SuperTalk Mississippi

Great Delta Bear Affair: the history behind the teddy bear

Photo courtesy of Telesouth Communications.

The Great Delta Bear Affair festival is taking place Saturday October 28th in Rolling Fork.

During the festival, families can expect to hear music all day long, enjoy food from vendors, as well as, arts and crafts.

Terry Vandeventer, the Mississippi snake guy, will be at the festival doing a seminar on Mississippi snakes and what to do it someone comes across one and Shriners clowns will also make an appearance for the first time.

Meg Cooper, Festival Coordinator for the Great Delta Bear Affair said that there will also be an eating contest of chuck burgers, a burger with chili and slaw. Cooper said that the burgers are large and the past record has been three and a half burgers eaten in five minutes.

Cooper said that the festival began back in 2002 during the 100th anniversary of President Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt’s visit to Mississippi and was done as an effort to raise awareness for the federally protected black bears.

“When we started the festival back in 2002, the black bears were an endangered species, the Louisiana black bear, which is the species we have in the south delta, they were endangered and since then they have made a come back to a certain extent,” said Cooper. “They are still federally protected, we see them on occasion in Mississippi so we are real pleased that they are coming back to their native habitat. They are not a threat to people at this point. some people get scared thinking about that and black bears are more docile than say a grizzly bear.”

Cooper added that the history behind the start of the festival is a fascinating one which includes the history behind the popular children’s icon, the Teddy Bear.

In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt came to the Mississippi Delta to hunt black bear. Holt Collier a great bear hunter was hired to be the president’s guide during the hunt.

Cooper said that on the first morning of the hunt, the dogs found the scent of the bear and the hunt was on. Holt Collier then told President Roosevelt where to wait for the bear to come out.

The president and his companion, Mr. Huger Foote, waited for the bear to emerge and listened to the barking of the dogs as they pursued the bear. They could tell that the dogs were going in a different direction and decided to return to camp for lunch. However, not long after they had left, the bear turned again and eventually came out of the woods almost exactly where Holt Collier had said it would, but the president was not in the correct position to get his shot.

Cooper said that historians say the bear became cornered by the dogs in a slough and turned on them. The bear then grabbed Holt’s favorite dog, Jocko and that upon seeing this, Holt Collier jumped from his horse and clubbed the bear with the stock of his gun which stunned the 250 pound bear. Collier then threw a rope around the semi-conscious bear and sent for the president to shoot the bear.

However, the president arrived, he was disappointed to see the bear at Collier’s feet and despite encouragement from the crowd of hunters, President Roosevelt refused to shoot the injured bear stating that it would be unsportsmanlike.

Cooper said that the press went wild with this story of the President, Holt Collier and the bear, and that it soon traveled across the country in news stories and cartoons.

She added that Morris Mitchom a toy shop owner in New York, wrote to president Roosevelt asking if he could name the stuffed toy bears in his shop “Teddy’s Bears.” The president agreed and before long all stuffed bears were known as Teddy Bears.

The Teddy Bear is the state toy of Mississippi, and Cooper said that each year a different commemorative teddy bear is sold at the Great Delta Bear Affair Festival.

Cooper said that three bears were killed during the bear hunt with President Roosevelt and that she has been told that they have the skull of the bear that Collier clubbed with his gun in a back room at the Smithsonian institute in Washington D.C. and that it has a crack in it’s skull.

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