The Confederate spy and cavalryman, and one of General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s most trusted scouts. Among the greatest hunters to ever live, one famous hunt even lead to the nicknaming of a President.
In light of the recent offensive in the culture war to insult and destroy southern history, launched by the George Soros funded terror group “Black Lives Matter”, this installment of “American Heroes” features a black Confederate hero.
Holt Collier was born in Jefferson County, Mississippi in 1846, the slave of a man named Howell Hinds. The plantation was built by General Thomas Hinds, veteran of the Battle Of New Orleans. Like many slave owners of the time, Mr. Hinds sent Holt to school with his own children to receive an equal education. While the school the boys went to in Bardstown, Kentucky was a fine one, nature always called to Holt Collier.
He would ditch school many days to hunt. In those days children were taught to respect firearms, not fear them. Holt was a naturally skilled marksman and honed his skills hunting squirrel and quail, and by the age of ten the young boy had developed a reputation as the best rifleman in all of the swamplands of Mississippi, and had killed his first bear. In those days black bear were everywhere in the delta, and this most dangerous of game became a challenge worthy of one of the most heroic southern men to ever live. By the age of 14 his bravery and skill in taking down the ferocious beasts was widely known along the Mississippi. Bears would have been the most dangerous thing he could have fought, if not for the murderous invading armies sent by Lincoln to rape, pillage, and subjugate his homeland.
The scourge of slavery had been a part of the American experience from the beginning, but by the late 1850’s its days were numbered. When a slave owner died, those who inherited them would often free them out of their own conscience, like Robert E. Lee, and so many others who would eventually become the heroes of the War of Northern Aggression. Technology was making slavery less profitable for those of lower morals, and the looming war over the oppressive tariffs placed on the southern states led to a large number of slaves being freed. Many men did not want to go fight the Yankee despots with slave ownership on their conscience. Thus, when war broke out, Howell Hinds gave Holt his freedom papers before he marched off to fight the second American Revolution. Holt wanted to fight as well, but he was told he was too young, only 15. Undeterred, he stowed away on a riverboat, and would be re-united with Howell, he tells the story here:
“When my Old Col. left to join the army, he left me sitting on the fence crying and begging him to let me go with him. He said, ‘No, you might get killed. I said I’ve got as good a chance as you. He left me sitting there watching him go across the fields to Old Greenville to catch the boat. That night I ran away and went to Greenville where I saw the artillery being loaded on a boat. After dark I slipped aboard. At Memphis when we were about half unloaded I marched across the gang-plank to shore. Mr. Thomas (Hinds) saw me and turned and called, ‘Father look yonder.’
My Old Colonel looked at me and took off his hat and smoothed his hair back with his hand and said, ‘Thomas, if we both go to the devil that boy will have to go along, I said, ‘I got as good a chance as you.’It seemed to me that all the soldiers in the world were there. There were General Breckenridge, old Gen. Clark from Jefferson county, Gen. Bragg, General Wirt Adams and General Bedford Forrest. We were sent to Camp Boone in Tennessee and from there to Ky. One moon-light night we were ordered double quick to Mulger Hill, to beat Col. Rousseau of the Northern army to that place. When we reached Bowling Green my folks shot down the Union flag flying at the top of a hill and Lieut. Marschalk climbed the pole and cut down the staff. We started on, but the Unions had torn up the railroad track and we had to stop and fix it before we could go on. That is why Col. Rousseau beat us to Mulger Hill.
We reached Green River Bridge and entrenched on a mountain and had a skirmish with Col. Rousseau who fell back and we returned to Bowling Green where we went into winter quarters. The weather was the coldest I ever felt. Because of my being an expert with a gun and a horse and my knowledge of the woods, Gen. Forrest talked with Capt. Evans to whose company I had been assigned when we left Camp Boone, about my enlisting as a soldier. They asked permission of my Old Colonel and he called me to him and told me to choose for myself. I said ‘I will go with Capt. Evans’ cavalry. I loved horses and felt at home in the saddle. I was in Gen. Ross’ Brigade, Col. Dudley Jones Regiment and Capt. Perry Evans co. 9th Texas Regt. My Old Col. gave me a horse — one of three fine race horses he had brought from Plum Ridge. He was a beauty, iron-gray and named Medock. After leaving Bowling Green it was a long time until I saw my Old Colonel again.
During the war Holt was in the company with Mr. J. C. Burrus of Bolivar county and on one occasion the two were in a cane-brake riding toward a slough when suddenly they realized that they were surrounded by the enemy. Mr. Burrus felt that all hope of escape was gone, but Holt was more optimistic. Hastily he revealed his plan of escape and the two made a wild dash through the slough firing two pistols each and shouting with all their might the “Rebel yell”. So swiftly did they pass through the line and so completely did they deceive the enemy that they made good their escape. In his biography he recounts the death of General Johnston and his experience at the Battle of Shiloh:
General Albert Sidney Johnston, in command of the Confederate troops was riding a big white horse when a bullet struck him in the thigh, severing an artery. I was only a few yards away at the time. Six soldiers carried him to the shade of a tree where he died in a short while. We retreated to Corinth (to protect an important connection with the Trans-Mississippi Division) and Capt. Evans Company was detailed for scout duty along the Mississippi River and up near Old Greenville. We did a heap of good too; saved our folks property and ran the Unions out. During that time I did a great deal of scout duty. The whole country was a wilderness and if our boys got lost I could always find the way out. I had been raised in this part of the country and had hunted in the woods all my life.
He did not quit defending his homeland after the war ended, and is credited with killing a notorious carpetbagger. Union Captain James King was part of the local occupying force during reconstruction. Howell Hinds, though much older, knocked him down in a fair fist fight multiple times. Being a coward and a Yankee, he drew a knife on the unarmed Howell Hinds, and was shot dead. Although acquitted by a military tribunal, Collier was always given credit. He was arrested multiple times after the war protesting reconstruction and the abuses wrought on the southern people and their natural rights. Holt tells that on one occasion, during Reconstruction days, he, along with 500 men, marched up Washington Avenue under fire, as a protest against the insults to the white men and women of Greenville.
After I came home I had a heap of trouble. The Federals were garrisoned at Greenville (the new town of that name) and they arrested me four times. At that time the country was under military rule and I had to go to Vicksburg for trial. Nugent stood by me through thick and thin. I will never forget them, my old white friends – they are all gone now. Col. Percy and Col. Hinds went with me to Vicksburg for the trial. Col. Percy told them if they put me in jail he wanted a cot put beside mine for he was going to jail with me.
Holt Collier and his hunting dogs, he once declined an offer of $1000 for them.
After the death of Howell Hinds, he went to work on the race-horse farm of Captain James Brown near Fort Worth, Texas. There he met Frank, the brother of Jesse James, and famed partisan Confederate warrior. He traveled to many places, including Mexico and to hunt bear in Alaska, before returning to his native Greenville MS, where he spent the rest of his life. He was the type of man you turned to if there was rough business, and in 1881 he was asked to help apprehend a double murderer named “Stacks”. He found the killer near Washburn’s Ferry, and when he raised his rifle to shoot Holt, he drew and shot the fugitive off of his horse. Stacks rifle was cocked, but he never got a shot off, learning what many Yankee invaders and carpetbaggers learned the hard way – don’t mess with Holt Collier.
Besides his heroism in war, Holt Collier was also immortalized in a famous hunting story. It was made known that President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to go on a bear hunt, so Mr. John M. Parker of Louisiana chose Holt to select the hunting grounds and lead the chase. The events of that hunt would lead to the nickname “Teddy”, that Roosevelt would carry the rest of his life.
“One day Major Helm came to me”, says Holt, “and said: ‘If you can get things ready in a month and not let anybody know what you’re doing, President Roosevelt will go hunting with us’. I got things ready; found a beautiful campin’ place. I was boss of the hunt. Along came the President with a car-load of guards, but he left all but one of ’em in the car. Anyway he was safer with me than with all the policemen in Washington.
The President was a pleasant man; when he was talking he’d stop every little while to ask other people’s opinion. Sometimes he asked my opinion about something, and he talked to me about as much as he did to anybody else; he had a thousand questions to ask. We sat on a log to talk and in ten minutes, thirty-five people were sitting on the log. It was going to be a ten day hunt, but the President was impatient. ‘I must see a live bear the first day,’ he said. I told him he would if I had to tie one and bring it to him. Mr. Foote made fun of me. The President looked doubtful, but Mr. Percy and Major Helm said I could do it.”
Holt tells that he got on the trail of a bear fairly early next morning. In following the dogs, he left the party far behind; at noon or shortly after, the bear headed for the lake where the chase had started. The rest of the party were to meet him there. “We got to the lake”, he continued, “and the bear went right into the water. The party had returned to camp. I followed the bear into the lake with my Texas rope on my arm. I slicked up the rope with the blue mud from the bottom. I had one dog in the water with me; he tangled with the bear and they went under.
I kicked the bear and he stuck his head up. While he was shaking the water from his eyes, I dropped the rope over his head, moved back about ten feet or so, and tied it to a tree. The bear was old, but he was fat; he had gray hair on his paws and head, and he had two big black teeth. That bear killed several fine dogs for me.”
“I went to camp and brought ’em down to see the bear. I had tied it but wouldn’t take it to the President like I’d said I would. When they all got there the President ran into the water, and I said to him, with my head down, ‘Don’t shoot him while he’s tied.’ Everybody tried to get him to do it but he couldn’t. Some of the other gentlemen wanted to shoot the bear, but I knew the dogs would rush in and get killed before the bear died, so I told ’em if they gave me fifteen hundred dollars for the dogs they could have the bear. They didn’t want him after that.
The President had seen his bear and everybody was getting ready to go back to camp. One of my best friends, Mr. John Parker, came up to me and said, ‘Holt, I want that bear; how can I get him? I told him to follow me and I’d show him. Be followed me into the water. I teased the bear out to the end of his rope and put my hand on his back; he couldn’t get at me, but everybody thought I was crazy.
I told Mr. Parker to take the knife out of my belt and stick the bear. I put my finger over his heart, where I wanted him to stab him.When the knife went in, the bear jumped. Mr. Parker nearly pushed me on top of the bear, trying to get out of the lake and left me to pull the knife out of the bear he had stabbed. Back in camp that night the President told me I was the best guide and hunter he’d ever seen. Mr. Foot didn’t laugh at that either.”
Theodore Roosevelt and Holt Collier
The incident was nationally publicized in editorial cartoons on the front page of the Washington Post. An enterprising New York store owner, Morris Michtom, saw the cartoon and created a stuffed toy he called “Teddy’s bear.” The popularity of the stuffed bear lead to the formation of the Ideal Toy Company. And, when the Teddy bear turned 100 years old in 2002, Mississippi named it the official state toy. “Teddy Roosevelt” had carried a beautiful rifle on the hunt, which Holt had admired. Afterwards, he sent Holt an identical rifle as a token of his appreciation.
Holt Collier lived to be 90 years old. He would wear a grey Stetson hat, like those of the Confederate Cavalry Officers, all his life. He died on August 1, 1936, though his heroism will live forever. He killed over 3000 bears, more than Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone combined. He is buried in Live Oak Cemetery, in Greenville, Mississippi. It is not far from where he killed his first bear, and many federal tyrants, should anyone wish to visit his grave on Memorial Day.
Special thanks to the Judah P. Benjamin Camp 2210, Sons of Confederate Veterans for the inspiration for this article.