A hostile black bear in the Smokies

By G. Sam Piatt - Contributing Columnist

It happened on a 1997 vacation to Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Brent Hobbs of Portsmouth and his family had hiked about halfway up the Rainbow Falls Trail when he had “this funny feeling. I could feel the little hairs on the back of my neck standing up.”

Then he spotted the bear. It was partially hidden in some honeysuckle-like bushes just off the trail.

The bear, 40 to 50 yards away, had its head down and appeared to be feeding on something. It was totally unconcerned about them, if, indeed, it had seen them.

His wife at the time, Joni, and their children, Christopher, then-9, and Heather, then-7, had gone on ahead of him. He yelled at them to come see the bear and asked his wife to let him have the camera.

“When I pointed the camera at him, the thing reared up on its hind legs and growled. It was huge,” Hobbs said.

There was no time for the photo for, without hesitation, the bear dropped again to all fours, then charged, head-on, full speed!

Hobbs yelled for his family to run on up the trail to get away. The thing was headed straight for him.

He pulled off his shirt and waved it frantically back and forth in his left hand, shouting at the top of his voice. With his other hand he pulled the hunting knife from its sheath on his belt.

The bear was undeterred. It backed him against a boulder. His family, along with three other hikers who had been making their way back down the trail, watched, from 30 to 40 yards away, as the drama unfolded below them.

The bear was just three feet from Hobbs, growling, clacking its teeth. He continued waving his shirt and shouting. The knife in his hand was raised.

“This bear was huge,” he said. “Its hair was reddish brown. It stunk, really bad, especially its breath! Insects buzzed around it.”


Strange as it may seem, in the short interval of time the attack lasted, Hobbs’ mind raced back 150 years in time, to a similar situation involving one of his ancestors.

“I always had it in the back of my mind that sometime, somewhere, I would have an encounter with a bear,” he said.

That was because his great-great-grandfather, Zachary Taylor Means, in a story well documented in family archives, had killed a wild bear with a knife.

It happened around the time of the Civil War on Means’ farm near Concord, Ky., in Lewis County.

He had already lost several calves to a bear. He was out one day checking his cattle when he came upon a black bear attacking a calf in the edge of a watering pond.

“He got mad. He was a man with an angry attitude about him anyway. He jumped on the bear’s back and stabbed it to death with his hunting knife, saving the calf,” Hobbs said.


This episode ran through Hobbs’ mind as the bear held him at bay with his back against the boulder.

“I thought maybe I could stab it in the eye or something, at least keep it from attacking one of my kids,” he said. “I kept yelling and waving the shirt. It made a step off to its right, as if it was going to leave. But it turned right back to me and started growling again – like it had changed its mind and was now going to finish the attack.”

Hobbs snapped the shirt in the bear’s face, continuing to yell as loud as he could, even making a growling noise.

“I thought I was going to get mauled – maybe even killed – for sure. But it suddenly turned and walked away, back down the hill, turning to snarl at me a couple of times. Then it was gone.”

Since the bear had disappeared at a point between them and where they had begun the hike, they continued on up the three-mile trail to the waterfalls. The trio that had been coming down the trail after visiting the falls decided to visit them again.

There was no sign of the bear as they made their way back off the mountain.


By G. Sam Piatt

Contributing Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.

Reach G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.