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Wilburn Waters Monument.
Wilburn Waters Monument.

Wilburn Waters Monument: Killed 120 Bears

Field review by the editors.

Tuckerdale, North Carolina

Wilburn Waters (1812-1879) was a one-man wildlife exterminating machine, earning money from, and eating, the animals that he killed. He was praised by Appalachian farmers for single-handedly wiping out the wolf population along the North Carolina-Tennessee state line (It has never recovered). He lived alone, on a mountaintop, but would regularly walk miles to church and would not tolerate profanity in his presence.

Wilburn Waters.
Wilburn Waters.

Wilburn began killing bears in the 1830s and was nearly killed himself many times. Once, while hunting with a buddy, he shot a bear, straddled its body, then unexpectedly found himself riding the enraged, not-dead bear like a bucking bronco, holding onto its fur with one hand as it galloped for the edge of a cliff. Wilburn used his free hand to smash in the bear's skull with a tomahawk, then he and the bear skidded along the snowy ground and stopped with the dead bear's head hanging over the edge of the precipice. At the time, Wilburn was 60 years old.

Wilburn died in 1879 -- killed by nose cancer, not a bear -- and was buried in the family's hilltop graveyard, a remote spot that was probably visited more often by bears than people.

78 years later, in 1957, at the height of the Davy Crockett/Daniel Boone craze, a local pastor named M.D. Hart decided that Wilburn deserved his share of bear-killing fame. He rallied the local community, had a sign erected next to nearby train tracks pointing to the hilltop, then had a blocky DIY monument built over Wilburn's burial spot surmounted by a statue of a bear. It's an odd tribute, as if the bear is waiting to rip Wilburn apart should he ever rise from the grave.

Wilburn Waters Monument.

Both the sign and the monument list Wilburn's final dead bear total: 120.

Despite Pastor Hart's efforts, Wilburn Waters was better at killing bears than attracting tourists. Photos from 1957 show that his grave monument was clearly visible on the then-treeless hilltop, but the trains stopped running in the 1970s, the adjacent road remains rural and lightly traveled, and 60+ years of vegetation have since hidden Wilburn and the bear from public view.

Also see: Men vs. Bears

Wilburn Waters Monument: Killed 120 Bears

Big Horse Creek Rd, Tuckerdale, NC
Private property; please be respectful. From Lansing, drive north along Big Horse Creek for 2.5 miles. When you reach the large Tuckerdale Missionary Baptist Church on the right, bear right onto Big Horse Creek Rd and drive another 1.8 miles. When you cross the little bridge over Big Horse Creek, immediately turn left and park in front of the gated private road (don't block the gate). Walk south along the road (which is an old railroad grade) for a quarter-mile. You'll see the Wilburn Waters sign on the left, atop a boulder in the middle of Big Horse Creek. Follow the direction of the pointing arrow. You'll see a small house at the base of two tall, steep hills: one to the right (north) and another to the left (south). The grave is on top of the left (south) hill. There is no path; you'll have to walk straight up the hillside, and you won't see the grave until you're nearly at the top. Do not attempt in bad weather, or if you are out of shape or easily winded.
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