Holt Collier is among the most legendary figures in American hunting history that you’ve probably never even heard of. Proving once and for all that truth is stranger than fiction, and far more interesting, the story takes place in a primordial Mississippi delta wilderness that was vanquished during Collier’s lifetime. Born a slave, Collier later became closely associated with some of the most powerful political figures in America through his unrivaled reputation as a hunter. What was Holt Collier’s childhood like, and how’d he develop legendary shooting skills? How old was he when he killed his first bear? How’d Collier spend his time during the Civil War, and what huge opportunity developed during Reconstruction that put Collier on the path to becoming a hunter of heroic proportions? Ramsey joins Minor F. Buchanan, author of Holt Collier: His Life, His Roosevelt Hunts, and the Origin of the Teddy Bear, and Mississippi Delta storyteller Hank Burdine, for the telling of this epic 2-part story about a people, time and place forever lost.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: The Yazoo Mississippi Delta is typical of those alluvial flats. It is bordered on the west by the Mississippi River. On the east by the great Yazoo bluffs, some 200ft in height. The Mississippi Delta, it is said, begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on catfish Row in Vicksburg. In the area it measures over 7000 square miles. The land was a jungle equal to any in Africa, with dense forests of cane and giant trees from which hung great cling vines of wild grape and Muscatine. The density of growth choked off air and held in moisture and a pulse hating heat. It was so thick a horse rider could not penetrate. Even on foot, one needed to cut one’s way through. Only the trees, some 100ft high, burst above the choking vines and cane into the sunshine. Stinking flies, gnats and mosquitoes swarmed around any visitor. One pioneer reported killing 14 bears in eight days. Another warrant of wolves and defeated alligator. While the panther bask at the river’s edge in the cane breaks, almost impervious to man. Nearly as large as a young calf. They are the most savage looking animal I ever saw. They’re strong, sinewy legs with large hook claws like that cat, could tear man to pieces in a thrice if they chose to. Prior to the appearance of the white man, this wilderness was the largest most diverse ecosystem on the North American continent. And the great virgin cypress forests towered over vast cane bricks and primeval swamp. The red gum and white oak was unsurpassed by any trees of the eastern forests. It was observed that forests like these were not to be found until we reached the sequoias and redwoods of the Sierras. Among the virgin timbers were hackberry, thorn, honey locust, tupelo, pecan and ash. The knees of the cypress loose measure 2-3 feet above the black ooes. And undergrowth of lush palmetto was evident throughout the entire region. Among the extent fauna, where the alligators and gar fish, monstrous snapping turtles, fearsome brutes of the slime weight as much as a man, and had huge horny beaks there with a single snap could take off man’s hand or foot. The gar fish grew to unimaginable length and size, and the black bass and vipers, watermarks and rattlesnakes and copperheads were prevalent. Raccoons and possums were plentiful as we’re minks, otters, black squirrels and wood rats. The swamp rabbits were thoroughly amphibious in their habits not only swimming but diving and taking to the water almost as freely as if they were muskrats. The canopy of the forest provided shelter for many birds, including barred owls, mocking birds, painted finches, cardinals, winter wrens, thrashes, warblers, Berrios and seven or eight species of woodpeckers, the most notable of which was the ivory billed woodpecker. The Washington County plantations that had been settled before the Civil War were located primarily on the Mississippi River or on lake Washington, connected to the river by union bow, rattlesnake bow, and Williams bow. The inland wilderness for thousands of square miles and millions of acres was a virgin forests with hundreds of miles of almost continuous cane break along the natural levees of the bows and rivers. And to this environment, Holt Collier journeyed upriver as a very young boy. Huge stands of cane in this untouched wilderness were a primary habitat for the bear and other wild game. The standing cane along the swamp area near Plum Ridge and the Greenville Landing was as much as 3 miles wide and 30 miles long. Except in brief stretches of clearings the cane break was unbroken. Bodies of water were alive with many varieties of fish, there were many paths through the cane leading in all directions. They were made by and belonged to the master of the wilderness swamps. The great black bear.
Ramsey Russell: Welcome to Duck Season Somewhere. You’ve been listening to a passage read by Minor Ferris Buchanan, who is author of today’s subject matter. A book entitled Holt Collier, His Life, His Roosevelt Hunts and The Origin of the Teddy Bear. Also joining us is Mississippi Delta hunter, historian and personality, Mr. Hank Burdine. I grew up in Mississippi, I grew up in the Mississippi Delta, which has been described as one of the most southern places on God’s Earth to have been from. I’ve heard that Mississippi Delta back in the day that we entered talking about it’s been described as one of the most ecologically diverse habitats on earth. More diverse are very similar to the amazon rainforest. I grew up reading William Faulkner at times Go Down Moses, but especially the part about the bear. And it really characterized my upbringing, my home, the Mississippi Delta. Back when there were virgin hardwood forest everywhere. It’s a story about a young man named Isaac McCasland coming of age, he immersed himself into that environment, was mentored by an old freedman named Sam Waters. They hunted deer and bear often in this area, especially the near mythical old Ben. That really Faulkner used to symbolize that wilderness that vanished during Isaac’s lifetime. That story was likely inspired by today’s topic and I think you all are going to see that the truth is far more interesting than fiction if not stranger. Guys, how are you all doing today?
Minor Ferris Buchanan: I’m glad to be here.
Hank Burdine: Yeah, Ramsey. Thanks for having us on.
Ramsey Russell: Yes, sir. This book fascinates me, it very truly does. Minor, how did you come up with the idea of this book? What inspired you to write a great book about this subject matter?
Minor Ferris Buchanan: Well, Holt Collier was – I’m born and raised in Mississippi, I’m from up in the hills and in North Mississippi and I had never heard the name Holt Collier before. But one day and I digress, but it’s a very simple story and I took my daughter to the zoo one day and she was five years old and as we were leaving the bear exhibit, she said daddy, we can’t leave until we see the teddy bear, she thought it was teddy bear was real like an Easter bunny or Santa Claus I guess. And we were in a hurry, so I told her that I’m sorry honey, but the teddy bear is not real, it’s just a child’s toy. And I may as well as shot the Easter bunny right in front of her because she broke down in tears. And when she got her composure back she said it was not real daddy, where’d it come from? And I knew there was a Mississippi connection about the famous teddy bear hunt, and because they had been human interest stories written about it and they pop up in the newspaper every year or so. And I promised her that I didn’t know honey, but I will find out and I’ll make you a bedtime story. And I went over to the archives Mississippi Archives, which is right across street from the law office and started doing research during the lunch hour and I pulled out a subject matter on Theodore file on Theodore Roosevelt and pulled out another subject matter file on the teddy bear and then before you know what, I’ve got all this information in there and then the name that keeps popping up is this guy named Holt Collier. And I said, well give me a subject matter on Holt Collier and they had a little file on him, not much in it, but and, when I realized that, well, it started off as a bedtime story and I thought, well maybe this will make a little nice little historical article for historical publication. And I found out that he was a confederate veteran. I found out he was born a slave to Hinds, famous Hinds family that his father had served with Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans and he killed two white men in the Deep South and not been prosecuted for that. He had made more money than most white people during the reconstruction era. Killed over 3000 bear during his lifetime, which Theodore Roosevelt himself gave him credit for which I contemplate is, more than Danny Boone and Davy Crockett combined. And I just, I said this man deserves to be remembered. And at the time I did an internet research and I think there were two websites that where his name was mentioned now there’s millions. But it was a labor love and met, my first trip to Greenville Mississippi to do research at the Percy library and where ran into old friends like Hank Burdine and met fortunately did the initial research in time because when I first found the Octogenarian folks of people who might have known how he died in 1936. And this was about 1989, I was looking for people who might remember him. And I actually interviewed 8 or 9 people who did remember him. None of whom survived to see the book and print, except Shelby Foote. And Shelby Foote of the Civil War trilogy fame. And thank goodness, because if I had waited a few more years, I would not have been able to interview those people. And some great stories about the, there’s one old fellow from Los Angeles, California who owned a liquor store out there. I called him and he turns out he was one of Holt’s neighbors as a child, when Holt was an old man and I’d read all these stories. Holt had 6 or 8 national magazine articles written about him during his lifetime. He has achieved quite a bit of fame during his lifetime. But after he died, he was. Anyway, you asked me how I came to write it. It was to fulfill the promise I made my daughter to write a bedtime story.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’m glad you did. Now look, let’s talk about not opening past Holt Collier, born into slave sent north, to what is modern day Greenville Mississippi to a plantation. Where he got a little bit of special treatment sounds like to me, he was a special person and killed his first bear at age 10, went on to kill many, many more. But one of my favorite stories was hearing about him being placed in the garden to shoot pigeons, which would have been passenger pigeons and given a nice shotgun and would shoot so much with his right arm and get tired so he started shooting with his left and he ended up becoming a hell of a good shot. Do you recall that story?
Minor Ferris Buchanan: I recall that research it’s in the book. I’ve attended several presentations by Hank Burdine who he likes to tell the story too. But Holt would shoot, just put it in perspective. Holt came from Jefferson County, Mississippi. He was born into the family of the Hind’s for which Hinds County, which is where the capital of Mississippi is named after General Thomas Hinds. And at the age of 10, the Hinds has had invested in what was then called the wilderness up river and what is now Greenville Mississippi and they bought a piece of land up there and called a Plum Ridge plantation and they started sending their labor up there, they were of course slave labor, but there was no source of protein in the Mississippi Delta couldn’t raise cattle up, it was all flat, it was all in the swamp. So you had to rely on meat that you could shoot, you had to hunt it. And at the age of 10, Howell Hinds sent Holt Collier to this wilderness area, plum Rich Plantation gave him a, what is now today, even then, I suppose a very fine Scott shotgun and he was given instructions to shoot and kill anything that’s edible so that the labor force could eat. And if I recall correctly, his right shoulder got so sore that he quit shooting and Howell Hinds made him go back out and taught him how to shoot with his left shoulder. So he became proficient marksman with his shooting from his right or his left and as time went on, he was noted as being a proficient marksman with shotgun rifle and pistol, right handed and left handed.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. And they did a lot of hunting. He actually accompanied, the Hinds family on a lot of bear hunts and deer hunts and he would just right in the thick of things wasn’t he?
Minor Ferris Buchanan: He shot anything that was edible. Holt Collier’s first bear kill was right off the back porch of the house at Plum Rich Plantation and bear just wandered into the yard, I guess and he shot it, but it was the first of over 3000 bear that he killed during his lifetime.
Ramsey Russell: Now on the timeline, this took place in about the mid-1800 and 1850, 1860, in that timeframe, preseason, the civil war. And I think, sounded to me like it was a pretty good life for Holt Collier. And I read in your book that he accompanied the Hinds family up north because they didn’t just stay when the mosquitoes and heat and everything else got bad, they would go to Kentucky and go to and he started ended up shooting competitively of sorts. Is that right?
Minor Ferris Buchanan: He did. He went with the Hind’s when they would take their winter pilgrimages up river and they do all the shopping and whatnot. He even talks about going into New York City, talks about going into the Free states where people would try to convince him to stay. But he always returned and he was treated very, very well on these trips. As I told you, he received a lot of attention during his lifetime. He had all these magazine, a lot of people interviewed him and those interviews all survive. And he described how the Hinds is dressed him up in the finest leather and the finest clothes and he would come back down. Howell Hinds was somewhat of a sportsman, he’s a gambler. There’s a lot of discussion about horse races, and Holt was a gambler too. He made a lot of money during his lifetime and he’s rather undisciplined when it came to spending it. And as they would come back down the Mississippi River, the river boats would make frequent stops and there was always some competition. If there wasn’t a horse race, it would be a shooting competition and Howell Hinds would insult somebody, some other planner and say, I bet my 10 year old juvenile valet over there can outshoot you. And of course they put their money up and Holt we seek to outshoot them. And Howell Hinds, I think made a lot of money like that.
Ramsey Russell: And then, somewhere along the timeline. He’s getting older in life but of course the confederate states of America succeeded from the United States of America and the civil war broke out and he was instructed to stay home. He was instructed Holt Collier was instructed as the Hinds left to go the civil war. He was instructed you stay here, but he didn’t do that, did he? I read a quote “It was a journey that defined him as a man and earned him a lifetime of respect and admiration. He laid like a rabbit in the briar patch”. And when they got to Memphis, what happened? When the Hinds got to Memphis, what happened?
Minor Ferris Buchanan: Well, if I recall the story Holt Collier walked up again, put it into perspective, he becomes a runaway slave from plum rich plantation. And because Howell Hinds who also had a son named Thomas Hinds who is a little bit older than Holt, they both went into the confederate service as lieutenants. And all these confederate soldiers are coming up the Mississippi river on the river boat and they’re disembarking at Memphis Tennessee. And having spent a lot of time in Memphis, I think they changed the name of it now, but they used to be a landing there and there was a park and I think they called a confederate park in the old days. And that they killed confederate part because that’s where all the confederates gathered and mustard in. And so Holt Collier describes walking up to Howell Hinds and his son Thomas Hinds, both officers. And if I recall correctly, they were standing there talking to Braxton Bragg and they had told Holt he couldn’t come and that he had to stay there at plum rich plantation, and they just shook their head and anguish and said, well, we can’t send him back. So I guess we’ll just take him with us.
Hank Burdine: He was stowed away on the steamboat.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: He was a stowaway on the steamboat. But what happened next is, the Albert Sidney Johnston’s Kentucky campaign. This was all in preparation of Albert Sidney Johnston going, and this was the highest ranking confederate officer in the field at the time. And he goes up into Kentucky and Holt, he’s only 14 years old, he becomes what, I think there were a lot of juvenile valet’s, like this taken into confederate service but they give Holt the job as an hospital orderly and they’re right out just outside bowling ring Kentucky and there are some patients in there and Holts tending to them. I don’t know what he is sweeping the floor or what he’s doing, but he starts hearing some gunfire on a skirmish line, not too far away. And so he takes a haversack and the rifle or the musket of one of the patients and goes out onto the firing line and start shooting at Yankees. And he becomes, I tend to think he became somewhat of a camp mascot at that point, and he was allowed to carry a gun and people didn’t bother with it. I mean talking about the confederate soldiers, they accept him as this shooting camp mascot. And Albert Sidney Johnston retreats series of retreats. It takes them all the way to Shiloh. And I don’t need to tell you about Shiloh, we all know about that. But by this time Holt is basically in the army and he’s firing at the Yankees on the firing line and he actually describes witnessing the death of Albert Sidney Johnston. And he describes it in great detail. So there’s no question in my mind that he was there, when you compare it to the historical narrative, it’s dead on point and they retreat outshot the defeated Shiloh. They retreat on the Corinth. Now, Shiloh was horrible bloodbath. And while there in Corinth, Howell Hinds, who was a childhood friend of Jefferson Davis sends a telegraph to Jefferson Davis saying, get me out of here. He was a little bit older man and he in shallow. So Jefferson Davis immediately commissioned Howell Hinds to become the provost marshal of Jefferson County. So he had orders to return to Jefferson County. Thomas Hinds Howell’s son applied for a medical discharge. And he got it, he was given a 7 day or a 14 day passed, but he was supposed to come back. He never did. And he went to Greenville, Mississippi went back to Plum Ridge Plantation. So here both the man that Holt Collier had followed into the service we’re leaving and Howell Hinds looked at Holt and said, which one of us do you want to go with? You want to go with me back to Jefferson County? You want to go with Thomas to Washington County? He said, I don’t want to go with either one of you, I want to stay with these Texas boys. He met up with these boys from Texas and 9th Texas cavalry. And so Howell Hinds gave him a horse and a pistol and basically said good luck. And for the rest of the war, Holt Collier rode with company in 9th Texas cavalry which served from that moment to the very end.
Ramsey Russell: Which I understand wasn’t just any Calvary unit. They were fierce. They were guerilla. They were the A-team.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: They were the A-team and they were young. This is the part of it that got me, was that these were boys. These were 14, 15. If I recall, there’s one or two of them, they were 13 and they were excellent riders. And they fought guerilla style, and Holt was right in there with them. And they ended up, as luck would have it. They ended up in the Mississippi Delta on the periphery of grants and Sherman’s men during the siege of Vicksburg. And so they saw a lot of action in the Mississippi Delta.
Ramsey Russell: It seems like I recall reading a story, they captured a bunch of munitions or something. There was a real strategic place up in North Mississippi that they were involved with.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: You’re thinking about Milford Co incident. There was a band of outlaws that would go into the interior of the Delta and raid all the plantations. They would steal everything from the mules, to the wagons, to the slaves, take anything and everything. The cattle, what they had, some pigs, the chickens and they would take them out to this island. Island was around 76 wasn’t it? Island 76 and they would sell them, sell all this stuff to the federals who are coming up and down the river and the gunboats and they were harassing the interior or something awful and of course this is when it was not an organized army situation, this was more of a civilian thing. But Howell Hinds was back on location, I think this is 1864 and they sent Holt in still young boy probably 16 or 17 at time in a very small frame to get the layout of the island and they raided and they ended up raiding the place. The Holt was a spy very briefly. And that was the Milford Co gang. And it’s described well in my book where they captured Milford Co and all of his lieutenants take them off the island. They don’t take them into town. They don’t trial them, they just string them up on the tree limb. Because they weren’t unionized. They weren’t they were not union, they might have had union sympathies that they might have, but they were just considered outlaws. And that I believe that’s what you’re referring to.
Ramsey Russell: It is. And I know after the war, he somehow ended up in Texas. And that was one of my favorite stories. I know Hank and I were talking about that the other day.
Hank Burdine: It’s a great story.
Ramsey Russell: How did he end up, how did he go from Mississippi, he comes back home of course, Greenville had been burned down. I mean, at that point Greenville, in his present day state they had fired on Union boats are out in the river and boy, they Union army come up and burned to the ground. But what happened when Holt got home? How did he transition post war and how the heck did he end up in Texas?
Minor Ferris Buchanan: Well, to answer your question how he ended up in Texas first. This was after the civil war and the delta, all of the south was taken over by the Freedman’s bureau’s reconstruction. And all of the previous slave population had joined what was called the Freedman’s bureau so they could get jobs. The Freedman Bureaus basically came in. The union officers put their guns down and took up a pen and started managing the labor in the delta. And so you had these cotton plantations or these cotton ferries’ the work still needed to be done, but the money would be paid through the Freedman’s bureau to the labor force. And this guy named James A king who had been a captain, a Union captain and had served the entire war and so often on the other side of the line from Holt and the Hinds is, he ended up being the garrison commander, in Greenville Mississippi. So he was in charge of assigning labor to all these different plantations out there and Howell Hinds somehow still own plum rich plantation. The family ended up losing it not too soon after this, but James A King was not well liked, he had assaulted, Howell Hinds on several occasions and I believe it was 1868 that the money, the cotton was sold and Howell Hinds told Holt to go into town into Greenville and tell James King that the money had arrived so that he could pay the labor force. And so Holt goes in knocks, goes to the boarding house tell James King. Mr. Hinds said, come on out and get the money. And James King mistake was that he went out that afternoon, late afternoon, he should have waited the next morning, should have taken somebody with him because he was never seen alive again. And the only description that we have of what occurred was a duel in the cane break and Holt Collier he was prosecuted for it. They took him down to the old courthouse in Vicksburg Mississippi, which is still there and they’re trailed him for the murder of James King. This is the first, I have no idea who or how many people Holt Collier actually shot or killed during the Civil War. But this is after the Civil War, it’s the first of two white men that we know that he killed. And so he was trailed by a military tribunal. It was a court martial, so you have three judges sitting up there and there’s not enough evidence to convict him.
Hank Burdine: Who went down on his defense?
Minor Ferris Buchanan: William Alexander Percy, who was known as the Silver Eagle of the Delta and considered the finest lawyer in the state of Mississippi represented Holt Collier. And along with a lot of other very prominent people from Greenville came down to be the character witnesses for him.
Ramsey Russell: Which speaks volumes.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: It speaks volumes. And again, Holt Collier at this point in time would have only been what, 22 years old something. He was born in 1846, this would have been, he’d been 22 years old and so he’s acquitted, he’s released. And as luck would have it, some of his Texas friends had never left or were still hanging around and Holt was taken out onto the steps of the Warren County courthouse and told by William Alexander Percy and some of his other friends in Greenville, we cannot protect you if you return to Greenville because it was soldiered up there and they wanted revenge for the killing of James King and they told Holt if you come back to Greenville you’re going to be strung up. And so these Texas boys said come on right out to Texas with us and let’s hang out there for a while. He was still young. And so that’s what he did. And he went out and spent a little over a year in Texas. You may not know this, but there is a wonderful larger than life statue, bronze statue of Holt Collier in Waco Texas.
Ramsey Russell: No I did not know that.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: Well when this concludes I’ll show you some photographs of. Its just wonderful and you haven’t seen it have you?
Hank Burdine: I have not but I have seen plenty of pictures of it.
Ramsey Russell: Now here’s one of my favorite stories in your book and Hank and I were talking about this other morning. He didn’t just show up and ask for a job. He showed up with a bunch of cow punchers and rough and tumble cowboys and I think he weighed about 150 lbs. soaking wet, he was just a scrawny black guy and he showed up and wanted to be a cowboy. And you can tell the story better be Hank tell the story.
Hank Burdine: It’s not a story, but it’s as good as stories I’ve ever read anywhere and here Holt needing a job and he’s out there in Texas. But they said well there’s a much I shined in the prier out you’re on the go, hire on, they might be hiring folks. So he goes out there and ask for the job and Holt them old white cowboys out there, they go to snickering around, says that we’ll hire you if you can ride that horse right under in that corral. Well they started snickering and laughing because that horse had never been broke and it wasn’t one of them cowboys could stay on that horse. Well Holt told him he could ride that horse.
Ramsey Russell: But it took two men to put a saddle on.
Hank Burdine: It took two men to put a saddle on the horse and right before Holt walked over that to the horse he said, I’d like a powder loaded six shooters. Well the foreman on the job said, mouth what he said, I want to power loaded six shooters and holster to put them in. Well the cowboys started hiding behind trees because they said a little scared up the boy out there with a past six shooter loaded on a bucking horse that none of us can ride, we’re going to take cover. Holt Collier knew as much about horses or any of them and probably a lot more. He took that horse and the first thing he did was take those range and jerk that horse’s neck around to where his head was almost touching the saddle. He run the range around that saddle horn, and when a horse’s neck and turned that far back like that he can’t buck, he can’t do anything but run around in a circle. So Holt Collier had that loaded six shooters to two pistols on his hip. He jumped up on that saddle and the first thing he did now, horse when I’ve been on a bucking horse before, I ain’t never fell off a horse, but I’ve been bucked off a horse. Well that Holt knew that that horse was fixing the buck and send him to the sky. The first thing he did was pull out one of them pistol and shot that pistol paow! Second he did. The horse takes off running in a straight line.
Ramsey Russell: He can’t run it bucking at the same time.
Hank Burdine: And as soon as that horse and start slowing down he’d go to shooting again. Take over Miner and you tell the story.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: Yeah. I mean you had you,
Ramsey Russell: What did Holt had to say about it?
Minor Ferris Buchanan: Well Holt Collier also wanted to set of spurs and he talks about how he looking over these other guys and they knew that they were playing a joke on him, what nonsense. But his whole approach the animal, he instructed two men holding him, now you two gentlemen, what’s holding this horse, you let me have him. And Holt took the bridle and put as much tention on as the horse would allow. They let go of the bridle and I pull that horse’s head around just as hard as I could and held him tight wasn’t until this point in a tense moment that the group began to sense that this crappy newcomer had marred. The cowboys began to look at each other. Is this and this is quote Holt when I use dialect, that’s his. It says “and the cowboys began to look at each other as if I might know something about that horse after all. Well, the ride was made in classic bronco busting style carve his own description needs no elaboration. I got one ft. in the stuff and made a spring, that is, we made a spring together, me and that horse straight up in the air and we would never come down, except there weren’t nothing in the sky to hold us up. I wrapped the brattle around the pummel of the saddle and dug in with him spurs and any time he hit the ground, I let off a couple of shots that encourages them to go ahead instead of jumping up and down in one place and he sure did go ahead. How you described his ride to nothing to knock us against no tree in a million and I Lord I know that he couldn’t get me off. So we lit out him and me like hell beating tan bark across the prairie and when he wanted to quit I jab him with him spurs and let off another shot”. And that was Holt’s introduction to being a Texas cowboy.
Ramsey Russell: And he got the job, didn’t he?
Hank Burdine: He walked back in there like that little pony was just the sweetest little old horse.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: Oh, that’s right. What was that? See if I can find that in here. “After a while I turned him around and rode him back to campus this nice and easy as I was a lady, going to church”.
Ramsey Russell: Lady going to church.
Hank Burdine: That Holt guy was 22 years old.
Ramsey Russell: 22 years old, a confederate war veteran. Meanwhile, back in the Mississippi Delta, he was there for what a year you say, a year or two.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: Little over a year. Yeah, he got word that his former master, whom he was very devoted. They’ve devoted each other. Howell Hines was killed in a knife fight in an alley in Greenville trying to help a friend out of a problem, he ends up getting stuck with a knife. And Holt Collier immediately comes back to Greenville to seek revenge against the man had killed Howell Hinds. And the fellow that killed him was a prominent businessman who, when he heard Holt was coming, he left, he didn’t, he stayed away from Greenville for 6 years before he came back.
Hank Burdine: His mother was actually the one that gave the land for the Greenville to be built on. Blantonia plantation.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: This is the Blanton family. And finally, Howell Hind’s widow talk Holt Collier into two forgiving doctor. He was a Doctor Blanton so that Dr. Blanton could return. And so he had to make a promise not to seek any kind of revenge. And Dr. Blanton came back and lived the rest of his life in Greenville. But at that point in time, so this puts us up to 18, I take that back. The killing of the James King was 1866 and there was another killing in 1868. So in 66, Holt was just 20. So anyway, Holt comes back to Greenville Mississippi and he’s arrested several times because people James King is still mourned in Greenville Mississippi and Holt is arrested several times and they put a lot of pressure on him trying to get him to confess. He never will confess. And so finally a new commander comes in and he gives them the order to leave Holt Collier alone. But Holt says he was arrested five or six different times and put through that. But he realized he doesn’t need to be in Greenville Mississippi. And that’s when he begins this occupation that lasts for the rest of his life. And that is as a hunter.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. Now, see what was happening after reconstruction is as I understand history timeline. This wilderness, a lot of things, a lot of changes going on after the civil war. He’s in Texas but they start building massive levees, to protect those crops. They start the railroad start coming in, and they’re going to start cutting that timber, that’s why they bring in buildings dummy lines and bring a transportation. You had railroads, you had levees and you had, all of a sudden a booming agricultural community. Therefore you had a lot of labor and you had to feed them like you were talking about earlier. And that’s where Holt saw a real opportunity rather than going work labor wages. He knew what his calling was.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: Yeah, but that’s not. It actually started out I think because he was avoiding continue to arrest, he was avoiding the prosecution. He said, I got to get out of town and so he went out into the woods, got himself a wagon and started, shooting this game and I don’t know how it started, but somebody offered him some money for some meat before you know what? He was doing it for a living. I don’t think he ever picked cotton or worked in the fields ever in his life. And I don’t know when they came in, but you had timber people coming in, you had levee people, builders coming in, you had the railroad people coming in, all of them had, not to mention the plantation workers and other workers. So Holt went out there and he made a lot of money.
Hank Burdine: Well, you got to realize that Holt had a lot of friends that loved to hunt too. So he had five or six guys that were familiar with the wood, knew the terrain, knew how to hunt and they had dogs. They had packs of dogs that would trail these bear.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: Holt killed his first bear, as I told you right there on the back porch of Plum Rich plantation. And the bear and the deer and the panther and they ate everything. But if I could just fast, he hunted every winter all the way up until the famous Roosevelt Hunt in 1902 where you’re talking about a span there 35 years or so. By the time 1902 rolls around Holt has to go 45 miles away to find a decent bear hunting ground.
Ramsey Russell: So let’s back up and talk about this huge opportunity had to feed all those folks because deer were plentiful but not very lucrative. Bear were plentiful and that was I understand the most desired game meat.
Hank Burdine: Deer were not as plentiful as we may think. Back during that time there was no edge browser as we have now. We got a lot more deer now in the Delta than we had back then. But the bear, the bear were there.
Ramsey Russell: Golden cane thickets upon that high ground and stuff like it. And I think I heard, read somewhere that he could get 30 cents a pound, some odd for deer but he gets $60 a bear and that was good money.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: I can’t remember the numbers exactly how it might, but he got a lot more money, he got double or better for bear meat. Bear meat has been described to me has been full of fat and tasty and a deer, of course we all know venison, but it can be dry and lean.
Ramsey Russell: And I know you mentioned about the dogs that is how they were hunted but it wasn’t just like two or three dogs, they had massive packs of dogs and from what I understand, each kind of dog had its job, some on the front of the bear, some on the back of the bear, some to do different things. I mean they were massive packs and Holt’s from all accounts seem to be a very devoted hound’s man. He loved his dogs.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: He loves his dogs. The only description that he uses his feist dogs, FEIST. Is that right?
Hank Burdine: That’s a little Jacko.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: Little Jacko was one of his favorites fiest dogs and they would go and they would nip at the bears, hind legs, and then someone would get up front.
Hank Burdine: Now, see that little jocko, the little fiest dog was too small to run with the big dogs. Big dogs, your big hound in a breed different hound dog like that big dogs. And they could run along and they could run hard, but a little feist dog couldn’t do that. So Holt would carry his favorite dog, Little Jacko in a burlap bag, tired on the saddle horn on his saddle, with the little dog head out like that, and that Jacko was the one that Holt would call, would turn loose once the bear was bayed and he would do what he called, harrying the bear. While the big dogs were trained not to, once the bear aid turned to fight, they were trained not to go in and attack the bear because of bear killed the dogs. So Jacko would run in and he’d bite the bear on one side to boot in the bear turnover there and he’d run around over on the other side and he’d bite him over there and he was harrying the bear. Now Holt didn’t want to shoot a bear because he might shoot one of his favorite dogs. So the sporting way and the best way that Holt knew to kill a bear, while Jacko was harrying, the bear was running there with a big knife and kill a bear with a knife. And that’s the way that they killed bear’s back then.
Ramsey Russell: And I know you’ve got some experience hunting hogs that way we’re going to talk about that one day. But they would come, he would come in and not jab to bear on the side he was coming from, he’d reach over the bear and hit because once that once that bear got hit with that knife bear want to spin around and bite whatever was sticking.
Hank Burdine: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: I mean that’s up close and personal bear hunting right there now folks.
Hank Burdine: Sometimes they say he’d go up and hugged the bear. Hugged the bear and jab the bear at the back where you could get to the heart like that and then that’s the bear is going to go to where he was stuck, not on the front like that.
Ramsey Russell: They say that,
Hank Burdine: That’s pretty tough hunting.
Ramsey Russell: And reputedly, now some hunters back in the day with bait them with honey and whiskey, get those bears intoxicated. And —
Hank Burdine: Where’d you hear that?
Ramsey Russell: In that book?
Hank Burdine: Really I read the book.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: You never heard the term pot hunter? That’s where it comes from.
Hank Burdine: Yeah, but I don’t remember that. I’ve read that book 4 times.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: No, it’s described in here, it’s called pot hunting and you put mixed whiskey and honey together put in a pot and the hunter and waits the bear to come along and get drunk and then they would shoot the bear.
Hank Burdine: Well I know today.
Ramsey Russell: Probably works on duck hunters too.
Hank Burdine: When we trapped bears for research for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fishing Department. We use Shipley’s donuts, cream filled doughnut. Don’t use donut hold anything like got to be Shipley’s cream filled doughnuts and go straight to him.
Ramsey Russell: Well he’s looking up that passage. I’m going to talk about some of these bear dogs because it repeatedly Holt Collier had some of the best he considered them old friends and they were envied and he had been offered $1000 which was a lot of money back in those days. He had been offered $1000 for the dog and he just wouldn’t part with him. He told a story about particular dog named Mandy that had been injured in a bear fight and after that bear fight would only chase deer and bobcats and but he said she never lied. When she came up and got between his legs. He knew there was the bear.
Hank Burdine: So he still took that dog with him?
Ramsey Russell: Oh he still took that dog with him because she didn’t lie.
Hank Burdine: Now, one of the greatest stories in that book is about the one time that Holt almost got killed on a bear hunt. Why don’t you tell them when the bear run up in the log?
Ramsey Russell: Oh my goodness.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: That’s a great story.
Ramsey Russell: And the dog chased him.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: The dog chased the bear up into the log and this is one of Holt’s favorite dogs and he felt like he needed to protect the dog and go in there and try to save him because the bare wood would certainly chew him up and he gets up in that, and this is back, this was a big log. This is big enough for a man to crawl into the rotten heart of the tree. And so that’s what Holt did. He crawled up in there with a knife in his teeth. And as soon as he gets up in there the dog runs out and escapes. And then the bear is goes out and Holt stabs him and it’s a very tight space and Holt stabs the bear while they’re inside this log and then the bear makes it to the entrance and dies and Holt is stuck on the inside of the log and the bear has now blocked his exit. He can’t get out. No room to pull and you can’t push it out. And there happened to be a knothole where he could get his knife and pared and get a little air but he was stuck inside. It was just like being in a coffin I guess. And he started screaming and hollering. And the fellow that was hunting with him that day,
Ramsey Russell: He doesn’t run off now.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: He hadn’t run off, he was on horses, he was on his horse but fortunately he kept looking for Holt and he was, he happened to be in their shot and he came up to that log Holt, been in there a long time, said when he got out of there was soaking wet from his own sweat.
Hank Burdine: By that time the bear, we’re going to swear look.
Minor Ferris Buchanan: Yeah, but the guy, his friend who was with him, managed to tie a rope around the bear and with his horse pulled that bear out and Holt got out of there. But if he hadn’t had a friend hunting with him that day, he’d still be there.
Ramsey Russell: Don’t you imagine, he’s sitting there in that sweltering cypress stump or whatever he was in and that bears blocking the Holt and he’s sitting there gaping through a knothole for air, yet they’re running up to a bear in a pack of dogs stabbing him with a knife. He had to cross his mind. I can’t believe I’m going to die this way. It had had to have crossed his mind. Of all the way to die bear hunting, be stuck in the log because that dead bears blocking the whole way.
Hank Burdine: Like grab a 250 pound bull hog and give you a knife, tell you to run up and take care of.
Ramsey Russell: Exactly. Not me, man, that’s what guns are for. I’m going to end this episode on this quote. We got a lot more to cover folks, you all, going to have to come back. But one of my favorite quotes maybe of all time, certainly in this book was Holt Collier describing the dogs “Money don’t buy nothing and the cane break know how the man’s dogs don’t care whether he’s rich or poor”.
You’ll come back next week, you’ll want to hear the rest of the story. Holt Collier, Legendary Mississippi Bear Hunter (Part 2)