Transcribed by Timothy R. Meador, Jr.
September 22, 1949 – Reprinted September 29, 1977
* CAL’S COLUMN *
We closed last week with a promise to come again. We had so much favorable comment that we resume our “Colyum.” We spoke of our father’s bees. The first swarm he had was found by him in the branches of a cedar tree in our old pasture, a few hundred yards from our father’s home. He managed to get these into a hive and they prospered. The next year there was an increase and each year thereafter for many years, until our father finally had 56 stands, all of them the old-fashioned round, log gums, with “nary” a patent hive.
In April he would search out a hollow linden tree, cut it down, saw it into bee gums length, about three feet, then hollow out the inside until it was smooth and nice, put in the cross pieces to support the comb made by the bees, then put a top or head on the bee gum. This was usually held in place by a round stick that went across the top and into holes in the “ears,” or side pieces. In this way it was not necessary to use a hammer to remove the top at robbing time. Our father wanted 100 bee hives, but he reached only about two thirds of his goal. Why he could never reach the coveted goal, we did not know in our boyhood. Now we are quite sure that it was due to the fact that he had so many bees that the section in which they held forth would not support any more. Bees cannot be forced to go extra long distances for the blossoms from which they extract their honey, and be expected to prosper. Our father’s bees reached the “saturation point” and for that reason he could never reach his 100-stand goal. Had he sowed special crops he might have eventually reached the goal that he sought for years. But he never planted anything in the way of a crop specially for his bees.
Many incident have come down to us through the years relative to our bees. At robbing time we used the old fashioned torch made of cotten* rags rolled together and which was blown with the mouth. We have blown the torch hundreds of times, and this may be the reason we are full of “hot air” today. We had a good strong pair of lungs and we really put our. We had a sort of knack for getting along with the bees and seldom got a sting. But others seemed to arouse the “animosity” of bees and they were stung almost as soon as they were in “stinging” distance. About the first of April, our father would begin his robbing of the bee hives. Some years he had hundreds of pounds of fine honey, which he sold for ten cents per pound. This was a fine honey as could be found in that day and time, entirely free from beebread and clear of all dark comb and “fit for a king”. Our dear mother was the one who separated the beebread from the honey and she was so conscientious about the matter, that even a speck of beebread as small as the head of a pin was always removed.
We always gave those who visited us at bee robbing time all the honey they could eat. One of the neighbors, whose name we will not call, came by and bought a nice amount of honey. He was so fond of the sweetening that he started to go into the vessel in which he was to carry his honey to his home. Our mother asked him not to do so, but told him that she would give him all the honey he could eat. A heavy cloud was coming up and he ate hurriedly and also lavishly. He mounted his horse with the bucket of honey in front of him and left our home. He had gone only about a half mile when the honey began to have an unfavorable effect on him. He became very, very sick and began to vomit. Unable to get off his horse in time, he vomited his shoes full of honey and other ingredients of the day’s eating. The storm broke and the rain poured down, and the poor man had to take it all. This happened about 45 years ago and remains with us until the present.
Our brother, Tom, 15 months younger than the writer, and the writer used to have a lot of fun with boys who did not know that drones cannot sting. We were never afraid of bees and we knew drones on sight. Boys who knew nothing of bees were kept in ignorance of the fact that only the worker bees can sting. So we would often catch the drones and put them on the boys who visited us. We have seen them almost tear off their clothing in their mad efforts to get rid of what they thought were “stingers.” It was a little mean in us, but we did have a lot of fun with uninitiated boys who wanted to see our father’s bees.
We recall another episode in which our bees had an indirect part. Our father’s bee gums as set forth above, were made of hollow trunks of linden trees. Sometimes the inside of such trees were partially filled with rotting or, as we called it, “doty” wood. Such rotting wood sometimes gave off a light at night called by some “fox fire.” Our brother had gone to our neighboring town of Dixon Springs, riding the old family mare, Old Nell. He did not always return promptly and this time he was out until about an hour after dark. At dusk we discovered some “fox fire” in a chunk of the rotting inner part of the tree cut for the bee gums. It gave off considerable light. We took a rather large piece of this wood that emitted the light, carried it to the door of Old Nell’s stable and laid it in a crack between the logs of which the old stables were built. It gave off a glow that could be seen perhaps 50 feet. Part of the wood did not glow, this fact making the chunk appear “spotted.” We heard our brother come rushing up the road, and knew that he was going directly to the stables to put up the mare for the night. Soon we heard a loud voice calling our name with much zeal. We did not answered at once as we wanted to have some fun. So we finally answered in a casual voice and asked what was wrong. Our brother replied, “Come here as quick as you can.” We approached slowly as if we were not impressed, and asked what he wanted. He said, “Can’t you see that thing there in that crack.” We said, “What is it? As we started to go right up to the “light.” He grabbed the writer and pulled him back saying, Don’t do that. It may be a rattlesnake.” Well, we wanted to laugh out loud, but managed to hold back. In spite of our brother’s protests, we went to the side of the stable door, reached up and pulled the old chunk of rotting wood from its resting place and our brother discovered that he had been hoodwinked. He came near whipping us that time and would perhaps have tried it if we had not been larger and stronger than he.
Our father’s failing health cause him to neglect his bees. On the day of his sale, Feb. 6, 1916, about 30 stands of the bees, all he had left of the 65, were sold. We wonder if there is a single colony of that particular strain of Italian bees, so carefully kept by our very particular father, still in existence.
If we could find one such colony, we would be tempted to buy it, if possible, and strive to perpetuate our father’s work in bee keeping. He had a wonderful way of handling bees and they even seemed to know him as their friend.
Many bee raisers seem to think 40 years ago that it was necessary to ring a bell or beat on a pan to cause bees to “settle” at swarming time. Our father said it did no good and he discarded the idea. He learned to know much of bees by experience and by reading widely on the culture of these little insects. He was able to follow wild bees in the forest almost unerringly, and discovered many, many bee trees. The writer found only one bee tree in his entire life in the past, and this happened one day since we moved to Macon County while we were in the woods on a hunting trip. Pioneer settlers often followed bees to their tree or other place where they had their honey stored. They usually sought to find a watering place as a start, bees requiring considerable water. At the spring or seep, where they watered, such bees were carefully observed. Bees have a habit of going in a virtually straight line to their home, and on this account we have the old expression, a beeline,” meaning a straight line. Since virtually every bee went the same way, it was not difficult to tell in what direction their hive was. To simplify matters, bee hunters often went to another “watering place” and there watched to see what direction the bees took as they left the water. If the direction was different from that taken by the bees at the other watering place, it was not difficult to figure out about where the lines, if continued, ought to cross. By this means it was easy for a man of close observation and keen eyesight to locate a bee was to take a little flour and sprinkle it on the bees as they drank. By this means their flight could be followed for longer distances with the naked eye.
“Cutting a bee tree,” was one of the great experiences of country boys of 50 years ago. We did not do a great amount of the chopping or sawing, but we managed to be on hand for the “kill,” which was the getting of the honey. It was seldom that any effort was made to save the bees in these forest trees, the honey being the chief reason for cutting down the tree. Sometimes a valuable tree, l large poplar or nice oak, would be chopped or sawed down and the tree left to rot where it fell, for the sake of a few pounds of honey, or sometime no honey at all. Occasionally a bee tree would have a large amount of honey, but most of the time, the quantity was small. We once assisted in cutting down a big oak tree on the John Bell Winkler farm. Here we found a large amount of fine honey which had “aged” in the tree. Mr. Winkler himself was present and he gave consent to cutting the tree. But this was not always the case. Often such trees were cut down in the night, the honey taken and the owner left with a fallen tree and not an ounce of honey. At this particular bee tree cutting, our father’s cousin, whose name we refrain from giving, was quite a distance from the fallen tree, but the air was filled with a angry, buzzing bees. A bee made a dive toward this man who fought the little insect with might and main and finally lost out. The bee stung him in the head, and his words are still recalled after nearly 50 years of time: “His sting was just like being hit in the head with a hammer.” The same day we saw a man with a long beard pursued by bees, which finally got into his “whiskers” and the man’s funny actions will live with us so long as we have any memory. He knocked and struck at the bees, but his efforts were in vain and he finally “got what was coming to him.”
*It is obvious Cotton was meant for the above error.