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by B. W. Dortch, c1998BWDortch

It was the first warm, sunny spring day after a  long,  hard winter. Sniffer had not intended to nap, just to bask in the sun for a short while and warm his arthritic bones.  More and more these days he could not seem to stay awake for long periods, especially when the sun warmed him up.  Sniffer was a bluetick coon hound, registered with the United Kennel Club,  rapidly approaching his 15th whelping day and  semi-retired. As he lay in the sun and napped, he dreamed of pack mates that had been long dead, he dreamed of a pretty redbone bitch that he had had a brief affair with many seasons ago and as a result she had whelped  15 bluetick redbone cross pups, all of which became fine coon hounds in their own right and are now gone. 

That was before he became so famous and in such great demand as a stud that his Master had limited his matings to only bluetick bitches with the finest and longest pedigrees.  To be sure, there had been some lookers in this group.His progeny from these matings numbered in the hundreds, but since these trysts were arranged by the Master, most of the bitches arrived by airplane or truck and he never saw them again and had no way of reckoning how many pups he had sired, but knew as only dogs can know that there were many.

Sniffer's legs jerked spasmodically as the musty, fresh scent of a running coon drifted in on the breeze, in his dreams. This was not the first time Sniffer had ran this very coon whom he secretely admired greatly for his skill in shaking the lesser hounds from his track.  The scent rose from the ground in a V shape on either side of Sniffer so that he did not have to put his nose to the ground, but ran with his head up at full speed. On and on the old coon ran, tirelessly Sniffer followed. This was a true sports coon, of much refinement and good breeding who always gave the Sniffer a good run for his money and enjoyed the chase as much as Sniffer did.  Not too many left like that one. No breeding anymore like they had in the old days.  No honor amongst these upstart young coons these days.  Maybe he and the Master would go to Kentucky or Arkansas where they could find a coon with some honor, one who enjoyed the chase. More and more frequently of late, since his Master Jester did not unleash him as often as he used to, Sniffer had these dreams. In the old days, Sniffer was the leader of a pack of five coon hounds, the finest in the state and as such was allowed to go on every hunt with Jester and his many friends from the city.  Once, just after his seventh whelping day, Sniffer had led his pack on a hunt at which his honor the governor of the state was the guest of honor.  So great was Sniffer's performance at the head of the pack that the governor  himself had presented Jester with a blue ribbon and a beautiful silver cup for having the finest lead dog in the entire state and  that lead dog was old Sniffer, whose name was boldly engraved on the side of the cup.  His stud services were in great demand after that hunt and Sniffer,  the Master and Mistress had never been happier. Silver cups that he had won and blue ribbons adorned the Master's living room. The Mistress carefully polished the silver cups often and displayed the blue ribbons on velvet backed boards around the room. Sniffer had been allowed inside the house to see them once long ago. He did not like the smells in the house and so never went back again. The Mistress frequently cooked special dishes for the dogs, reserving all of the choicest edges and pieces for The Sniffer.  The Mistress was a grand lady and knew how to address dogs as well as any man, never speaking to them when she was standing unless she was behind them.  Of course, the Mistress was a genteel lady of refinement and good breeding.

He dreamed of a hunt in which he had struck game at the confluence of  North Cross Creek and the Cumberland river and had ran the coon, a very musical chase  from the strike point five miles up the river and back again where he had taken to the water. Undaunted, Sniffer went in after him and brought the coon out, quite dead. A 27 pounder it was at that, quite a good sized coon in any country, but no match for the Sniffer.  This was one of the few times Sniffer had actually killed his quarry.  He was a true sports dog and loved the thrill of the chase and secretly admired a coon that could put up a challenging run and unless provoked he would never kill his quarry. But, the coon was expected to display some honor himself and not jump in the river the moment  the pack closed in for a bit of a sight chase.

Once, a wealthy hunter from Kentucky had offered Jester $7000 for the Sniffer and met with a haughty refusal. Again, a wealthy hunter from Mississippi after a night hunt at which Sniffer led his pack on a fine hunt and treed seven coons, signed a blank check and handed it to Jester, begging him to fill it in for whatever amount he thought reasonable for Sniffer. Again, Jester refused the offer and while tearing the check into tiny pieces announced that Sniffer was not for sale at any price.  It was not that Jester was a wealthy man, far from it.  He did own a 60 acre hill farm from which he barely eked out a living for he and his wife of 37 years and the hound pack. The couple was childless which may help to account for their fondness of the coon hound pack and Sniffer in particular.

Sniffer was a fine specimen of a coon hound. On his fourth Whelping day, he had weighed  in at an even 90 pounds in good hunting condition and stood 29 inches at the shoulders and was muscular and well proportioned from the end of his muzzle to the tip of his tail.  Except for deep blue black ears and a broad blue black blaze down the center of his head,  Sniffer was white with the blue tick markings generously covering his entire body.  Old Sniff as the Master fondly called him during moments of levity was a true representative of the blue tick strain.  He knew that he was directly descended from the royal line of Blue Gascons of Gascony in the Southwest of France.  This fact was not noted on his certificate of registration in the United Kennel Club, but Sniffer knew as only dogs know that he was desceded from this royal line of hounds. and that he was from a family of great antiquity.

Sniffer had been whelped and had spent his entire life on this little farm, rarely leaving for anything other than a coon hunt. Oh, he had been to the city once, to the veterinarian's office when he was two years old and had been bitten by a rattlesnake while sniffing around a stack of rotting sawmill slabs.  Sick as he was at that time, the smells of the city made him even sicker. Although, he enjoyed riding in the back of Jester's pickup truck, he did not like the smell of these rolling monsters in the city that were thicker than flies and as noisy as a cattle sale.  Moreover, there were entirely too many people in the city. Why there must have been four or five of them in the vets office, flitting around, opening his mouth, sticking rude things in both ends of him and checking the results.  Except for Jester and his wife, Sniffer was not overly fond of humans.  Of course, his love for this couple who raised him was deeper than the ocean. He could not remember not knowing them, he thought that his sire and dam had both known them and that their sire and dam had known them as well, so firmly entrenched were they in his instinctive reasoning.  They simply went back in his mind long before time began. He could not remember their ever speaking a cross word to him or being mean to him in any way. Always when speaking seriously with Sniffer, Jester squatted down on his haunches so that their faces were almost on the same level, which is the way a dog should be addressed by a human. This was the only way to establish a true man to dog dialogue. Although, the veterinarian stood while addressing him, he had the common courtesy to place him on a table so that their faces would be on the same level.  Even the knowledgeable judges at the many field trials that Sniffer had been on and won, had the common courtesy to squat down or place him on a bench when addressing him. Of course, these were quality, well bred and refined people and not the riffraff that sometimes passed the yard and yelled insults at the dogs in their kennels while standing and looking down upon them. No dog with any dignity at all enjoyed being addressed by a human who was looking down upon him and Sniffer was a dog from a long line of good breeding. a lot of dignity and was certainly no exception to this rule.

  Between his second and fourth whelping dates, Sniffer had won for his Master five blue ribbons and fifteen red ones at coon dog field trial events. Not too bad for a pup the Master had bragged. After his  fourth whelping date his record was 89 blue ribbons in as many consecutive trials, countless silver cups  and two red ribbons.  The two red ribbons  came on his last two hunts after his recovery from having been run over by an inconsiderate, so called sportsman in a jeep. At the last trial, when he placed second to a treeing walker named Sawbuck, the Master did not enter him in another field trial, releasing him only to go with the pups on the farm and train them.  The first red ribbon they won after the string of 89 blues, he had  lost first place to a black and tan bitch named Fronie who had narrowly beaten him to take the blue ribbon when the coon she was chasing went up a tree to avoid running right over another group of hunters.  Now a good judge would have disqualified that coon and given her another one. Not that he blamed Fronie's owner  for accepting the blue ribbon, but, he did think that a coon that would do a trick like that was ill refined, had no breeding at all and deserved to have his back broken and be dragged along through the woods on a chain to make a scent trail for pups in training. He would surely like to be the hound that gave that dishonorable old excuse for a coon his comeuppance.  Why he could recall a day in his youth that any coon worthy of the name would have ran right through that group of hunters, man and dog alike and whipped any dog that tried to impede his progress.  And a judge that would allow something like that to go unchallenged was reprehensible, should have his leg peed on by a good hound and should never again be allowed to judge a coon dog field trial event for the remainder of his miserable life.  But, Sniffer had never argued the political merits of any of the judges even with his peers with whom he was on good speaking terms. He was perfectly content to let the Master handle the politics and he would handle the more intricate details of chasing the coon until he ran up a tree, a job for which he was imminently well qualified and had proven time and time again that he could handle with competence. He did not blame Fronie either, he had known her for years as well as both her sire and dam.  No, Fronie was an honorable bitch and was not to be blamed for the shortcomings of a judge who did not know his business or a stupid thing that had the audacity to call himself a coon. Oh, occasionally Fronie could get on his nerves. She was registered in the American Kennel Club and never let anyone forget it.  She also liked to brag and put on airs about the fact that she descended from the Talbot hound which was known in England in the eleventh century during the reign of  William I, Duke of Normandy. But, aside from these little flights of fancy, Fronie was a great little bitch.

The sun grew warmer on his back and Sniffer awakened briefly to snap at an imaginary fly. Many hunts ago, his eyes had begun to develop a gray cloudiness that was becoming more and more difficult to see through and sometimes he saw floaters dancing before his eyes, now he did not know if he had seen a fly or not.  He dozed again.  This time he dreamed of a field trial that he and the Master had once attended in Arkansas. This was the biggest trial he and the Master had been involved with up until that time. Even the Mistress had went on this one, and stayed in a tent and cooked for them. This was indeed a gala affair and had lasted for three days. The Master had to draw a number from a hat for starting time and hunting area and had drawn an area called Thompson's Hollow. Arriving at the hunting area, Sniffer had been released first as was the usual practice because he was after all, the lead dog and the best strike dog in the pack and had immediately struck a coon.  Soon after the strike, Sniffer had produced a subtle change in his voice to signal the Master to release the remainder of the pack as in his judgement he thought the trail was hot enough for them to follow. As soon as the other dogs in the pack were released, things began to warm up. The coon was an old one and a true sports coon who had led many other packs of hounds in his day.  As the chase continued, Sniffer sensed that they were getting near water and suspected that the old coon would take them all for a swim and they would have to kill him, which was always the punishment that was meted out to a cowardly coon who took to the water.  He was pleasantly surprised when upon reaching the bank of a small river, the coon doubled back and passed the pack not more than fifty feet away while headed back in the direction from which they had come.  Sniffer was then only dog in the pack to detect this little trick that the old coon was pulling on them and could easily have quit the old trail, cut over and picked up the new one and gained a full half mile on the coon;  however, cutting was dishonest and Sniffer had been trained better than that so on he went right to the brink of the river, following the coon's every footstep.  True sports coon that he was, the old coon returned almost to the strike point where he went up a giant sycamore tree, climbed right to the top and took his perch in plain view of the judges with their powerful flashlights.  Now there was a coon of good breeding and you just did not see them like that anymore. Having figured out the trick played by the old coon and how honestly Sniffer had continued to follow the trail and lead his subordinates, the judges awarded the Master best of the trial for Sniffer's performance.  This naturally added another blue ribbon and another beautiful silver cup to the Master's collection and a bit of an increase for Sniffer's stud services. Sniffer was soon to find out, there were some great looking bitches in Arkansas.   For this event, Sniffer got the best reward of all. The Mistress had baked a special black iron skillet of cornbread and withdrawing a small bag from his hunting coat, the Master doled out the bread to the pack. All the crusty edges were broken away and given to Sniffer, which caused his tail to wag with glee. He was surely blessed with a fine Master and Mistress and all of his contemporaries knew it.

Sniffer awoke with hunger pains gnawing at his stomach. So many hunts, he just could not stay awake. He dozed again and had very fuzzy dreams. This time the Sniffer dreamed about running a coon in the great Smoky Mountains, but just could not seem to get his bearings for the clouds. He jerked his head from side to side, trying to see into the clouds, but to no avail, the clouds remained.  On he ran, stumbling through the briars and brambles.  His pack mates had given up long ago and no longer followed him. Young pups nowadays, you just could not depend on them.  No loyalty to a good master that fed them. Sniffer did not know the meaning of the word quit, until his quarry had been treed or otherwise disposed of. He would have to administer a bit of discipline when he got them back to the kennel, after all, it was what the Master expected. A couple of nips to the ears would straighten them out, and he would see to that.  The Sniffer had to maintain pack discipline or there was no discipline. The Master expected it and Sniffer could not let him down. Yes, he would have a little set to with them when they returned home. He just might have to split a few ears. A low growl emanated from his throat and awakened him. He seemed to dream a lot about the old days, just couldn't help himself, nothing else to think about, hunting days over, just trying to teach a bunch of young pups the coon hunting business that did not want to learn. Too bad.

He slept again and before the dreams came, he was awakened by the Master who had come to feed the pack.  Through the clouds and by his scent Sniffer knew it was the Master, but could not understand why their faces were not on an even keel as the Master stroked his graying head and spoke softly and lovingly to him.  He sensed that the Master was squatting on his haunches, but could not understand why he had to look up in the direction of his voice.  He also sensed that the Master was very sad.  Sniffer was distressed about this, he did not like to see the Master so sad.  The Master left the kennel and returned with the Mistress. Sniffer sensed that  she too was very, very sad. Sniffer was distressed, he did not like to see the Mistress so sad.  He wept as only a dog can weep, silent, deep and heart rending. The warm earth felt good on his head.  He would just take another short nap then get up and be about his business.  Another good hunt would cure whatever was wrong with the Master and make him happy once more, just like the old days, Sniffer intended to give him another. He knew instinctively  that he would be safe with both the Master and the Mistress there by his side, had they not been there the night he was whelped and helped his dam dry him off? they would see  that he was safe.  Such pleasant and loving thoughts made him cozy and warm, he dozed once more and sleepily thought how nice it was to have such a nice Master and Mistress. Yes he was safe, he would just take another brief nap.  He would awaken soon and take the master on another fine hunt.

He dreamed again, this time he and the Master had been invited to a farm where the coons were eating the fresh corn right from the stalk and doing quite a bit of damage.  Immediately upon being released, Sniffer figured out  that there had been many young coons around and only one old one could be detected. Unerringly, Sniffer unraveled the trail of the old female coon and took her on a lively chase, not fast enough to make her go up a tree, but just fast enough to keep her  running many miles from the farm, knowing that the young ones would follow when the dogs were gone.  She was a well bred coon from a good family and Sniffer did not wish to harm her or her young. For this single hunt, the farmer who owned the land sent treats to the pack for months afterward. 

Those were good thoughts.  Sniffer awakened and felt thirsty, he tried to get up and go the few feet to his water dish, but could not quite make it and lost interest. He napped again.

As he usually did each night before going to bed, the Master came to the kennels to check on the dogs and again brought the Mistress with him.  As usual, Sniffer's kennel was the Master's last stop as they usually had a short conversation and discussed plans for the next hunt before bedtime each night.
The Master noticed that the Sniffer did not seem to have moved since he saw him at supper time. The food in his dish had not been touched.  The Sniffer had made his last hunt, he would hunt no more.

Return to "The Tales They Told"


by B. W. Dortch, c1998BWDortch

The major sporting event of the summer when I was a lad growing up in Stewart County, Tennessee was marked by the arrival of Sidney's uncle Henry from Birmingham each August. Uncle Henry having grown up on a farm himself, always timed his visit to coincide with the laying by of the corn crop. When the crop was laid by, this meant that it had been plowed three times and thinned so that the stalks stood three feet apart and would not be worked again until harvest time.  This always signaled the end of working every day and only the tobacco had to be suckered and wormed and that was not a full time job. Such timing always assured uncle Henry an abundant supply of free child labor for seining creeks and nearby farm ponds for crawfish and minnows which were used for bait on the trot lines that he was so fond of fishing with.  Of course, there was loads of tackle and assorted equipment that had to be transported to and from the river twice daily and Sidney and I were efficient if unwilling beasts of burden.  Uncle Henry was fond of saying "an idle mind is the devil's workshop".  He was constantly vigilant to insure that the devil did not establish residence in our juvenile minds.

His visit always meant two weeks of fine trot line fishing and frog hunting as he was  a world class contender in both events. Uncle Henry also held world class status in other events as well, such as eating fried chicken, catfish and froglegs.  Devouring prodigious quantities of fried fiddler catfish was perhaps his strong suit.  The fiddler catfish were small weighing no  more than two pounds, therefore it was considered gauche to fillet them. Instead, they were simply skinned, beheaded and fried whole, bones and all. It was rumored that when uncle Henry ate catfish, the whole fish was taken in on one side of the mouth, the meat stripped away and ingested while the bones were discharged on the other.  While eating catfish in the presence of uncle Henry or anyone else, I never bothered to check the validity of this rumor, being otherwise gainfully employed myself.

Uncle Henry had an ancient, turn of the century three horsepower outboard motor which Sidney and I had the dubious pleasure of carrying back and forth to the river twice daily. Oh! on rare occasions he would let us repeat the procedure after supper when he wanted to gig a few frogs after dark. Never let it be said that uncle Henry was not fair when it came to dispensing favors. Since this was a journey of no more than a mile, and the motor weighed in at a mere 95 pounds, this was a pleasure that Sidney and I always looked forward to. On top of this, the oars which were used for back up power in case of engine failure, which was a frequent happening  also had to be transported. Upon our safe arrival at the river, uncle Henry took charge of the outboard motor and did all the operating, an oversight that did not go unnoticed by Sidney or me.
The first day or two of the vacation was devoted to seining nearby farm ponds and creeks for minnows and crawfish that were used for bait for the trot lines. Several hundred of each were usually harvested and kept in fine meshed wire baskets submerged in the river and securely tied to an over hanging willow branch to be used as needed. Frequently the minnows and crawfish baits would be supplemented by a few tobacco worms and chicken entrails.  There was always an abundant supply of tobacco worms as we grew our own.  Chicken entrails were never in short supply when uncle Henry was around and was the only part of the chicken that he did not eat.

I well remember uncle Henry's last vacation. At the end of our two day bait harvesting foray, we arose bright and early on the following morning, set out and baited six trotlines and started checking them every two hours.  Luck was good, every time we checked the lines, we filled the bottom of the boat with the choice fiddler catfish.  These were strictly prime, chicken of the river and fit so nicely into a skillet when skinned and beheaded.  Then just to give Uncle Henry something to brag about when he returned to Birmingham, we landed a 35 pound flat head yellow catfish and got our names in the local weekly newspaper. Or at least our mentor Uncle Henry did. Uncle Henry was euphoric and had begun to hint at teaching a fishing class to his fishing club buddies, who did most of their fishing from a club room with a well stocked bar. Better still he might simply publish a book of his fishing secrets and pass his vast storehouse of knowledge on to the world.  After all he reckoned, it would be uncharitable to possess so much fishing lore and not pass it on to the less fortunate of the world. In fact, in summarizing this dissertation he even allowed  it would be unchristian like not to share. As time is prone to do, the two week vacation began to draw to a  close and it was decided by uncle Henry that we would do a night foray around the perimeter of Bald Island and bag us a mess of frogs. Translated this meant that Sidney and I would have the singular pleasure of holding the light and steadying the boat while we circled the island's three mile girth until uncle Henry became dizzy.  Still being on a high from his great fishing success, he gave us a lengthy dissertation on the fine art of taking the delectable frog with rifle or gig.

After supper, all the gear was carefully assembled and inspected by the old pro and we set out for the river.  Sidney had drawn the short straw in an earlier drawing and had won the dubious honor of carrying the outboard motor. I had lucked out and loafed along with only a set of oars for backup power, a kerosene lantern, a can of gasoline, assorted knives and sharpening stones, two frog gigs with 10 foot handles, a tow sack and a few other odds and ends to insure success for the evening hunt.  Ever the leader, uncle Henry strode along in front with the .22 rifle snuggled in the crook of his right arm and
set the pace that any race horse could have kept up with. In our strategy session, uncle Henry had thrown out all the suggestions Sidney and I had made and decided on the spot that the perimeter of the island would be our objective for the night. Based on our knowledge that the place was swarming with the cotton mouth snakes, Bald Island was not high on our list of favored places to spend an evening. However, we had often sat on the river bank at night and heard bull frogs bellowing on the island that sounded like bull alligators. After carefully affixing the outboard motor to the transom of the boat and checking all connections, uncle Henry with a mighty heave on the starter rope cranked this gargantuan power plant into action.  Swiftly we headed for the middle of the river then turned downstream towards the Island. Figuring to keep the element of surprise on our side, the wise old pro cut the engine off approximately two miles above the island and decided to let the boat drift silently with the current, while he deftly maintained our position in midstream with a sculling paddle. Upon reaching our target, with a skilled swish of the paddle, uncle Henry sent us drifting slowly down the left side of the island.  At this point, being the self designated shooter for the evening, uncle Henry and I exchanged positions in the boat, he coming to the front of the boat, the better to man the gig and rifle, and I taking his old position in the rear of the boat. My sole responsibility was to place the front end of the boat precisely where uncle Henry thought he wanted it and take the blame for all missed shots and thrusts of the gig. Sidney maintained his position amid ship and was only responsible for removing impaled frogs and assorted other critters from the gig and scooping up those that had been shot at and accidentally hit in a large dip net.  Old Sidney always had all the luck. Uncle Henry having been a minor enlisted person in the Army during World War I, was quite skilled at giving orders, maintaining discipline and deploying troops under his command.  Taking almost everything into consideration, everyone on-board had been assigned their chores with clock like precision. Uncle Henry would suffer no back talk when it came to assigning chores; therefore, neither Sidney or I felt it prudent to advise him on the matter of our having seen  a snake or two around the perimeter of the island. With all hands in position, he carefully loaded his vintage pump rifle with 21, .22 caliber short rounds, lit his trusty carbide miners lamp, carefully affixed it to his lucky fishing cap and with a great John Wayne flourish, motioned for me to get the craft underway and quit wasting time. Uncle Henry would brook no wasters of the valuable commodity called time. Since he had not used the gig or rifle since the previous summer, uncle Henry was just a wee bit off stride and managed to place the blame squarely on my shoulders for his first dozen misses. and soundly admonished Sidney  for allowing the kerosene lantern to shine in his eyes. On the thirteenth attempt, he finally connected with a young frog which had just evolved from the tadpole stage and his mood swing was instantaneous.

"Ha, ha! You ole boys jes listen to yo Uncle Henry and quit yo hossing around and I'll bag us a fine mess of frogs." Translated this meant, "you lads give me 100 good shots and I will take seven frogs back to Birmingham with me all packed in ice."  Yessir, you ole boys jes listen to yo ole Uncle Henry and I'll learn you something about frogging. How true this statement turned out to be. The evenings excitement was really picking up, uncle Henry had scored twice more and allowed as how if we would jes listen to our ole Uncle Henry, we would fill this danged boat to the brim with prime frogs.  Alls ye got to do is jes listen to yo ole Uncle Henry.

  Suddenly things took a slight change. Tilting the lantern upwards, with a sly nod, Sidney invited my attention to what appeared to be an entire colony of water moccasins curled around a fork in the willow for a good nights rest. I  carefully steered the boat away from the shore to avoid these low hanging willow branches, and recieved an   immediate and very sound admonishment from the ever vigilant Uncle Henry, to get the dang boat back in-line if I wanted him to get us a nice mess of frogs. No doubt, these snakes were tired from a hard day of scaring the daylights out of unwary fishermen.  Carefully so as not to attract the attention of the ever vigilant uncle Henry, Sidney maneuvered the boat to a position where the snakes were right over the boat half way between himself and uncle Henry.  Well, Sidney said later that it was an accident and I have no reason to doubt his word, truthful and sincere lad that he was, the branch he was holding on to slipped from his hand. With a vigorous twang, eight fine moccasins were suddenly dumped into the boat midway between he and uncle Henry.  Each snake thinking that his fellow had pulled this nasty trick on him was quite angry and a terrible snake fight ensued as they writhed and snapped at each other, mouths agape. Well if the gigging of a few small frogs had caused the excitement, to soar, this unexpected event caused it to reach new peaks.  You should have seen the look of innocent surprise on old Sidney's face at this totally unexpected turn of events.  With a single flat footed leap from a sitting position, he was beside me on the rear seat of the boat.  Uncle Henry threw his head back so that the beam from the miners light targeted our faces and yelled in his most stentorian voice, " what you danged boys doing now"?  I swear you boys could tear up an anvil". trying to drond us all, hossing around again I allow, (Uncle Henry would suffer no hossing around.)  Bending to retrieve his fallen gig and continue the mission, the beam of his miners light focused on the pile of writhing snakes. He immediately forgot the fallen gig, grabbed his trusty rifle and proceeded to pump 21 holes in the bottom of the boat the size of pencils in the general vicinity of where the snakes had been before running out of ammunition.
The snakes thinking that the Armageddon had surely arrived with all its fury, slithered over the side of the boat and started looking for a more secure place to get a good nights sleep.  Strangely, there were 21 geysers, roughly the size of Old Faithful, silently spurting water into the boat.  Noting this minor dilemma, the quick witted uncle Henry grabbed a lard bucket full of tobacco worms and rapidly began to bail water from what appeared to be a rapidly sinking boat. Seeing that he was losing ground with each stroke, Sidney calmly took out his trusty Case pocket knife and started carving pegs from a willow branch to plug the holes. This singular act soon stopped the inflow and allowed uncle Henry to make some headway with the outflow and the boat was soon declared seaworthy by our mentor. However, for some unknown reason, he suddenly developed a headache and decided to abort the mission and head for home.

All the time this debacle had been going on, unnoticed by everyone except Sidney and I, the boat had continued to drift down river on its on steam farther from the landing.  Finally noticing this dilemma, uncle Henry grabbed the starter rope on his powerful outboard motor and gave it a vigorous pull, and another and another.  As boats are prone to do, ours kept right on drifting downstream.  After all this pulling of the rope and choking of the motor, gas fumes had begun to permeate the air until it seemed total asphyxiation would soon be the plight of us all.  Concerned, but not wishing to sound flippant, Sidney meekly suggested that the motor just might possibly have flooded itself.  I don't need any smart mouth kid telling me how to operate this here motor replied Uncle Henry, giving the rope another mighty tug.  This wild game of tug and choke, tug and choke he continued until totally exhausted he slumped over the motor and started emitting hoarse moans, while the boat continued to drift silently down stream.  Finally, after a brief rest from having its rope tugged and its carburetor choked, the gas fumes dissipated and with a disinterested jerk from uncle Henry, the motor sputtered into life. We had now drifted some eight miles down river from the landing, which meant that we had to fight the current all the way back. Purring along at an astounding speed of approximately three miles per hour, we were at last heading home.  At about three in the morning, the ever flippant Sidney yelled "land ahoy."  This remark did not go over too well with uncle Henry who was in no mood for frivolity and he kept right on trucking past the landing until with a valiant cough, the motor sputtered and died,  its gas tank drier than a bone.  Since we were no more than two miles upstream from the landing, this presented no problem. Grabbing the sculling paddle, I soon nosed the boat into the landing.  Upon feeling the boat nudge the shore, Sidney, tethering chain in hand, leapt for shore and proceeded to secure the boat to a stout cottonwood and allow uncle Henry to remove the motor.

Only one mistake had been made in the securing of the boat, old Sidney had inadvertently left about 15 feet of slack in the chain.  Uncle Henry, with the motor securely entwined in both arms, teetering from the back of the boat stepped up on the front seat and carefully placed one foot on solid earth.  With a whoosh, the boat sped backward like it had been shot from a cannon.  With so much slack accidentally left in the chain, there simply was not enough uncle Henry to keep one foot on shore and the other on the boat.  The water being only about twelve feet deep at this point, he found the bottom soon enough. Upon reaching the end of the chain, the boat sprang back to shore at roughly mach IV, arriving at about the time uncle Henry's head emerged from the murky depths and dunked him again. Sidney looked at me and said "well I do declare" I believe uncle Henry has fallen in the river, he must be all wet, har, har, ho, ho, uncle Henry is all wet. Fast learner that he was, after the boat had struck him no more than  six times, uncle Henry deftly glided to one side, surfaced and latched onto an overhanging willow branch some eight or ten feet downstream from the boat. At this point along the river, the bank is as steep as a mules face and the only access to the boat was down steps that had been painstakingly hacked into the alluvial silt with a pickaxe.  This silt or blue mud as we called it was extremely slick when wet. Uncle Henry is ten feet downstream from the steps, hanging on to a willow for dear life, there are no steps, with wet shoes and buckets of water pouring from his pants legs every time his foot struck the bank.  His feet were whirling like windmills when suddenly he reached bedrock or otherwise got a sound purchase on the bank and was catapulted up the vertical bank and fifty feet across  river bottom cropland before coming to an abrupt halt against the only tree in the field.

Later, we heard that uncle Henry was convalescing quite nicely in a nursing home somewhere in the Alabama countryside near Birmingham.  Rumor had it that on rare occasions, six or eight times nightly, he would awake from a sound sleep ranting and yelling abut those giant water moccasins on the Cumberland River.  It was even said that when duty nurses rushed to his aid, he would call them Sidney and B and tell them to leave and never darken his doorway again.  We both found this very flattering as we had always wanted to be held in high esteem by our old guide and mentor, Uncle Henry.  We spent all of several seconds pondering the sad plight of uncle Henry and even sent him an invitation in a Christmas card that we had jointly constructed as a freshman class project to come back up for some more fishing and frogging on the river when the weather got warm.  I never knew why, but that turned out to be uncle Henry's last fishing trip.  Someone said that upon his release from the sanitarium, he sold all of his gear, including his outboard motor at a yard sale, bought a pair of binoculars with the proceeds and took up bird watching. Sidney and I agreed that was pretty tacky of him, especially after we had stripped to our birthday suits and dived down and retrieved his  old motor But, by this time uncle Henry had attended some sixty new years eve celebrations, and we both understood that all good things must end.



by B. W. Dortch, c1998BWDortch

Technically speaking, Nog and Dutch, being sisters children were indeed first cousins.  However, in reality, it was as if they were joined together at the hip so close was this pair of inventive lads.  It was often said by community elders, clergymen and school teachers alike,  that if one of these wily lads could not think of it, then the other surely would.  Snakes, dead rats and other assorted road kill frequently showed up in the school teachers desk where these lads attended, good old Spout Spring School in Stewart County.Saying that this pair was enterprising, failed to do justice to them.

Among his many other talents, Dutch could, right in the middle of a class, pop a scaly bark hickory nut in his mouth and crack it like a peanut with his bare teeth. The report, sounded somewhat like a high powered rifle being discharged and on a good day could cause the teacher to levitate and remain suspended in mid air for several seconds.  Of course, if one knew how to read the signs, Dutch always telegraphed his intentions to crack a hickory nut.  This naturally started with his popping the nut into his mouth, then with his tongue, he deftly manuevered the nut into position between the upper and lower jaw teeth.  Then a few mild warmup practice chomps could be observed as his face slowly grew redder and redder and the muscles in his neck stood out like steel cables.  This position he maintained for several seconds before he made one last massive chomp and the hickory nut burst open in his mouth. Having observed this operation numerous times, one would think that Mr. Cronklin would finally wise up; but, alas!  he never did.

In fact, Mr. Cronklin, teacher, principal,  chief administrator and total staff of the one room school where this enterprising pair had been comfortably ensconced in the third grade for two years,  gave them credit for everything from the great depression to crop failure to the impending rise of the third Reich.  One day while reading yesterday's newspaper during the lunch period, under the shade of a giant elm tree, he happened to read about a terrible drought and the accompanying dust bowl conditions in Oklahoma, some 1200 miles away.  Well, I had not even missed old Nog and Dutch, he was heard to muse aloud, I wonder how they got there and returned without my knowing about it. Yes I could swear they were here yesterday, could it be that they could be in two places at the same time. Reports from reliable sources indicated that indeed this pair could be in two places at the same time. So strong was Mr. Cronklin's faith in their abilities, that when a school field day he had planned for months was rained on, he gave these lads full credit. Mr. Cronklin believed with a passion bordering on hysteria that this miscreant pair should be held accountable for every misdeed that happened not only in the school house and yard, but the entire community when these two could be proven to be awake.  This faith in their abilities by Mr. Cronklin had not gone unnoticed by Nog and Dutch, as they seemed to put in extra effort to prove him right and solemnly vowed to make him a truthful person in spite of himself.

Mr. Cronklin wore many hats around his domain, the one room school.  As teacher, he occupied a makeshift desk in the center of the school room right at the foot of the steps leading to the stage.   By sheer force of will power, he had cajoled the County School Superintendent into giving him a real desk, albeit a used one having already served a lengthy career as the desk of a high school principal in the county.  Saying that Mr. Cronklin was proud of this desk, would be like calling the Mississippi river a mere spring branch.  This piece of furniture of undetermined pedigree was proudly installed on the stage, in an isolated corner furthermost from the blackboard or other distractions.  Indeed, this is where Mr. Cronklin attended the myriad disciplinarian, adminsitrative and management duties inherent with  his position as principal. Acquiring a piece of rough cut sawmill board, three feet long, Mr. Cronklin proceeded , with the assistance of the red-hot poker used to tend the fire in the oil drum stove, burned his name: MR. T.  CRONKLIN; PRINCIPAL; SPOUT SPRING SCHOOL. The fact that no one could read this archaic script did not enter into his mind. Acquiring some stout eye bolts and two lengths of baling wire, Mr. Cronklin proudly suspended this sign from the ceiling in front of his desk. Frequently while conducting a class from the teachers desk, he could be seen gazing admiringly at this sign.  Mr. Cronklin was a firm believer in modern management techniques and the use of physic pay as a motivator even if he had to pay himself.  Organizational charts and huge block diagrams were often displayed on the blackboard and adorned the walls behind his desk, depicting the chain of command around the school as he fantasized about being in charge of the entire county school system. With this bold new step in school administration firmly in place,  it soon followed that a new system of school discipline should be initiated.  At last it had become possible for a lowly class room teacher to send a miscreant pupil to the principal's office.  Let the teachers teach and the principal take care of discipline Mr. Cronklin was often heard to say, sending all the hard cases to the principal.  Accordingly, he drew a large organizational chart, with each department and branch given a separate block. Interconnecting lines showed the relationship of all the branches and ultimately all led back to the top box, or the principal. 

These paths to the principal's office were as familiar to Nog and Dutch as the backs of their own hands.  Never a day passed without this pair being sent to the principal's office and on a really good day, this may occur multiple times.. Teachers simply do not have the time to teach and administer discipline, especially when they have all of 15 pupils in seven grades and Dutch and Nog happen to be in their midst.  In fact he mused, a teacher did not have time to teach and administer discipline to two pupils if said pupils happened to be Nog and Dutch. On many occasions, for no apparent reason other than that he had just been knocked cross eyed by a speeding acorn or hickory nut, Mr. Cronklin would send Nog and Dutch to the principal's office.  There they were allowed to cool their heels and ponder their transgressions until the class was over.  At that time, the entire assembly was dismissed into the school yard and Mr. Cronklin would  undergo an amazing metamorphous, suddenly changing from lowly teacher to principle, head for the principles office and start testing hickory switches which he kept behind the desk, standing upright in a small lard can that doubled as an umbrella stand.  Testing their resiliency, he would thrash the air with one after another of these lethal weapons, making a sound like a bat swishing through the  skies at dusk.  This action served three purposes, firstly it served to strike terror in the hearts of the miscreants, secondly it tended to weed out those switches that had been secretly and invisibly ringed  by the boys with their ever present pocket knives during the harvesting process and thirdly it gave the other children on the playground sufficient time to get established at the windows the better to observe the principles wrath at first hand as he soundly administered justice. Mr. Cronklin never considered the effects of this latter  process of switch selection.  He seemed to think that the office of the principle was sacrosanct and that he and all occupants of the office were invisible to the world. Administration of discipline is a private matter between the student and the principal he was often heard to say. However, this   humanitarian act did not go unnoticed by Nog and Dutch who solemnly swore to get even with him one of these days. 

Figuring that perhaps they never would be able to stop these humiliating slurs, innuendoes and invasion of their privacy, they decided to exact some punishment of their own upon Mr. Cronklin for his sheer insensitivity and utter disregard for their pride and position among their peers. With mischievous and fertile minds like these two lads possessed,  coming up with suitable punishment did not present too much of a challenge,  timing and execution of said plan was quite another matter.

Among the top five favorite sports around the school in those days,  was chasing around the school yard rolling used automobile tires. Needless to say that old Nog and Dutch had lettered in this sport many times over, frequently starting the three mile walk from their homes to  school each day, rolling their favorite tires every step of the way.  Discovering that a local farmer had discarded some worn-out tractor tires in a nearby creek, this pair suddenly discovered they had outgrown the lowly automobile tire.  Think of the pride these two felt as the other kids looked on with much envy when they rolled the huge tractor tires around the school yard.  Decidedly, they were the kings of the hill and the tractor tires were the Rolls Royces and eighteen wheelers of the playground as they double clutched and adroitly zoomed them around the playground in intricate manuevers. These inventive lads were not long in figuring our that in addition to being a wonderful play thing, these tractor tires became an excellent mode of transportation as well.  Either of the two could, by bending slightly at the waist, insert himself into the tire, brace his head and feet firmly and be rolled about the play ground by the other.  So adept had they become at utilizing this form of transportation, that first one and then the other frequently arrived at school each morning in the tire, having been rolled all the way from home.  The fact, that after this ride, the riders brains were normally scrambled until noon, went unnoticed as academic subjects had never been considered to be their forte anyway.

Though temporarily distracted while learning to negotiate the hills with the new found tractor tire, the lads had not forgotten that Mr. Cronklin had it coming and they intended to give it to him just as soon as a good opportunity presented itself.  Noting that spring had arrived and that the principal had resumed his place at the picnic table to partake of lunch and peruse his day-old newspaper, a brilliant idea was spawned.  They would simply roll the tire to the top of the hill behind the picnic table where Mr. Cronklin sat enjoying his newspaper and accidentally release it, broad siding the unsuspecting principal.  First, second and third attempts at this ploy were aborted when, as if it had a mind of its own, he tire careened off and missed the picnic table by 100 yards.  Luckily for the two, the tire did not come close enough to the principal to even arouse his suspicion. Back to the drawing board went the enterprising pair to design a fool proof guidance system.  In the end, it was simply decided that one of the pair must ride the tire on this mission and provide the required guidance.  The question then arose as to who the lucky pilot would be.  This question was finally laid to rest in the time honored democratic way, Dutch  gave Nog a very sound thumping in a protracted fist fight that lasted most of one school day and Nog agreed, under some duress,  to  become the  pilot.

On the day selected for retribution, the boys took the tire to the top of the hill during morning recess and left it there.  Predictably, at noon, Mr. Cronklin extracted the worn newspaper from his desk along with his lunch and headed for the picnic table to read, eat lunch and relax a bit before tackling the taxing afternoon.  Retrieving the tire from its hiding place under an elder bush, Dutch hoisted it to an upright positiont and bade Nog  climb aboard.  Not wishing to incur Dutch's wrath and sample his knuckles once again, Nog did as he was told and securely snuggled himself inside the tire. Now, you better listen to me admonished Dutch, iffen this here tire don't hit Mr. Cronklin this time I'll wear you out again.  Thus admonished, Nog vowed to pilot the tire in a bee line to the target. Supporting the tire against a sapling, Dutch instructed Nog on how he should extend one hand as a paddle and start the tire rolling.  Now, Dutch admonished once again, jest aim the tire right at Mr. Cronklin's back, shut your eyes, count to 25 and let her go. Not wishing to offend his partner in crime, Nog closed his eyes and started a slow count.  Meanwhile, Dutch sped to a position at the bottom of the hill, directly in front of Mr. Cronklin and began barking like a dog, to attract the attention of the principal and establish his alibi. How could he be in two places at once in spite of numerous reliable reports to the contrary, he reasoned. Glancing up the hill, Dutch observed that the missile was right on target. The unsuspecting Mr. Cronklin never knew what hit him and has not found out until this day.  The tire simply rolled up his back, knocking him over the picnic table and burying his face in the rocky ground on the other side. Meanwhile, the tire kept going, rolled over a dry creek bed and dislodged Nog in one simple maneuver, circled, came back and flopped over on its side right in front of the long suffering principal.  Upon opening his eyes, the first thing that the principal saw was both Nog and Dutch, thinking that they had killed him, kneeling by his side excitedly inquiring about his well being.  This single act of mercy by the boys, coupled with the fact that Hitler had just scored a victory in Poland, for which the lads deserved credit,  convinced Mr. Cronklin that the boys had nothing to do with his predicament.  But, could they have used some remote physic power to bring it about? He never knew, and the boys never told; but, they did decide not to get even with him. For some reason, after this incident, old tires were banned from the school yard and handling live snakes became the new fad around the school.

If memory serves me correctly, at about this time the lads figuring that they had about taken all from school that it had to offer decided to give up their academic careers. Strangely after this pronouncement Mr. Cronklin decided not to throw in the towel, withdrew his application for retirement and even hinted that he may even teach until he was 65 years old.


Bumpus Mills H'aint Tale

Contributed by Bill Hooks,; c1998BillHooks

     This tale took place near Bumpus Mills in 1921 and was told to me by my mother; Verena Shaw Hooks.  It seems Marthy 'Betty' Williams Shaw was with child and feeling poorly.  Betty's husband; Robert knew of her condition and was supposed to have gone to a doctor to get something to help her.  Family gossip says he intentionally told the doctor something else was wrong with her and got the wrong medicine for her.  She passed away 8 days short of her 39th birthday on 4 June 1921.

     Shortly there after, Robert Shaw was asleep in the bed that his recently departed wife had died in.  He was suddenly awakened by a rapping sound on the metal foot rail of the bed.  He looked up to see the gossamer image of Betty smiling at him!  He related how he could see the stars in the night sky through the open window behind the image, shining through her.  He sat up in bed and reached out to touch her, where upon the image disappeared in a puff of smoke and floated out of the window.  He then happened to look in the corner next to the bed, where there was now three balls of light suspended in the air!

     I don't know how or if Robert was able to go back to sleep that night, but the next day he told the kin folk about what had happened.  Some of them agreed to sit with him the next night.  After night fall they went to the bedroom with him and there in the corner of the room, where Betty had died, were the three balls light.

     My mother's brother; John Calvin Shaw, was known to be absolutely fearless.  The following night he gathered up some of the other young men of the area along with a number of quilts and blankets and proceeded over to Robert's house.  As before, they found the three balls of light floating in the corner of the bedroom.  They then proceeded to cover all the windows, as well as the door frame with the bedding they had brought with them.  They were satisfied there was no possibility of any external light getting in the room.  When they looked at the corner, the three balls of light were still floating in the air.

     Robert Shaw continued sleeping in the bedroom without ever seeing Betty again. Eventually the three balls of light disappeared, never to be seen again.  Robert died in 1964 and is buried next to his second wife, close to his parents and some of his and Betty's children in the Jackson Cemetery on Link Road near Bumpus Mills.

     Betty lies alone beneath a very small, inconsequential stone displaying her name, birth and death years in the Williams Cemetery just around the bend from the Jackson Cemetery.

Bill Hooks; Mesa, AZ


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The Panther Story

by Cleo Cherry Grogan; Contributed by Kenneth Byrd

Hello, this is a story told to me by my 4th cousin, Cleo Cherry Grogan, of Murray, KY a few years ago (I have it on videotape from my visit with her).  She was born in Stewart County, TN ~90 years ago; hergreat-grandparents (John Wesley "Jack" Byrd and Luna Louisa Brigham Byrd) are my great-great-great-grandparents.  They are both buried in the Bailey-Byrd Cemetery in LBL, Stewart Co. TN along with many of their children.  The baby in this story, William Carroll Byrd (b. 1815 there along Byrd Creek in Stewart Co./LBL, TN) is my great-great-grandfather.

"The Panther Story  -or-  How Louisa and Baby Carroll escaped being killed by the big cat"

When Carroll Byrd was about a year old (he was the first born, on Aug.23, 1815) and his parents John Wesley and Louisa Byrd were living in a log cabin that John Wesley had built along Lick Creek (now Byrd Creek), John Wesley went out hunting with his brother-in-law, Albert Brigham one day.  Louisa and Baby Carroll stayed home in the log cabin while the men went out; there were no doors or window shutters on the newly-built cabin at this time, just blankets covering the doorways and open windows. After a while, the screech of a panther was heard by Louisa just outside the cabin open doorway.  She had no gun or weapon and the men were off hunting, so she decided to flee taking Baby Carroll with her out the back doorway of the log cabin.  Much to her dismay, the apparently hungry cat followed them!  Desperate, she took off a piece of Baby Carroll's clothing and dropped it behind them as they kept moving quickly away from the panther.  Looking back, she saw the panther stop, sniff the baby's clothing, and then cover it up with litter on the forest floor.  To her horror, the big cat began to track them again.  She again took off a piece of Baby Carroll's clothing and dropped it behind them as they kept moving quickly away from the hungry panther.  Once again, the panther stopped at the clothing, sniffed it, and covered it up.  But the panther kept following them further and further away from the log cabin. This kept up for some time, until Louisa and Baby Carroll fortunately ran across John Wesley Byrd and Albert Brigham.  By this time, Baby Carroll was pretty much naked as Louisa had repeatedly removed his clothing piece-by-piece and dropped it behind them for the panther to sniff and cover up.  The two men with their long-rifles looked for the panther, but it was now long gone; no doubt sensing the two men and their guns. They all returned to the log cabin together; then Albert Brigham helped John Wesley Byrd make some doors and window shutters for the log cabin much to Louisa's relief.

- Kenneth Byrd, Indianapolis, Indiana  Feb. 28, 1999; c1999KennethByrd