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A BEAR HUNT IN THE SMOKIES
“Git up, pup! you’ve scrouged right in hyur in front of the fire. You Dred! what makes you so blamed contentious?”
Little John shoved both dogs into a corner, and strove to scrape some coals from under a beech forestick that glowed almost hot enough to melt brass.
“This is the wust coggled-up fire I ever seed, to fry by. Bill, hand me some Old Ned from that suggin o’ mine.”
A bearded hunchback reached his long arm to a sack that hung under our rifles, drew out a chuck of salt pork, and began slicing it with his jackknife. On inquiry I learned that “Old Ned” is merely slang for fat pork, but that “suggin” or “sujjit” (the u pronounced like oo in look) is true mountain dialect for a pouch, valise, or carryall, its etymology being something to puzzle over.
Four dogs growled at each other under a long bunk of poles and hay that spanned one side of our cabin. The fire glared out upon the middle of an unfloored and windowless room. Deep shadows clung to the walls and benches, charitably concealing much dirt and disorder left by previous occupants, much litter of our own contributing.
At last we were on a saddle
of the divide, a mile above sea-level, in a hut built years ago for temporary
lodgment of cattle-men herding on the grassy “balds” of the Smokies. A sagging
clapboard roof covered its two rooms and the open space between them that we
called our “entry.” The State line between
Granville lifted the lid from a big Dutch oven and reported “Bread’s done.”
There was a flash in the frying-pan, a curse and a puff from Little John. The coffee-pot boiled over. We gathered about the hewn benches that served for tables, and sat à la Turc upon the ground. For some time there was no sound but the gale without and the munching of ravenous men.
“If this wind’ll only cease afore mornin’, we’ll git us a bear to-morrow.”
A powerful gust struck the cabin, by way of answer; a great roaring surged up from the gulf of Defeat, from Desolation, and from the other forks of Bone Valley — clamor of ten thousand trees struggling with the blast.
“Hit’s gittin’ wusser.”
“Any danger of this roost being blown off the mountain?” I inquired.
“Hit’s stood hyur twenty year through all the storms; I reckon it can stand one more night of it.”
“A man couldn’t walk
upright, outside the cabin,” I asserted, thinking of the
The hunchback turned to me with a grave face. “I’ve seed hit blow, here on top o’ Smoky, till a hoss couldn’t stand up agin it. You’ll spy, to-morrow, whar several trees has been wind-throwed and busted to kindlin’.”
I recalled that several, in the South, means many — “a good many,” as our own tongues phrase it.
“Oh, shucks! Bill Cope,” put in “Doc” Jones, “whut do you-uns know about windstorms? Now, I’ve hed some experiencin’ up hyur that’ll do to tell about. You remember the big storm three year ago, come grass, when the cattle all huddled up a-top o’ each other and friz in one pile, solid.”
Bill grunted an affirmative.
“Wal, sir, I was a-herdin’,
over at the
“Yes. About half an hour later, I lit spang in the mud, way down yander in Tuckaleechee Cove — yes, sir: ten mile as the crow flies, and a mile deeper’n trout-fish swim.”
There was silence for a moment. Then Little John spoke up: “I mind about that time, Doc; but I disremember which buryin’-ground they-all planted ye in.”
“Planted! Me? Huh! But I had one tormentin’ time findin’ my hat!”
The cabin shook under a heavier blast, to match Bill’s yarn.
“Old Wind-maker’s blowin’ liars out o’ North Car’lina. Hang on to yer hat, Doc! Whoop! hear ’em a-comin’!”
“Durn this blow, anyhow! No bear ’ll cross the mountain sich a night as this.”
“Can’t we hunt down on the
“That’s whar we’re goin’ to drive; but hit’s no use if the bear don’t come over.”
“How is that? Do they sleep in one State and eat in the other?”
“Yes: you see, the
“So we’ll have to do, at this rate.”
“I’ll go see whut the el-e-ments looks like.”
We arose from our squatting postures. John opened the little clapboard door, which swung violently backward as another gust boomed against the cabin. Dust and hot ashes scattered in every direction. The dogs sprang up, one encroached upon another, and they flew at each other’s throats. They were powerful beasts, dangerous to man as well as to the brutes they were trained to fight; but John was their master, and he soon booted them into surly subjection.
“The older dog don’t ginerally raise no ruction; hit’s the younger one that’s ill,” by which he meant vicious. “You, Coaly, you’ll git some o’ that meanness shuck outen you if you tackle an old she-bear to-morrow!”
“Has the young dog ever fought a bear?”
“No; he don’t know nothin’; but I reckon he’ll pick up some larnin’ in the next two, three days.”
“Have these dogs got the Plott strain? I’ve been told that the Plott hounds are the best bear dogs in the country.”
“’Tain’t so,” snorted John. “The Plott curs are the best: that is, half hound, half cur — though what we-uns calls the cur, in this case, raelly comes from a big furrin dog that I don’t rightly know the breed of. Fellers, you can talk as you please about a streak o’ the cur spilin’ a dog; but I know hit ain’t so — not for bear fightin’ in these mountains, whar you cain’t foller up on hossback, but hafter do your own runnin’.”
“What is the reason, John?”
“Mebbe you-uns don’t know that a dew-clawed dog is snake-proof —— ”
“What soldiers these fellows would make, under leadership of some Backwoods Napoleon!”
But somebody, thinking that dog-talk had gone far enough, produced a bottle of soothing-syrup that was too new to have paid tax. Then we discovered that there was musical talent, of a sort, in Little John. He cut a pigeon-wing, twirled around with an imaginary banjo, and sang in a quaint minor:
Did you ever see the devil,
With his pitchfork and ladle,
And his old iron shovel,
And his old gourd head?
O, I will go to meetin’,
And I will go to meetin’,
Yes, I will go to meetin’,
In an old tin pan.
Other songs followed, with
utter irrelevance — mere snatches from “ballets” composed, mainly, by the
mountaineers themselves, though some dated back to a long-forgotten age when
the British ancestors of these
La-a-ay down, boys,
Le’s take a nap:
Thar’s goin’ to be trouble
In the Cumberland Gap —
Our ears were stunned by one sudden thundering crash. The roof rose visibly, as though pushed upward from within. In an instant we were blinded by moss and dried mud — the chinking blown from between the logs of our shabby cabin. Dred and Coaly cowered as though whipped, while “Doc’s” little hound slunk away in the keen misery of fear. We men looked at each other with lowered eyelids and the grim smile that denotes readiness, though no special eagerness, for dissolution. Beyond the “gant-lot” we could hear trees and limbs popping like skirmishers in action.
Then that tidal wave of air swept by. The roof settled again with only a few shingles missing. We went to “redding up.” Squalls broke against the mountainside, hither and yon, like the hammer of Thor testing the foundations of the earth. But they were below us. Here, on top, there was only the steady drive of a great surge of wind; and speech was possible once more.
“Fellers, you want to mark whut you dream about, to-night: hit’ll shore come true to-morrow.”
“Yes: but you mustn’t tell whut yer dream was till the hunt’s over, or it’ll spile the charm.”
There ensued a grave discussion of dream-lore, in which the illiterates of our party declared solemn faith. If one dreamt of blood, he would surely see blood the next day. Another lucky sign for a hunter was to dream of quarreling with a woman, for that meant a she-bear; it was favorable to dream of clear water, but muddy water meant trouble.
The wind died away. When we
went out for a last observation of the weather we
found the air so clear that the lights of
I awoke to a knowledge that somebody had built a roaring fire and was stirring about. Between the cabin logs one looked out upon a starry sky and an almost pitch-dark world. What did that pottering vagabond mean by arousing us in the middle of the night? But I was hungry. Everybody half arose on elbows and blinked about. Then we got up, each after his fashion, except one scamp who resumed snoring.
“Whar’s that brekfust you’re yellin’ about?”
“Hit’s for you-uns to help git! I knowed I couldn’t roust ye no other way. Here, you, go down to the spring and fetch water. Rustle out, boys; we’ve got to git a soon start if you want bear brains an’ liver for supper.”
The “soon start” tickled me into good humor.
Our dogs were curled together under the long bunk, having popped indoors as soon as the way was opened. Somebody trod on Coaly’s tail. Coaly snapped Dred. Instantly there was action between the four. It is interesting to observe what two or three hundred pounds of dog can do to a ramshackle berth with a man on top of it. Poles and hay and ragged quilts flew in every direction. Sleepy Matt went down in the midst of the mêlée, swearing valiantly. I went out and hammered ice out of the wash-basin while Granville and John quelled the riot. Presently our frying-pans sputtered and the huge coffee-pot began to get up steam.
“I did,” affirmed the writer. “I dreamt that I had an old colored woman by the throat and was choking dollars out of her mouth —— ”
“Good la!” exclaimed four men in chorus; “you hadn’t orter a-told.”
“Why? Wasn’t that a lovely dream?”
“Hit means a she-bear, shore as a cap-shootin’ gun; but you’ve done spiled it all by tellin’. Mebbe somebody’ll git her to-day, but you won’t — your chanct is ruined.”
So the reader will understand why, in this veracious narrative, I cannot relate any heroic exploits of my own in battling with Ursus Major. And so you, ambitious one, when you go into the Smokies after that long-lost bear, remember these two cardinal points of the Law:
(1) Dream that you are fighting some poor old colored woman. (That is easy: the victuals you get will fix up your dream, all right.)
(2) Keep your mouth shut about it.
There was still no sign of rose-color in the eastern sky when we sallied forth. The ground, to use a mountaineer’s expression, was “all spewed up with frost.” Rime crackled underfoot and our mustaches soon stiffened in the icy wind.
It was settled that Little John Cable and the hunchback Cope should take the dogs far down into Bone Valley and start the drive, leaving Granville, “Doc,” Matt, and myself to picket the mountain. I was given a stand about half a mile east of the cabin, and had but a vague notion of where the others went.
By jinks, it was cold! I built a little fire between the buttressing roots of a big mountain oak, but still my toes and fingers were numb. This was the 25th of November, and we were at an altitude where sometimes frost forms in July. The other men were more thinly clad than I, and with not a stitch of wool beyond their stockings; but they seemed to revel in the keen air. I wasted some pity on Cope, who had no underwear worthy of the name; but afterwards I learned that he would not have worn more clothes if they had been given him. Many a night my companions had slept out on the mountain without blanket or shelter, when the ground froze and every twig in the forest was coated with rime from the winter fog.
Away out yonder beyond the mighty bulk of Clingman Dome, which, black with spruce and balsam, looked like a vast bear rising to contemplate the northern world, there streaked the first faint, nebulous hint of dawn. Presently the big bear’s head was tipped with a golden crown flashing against the scarlet fires of the firmament, and the earth awoke.
A rustling some hundred yards below me gave signal that the gray squirrels were on their way to water. Out of a tree overhead hopped a mountain “boomer” (red squirrel), and down he came, eyed me, and stopped. Cocking his head to one side he challenged peremptorily: “Who are you? Stump? Stump? Not a stump. What the deuce!”
I moved my hand.
“Lawk — the booger-man! Run, run, run!”
Somewhere from the sky came a strange, half-human note, as of someone chiding: “Wal-lace, Wal-lace, Wat!” I could get no view for the trees. Then the voice flexibly changed to a deep-toned “Co-logne, Co-logne, Co-logne,” that rang like a bell through the forest aisles.
Two names uttered
distinctly from the air! Two scenes conjured in a breath, vivid but unrelated
as in dreams: Wallace — an iron-bound Scottish coast;
The weird speaker sailed into view — a raven. Forward it swept with great speed of ebon wings, fairly within gunshot for one teasing moment. Then, as if to mock my gaping stupor, it hurtled like a hawk far into the safe distance, whence it flung back loud screams of defiance and chuckles of derision.
As the morning drew on, I let the fire die to ashes and basked lazily in the sun. Not a sound had I heard from the dogs. My hoodoo was working malignly. Well, let it work. I was comfortable now, and that old bear could go to any other doom she preferred. It was pleasant enough to lie here alone in the forest and be free! Aye, it was good to be alive, and to be far, far away from the broken bottles and old tin cans of civilization.
“By and by up they came, carrying the Bear on a trimmed sapling”
For many a league to the southward clouds covered all the valleys in billows of white, from which rose a hundred mountain tops, like islands in a tropic ocean. My fancy sailed among and beyond them, beyond the horizon’s rim, even unto those far seas that I had sailed in my youth, to the old times and the old friends that I should never see again.
But a forenoon is long-drawn-out when one has breakfasted before dawn, and has nothing to do but sit motionless in the woods and watch and listen. I got to fingering my rifle trigger impatiently and wishing that a wild Thanksgiving gobbler might blunder into view. Squirrels made ceaseless chatter all around my stand. Large hawks shrilled by me within tempting range, whistling like spent bullets. A groundhog sat up on a log and whistled, too, after a manner of his own. He was so near that I could see his nose wiggle. A skunk waddled around for twenty minutes, and once came so close that I thought he would nibble my boot. I was among old mossy beeches, scaled with polyphori, and twisted into postures of torture by their battles with the storms. Below, among chestnuts and birches, I could hear the t-wee, t-wee of “joree-birds” (towhees), which winter in the valleys. Incessantly came the chip-chip-cluck of ground squirrels, the saucy bark of the grays, and great chirruping among the “boomers,” which had ceased swearing and were hard at work.
Far off on my left a rifle cracked. I pricked up and listened intently, but there was never a yelp from a dog. Since it is a law of the chase to fire at nothing smaller than turkeys, lest big game be scared away, this shot might mean a gobbler. I knew that Matt Hyde could not, to save his soul, sit ten minutes on a stand without calling turkeys (and he could call them, with his unassisted mouth, better than anyone I ever heard perform with leaf or wing-bone or any other contrivance).
Thus the slow hours dragged along. I yearned mightily to stretch my legs. Finally, being certain that no drive would approach my stand that day, I ambled back to the hut and did a turn at dinner-getting. Things were smoking, and smelt good, by the time four of our men turned up, all of them dog-tired and disappointed, but stoical.
“That pup Coaly chased off atter a wildcat,” blurted John. “We held the old dogs together and let him rip. Then Dred started a deer. It was that old buck that everybody’s shot at, and missed, this three year back. I’d believe he’s a hant if ’t wasn’t for his tracks — they’re the biggest I ever seen. He must weigh two hunderd and fifty. But he’s a foxy cuss. Tuk right down the bed o’ Desolation, up the left prong of Roaring Fork, right through the Devil’s Race-path (how a deer can git through thar I don’t see!), crossed at the Meadow Gap, went down Eagle Creek, and by now he’s in the Little Tennessee. That buck, shorely to God, has wings!”
We were at table in the
“I was callin’ a gobbler when this fool thing showed up. I fired a shoot as she riz in the air, but only bruk her wing. She made off on her legs like the devil whoppin’ out fire. I run, an’ she run. Guess I run her half a mile through all-fired thickets. She piped ‘Quit — quit,’ but I said, ‘I’ll see you in hell afore I quit!’ and the chase resumed. Finally I knocked her over with a birch stob, and here we are.”
Matt ruefully surveyed his almost denuded legs, evidence of his chase. “Boys,” said he, “I’m nigh breechless!”
None but native-born mountaineers could have stood the strain of another drive that day, for the country that Cope and Cable had been through was fearful, especially the laurel up Roaring Fork and Killpeter Ridge. But the stamina of these “withey” little men was even more remarkable than their endurance of cold. After a small slice of fried pork, a chunk of half-baked johnny-cake, and a pint or so of coffee, they were as fresh as ever.
What soldiers these fellows would make, under leadership of some backwoods Napoleon who could hold them together! — some man like Daniel Morgan of the Revolution, who was one of them, yet greater!
I had made the coffee strong, and it was good stuff that I had brought from home. After his first deep draught, Little John exclaimed:
“Hah! boys, that coffee hits whar ye hold it!”
I thought that a neat compliment from a sharpshooter.
We took new stands; but the afternoon passed without incident to those of us on the mountain tops. I returned to camp about five o’clock, and was surprised to see three of our men lugging across the “gant-lot”3 toward the cabin a small female bear.
“Hyur’s yer old nigger woman,” shouted John.
The hunters showed no elation — in fact, they looked sheepish — and I suspected a nigger in the woodpile.
“How’s this? I didn’t hear any drive.”
“There wa’n’t none.”
“Then where did you get your bear?”
“In one of Wit Hensley’s traps, dum him! Boys, I wish t’ we hed roasted the temper outen them trap-springs, like we talked o’ doin’.”
“Was the bear alive?”
“Live as a hot coal. See the pup’s head!”
I examined Coaly, who looked sick. The flesh was torn from his lower jaw and hung down a couple of inches. Two holes in the top of his head showed where the bear’s tusks had tried to crack his skull.
“When the other dogs found her, he rushed right in. She hadn’t been trapped more’n a few hours, and she larned Coaly somethin’ about the bear business.”
“Won’t this spoil him for hunting hereafter?”
“Not if he has his daddy’s and mammy’s grit. We’ll know by to-morrow whether he’s a shore-enough bear dog; for I’ve larned now whar they’re crossin’ — seed sign a-plenty and it’s spang fraish. Coaly, old boy! you-uns won’t be so feisty and brigaty after this, will ye!”
“John, what do those two words mean?”
“Good la! whar was you fotch up? Them’s common. They mean nigh about the same thing, only there’s a differ. When I say that Doc Jones thar is brigaty among women-folks, hit means that he’s stuck on hisself and wants to show off —— ”
“And John Cable’s sulkin’ around with his nose out o’ jint,” interjected “Doc.”
“Feisty,” proceeded the interpreter, “feisty means when a feller’s allers wigglin’ about, wantin’ ever’body to see him, like a kid when the preacher comes. You know a feist is one o’ them little bitty dogs that ginerally runs on three legs and pretends a whole lot.”
All of us were indignant at
the setter of the trap. It had been hidden in a trail, with no sign to warn a man from stepping into it. In
“It’s only two years ago,” said Granville to me, “that Jasper Millington, an old man living on the Tennessee side, started acrost the mountain to get work at the Everett mine, where you live. Not fur from where we are now, he stepped into a bear trap that was hid in the leaves, like this one. It broke his leg, and he starved to death in it.”
Despite our indignation meeting, it was decided to carry the trapped bear’s hide to Hensley, and for us to use only the meat as recompense for trouble, to say nothing of risk to life and limb. Such is the mountaineers’ regard for property rights!
The animal we had
ingloriously won was undersized, weighing scant 175 pounds. The average weight
Afterwards I took pains to ask the most famous bear hunters of our region what were the largest bears they had personally killed. Uncle Jimmy Crawford, of the Balsam Mountains, estimated his largest at 500 pounds gross, and the hide of another that he had killed weighed forty pounds after three days’ drying. Quill Rose, of Eagle Creek, said that, after stripping the hide from one of his bears, he took the fresh skin by the ears and raised it as high as he could reach above his head, and that four inches of the butt end of the hide (not legs) trailed on the ground. “And,” he added severely, “thar’s no lie about it.” Quill is six feet one and one-half inches tall. Black Bill Walker, of the middle prong of Little River (Tennessee side), told me “The biggest one I ever saw killed had a hide that measured ten feet from nose to rump, stretched for drying. The biggest I ever killed myself measured nine and a half feet, same way, and weighed a good four hundred net, which, allowin’ for hide, blood, and entrails, would run full five hunderd live weight.”
Within the past two years two bears of about 500 pounds each have been killed in Swain and Graham counties, the Cables getting one of them. The veteran hunters that I have named have killed their hundreds of bears and are men superior to silly exaggeration. In the Smoky Mountains the black bear, like most of the trees, attains its fullest development, and that it occasionally reaches a weight of 500 pounds when “hog fat” is beyond reasonable doubt, though the average would not be more than half that weight.
Skinning a frozen bear
We spent the evening in debate as to where the next drive should be made. Some favored moving six miles eastward, to the old mining shack at Siler’s Meadow, and trying the headwaters of Forney’s Creek, around Rip Shin Thicket and the Gunstick Laurel, driving towards Clingman Dome and over into the bleak gulf, southwest of the Sugarland Mountains, that I had named Godforsaken — a title that stuck. We knew there were bears in that region, though it was a desperately rough country to hunt in.
But John and the hunchback had found “sign” in the opposite direction. Bears were crossing from Little River in the neighborhood of Thunderhead and Briar Knob, coming up just west of the Devil’s Court House and “using” around Block House, Woolly Ridge, Bear Pen, and thereabouts. The motion carried, and we adjourned to bed.
We breakfasted on bear meat, the remains of our Thanksgiving turkey, and wheat bread shortened with bear’s grease until it was light as a feather; and I made tea. It was the first time that Little John ever saw “store tea.” He swallowed some of it as if it had been boneset, under the impression that it was some sort of “yerb” that would be good for his insides. Without praising its flavor, he asked what it had cost, and, when I told him “a dollar a pound,” reckoned that it was “rich man’s medicine”; said he preferred dittany or sassafras or goldenrod. “Doc” Jones opined that it “looked yaller,” and he even affirmed that it “tasted yaller.”
It was a hard pull for me, climbing up the rocky approach to Briar Knob. This was my first trip to the main divide, and my heart was not yet used to mountain climbing.
The boys were anxious for me to get a shot. I was paying them nothing; it was share-and-share alike; but their neighborly kindness moved them to do their best for the outlander.
So they put me on what was probably the best stand for the day. It was above the Fire-scald, a brulé or burnt-over space on the steep southern side of the ridge between Briar Knob and Laurel Top, overlooking the grisly slope of Killpeter. Here I could both see and hear an uncommonly long distance, and if the bear went either east or west I would have timely warning.
This Fire-scald, by the way, is a famous place for wildcats. Once in a blue moon a lynx is killed in the highest zone of the Smokies, up among the balsams and spruces, where both the flora and fauna, as well as the climate, resemble those of the Canadian woods. Our native hunters never heard the word lynx, but call the animal a “catamount.” Wolves and panthers used to be common here, but it is a long time since either has been killed in this region, albeit impressionable people see wolf tracks or hear a “pant’er” scream every now and then.
I had shivered on the mountain top for a couple of hours, hearing only an occasional yelp from the dogs, which had been working in the thickets a mile or so below me, when suddenly there burst forth the devil of a racket.
On came the chase, right in my direction. Presently I could distinguish the different notes: the deep bellow of old Dred, the hound-like baying of Rock and Coaly, and little Towse’s feisty yelp.
I thought that the bear might chance the comparatively open space of the Fire-scald, because there were still some ashes on the ground that would dust the dogs’ nostrils and throw them off the scent. And such, I believe, was his intention. But the dogs caught up with him. They nipped him fore and aft. Time after time he shook them off; but they were true bear dogs, and, like Matt Hyde after the turkey, they knew no such word as quit.
I took a last squint at my rifle sights, made sure there was a cartridge in the chamber, and then felt my ears grow as I listened. Suddenly the chase swerved at a right angle and took straight up the side of Saddle-back. Either the bear would tree, or he would try to smash on through to the low rhododendron of the Devil’s Court House, where dogs who followed might break their legs. I girded myself and ran, “wiggling and wingling” along the main divide, and then came the steep pull up Briar Knob. As I was grading around the summit with all the lope that was left in me, I heard a rifle crack, half a mile down Saddle-back. Old “Doc” was somewhere in that vicinity. I halted to listen. Creation, what a rumpus! Then another shot. Then the warwhoop of the South, that we read about.
By and by, up they came, John and Cope and “Doc,” two at a time, carrying the bear on a trimmed sapling. Presently Hyde joined us, then came Granville, and we filed back to camp, where “Doc” told his story:
“Boys, them dogs’ eyes
shined like new money. Coaly fit agin, all right, and got his tail bit. The
bear div down into a sink-hole with the dogs a-top o’ him. Soon’s I could shoot
without hittin’ a dog, I let him have it. Thought I’d shot him through the
head, but he fit on. Then I jumped down into the sink and kicked him loose from
the dogs, or he’d a-killed Coaly.
“Fellers,” he added feelingly, “I wish t’ my legs growed hind-side-fust.”
“So ’s ’t I wouldn’t bark my shins!”
“Bears,” remarked John, “is all left-handed. Ever note that? Hit’s the left paw you wanter look out fer. He’d a-knocked somethin’ out o’ yer head if there’d been much in it, Doc.”
“Funny thing, but hit’s true,” declared Bill, “that a bear allers dies flat on his back, onless he’s trapped.”
“So do men,” said “Doc” grimly; “men who’ve been shot in battle. You go along a battlefield, right atter the action, and you’ll find most o’ the dead faces pintin’ to the sky.”
“Bears is almost human, anyhow. A skinned bear looks like a great big-bodied man with long arms and stumpy legs.”
I did not relish this turn of the conversation, for we had two bears to skin immediately. The one that had been hung up over night was frozen solid, so I photographed her standing on her legs, as in life. When it came to skinning this beast the job was a mean one; a fellow had to drop out now and then to warm his fingers.
The mountaineers have an odd way of sharing the spoils of the chase. They call it “stoking the meat,” a use of the word stoke that I have never heard elsewhere. The hide is sold, and the proceeds divided equally among the hunters, but the meat is cut up into as many pieces as there are partners in the chase; then one man goes indoors or behind a tree, and somebody at the carcass, laying his hand on a portion, calls out: “Whose piece is this?”
“Granville Calhoun’s,” cries the hidden man, who cannot see it.
“Whose is this?”
And so on down the line. Everybody gets what chance determines for him, and there can be no charges of unfairness.
It turned very cold that night. The last thing I heard was Matt Hyde protesting to the hunchback:
“Durn you, Bill Cope, you’re so cussed crooked a man cain’t lay cluss enough to you to keep warm!”
Once when I awoke in the night the beech trees were cracking like rifle-shots from the intense frost.
Next morning John announced that we were going to get another bear.
“Night afore last,” he said, “Bill dremp that he seed a lot o’ fat meat layin’ on the table; an’ it done come true. Last night I dremp me one that never was knowed to fail yet. Now you see!”
It did not look like it by evening. We all worked hard and endured much — standers as well as drivers — but not a rifle had spoken up to the time when, from my far-off stand, I yearned for a hot supper.
Away down in the rear I
heard the snort of a locomotive, one of those cog-wheel affairs that are
specially built for mountain climbing. With a steam-loader and three camps of a
hundred men each, it was despoiling the
“All this,” I apostrophized, “shall be swept away, tree and plant, beast and fish. Fire will blacken the earth; flood will swallow and spew forth the soil. The simple-hearted native men and women will scatter and disappear. In their stead will come slaves speaking strange tongues, to toil in the darkness under the rocks. Soot will arise, and foul gases; the streams will run murky death. Let me not see it! No; I will
“‘... Get me to some far-off land
Where higher mountains under heaven stand ...
Where other thunders roll amid the hills,
Some mightier wind a mightier forest fills
With other strains through other-shapen boughs.’”
“....Powerful steep and Laurely....”
Wearily I plodded back to camp. No one had arrived but “Doc.” The old man had been thumped rather severely in yesterday’s scrimmage, but complained only of “a touch o’ rheumatiz.” Just how this disease had left his clothes in tatters he did not explain.
It was late when Matt and Granville came in. The crimson and yellow of sunset had turned to a faultless turquoise, and this to a violet afterglow; then suddenly night rose from the valleys and enveloped us.
About nine o’clock I went out on the Little Chestnut Bald and fired signals, but there was no answer. The last we had known of the drivers was that they had been beyond Thunderhead, six miles of hard travel to the westward. There was fog on the mountain. We did some uneasy speculating. Then Granville and Matt took the lantern and set out for Briar Knob. “Doc” was too stiff for travel, and I, being at that time a stranger in the Smokies, would be of no use hunting amid clouds and darkness. “Doc” and I passed a dreary three hours. Finally, at midnight, my shots were answered, and soon the dogs came limping in. Dred had been severely bitten in the shoulders and Rock in the head. Coaly was bloody about the mouth, where his first day’s wound had reopened. Then came the four men, empty-handed, it seemed, until John slapped a bear’s “melt” (spleen) upon the table. He limped from a bruised hip.
“That bear outsharped us
and went around all o’ you-uns. We follered him clar over to the
“You’d orter see what Coaly did to that varmint,” said Bill. “He bit a hole under the fore leg, through hide and ha’r, clar into the holler, so t’ you can stick your hand in and seize the bear’s heart.”
“John, what was that dream of yours?”
“I dremp I stole a feller’s overcoat. Now d’ye see? That means a bear’s hide.”
Coaly, three days ago, had
been an inconsequential pup; but now he looked up into my eyes with the calm
dignity that no fool or braggart can assume. He had been knighted. As he licked
his wounds he was proud of them. “Scars of battle, sir. You may have your
swagger ribbons and prize collars in the
Poor Coaly! after two more years of valiant service, he was to meet an evil fortune. In connection with it I will relate a queer coincidence:
Two years after this hunt, a friend and I spent three summer months in this same old cabin on top of Smoky. When Andy had to return North he left with me, for sale, a .30-30 carbine, as he had more guns than he needed. I showed this carbine to Quill Rose, and the old hunter said: “I don’t like them power-guns; you could shoot clar through a bear and kill your dog on the other side.” The next day I sold the weapon to Granville Calhoun. Within a short time, word came from Granville’s father that “Old Reelfoot” was despoiling his orchard. This Reelfoot was a large bear whose cunning had defied our best hunters for five or six years. He got his name from the fact that he “reeled” or twisted his hind feet in walking, as some horses do, leaving a peculiar track. This seems rather common among old bears, for I have known of several “reelfoots” in other, and widely separated, regions.
Cable and his dogs were
sent for. A drive was made, and the bear was actually caught within a few rods
of old Mr. Calhoun’s stable. His teeth were worn to the gums, and, as he could
no longer kill hogs, he had come down to an apple
diet. He was large-framed, but very poor. The only hunters on the spot were
Granville, with the .30-30, and a northern lumberman named
3 Gant-lot: a fenced enclosure into which cattle are driven after cutting them out from those of other owners. So called because the mountain cattle run wild, feeding only on grass and browse, and “they couldn’t travel well to market when filled up on green stuff: so they’re penned up to git gant and nimble.”