Big and black in the night

By G. Sam Piatt - Contributing Columnist

We were worn out after the paddling a canoe and flinging bass and muskie lures all day through the Tygarts Creek Gorge. We hit the sack not long after dark.

Whatever it was moving about in the inky darkness outside our tent woke John Weiss first, and John woke me.

“Sam! Sam!” he said, shaking me in my sleeping bag. “There’s something out there and I think it’s planning on coming in here!”

“Probably just a big ol’ black bear,” I joked, rubbing the corners of my eyes with the knuckles of my forefingers.

We had pitched our tent in the edge of a field at the top of the left-hand bank of Tygarts Creek where it flows through the gorge in Carter County.

This adventure took place more than 40 years ago. Seeing a black bear anywhere in eastern Kentucky at that time would have been as rare as seeing a little green man from Mars step out of a space ship.

John grouped about for his flashlight, found it, snapped it on and crawled on all fours to the door of the tent. He unzipped it just enough to stick out his head and the forearm of the hand holding the flashlight.

“Oh my gawd!”I heard him say. Then he zipped backwards like a crawdad uncovered from the rock it had been hiding under.

“It IS big and it IS black,” John said, a note of pure panic in his voice. “Do black bears attack people?”

I knew there had to be some logical explanation, so I continued with my joke, replying, “they not only attack, but they also enjoy the taste of human flesh.”

I managed to open my eyes as big as saucers as John shined the light in my face in a search for truth.

“Let me see the light,” I said.

I stuck my head and shoulders out and shined the light about.

“Well, I’ll be dadburned,” I said. “Shoo! Get on out of here!”

There was a snort and then the sound of hooves pounding off into the night.”

“What was it?” John asked as I retreated, laughing.

“It was big and black, all right, and weighing probably close to a thousand pounds,” I said. “I think we pitched our tent in the edge of a pasture on the Johnson farm. He’s the one I know for sure that raises black Angus. Curiosity got the best of that ol’ cow, I guess. She had pulled up one of our tent pegs.”

John Weiss lived in the Athens, Ohio area, not a big city by any means, but in some matters he showed big city raising – not inclined toward country ways.

He was, I think, 20 years younger than me and just beginning his career as an outdoors writer. He wound up writing stories for Outdoor Life and other national magazines.

Then he became a book author with published works on fishing, deer hunting, and other subjects on the great outdoors. I have three of his books on my library shelves.

I was writing a weekly outdoor column for the Ashland Daily Independent when he wrote me about taking that canoe float trip down Tygarts Creek and later down Kinniconick Creek.

We shared a number of adventures in those early years. The 1977 Premier Edition of Boatmaster magazine carries a story by him – titled “Nightmare on Rondeau Bay” – of our brush with a twister on Canadian waters.

It was a story about a bass fishing trip that started out perfectly, but suddenly turned ugly and into a near tragedy, an ordeal which tested the strength and endurance of John and me and our fathers and John’s brand new Ranger bass boat.

Just prior to driving down to Kentucky to link up with me he had watched the new movie, Deliverance. It took a lot of talking on my part to convince him that no hillbilly villains were going to attack us as we rounded the next bend of the creek.


This past week’s news carried a story that I believe is the first by forestry officials warning campers and hikers to be aware of potential dangers from black bears in eastern Kentucky, where they say there is a growing population of bears.

The story detailed how visitors to state parks and national forest lands – such as Daniel Boone National Forest – should store food properly to avoid attracting bears, and how they should know what to do in the event of meeting one face to face.

The warnings used to say that people facing off with a bear should drop into a fetal position with their arms folded over their heads.

But now the advice says “never lay down or play dead or turn your back on an approaching black bear. Do not run; this could prompt a chase. Remain standing upright and make lots of noise.”

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.