The Good Neighbor
W HEN Davy's term in Congress was over, he ran for reëlection. He was defeated. He turned again to his old occupation, hunting. He and his son John killed bear, deer, and elk. They salted the meat and dressed the furs.
Late one afternoon Jim McDaniel, a neighbor, rode over to see Davy. "I came over to ask if you will go hunting tomorrow. Some of us have made a camp a few miles from here. We would like to have you join us."
"We have all the meat we need for the winter," said Davy. "But I could help one of my neighbors. A man named Hale moved near here not long ago, and he needs help. I can get meat for him and his family. I will go with you. Come in and stay here for the night and we will get an early start in the morning."
In the morning Davy, his son John, and Jim McDaniel started on horseback. The dogs went on ahead of the party. After the men had gone about five miles Davy motioned to the others to halt. He listened.
"Listen to the dogs," shouted Davy. "They have treed a bear! Hobble the horses," he said as he dismounted and went towards the dogs. He found the dogs barking up a big oak tree. There, high up in the tree, was a fat black bear. Davy aimed his rifle carefully and fired. The bear crashed to the ground. The dogs jumped on the bear and barked. Davy waited quietly. "He is dead," said Davy to himself. "One bear for neighbor Hale."
John and McDaniel had come up by this time. They helped Davy dress the bear.
"Let's ride over to Hale's cabin. We can take the meat. I know the family needs it," said Davy.
The three men rode to Hale's cabin. A thin, tired woman came to the door. Two hungry children clung to her skirt.
"Is Hale at home?" asked Davy.
"No, he is not here. He went hunting this morning. He has not returned," said Mrs. Hale.
"We have brought some meat. I am one of your neighbors. I am Davy Crockett."
"Are you Davy Crockett, the bear hunter?" one of the children asked. "Will you tell me a bear story?"
"Yes, I am Davy Crockett. Some time I will tell you some bear stories. But right now we must go and hunt some more bears so that you will have some meat for the winter."
As the men rode into the forest, John said, "I wonder where the dogs are."
"Wherever they are, Chief is leading them and the others are doing the barking," said Davy. "It is Chief who finds the bears and the other dogs who let us know where they are."
As they rode on through the forest, the sound of barking dogs came from two directions. Davy said, "M'cDaniel, you and John go to the left. Try and locate the dogs in that direction. I will go to the right to locate the ones over there."
Davy went toward the sound of barking dogs that came from the right. The trail gave out. He dismounted and tied his horse to a sapling. He made his way through the underbrush. The sound of a shot came from a short distance ahead.
"Some other hunter has shot the bear," said Davy. He stopped and listened. "No, the bear is chasing the hunter. They are coming this way." Davy made sure that his rifle was loaded and ready.
Suddenly a man ran across an open space in front of Davy. The man's foot caught in a trailing vine and he fell to the ground. The bear came into view; stopped short, then rushed toward the man. Davy raised his rifle to his shoulder. He fired and the bear dropped.
"Who are you?" Davy asked the man.
"Bill Hale," answered the man as he gasped for breath.
"I am Davy Crockett. I stopped by your cabin today. Your wife told me you had gone hunting."
"Thank goodness, you came along," said Hale. "One minute later would have been too late."
"Your clothes are torn and you are bleeding," said Davy. "I am going to take you back to our camp. It is too late to take you home tonight. Can you walk?"
"I'll try," said Hale as he tried to get up. "No, I can't make it. I think my leg is broken."
"Then I'll have to carry you. We can't stay here. You will need to have your leg set."
As carefully as he could, Davy lifted Hale and carried him back to camp. It was difficult for both men. Hale was badly injured. He groaned with pain. It was late afternoon when they reached camp.
All the men were there. Davy and McDaniel put a crude splint on the broken leg. As they tried to make him comfortable, Hale told them about the bear. "I thought he was dead, so I laid my gun down beside him but before I knew it the bear was up and after me."
"How many times have you been bear hunting?" asked Davy.
"This is the first time. I know it is dangerous," he said, "but my wife and children had no food. I had to go out and shoot anything that came my way."
"Don't worry about food. I shall do your hunting this year," said Davy firmly. "And I will do your bear hunting until you learn how to hunt bears."
"Thank you, Crockett. Thank you for everything."
When Hale was comfortable, Davy joined the other men around a big campfire. Some of the men were cooking the supper. Others were dressing the game that had been killed during the day.
"I think I'll go out and bring in that bear," said Davy, "the bear that almost killed Hale."
He picked up his powder horn and his rifle. He called to his dogs. He started through the forest on foot. He was able to follow the trail.
"A path like this makes bear hunting easy," said Davy to himself. "It would be nice to walk up and down a path and get the bear that tries to push you off." The dogs were on ahead. They stopped to bark. Davy hurried to catch up with them. But he did not overtake the dogs. They kept moving ahead. The trail became rough and difficult to follow. Davy fell over fallen trees, he fell into cracks left by earthquakes. He came to a stream. He tried to wade across it, but he found a steep bluff on the other side. He waded upstream trying to find a place where he could get out. As he climbed the bank, the dogs were barking on ahead. Davy pushed on in the direction from which the barking came. He came up to the dogs. They were running around and barking under a big tree.
"A bear," he said, "but it's too dark to see him. I can see a bulge up there on one of the lower branches. I think I'll try a shot in the dark."
After he had fired, Davy listened. "Missed him," he said. "I can hear him climbing higher in the tree. I will try one more shot in the dark."
Davy reloaded his rifle. He was so expert at handling his rifle that he did not need to see in order to load it. He tried to sight at what looked like the bear. Again he fired in the dark. The bear came crashing through the limbs of the tree. As he struck the ground the dogs were upon him.
It was so dark that Davy could not distinguish the dogs from the bear. They tossed about, sometimes the dogs on top, sometimes the bear on top. Davy pulled his long hunting knife from his belt and waited.
After the bear and the dogs had struggled for some time, they rolled into a crack which had been made by an earthquake. Davy made his way to the edge of the crack. Again he loaded his gun in the dark. He pushed the muzzle of his rifle down into the crack. He felt it strike something soft and pulled the trigger. The bear gave a lunge and was out of the crack. The dogs were on his back again. The struggle continued.
Again the bear and the dogs fell into the crack. Davy laid his rifle on the ground and found a long stick. Carefully he felt with the end of the stick until it touched the bear. Slowly Davy let himself down into the crack. He edged nearer to the place where the bear and the dogs were struggling. He reached out with his left hand and felt the shaggy fur of the bear. With his right hand he plunged the knife into the bear's neck. The bear ceased to struggle.
Davy crawled out of the crack and laid down on the ground. His clothes were wet with perspiration. He was exhausted.
"If I lie here I will freeze," he said as he forced himself to stand. "I must not lie down again. If I do, I will go to sleep. In order to keep warm I must keep busy. I will try to get the bear out of that crack."
For an hour Davy struggled with the bear. Time after time he would have the bear just at the edge of the crack when it would slip and fall back again. Finally, however, Davy dragged it to solid ground.
He searched about for dry wood with which to make a fire.
When it was daylight he made a scaffold. He dressed the bear and put the skin and meat on it. Then he went back to camp.
When he reached camp one of the men asked, "Where have you been?"
"I was getting another bear for Hale," smiled Davy.