You turn around and there he is: A brown bear risen up on his hind legs. You stare at the bear. The bear is wearing a coat and eyeglasses. And a Rough Rider hat. Looking suspiciously like Teddy Roosevelt. And then you do what everybody does at first sight of this charming carved masterwork—you smile, maybe you laugh. You’ve just experienced a whole new definition of the term “grin and bear it,” Rolling Fork-style.
The life-sized “Teddy” bear is only one of Rolling Fork’s captive and captivating collection of carved bears mingling with the city’s deliciously quaint restaurants and shops. Each year, the city commissions chainsaw artist Dayton Scoggins to create a new bear in honor of Rolling Fork’s annual Great Bear Affair, the festival commemorating Teddy Roosevelt’s history-changing bear hunt that happened in this area. (No, the Rough Riding president did not bag a bear, but his refusal to shoot a small specimen prompted a toymaker to create the very first “teddy bear.”) The Great Bear Affair has been going strong since 2002, so you’ll find bears all over town now.
Roosevelt’s long ago hunt may have been a bust, but today your hunt for a deliciously good time in the rural community of Onward will be amply rewarded. Simply stop at newly-remodeled Teal’s Onward Store, an old-fashioned general store/bear shrine/foodie phenomenon. Outside, the historical marker tells the bear hunt story. Inside, you can buy the “bear necessities” along with hearty burgers and tamales that Esquire Magazine has called the very best on the Tamale Trail. You’ll leave, quite possibly loaded with trophies but most certainly with a feeling of complete satisfaction. And bully for you, as Teddy himself would surely say.
You’ll also find some exceptional human history in Rolling Fork. Blues great Muddy Waters was born here, and his birthplace has been preserved, commemorated by a Blues Trail Marker. Visitors marvel that such a huge talent could come from this small spare cabin. And if it’s architectural marvels you’re after, Rolling Fork has that too, in the historic Mont Helena. Built at the turn of the century, this magnificent columned mansion sits atop a hill surrounded by endless cotton fields.
And speaking of endless, the more than 60,000-acre Delta National Forest, the only contiguous hardwood forest in the National Forest System, offers endless hours of outdoor enjoyment: hunting, hiking, horseback riding, wildlife watching. However, be warned that the only bears left in this region are the ones in town. You won’t have to watch for prowling growlers on the trails of the Delta National Forest; expect clouds of butterflies and birdsongs to welcome you instead.