Robert E. Bobo: world's champion bear hunter

Don't you wish you could sometimes step back in time and hunt with some of the old-timers? If you are like me, you do. I'd step off that platform at Bobo, Miss., and go on a bear hunt with Robert E. Bobo.

He was one of the old frontier type — powerful, hardy-looking with a florid complexion, long sweeping, sandy moustache, and a cold-blue shooting eye. In character, he fulfilled his type — headstrong, impetuous, powerful, crashing through things, not going around them.

He came with his father to Mississippi from North Carolina “before the Wah.” Twenty-five years later, while on a hunting trip, he ventured in a dugout upon Anise Ridge in what is called the Delta country, about 80 miles below Memphis. An overflow was on and all the high ridges were covered with game. Hunting about 15 minutes, he had to stop, for his boat was filled to capacity. He said then that he would own the ridge some day.

The next year he returned. At that time, all the ground was covered with blue cane, as thick as the hairs on a man's forearm. He purchased 1,000 acres, and the act of redemption began. Soon cotton, corn, and potatoes were growing on the richest soil on earth. The plantation house was long, low, and wide; one storied, with wide galleries all about it, a typical plantation house. On every side were the outbuildings, smokehouses, barns, and storerooms.

I can see Bobo now walking into that house and taking down his hunting horn. “I will show you a few dogs,” he would say.

Blowing his call long and loud brought a confusion of tongues, as the bear pack came running in from every direction, and from every sort of place. From under the house, out of the house, and behind the house, and from the barns and the sheds and from across the fields, the hounds came galloping in dozens, until the yard was full of howling and jumping dogs — 80 of them.

The base of his pack was the old pack of foxhounds his father brought from North Carolina. He was obliged to have a great many dogs, for the life of a bear dog was only about four years, and not all dogs made good bear dogs. And no good bear dog would run anything else!

The first week after he settled on the ridge, he killed 13 bears. In one hunt of five days, he killed 2,100 pounds of meat. The largest number he ever killed in one year was 304. During that same year, he also killed 52 deer and 13 panthers.

He remarked, “You could kill bears then like hogs.”

How many bears he killed in all, he could not recollect, but many hundreds. In one day, he killed seven and six the day following, and very often three or four in a day. Once in three days, he killed 14, three, and six bears. One year, he and his hunting companion, Felix Payne, jumped 151 bears and killed every one before they made a loss.

I can see him now riding through the canebrakes like a wild bull of Borneo broken loose. Many men thought they could follow Bobo through the cane, but no man ever did.

One of his frequent hunting companions was Emerson Hough of Chicago, who wrote for the Forest and Stream sporting journal. After Bobo's death, he remarked, “Bobo was the Champion Bear Hunter of the World.”

More spirited hunting scenes would be hard to find than those presented in the heart of the great Sunflower River wilderness during the olden days, and I believe that the artist who could paint it could achieve a lasting fame.

Such was the environment then back in the olden and golden days.

Wayne Capooth — outdoorsman, writer, and physician — is medical director at the University of Memphis Student Health Services. He has written four books: The History of the Millsaps Family, Red Letter Days, The Golden Age of Waterfowling, and The Golden Age of Hunting.

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