbs. gross. But it was fat. While engaged dressing the meat we found a bullet imbedded in the flesh on its neck that had been shot there by some hunter months ‘before for the wound had healed over. An equal division of the meat was made among us," said Mr. Coffee. May 7th, 1902 Jack Coffee was a veteran of the Civil War on the union side. He died in the southwest part of Ozark County on what is the Bledsoe place, December let, 1903, and his body was taken to Lick Creek and buried in a graveyard on that stream.

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