Holt Collier was born about 1846 on Home Hill Plantation in Jefferson County. He was enslaved by the family of Gen. Thomas Hinds, the man for whom Hinds County was named. At the age of ten Collier was transported upriver to what would become modern-day Greenville. There, on Plum Ridge Plantation, he was trained to hunt, supplying meat for the labor force. He killed his first bear soon after arriving and went on to kill more than three thousand others. By age fourteen he had become not only an accomplished marksman but also a runaway slave, serving on behalf of the Confederacy with the 9th Texas Cavalry.
After the war Collier was prosecuted for the murder of Union captain James A. King but was acquitted. Collier lived in Texas and worked as a cowboy before returning to Mississippi, where he earned substantial sums as a hunter and guide. The Mississippi Delta, at the time a swampy wilderness, was one of the most diverse ecosystems on the North American continent and contained what was considered an endless supply of game. Collier achieved so much success that by the end of the century business and political leaders sought him out as a guide.
In 1902 Pres. Theodore Roosevelt visited Mississippi in hopes of killing a black bear and chose Collier as his guide. Collier single-handedly captured a large wild black bear for Roosevelt to shoot, but the president refused to kill the tethered animal, leading to the phenomenon of the Teddy Bear. Roosevelt, who also hunted with Collier in Louisiana in 1907, is said to have called him “the greatest hunter and guide I have ever known.” He also taught the young men of Washington County, among them future US senator Leroy Percy, how to hunt.
During the 1920s and 1930s Collier became a legendary figure in and around Greenville. In a gunfight at Washburn’s Ferry, he outdrew notorious Louisiana outlaw Travis Elmore Sage. William Faulkner was a frequent visitor to Greenville, and he borrowed some of Collier’s exploits for the fictional Sam Fathers.
- Minor Ferris Buchanan, Holt Collier: His Life, His Roosevelt Hunts, and the Origin of the Teddy Bear (2002)