The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

Before grim death visited the old pioneer hunters it was common for them to meet together and have a jolly time telling their experience among the game to each other and exchange hunting stories. Their conversation was principally on this subject. It was natural for them to talk about the fleet buck, big goblers and fat bears. It was then that if a hunter needed fresh venison or needed a deer hide to exchange with some merchant for ammunition or coffee he would tramp the woods all day to get to kill one deer. Some of these hunters were fearless in entering caves occupied by bear. H. E. Upton furnishes the following narrative regarding a daring exploit of a noted bear hunter who has passed over the Jordan of death many years ago where he will meet the wild beast no more. Here is the sketch as given by Mr. Upton. "Jesse Upton was a son of Tom Upton and was a cousin of my father’s and my uncle Ned Upton. He lived on Caney Creek, a tributary of Bryants fork. Jess was a famed hunter. One of his best friends and associates was Alex Huffman, who lived on Pine Creek, another branch of Bryants fork which flows in from the west side. Sometimes Huffman would take an ox wagon and go to Mountain Creek on a camp hunt and kill deer from there to the three tall hills in Baxter County, Ark., called the Three Brothers. And while his oxen were grazing on the range if he did not load his wagon with deer hides in a week he imagined something had gone wrong with himself or gun or that the deer was leaving. By this you may know that Huffman was also a celebrated hunter. One day while Aleck Huffman and Jess Upton were together relating their yarns to each other the former told of a terrible experience he had in a cave once on Pine Creek. He said that he had shot and wounded a bear and his dogs chased it into a cave. After preparing a torch he made several attempts to enter the cavern without the dogs but they were as anxious to go in as he was. When he would start in they would follow him. He made them go back several times, but they seemed determined to follow him into the cave in spite of all his scolding at them. "Finally," said Mr. Huffman, "I flew into a rage and swore I would keep them out. Going up on the hillside I rolled a large pine chunk down to the mouth of the cave which had a narrow entrance. The cavern had its beginning in a sink hole or rather a deep swag in the ground. After I got the big chunk in a proper position I crawled into the mouth of the cave with torch and gun and with hard labor I continued to draw the chunk endways into the mouth of the cave, and after watching the dogs a minute or two and seeing that they were cut off from following me I turned my attention to the bear. As I went along in the passage way of the cavern I rejoiced that I had beat the dogs. After getting into the cave some distance I discovered the bear and shot it again but unfortunately the flash of my gun extinguished the torch. I was now in total darkness. Not a ray of light penetrated a crevice as far as I could see. A moment after the light went out I heard the bear coming toward me, but the opening at that part of the cave was roomy and I crawled to the side wall to give the bear plenty of room to pass. I did not know whether my last shot had wounded the animal bad or not but anyway I heard it pass me and go on toward the entrance. But the pine chunk prevented it from going out. I did not follow the bear but remained where the bear went by me. In a few minutes I heard Bruin coming back and after passing me he went on toward the back part of the cavern. I now realized my peril, for if the bear could not get out how could I? These were dreadful thoughts, and I made my way through the dark cave to the entrance and made all the efforts in my power to push the chunk back, but failed. I was imprisoned in a dark hole with a wounded bear. My position was desperate. I wishes now that I had let the dogs alone. They would have rendered me aid in the cave. But they were powerless to help me now. What would I do if the bear come back? I felt greatly troubled. Reflections were sad and heavy. At this moment I heard the footsteps of the bear returning back. As stated above this part of the cave was small and I turned in an effort to try to gain a spot where the opening was larger, but having no torch I was too late and I met the bear in the narrow part. I lay down with my face to the floor of the cavern and the bear tried to crawl over me. It was the worst squeeze I ever had. I thought it would smother me to death. I soon discovered that Bruin could not pass me and unless something happened in my favor I would not be able to tell this story. My long keen bladed hunting knife was in my scabbard and I thought if I could kill the bear it might be possible I could crawl from under it, so with a great effort I managed to turn on my back and reached for my knife and drawing it from the scabbard I sank the blade into the bear’s body once, twice and two more times. Then I felt the weight of the animal sink down on me. I kept my left hand over my eyes to protect them from the bear’s paws in its death struggle, but its dying agony was of short duration and then it lay still. I and that dead bear was wedged together. Talk about hunters being in close places, I was certainly in that fix. But I had noticed that while Bruin was pressing so hard against me in its efforts to pass over that it did not try to bite me, and I wondered why it did not. Bruin though dead was bleeding freely and I could feel the warm blood saturating my clothes and flowing over my body. But I must get from under it and with this end in view I made a trial and slowly worked myself from under the dead bear toward the opening and crawled back and labored a long time trying to push the chunk back but did not succeed. I gave up in despair and let my mind rest awhile on my terrible doom that seemed in store for me. True, the dogs after starving a few days would return home, or it might be that my family would become alarmed at my prolonged absence and hunt for me and find my prison before the dogs left. Then again wife and friends might search for days in these wild woods and never discover my whereabouts. Oh, to be shut up in a dark cave with a dead bear and starve to death for food and water was a horrible thought. But I did not lay there idle long without making another effort to move the log and to my joy I got it started into the inside. I worked with a vim, for I was encouraged and kept drawing the chunk on the inside inch by inch until there was just room for me to crawl out and I felt a glow of happiness spread over me. The sun was just setting and I had went into the cave in the early forenoon. Though I had beat the dogs by not letting them in the cave but I had come nigher beating myself and come nigh not getting out at all. I had a long walk in getting home that night. Going back with help next day I found that my shot in the cave had broke the bear’s under jaw which accounted for its not biting me."

April 11, 1902

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