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Cal And Bert Mcgaha See Black Bear Cubs Running Toward The Tucker Woods, At Foo

This article first appeared in issue 13, and was written by Ed Waggener. The full title appeared as: Cal and Bert McGaha see black bear cubs running toward the Tucker Woods, at foot of Dunbar Hill .

It was a clear day; bears in open

Bear Board Member Bill Spicer credited with reporting finding

Story proves no fluke; corroboration coming from several directions.

If you didn't believe that bears are in Adair County before, you won't have any doubts after you hear what two eyewitnesses, Cal and Bert McGaha, 505 Bomar Heights, Columbia, saw on a Sunday, April 20, tornado-inspection drive.

In the first place, Bill Spicer, a newly appointed Bear Board member, heard and believed the story. No one can doubt Bill Spicer. Nor could they doubt that the two who saw the bears cubs know exactly what they saw, either.

"We went to see what the tornado had done in Cane Valley," Calvin McGaha said. "Bert was curious to see the damage. Well, we went and when we got through seeing Cane Valley, I said, 'Why don't we just go on to Egypt and look at the rest of it?' and Bert agreed."

"After we saw what had happened in Egypt we went on to Knifley, going toward Pellyton and the Amish Country. We turned right on 76 in Knifley and went over Dunbar Hill. Near the bottom, on the Janice Holt Giles side of the hill, we saw two black objects, and Bert said, 'Look at those two big black dogs.'

"We got a little closer and I said, 'Those aren't dogs. I believe they're wild turkeys.'

"Well, we got a little closer still and I saw what they were, and I said to Bert, 'Naw. Those aren't wild turkeys. Those are black bear cubs! '

"And sure enough, that's what they were."

Now, most everyone knows who Bill Spicer, the former 4-H agent, is and they know he is a serious man-especially when it comes to wild things and firearms. If he says that he believes, you can bank on it. And Bill Spicer vouches for it.

Beyond that, there are a few more particulars which attest to the unimpeachable validity of the report.

First of all, Calvin comes from an honest line of important people. He's a first cousin of Corrections Commissioner Doug Sapp. He's a second cousin of former Sheriff Clifton McGaha. And he is some kin to State Senator Vernie McGaha. They've always been good, trustworthy people, the McGahas.

Also very important to me, is that he was best friends with my favorite Indianapolis brother-in-law, Dr. Paul J. Cravens, when both first went to the city. That speaks well of him.

Mr. McGaha was foreman of the body shop at Paul Harvey Ford in Indianapolis. He spent a total of 34 years there. And yes, the late Bulldog Curry, one of Adair County's most notable sons, worked for him at least five times during McGaha's tenure at Paul Harvey Ford.

McGaha did well in Indianapolis. He married well. The former Bert Merkely became his bride, and you might say that they were kind of courting on the day they saw the bears. Calvin McGaha is, as much as anyone, a true son of Adair County. His roots go deep here. Despite his long stay in Indianapolis, he always had in mind coming home.

When he was just a young boy in the depression days his dad, Curtis McGaha, was in charge of the WPA project on Meatskin Road, now more properly called the Sparksville-Weed Road. Even though it meant a 50 mile round trip from Millerfield to Sparks Ridge every work day in an open car that required blankets to keep them warm. The trip was bearable in the winter only by a coffee stop at a friendly house in the Flat Woods. Curtis McGaha went, because the WPA was the nearest good work he could find.

"Haskin Coomer had just gotten married," McGaha remem- bers, "and had gone to work as a foreman for Dad on the road. But the Big Man came down from Frankfort and told Dad he'd have to fire Haskin and give the job to a man with a family who needed the work more. When Dad told Haskin, all Haskin said was, 'Well, if that's the way it's got to be, that's the way it is.' And Haskin took up trading full time and got rich."

It was just a few months after his 18th birthday, which came on October 4, 1943, that he was sworn into the Army. That was January 5, 1944, and he remembers the other young men from Adair County who also went off to war that day: John D. Lowe, III; William "Tootie" Corbin, Robert H. Hutchison, Jr.; Nat Hayes, Edward Grant, Buford Brock, James Hood, Possum Parson, Harold and Howard Feese, and C.W. Grant. After training, McGaha was in the South Pacific, around Guadalcanal, for the duration of the war.

He was discharged in 1946 and returned to Columbia and took a job with Charlie Wethington and Rollin Knifley in the old Chevrolet Garage, then known as Columbia Motor Co. It was located in what was once the Adair County Jail, and was at one time Arnold Coomer's store. Today, it is Adair County Regional Jail side addition to Stotts, Phelps, McQueary Funeral Home.

As many did in those days, McGaha decided a year later, in 1947, to go for the better pay offered in the industrial north. His destination was Indianapolis, and he got a job as a body man there. He worked hard, impressed his bosses with his skills and his management ability, and became the shop foreman of what was to become a $1 million operation.

It was a job that let him help his fellow Kentuckians get hired-"get on"-as it was phrased then.

You went up north, then, remembering the advice, Now you see so and so at such and such a place. He's got a lot of say. He'll get you on. It worked. And it helped the Adair County enclaves take care of their own and prosper. So when Bulldog Curry arrived, McGaha was able to get him on. Curry was employed in the most abbreviated hiring process: "I gave him his first job in Indianapolis," McGaha is proud to say.

He retired from Paul Harvey Ford in 1981, and came back to his seven farms in Adair County. Retired again now, he has a beautiful home with a grand vista toward Sparks Ridge and beyond out his front window and a huge backyard which backs up on good neighbors on Tutt Street and other good neighbors on Bomar Heights. The home was the last residence of the late Haskin and Myrtle Coomer.

He's a good man, Calvin McGaha. Married to a wonderful wife. And you can just tell by her beautiful smile that she is a woman to be trusted, about bears or anything else.

Rewind back to the events of April 20, 1997: When Calvin and Bert first saw the black objects, they were 200 feet away. The cubs were in the clear. They were just nine or 10 yards away at the closest. "When we got down even with them, they were about as far away as our back door," Calvin McGaha said, pointing to an entry some 30 feet away. "They were about as tall as a 150-lb. hog. They were clawing their way up the hill toward the Tucker Woods. They definitely were bear cubs. I've seen a lot of them in the Smokeys and over in Virginia and North Carolina. I know them when I see them, and so does Bert."

They had meant to stop and watch the cubs as they ran into the Tucker Woods. But there were two cars behind them and they couldn't do that. Even so, they watched long enough to confirm their sighting.

McGaha's claim of the presence of bears is authenticated by more: "Now this is what verifies the fact about bears being in there," he said. "I was in Sav-A-Lot and I ran into Delana Corbin-she was a Holmes before she married. She's Tommy Corbin's wife. I said, 'Delana, I saw something on Dunbar Hill you might be interested in.' I said, 'You can tell Tommy when he gets home he can hunt big game right in his back door.' And I told her about the bear cubs we had seen.

"She said to me, 'Calvin, a good while back, Tommy wouldn't believe me, but I saw a big black object making a terrible noise. I've got a big German Shepherd dog that isn't afraid of anything. He's a big dog and he's a bad dog. But he wouldn't go near it. I told Tommy and he said I was crazy. But I know what I saw.'

"And then," Calvin McGaha says, "I saw Travis Bryant on Saturday morning and told him what Bert and I had seen. Travis told me that Howard Neat, before he died, swore to him that he had seen two bear cubs right near there. Of course they wouldn't have been the same ones Bert and I saw. Those bears would of been much bigger now. But it does prove that bears are there."

It does. It does. And an arkload of doubting Thomases won't be able to prove to the rational majority of Adair County Blue Ribbon Bear Board that Cal and Bert McGaha saw anything else but two black bear cubs at the foot of Dunbar Hill, headed for the Tucker Woods, on Sunday, April 20, 1997.

This story was posted on 1997-05-05 12:01:01
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Archive Photo

1997-05-05 - Photo Staff. Cal & Bert
Calvin and Bert McGaha are among the latest to actually see bears in Adair County. The McGaha's spotted the playful creatures on Sunday, April 20, barely off Hwy 76 on the Edith, KY, side of Dunbar Hill. The bears were running toward the Tucker Woods.This item first appeared in Issue 13 of the print edition of Columbia! Magazine.

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Archive Photo

1997-05-05 - Photo Staff. Calvin McGaha shows how tall the cubs were: About the size of 150-lb hogs, he judged. This item first appeared in Issue 13 of the print edition of Columbia! Magazine.
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