Greene County, Arkansas

Floods and Ducks

This story was written by Mr. Robert H. Jones when he was sixty-eight, in 1986 or 1987. Mr. Jones was a resident of Kennett, Missouri, when he was a young man. Mr. Jones was obviously an avid duck hunter during the time when the St. Francis River duck hunting was in it's glory and was enjoyed by gentlemen and true sportsman.

    I am sixty-eight years old. In the newspaper article they refer to the flood on the St. Francis River of 1927. I know about the 1927 flood  and what a disaster it was. I was nine years old at the time, but the floods of the two ensuing years of 1928 and 1929, I was very familiar with. I am a resident of Kennett, Missouri. Kennett is in Missouri because of a bend in the St. Francis River. The city limits are less than four miles from the bridge over the river, which is our state line with the State of Arkansas.

    In years between 1927-1930, southeast Missouri, like northeast Arkansas, was a swampland. Everywhere you looked, there was water. No rural roads, except those by "Metes and Bounds," which were always next to the water and varied every year. In the 1927, 1928 and 1929 floods, this was devastating. Both Arkansas and Missouri tried to save their levees with sandbags. I, and many youngsters my age, give or take a couple of years, were to small to carry sandbags, but we were not to young to fill them. In addition to this there were armed guards walking the levees, both in Arkansas and Missouri. They were trying to prevent the Missouri people from dynamiting the Arkansas levees and vise versa.

    During these troubled times, the U.S. Engineer Corps, stationed in Memphis, Tennessee, were here in force with the 20 h. p. motors and large barge like boats to take people off of housetops and bring them in to the closest safe points where they were fed and clothed by the Red Cross. 

    In regards to ducks at that time, if my memory serves me right, the limit was twenty-five ducks at the time and of course this is part of the Mississippi flyway. At flood stage, the St. Francis river was approximately a mile wide, and more if the levees broke. This is a factual account of the days spent on the wild, unharnessed channel of the St. Francis river after I became an adult and was a avid duck hunter. None of the accounts here are fictional: They are facts!

    My hunting companion, Mr. Wilburn Davidson, and I, together with a young man, who was a very fine woodsman, scout master and photographer, who's name was Harold Palmer, now deceased, was present on this occasion. This day occurred, sometime in 1940. My Uncle, Byron Jones, was in Florida visiting his daughter. He had a big cypress boat in the loft of his barn and wanted us to out it in the water together with his 15 h. p. Evinrude outboard at Cochran's Opening. Cochran's Opening was located in the middle of the channel of the un-harnessed waters of the St. Francis river between Cardwell, Missouri and Paragould, Arkansas. This boat had been stored in the barn loft for over a year and had completely "dried out." He also left us with a two-ton bob truck to use while he was gone. We worried somewhat about the dryness of the boat and possible water leakage, therefore, we took coffee cans to bail with. We were going to use the northernmost blind on Cochran's Opening, which was the largest opening I knew of on the river.

    Approximately a mile from the landing on the river was a truck stop, an all night cafe, and a bunkhouse for truck drivers. It was owned and operated together with the oil company, its supplier, by a family of men whose operation was located in both Missouri and Arkansas. This family of men were no strangers to us. There were six brothers whose names I will divulge at the end of this account. They had also stopped there and if I remember correctly, there were five of them, the oldest brothers son, who was scheduled to enter the armed services the next day.  He was making his last hunt with his family before entering the service. He is now a citizen of Arkansas. The older brother was the "Pater Familias" of the family and his word, spoken always with love and affection, was the rule of the family. During breakfast we discussed with them what we were doing and in reply they told us what they were doing. Their blind was located in the extreme south end of Cochran's Opening and the channel split around their blind. This was the most elaborate duck blind that I had ever seen in my life. They said they hope we made it to the north end of the opening in that "dry" boat. 

    When we put the boat in the water and started toward the north blind we found that although the motor ran "great" (thank goodness), we had to bail furiously with our coffee cans to reach the blind. We proceeded to build our fire. We knew that our boat would not permit us to change any decoys which were already out, so we waited.

    Just before the break of day we could hear the whirring of wings and the ducks calling. We had some time until shooting time, but knew we were in for a day of heavy flights. When we certain that "shooting time" had arrived, we called, and I believe that we were able to fire the first shots in the opening. We got seven ducks down. The limit was 10 ducks a day per person. At that time, Wilburn and I more or less darted to the back of the blind to retrieve the ducks, knowing that we would have to "bail" some in order to retrieve the ducks. At that particular time the channel was very deep. We looked out into the boat run from the interior of the blind, there was no boat, not even a motor. Except for the bow of the boat which was tied to the blind we said to ourselves "we hope to God the people in the southernmost blind who knew about our oat would see our ducks floating down the channel." It seemed like forever, while shooting was going on all over the Opening, we did not try to kill anymore ducks. Harold Palmer, our hunting companion, had brought a sixteen millimeter movie camera (this gets to be an important part of the story) and we wondered if somebody like "the man upstairs" might have had something to do in arranging this day.

   After a time, I don't remember how long, I know it seemed to be longer than it was, we heard a motor boat coming north and we crossed our fingers. Could it be them? The boat got closer and closer and it turned out to be the number three brother. (call him number "three" because I am going in the order of their age - - the number "two" not being there. He pulled into our boat run and said, "We picked up your ducks and thought you might be in trouble." I replied, "Hell, what do you mean might be? You are the answer to a prayer." He said, "Oh it's not as bad as you think, we picked up your ducks, and you leave the boat and motor right here, and we'll take care of it later. Put out your fire, and you can go down and shoot with us." This we did.

   Their duck blind had been a four room house, the residence of an old market hunter they bought from his son after his death. They took out all the walls and made a duck blind out of a four room house, which sat on a knoll or an "island" in the middle of the channel of the river and the channel split. The blind was approximately thirty feet high above the water and I believe they had one hundred and ninety decoys out. One of the brothers said t they lost a dozen or so when the water came up with the last rise because of short cords.

   The duck hunting that day, which was not really a unusual day in that period. This was before the Wappapello Dam and the huge levees later on harnessed the wild river. The "St. Francis" was fantastic. My son, has seen this type of day, but I'm afraid my grandsons will never be able to see such a day.

   The shooting porch would accommodate twelve hunters at the same time. After everyone was shooting and killing ducks, Harold Palmer put his gun in the case and used all of his film photographing that hunt. I had hunted ducks with Harold Palmer many times, and that was the first time I had ever seen him do that. It was usually while on camping outings with his scout troop, of which his son was a member, so why today? After we counted ten ducks a piece, there was a blind to the northeast of this blind that had not had much luck in competing with this big blind and the expertise of the brothers. The older brother said, "Well we've got a limit - let's see if we could go up and get those three gentlemen, who have been there all day with very little luck." They were brought down to the big blind and got their limit too. All we could say was "What a day!" We went back to the landing then and the older brothers said to us, don't worry about the boat, we'll take care of it. We will call you when we have it done, so don't even worry about it." And this was done.

   I would like at the expense of being very verbose, to talk about these brothers in other instances. There was a man who had a duck blind approximately one hundred yards due south of this blind. His name was Rufus Stanley, he, his wife and their twelve or thirteen year old son lived at the landing on the river. He fished, hunted, trapped and guided commercially for his livelihood. He had no automobile, and his boat he pushed with a cypress pole to his blind. There was a grocery store about a mile from him and he and his family walked to get their groceries and walked home. Prior to the incident I told you about, my friend, Wilburn Davidson and I hunted with this man in his blind, and he was an excellent hunter. He left from the same landing every morning as the brothers ad their guests and he would say, "Oh, them brothers, they got them gas boats, and they'll be there with a fire built and lighting ducks before we get there."

   The next year, in August or September, Rufus Stanley and his family had been to the grocery store and were walking home with the groceries and Mr. Stanley was struck by an automobile. His left leg was broken between the knee and the thigh and he was in a full cast. As it turned out, approximately in the last part of October, his blind was fully brushed with new willows by these brothers, his decoys put out, and one of them "danged old gas boats" was sitting there for his use.

   Approximately three or four weeks after our boat sunk, one of the brothers called me and said your boat is ready if you want to bring your truck down. When we went down to the Midway station, which was the truck stop I referred to earlier, we found that our boat had been dried out and tarred and was on two saw horses outside. The motor had been dried out and steam cleaned. I asked the attendant at the station how much was the charge and he said, "Eb said there was no charge."

   The family that I am talking about is the Brewer family. The older brother, Elbert Brewer, was the father of Larry Brewer, who was entering into the service the next day and who is now a prominent banker and businessman in the State of Arkansas. William Brewer, who is one of your commissioners of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, is the grandson of this wonderful man. I do not know William, but if he is as good a young man or as nice as his grandfather and his father, he is one great citizen. I could relate to you several other instances about Elbert Brewer and his brothers, and the way they treated my father, an attorney and another friend of his, Mr. Elbert Ford, who was also an attorney. My father told me it was embarrassing for him to go down to the blind as they would hardly let him lift a shell to put in his gun.

   The end of that story is that, shortly after the day of this great hunt, the older brother, Elbert Brewer, was stricken with cancer, which proved to be terminal. During his illness, I believe he wore out the films of that duck hunt. Therefore I know there had to be some reason for the happenings on that day. The other brothers are, and I hope I am getting them in the right order are: Tolbert, one of the brothers not present that day, Onie (now deceased), Gilbert Roscoe, who we called "Coke" (now deceased), he was the one who came to get us out of the blind. There was also Gilbert Lee  and the baby brother, Don, who farms in Arkansas and is an avid duck hunter on Big Lake. These brothers, even when I felt they had cause, never had an evil thought about anyone. A shining example is that I was the only with "Coke" the morning we found the big blind burned. My thoughts were some dirty expletive. But "Coke" said, "No Bob, that was probably a trapper coming to run his traps and he got cold and forgot to put out his fire when he left the blind.", "Coke" and I thought differently on that score. I understand the blind was rebuilt, and that Coke's son, a Dentist in Caruthersville, Missouri now uses the blind and I assume with any of the others that want to go.

   The St. Francis River is all changed now and I am sorry for that. I don't believe that we will ever see those heavy flight days again in our part of the Mississippi flyway.

   Along with the mentioned Brewer Brothers, I remember something George Gobel, a television comedian, used to remark, "Where do these men come from - you can't hardly get this kind no more." So I say to you in Arkansas, you have some great citizens. I am proud to write this account of a wonderful duck hunt in Arkansas and about these wonderful brothers. Wilburn Davidson and and I have talked about these people so many times. They never looked for recompense, or even that you return the favor.

Transcribed by: Sandy Hardin

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