An 1855 engraving titled: “Indians Hunting the Black Bear.” Photo by: Courtesy photo
September 8, 2012 7:22:04 PM
By Friday night I still had not decided what would be the subject of my column today. So for inspiration Karen and I walked down to the Stella Shouting Contest. It was a lot of fun, but not particularly inspirational for a history column. Later, we walked back to our house with some friends, Will and Judy Hardy, Marian Montgomery, Jeff Montgomery, and Captain Sid. Naturally, a conversation ensued. Something came up about hunting and I mentioned that the early settlers in this area would hunt bear with knives. After a few choice comments of "you've got to be kidding," I knew what my column would be.
When Columbus was first settled this area was full of black bears. In an 1870 interview published in the Atlantic Monthly, Peter Pitchlynn (he was living near present day Artesia during the 1820s) told how he "amused himself by an occasional hunt for the black bear." The best account of bear hunting around here, though, came from Gideon Lincecum.
Lincecum, a native of Georgia, moved to Tuscaloosa in early 1818. In the fall of that same year he moved to the banks of the Tombigbee, building a house about where the Wilkins-Wise Road, boat landing is now located. In 1819, he moved a little south to the new town of Columbus. He told of bears being in his favorite hunting grounds, "White Slue," which is now the swamp on the cutoff island across the Tombigbee from Columbus.
It was while Lincecum was in Tuscaloosa that he provided the most vivid descriptions of how bear were hunted, when he joined a group of hunters who enjoyed bear hunting. He described bear hunting as commencing in the spring and ending with the hot dry weather of August. It was then that several times a week he would join a hunting club in excursions into the canebrakes west of the Warrior River in search of black bear.
Lincecum told of the club hunting bear with only knives and a pack of dogs. He maintained that there was "not much danger in what the bear can do to you." The hunters had learned that when threatened or attacked by a pack of dogs a black bear would ignore humans and go after the dogs. After the dogs would corner the bear the hunters would then run in behind the bear and stab it with knives. The bear would associate the stab wounds with dog bites and even more fiercely go after the dogs. That would be repeated until the bear was killed.
However, there was one great danger that the hunters feared. Lincecum described how more hunters were accidentally shot by other hunters than injured by bears. It seems some people really didn't trust hunting bear with only a knife and took guns. In the heat and confusion of the dogs and the bear getting into it, some hunters would get overly excited and shoot at the bear hitting instead another hunter closing in with a knife. Said Lincecum, "When I find one of that sort in the company, I always, if the company refused to leave their guns at home, make my day's business in some other direction."
In an aside, Lincecum mentioned that they always hunted with packs of American dogs which he described as being "many-colored, crop-eared, bob-tailed" dogs. He also described an interesting "...little red-mouthed native dog, with yellow eyes and bushy tail -- a distinct race of indigenous dogs."
More of Lincecum's accounts can be found in "Adventures of a Frontier Naturalist, The Life and Times of Dr. Gideon Lincecum," by Jerry Lincecum and Edward Phillips.
Of course none of this answers the question I was asked Friday night. "Who was the crazy fool who first wanted to see if they could kill a bear with only a knife cause the bear seemed to be most interested in the dogs?"
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at email@example.com.