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An Old Bee Hunter

The bee hunters in my early days used one of two methods in hunting
the bee. The hunter would select a clear day, generally during
buckwheat bloom, and after determining on a course, sun them to the
tree. This was done by placing the hat or hand between the eye and
sun as close to the light as the eye would permit. If the hunter
knew the difference between the flight of a loaded bee and an
unloaded one he would keep on the course until the tree was

This method must undoubtedly be injurious to the eyes and I do not
follow this plan nor advise others to do so. The other method was
what was termed burning or baiting. A fire was built near where the
bee tree was supposed to be, large flat sand stones were placed on
the fire and heated. One of these was removed to some place clear
of trees and underbrush, some bee-comb, dampened with water, was
then placed on the stone, and when the fumes of the comb would go
off into the air any bees flying near were apt to be enticed to the
bait, which was sprinkled on a bunch of bushes and laid near the
stone. Many bees were found in this way, but if they went any great
distance two or more fires had to be built. This would require much
time and often the hunter, not being careful in extinguishing the
fire, the surrounding leaves would catch fire and a destructive
forest fire would result. Therefore it shall be my aim to eliminate
anything of an injurious or objectionable nature in the work I lay
before the reader.

On a calm morning in the early part of November, I went to the top
of the mountain west of my home. The day was an ideal one. The
trees had shed their leaves, making a thick carpet over the earth.
It seemed that all nature was getting ready for a long winter
sleep. All flowers except a few bunches of mountain goldenrod were
dead. The bees seemed to be aware that their labors were about
ended and were eagerly looking for anything in shape of sweets that
would add to their store of supplies and thus help to tide over the
long winter. After arriving at the top of the mountain I built a
fire, heated a large flat stone and took some bee comb and
proceeded to follow the example before mentioned. After watching
quite a long time and not seeing any bees I was on the point of
giving it up, at this place at least, when that sound so delightful
to the ear of the bee hunter, the silvery tone of the bee in
flight, came to my ear. Several times the sound was repeated but so
far I had not got a sight of it. On looking over the top of the
bushes I saw two bees flying slowly, sometimes coming near the
bait, then darting away, then returning and finally settling down
on the bait. All was anxiety! I must be sure to see these two bees
take their homeward flight. In a very short time one of them slowly
raised from the bait, circled a time or two, and then darted away
so quickly that I knew not where. Now the other one won't escape me
so easily. But when I turned to look, she, too, was gone. In a
short time they were back and lots of others close behind. In a
half hour there must have been a quart of bees on the bait. By this
time I had seen a number of bees fly due west and some due east. So
taking another hot stone and going some distance on the course
west, I put the stone down, burnt more comb, and in a few minutes
had lots of bees. They still continued westward. The next time I
stopped where a swamp extended from the top of the mountain back
some two hundred yards. There were many large gum trees growing in
this swamp. After a while I was convinced that the bees flew at
right angles from the former course. Leaving the bait I went into
the swamp and found them going into a large gum tree about twenty
feet from the ground. My spirits were high, this being the first
bee I had ever found entirely by myself. Taking out my knife and
going up to the tree to put my initials thereon, my spirits fell as
suddenly as they had risen. There in plain view were the letters I.
W. The spirit of selfishness then showed itself. What right had
anyone to take this bee from me? I had almost come to the point of
thinking I had a monopoly in the bee hunting business and that
others had no right to intrude. I trust others do not show this
spirit and am sure I have got rid of it myself. If there is any
pleasure or benefit to be derived from anything, God certainly
intends it for all. The initials would not correspond with the name
of anyone I knew, but supposed that some time I would find out who
I. W. was. Now the bee that flew east could be looked for, but what
was the use? Hadn't the best bee hunters in the country tried to
find it and failed? Beyond a certain point all trees disappeared.
This was the only Italian bee known to be in a radius of ten miles
and it was not a great while after their introduction into this
country. So taking my way to the top of the mountain near the edge
of the swamp, I was surprised to find a cabin, and from indication
it had just been built. On going up to the door my eye fell on the
occupant, a man well up in years. In one corner was a number of
steel traps. In another a rifle of the then modern type. These
signs told me that a new hunter had taken up his abode among us. He
told me to be seated and moved over on the rude bench to make room
for me. He began by asking me what I was doing out on the mountain,
and as I was so young, no doubt had an idea that I was lost.

I told him that I was bee hunting and had found one but some one
had found it before I had, and that the initials I. W. were cut on
the tree. Turning to me he said, "You don't know who that stands
for? Well, young man, I kin tell you. I. W. stands for Ike Ward,
and that's me. The little fellers come sippin' around my cabin and
I give 'em a little sweet water and found 'em in a jiffy." I then
told him of the Italian bee. He asked me why I didn't find it. The
reply was that the very best bee hunters in the country had tried
it and failed and I supposed it would be of no use for me to try
it. "Well, they must be great bee hunters; why, young man, I would
rather undertake to find a bee than ketch a rabbit in a good
trackin' snow. The rabbit might jump up and run away, but after I
get my bee started, he's mine." It was getting well along in the
afternoon and I told him I must go home. "Well, your folks might
think something has happened to you and I won't ask ye to stay any
longer; but come up again and we will find that yaller bee." I
thanked him and asked when it would suit him to go. "You kin come
any time you keer to, but ye'd better come early when you do come,
fer I might be out scoutin' round and not be home." That proposed
bee hunt was the only thing thought of on my way home, the only
thought that went with me to my bed, and in my dreams I saw the
most beautiful yellow bees in the world on combs of snowy
whiteness, some of them as large as a door.

Early the next morning, before the sun had shown himself to the
people down in the valley, I was far on my way up the mountain on
my way to the hunter's cabin. Great drops of sweat were standing
all over my face, but I never slackened my pace until I heard the
cheering "Good morning" from the old hunter at the cabin. "Jist
come and rest yerself. It's a little too early fer bees to fly
yit." I replied that I wasn't tired. "When I was your age I didn't
get tired either, but if you get to be as old as me you won't walk
so fast up hill; you're all a lather of sweat."

About an hour later we went out to where I had first baited the
bees. I began to gather wood to start a fire and burn for them
again. "What are ye goin' to do with that wood?" was his inquiry.
On being informed that this was the way I got them to bait, he
chuckled to himself and said he would show me a better and easier
way. He then took a handkerchief from his pocket, then a small
bottle containing something that was of a fluid form, and sprinkled
the handkerchief with it. He then got a pole eight or ten feet long
and put the cloth on one end, raised it as high in the air as he
could, moving it back and forth in the breeze. Very soon hundred of
bees were darting through the air. The pole was slowly lowered
until the handkerchief rested on the ground, sweetened water was
sprinkled on some bushes, and in a few minutes the yellow bees were
flying east and the black ones found previously flying west.

This was a very simple, but a new departure from the mode followed
in those days. He explained to me that the little vial contained
water, with a few drops of the oil of anisseed added, and there
were other scents perhaps better, but this being the only kind he
had at that time was the reason for using it. We went directly east
on the course four or five hundred yards. This brought us to the
top of the mountain and to a large rock that was fully one hundred
feet from the ground at the base to the top. From this rock we had
a clear view of the valley below. The eastern side of the mountain
was very hilly, and covered with a dense growth of trees, and
farther down, this forest never hearing the sound of the woodman's
ax, became so dense that the sun could scarcely find an opening to
the earth. The cloth was sprinkled with more of the scent, waved a
few times in the air, and laid beside the bait, which was composed
of sugar and water, on the rock. Bees came in abundance. Very soon
we could see some bees, heavily loaded, circle around and dart off
down, down, until lost to our sight. Others would fly both north
and south along the top, making three distinct courses. The old
hunter watched these different flights for a considerable time,
then going some distance along the top, and after a short time came
back saying, "Just as I expected. These fly out there, make a turn,
and come back to join the course that flies straight down. Now come
with me out the other way and we will see if the others don't do
the same." Sure enough! Taking our station some fifty yards from
the bait we could see them coming heavily loaded, bend down and
back toward the main course.

"I have found many bees in my time, young man, an' never saw one
act this way unless the tree was close. They act like they don't
want to leave that rock; but we will go down and look at some of
that timber." As all the timber far below had been looked at many
times in the past I thought it useless but did not say so. After
looking at the nearest trees below, those farther down were
examined. The morning had been cloudy but now the sun was bright
and clear. The hunter placed his hand before his eyes and gazing up
at the sun said he "never saw sich actin'; they seem to come right
toward the ground. I have found 'em in queer places but never in
the ground." Just then a bee lit on some leaves in front of me. I
called his attention to it. "Now ain't it a beauty? Poor little
fellow; got too heavy a load an' has to rest. Now watch sharp; when
he goes he will likely fly straight." In a short time he slowly
raised, made a half circle, darted down the mountain, and was lost
to me. Not so with my companion. Stooped low, his arm thrust
forward as though guiding the bee in its flight, he slowly turned
his arm, still following, until he was pointing straight up the
hill. "As sure as my name is Ike Ward that bee flew up the hill,
and just as sure its home is there, too."

Up the hill he went, looking more carefully at every tree, until
the last tree below the rock had been reached. I was on the upper
side of this tree and was almost sure that it must be in this one.
The old hunter was on the lower side, gazing intently up the hill
toward the rock. For some time he stood thus, then said, "You had
better look behind you if you want to find the yaller bee." On
turning round I saw a steady stream of bees going in and coming out
from the very base of the rock. The mystery was a mystery no
longer. They had baffled all the bee hunters in the community for
three years, but at last they gave up the secret of their hidden
home to Ike Ward.

Taking a piece of paper and writing thereon these words: "This bee
was found by Ike Ward and pard; if any person find it please don't
mislest it." He laid the paper above the entrance of the bees, and,
laying a stone on it to keep it in place, we ended this our first
bee-hunt together. This was only one of the many delightful trips
which I took with the hunter, only one of the many valuable lessons
received from him on this fascinating pastime. He has long since
passed away, but the book of nature was open to him at all times
and with a spirit that had no taint of selfishness in it, was
always ready to impart knowledge to others.

Next: Early Spring Hunting

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