‘Bear’ first to whup bear; Larry ends saga

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 8, 2001

When man takes on beast in mortal combat, it is almost an accepted fact that the human will prevail.

But that is usually because the man has the weaponry at hand with with which to quell his prey.

However, up in the foothills of the Ozarks, man and beast for years have had to face it off on an equal footing, with neither having the advantage of possessing an equalizer of any description.

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It all started in the early 30s when Paul "Bear" Bryant "fit the bar," and as legend has it, that hand-to-hand wrestling match came out about even.

That story grew in popularity and elequence with the passage of time until the locals decided to reenact the scene at the county fair each fall with one of Dallas County's young stalwarts having it out with a captured bruin on the courthouse lawn.

This annual display of manhood versus beasthood served as a tremendous drawing card, attracting the multitudes at home and from neighboring counties, assuring the success of the fair.

The custom prevailed until a few years ago when the State of Arkansas legislature enacted a bill outlawing it as "cruelty to animals."

Larry W. Roark, the last man to engage a bear in the ring, labels the legislation as "true

it is cruelty

to the human animal."

And Larry, no pint-sized combatant, ought to know because, as he said, he was sore for several days after encountering that big black bear.

Roark stands about 6'3" and weighs well over 200 lbs., and serves his county and circuit as juvenile probation officer.

Your correspondent and wife Nina were in quest of some Paul Bryant memorabilia when we discovered the personable Larry Roark at work in the courthouse at Fordyce.

One of his claims to fame goes like this: "The Bear' (Bryant) was the first, and I was the last to wrestle the bear at Fordyce."

Another claim he can chalk up is his lofty position in law enforcement at the Dallas County seat of government.

Were I of the juvenile deliquent variety, it would be with a great deal of deference and gobs of courtesy that I would encounter Mr. Roark.