Hunting in the 1830's
Hunting in the 1830's
From J. Marvin Hunter's Frontier Times Magazine, January, 1952
(Excerpts from the Autobiography of Andrew Davis, a pioneer Texian and early day Methodist minister among the circuits of Northern and Eastern Texas).
My life began in a large country. In 1824 Texas was attached to Coahuila and Saltillo was the capital. No man born in the day I was can be narrow in any sense of the term, in as broad a place as, Coahuila and Texas. It is but natural that I should love the broad outdoors. In 1826-27, Victor Blanco was governor of Coahuila and Texas, and I was born under Blanco's administration.
I was trained to shoot a gun when not more than five or six years old. At eight years of age I was as good a marksman as most grown men. I killed turkey before I was ten years old, yes, even before I was ten; I killed them when I was so small that in walking with the head in my hand and the neck over my shoulder, the tail of the turkey would drag on the ground.
I was taught to hunt by the Indians. There was a number of small bodies of Indians about Nacogdoches and other places in Eastern and Southern Texas. One of the most intelligent and influential chiefs among them was John Dunn Hunter; one of Hunter's subjects, Storm Cloud, formed a great attachment for my father.
This Indian whose village was somewhere about Nacogdoches, had no family except a wife. He would start out with his wife, their ponies, and camping fixtures, and hunt all the way from Nacogdoches to my father's home on the Red River. He would camp near our house, often a month at a time. From there he would hunt over the country for about fifteen or twenty miles in all directions.
I had a light Choctaw rifle, and I would often spend the whole day in the woods. It was from Storm Cloud that I learned this method of hunting.
He taught me two methods of getting within gunshot of deer and all other kinds of game when they were out on the smooth prairie where there was no object to screen him from view of the wild animals. The Indians would say to watch the movement of the deer's tail instead of the movement of its head; that a deer never raised its head to look about until it had given its tail a little shake: So when the deer had its head down grazing, and you saw it give its tail a little shake, you were to stop and stand as fixed as a statue, with both arms placed close to your sides so that no light could pass between them and your body.
The Indian said to be so still that if the deer saw you, he would think you were a stump or some other inanimate object. Then the deer would give its tail another little shake and start eating grass again. After this, the Indian would shoot, kill the deer, and take it to camp.
Now I will give you the second method of getting within gunshot of game when out on open ground. The Indian goes just as close to the deer as he dares without being discovered; he then finds a secluded hiding place, pulls out his gun-stick or rod (an article all Indians love) and ties a red handkerchief to one end of it and then waves it in the air until he gets the attention of the animal. Instead of running off, the animal becomes interested with the novelty of the handkerchief and come right up close to it, so that fresh meat is almost a certainty.
There was another peculiarity of this Indian's hunting that impressed me at that time. He walked at a brisk step until he came to the section where the supposed game would be. When he reached that place he would stop and stand perfectly still from three to five minutes; sometimes for a much longer time. I soon found that there was a great advantage to this. When perfectly still we see much more readily everything that moves—the falling of a leaf, the flying of a bird, or the moving of large objects like wild animals. These rules for successful hunting of game, I soon found out to be excellent.
As I have said, I had been trained to the use of a gun from the time I was five years old. By the time I was nine years of age I had been killing turkey, squirrels. and other things for some time. I had been bred and born in the woods; game of some sort was in sight of the house almost every hour of the day. The bottom of the North Sulphur and its tributaries abounded in bear, panther, and all the small varmints.
My father loved the sport and excitement of bear hunting; he kept a pack of trained bear dogs. Soon after we moved to this place near Clarksville, the dogs began to go out on a hunt before day. Often before dawn they would have their wild varmint treed and be baying it when father woke up. He always went to them and killed whatever they had.
At this time I had never killed a bear and had not thought of such a thing, but soon unlooked for, I had the most exciting experience of my life. I was out enjoying my daily hunt and not far from the house, following the dim trail made by buffalo and deer. As I approached the head of the branch, I noticed a waterfall and cave extending up under the bank.
Coming a little closer I noticed something that looked exactly like a large bear skin rolled up in a large bundle. But in a moment, I knew that it was not a mere bear skin. I soon discovered that it was a veritable bear and no mistake.
Boy like, as soon as I discovered that it was a bear, I took a powerful scare. I ran, I suppose, at least a quarter of a mile; when I stopped I was out of breath and covered with perspiration. I sat down to rest supposing that I was out of danger. While resting, I recovered my senses; reason told me that I had played the coward; that I had such a good chance and that I ought to have been braver.
I gathered all the courage I could and decided to slip back to the place to see if the bear were still there and lying just like it was when I left. I had to go within forty-five or fifty feet of the bear to get a good view of him. When I reached that position, I could see a little white spot on the bear's breast. I had a load for deer in my gun and I said to myself that if I could put the load in about that spot, it would kill the bear instantly.
There was a sapling on the bank that made a good rest for my gun. When I placed the gun against the tree, I was so excited and nervous that I could not hold the gun against the tree. I shook as though I had an ague. Again and again I would try to steady my nerves, but with the same results. Finally with my excitement somewhat subdued, I pulled the trigger.
The instant before the smoke cleared from before my face so that I could see what I had done, I ran for dear life. I didn't stop until I reached home and reported to my father. I did not think that I had killed the bear. He said he would, and he took his gun and dogs to the place. The dogs took the track of the bear and began to bay when only seventy or eighty yards distant. The bear was still alive, but would soon have died.
When I found I had killed the bear, I felt as big as Alexander did when he thought that the world lay conquered at his feet. A few days after I killed my bear, ten or twelve scouts came to father's house. When he told them that I had killed a bear, one of them said that he had at home a nice cub bear, a gentle pet he would give to me as a reward for my bravery. Another gave me a good pocket knife, which was a great treat in that day, when such an article could scarcely be obtained at any price. Another gentleman said that as I loved the woods so well he would give me his pocket compass, so that I would always be able to find my home. This recognition of my courage made me feel both rich and brave while my pride and vanity were increased beyond measure!
My boyhood life would have been completely happy on the frontier, but for the fact that the Indians were a just occasion for alarm. They were in the country during the light of every moon. There never was a month that passed that horses were not stolen and many valuable lives taken all along the frontier line for fifty or sixty miles.
It became necessary to go into a fort for safety. Mr. Isaac Lindsay was elected captain, and the fort was given his name. There was not much hunting done while we were in fort, but wild game was plentiful, and the scouts were constantly killing game and bringing the meat to the fort.
Often buffalo would come and mingle among the cattle of the fort. Our cows would get greatly excited at the presence of buffalo. They would collect in great numbers and bellow furiously. When you observed the cows so excited, you knew the buffalo were among them. The captain always sent out a few men to kill them and it was remarkable that they were so mixed with our gentle stock; the men could ride close to them without being noticed and shoot them down.
My father finally settled on the Tenaha, a tributary of the Sabine. Father opened a farm, clearing up a large cane bottom. This was great country for hogs, but these large cane breaks abounded in bear, panther, catamounts, wild cats and wolves. These were all hard on the hogs. As my father's favorite recreation was in bear hunting, to enjoy his favorite sport and to protect the hogs kept him from the house more than usual. This exposed him a great deal, and sometimes he ran very narrow risks.
Often it was the case that bear and panther will not take to the tree. As soon as they weary a little, they stop. Selecting their own battleground, and it is always the least favorable for the enemies, the huntsman and the pursuing dogs. As soon as the bear or panther stop, the dogs change their tune from a yelp to a bark. The first yelp always indicates to a huntsman a cheerful, hopeful pursuit. But when the bogs begin to bark furiously they say to the huntsman that the chase is ended and the enemy is now determined to fight unto death.
Father said that the dogs would always hold the animal in bay until he arrived, but as soon as they saw him they would pile in on the bear or panther and fight unto death. On one of these occasions as father arrived, he saw the dogs in deadly combat with one of the largest bears on the range. With all possible speed he pushed a way through the briars and undergrowth and as soon as within reach of the bear he jabbed the muzzle of his gun against the side of the bear. But to his surprise the gun pulled fire and just at that moment, the bear gathered father's favorite dog in a fatal hug. Father pulled from his scabbard his butcher knife and attempted to stab the bear, but at that instant the bear turned the dog loose and caught father by the hand, tearing the hand badly. His thumb was so bruised and damaged that he later had to have it taken off at the first joint. Father suffered a long time with his crippled hand, but he was brave and never seemed to think of danger until it was too late to escape. Many were the risks that he ran and many were the narrow escapes that he made.
Having dwelt at some length upon the surroundings of my first years and also upon the sources of pleasure and enjoyment of childlife in that early day, I now leave those things with you for thoughtful meditation.
Enjoy reading first-hand accounts from the settlers and pioneers of the Texas frontier? There’s lot’s more here.