Holt Collier : Slave, Confederate Soldier, Cowboy, Big Game Hunter, And Presidential Hunting Guide

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I was in Gen.Ross’ Brigade, Colonel Dudley Jones Regiment and Captain. Perry Evans Company I 9th Texas Cavalry Regiment. My Old Colonel. gave me a horse.... one of three fine race horses he had brought from Plum Ridge. He was a beauty, iron-gray and named Medock. After leaving Bowling Green it was a long time until I saw my Old Colonel again..........Holt Collier

He was a slave, Confederate Soldier, cowboy, and perhaps the greatest big game hunter in United States history. And he influenced the popularity and nickname of one our most beloved Presidents. Holt Collier was born, about 1847, a slave in Jefferson County, Mississippi. As a very young boy, his owner, Howell Hinds, brought him to his plantation in Washington County, known a “Plum Ridge”. Hinds had a particular fondness for Holt, to the point that he sent him to school with his sons to Bardstown, Kentucky. Holt didn’t care much for school and played hooky most days, shooting squirrels, quail, and an occasional bear. He was given his first rifle at age 10, and thereafter had the job of keeping meat on the Hind’s family table. By age 14 and the outbreak of the Civil War, Holt was considered an expert equestrian, as well as a marksman.

In his own words, he, “begged like a dog” to go off to war with Hinds and his 17 year-old son, Tom in 1861. Hinds told Collier he was “just too young”, and they left the boy crying like his heart would break. Not to be denied, Holt stowed away on one of the seven ships transporting the Mississippi Volunteers to training bases. The story goes, that once Holt’s skills with a gun and horse were observed by no less than N.B. Forrest, Hinds, (who Holt always called “My Old Colonel”), gave him his freedom, and he was allowed to choose what unit he would join. He then joined the 9th Texas Cavalry and served throughout the war. He finished the war as one of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s most trusted scouts, known as a superb horseman and marksman.

Col. Dudley W. Jones Colonel Of The 9th Texas Cavalry

Holt was at the Battle Of Shiloh, where he received a minor ankle wound, and claimed to have seen General Albert Sidney Johnston removed from his” big white horse”, and laid under a tree, where he quickly bled to death.

After the war, Holt returned with his “Old Colonel”, and thus began the difficult days of “reconstruction”. In 1866, Holt was charged, tried, but never convicted of killing a occupying Yankee Officer. Howell Hinds and Union Captain, James A. King, of Co.B 49th U.S.C.T. had a verbal confrontation that soon came to blows. The much older Hines continually knocked down the much younger man, who grew angrier each time. Finally, the young officer from Iowa drew a knife and started toward Hines. From a distance a shot rang out, and Captain King was no more. Holt never admitted to the killing, but never denied it either. Legend has it, he admitted to Theodore Roosevelt, during one of their hunting trips, that he indeed was the shooter.

Brigadier-General Lawrence Sullivan Ross

Soon after the trial, Collier left Mississippi and headed for Texas to lay low and let the controversy of the trial and King’s death blow over. While in Texas, Holt worked as a cowboy for one of the founding fathers of Texas, one of the first Texas Rangers, future Governor, and his former Brigade Commander, Lawrence Sullivan Ross. In 2008 Holt was inducted into the “Cowboy Hall Of Fame”. After returning to Mississippi, he began to build on his reputation as a guide and hunter.

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This letter is part of Holt’s Confederate pension application to the State of Mississippi. Though his comrades describe him as the “only **** ever enrolled in our Army”, his name is not on any muster-roll of the 9th Texas Cavalry. A servant’s pension was the only type Collier could apply for, being a Black Man in Mississippi. These combat veterans made it pretty plain Holt was a “front-line, armed soldier”.

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Theodore Roosevelt & Holt Collier

Holt on the bear incident :

“The President of the United States was
anxious to see a live bear the first day of the hunt. I told him he would see that bear if I had to tie it and bring it to him.” I cornered and tied a black bear to a willow tree. They summoned Roosevelt and suggested that he shoot it. Viewing this as extremely unsportsmanlike, Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear.

Newspaper reporters were there, and as they say, the rest is history and the origin of the “Teddy Bear.”

Collier and his prized hunting dogs. He was once offered $10,000.00 for the whole pack, but turned it down.


In the 1930’s, at the age of 90, Holt was one of those interviewed for the Federal Government sponsored, “Slave Narratives”. Toward the end of the session the interviewer, Lottie Armistead, wrote the following, quoting Holt :

“I am black, but my associations with my Old Colonel. gave me many advantages. I was freer then, than I have ever been since, and I loved him better than anybody else in the world. I would have given my life for [him],” said Holt with tears rolling down his withered cheeks.

The full account can be read here : http://newdeal.feri.org/asn/asn03.htm

So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment.

9 Comments:

  • macreverie: Great post! Holt Collier killed more bears than Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket put together!
    My mother was a Collier. Wonder if I am kin?
  • EastTennessee1948: Thanks ! He was quite a man !
  • Vale: Thank you for another great post EastTennessee! I wonder though, how was he able to attend school? Were there other slaves that went to school? Most of what you read about slavery, the slaves were not permitted to learn to read or write and it was a crime to teach them!
  • East Tennessee 1948: Good question ! The school they attended was in Kentucky. Maybe the laws were different there. Years before the war, Stonewall Jackson helped start a Sunday School for slave children in Virginia, I’ve always believed that was illegal at the time, so who knows ? The Hinds family were very influential in Mississippi before the war. At any rate, apparently young Holt cared little for "book-learning".
  • Taylor: EastTennessee:
    Thank you for yet another interesting post and it seems that Holt Collier was a man of many hats! The photos are fabulous and I particularly enjoyed the last one as I always like to see what gear/tack was used by cowboys in years gone by, especially when they’re on a big game hunting expedition.
    I’ve spent many years doing 3 - 7 day camp overs with my horses, both in Canada and the United States, and some of the equipment used back then is still practical and invaluable today. But I never had to tote around a ‘big game rifle’ that looks as if it would take a team of oxen to lug it around, and white pants would never work for me!
    Mr. Collier would have been an interesting man to meet, considering his variety of life experiences etc. and he certainly looks poised, stoic, and confident in his pictures.
  • East Tennessee 1948: Thanks Taylor, One of the rifles pictured, may actually have been a gift from President Roosevelt. On one of their expeditions, Holt greatly admired the President’s "top of the line" rifle (for that time). On his return to Washington, T.R. sent him one.
  • Vale: EastTennessee, I didn’t realize Stonewall Jackson started a Sunday school. I wonder if that part of history about slaves not being allowed to learn was only partially correct
  • East Tennessee 1948: Again, it would probably depend on the State. Before the war, the Federal Government had no where near the authority over the States it does today. Thus, one of the reasons for the war. Jackson was confronted about the school, (about 1855, I believe). He simply told the people questioning him about it, they weren’t being "good Christians", by not wanting the slave children taught the Bible. As far as I know, nothing more was said.
  • Vale: That was a good reply that he gave :)

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