Black Bear

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Bear vocalization

From Life of Wilburn Waters as presented at NewRiverNotes


As stated in a preceding chapter, Wilburn made his first appearance at White Top in the fall of 1832, when he was about 20 years of age. Being but little mast that season, there was of course but little game, and he did but little successful hunting, not being yet prepared for wo1f-trapping. While roaming through the mountains, however, he came across the place where he subsequently pitched his tent. As related in the first chapter, he selected it because it was in a rich, obscure cove, some distance from the nearest settlement, and, was the common refuge of wild animals in cold and stormy weather. In addition to this, it was among the surrounding mountains, and a spring of clear, cold water gushed from the rocks within a few feet of the site of his future cabin. The land being vacant, he entered 640 acres in the spring, and pitched his tent. This was a rude concern, such as we sometimes see at a coal-pit, with one end open. This was his habitation for four years, where he lay at night with his feet to the fire on the outside, often lulled to rest after a hard day's hunt, by the howls of wolves and the screams of catamounts, which would prowl around but were too much afraid of the fire to approach very closely.

During the first summer and fall after going to house keeping in this way, he killed a large number of wild turkeys, and deer, six bears and several wolves and catamounts, though he had no daring or dangerous adventures. The first wild bear he ever saw was during the fall, while out stalking deer, but a mile or two from his cabin. It was standing on a log about sixty yards from and looking straight at him. Having heard that a bear was a very hard animal to kill, and unless struck in a vital place a very dangerous adversary, he determined to shoot it the mouth or eye. As the former was the largest target he concluded to aim at that, and if lie should fail to inflict a fatal wound, and it should make fight, he would meet it fair and square with his tomahawk. He drew a bead and fired, when the bear. sprang from the log to the ground and died in a few minutes. On examining it, he fount the ball had split his nose, passed through the lower part of his mouth, through the heart, and traversing the whole length of the body from end to end.

Sometime after this, having killed a number in the meantime, he had his first dangerous encounter with a very large wounded and ferocious bear. He had been following the trail on Pond mountain all day through a deep snow, and as the snow was still falling at nightfall, he determined to remain where he was till morning, instead of returning to his cabin several miles off; as the track might be filled up before he could return. Thus deciding he scraped away the snow at the root of a large tree, started up a fire with the dryest sticks he could find, and laid down supperless to rest.

As soon as the snow on the surrounding peaks.began to glisten in the rays of the rising sun, lie arose, shook the flakes from his locks, and started out with his rifle to find the tracks of the bear. The snow that had fallen through the night had entirely obliterated the trail, but he had gone but a short distance till he saw the tracks of a 'coon that had passed along so short a time before that the trail was still plain. Feeling that a little fresh meat-and especially 'coon meat, second only to that of bear with a hunter--would be very acceptable for the breakfast of a man who had no supper the night before, he followed on a hundred paces or more, when his attention was arrested by what seemed to be a bear-skin rolled up and lying on the snow, some thirty or forty paces in front of him. While standing and looking at it intently, and wondering how it had gotten there, or who could have killed and skinned a bear near his habitation without his knowledge, he noticed gently rising and falling like an animal breathing. Scrutinizing it closely, and being satisfied that it had life in it, the difficulty with him was, whether. it was a full grown bear partially covered by the snow or a cub lying on the surface. If it should be the former, it would be a dangerous experiment to shoot at it without a vital part visible for a mark, and if the latter, a ball would kill it, hit where it might. He revolved the matter in his mind some watching it closely all the time, and finally concluded that it was nothing but a cub, and, to use his own (missing words) he "shot at the pile." At the crack of the rifle, (words missing) bear he had followed all the day before rose (words missing) the snow surging and whirling as if it had (words missing) hurricane into a column of fog, and fixing his glaring eyes upon his assailant, gave unmistakable evidence of a furious attack. Wilburn was well enough .aquainted with the disposition of a wounded bear to comprehend the situation in an instant, and as the animal started towards him he knew there was but slight hope of escape from a square fist-and-skull fight with a very large, wounded and exasperated bear. He had but a moment to think, but in that moment he remembered that his gun was empty and that he had left his tomahawk at the place where he had slept. There was, therefore, but one possible chance of escape, and that was to spring as high as he could at a single bound up a beech sapling by which he was standing, and remain as motionless as he could, and this must be done while the bear would lose sight of him for a second in passing round a large tree between them. Wilburn made the spring at the very instant the tree was between them, holding to a limb above him with one hand, holding his gun with the other, and his feet meantime drawn as high up as he eculd get them, some three or four feet above the ground. Before the sapling had done shaking, and while thus perilously suspended, the bear bear, in a terrible rage from his wound, with his nose to the snow and his ears projecting forward, passed immeiately under and almost touching him. The situation was a fearful one, for the hear, scenting but not seeing him, tore up roots and twisted down saplings as if they had been straws;; circling round and round, and occasionally springing upon and fighting a log or a rock in (missing words) to grapple with his adversary. Failing (missing words) mortal foe, who had been suspended above him for (missing word) minutes by one arm, he took Wilburn's back track and disappeared in the undergrowth about fifty yards off. Knowing that he would not give up the effort to find him while the track was visible, but would return in a few minutes, Wilburn dropped from his perch, ran down powder and ball in his' gun without patebing, and followed on as fast as he could. When he arrived at the edge of the undergrowth he heard the bear making a furious attack upon a rock that protruded out of the snow, and parting the bushes he saw him struggling as if with a living enemy, and only about fifteen paces off. Wilburn made a noise to attract his attention, and as the bear raised his head, and before he had time to spring to the attack, the report of the rifle rang along the mountain-side, and the bear rolled over dead in his tracks with a ball in his eyes. He weighed near four hundred pounds, and yielded eighteen gallons of oil.