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|In late 1700s, Natchez hunter killed 107 bears; in 1800s, panthers attacked men|
John Hutchins, the son of Col. Anthony Hutchins, one of Natchez' earliest frontiersmen, said he killed 107 bears in one year in the late 1700s. That number has probably never been equaled, although fur traders and the great hunters among the Natchez Indians may have exceeded that amount in the years prior to Hutchins' feat.
Indian Agent John Sibley said in 1803 that a party of Choctaws -- 15 men, women and children -- went on a hunt on the northern end of the Sabine River between Louisiana and Texas and reported killing 118 bears, adding that the bear population had grown and many were coming down the Red.
Bear meat for food and bear skins for trade were important to frontiersmen, as was bear oil. Sibley said the oil was "much esteemed for its wholesomeness in cooking, being preferred to butter or hog's lard. It is found to keep longer than any other animal oil without becoming rancid, and boiling it, from time to time, upon sweet bay leaves, restores its sweetness, or facilitates its conservation."
He said a bear on the average yielded "from eight to twelve gallons of oil, each of which sells for less than a dollar a gallon, and the skin a dollar more; no great quantity of the meat is saved; what the hunters don't use when out, they generally give to the dogs."
Wild animals like the bear were plentiful throughout this region until about the 1850s. The bear and the panther were among the most fierce, and the alligator the undisputed ruler of the waterways.
These animals were both feared and respected by the frontiersmen and the settlers. Humans and animals "co-existed by necessity," but when their paths crossed the consequences could often times be deadly.
In recent years, the black bear has been successfully reintroduced to this region and the alligator has made a comeback. But the panther is rarely spotted.
Dr. Andrew Robert Kilpatrick lived on a plantation along the Black River not far from present day Wildsville in Concordia Parish. As a doctor, census taker, writer and historian, he wrote about the animals he saw and knew about in the 1850s and he retold the stories of the old-timers who recalled the animals of the wild in even earlier days.
The war waged upon wild animals by man, Kilpatrick wrote, "has reduced their numbers, and driven the more timid to parts more distant."
He placed the bear "at the head of wild animals."
The common black bear was "found in considerable numbers" during the "early settlement of the country," and "many exploits are now narrated by hunters...They are yet to be found in remote parts."
At one time the bear raided cornfields and barnyards, favoring hogs, but such occurrences were rare in the 1850s.
"Sometimes they are tamed," Kilpatrick said. "My neighbor, J.J. Preston, has now a male and female, one year old, which often run loose."
In November 1851 several hunters from Sicily Island went on a bear hunt in the Franklin Parish swamps, where the animal was apparently more plentiful. The group brought with them "about 30 hounds and curs, an ox-team and wagon, plenty of tents, bedding, corn and other necessaries."
In two weeks, the men killed 10 bears and five deer. But the best dog was killed by a bear, and the "others so much crippled," that the hunt was terminated. Unable to retrieve their kill due to wet conditions, Kilpatrick wrote that the hunters "constructed a scaffold 10 feet high, salted the meat away upon it, covered it with a tent, and so left it, hoping at some time to get it away."
During the early 1800s, bear meat was crucial to the diet of the settlers in the area. Kilpatrick wrote that the oil was used for cooking, to grease leather machinery and medicinally. He said the oil was still used in the 1850s "to dress the hair of the beaux and belles."
In 1813, Sicily Island frontiersman G.W. Lovelace's mercantile records revealed that on his flatboat he was transporting for sale 243 bear skins, as well as well as 450 deer skins and 28 beaver skins.
When fat, an adult bear weighed from 500 to 700 pounds.
While Kilpatrick put the bear atop the wild animal list, humans seemed to have more problems with the alligator and the panther.
WHEN BEARS ATTACK
Along Black River one day prior to 1850 a woman he didn't identify was washing clothes on the bank. Her child was resting nearby. Suddenly, "an alligator sprung out, and seizing the child, swam with it to the other shore, where it leisurely proceeded to devour it. There being no boat handy, the hideous monster finished his meal undisturbed" despite the "screams and wailings of the agonized mother."
A neighbor of Kilpatrick's, J.P. McCoy, lost part of an arm above the elbow to an alligator while fishing in 1840.
McCoy was standing on a log which "projected far out in the lake," Kilpatrick wrote. At "an unguarded moment, the monster sprang up and seized him by the right hand and arm, and by a rapid succession of gyratory wrenches, fractured the bone, and nearly separated the arm before he could be forced to let go."
McCoy, who almost lost his life, first stabbed, then shot and killed the gator. But his arm had to be amputated above the elbow. The procedure was performed by Dr. Issac S. Bradstreet.
ALLIGATOR VS. BOAR/BEAR
Another of Kilpatrick's neighbors, C. Remington, told of a fight between a big alligator and a boar. After a long and intense fight, the boar emerged the winner.
The alligator reportedly started the fight, attacking the boar along Lake Concordia. According to Remington, the "boar ripped open the alligator with his tusks," and the gator's "intestines came out." It crawled out on the bank and "soon expired."
But sometimes the outcome was different. Another man reported killing a giant alligator which measured 18 feet and "found nearly a peck of undigested hog feet and nails in his stomach."
Kilpatrick reported that alligators were quite fond of bear meat. A Catahoula Parish man, Mortimer Stone, watched one day as about two dozen gators followed a large bear as it attempted to cross Little River.
Each time the bear neared the water, the eyes of the gators appeared above the waterline and all would move in the bear's direction. The bear eventually outsmarted the gators by backtracking into the woods and finding a crossing some distance away.
By the 1850s, the largest alligators seen in Concordia seldom exceeded 12 feet in length.
Alligator oil, like that of the bear, had a number of domestic purposes, Kilpatrick said, "particularly in addressing leather. Formerly it was a good deal used to grease machinery."
However, Kilpatrick said the oil will "penetrate the metal" of a pot if remains in long enough. Plus, the oil had a musky odor which was nauseating to "man, beast and insect."
In fact, Kilpatrick said that if the oil was rubbed on a horse the animal lost its appetite for two or three days.
Like the bear, a large alligator yielded eight to 12 gallons of oil, which was worth a dollar a gallon in the 1850s.
WHEN PANTHERS ATTACK
The panther "is occasionally met with," in Concordia, Kilpatrick said, but was more numerous on Sicily Island than anywhere else.
Panthers and wolves were preying so heavily on livestock in 1793 in Natchez that the Spanish governor, Manuel Gayoso, offered a reward of $5 per head for their scalps.
In 1836, a panther attacked a man's horse while he was camped on Sicily Island. The man shot the panther while it was on top of the horse.
In the early 1840s, eight panthers were killed in the Sicily Island area, while earlier in the century a panther attacked and killed a horse in the woods.
On another occasion, a panther killed a Choctaw Indian alone in camp. The big cat was feeding on the man when his comrades appeared on the scene. The panther quickly fled.
Kilpatrick also reported that John Lovelace was in camp in the process of moving from Red River to Sicily Island when attacked by a panther which was shot and killed by a man named Jupiter. During the scuffle, a woman "attempting to club the panther, struck Mr. L. a terrible blow on the head, which nearly proved fatal."
When marking the boundary line between Spain and the U.S. six miles south of Fort Adams in 1798, William Dunbar reported that laborers saw a large panther moving through the forest. He said panthers were the "great destroyers of calves, colts, sheeps, hogs...which they carry off with great ease." They would not "hesitate to attack the human species," said Dunbar, in defense of their young or "when famished."
Six years later, on a 47-degree morning -- Tuesday, Oct. 30, 1804 -- just north of the Catahoula shoals above present day Harrisonburg, the 19-member party of the Ouachita River Expedition, led by Dunbar, discovered an unexpected meal.
Wrote Dr. George Hunter of Pennsylvania, the group "found on the bank a young fawn just killed by a panther, the throat being tore very much."
Wolves were present in this region but more prevalent in the pine hills of Sicily Island, Harrisonburg and Manifest.
"But there are more in the wild ravines of the (Sicily) island than anywhere else," Kilpatrick said in 1852, "and sometimes are very troublesome and destructive to young lambs and pigs. Even this fall they are very numerous, and the citizens have to set poison for them. They are of as many different colors as the domesticated dog."
JIM BOWIE'S BEAR TRAP
When the Bowies moved to Bushley Bayou in Catahoula Parish in 1802, Jim Bowie was six years old. For the next seven years, he fished, hunted, roped wild deer in the woods, caught alligators, tamed wild horses and trapped bears with a clever technique.
Bowie cut and cleaned out hollow cypress knees, and drove sharp iron spikes on the inside with the points "inward and inclined downward." He then filled the bottom of the inverted cypress knees with honey -- known to be irresistable to bears -- and placed the knees (pointed side down) in areas where bears were known to cross, or by a fence which protected a cornfield.
When the bear traveled by, he immediately lapped up the honey. But when he attempted to draw his muzzle out, the spikes pierced the skin and flesh and left him blindfolded with a cypress mask. Bowie, waiting nearby, quickly captured the animal.
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