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Question About Bear Meat
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Author:  Swamp Rat [ 06 Mar 2008, 09:03 ]
Post subject:  Question About Bear Meat

The last native black bear was killed out of southeast Texas along about 1920. We have an area ,that before the days of clear cutting equipment, that was called the Big Thicket....a very large area over several counties that is/was covered with mixed hardwoods, virgin pines and lots of low areas. Somewhere around 1914 the famous bear & cat hunter, Ben Lilly came to this area and hunted bear with the Hooks Brothers. He said the black bear population was probably less than 20 at that time. Eventually they disappeared. I have read lots of stories about folks hunting bear and have heard that bear meat was excellent table fare....so, if there are any black bear hunters (or trappers) out there that know what it is like, let me know. I sure hope you don't say "it taste like chicken"! Maybe someday I will have an opportunity to go on a black bear hunt or have access to a bear steak. Until that happens, I will have to ask.

This is sort of long, but it is about the area I mentioned above--The Big Thicket-HARDIN COUNTY, TEXAS

Written and compiled by Harold W. Willis

Chairman - Hardin County Historical Commission

Kountze, Texas

Hardin County is the home and center of the Big Thicket of Southeast Texas, a unique biological area, like none other in the world. It has been called the "biological crossroads" of America. The Big Thicket contains the greatest variety of plants of any comparable area in the United States. There is still debate over where the "real Big Thicket" actually was located. The "tight eye" thicket or the "bear hunters" thicket is different from the Big Thicket of the biologists.

It is estimated that the original Big Thicket included at least 3.5 million acres stretching from the Neches River on the east to the Trinity River on the west form Pine Island Bayou on the south to Village Creek or Alabama Creek on the north.

At least two Indian tribes who played an important part in the settlement of the Big Thicket area, where the Alabama and the Coushatta Tribes, who had migrated into the area from the state of Alabama. Texas eventually gave these two tribes land on which to settle in Polk County, where they remain today.

Hardin County was established by the state legislature in 1858, out of parts of 3 adjoining counties: Jefferson, Liberty and Tyler and it was named Hardin after the Hardin family of Liberty County. Some have the mistaken idea that the new county was named after the famous gunman and son of J. G. Hardin, but John Wesley Hardin was not born until 1853 in Polk County and did not become famous until about 1871.

The county seat, named Hardin, was established in 1859 and was located about 3 miles west of the present city of Kountze. The town was also named after the Hardin family of Liberty County. The first courthouse was built at Hardin in 1859 and is said to have been a 2-story log building. The community is now called "Old Hardin" to separate it from the town of Hardin in Liberty County. The site of the first court house in "Old Hardin" is marked by a State Historical Marker.

The first elected officers for Hardin County included Chief Justice Hampton Jackson Herrington, County Treasurer William Henry Hart, Sheriff Hillary Moore and Tax Assessor/Collector Ebenezer Holland.

Many of the early settlers came into Southeast Texas by steamboat from New Orleans through Lake Charles and Sabine Pass and up the Neches River and Village Creek to the Hardin County area. Some of them crossed Village Creek about 8 miles north of Kountze and settled in the Providence Community about 1830. This was probably the first white settlement in what was to become Hardin County. Some of these people were: James McKinney, Hugh McNeely, The Hollands, Jordans, and others. James McKinney operated a ferry on Village Creek at Providence before the famous McNeely Bridge was built. The McKinney Cemetery was named for the McKinney Family.

Old Concord was located on the north side of Pine Island Bayou near where it runs into the Neches River. Concord was settled in 1856 and it is said to be the first white settlement on the southern edge of the Big Thicket. It became the southern terminal for steamboat traffic on the Neches River. Steamboats, flatboats and keelboats were used on the Neches River from 1830 up until about 1880, when the first railroad was built into Hardin County from Beaumont. Steamboat owners had a monopoly on the freight and passenger travel until the coming of the railroads. There is a State Historical Marker at the site where the Old Concord Road crossed US Highway 69 at Lumberton.

Completion of the railroad from Beaumont to Rockland sealed the doom for Hardin as the County Seat. When the Kountze Brothers, Herman and Augustus, bankers from New York and Omaha, built the first railroad from Beaumont to Rockland and Lufkin, they decided to by-pass the town of Hardin and built it straight to Woodville. In the meantime, the courthouse in Hardin burned and the citizens of the county decided to move the county seat to Kountze.

Texas had won her Independence from Mexico in 1836 and had existed as the Republic of Texas until 1845 when she joined the United States.

Hardin County was not really interested in the issued that caused the Civil War. A few people in the county had slaves, but it was not a major issued in the social lives of the county. The issue of States Rights vs. Federal Rights had little impact on a wilderness frontier such as existed in Hardin County. However, when the election was held in February 1861, Hardin County voted with the rest of the state to succeed from the Union.

There were some very interesting tales to come out of the Civil War period, including the "Legend of Honey Island", and the "Legend of the Kaiser Burnout". Many men from our county served in the Civil War and some of them paid the supreme sacrifice. Our area produced several competent officers, including Lt. Dick Dowling, Col. Philip A. Work and Capt. W. C. Gibbs.

After the Civil War, great changes began to take place in the county. The wholesale harvesting of timber, and later, the drilling for oil took its tool on the economy of the area. The railroads took the place of the steamboat, and non-residents began to flock to Hardin County to profit from its resources. The early railroad, built by the Kountze Brothers, was sold to the Texas and New Orleans Railroad. The Santa Fe Railroad had crossed the Trinity River into Hardin County and was soon linked up with the Beaumont and Kansas City Line at Silsbee. The coming of the railroad made the steamboats on southeast Texas streams obsolete and the era of the steamboat passed into history. With the completion of the railroad in 1882, Hardin County was changed forever. Silsbee became the largest town almost over-night. Communities such as Fletcher, Chance-Loeb, Village Mills, Honey Island, olive, Long Station, Nona, Grayburg, Hester, Bragg, Votaw, Thicket, Dies, Fressenius, Hooks Switch, and many other sawmill towns were built up and down the railroads. John Henry Kirby established an oil, railroad and lumber empire that dominated the economy of Southeast Texas for nearly a hundred years.

The Big Thicket had its share of the black bears and bear hunting became a great pastime. Some of the early bear hunters of the thicket were Bud and Ben Hooks, Carter Hart, Bud Brackin, Ed Chance, Jim Allums, Judge Hightower, John Salter and Bill McConnico, among others. One of the most colorful bear hunters of the time was Ben Lily, probably the most famous hunter in the U.S. He came into the Big Thicket in 1906 in search of a black bear specimen for the National Museum in Washington, D. C. He was employed by the U. S. Government Biological Survey Agency to collect specimens of wild life for the museum. He hunted with Ben and Bud Hooks and others during his stay in Hardin County.
Shallow well drilling for oil in Hardin County began as early as 1860, but the decade beginning with 1900 can be called the "Oil Age" in Hardin County. At the time, prospectors were drilling in the Sour Lake, Saratoga and Batson areas. The crews at Spindletop won the race to drill the first Southeast Texas gusher, which changed the world. The honor could have easily gone to Sour Lake. Shortly after the 1901 Discovery Well at Spindletop, successful wells were drilled at Sour Lake, followed by gushers at Saratoga and Batson. Thus, Hardin County came to be ranked as one of the prime oil fields in the world.

Even before the discovery of oil at Sour Lake and Saratoga, both of these communities had become famous for the mineral springs in this area. People flocked to the springs from far and near to drink the water and bathe in the mineral laden pools. Health spas were built and many famous people, including Sam Houston, who came to bathe his wounds from the Battle of San Jacinto, came to bathe in the pools. Oil discoveries at both places ended the health resort business that had existed for several years. Several of the larger oil companies, including Texaco at Sour Lake, Paraffin Oil Company at Saratoga and the J. M. Guffey Petroleum Company, had their beginnings in Hardin County.

All the virgin timber is gone, the black bear in the Big Thicket are gone and the oil boom of the early 1900's has ended. Hardin County has begun to settle down. Plans are being made to build a visitor's center for the newly created Big Thicket National Preserve and new industry seems to be moving into our area almost daily and efforts are being made to preserve what we have left for future generations to see where we came from. There is still a great future for Hardin County.
Some photos of Ben Lily:Image

Author:  TrapperKD [ 06 Mar 2008, 09:33 ]
Post subject: 

Bear meat is awesome. I like it better than venison... roasts, ribs, steaks... Yum! I only have experience with our Wisconsin bears though. I have heard that a bear's diet will greatly contribute to the taste of the meat and that some bears taken in Alaska for example, will taste horribly like fish and are virtually unedible.

Bear meat, like pork, must be cooked thoroughly to ensure no bacteria is present.

Here is one I took a few years ago. The rug is now on the wall in my bar. :D


Author:  Swamp Rat [ 06 Mar 2008, 09:52 ]
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Thanks TKD- Never being in an area with bear, I find information them of great interest.

Author:  Swamp Rat [ 06 Mar 2008, 16:22 ]
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These are some pictures of TEX the bear that was caught as a cub and kept at a local service station probably in the 30s. The bear was one of the last Big Thicket bears and this was in my home town.

Author:  Clovis [ 10 Mar 2008, 11:24 ]
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IMO, bear meat is so much better than deer. from steaks to chops to roasts, its similar to pork. the liver is even similar to pork liver.

Author:  Swamp Rat [ 10 Mar 2008, 11:29 ]
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Well you bear hunters just feel free to pack some bear steaks in dry ice and ship'er on down here to east Texas! Nix on the livers and other innards.

Author:  Swamp Rat [ 15 Mar 2008, 09:57 ]
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I finally found some old bear hunting photos that I knew I had some where....hope you can view them....they were taken in the early 1900s near Kountze, Texas. Ben and Bud Hooks were the areas best known bear hunters.

Author:  doc9013 [ 20 Mar 2008, 19:28 ]
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Swamp rat, I love those Ben Lilly stories, I have a couple books about him. If you want bear meat, I just happen to have one pack of bear steak left- tenderloin- if you want it , It's yours. I like bear meat but I like deer better. My daughter LOVES bear meat. I fix it in the crockpot, cooked on low for 8 hours in cream of chicken soup with spices . Sounds like Mr Dewars is the man to talk to about cooking though, but I will give you the meat if you want it. Let me know . Thanks, Kevan
P.S. It does not taste like chicken, even with the cream of chicken soup! The taste is unique, similar to pork but not the same, but like Mr. Dewars says probably depends a lot on diet.

Author:  Swamp Rat [ 20 Mar 2008, 21:06 ]
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Say Doc, I may be wrong, but I think Ben Lilly is on the far left in the picture above with the men butchering the bear on the table. J. Frank Dobie did a good book on Ben Lilly. I would love to try some bear meat. My daughters have seen them while living in VA. If we were not flying out to VA I could probably bring some "trade goods" with me....I don't think the airline would approve of what I have in mind.

Author:  doc9013 [ 20 Mar 2008, 21:41 ]
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You may be right, that may be Ben, I just don't know. Most of the pictures in the books I have are when he was older. You don't need any trade goods. I would be more than happy to give you some bear meat, It is not scarce up here. If you want to hunt a bear, This is the place. All you need is a license. Our season is in December, but the DNR is recommending a Sept. season this year because of the overpopulation of bear and the rash of complaints of nuisance bears. They are like deer, we see them all hours of the day, they break into people's homes, camps, etc., the DNR employees are run to death answering bear complaints.. If you want to hunt a bear, I know a lot of bear hunters who love to get a person their first shot at a bear. These are good people, all legal, all you need is a license.

Author:  Swamp Rat [ 20 Mar 2008, 22:12 ]
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Well put my name in the hat! I would love to get to get a bruin before my card is punched and there are no options left! That would give me a REASON to come out and visit my daughters and grandson once again. Do you know the cost of out of state license and what permits are needed? I would really like the thought of having a bear hide in my shop...especially one I had taken. See what you can find out and let me know.

Author:  doc9013 [ 20 Mar 2008, 22:37 ]
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O.K. According to the 2008 regulations, You need Class EE , DS, and CS/LE licenses. The Class EE is $150, DS is $10, CS/LE is $12. Total $172 for a bear. That's it. W.V. law states no body can charge for a bear hunt. You can be guided, but guide cannot charge. As I said , I know a lot of bear hunters who would be more than happy to tree a bear for you.(the Ben Lilly way) .There are alot of bear hunters here, and alot of good dogs. If you don't want to hunt with dogs, we can hunt spot and stalk, but it is much more difficult, even with the high population. baiting is illegal . Let me know what method you prefer and when you may be able to come. I don't know if the sept. season will be passed, I think it will but I am not sure when. The Dec. season runs the whole month, and there is also an archery season starting in Oct. if you bowhunt, but no dogs in archery season. Give me an idea of when you want to come and how you want to hunt, and we'll go from there. Thanks, Kevan.

Author:  Swamp Rat [ 20 Mar 2008, 22:46 ]
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Thanks for the prompt info on the bear hunts. I would be most interested in the September season if it goes through. No, I do not archery hunt. Dogs would be great. I will be talking to you more about this in a PM.

Author:  doc9013 [ 20 Mar 2008, 22:51 ]
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sounds good, I'll check on the Sept. hunt and we'll stay in touch.

Author:  Swamp Rat [ 20 Mar 2008, 22:54 ]
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One other question....are you allowed more than one bear per season?

Author:  doc9013 [ 21 Mar 2008, 15:55 ]
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The limit is 1 per season. If you send me your address, I'll send that meat to you. I also have some I canned, want to try some of it too?

Author:  Swamp Rat [ 21 Mar 2008, 16:10 ]
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Doc, I think we'll hold off on mailing the bear meat....I am going to attempt to stop by and see you when I come to VA in April. I can pick it up then and maybe the airlines won't mind it in the cargo area. Do you know any one in your area that makes that FINE APPLE BUTTER??? My daughters pick me up a jar every once in awhile when apples are in season and they are one of the local festivals. We have a product called MAYHAW JELLY that will make you want to slap your Momma!!!! Ummmm Gooood.

Author:  doc9013 [ 21 Mar 2008, 19:58 ]
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That sounds great! Can't wait to meet you. I do know people who make apple butter, I'll see if I can round up a jar or 2.

When you talked about Texas the other day it reminded me of a joke I heard once. A Texas rancher was talking to an old West Virginia farmer." How big is your spread?" the Texan asked.

"Well", the old farmer drawled, " It runs down to the crick there, up over the hill, down that holler, round the pasture, and over behind the hog pen".

The Texan laughed. "I can get in my truck and drive all day in any direction and never come to the edge of my ranch!"

The old farmer spit , nodded his head, and said, "Yep, I had a truck like that once".

Author:  hemphillcreek [ 25 Mar 2008, 23:38 ]
Post subject:  great story

Thank for the great info and pictures!This is for sure a read again post!--ricky :)

Author:  Beaverinbob [ 29 Aug 2008, 09:27 ]
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Bear meat is one of the best meats, I think. I make roasts and hamburgers out of it. Someplace I have a reccipe that an old family friend gave me for Zour Braten using bear meat. I remember having it for Christmas one year and it was amazing. As soon as I find it I will post it.

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