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Hide, Horn, Fish, and Fowl

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What would cause someone to withstand freezing temperatures in a cramped wooden box for hours on end, or stand in waist-high rushing waters, flicking a pole back and forth over and over--in many cases with nothing whatsoever to show for his efforts? Why is it that, into the twenty-first century, with the convenience of practically any type of red meat or fish available at the local supermarket, we continue to hunt game and fish on open waters? The answer is that no matter how sophisticated we think we are, no matter how technologically advanced we become, there is still something deep within us that beckons us to "the hunt." This desire creates the customs, beliefs, and rituals related to hunting--for deer, hogs, and other four-legged critters, as well as fish and snakes, and other things that perhaps aren't physically alive, but capture our interest as much as the prey mentioned above. These rituals and customs lead to some of our most treasured stories, legends, and practices. This volume of the Publications of the Texas Folklore Society includes serious, introspective articles on hunting and fishing, as well as humorous tall tales and "windies" about the big ones that got away--all lore that reminds us of that drive that calls us to become predators again.

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Part I

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Gone A'Hunting

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GONE A’ HUNTING by Len Ainsworth

Bye 0, Baby Bunting

Daddy’s gone a’ hunting

For to get a rabbit skin

For to wrap his baby in.

That’s likely not the way it was written, but that’s the way I remember the lullaby sung by my mother—and the only one I tried to sing to my kids. Fortunately, they were too young to remember how badly

I sang. I probably remember my mother singing it to my sister, five years younger; surely I wouldn’t remember her singing it to me as a baby. But the theme of hunting has resonated in our family for several generations. My maternal grandfather, Papaw Charley, was a great hand for singing and hunting, and mother must have heard the lullaby many times, sung to her younger siblings.

My paternal grandfather gave me his .410 gauge shotgun when

I was ten years old, and my parents let me go dove hunting alone with a handful of shells in the mesquite brush extending into our small West Texas town. I had to stalk my quarry carefully with the single-shot gun, and get close and locate one perched on a tree limb without other branches in the way. More than once I have been fooled by a nesting dove acting hurt and fluttering ever farther from her nest and then suddenly flying away. But a few unwary birds did fall. I don’t remember coming home on those first hunts with more than one bird at a time. I suppose I was so excited that I didn’t keep looking after I got one, or perhaps I used up my few shells getting it. I’m sure my mother or dad helped clean the first few birds, and they were cooked as the prize they were. I learned early that you were to clean and eat your kill.

 

Making a Drive in Botswana

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MAKING A DRIVE IN BOTSWANA by Francis Edward Abernethy

Making a drive has been a hunting custom as long as man has been a man—and even before. When a community’s survival depended upon a successful hunt it was important that early man hunted for game in the most efficient way. One way was to form a long line of hunters spaced ten or twenty feet apart. They moved forward, side by side, making a drive and flushing and killing any game that started in front of them.

Men still make drives. Quail, pheasant, and grouse hunters line up and seine the grasslands, shooting the birds that rise in front of them. Sometimes four or five men will space themselves in a line a hollering distance apart and make a drive to flush deer out of their brushy hiding places.

The point is that making a drive is a contemporary hunting custom among humans that is steeped in antiquity, and I believe that it is also a much older instinct. After a trip to the Okavango

Delta in Africa in June of 1996, I wrote Thad Sitton the following letter (dated 11/26/08), in which I discussed my views on the genetics of hunters:

 

The Decline of the Poacher as Fold Hero in Texas

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THE DECLINE OF THE POACHER

AS FOLK HERO IN TEXAS by Riley Froh

Either poaching develops good hunters or else great hunters make good poachers, but the two fit together exceptionally well. However, one cannot be both a poacher and a sportsman. Certainly, trespassing on private property to take game and fish is best done by the slob hunter, someone who thinks only in terms of himself, neither caring for the future of wildlife nor the condition of his country, a selfish person of limited vision for the greater good of his surroundings. But the poacher is a legitimate folk character, larger than life and invoking all kinds of images in Texas—some, unfortunately, favorable.

The most seductive image of the Texas poacher is the subconscious connection in the public eye with the legendary and romantic archer Robin Hood, who slew the King’s deer with deadly accuracy and robbed the rich to provide for the poor. This thief is acceptable in history only because of his time, and he hardly transfers to today’s market. Toleration of such habits in the twenty-first century is out of place. In the framework of Merry Old England, catching game illegally represented a steed of a different hue. It all started when Robin dropped a fine buck out of need, dispatched a

 

Nocturnal Woodpecker

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NOCTURNAL WOODPECKER by W. Frank Mayhew

The “afternoon” was only slightly half-over and already that day’s sun, which could only be described as weak, waning, and indifferent, was seen scurrying over the southwestern horizon. Hiding in the lengthening shadows, the cold-weather gods, with little to fear, boldly strode forward, announcing their evil intentions for the approaching night. Their single digit temperatures were already audaciously nipping at the heels of the few fading remnants of that pusillanimous sun.

It was going to be a cold night, a very cold night, exactly what

I had been hoping for. Looking forward to a few days of peace and solitude, I had set up camp the day before, deep in the East Texas woods. This trip had become an annual event for me.

My family had long ago come to recognize that a few of us need some time alone, to sort out all that has gone before, and to plan for that which we know will be coming. For me it is a time of rationalizing and rejuvenation. As I mentally go over the recent events of my life I begin to rationalize their causal behavior patterns, both mine and other peoples’. Once I reach a level of acceptance, the behavior and the events are then filed away to be retrieved only on an as-needed basis. To a psychologist this is called a coping device, and this particular device is called “compartmentalization.” The psychology community is split as to whether compartmentalization is a good thing or a bad thing.

 

Fishing Texas: A Passion Passed on by My Dad

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FISHING TEXAS: A PASSION

PASSED ON BY MY DAD by Jim Harris

In any one genre of Texas fishing, I’m going to come up short, lacking in enthusiasm and skills to hold any fishing records. Say, large mouth bass fishing in tournament-quality lakes. I’ve done some of it over the years, and even been in the same boat with professional fishermen piloting bass boats that cost $40,000. But I’ve not done enough of it to say I fished that way with a passion and wanted to do it night and day.

Or fishing for large catfish in a river. I’ve done a little of it, even in some places using old gallon milk jugs tied together with fifty yards of trotline weighted down with treble hooks loaded with chicken gizzards. I can truly enjoy floating down a slow-moving river checking lines, some of them hanging from a tree branch, but

I wouldn’t say that I ever developed an insatiable desire for that kind of fishing, either.

And I enjoy wading out into the surf with a floating shrimp bucket tied to a belt and casting a handful of lead weights out into the gulf as far as my 1950s saltwater rod and reel will allow me. In those salty waters, I’ve caught my share of speckled trout and a fair number of red fish over the years in this summertime ritual, but I never dreamed about the sunburned arms and the spray in the face on winter nights. If I ever had dreams about the jellyfish that one year grabbed hold of my right calf while I waded in the surf, those dreams were nightmares that I thankfully forgot by morning.

 

The Angelina Cat and Coon Hunting Association: A Sort of Memoir

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THE ANGELINA CAT AND COON HUNTING

ASSOCIATION: A SORT OF MEMOIR by John C. Wolf

In 1966, I had just reached my 23rd birthday. Contrary to the expectations of a good many of my high school teachers, I had completed an M.A. degree and had been gainfully employed as a psychologist at a state residential mental health facility in deep East

Texas. Life was good. The future beckoned. The time had come for me to begin to assume my rightful place in the adult world.

Some of the more promising young men were finding their places in that world by joining the Jaycees, while others were joining the local Masonic or Elks Lodge.

Some of my friends from college were continuing their foray into the political world we had begun on campus in the Young

Democrats by becoming actively involved in the County Democratic Party (in those days nobody openly affiliated with the

County Republican Party). As an ex-athlete (defined as one who valiantly attempted successful participation in high school, and even briefly, collegiate athletics), I briefly considered devoting time to recreational league softball and basketball, but was reminded by friends that the only thing worse than being an almost never used substitute in high school was continuing that level of non-participation in places where I had to pay to not play.

 

Dentistry, Dehorning, and More: South Texas Women's Hunting Stories

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DENTISTRY, DEHORNING, AND MORE:

SOUTH TEXAS WOMEN’S

HUNTING STORIES by Mary Margaret Dougherty Campbell

Traditionally, hunting has been the domain of men who hunted to put food on the table. As late as the 1950s drought, when life was especially difficult for ranchers in South Texas, my dad and his family ate more venison than beef. After the drought, until the day he died, my dad refused to eat any more deer meat—except for the occasional piece of fried backstrap. He gave away the meat when he or any of us kids shot a deer so it wouldn’t go to waste. Even though he didn’t enjoy eating the meat, Dad nevertheless enjoyed the hunt, which was a tradition in his family. Everybody hunted, even his mother. However, hunting remains an activity dominated by men, who now hunt more for sport than for survival. Their sport has its procedures, rules, and rituals the men take for granted, even when they initiate women—wives, girlfriends, daughters—into the rites of hunting. When family members participate in the tradition, the folk culture, they are strengthening family bonds that today’s society tests daily.

 

Part II

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Deer Leaves

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DEER LEAVES by Bob Dunn

I’m not sure of the first time I went to the deer lease; probably it was in 1970, when I turned nine years old. It seemed that it was just always there. Early on, I called it “deer leaves” because that’s what I thought the grown-ups were saying.

I remember waking up one morning after Dad’s return from the hunt to find a deer hanging from a tree in the front yard of our home in Garland. Back then, the neighborhood butcher shop would process the kill for us, but later medical concerns over crosscontamination of retail meat market equipment led to a law prohibiting the practice. After that, we did our own butchering, and we always had backstraps to chicken-fry and plenty of meat to barbecue, though we never mastered sausage making.

Besides being a great place to hunt, the lease was an easy, twohour drive from home. Dad worked nights, so we could leave after school on Friday and still have some daylight left when we got there. In those days, I thought more about landmarks along the highway than of time and distance. Shortly after leaving Garland we would pass Big Town, where we’d sometimes see Santa arrive by helicopter for a pre-Christmas visit. Then we’d drive into downtown Dallas, which would disappear as the roadway dipped into the “canyon” and the only tunnel I knew existed.

 

Hinkel Shillings and the Red Ranger

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HINKEL SHILLINGS AND THE RED RANGER by Thad Sitton

On April 21, 1941, terrible news passed through the crowd of three thousand at the annual state field trial of the Texas Fox and

Wolf Hunters Association near Crockett. The nocturnal hunters of fox and coyote—“hilltoppers,” “moonlighters,” or just “plain old forks-of-the-creek fox hunters”—had assembled for one of their rare daytime competitions to discover who had the best dog.

Judges watched hounds with big numbers on their sides run foxes in broad daylight to see which ones led the packs. Day or night, such men never rode to hounds like the red-coated horsemen.

Instead, in most of their hunting, they stood by fires and listened in the dark to the voices of a special breed of dog developed to chase foxes entirely on its own. It was a strange hound and a strange bloodless sort of hunting, in which, as folklorist F. E. Abernethy once observed, “The race is the thing, and it is the running of it that is its significance, not the reward at the end. . . .”1 In truth, as outsiders often observed, there seemed no obvious reward to fox hunting. The game was left alive to run another night, and in any case, nobody ate foxes.

 

The Lore of Wild Hog Hunting in Texas

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THE LORE OF WILD HOG

HUNTING IN WEST TEXAS by Kenneth W. Davis

In many parts of West Texas on Friday and Saturday nights when there are neither football nor basketball games, chronological or psychological adolescents and others—male and female, from ages about fourteen through sixty or way beyond—delight in roaring around farm and ranch lands after dusk in high-powered all-wheel drive vehicles—mostly pickups equipped with strong spot lights.

These vigorous people are armed with 30.06s and similar weapons.

In a single four-wheel-drive pickup there is usually enough ammunition to quell a moderate-sized insurrection or flying saucer invasion. The presence of intrepid hunters is welcomed by owners of the land over which these Nimrods ramble frantically in search of what is considered a dangerous creature found almost everywhere in Texas: the wild hog. These hogs are a nuisance, a pestilence, threats to man and beast, and, of course, they smell bad, have ticks, and are ugly. In most species the very young are at least somewhat cute. Not so with wild hogs I have seen up close in West Texas.

 

Hunting Javelina Hogs in South Texas

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HUNTING JAVELINA

HOGS IN SOUTH TEXAS by James B. Kelly

I learned to hunt with my father. My dad, Franklin F. Kelly, was born the grandson of Irish immigrants in 1892, and raised in Ft.

Smith, Arkansas. At that time Ft. Smith was just across the Arkansas

River from what was then Indian Territory, later to become Oklahoma. Ft. Smith was the last Army outpost, the “jumping off place” for the Army—and for adventurers heading into the Indian Territory. Even in the late 1890s it was a pretty wild and woolly place.

Dad’s grandfather, Tobias Kelly, had arrived in America from

County Wexford Ireland through the Port of New Orleans in September of 1850, and made his way up the Mississippi and eventually the Arkansas Rivers to the town of Ft. Smith, which in itself was pretty wild in those early days. Tobias worked hard and made his way quite successfully in the cattle business and wholesale and retail meat sales. Dad’s father, James N. Kelly, joined the family business and they lived fairly comfortable lives. Dad always had a shotgun and small caliber rifles, and I have numerous photos of him with some rather good-looking bird dogs of various English pointer and setter breeds. He started hunting at a very early age.

 

Jess's First Coon Hunt

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JESS’S FIRST COON HUNT by Lee Haile

When I was in high school in Hondo, Texas, I hunted for varmints all winter long. Furs were bringing good prices, and I could make some good spending money from selling them. Even though I was after anything with fur that I could sell, we always just called it

“coon hunting.” There were three ways that we hunted back then.

First, and my favorite, was walking the creeks at night with my dogs and letting them tree the varmints. My dogs were not noisy hounds, but rather quiet Border Collies that would only bark if they had something treed, and even then, they did not bark a lot. I trained them to be quiet so as not to scare off the rest of the critters along the creek. Also, I didn’t always have permission to hunt on all the places along the creeks where I walked. Back then, nobody really cared about me hunting for coons along the creeks.

That changed a few years later when fur prices got really high. I did this type of hunting by myself, and when I was most serious about the hunt.

 

Part III

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Skills of the Rivermen: Ways and Means of Market Fishermen

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SKILLS OF THE RIVERMEN: WAYS AND

MEANS OF MARKET FISHERMEN by Wildwood Dean Price

Traveling down the path from our past is the only way into the future. With that in mind, let us look back down the path from whence we came.

If you are a native American—not an immigrant—and were born west of the Rockies, you more than likely descended from

“River People.” The purchase of the Louisiana Territory from

France began a great migration into the American West. The Red

River and other rivers, such as the Missouri, the Mississippi, and the Arkansas, provided the highways into the interior, and settlers took up residence along their banks.

The people that settled along the rivers made a living farming and ranching in the fertile bottomlands. With the taming of the

Wild Frontier came other occupations: clearing timber, punching cattle, market hunting, and commercial fishing to name a few.

Throughout our history, ways of making a living have changed with the needs of a growing nation. Every so often there comes along an occupation that seems to be the panacea: offering a getrich-quick scheme, high adventure, or a glorified way of life. The market fishing that had its start during the Depression offered none of those things; it lasted only a few short years, was more adaptable to the lazy rather than the hard-working, and, like the occupations before it, gave only temporary riches. The one thing market fishing did offer was dependable work in the face of starvation.

 

The Big Fish That Didn't Get Away

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THE BIG FISH THAT DIDN’T GET AWAY by Nina Marshall Garrett

In 1938, when I was eleven years old, my family moved from Arizona back to Oklahoma to Lake West, a community about ten miles south of Boswell and three miles north of the Red River.

While we were in Arizona for three-and-a-half years, my brothers and father used the irrigation system on the farm where they worked. They were impressed with how one could water the crops at a time when the weather was dry and thus have a sure way of having a successful harvest. After share cropping one of the large farms at Lake West for two years, the Government placed the former plantation land up for sale in 1940, and my dad and brothers were some of the first to buy their farms. It seems they chose just the right land, for the creeks that flowed through their farms would feed a lake to water the land with a gravity flow system, which was what was used in Arizona and California. In

1954, they purchased a bulldozer and, with their mule teams and tractors, built a large fourteen-acre lake, making the proper dam and outlets to irrigate about 100 acres of my father’s land. My two older brothers were partners with much more land. Between

 

Our Family Fishing Trips

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OUR FAMILY FISHING TRIPS by L. R. McCormack

One of my fondest memories of my Coney family is the fishing trips. Fishing was one of the activities the Coney boys loved. The

“boys” were the four sons of Leon Josephus Coney and Ida

Augusta Hawkins Coney. Their farm was located about five miles southeast of Ladonia, Texas. Not only was fishing their favorite sport, but it also provided some good meals. Their fishing was not done with a rod and reel. They used seines, and “grabbled” for the fish. My dad, Lowell (Sheep), and his brother Roy Leon (Buster) were the only two of the boys who could swim. Being the two youngest boys, they had developed a close bond through the years.

Dad could hold his breath under water so very long that they sometimes wondered if he had drowned. Buster could dive deeper than Dad. between the two of them, they checked out each fishing hole for suitable fish—as well as for water moccasins that were living in those holes—and selected the holes they would fish. They had several places that they visited regularly.

 

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