Please welcome guest author Michael Rivers. Rivers is a southern writer of both fiction and non-fiction work. The following excerpt is from his forthcoming book ‘Appalachia Mountain Folklore,’ due out at the end of December, published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd, Atglen PA and available for pre-order now. Rivers’ previous books include ‘Verliege,’ ‘The Black Witch,’ ‘Moonlight on the Nantahala’ and ‘Ghosts of the North Carolina Shores.’
Along the Nantahala River, the woodlands are filled with game that entice the hunter. Bear, deer, turkey, as well as small game, run in abundance. There are still many areas of these woods that appear primitive to a degree. The hunt is not easy and can take a hunter far from his home before he realizes what has happened.
This enticing tale originates from Topton, NC, which lies within the boundaries of the great Nantahala Gorge. Its beauty in most respects is unparalleled. During a time when the Cherokee were being hunted for the purpose of relocating them, they hid in the caves along the Nantahala. Its rushing waters disguising any sounds made from everyday life made a long-term stay possible, not to mention providing them with food and shelter.
The Cherokee had taught many Europeans how to hunt within these forests. There were many ways to kill game for their survival. After a number of years, the Europeans favored using dogs for hunting as opposed to still hunting. Unlike the Indians, they never asked for the blessing of the kill. This proved to be a mistake that has killed many hunters and resulted in the loss of their dogs. These hunters saw no reason to honor the Cherokee way and blatantly disregarded the warnings of those who knew the consequences for their deeds. Many a tale has been told of hunters finding themselves lost in the woods at night with no way of getting help.
One of the first examples of this occurred around 1800. There have been no actual recordings of the incident other than the passing of the story from generation to generation. A hunter gathered his hounds and headed for the falls close to what is now River Road. He and his party set up camp by the river and prepared food for the evening. The hunt was in their blood and could barely wait to begin.
As darkness fell upon the hunting party, they sat by the fire sharing stories of other hunts they had participated in over the years. A member of the hunting party, who had hunted the falls before, asked if anyone had ever heard of the Hunter’s Moon. The small group of men said they had not, but wanted to hear the story.
“The local people here talk about a Hunter’s Moon. During this time they heavily advise against hunting bear up here. According to them, the hounds will pick up the scent of a bear you won’t be able to resist tracking. This bear will lead you away from your camp and lose you in the woods…only to appear just far enough ahead of you to make you follow him. You will track him for miles without realizing what you have done before it is too late to turn back.”
The bear has changed colors with the passing of the story. Some say he is a big black bear. Others say he has a matted coat with light spots. Another has said he was mixed with a brown bear. All the stories talk about his size and speed.
A hunter sitting close by the fire asked, “You have hunted bear up here for many years, have you seen this bear?”
The hunter stared into the fire and hesitated before answering: “Yes, I have hunted here since I was fifteen with my father. We made the mistake of going on the mountain during the Hunter’s Moon. Before the hunt was done, we lost three hounds that were led into the falls by the bear and my father never hunted here again. You understand he saw something up there. He wouldn’t talk about it, but he has never hunted anything since that day.”
A hunter grinned. “So you believe the bear did that to him and the hounds?”
The man telling the story looked back into the other hunter’s eyes for only an instant. “If the locals are right, the bear is not a bear. It is the spirit of a man murdered while hunting that takes his revenge on the Hunter’s Moon.”
The rest of the hunting party scoffed at the story, not believing in the tales of the mountains.
The following day, the party left the camp for the hunt on the Hunter’s Moon. All but one left the camp. He said he would hunt for bear the next day, but not today. The other men left him at the camp and began their hunt for bear. One of the men had bragged his hounds could take any bear that gave up the scent. The storyteller warned him to beware of what he wished for. If the bear appeared to them, it was best to take the dogs off the scent and come back until the bear was gone. They scoffed at the very idea of such an animal even existing.
Darkness fell on the camp with no sign of the other hunters. The sound of the hounds on the scent could be heard clearly across the mountains. He knew they were trailing the Ghost Bear. Every instinct he had told him so. The morning of the third day the hunters returned, some without their dogs. He did not ask them what happened. They were exhausted with scratches and bruises covering their bodies. These were plain to see through the rips in their clothing. One of the hunters returned without his rifle, claiming he lost it in the thicket by the rapids.
The silence of the other hunters was much more than fatigue. It would seem something happened to them to make them believe. The next morning, the men broke camp and returned to the main trail. None of them spoke a word of the hunt days before. The storyteller knew what they had seen and he wished with all his heart he had not agreed to take them to this mountain. No bear hide was worth the price.
Years later, one of the hunters from that night lay on his deathbed. It was here he professed to be face-to-face with the great Bear in the thicket where he lost his rifle. In his fear, he said that the face of the great bear changed with what he swore to be the features of a tortured man. Beware the Hunter’s Moon… It could be the last hunt of your life.