Monday, May 27, 2013

A Kerr County bear hunt in 1877

Dr. G. R. Parsons
Bears used to be plentiful in our neck of the woods, and there are many accounts of settlers in Kerr County hunting bear as a food source.
Some good friends recently gave me a nearly complete set of "Pioneer History," a newspaper supplement to the Kerrville Times, published by J. J. Starkey in the early 1930s. In one issue, the June, 1993 edition, there are two accounts of two separate bear hunts.
One, by Dr. G. R. Parsons, was published almost exactly 136 years ago in the San Antonio Express, on May 23, 1877.
[It's been] "a few days since your correspondent received an invitation from Josh and Wiley Welch to join in a spring bear hunt," Dr. Parsons wrote. "They said the bears always came out of their holes during the last of April and the first of May, and as their feet would be tender from laying up so long, they thought there would be no trouble in securing a few fleeces. Accordingly,
on the 29th of April we mounted our horses and traveled about 25 miles west from Kerrville where Josh 'lowed' that Doc might see some nice rolling country, and Wiley added that it was such fun to hunt out there, nothing to do but just get down and shoot the bear -- 'when you got to him.'"
Dr. Parsons is an interesting character from Kerrville's history. He served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and was severely wounded in the Battle of Seminary Ridge. After the war he studied medicine in Chicago, and during his subsequent practice he contracted tuberculosis. In those days the climate of Kerrville was thought to be beneficial to those stricken with that disease, and so Parsons headed south. When he arrived here he was very, very sick, and most did not expect him to survive. But he recovered, brought his family down from Illinois, and eventually started the first tuberculosis hospital here. Despite being both a northerner and a Republican, both of which were political liabilities in Kerr County after the Civil War, the citizens of Kerrville elected him mayor.
Now back to the bear hunt:
The trio took along seven dogs -- "Charley, Watch, Crockett, Dallas, Fifer, Pope, and Puppy," and soon found themselves ensnared in a "dense cedar brake, through which Josh said we might have to dodge some before reaching the other side."
Parsons describes the ride through the cedar brake like this: "Methinks no one but an idiot or a lunatic would attempt such a thing."
But when they finally cleared the thicket, the group found themselves "upon a high cliff overlooking the territory in which we were to find our game. Each mountain peak seemed to vie with its neighbor in seeing which can have the most barren and rugged top, or the other extreme the heaviest growth of shin oak and brush."
When the dogs came upon the scent of a bear, it wasn't long until the three men saw a bear running up the side of a nearby hill, "a great big fellow almost as large as a cow."
"Josh and Wiley started in different directions, supposing that when the bear got to the top he would turn to the right or the left and cross the next valley. Doc was instructed to follow Josh and right there the fun commenced, that is: if you call riding down a mountain at full speed when it is so steep that the horse is in imminent danger of turning a somersault, while the rider has to hold on like grim death to keep from sliding over the horse's head. This monotony was occasionally varied by coming to a cliff where the horse absolutely can't go down head-foremost, so the rider hastily dismounts and turns the horse around and gives him a sudden push and over he goes, the horseman springs down by him, helps him up, mounts, and off they go still yelling to the dogs."
Meanwhile, the bear took refuge in a cave, and the riders find the dogs at its mouth. The decision is made to smoke the bear out -- and so green limbs are piled high and pushed into the open cave, lit, and the men take their positions to shoot the fleeing bear. But something unexpected happened.
What happened next? Well, for that you'll need to check this column next week.
Until then, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native whose wife once saw a black bear in the woods of Real County. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 25, 2013.

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1 comment:

  1. What? You mean you're gonna leave us hanging? For a whole week?


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