Bee Hunter’s

In the Upper Cumberland and probably many other places, there is a sweetness that can be found in the wild that is very important to the country folk. Here is a letter that was received by a officer in charge of a National forrest.  

Dear Sir, there is a Bee Tree on the east side of Rock Creek that is dead and not any good, its dead from the bottom to the top. But, it has a Honey Bees nest in it and I want the Honey for my family. Please give me a permit to cut  the tree, so as I can collect the honey. 

Back in the day, this was not outside the normal. And forrest officer would routinely get requests like this. Bee Hunting has been a favorite pasttime for the more mature folks in the hills of East Tennessee for as long as honey bees have been around. I can remember my great grrandpa talking about hearing a swarm of bees flying near his house. He would go outside and beat on a dishpan making a loud noise and they would go and land somewhere. If he could find them, he would collect them and take them to his already established hives and keep them.  

Why you may ask would it be such a past time for the country folk, well they spent a lot of time in the woods logging or hunting and they always had livestock roaming around to check on. If a bee tree was found, they would mark it with something like a rough X,so they could find it late In the mountains, this is also equivilant to staking a claimand served as notice to any other bee hunters that the tree has been found and claimed already. Some well known bee hunters had their own mark, it was usually respected and the bee hunter moved on and kept looking. 

Once a bee tree was found, the bee hunter would usually cut it in the spring or summer. That way the bees and the honey could be saved. If it was cut in the cold weather, the bees could die of starvation. Remember, their pollunate, so there is not much for them to eat in the winter.  

The bee hunter would build a small fire and control the fire to make it smoke considerably by using wet bark or wet wood. TOday they have smokers that work by hand. The smoke would disorient the bees.  Then the tree is cut down and they would take buckets or pans and scrape the bees into one of them. Like I said before, they collected the bees and would take them home to their hives or start a new hive.  They would also collect the honey. Sometime’s it was necessary to have to dip the honey out, for tis they usually used gords or a drinking dipper.  

Once the bees were relocated and grew accustomed to their new home, they would get to work building more honey like nothing had ever happened.Honey from Sourwood trees or basswood tree’s was often thought of as being better than from a chestnut tree. Honey from a chestnut was said to have a stronger and not so good taste. 

If a bee hunter found a bee tree on property that he did not own, but had permission to hunt. The custom was togive half or one-fourth of  the honey with the property owner. If the tree is on government property, then the tree could be cut under the free-use permit, as long as the brush was cleared. Usually the tre’s were of no value because most trees were dead or hollow.  

One might ask, why would someone go through all the trouble to walk around in the woods looking for a bee hive in a tree, then cut it down and clean up all the brush ? WEll, to mountain folk back in the day, the honey might be the only sweetner a family had. Sugar was expensive. Sure they had sorghum molasses, but if you have ever tasted honey, then you know why they would rather have honey. 

Bee hunters didn’t just hunt bee trees for the sweet taste. They could trade the honey with some stores for flour, coffee, salt or even matches that are needed. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *