St. George and The Bear Hunt

St. George of Riverbend

Thou shalt have a resident holy man–priest/rabbi/imam–who will represent the values of the community at all times.” That is what it says. I know. I am as surprised as you. Who puts a biblical/sacred commandment in the agreements of a community organization. Don’t believe me? Check it out under Article XI of the Riverbend Owners Association, Page 4, Paragraph 5. And wait, did we vote on that? Article or not, we do have a Saint George of Riverbend.

Evidence 1. St. George, our resident holy man, chops wood for a hobby and gives it away to neighbors so they are prepared for winter. Evidence 2. He volunteers for everything. Evidence 3. He dresses up as Santa and the Easter Bunny. Who does that! But wait. There is one more piece of evidence to come.

This past summer St. George, who lives in a cabin on Cougar Alley, delivered a load of wood to my place.

In his slow gravelly voice that makes you listen closely, “Hey Nathan, You can come by my cabin anytime and get a load of wood. And, while you are there I want to show you a bear cave that is across the ravine below my cabin. I’ve had two bears walk across the road several times. We can explore.

I’m up for that. Weeks later we drove to his cabin and he pointed out the dark cave looking image across the ravine. It was late summer and I am not inclined to climb about in a ravine during copperhead season. “Let’s wait until winter. ” I promised.

Possible bear cave across the ravine.

I have been bear hunting one time in my life. It was 1970. Two Mars Hill College fraternity brothers and I decided to take a weekend in Linville Gorge to camp and, yes, hunt for a bear. Failure was written all over the idea, but we were hopefully determined. We loaded our tent, packaged dried food, and yes, our long rifles. Plus, bear attractant spray. We hiked down to the river and set up camp. The only toilet was a split rock over the river–our belated apologies to those downstream. We cooked our first meal and found worms had hatched in the noodles–we ate them anyway. We slept. Early the next morning we sprayed on our bear attractant and realized it was like being urinated on by a large masculine bear. By the days end–nothing. Apparently, bears are not attracted to their own urine.

We returned the next day through Asheville. We stopped in the early morning at the Blue Ridge Diner on Tunnel Road. All I recollect was the good food we hadn’t had for several days, and the other local diners moving to distant tables to avoid our strong bear urine smell. I think we had gotten used to it.

The bear hunters: Duane, Paul, Nathan (Yes, this is me 50 years ago)

Encounters with bears are often false expectations appearing real (FEAR). In Riverbend, sightings are more common than one might imagine, as the images below document. After a rain you can often find bear paw prints on the muddy roads, and as our dogs often demonstrate, caution is needed, even when we do not see them. Bear scat, or poop, can also be found. Rarely does a bear attack, but a mother bear will be more aggressive in protecting her cubs.

The day arrived for my recent bear hunt at St. George’s place on Cougar Alley–without a long gun. I did strap on a side arm and pepper spray–loaded for bear. (I apologize to my readers for using this old southern expression.) I also decided to leave Zulu (my dogson) behind since he won’t leave my cabin yard if he smells the slightest scent of anything other than squirrel, deer, or his usual dog buddies–Sophie, Sunday, Phineas, Roo, or Lexi–or my walking neighbors who he loves to greet with a howling bark and a wagging tail.

I received a text from St. George: “I’ll be there as soon as I finish my chemotherapy.”

What!!??” I said out loud. Note. Evidence 4. Sticking to his word, in spite of personal suffering.

I arrived and St. George met me with a big smile behind his Covid mask. He apologized that he would not be going into the ravine with me, but would stand on the road and look out for wild animals with his binoculars.

I descended slowly through the thick mountain laurels supported by a huge fallen tree and cautiously approached the supposed cave.

As it turned out, there was not a cave but a shale outcropping. There were no paw prints, no scat and so the mystery was solved, for now. But I could see it would be a great place to harbor for the night with a warming fire in the middle of a storm.

I turned to climb my way out of the ravine. I reached my hand out to support myself and received a souvenir of the outcropping, a piece of broken shale on my head.

Thank you St. George for a good outing. I don’t know what we would have done had we actually seen a bear in the cave. We solved a bear mystery. And I have another load of wood for the cold January evenings at Posey Brown’s Cabin. Be well and good healing.

Historical Note

Bear hunting has a long western North Carolina tradition, way before 1970 when I first made an attempt, and not everyone has been so lucky–or smelled so bad. You could ask George Russel, Sr., a local revolutionary hero.

As you leave Riverbend eastward down HWY 64 toward Rutherfordton you pass an historic marker for Russell’s Fort. It reads:

Named for George Russell, Sr. from Ireland. [The British Major Patrick] Ferguson marched west as far as Russell’s Fort. George Russell, Sr. was killed by Indians while on a bear hunt after the Revolutionary War. [Sometime about 1780. More on the “Indians” in my next post.]

Russel’s Fort Sign on Highway 64 east of Riverbend. Notice that the family spelling is Russell, and the State sign is Russel.

I’ll quote from the description of one of his descendants, Bev Scott Kendall. See the location on the map below.

The fort [In those days forts were outpost-like cabins more than what we think of as larger forts. JNC] actually stood at the place where Cove Creek flows into the Broad River. It would also mark the boundary of the Whiteside family property that would reach all the way through Hickory Nut Gap to where Lake Lure stands now [once called Whiteside Valley].

The first settlement was made on the west side of the river. At this place George Russell Sr., was living during the Revolutionary War, when British [Patrick] Ferguson and his army marched as far west as his house which they plundered and turned east…The family had a bag of money and threw it in a barrel of feathers. One of the soldiers found the bag of money and left. The family had saved the bedclothes and wearing apparel that they could carry and hid in a hogshead [barrell] before the arrival of the army.

[Bev Scott Kendall:
Location of Russell’s Fort (Bottom Right) which no longer exists. It rested near the holdings of the Whiteside family, early settlers.

4 thoughts on “St. George and The Bear Hunt

  1. Great story. Given your love of history, you might get a kick out of a television show called “Outlander” which you can see on Netflix. It explores, with great detail, the early history of Scotland and North Carolina. We are eventually introduced to the first royal Governor , Governor Tryon. It’s my wife’s favorite show. Wildly entertaining and full of local history. Thanks for including me in your blogs.

    • Watched it. Loved it. I have a replica coin patch like the one taken from Russell which he hid in a bag of feathers. Yes, Tryon the Governor, and the town, have significant impact on our area. Thanks for reading.

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