In the early 1800s, travelers often saw black bears along the Missouri River. On June 7, 1804, in what is now Howard County, a participant in the Lewis and Clark expedition wrote:
"we were met by the party that went hunting; One of which, (G Drewer,) kill'd a She Bear, and her two Cubbs & brought them to the opposite side of the River where we were encamped"
Early settlers dined on hominy and bear bacon, accompanied by sassafras tea. With money scarce, settlers paid their debts in bear meat and raccoon bacon.
By the 1850s, with the rapid growth of settlements and the demand for bear meat, hunters had reduced bear numbers considerably, and, as time went on, bears virtually disappeared from the state. Around 1959, Arkansas reintroduced bears captured in Minnesota and Manitoba. The offspring of those bears began to show up in southwest Missouri.
Biologists believe that the current population of 350 bears descends from both the bears reintroduced in Arkansas and the remnant Missouri population. The reintroduced bears often carry a white blaze on their chest, not the solid black, brown, or cinnamon coat thought to be characteristic of the Missouri native bear. DNA from archived bear bones or pelts might help sort this out.