Holt Collier was born a slave in 1848 in Jefferson County, Mississippi. Over his lifetime, he served as a Confederate soldier, a Ninth Texas Calvary man, a cowboy, and was an extremely successful hunter and hunting guide.
A SOLDIER AND COWBOY
At the age of 14, Collier was given his freedom papers and then followed his former owner Howell Hinds to Memphis to join the Confederate Army where he first served as an orderly in a field hospital, then actively fought as a soldier, and served as a spy.
After his time serving alongside Hinds, Collier joined the Ninth Texas Calvary, riding with them until the end of the war. When the war ended, Collier worked as a cowboy on a Texas ranch for nearly a year.
AN EXPERT HUNTER
Collier was an expert marksman and outdoorsman. He spent much of his youth hunting small and big game to feed the field hands on the Hinds plantation, killing his first bear at the age of 10.
After the Civil War, Collier was self-employed, hunting game that he sold to feed those working to build the railroad and levees in Mississippi. He was able to earn a few thousand dollars each year from this work, a significant income for the time.
Holt’s reputation was well known and sportsmen from around the country came to hunt with him. He even served as a guide on the most famous bear hunt in U.S. History.
PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT & THE BEAR
Collier was the guide for President Theodore Roosevelt on a black bear hunt in Sharkey County, Mississippi in 1902.
Roosevelt first met Collier as he stepped of the train in Sharkey County, Mississippi. They mounted horses to ride the fourteen miles to their campsite along the banks of the Little Sunflower River.
When the hunt began the next morning, Collier placed Roosevelt and Huger Foote, his companion, in a spot to await the bear as it was flushed from the woods by his dogs. The morning grew late as Collier worked to turn the bear towards Roosevelt’s position.
As lunch time approached, Roosevelt and Foote became hungry and returned to camp. About that time, Collier had turned the bear towards their previous position, only to find no one waiting. The bear was then cornered by Collier’s dogs, and it turned on them, grabbing and injuring Collier’s favorite dog, Jocko.
Collier had been under strict instructions not to shoot the first bear on this hunt. Instead, he jumped from his horse and clubbed the 250 lb/6+ foot tall bear with the stock of his gun, stunning it.
He then threw a rope around the dazed animal, tied it to a tree, and sent for the president to shoot the bear.
When the president arrived, he was disappointed to see the addled bear at Holt’s feet. Despite encouragement from the crowd of hunters, President Roosevelt refused to shoot the injured bear stating that it would be unsportsmanlike.
This was the birth of the ‘fair chase’ movement among hunters – a code of ethics and sportsmanlike behavior relating to the hunt.
THE CREATION OF THE TEDDY BEAR
The press went wild with this story of the President, Holt Collier and the bear. The story was featured on the front page of all of the major newspapers for nearly a week.
Many editorial cartoons of the hunt were created and one in particular caught the attention of the public. This illustration by Clifford Berryman was entitled ‘Drawing the line in Mississippi’ and featured a bear cub, not a fully-grown bear.
Morris Michtom, a New York candy store owner, saw the illustration and it gave him an idea. Michtom wrote to the president 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. This was the birth of the Ideal Toy Company – the original makers of the Teddy Bear.
Since that time, stuffed toy bears have been called Teddy Bears. This popular children’s icon was named because of a hunt President Theodore Roosevelt attended in the Mississippi Delta in 1902 where he refused to kill a black bear.
The Teddy Bear is the state toy of Mississippi, and each year a different commemorative teddy bear is sold at the Great Delta Bear Affair, a festival in Rolling Fork, that celebrates the history of this hunt, black bears, and the Lower Mississippi Delta.
Holt Collier died in 1936 and is buried in the Live Oak Cemetery in Greenville, Mississippi. His love for the outdoors was honored through the creation of the Holt Collier National Wildlife Refuge which is located approximately where the bear hunt of 1902 occurred.