Monday, June 3, 2013

This week's newspaper column: an 1877 Kerr County bear hunt, continued

Photo of much later bear hunt,
Kerrville, 1904
Last week's column ended in a cliff-hanger, and I've heard several complaints around town about my choice to split the story of an 1877 Kerr County bear hunt into two parts. If I remember correctly, 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. A great fire burned, the three waited for the bear to emerge, and then something surprising happened.
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.
Parsons is interesting to me for several reasons. He was a veteran of the Civil War, having fought for the Union side. He moved to Kerrville for his health; early in his medical career, he'd gotten tuberculosis from some of his patients. Few who saw him arrive in Kerrville expected him to live, but the dry climate here seemed to help, and he soon his family joined him here. Within a few years of his arrival, he was elected mayor of Kerrville, despite his fighting for the Union, and despite his being a Republican. He is credited with opening the first sanatorium in Kerrville, which was located about where the old Sid Peterson Hospital until recently stood.
There's yet another reason why Parsons interests me: I type this column while sitting in my print shop office -- on a tract of land Dr. Parsons once owned. In fact, of the five families who've owned this property, the Parsons family owned it the longest. (Our family's tenure here is second-longest. So far.)
Now, back to the bear cave, the three hunters, their hunting dogs, and the fire burning in the mouth of the cave:
After lighting the fire, "every man secures his weapons and expects to have a shot in a few moments, but our moments are soon minutes, and these soon count up to sixty, and no bear yet," Dr. Parsons wrote.
"Our brush and leaves are taken away, when Josh decides he will crawl in and investigate as soon as the smoke clears away." The other two hunters protest, but Josh claims "he's been in hundreds of them and has always got out alright."
So, in he goes. "He looks carefully over his rifle and starts in on his back, feet foremost. A few feet from the entrance the opening is so narrow that his body fills every inch of space, but he squeezes through, however, and then finds himself in a cavern very wide and very deep, and extremely dark. A match is struck, and for the few moments that it gives its feeble and wavering light, he discovers a deep wide chasm which it is impossible for either he or the dogs to cross."
Josh Welch returns to the two waiting hunters, and they decide to head back to camp.
"An invoice was taken of our wounds, cuts, bruises, etc.," Dr. Parsons wrote. The three are pretty banged up, and the horses were in worse shape. After a meal of cornbread, bacon and coffee, and a session of yarns and songs, the three soon fell asleep.
The next day the chase begins anew, near the "middle fork of the Medina River," where Charley, the trained hunting dog, starts the pack on another bear's trail. Up and down mountains they fly, in pursuit of "Mr. Bruin." Soon the bear retreats into a cave at the top of a hill, and once again the three hunters feel sure they will soon have their trophy. Once again they decide to smoke the bear out, piling green tree branches and limbs in the cave opening, and once again something surprising happens.
Hopefully I'll get this story finished next week.
Until then, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who loves a good adventure story. Also, he would never enter a cave in pursuit of a bear. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 1, 2013.
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  1. I can't believe you did this again!!! lol
    "Can you poke that bear out if I hand you a stick?" from the poem Bruin Wooin by S. Omar Barker

    The kids love the bear photo in the Visitor's Center at Garner State Park! Thanks

  2. When I read a book, I read it all in one sitting, cover to cover.

    Having to wait another week to see how this story turns out is very painful, but I'll wait. :)


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