The favorite sketch of Southwestern humor for many readers, "The Big Bear of Arkansas", was written by Thomas Bangs Thorpe. Unlike most Southwestern humorists, Thorpe was born in 1815 in Massachusetts and spent his youth in New York--not the South. He attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut in 1834-35 and studied art and painting. In 1836, partly as a result of poor health, Thorpe joined several of his Southern classmates and moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he would live for twenty years. He worked as a painter of Southern aristocrats and later in editing and journalism. In 1839, Thorpe's first story, "Tom Owen, the Bee-Hunter", appeared in Porter's Spirit of the Times -- the common starting point for most Southwestern humorists.
Though sharing the same starting ground as other humorists, Thorpe is unique in many ways. Although he spent much of his adult life in the South, Thorpe retained his loyalty to the ideals of the North. He served as a colonel in the Union Army and he published an anti-slavery reform novel, The Master's House: A Tale of Southern Life in 1854. Yet despite the inconsistencies that Thorpe presents within the general biography of Southwestern humorists "The Big Bear of Arkansas" is one of the finest examples of the genre. Thorpe retained a sense of respect for the people of the Southwest which reveals itself in the dignity of Jim Doggett in "The Big Bear of Arkansas". Thorpe created the best example of the mighty hunter in Southwestern humorist literature. His reverance for nature and nostalgia for the past were popular with the sentiment of his time. Many of Thorpe's stories, published together in The Mysteries of the Backwoods" (1846) were translated into French, German and Italian. He later published a revised version of his stories in The Hive of "The Beehunter" (1854).