The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

Turnbo Home | Table of Contents | Keyword Search| Bibliography | Biography

By S. C. Turnbo

We have said in other sketches that Paton Keesee come to Upper White River in 1816 and wishing to explore this stream further up toward its source he and three others in the early fall of 1816 prepared a dugout canoe from a bur oak tree and put it into the river and loaded in provision, cooking vessels and hides of wild animals for bedding and started up the river in this craft to examine the river bottom lands and scenery. Their starting point was 5 or 6 miles below where old Tolberts ferry was established 10 miles east of Yellville, Ark... 15 years or more later. Their voyage up the river was interesting. At that date as far as known only four families of white people were living on White River above the starting point and these were William Trimble, Buck Coker, Joe Coker and Girard Leiper Brown. The water in the river had swollen a foot or more above the ordinary stage of summertime and the men did not experience a great deal of trouble in getting the clumsy canoe over the shoals. The river bottoms and the face of the bluff were covered with tall cane. Flocks of wild turkey were seen frequently and deer and other game was noticed along each shore. Hundreds of beautiful colored song birds were seen and heard in the timber bordering the shores. The dense growth of timber, cane and grapevines tangled together and added to this the high craggy bluffs made the scenery all along as far as they went up seem like a great jungle of other climes. Though the scenery was wild yet it was beautiful, grand and enchanting and the journey up the stream was enjoyable and entertaining to the little band of explorers. They did not push their craft up the river in a rush but went along slow and made frequent stops to examine the soil in the bottoms. The water in the mouth of the tributary streams and the high overhanging cliff along the bluffs. They pushed their canoe as far up the river as the Elbow Shoals where they stopped a few days and rested and hunted in the wild picturesque hills of Elbow Creek and then they started back downstream and arrived at their starting point on the second day after leaving the mouth of Elbow." The foregoing account was related to me by Elias Keesee, son of Paton Keesee, which he said that his father told him this repeatedly. Continuing the account Mr. Keesee went on to say that one of the men that made this trip In the canoe with them was a big stout muscular man who boasted of his great strength and valor. He said that he wanted to fight a bear single handed and without any weapons except his bare hands. He declared on the day that they started up the river that he intended to fight a bear the first opportunity offerred. He claimed that he was able to whip a full grown bear. My father said that he had no idea that the man’s intention was to put his threat into execution for it was not reasonable that a man was able to defeat a bear in a fair fight and it was certain that Bruin could whip a man in a few moments. They looked on the man as a boaster and that his words were idle and harmless fiction. "On the morning of the second day after we started up the river, said my father, "We hove in eight of the mouth of Little North Fork and shortly before we reached the mouth of the creek or just below what is now called the Gar Shoals we spied a small bear lying on the end of a log which extended from the bank straight out into the river. The log was near 30 feet in length and the underside of it was under the water. This bear was what hunters call a fall bear, or a runt, was brown in color and a year old. Bruin was basking in the sun and was resting quiet. We told our companion in a jocular way that now was the time to show his bravery for yonder was a bear waiting for the attack. The man replied that he did not desire to belittle himself by jumping on such a puny looking creature as that bear looked to be. ‘I want to fight a bear,’ said he, ‘that is more of an equal match for me. But,’ continued the man, ‘rather than miss a fight I will slap it a few times to see it cut up to get out of my way.’ We had no thought the man intended to attack the bear but to see him back out as we supposed we landed the canoe 150 yards below the log the bear was on and believing that we would bluff him we all went ashore. The little bear did not appear to notice us. Apparently it was asleep. We now passed up the bank and made a circuit through the dense cane and approached that part of the shore where the log was. The bear did not move but from the manner it was breathing it was in a deep slumber. To our surprise the man still showed his inclination to fight the bear. We told him that it was dangerous to do so for the beast might kill or cripple him but he insisted so strong to be allowed to attack Bruin and finally seeing that the man was in earnest we give up persuading him and agreed to let him tackle it and told him to go. As the fellow started into the water to wade out to the end of the log where the bear lay he said, ‘Now men don’t show any foul play in my favor but you can help the bear if you feel like it.’ As he waded along at the side of the log the water increased in depth but the deepest place was not over 2 ½ feet. The noise and bluster the man made as he went along through the water roused little Bruin from his nap and slowly raised up on his feet and turned around with his head toward his foe and after eyeing him an instant he started and walked along on the log to escape into the forest. The man now halted and just as the bear was passing him the man by a skillful movement jerked the bear from the log into the water and dealt it a blow with his clenched hand and the battle began. The man being robust and very stout and Bruin being so small in size and thin in flesh it seemed that the man might overpower it. While the fight progressed the combatants worked nearer to the shore where the water was 18 inches deep. Here the beligerents settled down to desperate fighting. The water splashed and foamed. The young boaster struck the bear with his hands and kicked it with all his strength. Little Bruin returned the compliments by biting and striking the man with his paws. It was a busy contest as much as it was interesting and amusing. We cheered both man and beast. As the battle went on we noticed that little Bruin was getting the better of the man but we continued to cheer both of them. Sometimes we would hurrah for the bear alone and then for the man and at times we would halloo for man and beast together. In a few minutes more we saw plainly that the man was badly worsted. But knowing we could interfere before the man was severely injured and that he requested us not to show foul play for the bear we let them continue the combat and went on with our cheering. The bear instead of giving out seemed to gather more strength and hit the man vigorous blows with its paws. Not so with his human antagonist for he was loosing strength rapidly and we perceived that our friend the blower’s resistance was growing weaker when suddenly the bear caught the exhausted man In his embrace and would have soon hugged him to death but we quickly interfered and killed the bear and led the now thoroughly beaten boaster out of the water and he sit down on the shore for a breathing spell. Though, he was not seriously hurt yet he was the worst whipped man I ever saw and we enjoyed many hearty laughs at his expense. This incident put a quietus on his boasting as to his prowess as a bear fighter. We saw more bear as we went on up the river and back again and when we would catch sight of one we would tantalize him by saying, "There is another bear. Don’t you want to fight it." And his invariable reply was, "No, I don’t volunteer to fight anymore bear."

Next Story

Turnbo Home | Table of Contents | Keyword Search| Bibliography | Biography

Springfield-Greene County Library