Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
The Great Delta Bear Affair of Rolling Fork, Mississippi has a historical basis in a tall tale setting and the people of Rolling Fork know how to celebrate both!
Most of us have heard of the story of President Teddy Roosevelt’s famous bear hunt on the Mississippi Delta during which he refused to shoot the bear. According to the story, the tracker, Mr. Collier, and his dogs had the bear pinned when it reached out and smacked the tracker’s favorite hunting dog. The tracker was so upset that he beat the bear senseless with the stock of his rifle, tied him up with a rope and sent for the President. When the President arrived and saw the senseless, bound bear, he refused to shoot it, declaring it to be “unsportsmanlike.” When the story reached New York, a toy store owner contacted the President and asked if he could call his stuffed bears, “Teddy’s Bears.” The President agreed and eventually they became the teddy bear.
Rolling Fork began commemorating the story in 2002 on the 100th anniversary of the famous hunt with an annual festival that takes place in October. Each year boasts all-day musical events from local and regional artists, local arts and crafts demonstrations and sales, games for the children and lots of food. One of the highlights of the event is the chainsaw carving of a new bear sculpture for the town. Renowned chainsaw artist Dayton Scoggins carves a new 12 foot bear from a 14 foot local log and presents the finished sculpture to the city for their Bear Affair collection. There is even a Bear Care fund that, in part, collects donations to take care of these less than cuddly bears.
Other events include historical re-enactments of the hunt with “President Roosevelt” as the honored emcee of the festival, a magic show, and a “famous” local snake exhibit sponsored by the Snake Man. A local retired archeologist takes visitors on a tour of the local pre-historic Indian Mounds, providing history before the history for which the town is famous. There is an all-day trail ride along the Little Sunflower River, complete with a stop for lunch mid-day. The day wraps up with more music and a wonderful fireworks show.
The community focus of the festival is the repatriation of the Louisiana Black Bear to the area and the festival organizers also use the time to educate both citizens and visitors about other Mississippi wildlife and the area’s environmental needs. Additionally, part of the proceeds of the festival are used to distribute teddy bears to the children in the local children’s hospital. “President Roosevelt” helps with this project, as well.
What better idea than to celebrate history by giving back to the community? I cannot think of one. The town of Rolling Fork has my respect, even if the tale is a bit on the tall side.