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Information iconBottomland hardwood forest, Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana. (Photo: Bill O’Brian/USFWS)

Holt Collier: An Inspirational Outdoorsman

In any account of African Americans’ deep ties to nature, Holt Collier deserves a prominent place.

He was a remarkable – and inspirational – man.

Collier was born a slave in the late 1840s. As a teenager, he served as a sharpshooter, cavalryman, scout and spy for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

After the war, Collier’s knowledge of the wilderness and his expertise in tracking game enabled him to become a professional hunter. That is where he first earned his claim to fame. In time, he would become even better known as the hunting guide to President Theodore Roosevelt.

holt collier
Holt Collier (Photo: USFWS)

In an era when bottomland hardwood forest blanketed northern Mississippi and Louisiana, and when Louisiana black bears roamed plentifully through the region, Collier became one of the most admired outdoorsmen of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

He knew how to make his way through dense oak-gum-cypress forest, thickets, canebrakes and woody vegetation. He could anticipate and navigate seasonal flooding. He could stalk the birds and mammals that inhabited bottomland hardwood forest – blue herons, wood storks, red-headed woodpeckers, Kentucky warblers, squirrels, skunks, beavers, fox and, especially, black bears.

“He’s reported to have taken more bears than Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone combined,” says Mike Rich, project leader at Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Holt Collier Refuge. “I believe Theodore Roosevelt said that he was the best hunter he’d ever seen.”

Roosevelt would know.

Teddy Roosevelts bear hunt plak
(Photo: Wildlife Mississippi)

Twice – in 1902 and again in 1907 – Holt Collier guided President Roosevelt on hunts for Louisiana black bear in the Deep South.

In November 1902, Collier guided President Roosevelt on a hunting trip in Mississippi near what is now Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge. When Collier stalked a Louisiana black bear for the President’s benefit, Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear. After the incident was publicized nationally in an editorial cartoon, a New York store owner created a stuffed toy he called “Teddy’s bear.” Read more

That hunt occurred less than a year before Roosevelt founded the National Wildlife Refuge System in March 1903.

Louisiana Black bear
In Collier’s time, Louisiana black bears were common throughout Mississippi, Louisiana and east Texas. (Photo: Pam McIlhenny)

In October 1907, Collier guided President Roosevelt on a second bear hunt, this one in northeastern Louisiana near what is now Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge.

Today, hunting remains a popular tradition in the Deep South. Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge alone attracts approximately 75,000 hunters annually. That is a great boost to the local economy.

And, in the heart of northern Mississippi’s Delta region, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is slowly but surely restoring former farmland back to the native bottomland hardwood forest vegetation that once dominated the landscape.

This is happening within 2,936-acre Holt Collier National Wildlife Refuge. Collier, who died in 1936, is buried at Live Oak Cemetery in Greenville, Mississippi, about 30 miles northwest of the refuge. 

Information iconBottomland hardwood forest, Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi. (Photo: Bill O’Brian/USFWS)