Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Memory From Another Time

One of the hunters in 1910 had a camera. The old double-barrel muzzle-loader he holds in the photo is today on the wall above my office fireplace.

What a story there is behind my grandfather’s old double-barreled shotgun.  In 1965 while I was a 17-year-old student at School of the  Ozarks, the museum creator, Steve Miller, loaned me a tape recorder which I took back to Texas County and used to tape my grandfather’s stories. Someday I intend to make an hour-and -a half  CD of many of those stories from his youth, but for now I will tell just this one, as best as I can remember as he told it to me.  It was in the fall of 1907 I believe.

         “I wasn’t allowed to kill all the turkeys I wanted to.” Grandpa said.  “Mom let me kill only what we could eat.  I use to give my sisters a nickel to eat all they could and I’d sneak some out to my hound.  I gave some to a neighbor family ‘bout 3 miles away.”

         “ I loved to call ‘em in an’ brother there was a lot of  ‘em back then.  When a farmer planted a field with corn or whatever, he had a battle to keep crows and turkeys away from the plantings. Pop had a field planted in corn an’ back then you tried to keep the turkeys out with a brush barrier stacked aroun’ a rail fence they couldn’t get through.  Coons could, but they was scarce ‘cause their pelts were a way of folks makin’ a little extra money.  Deer were scarce too.”
         “But they was turkeys ever’where and they weren’t real smart.  They could fly over a brush fence, but they didn’t… they just tried to go through it. Ain’t nothin’ smart about a turkey. Get one little gap started though and they’d find it.  Free-rangin’ hogs would too.  Havin’ a corn field or a big garden took a lot of work if you meant to get anything out of it.”

         “I had an old muzzle-loader double barrel shotgun an’ Pop would keep me in powder, shot and primers so’s I could keep everything out of the corn, and I was good at it.  One year in October, after the harvest of everything and farmers started roundin’ up their hogs, I found a big turkey roost, and I would go out with my ol’ coon dog huntin’ coons and scare them turkeys off the roost.  It sounded like they was a hunnerd of ‘em when they flew off in the dark.  The next mornin’ I’d go in at first light and get hid well where they was the night before and I’d call like an old hen.  “Bout anybody who ever heard a wild turkey can easy imitate ‘em.  I get tickled at everyone huntin’ ‘em nowadays with all them wood boxes an’ the likes.  Why if you can’t imitate a hen turkey in your own throat you must ain’t never heard one.”

         “Well there was a surveyor feller workin’ for the state not far from Pop’s place, and he saw me take a young gobbler to a little country store to sell it, knowin’ we already had one on the table at home.  He was so fascinated with that turkey he couldn’t hardly stop lookin’ at it.  So he comes to our place wantin’ to know if  Pop might show him where he can get one and  Pop he says in that French brogue of his, “That leetle boy dere, he take you to shoot de turkee.”  So he wanted to know if I would take him and a couple of his St. Louis pals turkey hunting if they would pay me.  That fit me darn well, making a dollar for a half day in the woods.”
         “Three or four days later three of ‘em comes to our place in a horse and buggy all decked out in their huntin’ an’ sportin’ duds and they paid pop two dollars to stay and take their meals at our place for two days whilst I took ‘em turkey huntin’.  That night after they went off to bed I took my old dog an’ went out an’ scared two bunches of turkeys off the roost about a quarter mile apart. Then I fixed up a couple of hideouts… what you call a huntin’ blind today.”

         “Next mornin’ about four or five oclock Pop hollers to ‘em, “clocks alarmin’.”  Well one of em gets up all sleepy an’ says ‘Do we hafta get up so early? It’s still dark.’
No.. I tells ‘em.  You can get up after sun up an’ fail, or you can go out with me an’ get hid and shoot a turkey.”

         “So about daylight they are sittin’ there behind that brushpile I made an I hear some turkeys fly down and I start callin’.  Here they come, puttin’ and calkin’ an’ kee-keein’ an gettin closer.  Them fellers was shakin’ so bad with the buck-ague I didn’t figger they could hold their gun barrels up.”

         At this point of the story my grandfather slapped the arms of  his home=made rocking chair and laughed hard and long. “Well they went to shootin’ too soon,” he continued to laugh and talk.  “But they had those breech loaders and I’ll be danged if they didn’t get three or four turkeys.  They was all floppin’ around the way turkeys do when they’s in their death throes and one of those fellers jumped up an’ ran over and grabbed one by the neck and went to shootin’ at its head with a little ol’ 22. pistol.”

         Grandpa had to pause again he was laughing so hard.  “It’s a doggone wonder he didn’t shoot his fool hand off.”

         My grandfather said he never was paid for two days of his guide service but when the hunters prepared to leave they gave him a breech-loading shotgun.  In another column sometime I will finish this story and perhaps start another.

         All of his recollections about growing up and raising a family on the Big Piney   are on the discs I am making of that taped interview which I should have ready this spring.  There are an hour and a half of his stories, dozens of them. The old breech loading shotgun was hanging on the wall in his cabin back then.  Today it hangs on the wall in my office.  It is a Liege, Belgium-made H.J. Sterling, not safe to use with today’s ammunition.  When our March 24 outdoorsman’s swap meet arrives, I intend to sell it and use the money to do something Grandpa would be very proud of.  It is a shamed it cannot tell stories of what it has seen.

 If you would like a free table at our outdoorsman’s swap meet, call my office… 417-777-5227

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