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Friday, July 11, 2008

A Non-Blues Story From Clarksdale

The small town of Clarksdale, MS continues to pop up here as it does anywhere that the roots of music are discussed. Beginning with Robert Johnson (, bluesmen made their way to and through Clarksdale. That included W.C. Handy and the effect that the region had on him ( And then the wonderful actor and humanitarian Morgan Freeman honored the town as the heart of the blues by opening his club, Ground Zero, in Clarksdale (

But I recently learned about a famous non-blues story that had its origins in the Clarksdale region.

Everybody knows the name of President Theodore Roosevelt. Some of you know that our beloved teddy bears are linked to a true story about the former President. Like me, however, I bet none of you knew that the famous teddy bear story actually took place near Clarksdale. Here’s how it went.

Teddy Roosevelt headed down to the Mississippi delta for a bear hunt. Brown grizzlies were plentiful in the region 100 years ago, and bear hunts were not unusual. The President was known as an avid outdoorsman and hunter, so his hosts planned carefully to ensure that his visit was memorable. After three days of hunting, however, the President hadn’t even seen a bear.

Desperate to make Teddy Roosevelt happy, one of the guides and his dogs went in search of a likely specimen. Their only find was an elderly bear which they proceeded to chase until they had worn down the old, exhausted grizzly. The guide secured the bear to a tree and brought the rest of the hunting party back to the site so the President could get a kill.

Upon seeing the pathetic bear tied to the tree, President Roosevelt refused to shoot it, stating that it would be inhumane and unsportsmanlike.

Well, Roosevelt returned to Washington and the story of the President’s refusal to shoot the bear began to circulate. Editorial cartoons started appearing in newspapers and, with each one, the bear in the cartoon grew smaller and cuter. Reading about the incident and seeing the cartoons prompted a storekeeper, Morris Michton, to seek Presidential approval to place in his shop window the two toy bears constructed by his wife – and use signage denoting them as “Teddy’s bears.”

And so it began. Other stuffed bears emerged. The name was shortened to Teddy bears. And it all started near Clarksdale. Must be due to the good vibes.

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