The family of James Riley Bevell (1854-1940) and Alice Virginia Appleton (1859-1939) was another of those Latter-day Saint families who joined the Church in the 19th century Southern States who did not migrate west, but who stayed at home to form the nucleus of today’s wards and stakes. The Bevells were baptized in Panola County, Mississippi, in 1882. Traces of their ongoing commitment to their religion can be found in the names of sons Parley Pratt (1891-1973) and perhaps Golden Ross (1899-1969).
Son James Blaine Bevell (1892-1968) was baptized in 1901. He lived in Panola County most of his life, working as a hired laborer and later as a farmer. He married Annie Belle Wilson (1893-1977) in 1911; she joined the Church by 1917, and the couple raised their children as Latter-day Saints.
The Depression hit hard in places like Panola County, and in 1936 Blaine Bevell found himself out of work, with a wife and seven children to support. He took every opportunity that presented itself to earn a few dollars, no matter how difficult or even dangerous the work was. It was never more than enough to scrape by.
In 1937, a traveling carnival came to Batesville, Mississippi. Blaine sought temporary work there; none was available. Then he learned that the carnival had a huge black bear, and that if any local man were willing to wrestle that bear, he would earn a small percentage of the price of tickets sold to those who wanted to watch the wrestling match. Blaine took the challenge.
Blaine entered the ring, cheered on by the whistles and shouts of the crowd, and circled the bear, who sniffed at the man, then charged him. Blaine was knocked to the ground but jumped back to his feet. The bear rose on his hind legs, then swatted at the man with one of his enormous paws, and Blaine was again knocked to the ground. He rose a little more slowly that time.
When he approached the bear the third time, the animal seized him around the chest, nearly crushing his ribcage as he threw the man to the ground again.
Blaine kept staggering to his feet; the bear kept knocking him down. Four times.
Finally, after nine brutal bear hugs or knockdowns that left him bruised, winded, and in pain, Blaine fulfilled the terms of his contract, and the “wrestling match” was ended. The battered man collected his share of the gate – one dollar and eighty cents.
We know about this event because a missionary thought it worthwhile to note the details when he recorded that Blaine Bevell paid 18 cents tithing, and bore his testimony that when he paid his tithing he had “never been without money or the necessities of life. Nor is this their only blessing, for he has raised a large family in the ways of the Gospel. The law of tithing is a vital part of their religion.”