Holt Collier was an amazing young man. He was only 14 and working on Howell Hinds’ plantation in Mississippi when the Civil War broke out. Holt was already an expert horseman and experienced sharpshooter who could hold his own. In fact, he shot his first bear at age ten.
As Hinds was about to set off to fight with the Confederacy, Holt pleaded to go with him, but Hinds refused. Holt was just too young. But instead he gave the boy his freedom, since he had been born a slave.
Holt was determined to join the fight, and would not be denied. So in the adventurous style of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, he stowed away on a riverboat and made his way to join the Texas Cavalry. It was certainly uncommon for a young black man to want to serve for the Confederacy, but he did and, and he put his exceptional skills to good work. Advancing from camp servant to fighting soldier, he was soon involved in the action. He even served as a military spy.
After successful service in the war, Holt started working as a cowboy for his former commander General Sullivan Ross on his Texas ranch. Ross went on to become Governor of Texas, and Holt returned home to Mississippi. He made a good living hunting and providing wild game to railroad crews and loggers. His skills as a bear hunter made him quite famous. Holt is credited with killing over 3,000 bears.
In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt came to Mississippi to hunt bear. Holt was naturally the go to guy to help the President, or anyone, wanting to hunt.
As the story goes, Holt captured a bear, but Roosevelt spared its life and did not shoot it. The famous image of the “Teddy Bear,” spread over the nation. A clever New York store owner then created a stuffed toy he called “Teddy’s Bear” and you know the rest of the story.
Live Oak Cemetery, on the old plantation where he grew-up in Mississippi is Holt’s final resting place. A Confederate headstone honoring his service to the Confederacy was place on his burial site. The Holt Collier National Wildlife Refuge is named after him, and he has been inducted into the Western Heritage Museum Hall of Fame.