Monday, June 10, 2013

The Bear Hunt Completed

For the last two weeks, this column ended in a cliff-hanger, and I've heard several complaints about my choice to split the story of an 1877 Kerr County bear hunt into several parts.
In the first installment, the story ended with three determined hunters, Dr. G. R. Parsons, and two brothers, Josh and Wiley Welch, waiting at the mouth of a cave, guns at the ready, for the bear inside to be smoked out. The three had pursued the bear up and down several steep hillsides, finally following him to his cave; there they tossed branches and tree limbs into the cave and lit them. As the fire burned, the three waited for the bear to emerge, and then something surprising happened: the bear never came out.
In the second part of the series, the trio pursued another bear to another cave, and lit a huge fire to smoke the bear out, and once again something interesting happened.
This bear hunting story comes from "Pioneer History," a newspaper supplement to the Kerrville Times, published by J. J. Starkey in the early 1930s. Some good friends recently gave me a nearly complete set of these inserts. In the June, 1933 edition, there are stories 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.
Here's what happened at that second bear cave:
The three built a fire to smoke out the bear, writes Parsons, and "scarcely had we got it going well when a rattling was heard in the leaves and brush and lo! here comes a frightfully large rattlesnake," poised to strike. The snake speeds right toward Wiley, who quickly recovers and kills the rattler.
"The dangerous reptile is no sooner dispatched when here comes another, fully as large and just as furious. Scarcely had this one been killed when out comes a copperhead. He is not quite as large as the former two, but he is more active and fully as dangerous."
The hunters, having smoked out snakes, wait patiently for their quarry, the bear, to emerge. "After having settled our snakes, we turn our attention to Mr. Bear again. By laying down and listening close to the hole, we can plainly hear him snuffing and panting away in the cave. We increase the smoke, and by so doing make a great mistake. We simply smoke our bear to death right in the hole and consequently lose him entirely, as no one not even an inmate of an insane asylum would ever think of crawling into that den."
The three hunters are pretty discouraged. "Josh and Wiley are disgusted to think they had run two days and no game yet. They say the spring of the year ain't a good time for hunting anyhow."
Heading back to camp, for supper they eat the last of their provisions -- save a little coffee -- and decide to start out early in hopes of finally getting a bear.
The next day their luck improves. Not one, but two bears cross their paths. Josh takes the trail of one, and Wiley pursues the other.
Wiley gets the first shots on his bear, taking aim from about 100 yards. Though it takes several shots to slow the bear down, Wiley finally claims a bear for the trio.
Josh has a more difficult time. The bear he was tracking found a small cave, though it was too small to be useful to the bear. The bear backed as far as he could into the opening, facing out, and swiping at the dogs. It only took one shot for Josh to kill the bear.
"So in less than two hours," Parsons wrote, "from the time we struck their trails, we have them both. Wiley's was dressed immediately and a fire made, when we soon had for dinner 'roast bear on a stick.' To say that it tasted well does not express it, as we were hungry as a pack of coyotes."
So the tale comes to an end -- a good yarn from Kerrville's past.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys a good hunting or fishing story. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 8, 2013
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  1. Finally!! I have been anxiously awaiting the end of the story! Good that those insert were preserved. Take care of them and I enjoyed the stories.

  2. I greatly enjoyed this multi-part story.

    Thank you, Joe; as always you are a treasure.


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