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Conservation Corner: September 30, 2002

Bear Affair To Celebrate Famous Hunt
by James L. Cummins

Rolling Fork, Mississippi will be the site of a national celebration - the Great Delta Bear Affair. It will be held on October 18-19 commemorating the 100th anniversary of President Theodore Roosevelt's 1902 bear hunt which resulted in the creation of the most famous children's toy in the world - the teddy bear. It is sponsored by Cellular South.

On November 13, 1902, Roosevelt, a renowned hunter and conservationist, had traveled by train into Mississippi to Smedes Plantation, where he met what amounted to a contemporary Who's Who of Southern planters and businessmen. Among the notables in what turned out to be Roosevelt's famous hunting party were soon-to-be Louisiana Governor John M. Parker, Huger L. Foote, grandfather of Civil War historian, writer and friend, Shelby Foote, Tobasco Sauce heir John McIlnenny and Leroy Percy.

Legendary guide Holt Collier was the guide for the hunt. On the night before the hunt, he reportedly promised Roosevelt a bear, "If I have to tie one up and bring it to you." According to the now generally accepted story, Collier found a bear and it attacked his favorite dog. The guide, unable to shoot due to the proximity of his pet, used his rifle like a club, smashing the bear across its head and rendering it semi-conscious in the bayou. He then tied the bear to the nearest tree and sounded his hunting horn to alert the president.

In a gesture which may have been born as much out of political expediency as altruism - there were a number of journalists on the trip and Roosevelt had been criticized in the press for his hunting activities - the president refused to shoot the pitiful creature. As the whims of politics and history would have it, political cartoonist Clifford Berryman, who highly favored Roosevelt, popularized the event with a caricature he called "Drawing the Line in Mississippi," which eventually ended up in publications around the country. The idea of the teddy bear was born and soon a manufacturer began production of what would become the favorite toy of millions of Americans.

Theodore Roosevelt IV, great-great grandson of the former president, is among the dignitaries who will attend the Great Delta Bear Affair. In addition to dignitaries, a festival-like atmosphere will characterize the event, complete with vendors, food vendors and lots of music, as well as seminars, foot and bicycle races, horse-drawn wagon tours, bird and animal habitat tours, a hunt re-enactment, a book signing, children's activities and a reunion of all bear-hunt descendants. It will be in Rolling Fork, which is located on Highway 61. It is 45 minutes south of Greenville and 45 minutes north of Vicksburg.

James L. Cummins is Executive Director of the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation in Stoneville, Mississippi. Known as "Wildlife Mississippi," the Foundation is a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi


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