The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Carroll Bear Hunt

By F. Clyde Bedsaul, M.D. © 1984

Issue: August, 1984

I graduated from Galax High School in 1920, and spent my short vacation working in a factory in Galax and helping my dad work on the farm. I was unfortunate enough to develop whooping cough which played havoc with my social life. Many of the young people in my [Blue Ridge] community had never been exposed to the "awful whooping cough" - and I was afraid of visiting about and spreading the disease. All I could do was "pout" and help work on the farm. My neighbors who had already suffered from my unfortunate ailment came to visit me and tease me about being tied down and not being able to visit among the folks. They told me about the terrible wild animals which were growling and screaming about in the woods - and that it was too bad that I could not get out to help look for these terrible creatures. I told them that I did not believe their stories - that I did not think that we had any wild animals roaming about in our community. "That's just because you are tied down and cannot hear the terrible cries of these awful animals in the night," they teased. I worried about it for a few days - and then thought that these lads might really enjoy chasing and hunting animals they thought could be passing through our part of the county.

 I filled a box with soft mud and persuaded my pet cat to step into it. I pressed a white card down over the track, raised it up and there was a perfect "animal" track. All the white area (from under the cat's track) was marked off by a sharp pencil. I used this drawing to make one of a "big foot." Blocks of wood were used to make five toe pads and a heel. They were rounded 'off and metal "toenails" were driven into the toe pieces. This made a model of a foot over six inches wide. It almost scared me to look at it! I added straps and blocks to this awful pair of animal feet - and was ready to give my friends something to see as well as to hear in the lonesome hours of the night.

It rained one afternoon and softened the ground. I threw the "bear feet" over my shoulder, walked carefully over to a neighbor's woods about a mile away, raked up (disturbed) a pile of leaves, buckled on the terrible feet and walked away. I stepped heavily to indicate a, heavy animal. My trail crossed fields, passed near homes and "split" up the center of a mud highway where someone was bound to see it. I traveled by a neighbor's orchard - "stomped up some apples," crossed a field (in sight of my home), splashed mud upon a rail fence where the animal would jump back into the highway. I went out about a hundred yards among the saplings, raked up a pile of "disturbed" leaves, removed the "feet", I walked out carefully without making any tracks - carried the "feet" to our, apple house and hid them in leaves between the walls. I had made my whole journey without anyone seeing me.

Things were quiet until next morning and then things broke loose. Two men were following the tracks across the field. One would stop, squat and call to his buddy. Then they would go forward and get down to inspect something on the ground. Soon other men joined them. One of them called for me "to come up and join them." I pretended to be interested but said I did not believe that they were bear tracks. This fellow criticized me. "You have never tracked bears. We have tracked them out West. You have been on the farm all these years and don't know what a bear's track looks like." He even wanted to bet me his team of horses or $500.00 that it was a bear. Of course I could not bet with him. Some of the hunters were a little puzzled. "Mr. Smith who lives just over the knob is a good hunter and can tell us about these tracks," explained one of the men. They got the old gentleman to join them. He studied one of the foot prints for a few moments and then said - "Yes, it's a bar and a big un too!" The mob gathered out at the woods where the tracks left the highway to enter the woods - the end of the journey.

Corbett became very much excited and said, "If I just had my old dog, Leed, he'd chase him out of them woods." He called to his brother, "Lem, you run over home and fetch Old Leed. He'll track him down." Lem was soon back with a raw-boned hound. This dog was sicked on the trail but he just smelled of the track, looked up and did not offer to move. Corbett could not understand poor old Leed's lack of interest. "I never seen him act like that before. I guess he is just afraid to tackle a big "boogerish" animal like that."

The woods patch was small and trees scattered - and someone asked how the bear could possibly hide - and they felt sure that he was in there. "There are no tracks leading out - and that means that he is in there." "Bears do not have wings to carry him out." "But if you track him in - and no tracks leading out, he's bound to be in there!"

More men and more dogs joined the crowd - and excitement increased. One of my cousins drove (way out into the country) to get his lady friend to come over. He was sure that she had never seen a bear's track. There were rumors about having seen the bear as he passed through. He was supposed to have been seen near their porches. A ten year old boy said that he ran upon the bear which was carrying a baby bear upon its back. She jumped and the baby bear fell off. Both ran away. The mama bear slung mud off her feet - and he tried to prove the truth of his story by showing the crowd mud stains on his pants which the mama bear slung upon him as she ran away.

Things were quiet for a few minutes and then things began to happen! The dogs began yelping and chasing through the bushes; men began yelling and trying to follow the dogs. The big hunt was on until one of the dogs caught a rabbit.

I thought that the hunt was over, but as soon as night came on, one of my uncles came by to get Papa to go with him on the hunt. The old fellow had waded through tall grass and his trousers were soaked with water to his hips. Dad could not show lack of interest - to save me. He threw his rifle across his shoulder, gave me a mean look and joined the crowd which had become a community gathering. The excitement had grown so much that nobody would walk near the rail fence along the road - where the bear might reach out from a corner and grab someone - so, they walked right through the soft mud in the middle of the road. The crowd of men and dogs had increased in a big way. The town cop and some from Galax joined the mob. I kept mighty quiet but crept to where I could see and hear a little of the hunt. The dogs opened up in yelping and barking - right down and across our field. I counted eighteen flashlights as the noisy crowd rushed by. It was a laughing matter to hear the dogs barking and the hunters yelling and crashing through brush and breaking limbs. Then everything got very quiet. I have been told that the hunt ended when they caught a small 'possum in a briar patch.

Women folks gathered at three homes in the community for safety while the hunt went on. The men had promised to give them pieces of bear meat. They had never tasted bear meat. When they started home after the hunt, one fellow had a rather exciting experience. He did not have a light, slid over a fence to help the ladies across. An old cow was "snoozing" just on the other side. Our nervous friend landed squarely upon her back. She bellowed and raised up rather hurriedly. The poor man almost died with shock until he learned that he was not astride of the bear.

I got away to the College of William and Mary without anyone learning the truth about the bear hunt. The other students from Galax and Carroll County were kind enough not to give me away back home. I finished Premedical training at College, finished at The Medical College of Virginia and had been practicing medicine for two or three years before my parents invited me home to meet some relatives - from out West who were visiting relatives back in Carroll County. I went back home and found a crowd at our house - and almost all who had been in the "bear hunt" were there. I dug down into the leaves at the apple house and came up with the "long hidden feet." I placed them with their toes turned up, upon a table before the crowd. "There is your bear," I announced. They appeared a little amused - and several started laughing. Uncle Ike put on a rather serious look and bragged - "I never got scared - or felt that there was much to that hunt - I felt that there might be some trick about it!" "No, you weren't too serious about it," piped Uncle Dave - in a rather high pitched voice. "You have forgotten how scared you were when the dogs treed something in a briar patch - and you were afraid to get too close - until someone pulled out a half grown 'possum.”