A plethora of wild animals are on exhibit at the Union County Heritage Museum from December 1, 2008 to January 10, 2009. Union County native Chico Foote is the reason these animals are on display. He was a big game hunter and traveled extensively with a quest to hunt the largest and most vicious animals any hunter can encounter.
Other Union Countians like big game hunter and millionaire, Paul Rainey and national dog trainer and hunter Clyde Morton of Myrtle could relate to the adventure of big game hunting as well as a love for animals rare and exotic.
Foote collected an unusual amount of rare animals. There are 31 on exhibit and visitors can encounter a siberian tiger, american bison, water buffalo, warthog, duiker, an ibex from mongolia, a full-size zebra, sable, eland, dall sheep, etc. This is not his entire collection, but one that spans three continents. Jill Smith, museum director, said, “We are so grateful that the family felt comfortable leaving the collection with the historical society. We have had a portion of the collection on exhibit in the past before Chico and Charlotte Foote died, and it has always been one of our most popular exhibits.” This is the fourth time this exhibit has been on display.
Children and adults can go on a scavenger hunt, learn about animals and their diversity and learn more about world geography as well. Smith said, “How often can one go nose to nose with a Siberian tiger or closely examine the stripes of a zebra? Where else in north Mississippi can you see a selection of animals of this diversity?”
Smith hopes that someday there will be funding for a gallery that can be devoted to the animals. Until then, they are housed in a climate controlled area that is monitored for pests and brought out from time to time for exhibits. “We have had an insect problem that we think is now under control. But mounted specimens need careful handling and conservation,” she said.
Foote enjoyed the stalking of the animals. In earlier interviews, he remembered growing up in Myrtle where he lived on a farm and was charged with protecting livestock from predators. He recalled killing his first rabbit when he was seven years old. In his travels for hunting the big game, Foote had several close calls. He recalled wounding a lion in Africa and after chasing the creature into a thicket, realized that he did not know where the wounded animal was. He did eventually bag the king of the jungle, without being injured. He also told of times in North American when he slipped and almost fell off a mountain. This worldwide hunter thought that hunting in North America was probably the most dangerous place he ever hunted due to the mountainous terrain.
Hunting in Africa brought a different kind of awareness to the Union Countian. “Chico was mindful of the poverty in many of the areas he hunted. He would only bring out the clothes that he was wearing in many instances, leaving his goods there to help the natives of the area. Even at the high cost of permits, as much as $750 in the 1970s, he would kill game to feed villagers in Tanzania,” Smith related.
The tragic murders of Chico and Charlotte Foote make exhibiting their trophies poignant. “They were both wonderful people, and we all miss them and wish things were otherwise, Smith said. He lives on through it and this is a way for him to be remembered.
For more information about the exhibit, call the museum at 538-0014. The museum is located at 114 Cleveland Street and the hours are Tuesday – Friday, 10 – 5 and Saturday 10 – 3. Groups are welcome; call first to schedule. Holiday closings are for the Christmas holiday Dec. 25, 26. 27.