Born a slave in 1846, Holt Collier lived a most extraordinary life for all of his 90 years. In fact, his story is so interesting that while researching the origin of the Teddy Bear, following an innocent question from his daughter, author Minor Buchanon decided that Collier’s life needed to be documented and that’s just what he did in the biography: Holt Collier: His Life, His Roosevelt Hunts, and the Origin of the Teddy Bear. This well researched book documents all of the ins and outs of his life and is definitely worth a read.
Slave, Confederate soldier, Ninth Texas Calvary man, outdoorsman, cowboy, and hunter – all of these words describe the incredible Holt Collier, but perhaps his biggest claim to fame was being the guide for President Theodore Roosevelt on his now famous black bear hunt in Sharkey County, Mississippi in 1902.
Most of us have heard the story, how The President came to Mississippi to hunt black bear and left his stand before the bear turned and came out where Holt Collier had predicted, how Holt hit the 250 pound bear over the head with his gun, lassoed it, tied it to a tree and sent for The President to shoot the bear. The President refused, stating that would be unsportsmanlike and the resulting news story led to the naming of stuffed toy bears as Teddy bears. This hunt not only cemented an unlikely friendship between President Theodore Roosevelt and Holt Collier, but also gave rise to one of the most popular children’s toys ever. And it all happened in Sharkey County, Mississippi.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service honored Holt Collier in 2004 by naming a National Wildlife Refuge after him, the only National Wildlife Refuge named for an African American. Holt Collier National Wildlife Refuge consists of 2,849 acres near Darlove, Mississippi, on some of the famous guide’s old hunting grounds.
Each year TR’s and Holt’s famous Sharkey County hunt is remembered at the Great Delta Bear Affair in Rolling Fork. What began as a Centennial tribute to their 1902 black bear hunt has evolved over the past 16 years to be a fantastic multi-dimensional festival hosted annually by the Rolling Fork community. This year the festival tagline is “The Incredible Holt” in honor of the truly incredible Holt Collier. Make plans to join the celebration on October 27 in downtown Rolling Fork.