Holt Collier is best known in American history as the guide to Theodore Roosevelt on a 1902 hunt near Onward, Mississippi that led to the creation of the first teddy bear.
Collier was born in 1848 on the Home Hill plantation in Mississippi, where he and his family were enslaved. When he was around 10 years old, Collier was moved to the Plum Ridge plantation, and soon after killed his first bear. He became responsible for providing most of the plantation’s meat. When the Civil War began, Collier joined the Confederate Army even though he was just 14 years old at the time. After the war, he returned to Mississippi.
In the years that followed, Collier became known as a skilled bear hunter. He has been credited with killing more than 3,000 bears during his lifetime (more than Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone combined). Eventually, his prowess was noticed by the bigger hunters in the country.
In November 1902, President Roosevelt came to Mississippi in pursuit of a black bear. Collier guided Roosevelt and other big-game hunters on the trip, which took place near what is now Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Collier stalked a black bear and even tied it to a tree for Roosevelt. But the president, deeming it unsportsmanlike, refused to shoot. News of the incident spread through papers across the country. After seeing an editorial cartoon by Clifford Berryman in the Washington Post, New York store owner Morris Michtom created a stuffed toy called “Teddy’s bear.”
Collier guided Roosevelt on another hunt in Louisiana in 1907. Collier died in Greenville, Mississippi in 1936. He is buried in Live Oak Cemetery in Greenville. In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established the Holt Collier National Wildlife Refuge, the first national refuge to be named for a person of African descent.