Bringing in a live bear

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 27, 2017

Well, you want to have some fun, you want to try and carry in a bear that weighs about 175 pounds, bring him in alive, that’s the way to get him in.

Two Men Holding a Black Bear Hide. West Virginia Historical Photographs Collection / photo 034488; cropped from original. No date, but ca. 1938-39.

Two Men Holding a Black Bear Hide. West Virginia Historical Photographs Collection / photo 034488; cropped from original. No date, but ca. 1938-39.


Well, there’s an old fella from down Hinton up there. He’d build bear pens, and he’d catch bear. He had one tied up down there at the camp. He was fattening him up; going to have bear meat. Well, this fella Hivick, he was a master mechanic and train master, general train master for the Greenbrier, Cheat, and Elk; he run around with me a lot, and he’d come with Shaffer up with another driver to Spruce.

And he wanted to go to Elk, he’d get me. We’d go to Elk, we’d go down the Cheat. They generally go opposite directions, and I’d wait there at the Spruce line. I had my headquarters at Spruce.

Well, anyway, this old fella, he had us some bear pens set, and he was there at Spruce, stayed all night, and he was going down to the camp. He was making car stakes. Hivick would devil him, and me, too. If you catch a bear, we want to bring him alive.

Hivick said, “Oh, yeah, Bruce and I’ll lead him. We’re gonna carry him in.” Hivick was six foot six, great big tall man, big for his size. He said, “I’ll go in front coming down the hill and that way we can hold him about level.”

Well, anyway, we was going down the railroad, here Daddy was out there, and he flagged us down.

Says, “I got that bear up there for you to carry out.”

Hivick said, “All right.” Asked where he was.

“Well, he’s up the holler here, you can go up an old skid road.”

Hivick said, “Well, we better get a push truck and tie on behind the motor car, and when we bring him out, we can throw him right on the push truck and bring him into the camp.”

Well, that was all right. Well, we went up there, and we took the bailing wire, gathered up around the barn what they used to bail hay with, and a small link chain, he had, was just small links, but it would slip, you know, and it had a ring in the end, had a hook on the other end. It was about 10 or 12 feet long.

First, what we’d do is chop a hole in the lid of the bear pen — I don’t know whether you ever seen a bear pen or not, built out of big logs. Oh, as big as that. You have ‘em big ’cause they’d eat out through the side of ‘em.

So is big logs on top, and when the lid falls and they’re in there eating and snaps the trigger, why, it knocks the bear down. It knocks him down, cramps his legs up till don’t have any power.

Well, we chopped a hole in the lid, had an ax, put a hole in it so we could get the chain down punched around through, goes around his neck, so you can put a choker on him. Well, that was all right. Well, we decided . . . well, had his feet wired, after he got in through under there and got the wired snares around it and wired his feet, Daddy said, “I don’t know whether I can get his mouth shut or not.”

Well, he finally got a snare around the bear, and got his mouth wired shut. Then he got sticks and got it around his nose and twisted till he couldn’t open his mouth nearly at all. Got his mouth wired shut. Well, he said, “I believe we can let him out.” And I said, “All right.” And I took my chain around two pine saplings there and got off to the side.

He said, “Now hold tight, hold your chain tight. He’s gonna come out of there.” Just as soon as they raised that lid that much, that bear just come out of there like a bullet. Of course, had that chain around his neck. Had a collar on him too with a rope on it. But the bear come out of there, and of course, he just up-ended when he run the length of that chain. He come out of there so fast, flopped over on his back.

Hilvick hollered, “Here, let’s put these poles between his legs, so we can carry him.” But we didn’t have time. The bear scrambled around there.

We finally got the pole between his legs, and got him on there. Hivick was holding one end of the pole, and I was on the upper end. Hivick was down the hill. It was on a slope down the road, and he was holding the pole up.

Daddy, he took that chain that it had around his neck, and it was drawed tight enough to choke him to death. He took the chain and wrapped it around and around the poles, you know, to keep it tight. He had his head down the hill, and I said, “Daddy, you better take a rope and tie his feet back here, so he can’t slide far.” “Oh, he won’t go very far on that chain,” he said.

Well, we started down the log road. It was a pretty good grade, but the road was open. And we’d go about a hundred yards and that bear would just “Ooooooooh”—squeal— and make the awful-est noise. Well, he just wore the skin off your shoulder, that old rough pole, you know.

I said to him, hollered to Hivick, “Let’s lay him down! I can’t stand it any longer.” Laid him down and let him draw a few long breaths, but he couldn’t do much with his mouth wired shut. Let him lay there, and of course, I had loosened the chain when we let the pole down, you know the chain had, the loops would slip and that’s all there was to it. He’d be very quiet. He was breathing hard, but . . .

Well, we’d pick him up and go about the same distance, the same thing over. Boy, oh, he took some awful fits.

So, we had about half a mile, I reckon, or three quarters to carry him, but we spelled on and worried along. Finally, we all got him down there, and I’d pulled off my shirt. It was in July and the sun was just awful hot, and I just melted. I’d pulled my shirt off and put it on my shoulder. Was just in my BVD’s, and I was seeing if I could stand that.

Well, come to a kind of a flat place and going across there. The bear just rode along fine, but just as soon as we broke over another break, well the same thing, he just I said, “Let’s throw him down, Hivick.”

“Oh, let’s take him a piece further.”

And I said, “No, I’ll just lay him down here and let him rest.”

We took about a dozen trips like that, spells on him and got down where they had this rough tumble place. That’s where they brought logs and just rolled ‘em over. They didn’t deck ‘em, you know, they had to load logs with loaders. Well, the landing was all torn down and cleaned out, and we come down where the log loaders come back. Oh, I get down off an awful steep place where this landing had been, creek run right along the bottom. It was practically dry. Well, I wanted to lay him down before we started down over this steep hill.

Hivick said, “Hell, no. Let’s put him on the truck.”

I said, “You can stand to put him on the truck,” and I said, “Well.”

Going down that steep place that bear just, uh, cut an awful shine. Well, was going through the creek, and still he was, “Mmmmmmmm” . . . And he was making that noise, and took an awful spell when we got about halfway in the creek. And I wanted to throw him down in the creek.

I said, “Let’s throw him in that hole of water. That’ll cool him off.” I said, “Let’s put him on the truck.”

And he just went on. He weighed about two hundred and fifty pounds, the big man says, “Ah, come on. I’ll drag you through there.” And I said, “All right, go ahead.”

R. Bruce Crickard

R. Bruce Crickard

We took him up and laid him down on the truck, and he was dead as a hammer. Choked him to death; that last spell there. We had a pole in there about as big as his leg. Well, the old bear weighed about a hundred and seventy-five pounds, I’d say. But he was dead.

I said, “Daddy, you won’t have to fatten that one.” So then we told Daddy, “Now the next one you catch, we’re gonna make him come in under his own power. We’re gonna lead him in. We’re gonna put a chain on each side.”

“I’ll let you know,” he says.

But we never did bring in…never did have another bear to bring in.


R. Bruce Crickard (1889-1977)

Native of Valley Head, WV

Interviewed shortly before his death by Dr. Robert P. Alexander, Marshall University

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Mountain songs and sayings have living reality

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 26, 2017

The convenient and pithy term for the mountain people of Kentucky, “our contemporary ancestors,” does not indicate the origin of the customs, beliefs, and peculiarities which persist among them. For they too had ancestors. These were, for the most part, British, and of the soil. Just as today many a mountaineer has never been ten miles from his birthplace, so also his forebears remained at home.

They were sturdy men and women, steeped in traditional ways, independent and as little humble as possible. The mountaineer is that way too. He cares neither for ease nor for soft living. He is hospitable. “Welcome, stranger, light and hitch,” is the salutation, and the stranger is bidden to take “damn near all” of whatever the table offers.

Leslie County, KY. Interior of mountain cabinA hunter by race, he is first of all a poacher, in arms against such as would deny him the right to take game where he may find it, a trait dating back to the time of Robin Hood in England. His speech is reminiscent of this older land and people. Labeled as “a survival,” the mountaineer in reality is on the defensive, protecting himself against later comers and strange ideas. “I wouldn’t choose to crave this newfangled teachin’ and preachin’,” he says. “All I ask is to be let alone. I was doin’ middlin’ well. The hull kit and bilin’ can go to the devil.”

Mountain dialect reflects the Anglo-Saxon origin of the mountain people; obsolete forms found in Shakespeare and the King James version of the Bible are in common use. “Clumb,” “writ,” and “et” for climbed, wrote and ate are common enough if you go back a few centuries. “Buss” for kiss, “pack” for carry, and “poke” for pocketbag and the like are pure Elizabethan.

Shakespeare said “a-feared,” as does the mountaineer today, and “beholden” is common to both. “His schoolin’ holp him mighty,” says the proud mountain father; King Richard of England said, “Let him thank me that holp send him thither.” “Hit’s right pied,” shouts the mountain boy when the snake he has stoned puffs up and mottles. But he probably never read of “meadows trim with daisies pied,” or heard of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. When he sings, the mountaineer “rolls a song,” and his expression, “he looks like the hind wheels of bad luck,” is so expressive that only the carping student would seek to trace its heritage.

Folklore is found not only among the mountaineers but in every county in the State, in town and in city. In the mountains, however, because of close-knit family and community ties, it is part of everyday life. Songs and sayings are more than quaint and queer; they have living reality.

The WPA Guide to Kentucky, Compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Kentucky, F. Kevin Simon, Editor,Univ. of KY 1939, publ. Harcourt Brace & Co.

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The porches were screened but the coal dust still came in

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 25, 2017

Moore Hollow boomed during 30’s and 40’s
By Lois Kleffman
Jackson County Sun [KY]
Date Unknown

What was it like in Moore Hollow after the mines got started?

Luther Powell of Sand Gap says, “It was booming. New York didn’t have any more business than Moore Hollow. You could sell any piece of coal you could get out. There was plenty of coal, there was plenty of work.”

Luther started working in 1933 first for the Penningtons, then the Sand Gap Coal Company, then the Jackson County Coal Company whose owner M.K. Marlow bought out Scrivener and Moore. At the peak of production in Moore Hollow, Marlow ran three shifts averaging about 3,000 tons per day, and trucks would be lined up from the hollow clear to Sand Gap waiting to be loaded.

Powell walked every day from Kerry Knob to earn $1.50 per day as a weigh man. He says, “Everyone came to the Gap and Moore Hollow to loaf on weekends and evenings.”

Odis Isaacs of Sand Gap recollects, “You could get anything there from whiskey to a woman.”

The Little Brothers and “Boss” Marcum had licenses to sell alcohol in the Gap and there was a bootlegger in the hollow.
Odis remembers the pool hall and restaurant run by John Johnston. He remembers that little Johnny Johnston would “spit your eye full of tobacco juice and he smoked cigars when he was five or six years old.”

The larger mines paid their employees with scrip good for buying at their company store. Odis still has a copper scrip coin issued by the Jackson County Coal Company in 1939 that was “payable in merchandise only “ at the company commissary.

Odis started working for the mines when he was 12 and worked in Moore Hollow until Howard Smith got killed in Marlow’s mine in 1946. Smith ran a motor in the mine when the accident happened and Odis was coupling at the end of the cars that Smith was pulling.

pie chart of Kentucky coal producing counties, 1935This 1935 pie chart from ‘Geology of Kentucky’ indicates leading Kentucky coal producing counties. Harlan, Pike, and Letcher Counties lead the pack. At the other extreme counties Boyd, Breathitt and Magoffin each produced about 1/2% of the state total that year. Jackson County, for all the hustle bustle of this article, is not even on the chart!


It was the last trip of the day and Smith wanted to get out as much as he could so he was pulling 22 cars, which was way too many. Coming down a hill, apparently the hot sand that was used to slow down the motor couldn’t do the job and Smith hit a snag with so much speed that the motor and seven cars jumped the track.

Odis remembers Smith as a “fine man.” That day Smith had given Odis a ham sandwich for his lunch. After Smith’s death, Odis left Moore Hollow and went to Travis Creek.

Where did the miners live when they came to Jackson County from Manchester, Hazard, Beattyville and other places?

Outside of Moore Hollow toward the Gap, there was a group of two and three room, flat roofed plank houses called “Slack Town” because the slack coal, too fine to sell, was dumped there. In Sand Gap there was another shantytown near the sand bank.

And right in Moore Hollow, in 1934 Caroline Isaacs kept boarders in a big boarding house built by her brother Charley Pennington on his property, which was like a bunk house. Mostly Caroline cooked for the truck drivers and miners for two years there.

Then N.U. Bond built a modern motel in the hollow in 1939 and Caroline ran it for him. The motel had a lobby downstairs and a big long dining room and it had hot and cold running water. The motel averaged 11 boarders full time and kept five reserved bedrooms for truckers from out of town who would spend just one night there waiting to get their trucks loaded.

It is rumored that women visited the men in their trucks at night, but Caroline maintains that no women were allowed with the men in the motel.

“I never saw any fights,” she says. “The miners were very good people. There never was a truck driver that came here that was out of the way.” Sheriff Joe Pence searched the drivers to see if they were bringing whiskey in or out of the hollow.

And according to Caroline, “The men were just as clean as they could be, they never went to bed without taking a shower. One man tried to sleep with his clothes on and I had to get rid of him.”

Caroline remembers that “the roads were awful. We had to cover the plates to keep the coal dust off. We had the front and back porches screened but the dust still came in.”

The saddest remembrance of her experiences in the hollow was an accident on Big Hill in which Johnny Brockman, a truck driver, was killed. Earlier in the day, Johnny had ordered eggs, bacon and country biscuits from Caroline and told her “Lady, I haven’t got any money to pay for this.” Caroline said, “Well you eat this, you looked tired.” Caroline feels that his death taught her “to be good to people.”

‘Geology of Kentucky,’ by Arthur C. McFarlan, University of Ky, 1943

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Bank Night at the Met

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 24, 2017

The Metropolitan Theatre in Morgantown, WV is one of that city’s best examples of Neo-classical Revival architecture. The 1,300 seat theatre opened on July 24, 1924 with “seven acts of vaudeville sent by the BF Keith Amusement Company from its New York Office.” Over the years Gene Autry, Peggy Lee, Count Basie, the Andrews Sisters, Bob Hope & Bing Crosby, and Duke Ellington all graced its stage.

The theatre hosted both live acts and films. Owner George Comuntzis installed a $50,000 “Mighty Wurlitzer” organ in 1928 to provide accompaniment for that era’s silent films. The Met was one of a handful of theatres around the country to show films on a pre-release basis, so that production companies could gauge response. As an “index town,” Morgantown was privileged to see new movies as early as 60 days prior to national release.

Metropolitan Theatre, Morgantown WVThe Met was the first theatre in northern WV to install Vitaphone sound systems, and one of the first theatres in the country to install air conditioning.

The theatre also sponsored games that were played on the screen for cash from the mid – 1930s to late 1940s. One such game was “Wahoo,” a spin game projected on the screen in which a button would be pressed by those in the audience causing the spin; the jack pot increased by $25/week, and, when the spin stopped, the Comuntzis paid whatever percentage (l00%, 50%, 25%, 10%) showed on the screen.

“Bank Night” was another popular game; those entering the game daily signed a journal opposite a number, which was placed in a large drum. On “Bank Night” a number would be drawn for each $500 increment in the jackpot, and if the winner was in the audience, he or she received the cash immediately.

Bank Night caused quite a controversy nationwide, in fact. “According to figures released last week, gross box-office receipts for the cinema industry in 1936 were a billion dollars, $250,000,000 more than last year,” reported Time magazine on Jan 11, 1937. “A contributing reason was undoubtedly ‘Bank Night’—currently a weekly fiesta at 5,000 of the 15,000 active U. S. cinema theatres.

“Bank Night is a copyright scheme invented by a onetime Fox booking agent named Charles U. Yaeger, who leases it to theatres for from $5 to $50 a week depending on their size. What it amounts to is a clever evasion of state & municipal lottery laws whereby, by registering his name at a theatre, a patron becomes eligible to win a substantial prize if he is present at the theatre on ‘Bank Night’— when the prize is awarded to the holder of a lucky ticket after a drawing on the theatre stage.

“Since Bank Nights started in 1931, Inventor Yaeger’s enterprise has grown from a two-room office to a Denver building and a chain of theatres. [Bank Night is] perpetually under fire from state and municipal authorities who hope to find some way in which to bring it under local lottery laws. In Topeka, Kans., the Supreme Court ruled that Bank Night as practiced by certain Fox Theatres was illegal. In Albany, N. Y., the Court of Appeals ruled Bank Nights legal.”


2 Responses

  • Jason Burns says:

    The Met Theater is a beautiful building, wonderfully restored. The photo you posted is actually of a fire that destroyed part of the opera house in the early 1920s – up until that time the building was claimed to be “fireproof”. You can even see that claim painted on the side of the building! During the fire, a fireman was killed in the blaze, and his spirit is said to haunt the building today.

  • […] This is very cool – I actually own one of the Comuntzis sons' former residence so I did some research on the Comnutzis family. I thought 368 High Street was Comuntzis Confectionary, not a restaurant according to Gibbies: Gibbie's Pub & Eatery – Morgantown, WV – Dub V Nightlife. This is what the Metropolitan Threatre (also owned by Comuntzis) looked like in 1930: Bank Night at the Met | Appalachian History […]

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We would have to just do everwhat she wanted us to do

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 21, 2017

“Well, of course, we had to help with the housework, all . . . we had to do the sweeping and the dishwashing and the scrubbing of floors. We . . . we just had wood floors, no . . . with no paint on ‘em, no nothing on ‘em, and . . . and we scrubbed those with . . . with the lye soap and . . . and . . . and, of course, swept ‘em with a broom. You didn’t have any vacuum cleaners or anything of that nature. We’d all pitch in. Sometimes even . . . I mean, the boys, I’m s-. . . remember them helping scrub the . . porches and things and, you know.

“But the chores of girls were to . . . of course, we had to go draw water from the well and . . . and bring it in. We had to . . . Mother always did the milking, but we had to h-. . . I remember we’d have to “bug the beans.” You’d go out and pick the bean bugs off the beans. And you’d go out and you’d pull weeds out of the onions. You’d…I mean, all kids did that. We would have to just do everwhat she wanted us to do, which was anything a child could do, I guess, that would make it a little easier for them as parents.

“Dad worked in the field, we’d have to carry him water to drink, and if he was far away where it would interrupt his work a lot, we’d take his lunch to him. Mother’d cook and put it in…well, we’d carry it in buckets, you know, as in…things she’d get lids on…that would keep the…from getting it dirty or spilling it. But most of the time he was close enough that he’d come in and eat. But I remember carrying his dinner up on that hill to where he would be so far back hoeing corn.

Kentucky girl listens to radio“I’d walk up to my Grandmother Frazier’s every day at noontime. My brother and sister, if we could get all of our jobs done, why, Mother’d let us go up there and listen to “The Midday Merry-Go-Round” which was a comedy-type show out of Knoxville. Minnie Pearl was on it, and you’ve heard of Minnie Pearl, and all of her comic . . . comics. And she would . . . and then there was Rod Brassfield. And I remember all those . . . now I’ve forgotten ‘em, but . . . but we’d just sit there and listen and laugh.”

Florene Smith
b. 1929
interviewed May 30, 1991
Whitesburg, Kentucky

University of Kentucky Oral History Program
Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
Elizabeth Albert, Interviewer


related post: “You would wear yourself down winding it up”

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