About the Refuge

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Holt Collier NWR was established in 2004 and currently covers approximately 2,200 acres.  The Refuge was named for the legendary African-American hunting guide who led President Theodore Roosevelt on his famous Mississippi bear hunting trip.

The Refuge was named after former slave Holt Collier, who as a teenager served as a Confederate sharpshooter, cavalryman and spy during the Civil War. After the war, Collier’s knowledge of the wilderness and his expertise in tracking game allowed him to become a professional hunter. Hunting was an extreme physical challenge and a great test of one’s courage at that time, but Collier’s prowess and reputation as a bear hunter became well renowned.

When President Theodore Roosevelt, a passionate sportsman, traveled to Mississippi for a private bear hunt in 1902, Collier was tasked with planning almost every aspect of the adventure, including tracking and driving a bear to the President’s hunting blind to offer him a clear shot. However, the timing didn’t work out as planned, and President Roosevelt left the blind for lunch at the camp before Collier’s team could bring the bear into position. To protect his hunting team, Collier restrained the bear and tied it to a tree. When President Roosevelt arrived, he, like any hunter of honor, would not shoot the restrained animal. The event was publicized nationwide and resulted in the creation of the first stuffed toy bear called “Teddy’s bear.” President Roosevelt told Collier during the trip that he, “…was the best guide and hunter he’d ever seen.”  Collier lived to 90 years of age and is buried in Live Oak Cemetery, just a few miles north of the Refuge in Greenville, Mississippi.  Want to learn more?  Read about Holt Collier - The Man and Guiding Roosevelt through the Mississippi Canebreaks.

Much has changed since Collier’s time. In the early 1800s, bottomland hardwood forest dominated the area. Today, more than 75 percent of the forestland has been lost due to agriculture, transportation, industrialization and urbanization – and with it went the plentiful black bear population. Once widely found throughout the Lower Mississippi River Valley, the Louisiana black bear is now a threatened species, existing in only very small areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

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Holt Collier- Courtesy of Minor Buchanan