Grave of James T. Whitehead (Killed 99 Bears)

Grave of Tiger Whitehead: Killed 99 Bears

Field review by the editors.

Roan Mountain, Tennessee

James "Tiger" Whitehead (1819-1905) was a contemporary of Wilburn Waters, a fellow bear killer across the state line in North Carolina. Although they are buried only 60 miles apart, their hunting territories apparently never crossed. In the 19th century there were plenty of bears to go around.

James T. Whitehead.
James T. Whitehead.

Prolific bear-killers are rare; if you pick enough bear fights, one bear will eventually win. Tiger cheated death repeatedly. One time he missed his target and found himself face-to-face with an enraged bear. He shoved the barrel of his empty rifle down the animal's throat, and while the bear chewed up the gun, Tiger drew his knife and killed the bear.

Despite his fame with bears, Tiger got his nickname because he once tracked and gunned down a tiger that had escaped into the Tennessee hills from a traveling circus.

Tiger lived to be 86, and when he became deathly ill his friends brought him a present: a bear to shoot so he could say he'd killed 100 bears. Tiger, like Teddy Roosevelt, refused, saying that it wasn't fair to shoot an un-free bear. He went to his grave with only 99 kills, the total engraved on his tombstone.

Johnny Cash, during one of his career lulls, visited Tiger Whitehead's grave. Inspired, Johnny wrote the song The Legend of Tiger Whitehead:

Grave of James T. Whitehead.
Grave of James T. Whitehead.

"...at night when the wind howls 'cross eastern hills of Tennessee
An old grey-headed ghost runnin' through the mountains there
It's Tiger Whitehead after his one hundreth bear...."

Buried next to Tiger is his wife, Sallie. Etched into her tombstone is this epitaph: "She was not only a mother to the human race but to all animal kind, as she gave nurse to one fawn and two cubs." No one knows for sure if "gave nurse" should be taken as a figure of speech, or literally.

Also see: Men vs. Bears

Grave of Tiger Whitehead: Killed 99 Bears

Address:
Tiger Creek Rd, Roan Mountain, TN
Directions:
Private property; please be respectful. From Hampton, drive south five miles on US-19E. Turn right onto Tiger Creek Rd. Drive 1.1 miles. Near the top of the hill, just past the end of a guardrail on the right, you'll see a pullout big enough for one car (If you pass a mailbox on the left encased in a rock column, you've driven too far). Park in the pullout, then follow the trail into the woods, cross the mossy bridge across Tiger Creek, then follow the wooded trail a couple hundred yards to the small hilltop graveyard. Tiger's tombstone will be the first one you see, but it will be facing away from you.
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In the region:
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August 25, 2019

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