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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.