Holt Collier at age 61, 1907
Holt Collier (c. 1846 – 1936) was a noted African-American bear hunter and sportsman. While leading a hunt as a tracker for Teddy Roosevelt in November 1902, Collier set the stage for the incident that would serve as the origin of the Teddy Bear phenomenon.
Collier was born circa 1846 as a slave in Mississippi, serving (as a third generation) the Hinds family on Plum Ridge Plantation, built by General Thomas Hinds, veteran of the Battle of New Orleans. General Hinds, at the request of General Andrew Jackson, had surveyed central Mississippi and chosen the site for its capital, Jackson, before settling nearby in what is now Hinds County.
Collier killed his first bear at age ten; thereafter, his job was to supply meat for the table of the Hinds family and field hands. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Collier’s master Howell Hinds and his seventeen-year-old son Tom, Collier's childhood companion, left for the war. Although told by his master that he was too young to fight, Collier stowed away on a riverboat and joined Howell and his son in Memphis. 
At the Battle of Shiloh he witnessed the death of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston. Collier's biographer says that although there was a prohibition against blacks serving in uniform, Confederates made an exception for Collier because of his demonstrable skills. Collier stayed with the Hinds men until later being given the opportunity to ride with the 9th Texas Cavalry. He did so, serving in Company I through the rest of the war, fighting in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.
After the war Collier returned home to the Hinds family. During Reconstruction, Collier was tried by a military tribunal in Vicksburg of the murder of a white man, Captain James King. The accusation may have stemmed from King's advocacy for the use of "Freedmans Bureau" labor on the Hinds plantation. After his acquittal, Collier left the state on the advice of William A. Percy of Greenville, going to Texas to work as a cowboy on the ranch of his former commander, General Lawrence Sullivan Ross.
Upon the murder of his former master, Collier returned to Greenville for his funeral and remained in Greenville for the rest of his life.
He became a noted bear hunter, killing over 3,000 bears during his lifetime. Such was Collier's fame among big-game hunters that Major George M. Helm asked him to serve as President Theodore Roosevelt's tracker during the President's famous Mississippi bear hunt of 1902. The hunt was very high profile, attended by noted big-game hunters, as well as John Avery McIlhenny of Avery Island, Louisiana who had served with Roosevelt in the Rough Riders during the Spanish American War. Numerous reporters were among the entourage.
On that hunt, Collier and his tracking dogs cornered a large female bear. Collier bugled Roosevelt and the rest of his party to join in; however, before Roosevelt arrived the bear killed one of Collier's tracking dogs. Collier ordinarily would have shot the bear immediately, but wanting to keep the bear alive until the President arrived, he instead whacked the bear over the head with his rifle, bending its barrel. He finally lassoed the bear and tied it to a tree. When the President at last arrived, he famously refused to shoot the helpless bear, which another of his party eventually killed with a knife. The Washington Post and other newspapers publicized Roosevelt's compassion for the animal. An editorial cartoon of the event by Clifford Berryman titled "Drawing the line in Mississippi" erroneously depicted the bear as a cub. The story eventually gave rise to the "Teddy Bear" phenomenon.
Teddy Roosevelt was greatly impressed with Colliers abilities and presented him with a Winchester Rifle. He served again as Roosevelt's tracker during a Louisiana bear hunt of 1907. Holt Collier National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi is named in his honor. He died in 1936 and is buried in Greenville, Mississippi.
- Minor Ferris Buchanan, Holt Collier: His Life, His Roosevelt Hunts, and The Origin of the Teddy Bear (Jackson, Miss.: Centennial Press, 2002).
- James T. McCafferty, Holt and The Teddy Bear and Holt and The Cowboys (Pelican Publishing Company, 1991 & 1993).
- Douglas Brinkley, The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America (New York: Harper Collins), pp. 435–442, 444, 697-700.
- Scott E. Giltner, Hunting and Fishing in the New South: Black Labor and White Leisure After the Civil War (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), pp. 109-136.