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My Family and the Tensas

 

James Martin Willhite, Jr.

 

Madison Coordinator Note: This article by James Martin Willhite, Jr. is one of the most interesting I have ever read. It is an outstanding example of “living off the land.” Although James Martin’s home was just south of the Madison Parish line, most of his adventures were up the Tensas River in Madison. Among the many exciting stories is probably the only eye-witness account of the murder of Norman Frisby by Orlando Flowers. “Jimmie” Willhite died in 2006 and is buried in Tallulah. His obituary can be read by clicking here. RPS (dicksevier@gmail.com) August 2009.

 

Chapter1— Getting Settled

Chapter 2 — Buffalo Fish

Chapter 3 — Catching Catfish

Chapter 4 — Catfish and Frogs

Chapter 5 — Alligators

Chapter 6 — Alligator Gar

Chapter 7 — Depression Years

Chapter 8 — The Turkey Hunt

Chapter 9 — We Become Experts

Chapter 10 — The Frisby House

Chapter 11 — Coming of Age

Chapter 12 — Oliver the Trapper

 

Chapter 1
Getting Settled

 

This is a short chapter about the Tensas River Wildlife Refuge and how it related to one family. It begins in 1933 and the events leading up to 1935 are a story within itself. I will begin with the first time I saw what was to become my home for the rest of my childhood and young adult life.

 

January 6, 1935, Jim and Etta Willhite finished moving the last load of their belongings and their nine children from White's Ferry, which is about seven miles north of West Monroe, LA to Flowers Landing, which is about ten miles northwest of Newellton, LA. Etta and six of the nine children had moved a few months earlier and Derwood, Oliver and I had stayed behind to take care of what was left of our belongings.

 

At his time I was a tall, skinny, wild eyed eight year old and the whole world, and all that was in it, was one continuous fairytale. For the past couple of years I had listened to the old folks tell tall tales about huge buck deer, as big as cows, bear that weighed six hundred pounds, wild turkeys that stood shirt pocket high and wild hogs that could shear a person's leg off with one vicious blow. Buffalo fish that weighed forty pounds and alligators ten feet long. We were assured we would see all of this when we got to the Tensas woods. I could hardly wait to see it all myself.

 

January 6, 1935, was a cold, cloudy miserable day with occasional light rain. The gravel road ended about a mile and a half from our house and we got stuck twice trying to get home. When we finally arrived at what was to be my home for many years, there was a roaring fire in a 55 gallon drum we used for a heater and Mother had a big hot pot of Irish stew on the stove. After eating a lions share of hot food and getting warm by the heater I was one tired eight year old. I almost fell into bed and was asleep by the time my head hit the pillow.

 

When I woke up the next morning I could tell it was beginning to get daylight. I started to get out of bed and found that the bed, floor, and the whole room was covered with a half inch of snow. I put on all the clothes I could find and went downstairs. Derwood was already up and adding wood to the heater. I went outside to see what I could see.

 

What I saw was a far cry from what I expected. For over a year we had been told that we would live in a two story house when we moved to Tensas. I had visualized a fancy two story home like the ones you see on big ranches and plantations. Well, it was two story alright. It had two rooms upstairs. It was built with mill run oak and sweet gum lumber and there were no battens over the cracks on the walls. The roof was made of rough oak boards that had warped and curled up on the sides to a point that you could see the sky through the cracks.

 

I walked to the edge of the woods (which was about twenty five yards from the house) to look for game. I saw nothing. I walked to the other side of the house and went a short distance into the woods and stood a long time (fifteen minutes). I still didn't see any game. By then I was getting cold so I went back into the house. Derwood asked, " Where have you been?" I told him I had been hunting on both sides of the house and did not see a single deer, bear, wild hog or anything—not even a wild turkey. Looking back on it now I know it must have been amusing to him but he didn't laugh nor make fun of me. Being the kind of person he was, he sat me down and patiently explained that game didn't come near peoples' houses. If you want to see game you have to go deep into the big woods and hunt them. I was very {missing words} the big woods someone else would have already killed all of the game and I would never have a chance to hunt the big animals.

 

A few weeks later Dad came in from his trap run and said there was a large bunch of wild hogs using {?} in the Blueline Break, Ridge Lake area. He said the next day he, Derwood and Oliver would take the dogs and try to get some fresh pork. I asked if I could go with them. Dad said " No". I insisted that I had never been hog hunting and I really wanted to go. Dad still said no. When I awoke the next morning I could. hear Dad, Derwood, and Oliver moving around downstairs. I put on my clothes and went down to make one final plea to go with them. Dad started to say no again when Derwood said if he would let me go he would take care of me and see that I didn't get hurt. Dad said, "boy you are only eight years old. You are too little to be running around in those big woods." Then he said to Derwood, "I will let him go, but if you let him get hurt you will answer to your Mama." Derwood said again "I will take care of him."

 

When we left the house the sky was turning pale in the east. I knew it would soon be daylight. We loaded the dogs into the boat and paddled up the Tensas River about two miles and landed the boat on the Frisby Bend side of the river. We went over the river hill and started walking west toward the lower end of the Blueline Break. What we saw was almost beyond imagination, especially to an eight year old kid. There stood the biggest trees I had ever seen. There were Oak and Sweet Gum trees that were six feet in diameter and looked like they were well over a hundred feet tall. Some of these giant trees had limbs that were as big as most of the largest trees I had ever seen.

 

We walked around the lower end of the Blueline Break and started up the back side toward ridge Lake. What we saw there was even more impressive. As we continued along the side of the break we started seeing huge cypress trees that were twice as big as the Gum and Oak trees had already seen. By the time we were a few hundred yards up the Break these gigantic cypress trees were so thick they looked as if they could have been planted by some prehistoric people. I asked Derwood how these trees could get so large. He explained that this was virgin timber that had never been cut since the world began. All of this happened sixty one years ago and at times I can still close my eyes and visualize those majestic trees I saw the first time I went into the big woods of the Tensas.

 

When we were several hundred yards up the break the dogs bayed off to our left in a thicket. We slipped up close and eased into the thicket where we could see the hogs. When we started into the thicket Derwood told me to stay close to him and keep quiet. I said OK. What he didn't know was I was sticking to him like a leech. I wasn't going to let one of the big boars slice my legs off. There were about fifteen hogs in the group. The dogs were holding them close. Dad picked out three nice gilts he wanted to kill and pointed out to Derwood and Oliver which ones to shoot. When Dad said shoot! they shot, the bunch broke and a big sow came out by us. Oliver started to shoot her but Dad said no" Afterward Dad explained we had three hogs on the ground and didn't need any more meat. Then he said never kill any more game than you need to eat. If everyone did this there would always be game to hunt. Dad field dressed the three hogs and headed home.

 

This ended my first trip into the big woods of the Tensas and my first lesson in wildlife conservation. I was only eight years old at this time. I have spent most of my life on or around the vast wildlife reserve. It has been a wonderful and exciting life with the fondest of memories.

 

Chapter 2
Buffalo Fish

 

This story continues from the day Dad, Oliver, Derwood and I went hog hunting and killed three hogs. Dad continued running his traps every day and all of the kids except O.D. and Nita (my oldest brother and sister) and the three babies went to school.

 

Dad had not sold any fur since before Christmas and had about fifty prime coon hides and some other fur on hand. A fur buyer came by the house one day and asked Mother if Dad had any fur for sale. She said he had a lot of hides but she was not sure he wanted to sell yet. The buyer asked Mother to tell Dad he would be back the next day and make him a good price for the hides.

 

Dad stayed home and met the with the fur buyer. He knew how much the hides were worth because he had a price list from F.C. Taylor in St. Louis, MO and Sears Roebuck in Chicago, IL.

 

When the fur buyer arrived he and Dad had a cup of coffee and got down to business. Three hours and two pots of coffee later Dad sold the hides to the buyer. Dad later said he might have gotten more for the hides by shipping them but he needed the money then to buy material to build hoop nets for the buffalo run that would soon come. A couple days later, Dad and Oliver went to Jonesville, LA and bought a truck load of hoop net material.

 

After that Dad would run the traps every day. When he got home and stretched his hides he would knit on his nets until bedtime. When the trapping season was over he had knitted several nets. Mother also knew how to knit nets and she taught Nita and O.D. how. In all they knitted about fifteen nets.

 

Even though a lot of things was going on such as clearing land, preparing the land for a garden, set out cabbage and onion sets in the garden, most of the conversation around the supper table was centered around the buffalo run. I could hardly wait to see if I could see any fish. Saw none. Once, after looking into water for a long time and not seeing any fish, I told Derwood I thought everyone was wasting their time making all those nets. That I had spent a lot of time watching the water and had not seen a single forty pound fish. Derwood said, "It is not time to catch the buffalo fish. Wait until the rains come and the river rises, then you will see more buffalo fish than you can ever imagine. Tensas River has millions of them and you will see them when the time comes.

 

Dad hooped and hung the nets. He, O.D. and Oliver fired up the tar, tarred the nets and hung them up to dry. Dad said, when the rains come we will be ready. Dad, Oliver and Derwood spent the next few days clearing out net sets along the river banks. Dad built a huge 8x8x8x ft. live box and floated it with two dry logs. He also made a large dipnet with a handle about ten feet long.

 

Finally the rains came. It poured down for two days and nights. Tensas River rose ten feet almost overnight. Dad waited until the river crested and started to fall. Then he set out the nets. At first he didn't catch many fish. The first day he caught about two hundred pounds. That was a lot of fish to me but Dad seemed to be disappointed. The river continued to fall and Dad changed net sets several times. During this time he was catching two to three hundred pounds of fish per day. He put them in the live box until he had about one thousand pounds, then he carried them to the market.

 

Soon the rains came again and Dad caught more and more fish. First it was four hundred, then six, then eight until by the middle of the running season he was catching a thousand pounds per day. Every chance I had I went to the landing and waited for Dad and others to come in from raising the nets to see if they caught a forty pound buffalo. It wasn't until the latter part of the running season that they finally caught a forty pounder. Within the next few weeks they caught several forty and even a couple fifty pounders.

 

The big woods of the Tensas and the river itself had again lived up to my wildest expectation. In this short time I had seen the giant trees, the wild hogs and now I had seen the huge forty pound buffalo fish. As seen through the eyes of this wide eyed eight year old, the big woods of the Tensas had to be the most wonderful place on earth.

 

Chapter 3
Catching Catfish

 

By the middle of May, 1935, the buffalo run was slowing down, the water level in Tensas River had already fallen to low water and then started rising again. There was a slow current going upstream. The water was clear instead of being muddy like it had been all spring. I heard Dad tell Mother the back water was taking over the river and the buffalo run was over. He said the river was dead and he was going to take the nets up and start on something else.

 

This upset me very much. I was eight years old and I thought if there was no more buffalo to be caught, all of the fish in the river must have left and if the river was dead then it may never be any fish in it.

 

I ran outside to find Derwood to ask him what this all meant. I found him, Oliver and O.D. clearing land at the back side of the new ground. When I approached him he asked, now what? I explained what Dad said about there not being any more buffalo fish to catch and also about the river being dead. Derwood sat me down on a log and said Dad didn't mean the buffalo were dead or had left the river. What he meant was they were no longer going up stream where they could be easily caught in the hoop nets. As for the river, it is not dead either. When a body of water has no current it is considered as dead water. I assure you millions of buffalo are still in the river and when the back water leaves the Tensas River will again have current flowing and it will be very much alive. I was greatly relieved. I was so afraid we had lost our beautiful river I had learned to love so well.

 

Dad took up his hoop nets, dried them and put them away. He went to town and bought two boxes of trotline material. He and Mother made about ten trotlines, each of which was long enough to reach across the river. I knew a little about trotlines. I knew you put the lines out, put hooks on them, baited them and the catfish would try to get the bait and get caught. What I didn't know was, what kind of bait he was going to use and where was he going to find enough to bait all those hooks. A couple days later I found out.

 

Dad built two dipnets. They were about three feet in diameter. He used half inch hardware cloth for webbing. They were thin, disk like nets with long handles. The first time I saw them used I was amazed. Dad, Oliver, Derwood, John A. (a brother two years older than me) and I, had walked into the big woods about a mile and half to a big cypress break. When we arrived at the edge of the break we could see several schools of small grentel piping in the break.

 

We waded out to one of the schools and Dad slipped his net under it and quickly lifted it up fast. I was astonished at the number of small grentel he caught in just that one dip. There must have been several hundred of them. We waded from one school to the other until we had two five gallon cans full of catfish bait.

 

When we returned home, Dad, Oliver and Derwood set the trot lines out and baited them. The next morning they got up early to raise the lines. When they returned to the landing, John A. and I were there to see how many fish they caught. To my surprise they had a half boat load of catfish. Dad said they had about three hundred pounds. They put the fish in the live box and covered it with poultry wire to keep them from jumping out. I asked Derwood if they caught any forty pounders. He said they did not, but they caught several that weighed over twenty pounds. Dad said, we will catch plenty forty pounders before this season is over. They are in this river and I will catch them."

 

Dad was right, By the end of the trotline season he caught thousands of pounds of catfish, many of them weighed forty pounds and more. Thus the big woods of the Tensas and the Tensas River had again proved its greatness. To this starry eyed eight year old, it was truly a land of milk and honey.

 

Chapter 4
Catfish and Frogs

 

The catfish season in the Tensas River was relatively short when compared to the buffalo season. On a good year it lasted four to six weeks. When I speak of a season I mean a period of time when what you are fishing, or hunting for is most plentiful or is easiest to catch. In 1935 the catfishing season was over well before the first of July. When it was over Dad took up his trotlines, dried them, and put them away until another year.

 

During the months of May and June nothing was going on with the big woods or the Tensas River except the catfishing which didn't take up very much time. That gave Dad some time to work on the house. He put battens on the outside walls and also fixed some of the holes in the roof.

 

Dad came home from town one day and said he thought he would try to catch some bull frogs. He said Mr. Hugo, who owned Hugo's Market said he would pay fourteen cents per pound for all the frogs we could catch.

 

Now this frog hunting thing didn't sound very interesting to me. I had a run in with a big frog a couple years before and I didn't want to go back through that again. I was playing in the garden while Mother picked some snap beans. I found a huge toad frog. I picked it up and turned it over so I could see its' belly. It squirted a stream of water as big around as a pencil straight into my face, all in my hair, all over the front of my shirt and in my eyes. I threw that critter as far as I could and ran to Mother screaming and crying at the top of my voice. She took me into the house and washed me and put some dry clothes on. Derwood heard all of the commotion and came inside to see what happened. Mother explained what happened. Derwood said, "Well, if you had kept your mouth open you would not have gotten the mess in your face." I hated him for at least thirty minutes.

 

Dad bought two pair of frog grabs. I had never seen frog grabs before. They looked like huge crawfish claws and were spring loaded. They had a trigger that snapped the jaws shut when you hit something with it. At first I was deathly afraid of frog grabs. Dad made a cypress handle for each pair of grabs. The handle was about eight feet long and had a paddle on one end. He fastened the grabs to the other end. Then he, Oliver and Derwood started practicing catching things with the grabs. They soon found that two corn cobs made a perfect target to practice on.

 

On their first frog hunt Dad and Oliver left the house about three o'clock in the afternoon. They took frog grabs, three burlap sacks, a carbide headlight and a small lunch. Dad said he wanted to hunt all the way to Fool River. In order to do so he would have to be well up the Tensas River before dark or he could not get back before daylight the next day.

 

When daylight came I woke up, woke John A. up and asked if he thought Dad and Oliver had made home yet. He said if you want to know, get up and go see, I'm going back to sleep. When I got up to see that Oliver was not in his bed, I went downstairs and Dad was not in his bed. I went to the river bend and the boat was not at the landing. I ran back to the house to tell John A. They were still not back. Derwood woke and asked what all the racket was about. I told him Dad and Oliver had not come home and I was afraid they were lost in the Big Woods. He explained, it was twelve miles from here to Fool River. They probably didn't get more than half way there before dark yesterday. That old big boat was heavy and hard to paddle. It just took more time than they thought is would. Don't worry about it they will be home soon.

 

Derwood was right, as usual, and a few minutes later I saw Dad and Oliver coming across the new ground from the river. I ran to meet them and asked Oliver how many they caught. He said a whole bunch. I could see he had all he could carry in one sack. I was hoping for a more exact number, but I could see I wasn't going to get it, at least for then.

 

When we arrived at the house Dad told Oliver and Derwood to get back to the river and bring the other two sacks up the hill. Now all of this put me in a heck of a bind. I wanted to run down to the boat landing to see what was in the other two sacks. I also wanted to hear what Dad would tell Mother about the hunt. I decided to stay and listen to what Dad said.

 

Dad told Mother they made it to the Brick Mansion before it was dark enough to light the carbide light. He said as soon as he lit up he started catching frogs. By the time they reached Fool River they had almost filled one sack with frogs. They decided to hunt up Fool River a short distance. By the time they hunted a mile they had filled one sack and started on another. He decided to head for home. He said it was a long twelve mile hunt back home and it got daylight about two miles before they made it.

 

Derwood and Oliver brought the other two sacks of frogs and laid them near the pump beside the first sack. Dad told Mother to start breakfast and everyone else would dress the frogs. Derwood brought two No. 3 wash tubs and put them near the pump. We took turns pumping water. The moment I had been waiting for was fast approaching. I couldn't wait to see my first bull frog. I had been wondering what they might look like ever since Dad brought the frog grabs home. I had decided they couldn't be as big as the huge toad I had a run in with a couple of years ago, but the way everyone had been talking about their size, they probably didn't like much. Dad untied one of the sacks and told me to hold the sack closed. Then he showed me how to hold the sack open enough for him to get his hand inside and get a frog, then tighten it back when he pulled the frog out. I gripped the sack with both hands. When dad was ready I let a little slack and he fished inside and pulled the frog out. I wasn't prepared for what I saw.

 

When Dad pulled that monster out of the sack it scared me half to death. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but he wiped the back of my hand and my arm clear to my elbow with that monster's feet. I screamed to the top of my voice, turned loose of the sack and ran like a streak. The sack turned over and about a half dozen frogs got loose. Dad grabbed the sack and closed it. Everybody else was running after the frogs that got loose. It was a total state of confusion. I was backed up against the wall scared half to death. I just knew I was fixing to get a good whipping.

 

Soon everything settled down. All of the frogs were back in the sack and we were ready to get started again. Dad looked at me and in a strong voice said, "Boy get over here and hold this sack, and I mean hold it this time. Well, it was decision making time again. I had two choices. I could get over there and handle those monster frogs with mouths big enough to swallow my whole hand, or I could face Dad's razor strap. I chose the frogs.

 

When the frogs were dressed we all went inside and ate breakfast. Mother and Derwood carried the frogs to Hugo's Market. Dad and Oliver went to bed and the rest of us did whatever we were supposed to do. When Dad woke up that evening I heard Mother tell him there was over a hundred pounds of the frogs. Dad said, "This frog hunting might be a way to make some good money. There are plenty of them out there. It will be hard work, but it might be worth it".

 

For the next few weeks Dad, Oliver and Derwood did nothing but frog hunt. Every hunt they made they caught a hundred pounds or more. It seemed there was no end to how many frogs there was out there. As for this bright eyed eight year old, I could care less how many there was out there. As far as I was concerned they could stay out there. I hated frogs.

 

Chapter 5

Alligators

 

By September 1935, Dad turned the frog hunting over to Derwood and Oliver. They had hunted Tensas River from Alligator Bayou to the Newlight Ferry several times. Every time they hunted they caught fewer frogs. It had reached the point where they were catching fifty pounds or less each hunt. Dad decided it was time to try something else.

 

We were all gathered at the breakfast table one morning when Dad announced that he thought we can make some money hunting alligators. He said Hugo would pay a dollar a foot for all of the alligator hides we could get. Oliver, Derwood, John, and the older kids seemed to get excited about the prospects of hunting alligators. As for me, I wasn't too thrilled. I wanted to get involved with the monsters. I had never seen an alligator but I had seen pictures of them and looked pretty mean to me.

 

After breakfast I followed Derwood outside and asked him if we were going to catch those big alligators. He said, "We are not going to catch them with our hands. We hunt them at night. We will shine their eyes with a headlight and paddle on up to them and shoot them. Then we will roll them into the boat. There will not be any danger as long as we do it right."

 

At dinner time that same day Dad said we were going alligator hunting that night. He said he needed a lot of help and that he, Oliver, Derwood, John A. and I would go. We left the house around three o'clock and paddled the boat about two miles up the Tensas River to what we called the Blue Line. Dad had rigged the boat with a rope about ten feet long attached to the front and a short rope on each side. He cut three short sticks and tied them to the front rope and the two side ropes. Then he cut a longer stick and tied it to the long front rope about four feet from the boat. When all this was done we pulled the boat up the river hill and started the long two and one half miles to Lake Nick.

 

As I said before, that old cypress boat was heavy. It proved to be almost too heavy to be pulled that far, even with five of us pulling it. On the first pull we made it about a quarter of a mile before we rested. After that we pulled it shorter and shorter between rests. By the time we left the Blue Line we were pulling it a hundred yards or so between rests. Some how Dad made a wrong turn and we wound up in a palmetto thicket instead of open flat land like we were supposed to be in. Dad had to backtrack to find out where we were. This gave the rest of us some much needed rest. When Dad returned he said we had to go to our right. We went to our right and to our surprise we were within a hundred yards of where we were supposed to be. We followed the edge of the flat land (which we called the Lake Nick roughs) a couple hundred yards and found Lake Nick. It was a beautiful little woods lake about a half mile long. It was lined with huge cypress trees on both sides much like the ones we saw on Blue Line Break when we were hog hunting. There was a thick stand of button willow bushes all around the lake with limbs extended into the water. It was a beautiful place to see.

 

Duck hunters from the Sharkey Club House had cleared a small camp ground and boat landing. We put the boat in the lake then we all rested. When we had rested awhile Dad said it was time to gather some wood for a fire. He said we needed enough to keep a big fire all night. Derwood asked him why we needed a big fire all night. He said there was two reasons for the fire. One was to warm the alligators so we could skin them and another reason was to keep the wolves back away from the alligator meat.

 

Now all of this was beginning to get to be a little too much for me. This was only the second time I had been in the big woods of the Tensas. The first time I had to look out for big boar hogs that could cut your legs off. Now it was alligators big enough swallow you whole. On top of that there was wolves that could tear you to shreds. I knew there were wolves in the big woods. I had heard them howl many times across the river from home. I just had not associated them with alligator hunting.

 

Mother had packed us a big lunch of venison and biscuits. We ate supper and built a big fire. By then it was dark. Dad lit the headlight and he and Oliver got in the boat and paddled up the lake. They hadn't gone far when we heard Dad shoot. About ten minutes later he shot again. Then he shot a third time. Soon we saw them coming back to the landing. When they landed the boat we went to see what they had killed. When I saw what they had I was shocked. They had three huge alligators that almost filled up that big old boat. Oliver and Derwood pulled them up the bank and placed them near the fire. Dad explained that alligators had to be skinned a certain way or the hides would be worthless. He showed us exactly how to do it. When he was sure we knew how, he said, "Don't cut the hide. Every nick you make in a hide will cost you a whole foot of hide. Be careful not to cut any holes in it."

 

Derwood straddled one of the gators and cut a deep gash along the rough hide on top of his boat. When he did that the gator literally came unhitched. He swung his tail from side to side with enough power to throw a man twenty feet. Derwood rolled off the gator's back and kept rolling until he was out of reach of the tail. He sprang to his feet warmed.

 

By the time we skinned the three alligators. Dad and Oliver came with two more. We placed them in the fire to warm. While we were waiting for them to warm we heard a lone wolf howl far to the west toward Tensas River. When we were through skinning the two alligators we heard the wolf howl again. This time he was more than a quarter of a mile away. Dad and Oliver came in with three alligators. We told them about the wolf and Dad said keep the fire burning high and there will be no danger. About the time he was finished skinning the last three alligators the wolf howled again. This time he was no more than two hundred miles {yards?} away. Another howled about a half mile to southwest toward Singer Shack. Another wolf put in about a quarter mile to the Northwest toward Mound Bayou. Soon they sounded like they were howling to each other. We could tell that each time they howled they were closer to us. The fire was burned down and Derwood told me to put some wood to it. The woodpile was about thirty feet from the fire. I was about half way to it and found that I couldn't see it very well. I ran back to the fire and told Derwood if he wanted more wood he would have to go with me to get it. We all three went to the wood pile together. On the way back to the fire I saw Derwood glance back a couple times just in case.

 

Dad and Oliver had been up the lake a long time. We had not heard them shoot. We counted the hides and found that we had twelve. We now had three packs of wolves nearby. We could hear them growling and snarling at each other. The pack to the west was less than a hundred yards away. The other two packs were closing in from both sides. They had all quit howling and was just growling and snarling. We could hear them walking in the leaves and rattling the palmetto. We added more wood to the fire.

 

Finally we saw Dad's light coming down the lake. When they were less than a hundred yards from the landing Dad shot. We could hear them pull the alligator into the boat. When they reached the landing we found they had killed a small five footer. Oliver pulled it up the hill and placed it by the fire. Upon their arrival the wolves backed off a bit but we could still hear them on three sides of us. Oliver suggested we pull a couple of the big carcasses to the thickets and let the wolves have them. Then maybe they would leave us alone. Dad said, we cannot do that. As it is now the wolves have only smelled the fresh meat. If they ever taste it they will try to take it all and we cannot fight them off. Just keep the fire going and there will be no danger."

 

Dad asked how many hides we had. Derwood said we had thirteen. Dad said there was a huge alligator that he had been trying to get a shot at all night but he wouldn't let him get close enough. He said he wanted to make one more try before daylight. He and Oliver went back up the lake and Derwood, John A. and I skinned the small gator.

 

As soon as Dad and Oliver left the three packs of wolves moved back in close. They started snarling and growling and moving in even closer than before. Derwood cut three green sticks we could use for clubs, just in case we had to have them. Before long we heard Dad shoot, then a couple minutes later another shot. We wondered if he had killed two more alligators. I really hoped he had not killed any more. I was tired, hungry and scared half to death of those wolves. All I wanted was to go home and get some food and rest. We saw Dad's light pulling into the landing. About the time they landed the boat all hell broke loose. Two of the big wolves started fighting. Soon they were joined by another and another and another. It sounded like all three packs were engaged in a gang fight. Some of them were screaming in pain, others were making ferocious noises that sounded as if they were trying to kill the other. The fight went on and on. It seemed it would never end.

 

Finally it suddenly ended. When I say suddenly I mean instantly. One second there was this vicious battle and the next second, total silence. It was almost unbelievable. We all stood in total silence for a couple of minutes, then Dad said, that's it, it's all over, we don't have to worry about wolves anymore tonight." Dad had killed the big alligator he was looking for. It was a huge monster. Dad said he was a big bull gator and guessed he was eight feet long. It took Dad, Oliver and Derwood all three to pull it up to the fire. Oliver asked Dad if they were going back hunting again. Dad said, when we skin this big one we will have fourteen hides. That's enough. There is only three or four left in the lake. We will leave them to raise another crop.

 

When they finished skinning the big gator it was getting daylight. We rolled the hides into tight rolls and put them in burlap sacks. Then we put them and everything else in the big boat and headed for home. When we were leaving I took one more look at all of those alligator carcasses. It looked like a slaughter house.

 

This ended my second trip to the Big Woods of the Tensas. I am now older and more grown up than before. In two weeks I would be nine years old.

 

Chapter 6
Alligator Gar

 

Another creature that contributed to a great deal to our livelihood was the alligator gar. Anyone who did not actually see these magnificent creatures back then can not possibly imagine their size and numbers.

 

We had been living at Flower's Landing two or three years when Uncle Carl Willhite (Dad's brother) moved in about a half mile up the Tensas river from our house. He had a small cypress boat made of one-half inch lumber. He kept it treated with linseed oil and it was very light. Two people could drag it anywhere they wanted to go. When we wanted to hunt any of the woods lakes where we needed a boat he would loan it to us. We often borrowed it to pull across the bends of Tensas River and then hunt all the way around the bend to where we began.

 

Dad and Oliver borrowed the boat one day to go frog hunting around McGill Bend. They paddled up Tensas River to Stewart's Camp which was about a half mile down river from Democrat Bayou. (Stewart's Camp was a small camp house that was used by game wardens and timber wardens when they were working in that area). Then they dragged the boat north across McGill Bend to Squirrel Tail Bayou, which is a small bayou that drains into Tensas River from the Hunters Bend side, a distance of about a mile and a quarter. From Squirrel Tail Bayou to Flowers Landing is about twenty two miles if you follow the river all the way around McGill Bend.

 

I will tell the story as Dad told to the family the next day. Dad said, "When it got dark we lit the carbide light and started catching frogs. About a half mile from where we started two large gar were feeding on shad. They looked as if they each weighed a hundred pounds or more. There was a lot of shoals in the river and we saw huge gar on almost every one of them. When we reached Parker Boy Bayou we heard a noise that sounded like a drove of large animals splashing around in the water. Parker Boy shoal is about two hundred yards down river from the mouth of Parker Boy Bayou. As we approached the upper end of the shoal we started seeing millions of shad feeding in the shallow water. The loud splashing was getting more intense. Ahead of us we could see huge splashes of water being thrown ten or fifteen feet into the air. When we were half way across the shoal we saw a huge gar swimming up stream against the current. He swam right past our boat not more than four feet away. Just as he passed the back of our boat he rolled over and threw water high into the air. Dad shined the light down river and could see the water was in constant turmoil for a hundred yards. When we got near the confusion we started seeing the most and largest bunch of gar I had ever seen. I didn't know what to do. We were in Carl's little boat and I was afraid one of those huge gar might attack it. If that happened we might not survive. We landed the boat and stood on the bank awhile just looking at the huge creatures. There were millions of shad and dozens of huge gar. Finally I told Oliver if we could make it a hundred yards we would be off of the shoal and I thought we would be safe. We got in the boat and slowly drifted off of the shoal. We saw several huge gar as we drifted down stream. When we reached deep water we didn't see any more gar until we reached Fool River Shoal.

 

When we reached the mouth of Fool River, which was half mile from the shoal, we could still hear the loud splashing behind us. We saw several big gar on the Fool River shoal and some of the other shoals on the way home but nothing compared to what we saw on the Parker Boy shoal. Dad decided he could build a strong gig with long beards and gig the big gar. He worked all day building the gig. It had two prongs made of half inch steel rods about ten inches long with one inch beards. It had a strong cypress handle about eight feet long. The next day around noon, Dad, Oliver, Derwood, John A. and I left home heading for Parker Boy shoal to gig gar. It is about thirteen miles from Flowers Landing to Parker Boy Bayou. With all five of us paddling we made good time. We arrived at the shoal before dark. We ate a small lunch Mother had prepared. Then we sat on the river bank and waited until dark.

 

About sundown the shads started moving into the shallow water. Forty or fifty Buffalo fish also moved onto the shoal and started feeding in the shallow water, but no gar could be seen. Dad lit the headlight and watched the river for the gar. The shad kept getting thicker and thicker in the shallow water until it looked as if there was one huge school that reached from bank to bank in the river. Soon there was a loud splash in the water about twenty yards up river from our boat. Then another huge splash near the middle of the river. Dad said, "It sounds like they are moving in. Let's try them".

 

We got into the boat and shoved it toward the middle of the river. The water was about three feet deep and very clear. Dad saw a big gar in front of and off the right of the boat. He motioned for us to turn the boat toward the gar. When he was exactly where he wanted to be he raised the gig high and slammed it into the side of the big gar with all of his strength. Both prongs of the gig hit the gar about ten inches behind the gills. When the gig hit the big gar he rolled over and reversed direction all in one movement. This created a huge boil and splash and water was thrown high in the air wetting everyone in the boat. Like a streak the big gar headed down stream rolling and splashing water as he went. The big gig pole was popping like a kite tail. About forty yards down stream the huge creature made one last leap into the air and the gig came out. One moment there was turmoil in the water, the next moment there was total silence. We drifted down to the gig and Dad picked it up and examined it. There was meat on both beards of the gig. We could not understand how the gar could have possibly gotten off.

 

All of the noise and turmoil created by the first gar caused most of the other gar to move out of the shallow water. We shoved the boat back up stream to the upper end of the shoal and did not see another gar. We turned around and started back across the shoal. We were about half way back across the shallow water when we found a big gar hiding beside a log. We moved the boat in close and Dad again threw the gig into the big gar. Again the big gar rolled and boiled the water and headed down stream. This time he went about twenty yards when the gig came out. Dad said, "This is not going to work. We are going to have to find another way to get these big gar." We headed home. On the way home Dad gigged several more gar and every one of them got off the gig. When we were about a half mile down stream from Republican Bayou, Dad saw, what he said was the biggest gar he had ever seen. He threw the gig at him but the water was deeper than he thought and the gig passed over the top of him. From the boil he made in the water he had to be a mighty big gar.

 

Dad had three buffalo gigs that were made by a man in West Monroe, Louisiana. The two prongs were about seven inches long and was made of quarter inch spring steel. It had hinged beards which were about one inch long. The points were tapered from the inside of the gig. When the gig hit a fish the beards folded up against the prongs. When the fish pulled on the gig the beards opened up and there was no way the fish could get off. To get the gig out of the fish you had to push the prongs all the way through the fish and wrap the beards with a soft strip of cloth to keep them from opening up. Then the prongs could be pulled out of the fish.

 

Dad placed one of the buffalo gigs beside the big gig he had made. He examined them very closely. He turned one of them over, then the other. When he had examined them a long time he said, "I now know why the big gig would not stay in the big gar. There are several reasons. First, the prongs are too big, and secondly they were not tapered from he inside. A cut beard gig must have prongs limber enough to spring open slightly when it strikes a fish then spring back together when it is in the fish. To make them spring open the prongs must be tapered from the inside. If we gig the big gar we will have to have a better gig.

 

The strongest of the three buffalo gigs was one we called Carl's gig. Actually it belonged to Uncle Jack (another one of Dad's brothers). It was slightly bigger than the other two and stronger built. Dad decided if he made a stronger handle and used stronger leather straps to fasten the gig to the handle it would be strong enough to gig the big gar. He did this and he and Oliver went up the river to try it out. They found big gar on the Mill Bayou shoal. Dad threw the gig into the gar and it glanced off. Dad retrieved it and examined it very carefully. Then he said, "I know what is wrong". He explained, "A buffalo gig has prongs that are blunt ended. This is to prevent the points from penetrating the scales and preventing the gig from going through the fish. This is not true with a gar gig. When gigging gar you must have a gig that has sharp points which will tear between the hard scales and break through the tough hide.

 

The next day Dad sharpened the points on the gig. That night he and Oliver went up the Tensas River to try it again. They returned around midnight with three huge gar. Dad said, "This gig is exactly what we need to get the big gar. We will make a lot of money with it."

 

All the rest of that summer and for several summers to come we hunted the big gar in the Tensas River. Dad was right. We made a lot of money. Hugo paid us six cents per pound for all the gar we could get. Almost any time we hunted all night we would kill a boat load, which was three to four hundred pounds.

 

For the next two years, almost every time any of us passed through the Brick Mansion Hole, we saw the huge gar Dad saw the night we went to Parker Boy Shoal. If it was day time we would see him come up and roll. If it was at night we would hear him roll or sometimes we would see him in the deep water around a tree top. If we had a gig when we saw him he would always move into deep water before we could get a shot at him. Every time Oliver saw the huge creature he would vow that someday he would get him. All of us secretly hoped we would be the one who finally threw the gig that killed him.

 

What we called the Brick Mansion Hole was a wide place in Tensas River that extended from the mouth of Republican Bayou to the Brick Mansion, a distance of a little over a mile. It was about three times as wide as other parts of the river in that area and the water was ten to sixteen feet deep. A lot of big fish lived in this deep hole during the summer months including the monster gar.

 

The largest school of buffalo fish I have ever seen was feeding on a shoal just above the mouth of Republican Bayou. Derwood and I had been frog hunting in Parks Break and was headed home just after daylight. When we approached the shoal from the up stream side we could hardly believe what we saw. There were literally thousands of big buffalo on the shoal. The water was about three feet deep and very clear. We could easily see the fish. It was a scene I will never forget.

 

We were eating dinner one day about the middle of June when Dad said he thought the water was right to gig gar. The river had been down to low water a couple of weeks and was clearing up. He told Oliver, John A. and I to borrow Carl's boat and make the trip around McGill bend. He said he thought we could kill enough gar to justify the trip.

 

When we arrived at Squirrel Tail Bayou it was beginning to get dark. We slid the boat into the water and waited until good dark. Oliver lit the head light and we set off toward home. The first three miles we saw nothing but small twenty or thirty pound gar. We finally killed a sixty pound one on the Camp Ground Shoal. The next big gar we killed was on the Parker Boy Shoal and it only weighed about seventy pounds. We didn't see another gar big enough to kill until we reached Snake Bayou where he killed a small fifty pound one. We were using up a lot of river and not getting many gar. When we passed the mouth of Republican Bayou Oliver said we were a third of the way home and had only three small gar. Then he said, "Maybe we will get the big monster gar tonight." By then we were moving into the Brick Mansion Hole. Oliver said he wanted to hunt the left side of the river. He brightened the carbide head light as bright as it would get and stood in the front of the boat where he could see straight down into the water. We were about a half mile down the side of the hole when we came upon a large overcup acorn tree that had fallen into the river. We moved the boat slowly around the side of the tree top. We were near the end of the tree when Oliver whispered, "Stop." He raised the gig high over his head and held it. Then he lowered it. He raised it again and then lowered it again. Then he said, "It's a log." We started moving the boat forward and Oliver looked across the river then looked back. When he did he said, "Stop, Stop." Then he said, "The huge monster is in that tree top but I cannot hit him from here. We will have to circle around and come back to where I can get him." We turned the boat around and came back to where he had seen the huge gar. This time he raised the gig high and brought it down with all of his strength.

 

When the gig hit the big gar the whole side of the tree top seemed to explode. Mud and water boiled up from the bottom of the river and the huge gar tore out of the tree top and headed for deep water. Oliver said, "That is the monster gar we have been trying to kill for years. Both prongs of the gig are in him right behind the head. We have him now." Well, not quite. It was true the gig was in him in the right place but it as it turned out we were a long way from having him. When the big gar left the tree top he headed down stream. When he reached deep water the gig pole disappeared and that was the last we saw of him for over half an hour.

 

As we paddled down stream looking for the big gar Oliver explained, "When I first saw the big devil I knew it looked like a gar but it was too big. I could not see his eye so I thought it must be a log. When I looked off then back to the tree top I saw his eye. When we circled back I could see both his eye and his body. He still looked like a big log but I knew it was a huge gar. That is when I gigged him.

 

Finally, after going down stream about a quarter mile we saw the end of the gig pole sticking out of the water about six inches. We quietly paddled to it and Oliver caught hold of it and tried to pull it up. When he pulled on the pole the big gar took off down river again. The next time we saw the pole sticking up we were two hundred yards further down. We repeated this over and over again. We would find the pole, pull on it and the gar would snatch it away from us and go another two hundred yards. We went from one end of the deep hole to the other several times. Finally after about two hours of chasing the big gar up and down the river, he started showing signs of weakening. We could lift him high enough to see him but not high enough to hit him with the ax. Oliver would catch hold of the gig pole and shake it and the gar would lunge forward but he wouldn't go but a few yards and then stop, but we still couldn't get his head high enough to hit with the ax. We had to find another way to land him. We decided that I would go on the bank with the ax. John A. would paddle the boat and Oliver would guide the gar into the shallow water and I would hit him with the ax. After trying this three times they finally guided the monster into shallow enough water that I could hit him. I raised the ax high and brought it down hard just behind the head. The battle was over. The monster gar was dead. Oliver leaned backward and let out a loud scream that sounded something like a rebel yell and said "I promised I would some day kill the big monster gar. Now I have kept my promise."

 

It took all three of us quite a long time to get the huge gar into the boat. When we finally did the boat was loaded. There was not more than an inch of the boat above the water on either side. We had to be very careful not to tip it.

 

When we arrived home it was starting to get daylight. We left the gar in the boat and went to the house to tell everyone what we had. Dad, Mother and most of the kids went to the landing to see the huge gar. Dad stood and looked at the big gar a long time. Then he said, "All of you kids take a good look at the huge gar. You will never again see another one this big." He was right. This all happened over sixty years ago and I have never seen a gar much more than half this size since that day.

 

Chapter 7
Depression Years

 

When we are growing up during the depression everyone who was old enough worked. When I was eight years old, I was expected to be out there working along side my older brothers. I may not get as much done as they did but I work just as hard.

 

While some of us were working with the crops, clearing land and or doing anything else that needed doing, Dad and two or three of the older boys were always fishing, trapping, frog hunting, alligator hunting, or doing anything they could to keep some money coming in.

 

When I was ten years old, John A. was twelve and Oliver was sixteen, Dad sent us on a seven night frog hunt. We hunted Tensas River from Flowers Landing to Rafkin (Rathman) Mound and back to Tendal. We caught a lot of frogs and the next year he sent us back to do it again. This time he sent only John A. and I.

 

I can tell you now, there was a lot of difference in John A. and I making this trip than it was when Oliver was with us. Without that third paddle we couldn't make nearly as good time. Besides that, Oliver was a grown man. He knew how to cook, lay out bedrolls, and put up mosquito nets for the best protection, and a hundred other things the John A. and I had never thought about. It is true, we had made the trip the year before and thought we knew exactly how to do it. (Remember I said "THOUGHT").

 

The day we were to start the trip Dad set John A. and I down and explained what we were to do. We would hunt to the upper end of Fool River the first night and make camp at the mouth of Roaring Bayou. The next night we would hunt to the Hunters Bend crossing. This crossing was near where the bridge is now. Dad would meet us there and pick up what frogs we had. We would plan the rest of the trip at that time.

 

Mother made a bed roll which consisted of two quilts, one sheet and a mosquito net. Mother also boxed up some dishes. We had a frying pan, two tin cups, two tin plates, two forks, a tablespoon and what we called a flapjack flipper. Actually it was an egg turner. We also had a one gallon syrup bucket for making coffee. For groceries we had a gallon syrup bucket of hog lard, a half gallon syrup bucket of ribbon cane syrup, a ten pound sack of flour, a two pound sack of coffee, a quart jar of sugar, a pint jar of salt and about two pounds of dry salt meat. Mother made a small lunch of some biscuits and a few slices of salt meat. She said we could have this for breakfast the first morning.

 

We loaded all of this into the boat and by the time we got under way it was dark enough to light the carbide light. We started catching frogs as soon as we got started. We traveled at a strong steady pace. We knew not to rush it or we would give out before daylight. We made better time on the shoals where we could push along on the bottom. In deep water it was much harder and slower.

 

When we reached the upper end of Fool River we landed the boat at the mouth of Roaring Bayou. We looked around for a place to make camp but didn't find a good place. It was not quite daylight. The morning star was just above the treetops but the red birds had not started calling. We decided we had time enough to hunt back down the other side of Fool River to Leading Bayou, which was about a mile.

 

Leading Bayou drains into Fool River on the north side of the basin. The Fool River Basin is a large, almost round lake like area that is very deep and is about a quarter of a mile wide. There was a nice camp ground at the mouth of Leading Bayou. When we reached the camp ground we spread our bed roll, put up the mosquito net, ate the small lunch Mother made for us and turned in for some much needed rest.

 

When I woke up that evening John A. was no where to be found. I looked around the camp ground but he was not there. I walked down to the river and found him getting water from a small spring. He said he thought it would be nice to have some cool water, I agreed. I was not only thirsty, I was starving. We decided it was late enough to cook supper. We build a big fire and put the frying pan on to heat. John A. sliced some dry salt meat and I stirred up some batter for some flap jacks. The frying pan was good and hot and I decided it was time to pour the batter in it. I poured in about a half cup of batter and the smoke boiled. I tried to turn the flap jack over with the flipper. Not only was the batter stuck, it was welded to the frying pan. I raked and scraped and stirred as fast as I could and soon I had the prettiest pan of scrambled flap jacks I had ever seen. Some of it was burned, some was raw. I raked it into a tin plate and looked at it. I tried to get John A. to taste it. He refused. I tried it and it tasted like burned rubber. I dumped it out and started over.

 

We knew we had to learn how to make flap jacks or we were going to get awfully hungry. Flap Jacks and ribbon cane syrup was going to be our staple food for the next six days. We decided the frying pan was too hot and that was what was causing the batter to stick so hard. Then I remembered that last year Oliver had put a small amount of lard in the frying pan before he put the batter in. We decided to try one. To our surprise it worked. By putting lard in the frying pan and cooking it slow we made a perfect flap jack, with a couple exceptions. First, the flour we had was not self rising and there was no salt in it. We had no baking powder to add to it but we did have salt. We made two large stacks of flap jacks, fried some dry salt meat and sat down to a meal, that to us, was fit for a king.

 

The second night was uneventful. We had a lot of deep water that slowed us down quite a lot. We saw a lot of wildlife and fish. We traveled at a steady pace. We took notice of the land marks and knew about where we were and how far we had to go at all times. When it got daylight we were at the military road at the mouth of Mack Bayou. We knew we were about one mile from where we were to meet Dad.

 

When we arrived at the Hunters Bend crossing Dad was not there. We cooked some more flap jacks and fried the last of our dry salt meat. We were finishing our breakfast when Dad arrived. We had expected him to bring some more groceries but he didn't. We told him about our flour being plain instead of self rising. He said he couldn't see where that would make too much difference.

 

Dad said he had planned the rest of our trip. He said we were to hunt all the way around Dishrume Bend the next night and he would meet us where the Sharkey Road hit the Tensas River and pick up the frogs. Then we would hunt to Dunlap the next night and Tendal the next night. We said he would pick up the frogs at Tendal. The next night we would hunt to Rafkin Mound then return to Tendal the seventh night.

 

We had about a hundred pounds of frogs. We loaded them on the truck and Dad left. After Dad left we loaded coffee and the only reason we even made any was that grown folks was supposed to drink coffee.

 

We had caught about seventy pounds of frogs hunting around Dishrume Bend. We loaded them on the truck and Dad left. We went back to the boat and started looking for a place to camp. We found a good place a couple hundred yards below the mouth of Alligator Bayou. We made some more flap jacks and poured syrup over them and ate breakfast. That evening we ate more flap jacks and syrup for supper.

 

The trip from Alligator Bayou to Dunlap was very tiresome. We had shallow water most of the way. A lot of the river was grown completely over with deer grass and it was hard pushing the heavy boat through. When we arrived at Dunlap we made camp in sight of the Dunlap field. Again we had flapjacks and syrup for breakfast. We made our bed rolls and went to bed. About eleven o'clock I woke up and found that our bed was in the hot boiling sun. I woke John A. up and we moved it to some shade. We tried to get some more sleep but the hundred degree weather along with the ticks and sand flies made it impossible to do so. We lay in bed and rested until about one o'clock. When we got up we were literally starving to death. As hungry as I was I couldn't stand the thought of eating any more flap jacks and syrup. We built a fire and made a bucket of coffee. Neither of us could drink much of it.

 

John A. said he had packed some small fish hooks and some fishing line. Maybe we could find some mussels for bait and catch some fish for supper. We cut some switch cane poles and rigged up two fishing rigs. A huge cutover tree had fallen into the river nearby. When we climbed out on the tree top we could see the fish in the clear water. All we had to do was find the fish we wanted to catch, dangle the bait in front of him and he would grab it. It was lot of fun. We soon had more fish than we could eat.

 

When we were about ready to start cleaning the fish we heard some one coming down the river bank whistling as loud as I have ever heard anyone whistle in my life. The man came straight into our camp and introduced himself.

 

He said his name was Ely Thornhill. He said he lived a short distance up the river. He said he saw the smoke from our fire and come to investigate. He asked us a lot of questions. The first thing he wanted to know was how old we were. John A. told him he was thirteen and I was eleven. He told him that we lived at Flowers Landing and was on a seven night frog hunt. That last night was our fourth night. He asked us how much food we had and John A. told him we had some plain flour and some ribbon cane syrup, that we had eaten nothing but flap jacks and syrup for two days. The man sat around and talked about thirty minutes and then went back up the river whistling.

 

Before we started dressing our fish we heard the man coming back down the river, still whistling. When he came into our camp that time he had a whole side of ribs from a good sized yearling deer with the loin still on it. He also had a gallon jug half full of plum jelly. He laid the food on our bed roll and said he thought we might like a change of diet. He left without any further comment. When he was a short distance away he looked back and said that Mr. Jefferson asked him to tell us that he would like for us to stop by his house on our way up the river. He said we would see his house about a mile further up. When Mr. Ely left we lit in on that side of ribs like of couple of starved dogs. This was the first decent food we had in four days. In a short time we ate nearly all of the meat and half of the jelly.

 

With our bellies full we didn't need the fish we had caught so we threw them back into the river. We decided to pack up and go on up to Mr. Jefferson's before dark. We had never met Mr. Jefferson. We had heard of him a lot. He was timber warden for the Singer Land and Timber Co. Some people said he was also a game warden. In 1925 he arrested Dad for trapping on the refuge. We didn't know what to expect. We couldn't understand what he could possibly want with a couple of kids like us.

 

When we arrived at Mr. Jefferson's house he invited us in. Mrs. Jefferson served us muffins and milk. Even though we were as full as ticks we were grateful for the food. Mr. Jefferson asked us a lot of questions, mostly about where we lived, how long we had been on the trip and how much further we intended to go. When he was convinced we were only frog hunting he was satisfied. It was getting dark and we needed to get on our way. Mr. Jefferson asked us not to catch any frogs for the first mile or two in case he wanted some to eat. We said we wouldn't and we didn't, for about three hundred yards.

 

The trip from Dunlap to Tendal was the shortest hunt we had on the whole trip. When we left the mouth of Judd Bayou we had several miles of wide river and deep water. We could not push on the bottom anywhere. By midnight it was beginning to take it's toll on both of us. When we finally reached shallow water we were way behind our schedule. When we reached Tendal it was daylight. Dad was not there. We landed the boat under the Highway 80 bridge and waited, and waited, and waited. Finally he showed up about 10 A.M. He was in a hurry to get the frogs and go. We loaded the frogs and he started to leave. I asked him if he brought some food. He said he did not. I told him we had not had anything to eat but flap jacks and syrup for three days. Si Wixon's store was about a hundred yards down Highway 80 from the bridge. Dad went down there and bought four dime cans of Pet milk and four Dixie Stage Planks. He handed them to me and said, "That should hold you couple of days.” When Dad left we went back down river a couple hundred yards and made camp. We each ate a Dixie Stage Plank and drank a can of Pet milk. Then we bedded down for the day. When we woke up it was almost dark. We loaded our gear into the boat, ate the remaining milk and Stage Plank and headed out for another night. We decided we needed to catch some small frogs to eat the next day or it would be back to flap jacks and cane syrup. Neither of us wanted to even think about that.

 

When we left Tendal that night we had about six miles of deep water ahead of us. The river was too wide to hunt both sides at once. We decided to hunt the west side on the way up and the east side coming back down the next night. The water was too deep to push on the bottom and it was a hard grueling task to move the boat with the paddles. When we reached Roundaway Bayou, and shallow water, we were exhausted. It was well past midnight and we were a long way from Rafkin Mound. We decided to stop and make coffee. It was not that we wanted coffee, we just needed some rest. We rested a short time, then we moved on. We did not know just exactly where Rafkin Mound was. We had been there only once and that was a year ago when Oliver was with us. We were catching more frogs than we had on the whole trip. We decided to hunt until daylight then make camp whether we found the Mound or not. When it got daylight we found a camp site and bedded down without eating breakfast. We were more tired than we were hungry.

 

I woke up around noon and could not go back to sleep. I made a bucket of coffee. By then John A. was awake also. We were both starving. We had caught about fifteen small frogs to eat. We dressed them and cooked them all. I even made a few flap jacks to go with the frogs. When we finished cooking we had enough food to feed a half dozen people. By the time we got through eating there was nothing left.

 

We were both excited. This would be our last night of the hunt. All evening we sat around the camp and talked about the trip. It had been a hard grueling trip but a very exciting one. There was hardly a time when we were not seeing some kind of game. There were deer after deer feeding on the grass in the river. There were coons, opossums, skunks, rabbits, alligators, wild hogs and all kinds of wild game. There was also huge gar, buffalo, catfish and other fish in the clear water. When we were traveling on the river there was never a dull moment.

 

Late that evening we went for a walk in the beautiful woods. We had gone only a short distance when we came upon Rafkin Mound. Without knowing it we had reached the destination we had planned for six days before.

 

The trip back to Tendal was uneventful. We caught well over a hundred pounds of frogs in the two nights north of Highway 80. When we arrived at Tendal Dad was not there. We dragged the boat up the river hill and waited. About 8 A. M. Dad showed up. We loaded the boat onto the truck and headed home.

 

This all happened almost sixty years ago. I will never forget when this eleven year old boy and his thirteen year old brother spent seven nights and paddled a heavy cypress boat over seventy five miles up Tensas River hunting frogs.

 

Chapter 8
The Turkey Hunt

 

In the 1930's there was an abundance of squirrels in the big woods of the Tensas. It was not unusual to find a dozen squirrels feeding in one oak or pecan tree at once. It was always interesting to me that the squirrels were selective about which tree they wanted to feed in. There might be twenty five pecan or oak trees, all loaded with nuts, in a small area but the squirrels would only be feeding in one of two of them. When they finished eating all the nuts on these trees they would move to another tree or two and feed on them. They would continue to do this until early winter when all of the mash started falling to the ground. Then they would feed mostly on nuts that were on the ground.

 

Squirrels will eat almost anything. One of their favorite foods is water elm nuts. Water Elm can be found almost everywhere along the banks of the Tensas River and the bayous and streams that empty into it. The water elms bloom in April or May and form small seed. Squirrels flock to these areas in unbelievable numbers.

 

One Saturday evening I went Squirrel hunting at the mouth of Simpson Bayou which was about a mile and a half from home. There was a lot of water elm trees there and plenty of squirrels. It didn't take long to kill all of the squirrels I needed. I decided that on the way home I would go a few hundred yards north to open woods and then cut straight east back to the house. In doing this I had to cross the end of a wide high ridge we called the pecan ridge. There were hundreds of huge pecan trees on this ridge. Some of them were over four feet in diameter and a hundred feet tall. There were a few scattering oak trees on the ridge that were even bigger than the pecan trees.

 

When I was about half way cross the ridge I heard a wild turkey gobble. It sounded like he was about two hundred yards north of me. I could hardly believe what I heard. I knew there were wild turkeys in the big woods but I had never seen or heard one before. I squatted down beside a huge sweet gum tree and listened. In a couple minutes he gobbled again. This time it sounded like he was closer. I sat down flat on the ground and propped my gun on my knees and waited. If he was coming toward me I might get a shot at him. The sun was down and it was beginning to get dark. The big gobbler flew up and lit in a huge, brushy topped oak tree not more that a hundred and fifty yards away. I thought about slipping up close to the tree and try to shoot him off the roost. I had always been told you could not slip up on a wild turkey. You always had to let him come to you. I quietly slipped away from the big tree and ran almost all the way home.

 

When I reached home I was so excited I could hardly talk. I was trying to tell everyone about the turkey but I was mostly just jabbering. Derwood stopped me and said, "Slow down, quit jabbering, and tell us what happened.” This slowed me down a bit and I told them what happened. I told Dad that I knew exactly what tree the turkey was in and if he would go with me I would show him and he could call him up and kill him. Dad said, "If you want the turkey killed you kill him. I don't care about killing a turkey”. This almost {missing words} put the box away where the kids would not find it and play with it. He got it out and started showing me how to use it. It would hardly make a sound. He said he needed some chalk. Mother found a short piece of chalk some of the kids had brought from school. Dad rubbed the chalk on the lid of the box and tried it. I made plenty of noise, but it didn't sound like a turkey. Dad said, "That will call a turkey”. I didn't think so but I was willing to try.

 

Before I went to bed I put my hunting coat, boots, a twenty-two rifle, and a box of shells by the door so I could slip out of the house without disturbing everyone. Dad saw the twenty-two rifle and said I needed to take a shotgun. He said I should take his L C Smith twelve gauge and some no. Six shot and that was what I did.

 

When I finally went to bed I was so excited I could hardly sleep. When I thought it was time to go I got up and slipped out of the house. The morning star was well above the trees and I knew I was too early. I crossed the river in a boat instead of using the bridge. There was a soft moonlight but it was still dark in the Big Woods. I had about a mile to go back to where the big turkey was. It was slow traveling in the dark.

 

When I reached the big gum tree where I had sat the evening before it was still dark. I sat down and placed the shotgun on one side of me and the turkey call on the other. Then I waited, and waited and waited. Finally I heard a red bird call. I knew the light would soon come.

 

When it started getting daylight three deer passed within fifty yards of me. They never knew I was there. By the time the deer were out of sight a drove of about ten wild hogs came up behind me. I know they didn't see me but they must have smelled me. They took off running and snorting and blowing. I just knew my turkey hunt was over. When all of the noise quieted down it was broad open daylight. I had not heard a peep from the turkey. A few minutes later the turkey gobbled. I picked up the turkey box and made a light call. It sounded horrible. The turkey gobbled again. Soon I heard him cluck. Then he clucked again. I made another soft call. The turkey gobbled again and flew down. Then I heard him coming through the woods clucking. He was coming straight to me. When he was about seventy five yards from me I saw him. He was walking fast with his head high. When he was about forty yards from me he went behind a tree. I knew he was still coming toward me but I could not see him. I had the shot gun braced over my knees. When he was about twelve yards away he stepped out from behind the tree and stopped dead still. I drew a fine bead on his head and squeezed the trigger. When I did this all hell broke loose. The recoil from the gun slammed me back against the tree and knocked the breath out of me. The shot gun fell to the ground and I couldn't find it. The turkey was flouncing and flopping and jumping six feet high. I ran to the turkey with the intention of catching him with my hands if he started to run away. He was flipping and flouncing so hard I was afraid to get close to him. I ran back to the tree and got the gun and reloaded it. By the time I got back to the turkey he had quieted down. I picked him up and headed home. I was a proud little twelve year old turkey hunter.

 

Chapter 9
We Become Experts

 

Beginning January 1935 and ending about 1945 the Willhite family made most of their living hunting, fishing, trapping, alligator hunting, gigging the big gar and frog hunting. In doing so we traveled up and down the Tensas River almost daily, or nightly, depending on what we were hunting or fishing for and how we were intending to catch or kill what we were after we traveled at least part of the way there and back by boat. We became so familiar with the river we could paddle a boat from Flowers Landing to Fool River and back without hitting a single snag or log with the boat even on the darkest of nights and without a light.

 

One example of how good we were at not making noise happened one night when we were cut off from home by a couple of game wardens. Derwood, John A. and I had been to the Brick House fire hunting deer and were on our way home. When we were about three hundred yards down stream from Stewart's Camp we found a big doe. John A. and I eased the boat up close to the deer and Derwood shot and killed it. We field dressed the deer, put the light out, loaded the deer into the boat and started down stream toward home. We went only a few hundred yards when we saw a bright flash light on the right side of the river. It came down the bank near the water and went out. We knew the light was at the end of the big log at Luke's Ditch.

 

In order to appreciate the jam we were in one would have to know the circumstances. At the mouth of Luke's Ditch was a big log that reached almost all the way across the river. The river was completely cut off except for a narrow stream that gushed around the west end of the log. There was a steep bluff about eight feet high at the end of the log. There was barely enough room at the end of the log for a boat to squeeze through. Approaching the log from the direction we were traveling was two snags that were barely far enough apart for a boat to squeeze between them.

 

If you tried to go on either side of them the boat would drag the bottom and make a lot of noise. If you made it between the two snags the swift current would try to take over and slam the boat against the bank. If you were strong enough and skilled enough to get the boat around the end of the log without making any noise you were still not out of the woods. Just past the end of the big log was a group of snags that were almost impossible to get the boat through without scrubbing against them. To get through these quietly you had to make to hard left, go twenty feet and make a hard right.

 

It was decision making time. We were trapped. There were two game wardens on the bank ahead of us and we had to pass within twelve feet of them if we were to get by. Derwood asked John A. if he thought he could hold the back end of the boat off of the bank when we went around the end of the log. He said he didn't know but he would surely try. Then Derwood said, "It's pitch dark. I can hardly see my hand before me. If we try we might just make it, if we don't try we are caught anyway.” We moved the boat slowly down close to the big log. We squeezed it between the two snags and didn’t touch them.

 

We moved the boat into the swift water at the end of the log. The current swept it around the end of the log so fast it seemed there was no way to control it. From the front of the boat Derwood shoved hard to the left and again to the left then back to the right. As we passed the end of the log someone took a drag off of a cigarette not more than ten feet from us. Fifty yards down river we were in deeper water. We stopped the boat and looked back. One person was smoking a cigarette. They were mumbling to each other. We eased the boat downstream and headed for home. A half mile downstream we had a good laugh. Derwood said, "If you are good enough at what you do and you have the guts to try, you can do almost anything." It was an exciting experience.

 

There were many exciting experiences back then. One that stands out most vividly in my mind concerns a huge alligator. Derwood, John A. and I went frog hunting around McGill Bend. We borrowed Uncle Carl's small cypress boat. We paddled to Stewart's Camp (about four miles) then pulled the boat across the bend to Squirrel Tail Bayou. When it got dark we lit the carbide light and headed down river.

 

About three miles down river from Squirrel Tail Bayou there is a place we called the Camp Ground Hole. It is a place where the river is deeper and wider than most other places. At the lower end of this hole was a peninsula that extended out into the river about fifty feet. There was a strip of water between the peninsula and the bank that was about a foot deep, twenty feet long and twenty five feet wide. We called this the Camp Ground Island. When we were passing the end of this peninsula Derwood saw a big frog in the shallow water behind the peninsula. He also saw a big alligator about twenty feet past the frog. We had already turned the boat into the shallow water when John A. and I saw the big alligator.

 

We instantly jammed our paddles on the bottom and stopped the boat. Derwood asked, "What is wrong. Don't you see that big frog?" John A. said, "We see the frog alright. We also see that big gator.”

 

Derwood said, "That alligator is not going to bother us. We will ease in there and catch the frog then quietly back out without disturbing him. He is probably asleep and we will not even wake him up." John A. said, "I know he is not asleep. I can see both eyes and they are wide open.” Derwood was getting a little irritated by then. He said, "Come on now, shove the boat on in there so I can catch the frog. That gator is not going to bother us.”

 

We moved the boat forward so Derwood could catch the frog. Everything went well until the frog grabs snapped on the frog. Derwood hit the frog hard to knock the air out of him. When he did this the frog let out a loud croak. Then all heck broke loose. The big alligator left out of the shallow water like a bullet, headed for deep water.

 

The problem with that was we were between him and the deep water. The water where we were was about a foot deep and the alligator was well over a foot thick. The boat was exactly sideways to him. The big gator got his head under the boat and lifted it clear out of the water. John A. and I dropped our paddles and grabbed hold of the boat seat and held on. Derwood had been standing up and when the gator hit the boat he tried to sit down and almost fell out of the boat.

 

The big gator carried the boat, with us in it, about ten yards before the water got deep enough for him to go under it. When he finally got loose from the boat he took off down the river making waves as big as a motor boat.

 

We were so stunned by what had happened no one said a word for a few moments. Finally John A. said, "I told {missing words}

 

{missing words} Squirrel Tail Bayou. We planned to hunt to the upper end of Fool River the first night then on to Squirrel Tail Bayou the next. When we reached Squirrel Tail we would pull the boat across the bend to Steward's Camp then paddle the four miles home. It would be a hard trip.

 

The first night went well. We caught a lot of frogs and saw a lot of wild game. On a shoal just below the mouth of the Mile Ditch we saw about a dozen deer grazing on deer grass in the river. That was the most deer I had ever seen in one bunch. From the time we left home, all the way to the upper end of Fool River, there was hardly a time when we were not seeing some kind of game or fish. At the mouth of Snake Bayou we saw about ten wild hogs rooting along the edge of the river. On the upper end of the Fool River Shoal we saw the biggest flat head catfish I had ever seen.

 

When we reached the upper end of Fool River we cooked breakfast and tried to get some sleep. The sand flies were so bad it was impossible to go to sleep. Finally about ten o'clock the sand flies let up some and we got a few hours rest. It was a most miserable day.

 

A couple hours before dark we decided to cook supper and get on our way. We dressed some small frogs we caught the night before and cooked them and some flap jacks. By the time we finished supper and loaded everything in the boat it was nearly sundown. We knew we had a hard night ahead of us and decided to make a couple miles before dark. When it got dark Derwood lit the carbide light and we started catching frogs. When we reached the mouth of Fool River and started up Tensas we already had about fifty pounds of frogs. When we reached the Campground Hole we remembered the run in we had had with the big alligator the year before.

 

About two hundred yards from the lower end of the hole Derwood looked back and said, "There is a big alligator behind us.” We turned the boat sideways so we could all see and sure enough there was a huge alligator about twenty yards behind us. When we stopped he stopped. When we moved on he followed. This continued until we reached the upper end of the hole, then the alligator disappeared.

 

Before we reached Squirrel Tail Bayou I got so sleepy I just could not keep my eyes open. I would go to sleep and John A. would shake me and wake me up. I would paddle a few strokes then go right back to sleet. Finally John A. got tired of fooling with me. He shaped his hand like a big claw and grabbed me by the cheek of my butt, squeezed hard and yelled. "Alligator!”. I screamed and threw my paddle about twenty feet and fell out of the boat. The water was about shirt pocket deep and very cold. Derwood hollered, "You better get back in this boat, here he comes!” I grabbed the side of the boat and with one leap I was back in it as fast as I fell out of it. I thought they would never quit laughing at me. Needless to say, I didn't get sleepy anymore that night.

 

After that night and for the next twenty five years almost every time I or other members of my family paddled a boat through the Camp Ground Hole at night the big alligator was still there. He always followed the boat all the way to the end of the hole, always twenty yards behind.

 

As late as 1995 I was told that the biggest alligator in north Louisiana lives in the Camp Ground Hole. I don't think he lives in the Camp Ground Hole. I believe he lives in Hogskin Break (which is about three hundred yards from Tensas River south of the Camp Ground Hole.) I think he only goes to Tensas River to feed and then returns to his den in Hogskin Break.

 

It has been sixty years since the big alligator carried us for a most unwelcome ride. If it is possible for an alligator to live that long there is a good chance that the one reported to me in 1995 is the same one we saw all those years ago.

 

Chapter 10

The Frisby House

 

One cannot become involved in a discussion concerning the history of the Tensas River Basin without eventually getting around to the subject of Norman Frisby and Orlando Flowers. When people get together and discuss the two men their conversation always centers around Frisby, and Flowers is mentioned only as "The man who killed Frisby”.

 

What I am going to write in this article is not something I read in a book or newspaper. It is information given my family and myself by an old black man named Mose Martin. I do not claim that everything he said is true nor do I vouch for its validity. All I can say is that my family and I believed every word of it to be true.

 

In order to appreciate Mose one would have to know him as we did. Shortly after we moved to Flowers Landing we noticed that every Sunday morning about eight o'clock a tall man riding a big white horse would pass our house going toward West Wood. Then about two o'clock he would come back by going back up the road toward Newell Ridge. If any of us kids were out near the road he would tip his hat and say "Good day, Master sir". He always kept riding and never stopped to talk. Somehow Dad found out he was a black preacher and his name was Mose Martin. He was so light skinned one would never have guessed he was black.

 

One hot summer evening Mother, Dad and several of us kids were on the front porch. Mother was reading a newspaper to us, as she often did on Sundays, when Mose came riding up. He rode right up the end of the porch, removed his hat, gave a deep bow to all of us and said,” Master Jim, Sir, it is very hot. My horse is hot and thirsty. Could we please have a cool drink from your pump and cool awhile in your shade? Dad said, sure you can. Just help yourself. Drink all you like and rest as long as you wish. I was sitting on the end of the porch next to the pump. I made a swift dash for the pump and barely beat John A. to it. We had a gourd dipper that always hung on the pump and John A. got it. We always kept a foot tub under the spout of the pump and I pumped it full for the big horse. John A. caught the dipper full of cool water and handed it to Mose. He drank it dry and refilled a couple more times. The big horse drank two foot tubs full of the cool water.

 

After they had their fill of water Mose led the big horse right up to the front steps and said, "My name is Reverend Mose Martin. I am the pastor of two churches. One on Newell Ridge, the other at Tensas Bluff. Every Sunday morning I ride my horse to Tensas Bluff and conduct church services. Then I ride back to Newell Ridge and conduct services there. It is a ten mile ride each way. I am eighty four years old. I sometimes wonder how long I can keep it up." Mose rested a short while then he got on his horse and left. Dad asked him to come by anytime, that he was always welcome.

 

After that day almost every Sunday Mose Martin stopped by our house and visited. It was on these visits that we learned about Orlando Flowers and Norman Frisby.

 

The very next Sunday Mose stopped by our house. This time he came about one o'clock instead of two o'clock. He said he had some things he wanted to tell us and needed more time to visit before he had to be at church that evening. He turned to Dad and said, “Master Jim, Sir, I am an old man. I know a lot of things. If I am allowed to talk to children like yours I can tell them many things they would not otherwise know. They can pass the information on to their children and know it is the truth. Do you mind me talking to your children?” Dad said, go ahead. I would like to hear it all myself. Mose said, Thank you, Master Sir. Dad said Mose, you do not have to address us as Master. Just call me Jim, or Mister Jim. Mose said “I have always been taught to address white people as master. I would be more comfortable if you would allow me to call you Master. Dad said, do as you wish.”

 

Mose seated himself in an old rocking chair and started talking. The first thing he said was, “I am a former slave. My mother and I belonged to Master Norman Frisby. My mother was in charge of all the house slaves and she and I lived in the main house with Master Norman and his family.” The he stopped and said, "It was not really the main house we lived in, but a small two room house that was attached to the south side of the main house." Then he continued. "Madam Anna (Master Norman's wife) was very young and inexperienced. She depended on my mother for almost everything. She often said that if she did not have my mother to help her she would go back to Mississippi where she came from.” With that Mose stopped talking. He sat for a long time as if he was considering what to say next.

 

Finally he said, "God has been good to me. He allowed me to be born to a good mother. He also allowed me to be raised in the main house with my masters. He saw to it that I was provided a good education. I was provided the same education the Master's children were, and taught by the same teacher. God gave me all of this for a reason. He expected me to go forth in this world and preach the Gospel. And that I will do until the day I die.” Mose sat for well over an hour telling us stories about his childhood as a slave. Finally when he got up to leave he turned to us kids and said, "We will continue our lesson next Sunday.” And so we did. The next Sunday and for many Sundays thereafter he was always there, promptly at one o'clock, ready to tell his stories to his new found family of children.

 

One Sunday when Mose was ready to start telling his stories Dad said, "Mose, tell me about Orlando Flowers. We know he was an important man but we have never heard much about him.

 

Mose said, “Master Orlando Flowers had more to do with the settlement and development of this area than Master Frisby. He and his family moved from Sharkey County Mississippi to Tensas Parish in the late 1840's. This was several years before Master Norman Frisby arrived. He established his empire on the banks of Tensas River about one mile down river from the mouth of Mill Bayou. He built a steamboat landing just down the hill from the cotton gin and called it Flowers Landing. It was not long before the entire Empire was referred to as the "Flowers Landing Plantation" By the time Master Frisby arrived into the area Master Flowers had already carved out a sizeable plantation and was making money raising cotton. He also raised mules, lots of them. He raised the mules, broke them to the plow and saddle and sold them to other plantations from Memphis to New Orleans. With a good steamboat landing, a new gin, plenty of rich land and over fifty slaves he was destined to prosper. And he did.” With that he dropped the subject of Flowers. He told a couple short stories about his childhood and left, reminding us he would return next Sunday.

 

As time passed it became obvious that Mose's little stories were taking on a more religious aspect. Each story he told contained certain morals that he often reinforced by quotes from the Holy Bible. His lessons (as he called them) were becoming more like a Sunday School class than a lesson in history. After Mose left one evening Dad and Mother discussed this and Dad said, "We are all learning a lot from Mose. The things he is teaching us are an important part of our history. We will do nothing to discourage him."

 

One Sunday morning we woke up to a cold wintry day. There was a light foggy misting rain. The radio said it might snow. We didn't think Mose would come in that kind of weather. We were wrong. Promptly at one o'clock he rode his big horse into the yard. Dad told me to put the horse in the barn and feed it some oats. Someone dragged the rocking chair into the house and placed it near the wood burning heater. Mose pulled off his overcoat, scarves, gloves and boots and seated himself in the rocking chair. Mother served him a hot cup of coffee and before long he was warm and comfortable.

 

Before Mose started talking Dad said, “we have heard a lot about Norman Frisby. We have heard dozens of stories about his entry into the big woods of the Tensas and how he attempted to build a vast empire there. We have also heard many versions of why and how he was killed. Can you tell us about him?” Mose turned to Dad and said, "I can tell you all about Master Norman. I was his slave from the time I was born until his death when I was twelve years old. The story of Frisby is not a pretty one. I am not sure your children are old enough to cope with it." Dad said, “my children are young but they are strong. They can cope with anything so long as it is the truth.” Mose said, “I am a man of God. I speak nothing but the truth. If you think they are old enough to understand, then I will tell them about Master Norman.” Dad said they will understand.

 

Mose leaned back in the old rocking chair and closed his eyes a few moments, then he said, "I don't remember living in Mississippi. I was only three years old when we moved to the big woods of the Tensas. What I know about Mississippi was told to me by my Mother and other slaves at later times. Mother said that about five years prior to our moving to Tensas, Master Norman started selling off all of the land and other property he owned in Mississippi and buying land in the Tensas. When he had bought enough land to start building a plantation he decided to move there and devote his full time to building an empire in the big woods of the Tensas.”

 

“Mother said the day we moved it was like a grand finale, or a huge parade. She said there was a big boat landing somewhere near Port Gibson and two huge barges and two tug boats were at the landing. Master Norman had assembled a convoy of wagons, buggies, horses, cows, mules and everything else he needed to survive in the big woods. She said the convoy extended from the river to at least a mile back up the road. With the two huge barges and tugboats making trip after trip it took all day to move the convoy across the Mississippi River. That night we camped on the Louisiana side of the river. At the break of dawn we continued our journey. The second night we camped somewhere on Newell Ridge west of Newellton. Again we broke camp early and continued our journey. We arrived at Flowers Landing around noon. Master Flowers was expecting us and had prepared food for Master Norman's family and all his slaves. Master Norman was restless and rushing everyone around. He wanted to reach his destination before dark. As soon as we had lunch the convoy moved on. Madam Anna and the children, my mother and I stayed at the Flowers home. Master Norman led the convoy down river from the Flowers home to Fox's Landing (which is a short distance down river from what is now known as West Wood Plantation) where he crossed the Tensas River on a shallow shoal then north to the location where he was planning to establish his headquarters.” Mose paused for a few moments and then he said, "As I have said, I was only three years old when all of this took place. This was told to me by my Mother and other slaves in later years."

 

With that Mose changed the subject. He told a couple of short stories then got up to leave. I went to the barn and got his horse. He put on his winter clothes, climbed on the big horse and rode off.

 

When Mose arrived the next Sunday he continued the story about Frisby. He said his mother told him that Madam Anna and her children, my mother and I stayed at the Flowers home about a month while Master Norman and the slaves built the main house. She said some of the tracts of land Master Norman had bought during the past years had houses, barns and slave quarters on them which they tore down and used the material to build the headquarters buildings. When the main house was completed Master Norman sent a big boat down the Tensas River to the Flowers home and brought Madam Anna and the rest of us home. Then Mose said, “This was to be my home the next fifteen years which was well after the civil war ended."

 

Mose again reminded us that he was only three years old when they arrived at the headquarters on the bank of the Tensas and he didn't remember much about it. As time passed and he grew older he learned to appreciate the skill in which the entire headquarters complex was laid out and constructed. He explained in detail every building in the complex, its size, shape, type of roof, and which direction it faced relative to the main house. Every building blended with every other building to form one huge complex. It was a most impressive sight.

 

Dad asked Mose to tell us about Frisby's gold and the silver bell that is supposed to be buried somewhere in the big woods. Mose said, "Master Jim, Sir, there was never any gold buried in the big woods. Master Norman had a lot of gold but it was never buried anywhere. He kept all his gold in a big brass trunk in the main house where it was readily available to buy material for the mansion he was building and finance the operation of the plantation. All of that talk about Master Norman loading his gold on a wagon and he and two slaves carrying it to the big woods and burying it is all lies. They say the two slaves dug a deep hole and put the gold in it. Then Master Norman killed the two slaves and put them in the hole with the gold and covered it up himself. They say he did this to keep the slaves from telling where the gold was buried. It's all lies. It just did not happen."

 

Then Mose continued, "As for the silver bell. At that time the civil war was raging in all the states east of the Mississippi River. The union army was on the march burning and scavaging everything as they went. Master Norman had about a thousand pounds of silver coins. He carried them to a place in Natchez, Mississippi that made bells. He had them melted down and made into a huge plantation bell. He brought the bell home and hung it near the main house. He stained it with Pokeberry juice. This made it look like an old rusty bell. If the Union army came they might not determine it was pure silver. When Vicksburg fell to the Union, Master Norman carried the bell deep into the big woods and buried. It. One of the slaves that helped bury the bell told me he marked the spot where the bell was buried by driving an iron rod into a tree pointing south toward the spot. Then he went west of the hole and drove another iron rod into a tree pointing east. Where the line of sight crossed was where the bell was buried." Dad interrupted Mose and asked, "How big are the iron rods?" Mose said, "They were about half inch rods." Then Dad asked, "How far is it from one rod to the other?" Mose said, "About forty yards.." Dad said, "I think I know the spot you are talking about. If so, I have a trap not more than ten yards from one of the rods." Mose said, "If you find the rods you have found where the bell is buried."

 

Mose went back to his story and said, "Madam Anna had more gold than Master Norman. She kept almost all her gold in a bank vault in Natchez, Mississippi. When the Union Army was closing in Master Norman, Madam Anna and four slaves went to Natchez and brought all of the gold to the plantation. Master Norman knew a man who lived in Franklin Parish that made his living escorting people from Louisiana to Texas. He knew all of the roads, trails, and river crossings. Master Norman went to see the man and made arrangements for him to escort a wagon to some town in Texas. After Master Norman was satisfied the man could be trusted he told him the wagon would contain a huge amount of gold. The man said if that was the case they had better get together and do some planning. He said he would be at the main house in a couple of days.

 

When the man from Franklin Parish arrived he and Master Norman went directly to the barn where the wagons were kept. They picked out the strongest wagon there and rigged it for a four-up mule team. They cross layed the floor with two by sixes and floored it with heavy lumber. They left the two middle boards loose to be nailed down later. They called this a false floor. They put a heavy canvas wagon cover on it. The man from Franklin told Master Norman he would need two slaves that could shoot a muzzle loader, two extra mules, and two extra wheels. He also needed a small amount of furniture, some bedding, cooking utensils and dishes. All of this was provided and placed in the barn so it could be loaded in a short time. When all of this was done Master Norman and the man from Franklin went into the main house to talk money. Master Norman gave him a small bag of gold coins and said the bank in Texas would pay him the rest of what he owed when the gold was delivered. Master Norman gave the man a bill of sale for the two slaves. With all of this done the man from Franklin left saying, "I will see you at the Crocket Point crossing early tomorrow."

 

That night instead of going to bed, Master Norman, the two slaves,, my Mother and I loaded the gold under the false floor of the wagon and nailed the two loose boards down tight. We loaded all of the other things the man from Franklin said we needed. When it got daylight the next morning Master Norman and the two slaves left the main house headed towards Crocket Point. Master Norman returned to the plantation late that day alone. The two slaves did not return. The fact that two slaves left the main house with a wagon load of gold and never returned gave credence to the rumor that Master Norman had killed them and buried them with the gold. This was a ball faced lie."

 

With that Mose stopped talking. He stood up and walked out on the porch. He stood on the porch looking across the small field. It was as if he was in deep concentration. Finally he returned to the rocking chair and continued talking. He said, "About a month passed and Madam Anna had not heard anything about her gold. She was becoming worried about it. Finally one day a letter came. It was from a bank in Texas. Madam Anna read the letter and layed it on the desk. She had a slave saddle her horse and she rode off to the mansion where Master Norman was working. My mother read the letter. It was addressed to Madam Anna. It said that two hundred and seventy thousand ($270,000.00) dollars worth of gold had been delivered to the bank and was deposited in her name."

 

Dad asked Mose, "Did Frisby have any gold?" Mose said, "Master Norman kept about fifty thousand dollars in gold coins in the big brass trunk in the main house. When Vicksburg fell to the Union Army, Master Frisby sealed off one side of one of the dual fire places and put most of his gold in it. It stayed there until his death." With that Mose got up and left, saying he would return next Sunday.

 

When Mose left Dad said,"I know where there is an iron rod driven into a huge Gum tree about seven feet from the ground. I wonder if it is one of the rods Mose was talking about. My trap line runs right near the tree and I have a trap setting within twenty yards of it. When I pass there tomorrow I will look for the other rod." When Dad returned home from his trapline the next day he said he found the other rod and the arrangement was just as Mose had described it.

 

When Mose arrived the next Sunday he knew exactly what he wanted to talk about. He started by saying, "Master, Jim, sir you told me your children were strong enough to hear anything to long as it was the truth. I am sorry to say that what I am going to tell them is the gruesome truth of how Master Norman died.

 

It was sometime in late fall. Almost all the crops had been harvested. There was a small field of corn near Tensas River at Fox's Landing that had not been picked. About nine o'clock in the morning one of Master Orlando's slaves arrived at the Mansion and told Master Norman that about twenty head of his mules had crossed the Tensas River at Fox's Landing and were destroying his corn field. He said if he didn't get them out he was going to start shooting them. Almost all the slaves were already in the fields harvesting the crops. Only eight slaves were working at the Mansion. Master Norman, the eight slaves and I went to the barn and saddled our horses and headed for Fox's Landing. When we arrived Master Orlando was there yelling, cursing and raising all manners of hell. Master Norman told him to shut up and he would get the mules out of the field. We rounded up the mules and drove them to the shallow ford where they had crossed over. When we got them near the water they broke loose and ran back into the corn field. This happened three times and each time Master Orlando pitched another curse fit. On the fourth try we got the mules near the water and Master Norman roped an old lead mule and led him across the river. The other mules followed. Six of the slaves drove the mules to the headquarters. Master Norman, the two remaining slaves and I went back across the river to see how much damage was done to the corn field. Master Orlando and about ten of his slaves met us on the river bank. Master Orlando started in to give Master Norman a good cursing. Master Norman told him to shut up a couple of times but he just got worse. Master Norman got really mad and rammed his horse into the side of Master Orlando's horse. The horse fell down. Master Norman jumped off of his horse and started beating Master Orlando with his quirt. Master Orlando wrestled Master Norman to the ground. They rolled around on the ground a short time. Soon Master Norman quit fighting. Master Orlando stood up and rolled Master Norman over on his back. A huge volume of blood was gushing from his chest and his throat was cut. Master Orlando held a hunting knife in his right hand and blood was dripping from it. Master Orlando pulled off his coat and spread it over Master Norman's face. Then he got on his horse and he and his slaves rode off without saying a word. I sent one of the slaves to the main house to tell Madam Anna what happened. Madam Anna, my Mother and two slaves brought a wagon and carried Master Norman's body back to the main house. After the funeral Madam Anna sent a wagon to the mansion and brought all of the tools and stored them in the barn. She said, "We will not need them there anymore."

 

Then Mose said, "What I have told you today is the Gospel truth. I was there and saw it all." Then he got on his big white horse and left.

 

I again remind anyone who reads this story to keep in mind that these are not my words but the words of Mose Martin as he told my family and I sixty years ago. My family and I believed every word of it to be true then and we still believe it to this day.

 

CHAPTER 11
COMING OF AGE

 

There comes a time in every boy's life when he suddenly finds that he is no longer a boy, but a young man. This usually happens at a time of great significance. It might happen when he is faced with a stressful situation that he is able to overcome and realizes he is more grown up than he had previously realized. It happened to me on a frog hunt to Park Break when I was thirteen years old.

 

Derwood and I planned a frog hunt at Park Break. At this point I had never hunted one side of a break by myself. It had always been that Derwood or Oliver would hunt one side of a break and John A. and I would hunt the other side. This was due to the fact that while John A. or I could catch as many frogs as Derwood or Oliver we were not strong enough to paddle. Also, when we arrived at our destination we were not exhausted. When Derwood and I left Flowers Landing that day we traveled by boat to the cat bridge. The cat bridge was a low water bridge across Tensas River the loggers built and used to haul logs from McGill Bend to a Dummy line in Frisby Bend where they were loaded on flat cars and hauled to Tallulah by train. It was located about one mile down river from the mouth of Snake Bayou.

 

When Derwood and I reached the Cat bridge the sun was still above the tree tops. It was about two hours before dark. I asked Derwood why we didn't go on upriver to the Fool River Shoal then walk over the hill to Park Break which was about three hundred yards. He said the loggers had cut the timber in that area about two years before and the bushes and blackberry vines were so thick it would be almost impossible to get through them. He said there was a long narrow flat that reached from there all the way to Park Break. It was about a one mile walk but it would be better than fighting those briars.

 

We arrived at Park Break about sundown. We found a good log to sit on and ate our cake and milk. My big toe was hurting ferociously. I pulled my boot and sock off and showed it to Derwood. It looked like an oversized plum. He didn't seem to be concerned. When it was almost dark Derwood told me to hunt the east and north side of the break and he would hunt the other way. He left me sitting on the log and went off to my left. I didn't see his head light again until well past midnight.

 

I was never one to be afraid very easily but sitting on that log waiting for dark to come had to be the loneliest I had ever been in my life. When it started getting dark enough to light my head light the tree frogs and popping frogs opened up full blast. I had never heard that many at one time before. They screamed about two minutes then stopped. There was total silence. Not a single night creature made a sound. Somehow I had the feeling something was watching me. I searched the woods around me but could not see a thing. I was trembling all over as if I was deathly afraid of something but I didn't know what or where it was. The frogs and other night creatures went back to making their noises. I lit my light and started hunting. Soon the fear went away.

 

I hunted north up the east side of the break. When I had hunted about two hundred yards I had not seen a single frog. Occasionally I would hear a bull frog croak out toward the middle of the break. I started wading into deeper water. When I was a hundred yards from the bank in waist deep water I started catching frogs. The further out in the break and the deeper the water the more frogs I found. Soon I was hunting in water that was from waist deep to shirt pocket deep. The button willows were so thick it was hard to get around in them. Where there were no button willows there were water lilies and tall grass. Snakes were plentiful and I had to keep a constant vigilance of them. And my big toe hurt!

 

I came across a place where two cypress logs crossed forming a deep ve. At the point of this ve was a big frog. To get to the frog I had to go in between the two logs. The only problem was....there was a big cotton-mouth moccasin between me and the frog. I couldn't go around the snake because of the logs. I did a stupid thing! I "THOUGHT" I could use my frog grab handle and gently shove the snake aside and then pass on by. I had done this hundreds of times before and had never had any problem. The stupid thing about it was I didn't close my grabs. When I touched the snake with the grabs he didn't want to move. I shoved him a little harder and he whirled around as if he was biting the grab handle. When this happened the frog grabs tripped and caught the snake right around the middle of his body. Then all hell broke loose! The big snake twisted and untwisted around the frog grab handles one time after the other. He was biting everything in reach. He tried to go under the log, then over it. He tried to come toward me, then from me. He was putting up one hell of a fight. Finally he slowed down a bit and I could see that the grabs had cut deeply into both sides of his body but he was still very much alive. The water was over waist deep and I knew I couldn't fight the snake in deep water. I decided to take him to the bank and see if I could figure a way to get loose from him. The only thing about that was I didn't know which direction the bank was. I searched the sky for a star I might find to guide me to the bank. I found one and headed out. Soon I found the bank. When I reached dry land I cut a forked stick and pinned the snake's head to the ground. With his head pinned to the ground, the frog grabs around his middle and my foot on his tail, I was able to cut his head off with my pocket knife. And my big toe hurt!

 

After the fight with the big snake I was exhausted. I sat down by a big tree and rested. It was getting close to midnight so I ate my cake and milk. I dreaded the thought of going back into that break. I knew I was close to where we came into the break. I took the frogs out of my catch sack, put them in the tote sack and lay them by a big tree. I guessed I had about thirty pounds. Then I waded back into the big break. After hunting a couple of hours and not finding many frogs I climbed upon a big log to fill my light with carbide. When I had filled the light with carbide and water I struck the flint and it barely lit. I had lost the tip out of my head-light!

 

So there I was. Somewhere near the middle of Park Break with no light. The light would burn a tiny bit but not nearly enough to find my way out of the break. I had not seen Derwood's light all night. I called out to him a few times but it was no use. The tree frogs and popping frogs were so loud he couldn't have heard him if he had been only a hundred yards away. The only thing I could do was to sit on the log and wait for Derwood to show up. I sat on the log about thirty minutes and was feeling for something in my pocket when I found a twenty two short cartridge. I remembered several years back Dad showed us how to make a carbide-light tip out of a twenty two bullet. I decided to try it. I set the light in front of me where I could see a little bit. I cut the rounded end off the bullet. Then I cut about an eighth of an inch slice off of it. With the sharp pointed end of the knife I punched a tiny hole through the slice. I put the light out and by feeling in the dark I pressed the slice into the hole where the tip fit. It was a tight fit and I could only press it in a short way. With the butt of my knife I tapped it into hole. It worked fine so I continued my hunt. And my big toe hurt!

 

Soon after I fixed my light something started screaming at the top of its voice. It screamed so loud I believe it could have been heard a mile away. My first thought was that something had attacked Derwood and was killing him. My heart almost jumped out of my chest. After only a few screams I could tell it was an animal. Probably a deer. It was a dreadful sound. Whatever it was screamed for several minutes.

 

I was not catching many frogs so I decided to hunt back through the area where I had caught most of the frogs I had. I had gone only a short distance when I saw Derwood's light coming around the north end of the break. It looked as though he had quit hunting and was just walking out of the break. When he approached me he asked how many frogs I had. I told him I had about forty pounds. I asked him the same question and he said, "I may have forty pounds. I don't know but I can tell you that whatever I have is all I will ever have if they have to come from Park Break." Then he added, "Let's get the heck out of here. I don't ever want to see this break again".

 

We went by and picked up my tote sack and headed out. We still had about a mile to walk back to the boat. And my big toe hurt! We caught eight or ten frogs on the deep flat we came in on. When we got back to the boat it was still not daylight. We cranked the little motor and headed down Tensas River. Before it got daylight we caught several more frogs. On the way down the river I asked Derwood if he heard the panther catch the deer. He said he heard it and it was real close to him. He said he thought it was wolves that caught it because it took so long to kill it. He said if a panther had caught it would not have screamed more than a couple of times.

 

When we reached home it was daylight. We carried the frogs up the hill and started dressing them. There was nearly a hundred pounds of them. Dad started in to brag about how many we had caught and Derwood said, "I know a hundred pounds is a lot of frogs. I don't care if there was a thousand pounds they would still not be worth it. If you ever want someone to hunt Park Break again don't ask me. I will never go there again." Then he said, "There is not another thirteen year old kid alive that would have gone into that break alone and caught as many frogs as Jimmie did. He is not a kid anymore". After that night I was never afraid to hunt alone anywhere.

 

When we finished dressing the frogs I pulled off my boots and examined my big toe. It looked like a huge strawberry. Bloody water was dripping from the place where I had cut away part of the nail. I showed it to Mother and she poured some coal oil into a pan and told me to soak it a while before I went to bed. I was sitting in a chair on the porch soaking my sore toe when Oliver came prissing by and asked, "What are you doing with your foot in that pan?" I said, "My big toe hurts!"

 

Chapter 11
OLIVER THE TRAPPER

 

In the 1930's one of our main sources of income during the winter months was from trapping. In late October or early November Dad and one or two of the oldest boys would set out long trap lines and run them all winter. Most of the time the only two people trapping were Dad and my next to the oldest brother Oliver.

 

In 1935 when Dad and Oliver trapped Oliver was 14 years old but he was as good a woods-man and trapper as any grown man. Dad trapped Frisby Bend and Oliver trapped the east side of Tensas River from Mill Bayou to Tensas Bluff and from Tensas River to Newell Ridge. Oliver didn't like trapping that area.

 

Almost every day Dad caught more coons than Oliver and he thought it was because there were less coons there than in the big woods.

 

When the trapping season opened in 1936 Oliver insisted on trapping in the big woods. Dad agreed to let him trap from Mill Bayou to Mack Bayou and from Lodging Bayou to Democrat Bayou then back to Mill Bayou. This was a large area and Dad knew it would take most of the season to trap it out. Dad didn't like giving Oliver Lake Nick (which was then called Locus Ridge Lake) because that was where he usually trapped the entire month of February each year.

 

The first half of the 1936 trapping seasons was good. There was a lot of heavy rains and the breaks and flats were full of water. When the shallow flats have water you can move into them and catch more coons than in the deep breaks. Both Dad and Oliver were averaging six or seven coons per day. Sometime around the middle of January they suddenly stopped catching many coons. When they had been catching six or seven they suddenly started catching two or three coons per day. They tried everything they knew how to catch more coons. They changed from water sets to logs, from log lets to ground sets and back to water sets. Nothing worked. There just was not many coons there.

 

There was an abundance of skunks in the big woods back then. Even though you didn't see many of them in the daytime their sign was everywhere. If you saw a rotting log or stump there was always skunk sign around it. They would dig in the rotting wood and eat the grubs and other insects. They would also scratch in the leaves on the ground and eat roots and bugs.

 

One day Oliver came in from his trap-line before dark. He only had one coon and one bobcat. By the time he stretched the two hides Dad arrived. He only had two coons. He stretched the hides and we all went into the house and ate supper. While at the supper table Dad said it looked as if they might as well take up the traps and clear some land before breaking time. He said he was running a twelve mile trap line catching two or three coons per day and it just was not worth it. Oliver asked Dad what he thought about catching some skunks and opossums. Dad said he didn't know if it would pay or not. Coon hides were bringing $2.25 each. Skunks were only $0.30 and opossum hides were $0.25 each. He said it would take an awful lot of skunks and opossums to make very much money. Oliver said that as much skunk sign as he had been seeing he believed he could catch a toe sack full a day. Dad said the fur buyer was due to come the next day and they would stay home and talk to him about the skunk and opossum hides. Maybe they could get him to pay a little more for them.

 

We all knew what Oliver was up to. There was six more weeks until the end of the trapping season and Oliver had rather be in the woods trapping than at home clearing land.

 

Oliver loved the big woods of Tensas. He was fascinated by the huge virgin timber and the birds and animals he was when he was running his trap line. Back then we still had the ivory billed woodpecker, the panthers, black bear and an abundance of wolves. We also had huge buck deer, squirrels, turkeys and wild hogs. Even the days he didn't catch much fur he often times came home excited about something he had seen or discovered in the big woods.

 

The fur buyer came the next day. He and Dad sorted out the hides and graded them for size and maturity. The fur buyer made an offer for them and Dad wouldn't sell that cheap. They bickered back and forth and finally settled on a price. (This was the usual way to sell fur.) The fur buyer would make an offer he knew Dad would not take. Then Dad would make an offer he knew the fur buyer would not pay. Then they would bicker back and forth until they reached a compromise, which was the right price to start with.

 

Dad asked the fur buyer about the skunk and opossum hides. The fur buyer said he would pay $0.25 for the Opossum hides and $0.30 for the skunks. Dad told him he was considering trapping some skunks. He said if he would pay $0.40 each for the hides it might justify them to trap skunks full time. The fur buyer said he couldn't pay more than that. He said the only reason for him to buy them at all was to help his customers out. He said he didn't make any money off them.

 

When the fur buyer left, Dad asked Oliver if he would like to try skunk trapping. Oliver said he would. The way Oliver saw it was if he could catch ten skunks a day and they sold for $0.30 each that was $3.00. At that time a grown man working at any common labor job would only make $0.65 for a ten hour day. There was a lot of difference between $0.65 and $3.00 Besides that, trapping was a lot more fun than clearing land.

 

Dad went to town that evening. When he returned he had several cans of sardines. He said they were going to be used for skunk bait. He opened a can and drained the water and oil out of them. With a kitchen fork he mashed the sardines into a thick paste. When this was done he put the paste in a pint jar and with his finger took out a small amount of the sardines (about the size of a black eyed pea) and rubbed it on the top of the trigger of a trap. Then he rubbed about the same amount on the bottom of the trigger. He said that if it rained, the bait on top of the trigger might wash off, but that under the trigger would not. Oliver said, "It's a shame to use these sardines for skunk bait instead of eating them. I love sardines."

 

Dad went to great lengths explaining to Oliver how to catch skunks. He showed him how to find the sign, how to set the traps, how to skin the skunks and how to kill them without getting skunk musk squirted on him and many other things he needed to know. Oliver listened very intently until he got down to, "how to kill the skunk without getting squirted on". At that point Oliver interrupted Dad and said he already knew how to kill the skunk without getting squirted. All you have to do is to shoot them in the head with a .22 rifle and get the hell out of the way until it died. Dad explained that it was against the law to shoot any fur bearing animal including the skunks. He said if a hide had a bullet hole it the fur buyers would not buy it. If a game warden found a shot hide in your possession you would be arrested and have to pay a big fine. Oliver asked, "If you can't shoot them how in the would can you possibly kill one?"

 

Dad said, "You hit them on the back of the head with a stick just like you do coons opossums, bobcats or any other small animal. The only thing different about killing a skunks is that you have to hit them on the back of the head. One swift lick on the back of the head with a good stick is all it takes. You can use the same stick you use to kill coons with." Oliver said, "I will have to think about this some."

 

Oliver was up early the next morning. He had to walk about ten miles and change 36 traps from water sets to ground sets. He paddled the boat up Mill Bayou to the mouth of Dry Bayou. This was where his trap line started. From there he went up Dry Bayou to Little Lake Nick. From there he crossed over a wide ridge into the Lake Nick Roughs. Then he went north, up the east side of Lake Nick to Mack Bayou. There he crossed over the West side of Lake Nick and went south all of the way to the south end of the roughs. From there he went southeast through a series of deep flats and small drains back to the boat where he started. It took him two days to move all of his traps. If he came across a good coon set he would set a trap in it.

 

The first skunk Oliver caught was a big boar skunk. It had already thrown it's musk when Oliver arrived. The whole area smelled like skunk. Oliver approached the skunk from the front end. He raised the kill stick and brought it down hard on the top of the skunk's head. When he did all hell broke loose. The skunk started jumping and kicking and throwing his musk everywhere. Oliver started beating the skunk with his kill stick. Every time he hit the skunk it squirted more musk. After about ten licks with the kill stick he finally killed it.

 

Oliver removed the skunk from the trap and reset it. He carried the skunk a few yards away from the set and skinned it. Then he sat on a log to think. If he had to fight every skunk he caught like he had this one he had rather be at home clearing land. Then he remembered. Dad said "Hit the skunk on the back of the head." The very next trap had a skunk in it. He raised the kill stick high and brought it down hard on the back of its head. The skunk rolled up like a ball with its belly on the ground and didn't spray a drop of musk.

 

Oliver trapped the rest of the season and didn't get sprayed but very few times. He averaged about eight skunks and three coons per day for the rest of the season.

 

Oliver came in from his trap run one day and told Dad he had been seeing about twenty head of red hogs feeding on a acorn ridge on the west side of Lake Nick. He said there was several shoats in the bunch that weighed about forty or fifty pounds. He asked Dad if he could carry the little .22 single shot rifle and see if he could kill one to eat. Dad reminded him that it was a five mile walk from the acorn ridge to Mill Bayou and he would get mighty tired carrying a forty pound shoat that far. Oliver insisted on doing it anyway so Dad let him try.

 

The very next day Oliver found the bunch of hogs and killed a nice gilt that weighed about forty pounds. He field dressed it and put it in the game pocket of his hunting coat. He also put about ten skunk hides in the game pocket that day. After about two miles of carrying the hog he began to give out. He decided to skip the rest of his trap run and head straight home. When he arrived at home everyone was excited about the fine piece of pork he had killed. Dad skinned the hog and sliced a big mess for Mother to cook. Mother heated a skillet of grease and put a hand full of the meat into it. When the meat hit the hot grease it smelled like a skunk had squirted a full load right there in the kitchen. There was no way anyone could eat that meat. Mother threw the whole thing in the garbage for the dogs to eat. The dogs wouldn't eat it either. Dad decided that if we soaked the meat over night in baking soda it might be fit to eat. He sliced the whole hog and put in a dishpan full of water and covered it with baking soda. The next day Mother tried cooking some more of it. It still smelled like skunk so bad we could not eat it. Dad said, "We all learned something by this. That is you can't mix skunk hides with fresh meat."

 

John A. and I were too young to have a trap line. We always had to help harvest the crops. When we finished harvesting our crops we would pick cotton for other farmers in the area. When most of the crops were harvested (about mid October) we had to start to school. We never went to school the first six weeks in the fall nor the last six weeks in the spring. In the fall we were harvesting the crops and in the spring we were planting and working in the fields. Some how we always managed to pass with a good grade.

 

One Friday evening after school Dad told Derwood we were almost out of meat and that he, John A. and I should go up Tensas River fire hunting and try to kill a deer. We waited until after dark before we left the house. We paddled the boat about a mile and a half before we lit the carbide light. We hunted all the way to Democrat Bayou (about four miles) before we killed a big doe. We field dressed the deer and returned home without a light.

 

From the time we left home until we returned it seemed that every hundred yards or two we would hear skunks scratching in the leaves on the river bank. The next day we told Dad about all the skunks we heard and asked him if we could try killing them with a stick like Oliver did with his traps. Dad said he was not sure if we could get close enough to kill them without them being in a trap, but if we wanted to try, have at it.

 

When it got dark that night we were ready to go. We asked Derwood if he wanted to go with us. His answer was short and direct. He said, "I don't do skunks."

 

Our first skunk hunt was a rather short one. We had paddled only a short distance from the landing when we found a big boar skunk. We landed the boat and I slipped up to him and whacked him on his head. He rolled over and over and squirted musk all over me. I had to beat him to death like killing a snake. Within two or three hours we killed about a half dozen skunks and got squirted on each time. It wasn't long before we decided that this was too rough. We quit hunting and went home. When we went into the house Dad asked if we killed any skunks. Mother answered, "I don't know how many they killed but they are not going to sleep in my house smelling like that." She made us pull off all our clothes and hang them on the clothes line outside. Then she made us take a bath in cold water. That was terrible.

 

The next morning Dad asked us how we could ever get that much musk on us just killing six skunks. We explained that all we did was slip up on them and hit them over the head with the kill stick. Dad said, "you are not supposed to hit them on the head. You are supposed to hit them on the back of the head." Then he added "The trouble with boys is that you can never think to tell them all of the things they are not supposed to do."

 

Oliver found an old work shoe and by using a broom handle as a kill stick and the heel of the shoe as the skunk's head he demonstrated how it was done. He said, "If you do it right you will not get musk on you ninety nine times out of a hundred." He was right. We hunted skunks several years and hardly ever got squirted on. The one percent we did get was just enough to assure plenty of room on the school bus and a desk at the back of the school room.

 

When John A. and I started skunk hunting it changed the way we arranged our personal hygiene. It had always been that Saturday was bath day. Since we went to school all week the only time we could skunk hunt was Friday and Saturday nights. There was no point in taking a bath on Saturday if we were going skunk hunting that night so we changed our bath time to Sunday. We could see no point in having to take an old wet bath two days in a row. Sometimes, if we got squirted on Friday night, we would have to take a bath on Saturday, and sometimes we would even have to use soap.

 

In the fall of 1937 Oliver and Derwood wanted to trap McGill Bend and Hunters Bend. It was too far to walk from home to either place. Unless they had a camp house, a tent or some place to keep dry and warm they could not make it through the winter. Dad solved that problem. He took a 4X8 sheet of plywood and made a roof out of it. Then he made four legs about five feet long. He made some curtains out of cotton sacks and tacked them to the roof. They were long enough to reach the ground. When he finished it made a neat little camp house. Dad called it a camp house. Oliver called it a chicken coop.

 

When the trapping season opened we loaded the little house, six dozen traps, some bedding, pots, pans and dishes into the big cypress boat. When it got dark, Dad, Oliver and Derwood headed up Tensas to set up camp. They paddled to the mouth of Republican Bayou (about seven miles) and went up the bayou about two hundred yards. When it got daylight they carried the little house and all of their equipment about a hundred yards from the bayou and set it up in a switch cane thicket. This was to be Derwood and Oliver home for the next forty-five days. The only contact with the outside world was when John A. and I took them groceries and picked up their fur. Every Friday night, rain or shine, John A. and I delivered groceries to them. We stayed at the camp on Saturday and carried their fur home Saturday night. We never traveled the river in the day-time where someone might see us and figure out what we were doing.

 

A few days before Christmas, Dad told John A. and I to tell them to take their traps up and stack everything in the little camp house and get ready to come home for Christmas. It had rained quite a lot and the river was deep enough to run a motor-boat. Dad said tell them he would leave a boat in Republican Bayou and when they had all of their traps up they could come home in it. He also said tell them to try to kill some meat for Christmas. That was the wrong thing to say to Oliver. The last day he took up his traps he carried the little .22 Single shot rifle with him. That one day he killed about ten ducks, eight or ten squirrels, a spike buck, two turkeys and two wild hogs. We spent most of the next day dressing meat.

 

Derwood and Oliver stayed home until the first week in January. There they and Dad went to the little camp and got all of their traps and camping equipment and moved to Singer Shack (which was then called the Locus Ridge Club-house). They stayed there while they set out all of their traps, which took three days. The pack rats were so bad they couldn't stay in the shack. They ran all over the place squealing and fighting. They gnawed into their food and what they didn't eat they peed all over. Oliver got a new belt for Christmas and they chewed in into and carried half of it off and he couldn't find it. It was just too rough. On the third day when they finished their trap-line they decided to go home.

 

They walked the six miles from the shack to Flowers Landing and arrived home around mid-night. The next morning they told Dad about the rats and that they just couldn't live with that many of them. Dad had bought eighty acres of land at the north end of Big Board Break that had a house on it. He told Oliver and Derwood to go back to Singer Shack and move their camping equipment to the house on Big Board Break. They filled their game bags with food and headed back to the big woods. They had a six mile walk back to Singer Shack. When they arrived they put all of their camping equipment in burlap sacks, crossed the river and walked three more miles to the house on Big Board Break.

 

The house on Big Board had two beds, several sheets and pillows, a wood burning stove and a tin heater. It was a fully equipped camp. Compared to what they had lived in most of the winter it was like living in a castle.

 

Derwood and Oliver trapped the lakes and breaks in Hunters Bend for three weeks and Dad brought them food and picked up their fur only one time. At the end of three weeks they had trapped nearly every break and lake in Hunters Bend beginning with Little Board Break, (which was across the river from the mouth of Mack Bayou) including the Big Board Break, Clear Lake, the two big breaks just west of Clear Lake, Grassy Break and several small breaks and flats, Harlington Break and ending with Blue Lake.

 

When Oliver and Derwood were home for Christmas Oliver applied for a job with the Civilian Conservation Corp. (C.C.C.). A letter came in the mail saying he had been accepted and was to report to the recruiting station in St. Joseph on a certain date. Dad carried the letter to their camp and told them to take up all their traps and stack them at the mouth of Squirrel Tail Bayou and he would pick them up later. The next day they took the traps up. When they arrived back at the camp they cleaned it and threw away all perishable food. With only their clothes and the fur they caught that day they headed for home. They walked the three miles to where the boat was parked and paddled twenty miles home that night. They arrived at home about two-thirty in the morning.

 

On the way down the river they reflected on the winter's trapping. It had been a hard grueling winter. First, there was the forty-five days they spent at the tiny little camp at Republican Bayou without seeing a single person except John A. and I when we took them food and picked up their fur. The cold rain and sometimes sleet and freezing rain and the long trap-lines had just about taken its toll on them by the time they went home for Christmas. Then there was the three days they stayed with the rats at Singer Shack and the three weeks they stayed at the camp on Big Board. All of this time they ran long trap-lines seven days a week. It had been a hard winter. Derwood asked Oliver if he thought he would like the C.C.C.'s. Oliver said "It will beat the hell out of trapping."