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The Secrets of Bees

By Linda Kirkpatrick
Ok, the popular book and movie is a close run to the title of this story but my bees do have a lot of secrets and some of them are deadly. “The Secret Life of Bees”, the book and movie, delves into the confused life of Lilly and the issues that she faces over the death of her mother so if this teases your curiosity, the book is a great read and it put me to thinking about the importance of bees in the old west.
Secret Life of Bees

Secret Life of Bees
All Together in One Place
The book that I am reading now, “All Together in One Place,” by Jane Kirkpatrick (no relation) develops a minor character in the book named Deborah. Deborah transports her bees on the side of a covered wagon as she travels west. In reading about Deborah and the care of her bees, I realized that bees did play an important role in the development of new homesteads.
The Honey Bowl
In my collection of family heirlooms there is a large glass lidded bowl on a stem. This bowl belonged to my great grandmother Sarah Ann Fleming Kirkpatrick. She received it as a wedding gift from her mother, Margaret Elizabeth Woods Fleming. Story goes that Sarah Ann kept the bowl on the table, full of honey. Sometimes part of the honey comb could be found in the bowl which caused many a scuffle with the kids and later the grandkids. The kids would fight over who would get the prized sweet treat.
Sarah Ann Fleming KirkpatrickMargaret Elizabeth Woods Fleming
I remember my grandfather, Lewis Burleson Kirkpatrick, telling tales of smoking bee trees but I never got the details. Thus I turned to research in order to find out how early day bee robbers plied their trade. I learned that honey was a cherished possession that sometimes resulted in…murder.

Back in the day, wild bees seemed to be everywhere and trailing a bee back to the tree or cave where the respected Queen lived, didn’t present much of a problem for a dedicated honey hunter. The honey hunters would watch the bees loading up from the various flowers and flowering bushes in the Texas Hill Country. The wild worker bee would leave the blossom, circle around a time or two and then make a “bee line” straight to the hive. The hive, secretly hidden away in a hollow tree or cave would sometimes prove to be a difficult find. The persistent honey hunter sometimes took two or three attempts of diligently following a bee to locate the elusive existence of the hive. Then, late in the evening when all of the bees had returned home, the hunter turned robber turned pyromaniac would light a torch of cedar bark and smoke the bees from their home. After the bees departed, the robber would remove the honey comb to a bucket and head home with his stash of a gallon or two of honey. The bees, forced from their home, would usually start another hive. These delicate little creatures often got their revenge by stinging the robber but the revenge was short and sweet because the bee would soon die.

When a honey hunter would locate a tree it was common practice to brand the tree as their own. The brand told other bee thieves that the tree belonged to another person. But branded trees were a lot like branded cattle to the real bee tree rustlers. It just simply didn’t make any difference who owned the branded tree or cow.
Three men stayed on the dodge for fifteen years after they committed the murder of Frank and Marion Mitchell over, of all things, a bee tree. According to Emma Heard Nelson and George Nelson in their book, “Early Life in the Dry Frio Canyon,” the Mitchell brothers found an unbranded bee tree, in cattle terms a maverick. On April 26, 1882, as they began to chop down the tree to retrieve the honey they were approached by three men from a near- by homestead. The men claimed that the tree belonged to them. An argument ensued and the three men shot and killed Frank and Marion Mitchell. The families of the brothers laid them to rest on the Charles Heyne Ranch. The family of the brothers later left the canyon and moved the bodies to the Uvalde cemetery. Marion was born February 11, 1850 and Frank, April 6, 1858. They lost their lives over about a gallon of sweet, pure honey.
Early Life in the Dry Frio Canyon
Another honey incident occurred on the Refugio Perez Ranch in the Dry Frio Canyon. Marrien Guerria herded goats there on the Perez ranch. Marrien Guerria really liked the sweet taste of honey on his homemade tortillas. A neighboring family to the Perez Ranch heard the ring of Guerria’s ax one day. Guerria proceeded to chop down the bee tree but unlike Washington, he never had the opportunity to clear up the fact of his tree chopping incident. The men shot poor Marrien Guerria right there on the spot. Fearing that they would be discovered, they tossed his body into an abandoned well in hopes that no one would miss the old goat herder. But they were wrong and after several days of searching for the devoted caretaker, Refugio Perez found the body of Marrien Guerria in the abandoned well. Refugio buried his faithful ranch hand on the Perez Ranch.

Well, since I really don’t like to be stung by bees, nor shot at by anyone, and I am not sure that I could follow a single bee to the hive, I will just continue to get my honey at the local grocery store.
My Honey Bowl
Copyright Linda Kirkpatrick
Somewhere in the West
November 1, 2008 Column

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