hen we lived at Lebanon several years ago there were several families who loved to fish. My father was a hard worker but he would take a day for fishing ever so often. Through the spring and summer, several families would get together every few weeks for a fishing trip and picnic. We had several favorite places to go: Cheek Lake, Fuller Ford, Wait’s Place on Cypress Creek and other places. Five or six men would usually go to the spot the night before and fish all night with trotlines and other ways. Some would go squirrel hunting next morning, then the rest of the folks would gather early and start fishing any way they wanted to, some with line and pole, some seining, some hogging. It would take a lot of fish for 40 or 50 hungry people. The women who weren’t fishing would start cleaning fish and preparing other food for a real picnic dinner. Usually, about 1 o’clock we would eat. The youngest would play in the water and everyone would have a good time.
One beautiful morning a large crowd of us had gathered at the Wait’s Place on Cypress Creek. We had all scattered out fishing in different ways. Father and I loved to hog fish but he was getting a little old and had just about quit hogging. He would go along with me with a sack for me to put my fish in. He also carried a turtle hook he had made from an iron rod. He had been bitten a few times by them. I was working around a large cypress tree that had some roots with holes in them and was catching some good fish. There was a large hole in the tree about waist high. I found out there was an opening under water that went into the hollow tree so I decided I would get inside. The hole was plenty large enough for me to get in. I was catching fish about as fast as I could sack them when all of a sudden my head began to swim, or so I thought. But on investigation, I was moving. I was on the back of the largest turtle I had ever encountered. I didn’t know if I made the hole in the tree any larger or not but if anything got in my way, I did.
Well, after I discovered that it was a huge turtle I had been standing on, I had to call on some of the fishermen who were nearby for help. We had to figure a way to get it out. Someone using the hook located the head and, after some time, got the hook in the turtle’s mouth. With a lot of help they pulled the head into the hole in the tree far enough to chop it off with an axe. The head was as large as an average man’s head. Then we had a lot of work getting the rest of the turtle out of the tree and to camp. Cutting a turtle’s head off won’t kill it. This turtle lived several hours without a head and would walk around the camp with as many as three kids standing on its back. The shell was about 24 x 28 inches long. I don’t remember how they finally killed it but some of the men who loved turtle meat dressed it out and divided it. It looked like hog killing time. I know this sounds fishy but I still have several witnesses to this.
Us country folk sure did know how to live and enjoy ourselves in those days. One time we had planned for a picnic at Cheek Lake on a certain day. The night before, it came a big rain and the water got high and almost ruined the fishing. The men who went ahead hadn’t done any good so they didn’t know what to do. There was a neighbor, Amil Diew, who had some fat goats so they decided to buy a goat and barbecue it and that’s what they did. We still had a real picnic. Some fish, some squirrels and plenty of real good cooked goat, besides all the good food the women had brought from home.
I know that you are tired of me talking about timber work so much but there is never a day that I didn’t think of something someone has said or done in the past or someone will come by who has worked for me so I have to write about what I am thinking about. I have been thinking about a man who was a lifelong friend and worked for me as many days as any man ever worked for me, I think. His name was Olas (Pete) Alford. He was a logger and always drove his own team and hauled logs for so much per thousand feet. He was quiet, low-talking kind of fellow and had a real good sense of humor, always saying something that would make you laugh. He was a good horseman and one of the best loggers I ever knew. He would do some other kinds of work but logging was his life. He always owned a well-fed, well-groomed, matched team of horses with good harness. There were always some logs in rough or almost impossible places and some loggers would refuse to try to get them. Not Pete – they all looked alike to him. He trained his team to mind him like kids (used to). He talked to his horses like he would talk to you. He never yelled. Many times they would load logs on the wagon without using the lines.
I have laughed many times about him mixing with a rattlesnake. I had my mill between Beebe and Ward, about where the freeway is now, and rattlesnakes were about as plentiful as logs. Pete was hauling not far from the mill when a sizeable rattler went up a leg of his overalls. I didn’t see him but someone who did thought he had gone crazy. When asked if he killed the snake, he said, “I think I drowned it!”
This story was taken from the book “White County Wisdom – 90 Years of Short Stories.” The author’s widow, Peggy Wyatt Wisdom, has donated all proceeds from the sale of the book to the White County Historical Society’s preservation efforts. The book is available for $10 postage paid by writing WCHS, P.O. Box 537, Searcy, AR 72145.