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P: This is Cathy Puckett, and I am interviewing Billy Wilkerson at his home in High Springs. W: High Springs, Gilchrist County. P: Gilchrist County, Florida. W: Cow Creek. P: Cow Creek? W: Yes. P: Okay. The date is August 13, 1982. Is your correct name Billy Wilkerson? W: Right. P: All right. Let me begin with some some general information. When and where were you born? W: I was born I guess probably seven miles the way the crow flies from here on the Suwannee, or maybe half a mile from the Suwannee River. At that time, in 1929 when I was born, there was a little town nearby--Bell. Do you know it? P: Yes. W: That is where the post office was, where we got the mail, and where we did what shopping we did. Actually, it was several miles north of Bell in the woods, an old homestead. They homesteaded land there, my mother and father did. P: What were your parents names? W: Charlie and Maude. P: What was her maiden name? W: Deheart. P: Maude Deheart. When did they come to Florida? W: I do not know. The Dehearts came to Florida from Pennsylvania, and my father came from Trenton, and his daddy came from some place in Georgia. P: Sounds like my family. W: But, of course, they were born and raised here. P: Both of them? 1



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W: Yes, they were born here. P: Do you have any brothers and sisters? W: Yes, I have three sisters and three brothers. P: I have not met them. Are they all around this area still? W: Yes. The farthest one is Tampa; I have a sister in Tampa. Then I have two sisters in the High Springs area. And the other surviving brother lives in Lake City, but he owns a place on the river. P: On the Suwannee? W: Yes. Then my other two brothers live on the Suwannee, up near the old home place. P: Oh, really? Does anyone still live on the old homestead? W: Well, I own it, but I do not live there. I go there pretty often. P: You still have the land? W: Yes, I still have the land and the house. I do not even rent the house. I keep it and go there. It is a little place to go. P: What did your parents do for a living? W: Dad farmed, and that was it. My dad passed away when I was six years old, and my mother never remarried. There was a brother younger than I who was four years old, so there was a two-year difference in our ages. You can readily see there was a lot of work back in those days because money was not very plentiful. My mother mostly raised turkeys, and my job, one of the first jobs I can ever remember having, was driving the turkeys to acorns. P: Hickory nuts? W: No, acorns: black-jack acorns, post oak acorns, and water oak acorns. Not the hickory nuts--they would not eat them. What we would do in the spring of the year when the hens were laying is try to find their nests. You had to watch them and find out where the nest was. If she knew you were looking at her, she would never go to her nest. She would hide behind a tree or something, so you had to hide really well to see her slip into her nest. P: Kind of like an Indian. W: They did that, I guess, because they did not want anybody to know where their nest was. Then when you found out where 2



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their nest was, you checked on it periodically to see if it was okay, whether if a fox or anything had caught her and tore up her nest or whatever. Then when the little ones came along, we put them in pens. We had hundreds of turkeys--this was not a little project. P: I was going to ask you how many. W: It was not just a few--it was a lot of turkeys. The young children would drive the turkeys once they got big enough to romp and get around. P: Herd them. W: You just drove them right out of the woods. We owned quite a bit of land. Back then there were no fences, and there were very few people that lived around there. Our closest neighbor was maybe two miles away. P: Yes. Quite a way. W: So you just herded the turkeys all day long. You watched them and drove them into the woods, and they would eat the acorns. That way you did not have to buy feed for them. Then in the afternoon we would drive them out. The problem was, when you got back to the fence you could hardly get them across it because a turkey is a turkey. But that was one of the main money crops--turkeys. Of course, we had chicken eggs, too, and other things. P: When did you sell your turkeys? W: In the fall of the year. There were some guys who would come by. They knew that my mother raised turkeys, so every fall of the year when the turkeys were grown, right before Thanksgiving and at Christmas, they would come by with the trucks to where you had the turkeys penned up. Of course, you checked with two or three buyers to got the best price, and the fellow would come with the truck. Of course, there were no phones and no electricity in this area at the time. It was nothing like it is now. P: Yes. W: Before the trucks came, Mother would go to town and tell a store owner or somebody like that when they where going to be ready, and she find out what the prices were. P: Did you slaughter them, or did they slaughter them? They took them off, just carted them away in a truck. W: All you did was just catch them and put them in crates, like you see them hauling chickens just down the road now. We had just the big pen, and everybody got in there--the kids and the buyers ( they had brought some help with them)--and 3



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caught the turkeys and put them in the crates. The crates were bigger. P: Yes. W: We would put about four or five turkeys to the crate--it was a wooden create--close the lid on them, and they would get the truck loaded. P: Now, these were not wild turkeys originally? W: No. P: They were domesticated turkeys. W: However, there were lots and lots of people's turkeys back in those days that did revert into wild turkeys. I was living close to the river, and there were lots of wild turkeys over around the river. Our turkeys would be just kicking it up in the field, and my mother would say, "Get on the horse and go see what is wrong with the turkeys." I would get there, and a bunch of wild turkeys would fly up from them. What it was is the wild turkeys were causing the tame turkeys to kick up. The hens were coming to visit the gobblers in the spring of the year. As you get near the wild hens, they would fly away. P: So they mixed. W: They mixed. Then, of course, in driving the turkeys you would probably lose some. Once in a while one or two would get away from you. P: How did you drive them? Did you just have a stick? W: You just took a dog fennel or something like that. They were not hard to drive. The old turkeys always knew what you where doing anyway, because they remembered the year before. So they would just go, and the young ones would follow them. You just do not get in a hurry with them. It is kind of like herding sheep, I suppose, although I do not know anything about that. They were not hard to handle at all. P: Did you like doing it? W: I was like any kid, I reckon. P: You wanted to go play. W: Well, I enjoyed that because it was out in the woods, and you had plenty of time to stop and play a game of marbles with one of your other brothers while the turkeys were feeding, because we did not constantly drive them. We had a couple hundred acres or so, and we lived pretty well in 4



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middle of it, so once we got them out in the woods, then we could slack up and take our time, and they would just feed around the woods away from the field. P: So you could then have that time, but when they were laying you had to follow them. W: When they were laying you had to watch them go to their nest because you had to find out where their nest was. Then you would come back and report that you had found such-and-such a turkey nest, where it was and everything. Then every day or two would have to go back to it and find out if something had broken the nest up or if something caught the turkey. When she started sitting on the nest hatching the eggs, she would sit there. Of course, later on we got incubators, and then we would pick the eggs up once they got through laying them. We would let the turkeys lay in their own nests, and then we would pick the eggs up and carry them to the incubator. At first they would sit there on the nest day and night. Of course, foxes and bobcats, and various things like that would get them if you did not watch out. P: How did you know they were going to be laying? How did you know a hen was ready to lay? W: Well, once a year they always do. P: All the hens do. W: Yes. P: So it is like chickens. W: Well, no. Chickens lay all the time. But domestic turkeys lay once a year, just like gobbler season for wild turkeys; gobbler season is only in the spring of the year. That is when they mate. Wild turkeys do not mate year round. They mate just during the spring gobbler season. Then all the rest of the time the gobblers and the hens would separate. They stayed separate practically all the time. They stay in one place. The young gobblers are called jakes. P: Jakes? W: Yes. They will stay to their self. They will not even stay with the old gobbler. You will see a bunch of young jakes. If there are fifteen or twenty, they will all bunch up and stay to themselves. They never go around the hens or the little turkeys or the old gobblers. There will usually be one old gobbler, too. He will stay here and another one will stay over there. They do not normally stay together. P: How about hens? Do they usually stay together? W: Yes, they stay together just about all the time. Of course, 5



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when they have little ones, you will see maybe two of them together. Last year I seen two hens, one old gobbler, and about twenty-five young ones together. The young ones were big enough to fly. That is the deal on the turkeys. They do not mate year round, only in the spring of the year. When they start mating, the hens start laying, and they lay an egg a day for fifteen or eighteen days or so. Then they sit on the eggs day and night until they hatch. P: So they do not sit on them until all of them are laid. W: Right. They lay one egg at a time and then go on about their business. P: But they lay them all in the same place. W: Yes. The next day they will go lay another egg about the same time. They will start picking around, and you do not see them any more. "Where did that turkey go?" She slipped out of sight. She will be in a brush pile or something like that where she has her nest. P: Is that where they make their nests, in brush piles? W: Yes. Then when they leave that nest they rake leaves over their eggs, so you cannot go along there and just see their eggs. A turkey makes her nest in an indented place. She scratches it out and puts the leaves back in there, and then she sits in there and lays the egg. When she gets through laying the eggs, she just scratches leaves over it where no varmint can come along and find the eggs. P: That is neat. W: A turkey has more sense than [most people think]. A lot people think it is an insult to call others "you turkey," but turkeys are really more intelligent than we give them credit for. Try to drive one up to that fence and put him across it. He will fly to the fence, but he will not fly across it. He will run his head through it, but that does not mean he is dumb. Anybody that has ever turkey hunted knows they are one of the hardest game to hunt. I would say that they are probably the hardest game there is to approach, to slip up on. P: Do they hear well? Why would that be? W: They are just so alert, I guess. All I know is you do not slip up on a turkey. No one that I know of has ever slipped up on a turkey. You might hear him yelp. P: What is a yelper? 6



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W: A turkey call. It sounds like a turkey yelping. They make them out of cedar; they are thin cedar boxes. In fact, I have one right here. P: Oh, I would like to try it. W: Okay. You can yelp a turkey. He might be right over there, and he will answer you, but you better not try to go to him. He has to come to you or you do not get the turkey. If you try to go over there to him, that is it. He is so alert, he will pump one time, and whenever he does that . P: He is gone? W: He is gone. He might not even do that, but usually he will. You do not slip up on turkeys. P: Are wild turkeys good to eat? W: They are delicious. P: Just as good as domesticated turkeys? W: Yes. Most people think they are better. Some people prefer wild game. Let me tell you about something that happened last year. I knew where there was a bunch of wild turkeys on the other side of the river. Well, they used to go back and forth across the river. Every afternoon you would see them. A turkey will bat his wings when he starts across the Suwannee. He will bat his wings about three our four times, and he will sail. A turkey is a beautiful bird. He puts his feet right behind him and his neck out in front, and he will sail all the way across the river. When he leaves the bank, that is it. He just sails. Anyway, I knew where this bunch of turkeys was because I had seen them sail across the river when they went to the fields. I had seen them, about a dozen, flying over late in the afternoon, so I figured I would go across the river. P: At the same place? W: Same place. I watched them from my boat while I was catfishing. So I went across the river and hid behind a tree. Then they lit all around me, and I killed every one of those turkeys. P: You killed nine turkeys. W: You always dream about the holidays and having turkey. I crossed the river and hid behind a tree. I loaded my gun. I got my shells--I bought a high brass #4. I knew just what I wanted. I thought that was the thing to kill turkeys with. I had always killed them with #1 buckshot, unless I just happened to see one when I had #6 or #8. I killed a lot of them with #8, but you have to shoot them in head. If 7



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one little shot hit him in the head, it would kill him. With a turkey, it does not take much. Just thump him on the head and you will kill him. So I got across the river and sat down behind a tree. I hid real good so when the turkeys came I could see from the bank. I could see them when they came up there, and I could see them when they left, because they sailed right to me. So I sat there, and I looked and I looked. After a while, all the turkeys were right there. They were on my side of the river fixing to go across to the other side. P: Oh, no. W: They were all around me, so I grabbed my gun. One was about twenty steps from me, and I put my gun right on him. Well, there was another one right there, and he was stepping so lightly. He stepped up there, and I figured he was going right to the first one, so I waited on him. I knew I had the one in my sights, so I could not miss him. I just put my gun right on him until this other one came up. He came up and stuck his neck right across this one, looking. They were curious; they were was not sure. They knew that there was something there that was not supposed to be there, but they could not tell what it was. There were a lot of low bushes, see, and I could just see them through the bushes. I waited till he got just right, and I pulled the trigger, and every turkey flew off. Because of the force, they just scattered. I happened to just miss them, so they escaped. Of course, they flew into the trees. They went right into the trees, and I did not get another shot at them. P: Oh, no. W: That is the reason I like to hunt them, because they are kind of a novelty. You think I am going to get that turkey, but if you try to outdo it, you end up with nothing. But turkeys really are fun to hunt. P: What else do you like to hunt? W: I duck hunt. I love to duck hunt. Now, take the creek here, for instance. P: Cow Creek? W: Yes. It is usually full of wood ducks. Last year there were no wood ducks. Well, there were a few. In fact, I did not even hunt them; there were so few that I did not want to kill any more. The year before last there were a lot of wood ducks in the creek. The sport of that is the creek is real thick with vines and growth on both sides, and when you ease down the creek, you have to be on ready, because whenever that duck sees you, he is going to fly. Just the minute that he comes off of the water, you better be 8



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shooting or he is going to be in the bushes, and you are never going to get him. P: Yes, wood ducks are hard to hit. W: He is fast to start with, and then that creek is so thick you probably will not see him till he flies because he is the color of the water. When he comes off of the water, you might see him, and you might not. He might be around the bend. If you see him, you better shoot. I mean, it is just like that. Another story about that is there was a bunch of high palmettos on the other side of this tree, and the squirrels were thick. Every time you would start to duck hunt, the squirrels would just run all over you because you are so much quieter than you would be if you were squirrel hunting. You crawl in there, and you are usually really, really quiet. So that is where I was. I slipped up the back of the tree where I thought the ducks were, and there was this hickory nut tree standing there. It was just full squirrels, and they were just running round and around. The palmetto was just right around at the root of the tree. I looked over in the creek, and no ducks. There were four or five of these young squirrels, and I really like them, so I figured I would just go ahead and shoot one of them. I shot one squirrel that was up in the hickory nut tree, and he fell in the palmetto patch. No sooner had he hit the palmettos than there was just the biggest commotion you have ever heard in the palmettos, and out came this bobcat, as big a one as you have ever seen--with my squirrel! He never knew I was there, but he was watching the squirrel, too. He was going to get him when he came down the tree. When I shot him and he fell right down side of that tree, the bobcat did not pay any attention to me. He just grabbed the squirrel, and that is what all the commotion was all about. P: So he grabbed the squirrel. W: He grabbed the squirrel and out he came right by me. I did not even have time to shoot. I mean, I did not even think about shooting it. I did not think anything like that would happen. P: That was a surprise. W: Then one time I shot a duck. I do not know if it was the same day or if it was the same hunting season. The duck had just come off the water. He was probably six or eight feet up, and when I shot him, he fell right back on the water. No sooner had he hit the water when here came this hawk, a big one. Of course, he was going to get the duck. I did not have any alternative but to shoot the hawk, because he was only that far from the duck. He was just going to whoosh down and get him. Probably what he had been doing 9



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was sitting there watching the duck. I have seen them do that lots and lots of times. P: What kind of hawk is it? The one with the red shoulders? W: I do not know what kind it was, but he was a great big hawk. P: He did not get your duck, though. W: No, he did not. I got him. P: How do you cook squirrel? W: Well, they cook them in different ways. I deep-fry them like chicken. I will tell you another way I cook squirrel that is delicious. P: I am collecting recipes. W: If it is an older squirrel and you think it will be tough-they are better when they are young--I put it in a pressure cooker on ten for thirty or thirty-five minutes, and I take some bell pepper, a little bit of garlic, some seasoning, onion, and celery, and put it in a little bit of bacon grease--very little--and saute it. Then when the squirrel gets done, I put that in, and it makes it a little folklike. Then maybe I put a little corn starch in it after that if I want it a little thick, and then I put it over rice. It is delicious. P: That sounds like a kind of gumbo. W: Yes, and it is really delicious. P: It sounds good. W: You can deep-fry it, of course, and a lot of people say that squirrel is good barbecued. I have never barbecued it because I think squirrel would be like venison. If you leave venison in big chunk, it is good to grill. But if you just put steaks on there--there is no fat in them--most people overcook it. If you are going to put it on the grill, you want venison just put on the grill and turned over, more or less. If there is any heat at all, you just cannot cook it very long. If you do, venison will dry out, and it is no good. It loses its flavor and everything. Venison, to my notion, is the best. Of course, venison is delicious. You can put an apple on it or whatever you want to fix it with. P: An apple? W: Yes. P: Can you tell me how you fix venison stew? 10



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W: About the same way, except that when I put it in the pressure cooker, I put an apple in there with it. If it is to feed six people, I put a half an apple in and cut it up. It takes a while for this [to cook]. Most game recipes call for an apple. Then you can add your bell pepper and celery like I was talking about. Then when you get that fixed, put a little bacon grease in and then put your flour in and brown it. Then add the bell pepper and all the other stuff in with that. The venison gets tender in the pressure cooker. Then put it all together, and you have a gravy. P: That sounds good. When you put the venison in the pressure cooker, do you put water in it? W: Just a little bit of water. P: About how much? About a half an inch? W: Yes, an inch or something like that, just enough to make your gravy. P: [Venison sometimes has a strong taste.] W: That is why a lot of people do not like wild game. P: I do. W: But if you know how to fix it, [it is good]. P: What other ways do you cook venison? W: My favorite way, if it is young and tender, is to put it in a little bit of fat. P: Bacon fat? W: Yes. [Season it with] salt and black pepper, and roll it in flour. Take all the bones out to make a steak. That is what makes venison good. A lot of people have it cut up like a cow. Well, when you leave the bone in it, where the saw goes through it that takes away from the flavor. P: Yes. W: The best way to fix it is first to put it in the refrigerator. Leave it about two days to chill and lose some of the wild taste. Then take it off of the bone and cut it up into small steaks, bite size or however you want do it. Salt and pepper it, flour it, and fry it just a little bit, in other words, just like it was a country-fried steak. P: It sounds great. 11



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W: You can cut it with a knife, a fork, or whatever. P: It is so tender. W: Yes. P: So you are cutting it pretty thin? W: Yes, fairly thin. Do not cut it thick like you would a regular beef steak. P: [Cut it like] a real T-bone steak? W: Just about like that, about a half-inch. P: What is Everglades Spice? W: Seasoning? P: Yes. W: They are making that down below Fort Myers. (I cannot remember the name of the little town down there.) It has just come out, and it has taken over everything. Everglades Seasoning. It is the best I have ever tasted. It has all the Nature's stuff in. I know you have probably seen Nature's Seasoning, but it was so much better than Nature's Seasoning. It has the same things in it, like garlic and celery and all that other stuff, and it is really, really delicious. You can get it at places like Wards [Supermarket on NW 6th Street in Gainesville]. P: Yes. That is right where I live. I will have to try that. W: That is where we get most of ours. They have it in two different-size containers. I guess you can put it on everything--any kind of seafood, any kind of soups, stews, steaks, and okra. P: Put it on okra? W: Put it on your okra and just chop it up. Put in a very little bit. P: Not coated. W: Do not coat it up. Just chop it up, put in a very little bit of bacon grease, a very little bit of water, sprinkle Everglades Seasoning and a little Accent on it, put a lid on it, and cook it for about twenty minutes. It is delicious. P: I love okra. W: Do you? 12



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P: I do. I have some growing in my yard. W: You will really like it if you ever try it like this. Get some Everglades Seasoning and put that and a little Accent on it. It has its own salt and everything. P: Well, I will try it. Wards Market is right around the corner from my house, and I love okra. W: You cannot forget that name, Everglades Seasoning. P: No. How about other wild game? I do not know if you would consider gopher tortoise game, but have you every eaten gopher? W: I eat them all the time. I love them. I have two in a drum out in my pickup truck. P: How do you catch them? W: You do not have to run them down or anything. [laughter] There are several ways. The way I got these was I was just driving and saw them crossing the road. P: That is the easiest way, I imagine. W: Yes. P: When they get down in their holes, it would be kind of hard. W: The easiest way to catch a gopher tortoise, or whatever you call it . P: You call them gophers? W: I call them gophers. There a lot of people in Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach, and they come over and just pull them. Well, I would rather pull them, too, but that is a lot of work. When you pull a gopher out of a hole--I do not know if you have ever done it--but he is something else. P: They are strong. W: You have to hook him. First you slide it under him, and then you turn him and catch him on the shell. Then you pull him out of the hole. If he is big, there are a lot of times you will pull through his shell. If there is a bad crook in his hole, which usually there is, you can hardly get him out. I mean, I have seen two men unable to pull a gopher out. P: Really? W: The best way to catch a gopher is to put two sticks as big as a pencil and about eight inches long on top of his hole. 13



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Stick one here and one here on his hole, according to how big his hole is. P: On either side of the hole. W: Right up on top--not on the side, but on top of the hole. P: Okay. W: Then take a piece of nylon cord, and if there are little trees or roots around there, just tie one end of this cord to the root. Make a loop in the other end, just a regular loop. P: That will tighten up. W: Yes. Then just lay one side of your loop right on top of those sticks. Let the rest of the cord just hang down on the dirt in the bottom of the hole, in other words, right in the mouth of the hole. Fix it, in other words, where he has to crawl through that loop when he comes out of the hole. P: I see. W: When he crawls through that loop, it will catch him every time, because he drags his feet. He does not pick his feet up and walk. P: Yes. Exactly. W: It might even catch him right around the neck, right around the head. I have seen that happen. I do not know how it catches them like that, but it will. It will catch them by one or the other leg, or sometimes both legs, but it will get him when he comes out of that hole, and you have the other end of it tied to this root out there. So you go back to it and check it every evening. P: So he will get himself caught up real tight. W: You bet. Then he will turn around and try to go back down the hole. P: And that will tighten the loop. W: Yes. Well, to start with, he will try to crawl on off, and that is going to tighten the loop. Then he is going to try to go back down the hole because his home is his shelter, but he cannot go back in that hole because that loop has got him. Now, do not fix your cord very long. You do not want it long enough that he can go back down the hole and around the curves, because you have to pull him out of it. Fix it just long enough that he gets caught and he could maybe go that far without going back down the hole again. 14



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P: About two feet. W: Yes. P: Okay. W: Then when you go back up there and see that cord pulled tight, you know you have got the gopher. All you have to do is catch the cord and pull him out. You have the advantage because you have one foot caught, and maybe two feet, and you can pull him out fairly easily because he is not very far down. P: Where did you learn that way of catching gophers? W: Trial and error. P: You invented it. W: Yes. You can take a place where there are a lot of gophers, and you can catch every one if you want to. Now, sometimes one will break that cord. He may be big enough that, if you do not go back soon enough, or if he gets caught early in the morning and you do not go till late that afternoon, he might be pulled around the tree trying, trying, trying to get loose. They do not give up. P: Yes, and they are strong. W: They are put together like a Sherman tank. Strong. P: I have seen them knock over an iron kettle. W: Have you ever tried to butcher one? P: No. W: You have never tried butchering? Mm, mm, mm. You have a problem when you start trying to butcher them. I remember [one time when my neighbor] Ann [was eating dinner with us]. We had gopher, and I had fixed it. Of course, they like to come over and eat, and they like for me to go over and fix theirs, because I cook a lot of wild game. Of course, Ann did not knw that a gopher does not have a backbone. P: Oh, no, and Ann thought it did? W: Ann ate that gopher meat and said, "This is good. What part of that?" I said that it was the backbone. "Well, give me another one." This was a big joke. "Is this more backbone?" I said, "Yes, it is backbone." I do not know how many pieces she ate thinking it was backbone. 15



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P: That is funny. W: So two or three days later, the next weekend or something along in there, I said, "I have some more gopher, but I gave all the backbone away already." She said, "What in the hell did you give the backbone away for? That is the best part of him." Well, we liked to have a fit. I laughed about that thing so much because we kidded her. Actually, she found out. We were laughing so that she knew something was wrong. "What is wrong with it?" She just did not know that gopher does not have a backbone. She was eating the legs, see. P: That is where the meat comes from. W: Most of what you eat is the legs, because they are just connected to the hull. The legs go right through them, and they are connected to the hull on top. They are not connected to the hull on the bottom. Just meat and muscle is all that is connected with that bottom part. P: So how do you butcher them? W: Well, I will tell you. There are two ways of cleaning them, and I can tell you both ways. The easiest, simplest way to clean a gopher is to get an old piece of toilet paper, raise his tail, and just wipe it. P: And just what? Oh, no! I got it now. [laughter!] W: Well, where his neck comes straight back there is a little hump. That is where his neck is attached to his hull. His neck and all through there is fastened to the top of his hull. So you just take a hammer and hit right there where that little knot is up on his hull, and that breaks his neck. P: So he is dead. W: Yes. P: Or knocked out. W: He might still move like a gator. You know, the only way to kill a gator so he will not hit you with his tail when you are butchering him is to cut his head off after you have killed him. Take a machete or an ax and cut his head off. Then take a wire and it run down his backbone and pull all the marrow out of his backbone. Then you can clean him or whatever you want to. P: A gator, or a gopher? W: A gator. 16



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P: Okay. You run a wire down his back? W: Run a wire down his back and pull all the marrow out of his backbone, and that keeps him from moving. You can cut his head off, and he will still hit you with his tail because they just keep moving. He does not know that he is going to hit you. P: Reaction. W: Like kind of batting the breeze or moving a paw, or something like that. In other words, if you do not want him to move, chop his head off, run a wire, like a good stiff wire--we used to call them clothes line wire--down his backbone and just pull out that marrow. Twist it around and pull it out. That will kill him completely. In other words, it will not just kill him, it will keep him from moving around. P: Is marrow intestines and all of that stuff? What is marrow? W: Well, I call it marrow. Do you know the soft part that is in your backbone, the soft, chalky-like stuff that is in there? P: Yes. W: That is [marrow]. P: I see. I do not know what it is called, but I know what you mean. W: Well, you pull that out. You do not have to get every drop of it, off course. Just run the wire down and twist it around and pull it out, and some way or another it does something to the nerves. See, all that is connected, of course, to your nervous system, to your back. [It is the] same way with all animals, I suppose. P: Yes. W: Like the last time Roy [inaudible] and I killed two gators coming out of the pond. P: What pond? Over here? W: Well, it was not right in this area. It was south of here about five, six, or seven miles. This was a long time ago. P: But it was fairly close. W: Yes. It was not right in this little area here, but it was in the general area. Well, we got this gator, a threelegged one; something had bit [the other leg off]. It was a big gator. To begin with, we really did not go gator 17



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hunting. We went catfishing. P: Oh, no. How did [you wind up with the gator]? W: We put trot lines out in the lake, you see. After dark we went back to check the lines. Well, the first thing I saw was a gator's eyes. I had a rifle, a .22 single-shot rifle. You put one bullet in and shoot it, and then you have to take the hull out and put in another one. It does not work automatically. I certainly did not go gator hunting with it. I just always carried it. If I go fishing, I carry it. Any time I go anywhere, I carry that rifle. You never know when you are going to see a rattlesnake or whatever. So I had the rifle in the boat with me. No sooner had we left the bank, I flipped the headlight on to check the lines, and there was a gator on one of the lines. P: He was on the line? W: Yes. He was only about a threeor four-foot-long gator, but I knew it was not a catfish when I saw him there rolling and tumbling and everything. So I told this buddy of mine-he is kind of wild. P: What is his name? W: Billy Stephens. He is younger than I am, but he is really a good boy. He was raised on the river. He is a regular river rat, if you want to call him that, so he loved to hunt and fish. Another one of the boys that went with us decided that we were not going to catch any fish anyhow, so he just laid down in the back of the truck and went to sleep. He had had a few beers, anyway, so you might say he was half asleep and about half passed out. We got in the boat, and the first thing I did was shine the light right on the line, and it was right there. P: How did you set up the trot line? W: Well, we drove stakes down into the pond because there is nothing to tie the ends to beside it. We drove the stakes or stubs down and tied one end to it, and then went on down to the other end and tied it to a small tree because there was nothing else to tie it with. P: About how big were the trees? W: Well, like an inch and a half in diameter, say from two inches in diameter at the bottom to an inch at the top, at the little end. P: Do you have to go into the water to put it in? W: Well, no, you are in the mud in the bottom of the lake. You 18



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just take a anything to hit the stake with--a lighter knot [from a pine tree], a hammer if you happen to think about it and carry one with you, or whatever you can hit it with. You drive it down a foot or two in the lake bottom. You tie one end of the trot line to that and put your hooks on it every two feet apart till you get to the other end of your big line. When you get to the other end of your big line, drive another stake down and tie off that end. Anyway, we had a trot line out in the lake. It was a pretty good-sized lake, and I figured we would catch all the catfish we wanted. Well, that is the one that the gator was on. We were paddling the boat. We did not have a motor on it because it was more or less useless, since all we were doing was just going there and back. I told Billy, "We got a gator up here!" "Well, shoot him," he said. I said, "No, let's not shoot him. He is a small one, and the lake is down low." That is the reason, or one of the reasons, I said we would catch plenty of catfish, because the lake was low. They did not have much to feed on, so they would be hungry. I was in hopes we would catch a lot of soft-shell turtles. We did not, but they are the best eating around. We were taking catfish off, and before we got up to the gator, he took off--with the hook. So Billy said, "Shine your light around and see if you see him." Well, I shined my light around, and there was a gator there and a gator there and gators all around us. So I said, "God! There are gators all over the place." He said, "Well, I would not mind having some gator tail. Let's shoot us one of them." So I did. P: How do you figure out which one to shoot? Can you tell by eye shine how big they are? W: Yes, you can tell by how big their eyes are and how far apart they are. Then a lot of times you can see them, part of them--a little bit of his head will be laying out. Sometimes [you can see] just his eyes, because they sit on top of his head. I have seen them coming across the lake looking like a Model-A Ford with its headlights on. They are not quite that big, but I have seen some big ones. You get out in the fog by yourself, . P: And they get bigger and bigger. W: They get bigger and bigger! And you do not have a boat under you, especially if you are wading or fishing or whatever. Anyway, I told him, "There is a big one right there. Paddle on up there to him." He paddled me over there, and I shot him, and that gator just went into a fit. They will do that, you know. P: What do they do? 19



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W: Tear up the water everywhere. Down he went under the water, and we could not see anything. Then he popped right back up and here he comes--right straight to the boat. He was not afraid of it. Just about the corner of the building [to here is how close he was], and he was coming right at us. I waited till he got about half-way to the boat. I had to because I was getting another cartridge. Billy was hollering "shoot him!" all the time. He was pretty excited by now. He was scared of the gator. I waited until he got about half-way to the boat. I had my gun right on him by them, and I waited till he got up right just where I wanted him, and I shot him again. Then he just went crazy again. Just churning, just hit the water real hard with his tail. So he went under again and came back up again. I was getting another cartridge fast as I could because I knew I would probably have to fire again because he was so big. That bullet was probably bouncing off. I had some hollow points in my pocket and some with straight, steel bullets. Are you familiar with a hollow point? P: No. W: That is a regular steel bullet there, see. P: Okay, I see. W: It is made out of lead, if you want to call it that. A hollow point will be like this copper one here. P: Oh, yes, I have seen them. W: And there is a little hole in the middle. P: I have seen those. W: When it hits, it will flatten out. In other words, when it hits something, it will make a big hole, especially if it goes through and comes out. P: I have seen those. W: I did not know which one I had. I knew if it was a hollow point, it probably was not doing very much. Probably when it hit his head it just flattened out right there and knocked him out. So I waited. When he came up the last time, he came up right close to the boat, maybe ten feet away. I let him get about to the end of the gun barrel from the boat and I shot him again, and that finished him off. Well, we put him in the boat. P: How did you get him? 20



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W: We just reached down and manhandled him into the boat. He was a pretty big boy. P: Was Billy scared when the gator got that close to the boat? W: Oh, yes. He was hollering "shoot him!" all the time. He is just scared of a live gator. He just did not want the gator to come up there and bite his leg off or something like that, you see, which I did not, either. Anyway, we got the gator into the boat. There was some discussion on how to get him in there, but I finally got a hold of his tail, and Billy got his head. We started on across the pond to look at the other lines, and the gator is flopping and banging and beating. We had a little twelvefoot john boat, so it was nothing big, and the gator was almost hanging over one end of it. He was about as long as the boat is. P: So he was about twelve feet. W: Well, he was about eleven, ten and a half. So we started looking around, and there were gators everywhere. We could see their eyes everywhere. There must have been fifteen gators in this little pond--it was not a big pond. Billy said, "Let me get up there and shoot one." He is quite good with a gun. I said no. "Oh, come on, come on. Let me do it. I want to shoot one." I said, "We have all the gator tail we can do anything with." "Well, so-and-so wants some, and so does Ma." He calls his mother Ma. So he got one. P: He just wanted to shoot a gator. W: He wanted to shoot a gator is what he wanted to do. P: He was not worried about Ma. W: He wanted to shoot the gator. I finally said okay. So I took the catfish off the other lines, and I said, "I am going to go straight in. But if you see one on the way, you shoot him." Well, I knew he was going to shoot one, because they were all around. And sure enough, pow! He shot two like that. They would not come back up. He thought he had actually hit them, but maybe he just stunned them a little bit. If you shoot them in the nose, you are not going to hurt them. We started back in, and Billy shot one right close to the boat, so we put him in the boat. P: How big was he? W: He was probably about six or seven feet long. So I was paddling the boat, see, and about the time he started easing up on that one, this big gator that was in the boat came back alive. 21



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P: Oh, no. W: Well, the head was towards me, now, because I was paddling the boat, and he was at the front now. Billy had the shot gun, and I shouted, "Hey, this gator's to life back here! We have to do something! I am going straight on over the hill." "No, no, no," he said, "be quiet. Just ease up here." Well, I was barefooted, see, and I did not want him to biting my foot off. I just put my foot on his head, and boy, when I did, he returned. Well, Billy could not see very good back there. It was probably 11:00 at night, and he had the light up front, but you could just see a little silhouette back there. This gator got up on his feet. He did not have but one front leg, because the other one got bit off, I reckon. It was healed, but it was bit off right to his trunk. P: Like amputated. W: Yes. There was nothing to do but to catch the gator. Otherwise he was going to catch me, so I caught the gator. I just laid the paddle down and got him right by the snout like that to hold his mouth shut. Well, he got to raring and doing up like this. P: Trying to escape. W: Trying to escape, trying to get out of the boat, trying to do something. He did not know he was going to get out. He did not even know what he was in, I reckon, but he wanted to get back to the water. He did not want any part of where he was, and I was just holding on. But I was going to let him back [in the water]. I mean, nothing would have pleased me more. I saw what I was going to try to do. I was trying to get his head out of the boat. He got up and scratched me. His right paw was all he had, and he just came down like that and scratched me bad. Dug in, I mean. That is when I hollered to Bill, "I am throwing this gator out of here," and I threw him out. He whirled around, looked back, and dragged him by the tail as he went over the side, trying to pull him back in. I said, "My God, man! I just threw the gator out of the damn boat. I do not want him back in here. Leave him alone." "No," he says, "we killed that gator, and we want him." I said, "No, we do not want him. You might want him, but I do not want him." He said, "Hand me the tail. You take his head up there." I said, "I want no part of it!" "Well," he said, "we are near about the edge, now, the bank, so we will just go on in." We hung the gator over the side of the boat and left Billy holding his tail when we got to the hill with it. We just had about fifteen feet then to go to get back. So we got him out on the hill. 22



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P: The edge, is that what you call it? W: The edge of the water, the bank. It was the bank, the hill, edge, or whatever. It was a nice sandy place, a nice little beach at nice lake. So we pulled him up on the sand there, and I could see that boy laying there in the back of the truck. I told Bill, "We might as well load this gator up." P: Oh, how mean! W: He looked up, and he knew what I was talking about. I said, "We might as well load this gator in the truck," and he said yes. I thought the boy would wake up, but hell, he did not wake up. We threw that gator in the back of the truck with him. He looked over and opened his eyes and saw that gator over there. When he opened his eyes and saw that gator, I thought he was just going to have a fit, sure enough. He came out of that truck like a bullet. P: Oh, that is funny. W: And you know what? We had to take that gator out and shoot him another two or three times with the rifle no further than that from his head before we ever killed that gator. See, he might or might not have known when we was coming in what he was doing, but he was not dead. He was just . P: He was just stunned. W: Yes, he was just stunned, just knocked out--more or less just out of his head. He could still hurt you, too, because he was in the right frame of mind to. P: Have you ever known anybody who has been hurt by a gator? W: No, other that what I read in the papers. No one ever around here. On the river itself I do not know what has happened to the gators. P: Have you seen them going away? W: The thing about it is a lot of people say they do not like gators in the rivers. They say they eat fish. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Three or four years ago the river was full of gators. They have been killed out since. I do not know who has done it or why, and I have not seen anyone do it. It has been against the law ever since it was done, but I know they did it. There is no way that that many gators [could have died off naturally]. On a sunny day we could ride down the river from the mouth of Santa Fe to the Rock Bluff bridge, which is three-fourths [of the way down the river], and count twenty or thirty gators on a trip down there and back--in a pretty fast boat, too. I know we made a sound. But now you hardly see a 23



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gator. P: Why do you think that is? W: Well, people killed them to bootleg the hide and the meat. And even if you do not bootleg the hides, the meat is worth killing them for now. P: Do people sell the meat illegally? W: Sure they sell it. P: I have not heard anything about it, if that is what they do. W: Well, you know they do. There were that many gators in the river back two or three years ago, and now there are hardly any; you just do not see many gators in the river any more. I am on the river an awful lot, and I just do not see them. I saw a little one that was probably around four or five feet long. When did I tell you this? P: Day before yesterday. W: The day before yesterday is when I saw the first gator I have seen in the Suwannee River in a year. P: I have not seen many gators, either. Up in the Okefenokee I have seen some, but not down on the lower part. W: Right. So you know that just in the last couple of years [there has been considerable demand for] the meat. They say gator tail, but you cannot tell if you are eating gator tail or jaw. The jaw tastes just like the tail. P: Really? W: Sure. They have big muscles in their jaws, and there is maybe two or three pounds of meat on each side of a goodsized gator between his jaws and shoulders. It all is beautiful white meat just like the tail is, so there is no difference in the tail and other meat. So they just bone everything out and sell it. Say you get anywhere from twenty to fifty pounds of meat off a good-sized gator: at three or four dollars a pound . P: You are going to be making lots of money. W: They go out and get three or four gators in one night dishonestly, so you can see where they can make three or four hundred dollars a night. P: Do they sell them like people do gopher tortoises, where you just sell them to somebody or to restaurants? W: I do not know about that. All I am doing is just expressing 24



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what I think. The best way to do it is to get lined up with several restaurants. P: Right. But they can sell them now in restaurants. W: They might say to the restaurant owner, "We will sell you this gator meat for so-and-so (hush-hush or whatever). We will sell it to you for a dollar a pound less than you can get anywhere else." Well, now, naturally most of the restaurant owners are going to fall right in line. P: What about the hide? W: Well, they can throw the hide away. But, now, I maintain this. The thing about it is, the game department made pan fish--that is, lead belly, shell crackers, speckle perch, and others--legal in Okeechobee. You can catch them out at Lake Okeechobee and sell them. It is not illegal. P: Anybody can? W: Anybody can. Well, you have to have twenty-five dollars for a license, or something like that. Do you know where Astor or Astor Park is on the St. Johns [River], down out of Ocala? P: I am not sure. Is it out near Welaka? W: Welaka? No. Anyway, the last time I was fishing on the St. Johns River, I saw these fisherman pull two baskets up, half as big as this porch. They were about that high and about as long as from here to right here. P: Can you give the dimensions roughly, because I would like to get it on tape. W: Well, they were probably twelve foot long and six foot in diameter, and I think it had a muzzle at each end. When they pulled these wire baskets in, I am going to say they probably had 150 to 200 fish in each one. They pulled them up near where my friend and I were. We happened to be sitting at the mouth of a little creek, right where those baskets were--one on one side and one on the other. They just pulled up there and did not pay us a bit of mind. I saw what they were doing, but Sonny said we were not game wardens. That big old basket had a door in each end of it, and they just dumped fish and dumped fish and dumped fish. Now, who is going to say where those fish are going? You know they are not catching them for their families. There is no way. P: They must have an awfully large family! W: Well, they had 150 to 200 brim and shell crackers or whatever in each of these baskets. You know they have to be 25



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selling them. But who is going to ask, "Where did you get these fish from? You cannot sell these fish. They are illegal." "We got them out of Lake Okeechobee." "Oh, well, that is okay, then." That is just like gator. They have the gators out of the river now. The only thing that I hate about it is the fact that if they had left the gators in the river, [the fishing would actually be better]. See, when the gators were out of the river before, the fishing was lousy. P: When the gators are out? W: Right, because of the garfish and the mudfish. They are big fish. The garfish get to where they are forty to sixty pounds. I read one time--maybe you know this--how many pounds of fish it takes for a fifty-pound gar to survive, and it is an awful amount of fish poundage. He has to catch maybe half of his weight per day--that many fish. Well, the gators catch the big fish, like the gar and the mud. They go ten, fifteen, twenty-five pounds. So it is a balance. P: You are exactly right. W: I mean, that is the way God put them here. In other words, everything balances out, so if they would just leave everything alone, it would balance itself out. The gators would take care of the gar and the mud. The little gators would eat a few of the small fish, sure, but there would not be anything like what the big gators would take care of with the big garfish. Now the gators are gone, and the big gar are back everywhere. You can just see them all over the river. When there are a lot of gators, you just do not see very many gar. P: That is very interesting. It is just like hunting. When you hunt, you believe in killing one or two and leaving the rest alone. W: Yes, I do not doubt that. If I see something like turkey around here, or deer, or anything game, [I do not kill it for the sake of killing it]. We have a feed planter for the deer. We have feed all over the place for the deer, and they come up here. One got in here one night. She ran in the gate. We tried to get her out of here, so she ran to that gate there and ran to that fence. She knocked that fence open. That gate post right there is still loose; I mean, she knocked it and about tore it completely loose. She bloodied her nose and was crying and all that. Well, we finally herded her up and got [her out]. The night lights had her blinded, see, and she could not see the fence. But we finally brought her back up. She had run into the fence on that side of the lane and on this side, but we finally got her out the gate. We do keep animals around here practically all the time, but 26



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we do it legal. I mean, I may like [to eat] deer and all that, but we do not kill anything unless it is in season. All my brothers have dogs, and they like to hunt in the woods. They want me to hunt with them. And we do a lot of fishing. I also do some trapping, if I need to--fish trapping. P: Do you have traps that you have made? Do you have traps here? W: Yes. P: Do you make them yourself? W: Yes. P: I would like to see those. Karen was telling me that I needed to ask you about that. W: Yes. Now, there are not catfish like there used to be. When I was a boy, I grew up there, and we could just go down and put a trot line out a way across the river. P: In the Suwannee? W: In the Suwannee. I smoked cigarettes back then. You would go out, and by the time you had smoked a cigarette and started back across, you could start getting fish off of that trot line. They were just in there like that. [There were] beautiful channel cat. Nowadays they are just not in there. I think it is due to pollution. P: That was my question. W: I think Occidental [Petroleum Company] had a lot to do with it. That is my opinion, now. P: I do, too. W: The last thing I read that came out on it was about two weeks ago--and you probably read it in the paper, too--about Occidental and how high Goose Creek was, the pH, and everything. P: I did a story about the Suwannee River in the [Gainesville] Sun about two years ago. W: Did you? P: It was a three-part series, and the second part was all about Occidental. W: Well, I probably read it, because I read everything in the Sun. 27



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W: From front to back. There is nothing that goes by. P: That is good. It is hard for people to do. W: I mean, it might not look interesting, but after you get into it, it might be. I can pass my time reading anything I can get. P: So you think pollution [is to blame]. What else? You think it is mostly Occidental? W: No, I do not think that it is all Occidental. I think they contribute a great deal to it. I think second, and maybe even [just as bad], is people building houses. P: Oh, yes. W: The first thing a person does when he buys a river lot is clear out everything so he can see. He cannot leave it like it is; he will not leave the environment like it is. He bought it because he wanted to be on the river, but he did not want it like it was beautiful [naturally]. He has to clear it all out and just destroy everything, and then plant grass out there so it is just like he was back in town, really. P: That is just terrible! W: Well, that is just they way it is. Okay, so you get all the limbs out of the river, all the brush, all the treetops and everything else. Then where do the fish live? There is nowhere in the world. If you want fish in a lake, you want brush piles out there. P: You mean like the tree tops? W: Yes. Dump them in there and make a big brush heap which will stay there underwater, where the fish are. Then you can go back there every year and fish. Any fisherman will tell you that. The little fish will go in to protect themselves--they can hide and get bigger. The bigger fish will go in there to catch these little ones; once in a while one of them is going to come out, and that other one will get him. Then the extra large fish are coming in there to catch the ones the size under them. So you get all the fish gathered around these brush heaps. [You will find in] 'most any lake where people fish and will fish for a long time these brush-heaps. They are just like old cars that they haul in the gulf. You have read that, where they haul them out to different places in Panama on the beaches and everything like that. They haul them out there and dump them in. That is like an old ship where it has sunk. It is a good place [for fish]. It is the same with trees and 28



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brush. P: I even heard someone calling beer cans "minnow homes." W: Well, that probably could be, too. I would go as far as to say that if they were regular metal where they would rust out in a few years I do not think they would hurt as much as some of the others would do, like aluminum. P: So that is the second reason that [the river has declined]? W: That is the second reason. The third reason is when subdivisions are built. When the river comes up, it goes out into sloughs. There again, little fish and big fish and everything goes out, and a lot of your little fish will stay out. P: In Cypress Pond? W: Yes. All you have got to do is look around. A pond that is left like nature put it there, where there is a lot of shade, a lot of stuff to absorb the moisture and everything, water will stay in there a long time. You clean up everything around it and plant grass around it, and soon that pond is dry. You have seen this happen. P: I have heard other fishermen say it, but not quite like that. You have done more thinking. W: That is true. So what do you get when they buy up all these things and subdivide? Really, the county commissioners and [people like that] are to blame, because they let the people come in, and they approved these subdivisions, knowing full well the water is going to rise [during the rainy season]. It reminds me of a story I heard. A guy was talking about these real estate [salesmen] selling land. They had come down on the river on these sloughs where the water had been up and had marked [the water line on] some of the tress. You can tell that the water had been up high. They had to ride their horses down in there because it was kind of boggy. The buyer was riding along with him, and the salesman was telling him all about how beautiful this was and how wild hogs had rooted around on the ground and everything. The buyer saw these marks way up the trees, and he asked the real estate salesman, "What about these marks here?" Well, the dumb real estate salesman thought he was talking about the hog rooting there. P: Oh, no! W: He said, "Oh, don't worry about it. That is from the wild hogs' rooting." He just kept trying to sell him, saying "this is beautiful" and "that is beautiful" and whatever. When he got back up to the house and started to get into the 29



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car, he asked, "Well, what do you think about the property down there? Do you think that is beautiful down there? What do you think about it? Do you want to go ahead and close the deal today?" The man answered, "No, sir. I am not too fired up about the land down there. I would like to see, though, if you have some more of those hogs that made the marks on those trees." P: Thirty-foot hogs! W: Thirty-foot hogs scratching on the tree! But I said that only to prove my theory. When you get below Tyler's Bluff-do you know where that is? P: Yes, I now where that is, the lower part of the river. W: Okay. On down, there are all the estuaries and creeks and sloughs and whatever going out from the river. There are rays in there, places out there where the fish can hide, where the little fish stay until they get big enough to protect themselves. There are fish there. I mean, that is about the only place anymore where you can go and really do some good fishing. P: So you have seen a lot of change in your lifetime with fish on the Suwannee. W: Yes. Oh, God, have I ever! P: I guess everyone I have talked with says that the fish [will replenish themselves in time]. W: Everybody says, "Oh, they just will make more fish," and it goes on like that. "It does not matter that there are no more fish caught." The fact is, the fish are not being raised. I think that they should get some of these wildlife officers out of their automobiles and fast boats and put their cans down there to restock the wilderness. It does not cost that much for 5,000 bass here and 5,000 bass minnows--twoor three-inch small ones. Put them in up and down the river, with shellcrackers and brim, and just start restocking it yearly. Not just now and let it go five years; I mean every year. P: Until they are back to what they were. W: Until they are back to what they were. They are not going to overstock it because somebody will be trying to catch them or something. I do not think they will overstock it because the gar are going to eat them up as fast as you can get them in there. But there are a lot of things they could do to bring them back, to help them replenish. They will never bring the fish back like they were. There is no way they are going to. 30



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P: You have really done some thinking about it. W: Well, let me tell you something else. Last week I went [fishing with my brother]. It was his birthday this past Monday, and he wanted me to go with him and cook meat on the river--just take a frying pan, meal, grease, and salt and pepper. P: What kind of meal? W: Corn meal to cook hushpuppies and fish. We were carrying everything--onion, tomato, cucumber, and some water. What we did was we went down on the bank and caught enough fish and cleaned them. Then we put two rocks or logs together on the bank, broke some limbs to put under there, and started a fire to fry the fish. We had not done that in a long time. We used to do it all the time. We would take the frying pan with us just about every time we went fishing, just like the good old days. We would take the frying pan and cook on the river. That was when they were their best, you know. When we were getting ready to go, he asked, "Where can we catch enough fish? That river is a rising." Perch do not bite much when the river is rising, and neither do the catfish. I said, "We could go to the mouth of the Suwannee, by the Santa Fe, I guess. It has been ten or fifteen years since I been there, but we always used to go there." We used to go up there and catch a bunch of fish right out of the mouth in the clear water around there. But we had not been there in a while, so we went there. Do you believe that we could not see a fish in that river? The only thing we saw was mullet. P: Oh, no. W: There used to be lots of little fish--little chubs, stump knockers or black chubs (whichever you call them), red belly, and sand fish--but not a one of them did we see. Not one did we catch, and not one could we see. In the past you would see them going off when we were in our boat. That is all because that river has been torn up and messed up so much. P: I bet there are a lot of houses. W: Yes, there are a lot of houses. I know that people have to have a place for recreation; I will agree with that 100 percent. But when you get thousands in one place, like in that river, even though they are stopping at the bridge, by the time that water comes from the bridge on down, it is pretty well polluted all the way. Now, you have to admit that. P: Oh, yes, I do. 31



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W: You can look down on the bottom there, and there is grayish blue silt all over the bottom of the river. And I know what it was: it is what has been kicked up from the bottom and pollution from homes. P: It is just like you say. They plant grass all over. I lived in Fort White, and it was amazing. I used to swim there. I would get in where the tubers get out and swim down toward Santa Fe, and the sound that I would hear more than almost anything else was the sound of hammers, which meant that houses were going up. W: Yes. P: And they planted a green lawn all the way down to the river bank. They would be out there with garden rakes raking out that grass that runs into the river. W: Yes. Well, the fish feed on it. P: That is right. W: Say you put in at this bridge right up here and go up or down. You just look. All you have to do is look in between the houses where they have not cleared and you would see what the river used to be like years and years ago before they started [building houses]. There is just no place for the fish to raise anymore. Not only that, you go on down the Suwannee, and it is that way right on down. They should do something, but I do not know what. Of course, it will get worse, I guess. There is very little bit of it left they can sell. People have bought up everything. Fifteen years ago people said they did not notice the homes. P: Then the next thing people will want, particularly some of the northerners that have come down, is a dam, because they do not like it when it floods. Some of the people who have lived here and are used to it say, "We will just move our furniture. We will be all right. We are used to this." W: Across from my land there is a big curve. When the river would rise and overflow its bank, the bank did not make it go straight. The water would not have to follow the bank. It just went right straight across and washed sand, limbs, trees, and whatever up to the houses. They went down to the mouth and channeled the mouth of the river out where it will dump the water out so it might not ever come up that high again. But if it does, everything is just going to wash out the houses. P: Some maybe deserve it. W: Yes. What else do you want to know? P: You were telling me that Suwannee cooters are the best 32



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eating. W: Softshell [turtles]. P: Softshell cooters. Okay. How do you catch those? W: Well, some people say to take fat meat. P: From a hog? W: Yes. P: Okay, that is what I thought. W: You put a trot line out just like you would for catfish, and put a little piece of this fatback, sort of in a square, right on the line. But instead of putting it down in the water, like you would for a catfish, you put it right across the top of it. Then you put short lines on them with no hooks, see. Cooters feed in the daytime, rather than at night like catfish. Catfish feed at night, but streaky heads, hardbacks, and softshell turtles feed in the day time. P: Streaky head is one that has the yellow stripes. W: Yes. P: What does the hardback look like? W: Well, the hardback is like the streaky head. P: But it does not have the streaks? W: Well, some hardbacks have, and some do not. Some of them are just this big. I am not going to tell you what we always called them. P: What did you always call them? W: Horse turd cooters. P: Why did you call them that? W: Well, he looks like a horse turd. He is only about that big. He has got a high hump. He will sit up like that, but he is only about that big around. P: And they never get bigger? W: That is as big as they ever get. You can catch quite a few of them if you are fishing on the bottom. Trot line fishing is best. They call it trot line fishing because you have to anchor the line before you throw it out. 33



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P: It is down deep? W: Yes, down on the bottom. Have you ever seen a softshell? P: I have had some. I was just trying to figure out what the other turtles were. I know a cooter with a really black shell is what they call a Suwannee cooter. It has a really dark shell, and I think it has some yellow stripes. W: The stripes are green or greenish yellow. P: Let's get back to catfish. W: Well, all the names of the catfish, the way to catch them with a bush hook and trot line, and what you use for bait I think you already have on the tape. When the river is low, the catfish were always in holes in the river. At nighttime they will come out. That is the reason a lot of people fish at night. As I was growing up, my family used to kill a hog once a year, usually in the dead of winter--around November, December, or January--when it was really cold. They saved all the entrails out of the hog, and we rendered the fat and everything. When we got through butchering the hog, that was it. When I say butchering the hog, I mean killing the hog and gutting them. We would just split the stomach apart. Then we took the entrails down to the river and dumped them out in a hole. In the winter time the river was low, and we would dump them out in this hole which was a good catfish hole, right on our property on the edge of the river. The hog had eaten corn, peanuts, and all this, so the entrails just soured. Then we would just put a few shovels of filling so it would drift on down, because it was just like mash, like chicken feed ground up before they had eaten it. That stuff would just settle down in this hole. This has probably happened in the daytime, between 11:00 and maybe 2:00. Then at nighttime about dark we went down there and built a fire--it would be cold weather, like I said. We would take livers out of the pork and fish for the catfish all night, and there would be fish right around where you had dumped this stuff, see. P: That is pretty neat. W: By then they would have the catfish holed up. They would be downstream, and all this scent would be going downstream, and they would smell it and start following the scent of it right on up to where the pockets where laying on the bottom of the river. All you had to do was fish right around there. You could use an old spinning reel, an old casting reel with big old black monofilament line on it. You had this little old line, and boy, I mean, if you hooked one of them, you had to hold on. Or maybe you just had a throw line. Just tie your line to a root and put your sinker on 34



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the end of it with a big hook with a chunk of liver on, and throw it out there. The chunk of liver has to be able to fit. You did not catch any half-pound catfish hardly at all. I mean, you usually caught four-, five-, six-, ten-, fifteen-, twenty-, or even thirty-pound catfish. They were all out there in that hole, and they where just trying to get that food. P: That is pretty neat. W: That is the way you would holed them up. It is just like fishing with a trap nowadays. I mean, that is the same theory, except for the bait that you use in your trap. A soy bean cake is like meal or ground-up chicken feed; it has a texture like that. It washes off gradually when you put it in a hard cake and gradually washes away from the basket and goes down stream. The fish smell it and just follow the scent. A little bit of particles in the water is enough that you can trap them. P: So soy bean cakes attract catfish? W: And some pan fish. P: Do you put other kinds of bait in there besides soy bean cakes? W: No. P: That is the best bait, anyway. W: Nowadays it is. We used to use corn from the cob. P: Now, you were telling me the names of catfish, such as channel catfish. W: Fresh water channel cat is the best. Blue, I would say, is the next. You can always detect channel cats. They have long whiskers on the side, a parted noise, and a forked tail. Blue, shovel nose, or boot head--whatever they call them; there are probably several different names--I think are all the same species of fish, which is the blue cat or the blue head. They look just alike to me. They will get to be a big fish themselves. That is what they catch on the Oklawaha and the St. Johns. Up there they weigh seventyfive to a hundred pounds, so they get to be pretty big. But down here in the Suwannee, where I am used to--the Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Ichetucknee--there are just little street walkers or polliwogs. P: Why do you call them street walkers? W: Well, there are so many of them. You can find street walkers anywhere because they are so plentiful. But the real good ones are seldom found. 35



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P: And they are not as good. W: And they are not as good, by far. They do not even come close to being as good as the others. The reason I named them street walkers is because they are plentiful. They will bite anything. When one bites your hook, you do not have to worry about him getting on it, because he will just swallow everything. He is just gullible. He is dumb, like most street walkers. So that is my theory on it; that is the reason I named them street walkers. P: What are their other names? W: Well, you have the butter cat and the yellow cat, which is about the same. They are a pond cat. P: Are they all street walkers? W: No, I do not call those street walkers. Street walkers are yellow. A street walker is a big-headed, speckled bully that has a little tail on him. He does not have much of a tail, but he has a big head. And he is ugly, too, like most street walkers are. That is the reason I named them that: they have a big head and think they know it all. One will go up there and get any kind of bait and swallow it. P: It does not matter what. W: No. You hand them anything, and he will take it. But, now, you take the butter cat--it is known as the butter cat, yellow cat, or pond cat--that is your Lake Okeechobee catfish. Most people they think they are wonderful, because that is all they ever get when they buy them out of a restaurant. I have seen them advertised in the Gainesville Sun the other day--"Lake Okeechobee catfish". That would have made me not buy them, but most people will buy them. Well, they are all pond catfish. They are not that bad. If you are out camping and cooking outside, then those kind of catfish are good. Any kind fish or wild game is better if you cook it outdoors. P: I agree. W: So pond catfish are okay. You can eat them, enjoy them, love them, and have a good time--if everybody is outside. But just to go to a pond and catch them and clean them and bring them back home to cook, I do not like that. P: How do you usually cook your catfish, and what do you eat them with? W: I cook them with grits and hush puppies. P: Do you cook them in bacon fat or bacon grease? 36



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W: Yes, I like either bacon grease or hog lard to cook fish with. I do not think anything else would cook any kind of wild game, chicken, or fish. P: What kind of coating do you put on it? W: Everybody has their own thing. There are some good mixtures out now in mixes now. My main hang-up is hush puppies. P: How do you make those? W: I do what a lot of people have never heard of: I put fresh bell peppers in all my hush puppies. That is a major ingredient, because if you do not have that, to me it just is not a hush puppy. You can always tell when somebody knows how to fry a hush puppy, because he will dip them out with a teaspoon if he knows what he is doing--and a very small teaspoonful at that--to put in the grease. If you see somebody dipping them out with a tablespoon, then you know right away that he does not know what he is doing, because you do not need that much when you are frying hush puppies. If you have the right ingredients in there--just a level teaspoonful--you drop it in hot grease, and it swells a little bit and cooks all the way through. If you have more than that in there, it will be brown on the outside and raw on the middle. You need the right mixture using self-rising meal. P: Corn meal? W: Yes, half corn meal and half flour. Maybe not quite half flour if you are going to put egg in it; in that case, put about a third flour and two-thirds self-rising corn meal. Then put in your onion, bell pepper, and whatever seasoning you like, like salt and pepper. I always use canned tomatoes that we can ourselves. I use the juice out of them for moisture. P: How much of that do you put in? W: Well, according to however many I am making. In other words, I mix it until it is good and pliable, not too stiff and not too thin. I do not want it runny, but I want it to where you can dip it up and it will stay in the spoon. I want it just right. I put in a good bit of bell pepper. I chop it up real fine and put that in there, and I put all the tomato juice out of the jar of tomato, or two jars of tomatoes--whatever it takes. Even a lot of the times I will just pour a whole jar of tomatoes in a blender and just beat them up, and then I pour them in there for the liquid. So you have a vegetable with your hush puppy; you have your tomato, bell pepper, onion, and whatever else you want. P: That sounds delicious. 37



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W: They are delicious. If you put a gob of them in there at one time, you will get a gob when you bring it out, but if you will put a little delicate spoonful in there to start with, it will come out just right. P: Do you put garlic in it? W: Yes, a little bit of garlic. The best thing to do on that is to use garlic powder. P: Right, instead of a garlic clove. You were telling me some stories the other day. First, you were going to tell me about coachwhip [snakes]. You said they chased you. W: Coachwhips have been known to chase people. P: What stories have you heard? W: Well, a coachwhip snake will get to be a pretty good-size snake, probably six feet long. The tail part, about two to two and a half feet, will be a light brownish color, and they are dark at the head. He is kind of bulky but he really is scared of his own shadow. When I think of the coachwhip, I think of my mother and one time when we were breaking corn. Back then we broke it and put it in piles, and then came along with a mule and wagon and picked up the piles--with the ants, centipedes, and everything--and put them in the wagon. We were always watching for snakes, because back then we had velvet beans or whatever in the corn. After you picked the corn, we would turn the cattle in there, and they would get plenty of protein from the velvet beans, the grass and fodder, and everything. You could not pull the fodder from the corn stalks with the velvet beans in there because the vines had them all wrapped up. There is a line at the fence between two forty-acre fields, and this one coachwhip ran out there like he was going to eat everybody up. It was kind of a sparse place there where the grass would hardly grow, like a lot of the Gilchrist County hills there--so poor you cannot even raise a telephone pole in it. Anyway, that coachwhip ran out there, and my mother grabbed a corn stalk and ran at him, and he ran through the fence like an old bullet vine or grape vine. We called them bullet vines; back at the house they called them muscadine, black grapes. These are black grapes, just like you go picking, except they are not as improved and not big. This coachwhip ran back through the fence, back on the other side, and she ran over and was going to jump the fence. She was going to hit him! She jerked a corn stalk up and pulled it out of the ground, and she ran to hit the coach whip. She was going to jump the fence or climb the fence or something over there, and here he came back on our 38



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side. About that time some of us kids ran at him. He was watching us, and she was straddling the fence, and he ran straight back under her feet, going back through the fence, because he was trying to get away from us. He had not even seen her, but, of course, she had seen him coming. She thought he was after her, so she just threw the corn stalk down and took off across the field. Of course, I have had some fights with snakes, even rattle snakes. I remember one time these two guys I know killed a rattlesnake. They saw him swimming in the river and hit him with a boat paddle. Of course, you know, naturally, you cannot kill a snake just hitting him with a boat paddle, but they did not know any different. So they hit him with a boat paddle and put him in the live well, and then just kept fishing. One of them caught a fish, and when he went to lift the live well to put the fish in, here came the snake-into the boat! Well, one of them could not swim, and the other one had not been in the Olympics, either. So that rattlesnake just took over the boat. I mean, he was in real control of the boat; he just could not paddle it and make it go where he wanted. He did not know what to do with the oars, but he was the captain. Well, both of these guys jumped out. The one that could swim some hit the water, and the one that could not swim finally hit the water, too. He got the lead rope out of the boat and held on to it. But they just gave the boat to the rattlesnake till they finally got it. There are a lot of stories on boats. I think the tightest place I was ever in in my days of hunting and fishing was when I used to shoot fish with dynamite. P: You used to dynamite? W: Yes, I was a real bad ass. I loved to do it, just like I love to go catch them with a hook line now. The first time that I was ever in trouble--and I would not advise anybody to do it--was when I slipped off from home and got me a piece of dynamite. P: Where did you get it? W: I got it from my Uncle Web, who was notorious. If you do not believe me, you interview Mr. Saul and ask him about Uncle Web Deeheart. P: Okay. W: Or ask Melvin, my other uncle. Now, he would tell you some stories about Uncle Web. He was just as bad before he started as game warden. See, that is one reason they hired 39



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him. P: He knew how to do it. W: Well, he was so bad the only way they could stop him--they could not catch him; they were stopping him--was to hire him. I mean, really, that is the truth. Those are the facts. P: You went down to Uncle Web's. W: Yes, I got this dynamite and climbed a tree out over the water. P: Is this a stream, or is this the Suwannee? W: No, this is the Suwannee, but it was clear back then. Sometimes it will get clear. P: Right. W: I had seen him put a cap in the dynamite. He would take half a stick of dynamite, like forty or sixty proof, put a cap on it, and take the fuse and slide it down in the cap. Then he would pull the fuse out a little ways. If he wanted it to bust real fast from the time he lit it, he would slide it down all the way to the bottom of the cap and then pull it out a little bit. Then he would cut it off just as close to the top of the cap as he could get it. That made the fuse shorter, but it would still bust a cap which would bust the dynamite. Well, I had seen him do this, so I decided that I wanted to try it, too. P: About how old where you? W: I was probably twelve to fourteen, somewhere in that area. So I climbed a tree. Of course, I knew where the fish would be because I went with him so many times. That is another story. I saw him get busted one time. Anyway, I lit the dynamite, started the fuse, and threw it. There was some moss hanging down, and I was excited and threw it right into the moss. The momentum of the dynamite made the moss swing out, and there was no way I could get down the tree because it was out over the water. I knew before the dynamite busted that I could not be two steps back going towards the ground because it was high. P: Were you in a live oak? W: No, it was actually an ironwood tree. It looked like it took forever for it to swing out. But just when it started back to me, I said, "Well, this is it," because I knew it was going to bust in just a second. But it turned loose and fell out of the moss, and just before it hit the water--it never even hit the water--BOW! Boy, water went everywhere, 40



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but it was far enough away from me that I did not get hurt. The time that I did get hurt was at one of the popular springs around today in the Bell and Trenton area. P: You do not want to name it. Okay. W: Some friends of mine came by and asked me if I wanted to go shooting dynamite with them. Of course, they knew I shot dynamite. Now, I did not like to shoot it in the springs. Sometimes it would help; it would blow out all the logs and everything and disintegrate them and cause damage. But sometimes if it was too low and deep in the spring and burst in the bottom of the spring, it might have a tendency to cave it in. I never knew that it would do that, but I was always afraid of it. Anyway, these two friends of mine-they were farmers, and they were a lot older than I was-came by the house asked me if I would mind shooting the dynamite. They said they knew where we could get a lot of fish. P: Mullet, right? W: All kinds. This spring had a long run before it got to the river, and the river was real low. The spring run was full of fish: mullet, big bass, red belly, shell cracker, brim, and everything. They said, "We will get this other guy (who was a neighbor), and we will go down to the mouth where it dumps into the Suwannee. We will get in there with limbs and everything, and we will cut them and just drive all these fish. We will come back up beating on the water, wading and swimming." Of course, it was so low at that time after you got up just a little ways that they did not have to swim. They could just wade to beat on the water. P: The water was only about to your hip? W: Yes. So they were going to drive all these fish up into the spring, and they said, "You go up in the spring and get in one of those big cypress trees." Somebody had nailed boards on them [for steps] because they had shot them there many times before. That was the way the old-timers did it. Richard [Franz] can tell you all about this. They had nailed boards on the trees and climbed up to the top of them and shot these fish out from the trees. So I said, "Okay. Fine with me." They knew I had the dynamite, which by this time was getting kind of hard to get. Eventually it did get hard to get. You could not get it unless you had a reason, like blowing out stumps and so forth. P: Yes. W: So I went with them. We went down there, and I went on to the spring. I think this was on a Friday afternoon; it was afternoon in the summertime. They walked all the way back around to the river. They started their driving. I could 41



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hear them coming--blam! blam! blam!--splashing on the water and hollering and whatever, driving all the fish. Then here came all the fish a long ways ahead of them. Fish were filtering into the springs real slow. I could see some of them. I was way up at the top of a high cypress at the mouth of the drain where the spring boiled up and started out. This huge cypress was there, and it had the cleats on it that somebody had nailed so you could climb up it. I went up higher than anybody else. People did not go up that high to dive out of it. I sat down on a limb, and there was another limb right up over me. I had my bait, and, of course, I started smoking when I was about ten or eleven years old, so I had my cigarette, my Prince Albert there ready to light off. There there was no problem there. I had my matches to light my cigarette with, and I lighted off my cigarette. [You light the dynamite with a cigarette] instead of an open flame because the open flame might distract you some way when it started spewing. P: You always light the dynamite with a cigarette? W: Right, with a cigarette or cigar, because it was just sitting there doing nothing but burning. You stick that fuse to it, and then you could tell right away [if it had lit]. If you had a match with an open flame, it would make some degree of noise or something like that. Anyway, I was sitting on the limb, and they came driving all the fish in there. A bunch of them got in there, and I figured that was as good as it was going to get. They were probably about fifty to eighty feet, I would say, downstream. The spring had filled up with fish, so I raised up (I would not shoot them sitting down), caught this limb up above me, and lit my dynamite and pitched it. I had to gauge my fuse just right because I was throwing it long way, see. I wanted it to go under the water a little ways. P: Right. W: As I was watching it go down, I grabbed the limb up above me as soon as I turned it loose. I was leaning against the trunk of the tree with my left shoulder. As soon as I turned it loose, I put the cigarette in my mouth and reached up to grab the limb up above me. Well, what I grabbed was a wasp nest that big around right over my head that I had no idea was there. I did not even know what it was until I heard the noise. By the time I heard it, I knew what it was--I had been around so many of them in my time--and they were popping me all over my head, face, shoulders, and everywhere. Well, I could not do anything but just jump. I mean, there was no way I could stay in that tree, not with that many wasps all over. By that time they were all over me. [Break in tape.] I said, "You cannot see these stings on me yet. 42



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Look up here." He looked up there, and the wasps were everywhere. Those little guinea wasps are the worst kind. "My God," he said. "I do not see how you [got out of there]." P: You were lucky. W: Oh, I was stung on my head, my shoulder, and everywhere. My eyes swelled shut. It was just one of those things. P: When the dynamite hits the water, does it break the fish in parts? W: No. Dynamite will kill the ones that are real close to it, according to how powerful it is. It will kill some, but it will just addle some that are a little ways away. They will come to the top of the water. Of course, the river is fully risen in November and December, and it is full of fish, especially mullet. The bay is full of them, and everybody will catch thousands of them in nets. A lot of them they cannot use, or they cannot get them out fast enough, so they die. Back then I would cut a little piece of dynamite about that long off the stick. P: About two inches. W: About two inches off of a stick. Instead of thirds, I would cut a fourth. I knew where to go on the river--not just one place, but several--according to where I figured it was the safest. I would walk along till it got just like I wanted. I would never go up a tree. I had a burlap sack with me, and I would just wait till I found six or eight of them, or however many [was enough]. There might be fifty, but you would never get that many. You have to be careful to protect their roe. If you threw it right on them, it would bust their roe inside of them, and they would not be any good to eat. You have to throw your cord forty or even sixty [feet] away from them, instead of trying to throw right on them. You have to decide how many you want--a dozen, half a dozen, or maybe just four or five for your family--and just throw it away from them a little bit. It would just addle them, and they would be floating on top of the water. Then you would just go out there and put them in your sack. That way the roe would not be busted. P: How do you fix roe? W: Yellow roe, red roe, or white roe? I like white roe best. That is the male. P: The male [mullet] has roe? Oh, okay. So the female's is red or yellow? 43



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W: Yes, right. There are thousands of eggs. You have seen mullet roe. P: Yes. W: The male fish has white roe. I like the white roe best. I like it with scrambled with eggs. P: You just take it out and leave it alone? W: Yes, try to preserve it so the eggs do not break or separate and everything goes all over. It is in a casing. We fix it many ways, and it is just delicious any way you fix it, if you fix it right. Most people like it fried in deep fat. We always just salt and pepper and meal it, just like we do the rest of the fish. In fact, we have roe in the freezer now. I keep it year round. I like white roe, so I keep plenty of that in the freezer. White roe is usually cheaper than the regular, anyway. Times have changed, now, so we do not dynamite fish or any of these things anymore. P: You were telling me last time, and it is not on tape, about how people used to travel to Suwannee in wagons, and about a trip you made. Would you describe that for me? W: [That is] one of the few things I remember from being a kid. I was probably two years old, and my brother was probably four. We had been on a camping trip down the Suwannee. We did not live far from the river. We would load everything into the wagon and go. We just had an old wagon with old eightor ten-inch sideboards. For some reason, they wanted to stay overnight, so we did. Well, we had to go right by a graveyard, and we came back by that graveyard with all the kids in the wagon. P: Horses pulling it? W: Yes, one horse, and it had an old seat with the old buggy springs on it. I guess maybe my older sister and mother rode in the seat, and all the kids we were hanging over the little old sideboard. One of my brothers was sitting by our daddy. Well, he just fell right out, tumbled right over in front of the front wheel. [The road was] hard dirt there, a little bottom place where the water stood. Of course, it was dry then. Anyway, I heard the wagon go "bump bump" when the back wheel went over him. Boy, he started screaming. He was hollering at first. Well, what had happened was we were passing the graveyard, and he wanted to look at the graveyard. He could not even talk plain yet. He must not have been but three and a half years, so I could not have been over year and half, because there was two years difference in our age. "Look at the graveyard! Look at the graveyard!" Out of that wagon he fell. Of course, the horse and nobody else did not even 44



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notice him because all the young 'uns were hollering. Nobody thought anything about it, and he jumped up into the back of the wagon. Here he came running screaming "Wait! Wait!" with his mouth open wide. I remember just how he looked. Those things were highly common. That was a way of transportation back then. We had a car, but I guess it was like all cars back in those days. P: They were not real dependable? W: No, they were not real dependable. P: So people took an annual trek up to the town of Suwannee. Is that where you went? W: Oh, no, we just went down the river about two miles below our house. P: Near Rock Bluff? W: Yes, we went down near Rock Bluff for a weekend or maybe overnight. I do not even remember if it was a weekend or overnight or what. I do remember we spent the night. It was common for people in those days to get in a mule and wagon or horse and wagon and go to Cedar Key or wherever they wanted to go. I would say that in Gilchrist County at that time probably 5 percent of the people had automobiles in the early 1930s. Automobiles was very undependable then, so they still depended on their mule and wagon or horse and wagon or carriage or whatever. Now, when they really wanted to go sporting, like go to Bell to the store to buy groceries and carry their eggs and whatever on a Saturday afternoon, then, of course, they would use the car. But other times they would use the horse and wagon. P: Going back to the mullet, after you got home, did you salt it to keep it all year? W: Yes, we put it in salt barrels and kept it all year. Salt mullet was good, and it is still good to this day. I still like salt mullet. P: Did you soak it overnight before you cooked it, after it had been salted? W: Yes, right. It was soaked it overnight or at least three or four hours, mainly to get the salt out. You have to change the water regularly, too. You might say it was cooked before you ever put it in the fry pan, because the salt cooked it. But you would go through the process of frying it. Salt meat, salt bacon, salt cabbage, salt mullet, it is the same thing, the same procedure. P: Is that what you would eat together? 45



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W: Yes. I remember one time we went all the way to Gulf Hammock. Do you know where Gulf Hammock is? P: Yes, I do. How long did that take you? W: That was about a three-day trip. We stayed there a week. We camped, put our tent out, and everything. And the birds! The first night we were not used to the birds. Now, this is what my uncle told me, and I am pretty sure he would not tell me anything that was wrong. He passed away about a year ago. Anyway, I heard some terrible commotion after we laid down at night. We did not have sleeping bags, but we had heavy comforters. This was in fall of the year. I asked him what that was, and he said it was a bird pulling the tops out of the palmettos, like the cabbage palm that they make palm salad and whatever else to eat. He said it was those birds would get up there and jerk the bread out and eat it. It was kind of scary, lying there with the birds are all around making this racket. Well, they were not all around, but maybe you would hear one over in the east, and one in the west, and one in the south, and all I could do was listen. My God, I thought. Maybe he is not going to get enough of that. Maybe he wants a little meat to go with his cabbage. P: Little Billy Wilkerson! [laughter] W: That was one of the unique experiences that I remember of my childhood. P: What kind of food did you eat or did you carry with you? W: We carried white salt bacon. Actually, salt bacon, flour, and meal were probably the only things we carried. P: Did you catch squirrel or go hunting? W: Oh, yes. Our trip was to catch mullet or salt water fish of any kind at the creeks. We went in one of the creeks over there. P: The little salt marsh creeks. W: Salt marsh creeks. I do not know [if we did it every time], but I know every other time we would put a net across the creek when the tide was up, and when the fish started out with the tide they would run into it, and it would catch them by the gills. The old people would hunt in the daytime, so there was no scarcity of food. We kept cabbage palm, and, of course, that was good and still is. If you want to eat any better than that, why, there has to be something wrong with your brain. [Begin new interview session.] So anyway, I was standing by the creek. It was about a hundred or a hundred fifty yards 46



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down. I walked down there with my coffee (it was just this past spring a year ago), and I heard this "shhheew." I thought what in the world is that? You could not tell where it was coming from, because it is really hard to determine where a sound like that is coming from. I kept looking. I had heard it a couple of times. Now, it turned out to be a turtle laying eggs. P: Each time she blew? W: Each time she blew she had just gotten through laying an egg, and there were two of them that had come out probably a second apart, falling directly into this little hole she had made. P: Can you tell me the diameter? W: The diameter of the hole was probably two inches or an inch and three-quarters, and the egg probably was an inch. It did not touch the side; she was so precise with this. She was standing when it came out of her. In other words, it was like an inch and half before it got even level with the ground. You could clearly see the egg falling. They went down this hole about four inches under the ground. That hole turned and went off to the side. So I stood there and watched her in more or less in disbelief. It was soft sand right on the shoulder of the creek, right up where the creek bank started leveling out. That turtle was huge. P: What kind of turtle was it? W: An alligator turtle with the ridges on her back and the kind of wart-like things from the head up there. P: How big was she? W: She had a big head. It was probably about thirty to thirtysix inches long and about twenty-four inches wide. I mean, we cut steaks off the head that you would not believe. Anyway, Ruth [my wife] came down to the creek, and I had maneuvered over right close to this turtle--she was just across the fence from me. I was trying to be quiet, because I knew she was going to hear. She could not help it! She did not see the turtle, and I moved her around to where she got right back up to where the turtle was, just over the fence from her. The old turtle started "shhheew" when she laid those eggs. I said, "What is that? What is that noise? What do you reckon that is?" "I do not know what it is," she said. She looked around and saw that turtle right there at her heels, and, boy, she came out of there. She said, "What in the world is that?" I said, "That is a big alligator turtle. She is laying her eggs. Let's just stay and watch it." She laid some more eggs, and, of course, my wife settled back down. 47



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P: So the turtle would go down flat on her underside after she laid them? W: Right. After she laid them, she would just sit right down on the ground. P: And how long did she rest? W: She would rest probably about two minutes, maybe three. Sometimes she would rest four minutes, but never more than four; usually about two or three minutes. And then she would just gradually rise up again. She would just gradually come up till she reached full height, legs stretched out and on her toes. She looked like she was straining, and then "chung, chung"--two eggs would come, and then "shhheew," like boy, that was really a relief. Then she would sit down on the ground again. Finally she was through; she just quit. We had watched her lay probably twenty or twenty-five eggs. I do not know how many more she had laid before we got there, but I am sure we saw her lay around eighteen or twenty-two, maybe twentyfive. When she got through, I told Ruth, "Well, now she is through laying eggs. All we have to do is cover those eggs up, and we have ourselves a big, fat turtle here with about forty pounds of meat." It was delicious. I kind of hated to kill the old turtle that way, because you know she had labored so hard laying those eggs, but I knew she was like anything else in laying season. Whenever an animal has little ones or when they lay or anything like that, I knew she was probably at her peak as far as being fat and good meat. P: Is that the best time to get meat, generally, when it is laying season? W: It is like a mullet. Have you ever seen a mullet with roe in it? That is when they are the fattest that they ever are. It is nature's way of providing for them, to take care of their young and everything. They get round and fat, and then they will have their little ones or lay their eggs. Just like a brim, a shell cracker, or a perch, they are always at their very fattest when they lay. P: And that is the best time to eat them. W: That is the best time to eat them, when they are fat. They are juicy, good, and delicious. P: You are making me hungry for recipes. W: So I climbed over the fence and got this big old turtle. I thought she was through laying, and she was; she did not 48



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have one egg left in her. I finally picked her up--she was heavy--and got her over the fence. P: Did she struggle? W: Oh, yes, she struggled some, but not much. I put a two-byfour in her mouth. She was snapping at me, and she bit a chunk out of that two-by-four. You know how thick a two-byfour is. I just stuck it in her mouth. I got her up here, drove the truck down there, and loaded her into the back of the truck. I thought I was going to have to get the tractor with a boon and hoist down there, but I did not. I mean, she was that heavy. She was big, over a hundred pounds, and she was struggling, too, which, of course, made it worse. I sure did not want her to bite me. I tried to keep her head away from me and all that. P: How long was her neck? Pretty long? W: Well, they are not long like a softshell, but they are long enough that she could reach around bite you. P: If you are not careful. W: Yes. If she slipped out of your hand and dropped on your foot, chheew! Anyway, I got her in the back of the truck and brought her here. I shot her with a rifle, and we butchered that turtle. I do not know how many pounds of meat we got, but it was [a lot]. It was just like softshell; you could not tell the difference. P: It was good meat. W: Delicious. Just use salt, pepper, and flour, and fry it. It is just tender. It is like a softshell. There are several different types of meats--white meat and dark meat. P: So they have white meat and dark meat. W: Yes. P: And you salt and pepper it and flour it? W: Yes, and fry it just like a country-fried steak or like fried chicken. P: You just eat the legs, or do you eat more than that? W: No. P: It is not like a gopher where you generally eat just the legs? W: No. It does not have a backbone, either. It grows right to the shell, just like a gopher [tortoise]. It is built just 49



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like one, except it is so much bigger and meatier. You cut the meat from their shoulders, muscles, hands, and head. As I said, we cut several steaks from the head alone. I am talking about steaks an inch thick, just off the top part of the head, because the head was so big like that. They are the ones that have this little thing like a worm in their mouth. They sit there with their mouth open, and the fish thinks it is a worm and comes in. P: [Begin new interview session.] This is Cathy Puckett interviewing Billy Wilkerson again at his home in Gilchrist County. The date is August 14, 1982. Billy, I would like to talk about the fish traps. W: First of all, the size would probably be beneficial. A catfish trap is about twenty inches in diameter and about five feet long. [You can make them] various lengths. Of course, all the old-timers built them, but you can buy them now in some of the seed and fertilizer [stores]. We used to bait them with corn. We would soak break corn out of the field in water for three days or something like that, until it soured. Then we put it in the basket. P: How did you keep it from floating out? Did you put it in a container? W: No, just put it in there. It will not come out. P: Oh, you mean the whole ear? W: Yes, put the whole ear in there. P: Okay. W: Just drop the whole ear in there. They will eat that corn off the cob. P: What kind of fish go after the corn? W: Catfish, and pan fish, perch, shell crackers, brim, and whatever. You put that right against the bank. Lay it close to the bank, up under the trees in a likely spot. P: Not that deep? W: Not very deep. If the river is rising, you put it close to the edge. If the river is falling, you put it farther out because the fish will come to the bank more so than when the river is rising. You put an anchor on, say, a twenty-foot line, or longer if you want it, on one end of the basket, and on the other you always have your muzzle. That muzzle is always pointed downstream because the fish feed upstream always. Of course, use a double muzzle in a catfish or a perch trap. Let them swim upstream, and they swim into it. A double muzzle on a cat trap is to keep them from getting 50



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out once they get in. They hardly ever get out if they go in through two muzzles. P: Where do you put it for catfish? In rocky areas? W: Everybody does it differently. If you cut open a catfish, there will usually be a crawfish in him. A crawfish, of course, hangs around the rocky places, so I like to fish for them around rocky places. P: How many can you get in one trap, if you are lucky? W: Well, if you are lucky you can get a hundred or more. It is according to how many it will hold. P: How about brim and shell crackers? Do you bait that trap? W: No, you just put it out there and hope. I mean, just keep your fingers crossed. It used to be very common to catch a bunch of perch, but nowadays there just are not that many. P: [Begin new interview session. Ed.] This is Cathy Puckett continuing an interview with Billy Wilkerson. The date is August 17, 1982, and we are at his home in Gilchrist County, Florida. W: What do you want to go over to start with? P: How about we go over some of the things you just told me. W: About the catfish? P: Yes, about the catfish, but first of all the people. I want to get that name down. W: Oh, flat-wood hoosiers. P: Flat-wood hoosiers. What are they? W: Well, see, we were in the Cow Creek area of Gilchrist County. That is a creek that goes into the Santa Fe River about five miles above where the Santa Fe goes into the Suwannee. It goes through a flat, wooded region that is owned by a lot of paper companies now, and I guess probably when I was growing up. I was growing up in the sand hill area, which is full of blackjacks and post oaks. P: Is that where you got you taste for gopher tortoises? W: Right. Near the Suwannee River people lived in the flat woods; they were flat-wood hoosiers. We would say, "Do you want to go visit so-and-so? They live in flat woods, right? They are flat-wood hoosiers." I mean, there were people there who never farmed or owned land as such; most of them never homesteaded. They would just come out and build a 51



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little shack or some such on a piece of land anywhere that was dry, and they made their living catching fish in the creek or the river and catching wild hog or anything for game. On Friday or Saturday afternoon you would see them going into town with a load of posts that they had cut with an ax or a crosscut saw. Of course, none of them had chain saws or power saws back then. In fact, I remember the tale where one of them went to a saw shop to buy a saw, or to trade in his old crosscut on a new one. The power saws--chain saws-had just come out, so they tried to sell him this chain saw. Of course, it ran on a gasoline engine. He told them that it did not look to him that it would do the job that the other would do. He could not cut as many posts with it. Well, they said, "This will cut ten times as many as you can cut with a crosscut, and more." There was some discussion about it, and finally they talked him into taking the power saw with him. He kept it a week, and then he brought it back in on the next weekend. He told them at the saw shop, "There is no way that you can saw with this saw. I have tried it every way in the world. I can saw just little bit more with than I could with the crosscut," he said, "but I have to work a lot harder." They said, "Something is terribly wrong with that. Let's take it out back and try it." They had logs, stumps, and everything outside the saw shop to try them out on, so he took it out there and pulled the crank rope and cranked it up. He said, "Now, what a minute. What is that noise I hear?" P: Oh, that is great. W: So I guess that is the way they got their name flat-wood hoosiers. It was not that they were not good people. They were all good people. It was just that they made their living differently from the rest of the world. Most of them never sent their kids to school or anything like that. Maybe [they went] to the first and second grade or so, but that was it. If they came out knowing their name when they saw it written down, it was pretty good. P: Now,, you were just telling me a story about your grandmother. Can you repeat that story? W: Well, this is something that was brought down as a legend, I guess, or something like that. P: It is just a story. W: This was back in the late 1920s or early 1930s in Bell, Florida. Some men were fighting, and they were cutting each other. P: And you call that framming? 52



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W: Yes, they were framming each other around. Anyway, the story is that this lady's husband was doing the cutting on some guy. He had him down and was cutting him with a pocket knife. Back then that was one of their main weapons, a pocket knife. Guns and things like that were not that frequent. All you had to do with a pocket knife was sharpen it once you dulled it. She told him to just go ahead and cut his liver out while he was cutting him, that she wanted to fry a piece of it for supper. That is pretty raw right there. There were a lot of folk tales. I know a boy who is probably my age--he and I have discussed this before--whose uncle was Harley Conner. He killed the high sheriff of Gilchrist County a few years back. He shot him, was convicted, and I am pretty sure electrocuted for it. This has not been all that long ago. They were having a family argument, and some of them called the law. The high sheriff come out, and he and Harley were good friends. I think that Mr. Conner just did not know who the sheriff was when he came up, because he shot him with a shot gun. I think he shot him once or twice before he [the sheriff] got back to his car. He drove down the road just a little ways, and they found him dead. The people in Gilchrist have not always been tame people, nor have they always been violent. They have just been people that did what they had to do to survive. P: Did you ever hear your mom talking about the law when she was young, and what kind of law they had? W: Well, yes. I have heard a lot of tales concerning people who were killed on the river. That was one of the first stops for the old river boats where they put off supplies that they would bring to the settlers in this area. I have heard them talk of people that were killed there. I have heard them talking of one confrontation between Mr. Walker and a Mr. Gall. They say that Mr. Walker was a real mean man and that he beat people who worked for him. He would beat them, stomp them, and whatever. He would beat anybody. P: White people? W: Oh, yes. I do not think he had anybody black that worked for him. [If he did, he] probably killed all them before they got to the field--whipped them or whatever. I do not know that for sure. I do know that white people is what he had around him. He would get on to them and beat them terribly. He went to town on a Saturday afternoon, and this little fellow named Gall that lived in Branford was there. This was back in the 1920s or early 1930s. For some reason, Walker did not like the way Gall sat on one of the lazy benches. He parked his old truck, which was an old Model T, got out of the truck, went over to him and just beat him, 53



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stomped him, and everything real bad. All the law was afraid of him. There was nobody that would have anything to do with him. Well, the fellow Gall told him he would see him when he came back into town the next time. Sure enough, when he come back into town the next time--it was a week later, on Saturday afternoon, when everybody usually went to town--Gall was sitting on the lazy bench awaiting Walker. He said he was still not over the beating that he gave him the week before. But this time when Walker got out of the truck and walked around it, Gall started shooting him with a .38. Of course, Gall was right close to him, and the first bullet hit him. He shot him again, and the next one hit him. Then Walker started running around the truck to get away from him, and Gall went right in behind him and kept shooting. I think Walker finally got back to the truck where his gun was on the seat or in the truck somewhere. He got his gun, but before he could even turn around with it, he dropped dead. Gall had killed him. And they never arrested Gall or anything. They were just glad that he did the deed for them. P: So people took the law into their own hands a lot more then? W: Yes. I believe that was fairly common, especially around here. After they cut Alachua County in two and made Gilchrist out of it, then Gilchrist and Lafayette have never developed as fast as Alachua, Columbia, Suwannee, and some of the other counties. I do not mean that the people are way behind times or anything. One can decide that for themselves. P: Yes. It is just different. W: But it is just that they never progressed. The people never progressed like they did in Alachua and some of the other counties, like Columbia and Suwannee. My own personal opinion is that the people who left Gilchrist when they were young and then came back into the county after twenty or so years had more knowledge. I believe they had more knowledge of the surrounding country and even rural areas than the people that stayed Gilchrist. I was talking to some guy the other day, and I asked him, "How about us going up to the mountains and staying for three or four days? You, your wife, and your son can ride up with us." Well, he said, "I have never been out of Gilchrist County. I do not know what to look at or what." That does not mean that the guy is bad or good. It is just that he does not know. P: He does not have a comparison. W: He does not read much. TV has grown popular, and I think that has educated people more than anything else. I do not mean children--I mean adults. And I am sure that this county is not the only one. I can probably name several 54



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counties in the state of Florida, and a lot of other states in the Union, where TV has probably played a big part in educating them. P: I agree. W: I think the educational channel is the best thing that has ever happened. If they put it back on commercial TV, like they are trying to do, then it is going (to be wasted]. There is nothing to look at on commercial TV anymore. It is like everything else. If you really want to see TV, you can do one of the two things. You can turn it on to a commercial station, or you can go to a black community on a Saturday night and see TV as it is, because that is all you see. I do not mean that this is good or bad, either, but they are filming the way black people act, and they are even adding to them. If I was a black person, I would raise hell about that, because it is not doing them any good. They are getting their color exposed, but it is not doing them any good. [It is only making] them look like fools and idiots. So except for educational TV, like channel five [WUFT, Gainesville] and seven [WJCT, Jacksonville] we get here, that is all we get. P: Have you heard other stories or legends about the Suwannee River or about this area? About ghosts stories or charms? Do you know any charms, like how to make someone love you or something like that? W: Or dislove you or break their arm or something like that? No. I do not believe in ghosts. P: I know, but have you heard any haunt stories, even if you did not believe in them? W: No. We scared some people real bad one night. P: How did you do that? W: This was when there were very few people living in the area. There were some ladies who lived here whose husbands were in the service. This was when they started inducting people in the service back in the 1940s. They lived by themselves, and two of my brothers and I went up [to their houses] and eased their door open one night about midnight. We had carried some huge rocks up to the door, and we started rolling those huge rocks around and throwing some smaller ones in the house. Well, the only way they could get out was the back door. I do not know if you know what a red top sandspur is or not, but it grows about this high and has a string of spurs on it about three inches on top. If you look out across them, there are just sandspurs everywhere. It is not the little flat sandspurs. P: Yes. The tall ones. 55



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W: Right. Of course, they had these cotton gowns on that they slept in, as ladies did back then, and they just went right through the back door into that field of those sandspurs-and there were forty acres of them they had to go through before they got to my mother's house, which was where we come from. We took off back to the house, and we beat them because we could go down the road and they had to go through sandspurs. You can imagine how those cotton gowns caught those sandspurs. P: Oh, no. W: We were already in the bed when they got there. They woke my mother up and wanted to know if they could sleep there because there were ghosts in their house and a lot of other reasons. Well, she found out about it, and by the next day we wished that we had not done it. P: Did you get a whipping? W: Oh, yes, bad. But I think most ghost stories are like that. I think ghost stories are just stories. P: Okay. Well, let's get back to fishing again. Today you named some catfish. W: Oh, street walkers. No, channel cats, of course, are by far the best to eat. Anybody who knows anything about eating catfish will tell you that. In fact, most people will tell you that nothing compares to a channel cat, as far as an edible fish. P: Even compared to other kinds of fish, too? W: Well, yes, but I take issue with that, because I think the red belly is as equally as good as a small channel. What I mean by a smaller channel is anything three pounds down. A lot of people just want a fingerling, but I do not particularly like the fingerling catfish. I like them big enough to fillet, to take the fillets off of them. I think they are at their peak then. They are still juicy and tender and flaky, if you know how to cook them. There is a lot more meat. However, a red breast, a red belly, a shell cracker, a brim, or a blue gill is as good if you know how to cook them. Now, when they get real big, then they get coarse. P: Are red breast and red belly the same thing? W: They are the same fish. P: Okay. I like red breast. How big is too big? W: Once they get over three-eighths of a pound, then they are 56



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big and start getting coarse. On up toward a half pound or anything like that it is coarse and not as juicy as one that is only a quarter pound or three-sixteenths, or something like that. Now, that is a good size. I am talking about how much he weighs when he is caught out of the water. That is the better fish. Now, the channel cat is a unique catfish. He does not act like a polliwog, a street walker, a speckle cat, or a butter cat. He lives in the channel of the river. You do not catch him using rotten bait or anything like that. You can catch him on shrimp, and they have to be fresh shrimp, usually. In other words, he strikes his bait just like a bass. P: Do you fish for them at night or day? Can you tell me how you fish? W: Well, usually you have better luck at night or on a real cloudy day, because they are like all catfish, I suppose: they are a night creature. In other words, you see more of them out at night. If you were gigging in the river with a headlight, then you would see a catfish at nighttime, but hardly ever do you see one in the daytime. If you are up a tree looking for mullet, for example, back when a lot of people shot them with dynamite, you hardly ever saw a catfish. Sometimes I have seen them school in the daytime, but that is another story. But they are really a night creature. One of the best things [to catch them with], if you can get them, is crawfish out of the river. Shrimp is good bait, too. Chicken liver is good if you fish for them with a hook and line. A channel cat is not quite like a speckle cat, a butter cat, a blue cat, or a boothead (some people call them blue and boothead, but they are about the same fish). P: Or a yellow cat. W: Well, the yellow cat and the butter cat are about the same thing. A boothead and blue cat are about the same thing. A street walker and a speckle cat are about the same thing, except for the speckle government cat. Now, the speckle government cat is different. He his just like the channel. He eats just like a channel, and he looks like one except he is gray speckled. P: Does he taste like one? W: He tastes like one. The government developed them some way and put them in some lakes. When the river got real high back in 1948, it overflowed, and some of the fish got into the Suwannee River. But you never see them anymore. I have not caught one in a long time. Maybe about ten or twelve years ago when the river was real high I caught a few, and I 57



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caught some nice ones. They eat just like [a channel cat]. Their head is pointed and their tail is forked, just like the channel fish. A blue channel is recognized, among people who know good edible fish, as being one of the best in the nation. What the difference is, of course, is the texture of the meat. The texture of a speckle cat is tough. When you fry him, you can hardly get him off the bone. He just clings to it, and he is kind of mealy. Now, they are extremely good for chowder if you want to make catfish chowder. P: Do you know how to make that? W: Yes. I make the best there is, I think. P: I have to get that recipe. I have been looking everywhere for one. W: The way you do that is you take your bell pepper, onion, a little garlic--there again, I do not measure anything; common sense will tell you how much to put of each one--and Everglades Seasoning, and put that in bacon grease. You saute the onions and bell pepper, and just leave them. Then put the catfish in a little bit of water and put a lid on them in a pot. Cook them till they are done, as many heads as you can get in there. P: Is it just head? W: If it is just the head, that is fine. If you want it a little more meaty, then [use more meat]. If you catch a mixed string, you might want to put the speckle cats in the chowder, and you would probably want to fry your channel. Cook them in boiling water--a little bit of water, not much -with the heads. Then pick all the bones out if you want to, leaving just the meat. Then dump your bell pepper, onion, celery, little bit of garlic, and whatever else in, and bring it back to a boil. Then add milk to taste and add some butter. There you have some of the best catfish chowder in the world. Now, if I want it thicker, if I am using an average size pot, say a twoto three-quart pot, I put two big stalks of celery, one whole bell pepper (if it is a huge one; if it is not very large, I put in two), and about three cloves of garlic and one large onion in it. Then I will put some Everglades Seasoning in, or just salt and black pepper. If I have one jalapeno pepper, I will that in it. I saute for two minutes or a little more. When you put that in, it thickens it quite a bit. If you want it thicker, then dice up some Irish [red] potatoes, real small, maybe a quarter inch or even smaller if you can, and put them in there. Then add the milk and butter. It really is a nice dish. 58



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P: Now, do you boil the fish before you put it in the chowder? W: Right. P: So you have two different pans--one going with the vegetables things, and one going with fish. W: Right. P: Do you take the eyes and stuff out of the fish before you boil them? W: Yes, I always do. I always take the eyes out regardless. If I am cleaning a fish, I skin his head, too. A good friend of mine once caught a channel cat that weighed twenty-seven pounds, and he gave me the head. He knew I liked to make chowder with them, so he gave me the head off of him. He went ahead and skinned it and froze it. Then he called and told me that he had it for me, so I went over and got it. Well, I made a big pot of chowder just out of the one catfish he gave to me. P: How did you fix swamp cabbage? Boil it? W: Yes. You just trim away all the old boot, as you called it. Go down to the tender part, to where you can break it with your thumb and finger. Then you have gotten into the good cabbage, the part that is not bitter. You just keep trimming it to where you cannot break it. You just throw that away, and then go on down and get another shuck off of it. If you follow this procedure, you will not have any bitter cabbage. Now, there are so many ways of fixing swamp cabbage, we could talk about that all afternoon. If have a ham hock, that is one of the best seasonings that you can put in, that or lima beans. P: My mom [did that], too. W: Put them in your water and boil them for about forty-five minutes or an hour, till they are tender. Then slice the cabbage and put it in slice down like big Irish potatoes or something like that. Put salt and a little bit of black pepper to please you. Put enough water in it so that it just covers the cabbage, but do not cover it unless you like a lot of juice in it. It does not hurt them. Then put a lid on the pot. Some people say it is better in an iron fryer, but I disagree with that. I think the thicker the pot that you cook them in the better. I think it can be stainless steel, aluminum, or whatever, and your cabbage will not turn. If you cook it in an iron pot, it will turn a little darker. That will not detract from the taste, but it might make a little indentation on your brain that makes it not quite as good. Put them in whatever you want to cook them in, but 59



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the thicker the pot the better. Put a lid on, and do not ever stir them. Cook them till they are flaky and tender. A lot of people stir them and stir them, and they will be like mush when they come out. Well, but I do not like that. I mean, I will eat them, but I do not like them that way. People do that at cookouts and everything. The best way that I like swamp cabbage is with oysters. P: Oh, I have never heard of that. W: Prepare your swamp cabbage the same way, except put in a little bit of bacon grease. Salt and pepper to your taste, put the lid on, and cook them till they are flaky and done. Then put the oysters in--raw oysters. If you want to make a gallon of swamp cabbage, put in about two quarts of raw oysters right out of the shell, not washed or anything. Dump them in there and then stir them one time, put the lid back on them, bring them to a boil, and turn your fire out. Then everything in that pot will taste like oysters. The oyster taste will go through all your swamp cabbage. Swamp cabbage has a soft texture, anyway, and the flavor will go right through. P: Did you eat it that way when you were young? W: Yes. P: So you went collecting oysters often? W: Yes. Anytime there was a month with an R in it, like September or October, we went to the coast and caught fish and gathered oysters. P: But when you were little, you would pretty much have to eat oysters right there because they would go bad, right? W: Yes, unless you cooked them and then brought them back cooked or something like that. You could do that. P: Did salt them to keep them while you were there? W: No, we would never salt them, but we would cook them--fry them or something. You could do that in nothing flat. Then you could get some block ice to put on them to bring them back. If you wanted to keep them two or three days, you could get block ice. As long as you could afford the ice, you could afford the oysters. P: Yes. The other day you were saying something was the sign of good luck in fishing. My dad used to say a dragon fly's landing on the pole was a good sign. W: Well, I have heard quite a few things. But all I remember along that line is if you started fishing and got your fishing pole out and somebody stepped across it or walked 60



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across it, that was supposed to be bad luck. Oh, my God! If anybody stepped across your fishing pool before you started fishing, even at the house, [that was bad]. Oh, no. When you were getting the pole out, nobody stepped across that pole. That was just like signing your death warrant, just about. I mean, you just did not do that. That was really bad. P: That is what I am asking you about. I know you probably do not believe in those, but I am curious to about hearing them. W: I do not remember that many of them, Cathy, because things that I did not believe or that did not amuse me a lot [I just do not remember]. P: You just threw them out. W: Yes, I just let them go. P: Okay. How about times when it is good to fish? Do you fish when the river is rising, or is it better when it is lower? Is a full moon better than a waning moon? W: Well, I have two brothers who would tell you that there is a major and a minor feed time for the fish. They keep up with it. They say, "This is a major time, and this is a minor feed time." But it is a proven fact, scientifically, that they are wrong. In most cases, if you put the kind of bait that the fish wants out there in front of him anytime, he will keep feeding on and on. A fish does not know when the moon is full. There is a limit to anything, of course. We all know that. But I do think that sundown in the evening, the daybreak in the morning, or a moonlit night are the best times to fish. These are proven facts. There was one time, however, when I went right at noontime when the sun was straight up--the sun was beating down so hot I could not stand it--and caught more fish than I did at any other time. But to say that one time is better than another, I would not dare say it. I do think that moonlit nights are terrific. P: Okay. The other day you were telling me about fish nesting and people boating, and what it is that really destroys the fish. W: I think that what really destroys the fish is boating in the rivers. It is terrible in the rivers, especially in the small rivers. I do not think there should be allowed anything over a ten-horse motor. To begin with, if I owned a boat with a 100, 150, or 200 horsepower motor, I would not take it to one of the rivers around here. I mean, I just would not do that. A lake like Ocean Pond or [the river] out from Lake City toward Jacksonville or something larger than that is fine, I think, but I would not launch a big boat on this river. Now, if only one person were going up 61



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the river and he would be gone and would never come back and there would never be anymore of them, that would be different. But nowadays everybody has them. I mean, honestly, you cannot even look around without one of them coming by going the other way. By the time a wave gets through coming this way, it is already going the other way. All the sediment--mud, rock, sand, and everything--piles up on the edge and covers the sand. I am sure that people know what I am talking about. All they have to do is go down there and spend one weekend on the Santa Fe or the Suwannee rivers, anywhere on them, or even just one day on a Saturday or Sunday in the summertime, and they will know what I am talking about. Look at the edge of the water: it is muddy. It will start from the time they start with the boats [and continue] right on. I noticed it today. There is mud everywhere at the edge of the river. That is the way it is everyday. In other words, that mud is all the way out down in the river. I am pretty sure that you never [saw it], but the river used to come up high every year and go back down, and it would leave holes in the swamp full of water. It would go back down in the sloughs, and some of these holes would be thirty yards in diameter. P: Like a cypress pond or something. W: Yes, some of them would be bigger than that. You could go in there with two or three people and just walk around. You could turn the mud up, and all at once all the fish came to the top of the water, and you could catch them. The big fish would come up like they were swimming. They did not know where they were going, but their fins would be out of the water. You could catch them like that and go up on the bank with them. If you were close enough to the bank, you would just throw them up and then reach back and get another one. That is how the river is now along the edges, twenty to forty feet out from them. In fact, later on in the day, the Santa Fe, as small as that river is, will be that way right out in the middle of it. I mean, mud will keep pouring out of the bank. P: Like you were standing in there and stirring up all the water? W: Right, boiling mud up. When it hits the bank, those waves are constantly popping the bank like that. It is washing that mud right out on both banks. It has gotten to where a fish cannot breathe. They have to have the clear water to breathe in, and the mud keeps them from breathing because it hangs up on the gills in some way. They have to get out to the deep water, to the deepest holes in the river. Now, as far as the boats tearing up the bottom of the river, if there were just the normal amount of boats, I do not 62



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think that would have any bearing whatsoever. When you get under the wave you cannot feel it; there is no turbulence or anything under the wave. Now, there probably are some vibrations from the bottom. If you had sonar to detect it, there is no doubt you would have vibrations at a thirty-foot depth or a forty-foot depth, but nothing to kick mud up. The edge is where it comes from, wherever that wave can get it. At four feet deep, or three or two, or even six inches, it just constantly keeps washing that mud back in. That, connected with the people who live on the river, who have bought lots and homes and went and cleaned them up, [is the biggest part of the problem]. P: You were telling me about that. Can you tell that story again? W: Well, what gets me is people living in Jacksonville, Gainesville, Lake City, Live Oak, and other towns around here. They come to the river and buy a river home. They just want to get out of town and have nothing to do with the city. They want a place where they can get out on weekends and just live with nature. The first thing they do when they get their lot on the river is clean every brush, every blade of grass or weed. Everything that has anything to do with nature, they destroy it. They clean all the underbrush, leaving a few big trees, trying their best to fix their lot just like the one in town, or so it can look prettier than the one next door. They plant grass and everything. P: They rake out the grass, too. W: Sure, they rake out the grass, too, and they pull out all the weeds out of the river, all the brush, and all the dead brush where the little fish can hide and hibernate and keep themselves out of the way of the big fish. The big fish can then come get them because they do not have anywhere to hide, especially when there is a boat coming along. Oh, there might be a little grass left alone that they missed by some hook in the crook. The little fish would go under that, but when a boat comes along, it will muddy the water till the little fish cannot even hide under that, so they have to get out in the middle to breathe then. They have to get right out in the big fish's territory where they can catch them. All you have to do is put a little bit of thought to it, and it is so simple. Go down there and watch the garfish feed. P: Can you tell me how garfish feed? W: Yes, I can sure tell you how they feed. I wish you would come over some day and go down there. Take a pole and line and sit there. You can hear them in these tree tops. P: You can hear them? 63



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W: Oh, God, yes. P: In the bonnets, in the tree tops? W: Yes, they are slapping them and everything. They get in there, and it sounds like three completely wild people in those bonnets--I am not exaggerating. A tree top it is called a bonnet by a lot of old men. P: Okay. Now I see. W: So you have a twenty-by-twenty-foot bonnet area where they are banked up against these trees. Hiding among the roots of those are some crawfish and little shrimp. So your little fish are staying up under there to eat them. Now, what happens is the bigger fish come in there trying to catch the little ones, and then the garfish come in there trying to catch those bigger fish. So the way they have learned to feed is several of the garfish will stay around those bonnet patches. The reason I know this is because I have watched them in the river when it was clear. P: Right. W: You can climb a tree and watch. They will stay around those bonnet patches, and there will be two or three of them that will go in to the bonnet patches. They will get in there and they will just slam! slam! slam! The water is splashing and the bonnets are splashing. They beat their tails bam! bam! bam! like that and stir the little fish out. Then when the little fish run out, well, these fish that are laying dormant out there--they can lay in pretty swift current and never look like he is moving a fin--why, he is going to take care of them just like that. That is the way the garfish feeds. When the gators got killed off, now, they are not around to eat the garfish and the mud fish. That leaves the next biggest species, which is the garfish, to be the dominate feeding creature. P: And you do not have the little fish like you used to. W: Right. The gator was the dominate creature. He is the boss, and he does not eat little fish. They might just eat a few, but very few. That is how we lost the balance of nature. P: Let me ask you something else. You were talking about the river rising every year. Does it still do that, where you get these little ponds and deep holes? W: It does, but you do not get the fish. As a usual thing, when the snow melts in the North in the spring of the year, that is when the big river rises down here. I think it all comes from the North; it comes underground and boils up in 64



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these rivers down here. That is how we get our high rivers. There will not be any rain to speak of, but the rivers will still be high. Of course, if you just go along and look, you can see that there is a tremendous boil in the bottom of the Suwannee and Santa Fe and other rivers. It cannot be coming from anywhere but the northern part of the country. Look at the Ichetucknee. Pretty water like that year round has to be coming from somewhere. P: Do you know any folk remedies that your mother might have used, like for colds, cough, cramps, warts? I have a whole list. W: No, I do not, Cathy. The only thing that I remember is that I was always told that my father could take a wart off anything. P: He was a healer. W: Well, I have heard so many people say, "I had these warts, and I could not work with them, so I went to your dad." I think warts used to be a more abundant than they are now. I think they used to be more a problem then. Not only people, but animals, too. My mother told me we had cow that had warts all over. She said she had warts on her ears and eye lids until you could hardly see her eyes. And she said that my father took the warts off the cow. P: How did he do it? W: I do not know. All I ever heard was people used to tell me that when they would go to him to have him take their warts off he would rub them, or rub part of them or something, and say, "They will be gone the next time you look at them," or something like that. And a few days to a week later there would not be any warts anymore. I cannot help but believe that there was something to these stories, because it was not only him, but I have heard a lot of other people that could do this, too. But it is really hard to believe. P: Yes, but I have heard it. I have been asking the people that I have interviewed about folk remedies, and they say that there are different remedies for warts. They say that sometimes there would be a healer--they called them healers -who could heal warts by touching them and saying something, and they would be gone. W: I know my mother has told me about this cow. In fact, that was the most amazing thing that she had every seen, because the cow had warts all over. See, back then you did not see your cattle every day; it was maybe once every six months you saw them. We had cattle from the mouth of the Santa Fe to Rock Bluff, through the woods and everywhere. P: Did you have them branded, or how did you know they were 65



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yours? W: Some of them we had branded. We would herd them and brand them or mark them somehow. You had your mark registered, and you put your mark in their ear. You had either a mark or a brand. P: What did you drink when you where little? W: Milk. P: Fresh milk? Water? W: Yes, fresh milk. We milked a cow everyday. P: How did you celebrate Christmas? W: Well, I guess like all the other kids in the neighborhood. We never had, as far as I can remember, a big shebang. We never had Santa Claus come into the house. We opened the toys we got on Christmas morning; we did not open them the night before. We did not get any special favors that morning. You could get up as early as you wanted, which was always before daylight. We had to milk anywhere from fifteen to twenty cows every morning. P: Did you sell your milk? W: No. P: Did you drink all of that milk, or did you use some of it for butter? W: We used it for butter, clabber, and fresh milk. Back then the woods cows did not give that much milk, plus you had to raise the calf, and he got half of it. All you did was just turn the calf in and let him suck a little milk to get a little bit of milk down. Then you parted the calf out and milked the cow. We did this anywhere from a half mile to three-quarters of a mile from home. We put all this milk in five-gallon buckets and carried it back to the house to strain it. Of course, we would always ride one or two of the yearlings when we were boys. After we got back to our place and strained the milk, I might have made the butter, or my sister did. Then we had to walk to where we caught the bus, and that was almost half a mile from our house. We had to be there usually before daylight because we were the first ones to get on the bus. Back then they had to go so far because there were only about two or three buses going to the Bell school. There were not that many people, but they covered the same territory that is covered now, so there was a long, long bus ride. 66



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P: What did you eat for lunch? Biscuits? W: We carried biscuits and syrup, ham meat, spare ribs, baked sweet potato, and beef. We butchered our own cows, so we always had plenty of hamburger and steak. We carried that in our lunch. I guess that was about it. We did not go to town to buy groceries except on Saturday. Then, if you wanted a piece of candy when Mama went to town, you told her what you wanted--a Butterfinger or Baby Ruth or those [Hershey's] kisses. You got a sackful then for a nickel. You know what I am talking about, those silver tips? P: Yes, I know what your talking about. W: They were delicious, if you like chocolate. I never cared much about them; I never cared much about candy. I always drank lemonade or some kind of drink like that. I never cared nothing about candy. P: How about sugar cane? W: Yes, we grew sugar cane and cooked our own syrup and made our own syrup mix. P: And sugar? W: No, we did not make the sugar. If you cooked it at low temperature for a long time, like three or four months, it would thicken and turn to sugar. P: Brown sugar. W: No, it was crystal clear. P: White? W: Just a clear sugar. It would not be white like you see the snow-white sugar. It would be crystal clear sugar on the side of the jar. Have you ever seen it? P: Yes, that is like they have in Venice, where they grow sugar cane. Let me ask you about animals and if you know other names for them--common names or names that you use. [What about] bats? W: No, just bat is all I know. P: Bear? W: No, I do not think I know any for bear. You might keep calling and I might know something else, but I do not think I will. P: Okay, I will just run down the list. Panther? 67



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W: No. P: Deer? Hawks? Pocket gopher--you know, the one that makes the sandy mounds? W: Oh, salamander? P: Okay, salamander? W: Yes. P: A mole? Possums? Did you eat possums? W: I have never eaten any except one time when a black lady had some cooked with a sweet potato, and it was delicious. P: They have to be cooked right, though? W: I suppose they do, but I do not think it would be a threat to Einstein to cook one of them right. I think you could without any major problems, but I just never cooked them. P: Otter? Did you ever catch otter or sea otter? W: I have caught otter and killed them. P: Do you eat them? W: No. P: Did you use their skin? W: Yes. P: Rabbit? There is a swamp rabbit and another kind of rabbit. W: Yes, a swamp rabbit and a cottontail. P: How do you know the difference? W: Well, the cottontail has a white tail, and a swamp rabbit is a dark rabbit, and he does not have a tail. P: Do you eat both of them? W: Yes. P: Which one is better to eat? W: I do not like either one of them. But they make good gravy. You can take the hind legs from them. I mean, they are delicious if you are a rabbit eater, but I just do not like hair in my mouth, I guess. P: Raccoons, most often called 'coons? 68



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W: I do not any other names. P: Did you eat them? W: No, but I know they are edible. Some people like them. I think really it is a matter of what you are used to when you are young. P: Did you eat deer? W: I have eaten deer steaks, yes. P: Did you ever catch deer? W: No, they were just not that common around here. P: How about skunks? W: No. P: Any other name for them? Have you ever heard them called pole cats? W: Yes, that is what I call them. P: You do not know if they were called anything else? W: No. I have heard of skunks, but I know them as pole cats. P: Okay. Flying squirrels? W: I am familiar with them, but I cannot recall them being called anything else. P: How about a gray squirrel, just a regular old squirrel? W: Squeak. P: A squeak? You called them that? W: Yes, that was what I always called them. I used to say, "Let's go down here. We might find some squeaks down here. We might see a squeak." P: You eat them, right? W: Oh, yes. P: When are they best to hunt? W: In the winter months. P: When they are storing fat? 69



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W: Well, that is when hunting season is, I guess. Of course, I always try to get a bunch of them and put them in the freezer, and they are good all during the summer. But the winter months are the only time I have ever hunted them. P: Did you ever see wildcats? You call them wildcats? W: Yes, I shot a panther one time. P: You shot a panther? W: Yes. P: The one with the long tail, or the one with the short tail? W: No, the long tail. The short-tailed one is a bobcat. A panther is a different color normally, although they can be the same color as a bobcat. This one was black from his head and front shoulder down to his middle, and then he started lightening up to dark gray. Then on his hind quarter on down he was light gray. I do not believe he was a full-grown panther, but I am not sure of that. I think he was trying to catch some quail. There was a covey of quail -two coveys, in fact--that stayed right around my yard all the time. There were some brush piles around there. Well, my brother and I had been deer hunting. We were just coming in, and I told him, "I heard the quail. There must be a rattlesnake trying to get them." I just assumed it was a rattlesnake because they are bad about catching quail. I figured it was either that or a house cat from one of the neighbors. There is nothing that will do more damage to a covey of quail than a house cat. Quail will usually go in a pattern, and a house cat can just sit right there and wait for them. He has a lot of patience, and he will just sit there--sneaking. When they come over, why, he has got one. I have seen them catch them time after time; I know they will. That is why I do not like to see people let their house cats get about half wild. They will breed and will raise other cats. Then directly you have a bunch of wild house cats in the woods. That is the reason there are hardly any birds. This cat was out there, but, of course, I did not have any idea [it was a cat]. I just took my gun out of the truck, and I said, "What just a minute. Let me walk around there. I am just about sure it is a rattlesnake." There was an opening for a little ways, and then it got heavily wooded. Some of the quail, the old ones, were sitting in the trees making this noise. I do not know if you have ever heard quail make a noise when they are calling their little ones just to tell them not to move or anything. P: Yes, I have. 70



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W: It is not like a bob white or anything like that. They are chirping, and those little ones know that they should freeze when the old ones are doing that. They were up in the tree on a low limb, and they did not fly or anything when I walked up to see what was wrong. I figured if it was a snake it would probably have gotten me at my heels. Well, I kept walking on up there, and about that time there was a terrible racket. The panther was just coming along, knocking over weeds and everything. Then he hit the open space where I could see him. I did not know what it was because he held his tail like that. I said, "My God!" I did not even think about shooting him right then, I mean, just for a split second. I probably should not have shot him to start with because all I had was #6 bird shot. I hit him in his hind quarters hard enough that it knocked him around. I did not get but one shot before he went right into the bushes. He was right at the edge of the creek shrubbery. There were some people who lived right down the river from me, and I knew that he was going over a little ridge and right down to their place. They had dogs all up and down the river. I said, "I just going to leave and see what happens when he hits that gate." There was a gate right in front of their house by the road, and sure enough, just about the time I got through thinking about what was going to happen, those dogs just started having a fit. I never heard anymore about it, except for a friend of mine, a young guy who lived down a ways, got out and looked for tracks. He asked if I knew there was a panther around here. I said, "Yes, I just got through shooting it." He asked, "Is that what that was?" I said, "You bet your buns. That is how come all the dogs down there were barking, your dogs and everybody else's." He said, "I did not notice it. I just found his tracks. I have been seeing his tracks for a couple of days." But we did not see any tracks after that. P: Where was this? W: This was on the Suwannee River, near Lake City. Now it is the Suwannee Heights subdivision on the Suwannee--on the Gilchrist County side--about four or five miles south of where the Santa Fe River dumps into the Suwannee River. P: When did this happen? W: This is was probably in 1974 or 1975, right around in that area. P: Okay. How about more special names. Owls? Remember the owl we heard on the river? Do you call that a hoot owl? W: A hoot owl. You know, I was thinking the other night that I never hear a screech owl anymore. They used to be real common back when there were a lot of woods and everything, 71



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but I never hear one anymore. Do you know what I am talking about? The screech owl goes whooooo whooooo. P: Yes. Turkeys? W: No. I know a lot of other things that are called turkeys, but I have never heard a turkey called any other name. [laughter] P: How about snakes? Now, you were laughing at me about the way I was saying the one kind. It is a hognose snake; I figured that out. What about the one you were talking about, the adder? W: The adder. We used to call it spreading adder. I always heard them called the spreading adder. He spreads his head if you kick at it or something. P: It is a hognose snake. It looks like the rattlesnake. [Ed.: Hognose snake and spreading adder are colloquisms for the pygmy rattlesnake.] W: Right. P: It is what I call a hognose. I finally figured it out. W: Why do you call it a hognose? P: They have that blunt nose. W: And hogs usually do? P: Right. W: What about a piney woods rooter? P: That is a hog. W: I know it, but he does not have a blunt nose. P: That is true. You are right. W: There are other names for those pineywoodsrooters now. P: I have not heard of them. W: Razor back. P: Oh, right, I have heard that. Is that just the male or both? W: No, that is either one. A boy told me that a guy gave him some piney woods rooters to fatten up. I might have told you about that. He had caught them out of the woods, and he just gave them to him. They were down in Dixie County or 72



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somewhere. He had them on a five-acre ranch that he had bought. Most people that live in town buy one of those highland [sandhill] ranches. The first thing they do is post a sign on every post all the way around--Do Not Enter, No Trespassing, We Will Shot You If You Come On This Property, and all that stuff. They buy one or two little pony horses and put a little tar paper shack out there for the horses to get under. The next thing you know they cannot afford feed for the horse, so they have to sell them. Anyway, getting back to what the guy told me about the piney wood rooter, this might interest you. It is said that they gave it to him, and he had this little five-acre patch that had pine meadows and pines out there. He figured he would just shut them up in there and feed them to fatten them up. He was told he probably could get some meat out of them when he butchered them. Well, he said, "I thank you. I appreciate it." So he put them all in there, went to buy them corn, and tried to feed them for two or three months. They would have nothing to do with corn. They just kept eating pine roots and palmetto bugs and things like that. Finally he decided they were as big as they were going to get, so he shut them in the pen. (He had built them a pen.) Then he had a butchering day, and he got him some help over there and went to shoot them. He was going to shoot them down with a rifle, but he found out he did not have any cartridges. So he said, "Heck, I do not want to go all the way to town to get some cartridges. I will just take my hammer and knock them in the head." That is the way they kill them at the butcher places. So he just grabbed the hammer and went out and grabbed the biggest one that he had. He grabbed him by the ears and popped him right between the eyes with a hammer. Well, his ear slipped out of his hand, and he almost cracked his hand. He said that he cooked the rest of them and cooked the fat out, and he said he did not have a bit of lard. He said he got four pints of turpentine, though. [laughter] P: You were telling me another joke on the river. W: Oh, about the guy with the little fire stall that was so attentive? P: Would you tell me that? W: Sure. This might not have been the truth; I do not know. In fact, I seriously doubt it. He was telling me that he was sitting there fishing one day. He was smoker, and he said he had his hand in his pocket looking for his lighter. He had his dog in the boat with him. He was sitting there tight-line fishing. This is back when fifty-cent pieces where common for change; you cannot find a fifty-cent piece anymore. Anyway, he went to pull his cigarette lighter out of his pocket, and the fifty-cent piece just chunk! right 73



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into the water. (He was sitting right close to the edge of the boat.) Well, the little dog was so attentive--he had seen what was going on and everything--and he just jumped in right behind the fifty-cent piece. Over he went, down out of sight, down in the water. The water was partially dark. I guess he just figured he would grab that fifty-cent piece and come right back up. He had trained him to do things like that. Well, he stayed gone and under the water for quite awhile, so finally he said, "My God, he is going to drown! That crazy little thing got down there, and either a gator got him or he is hung under a log or something like that." So he said, "I will just pull the anchor up and go on and leave, I reckon, and just forget about him, because I know he is gone. He cannot come up after this." About that time the little dog popped up just a-blowing and a-panting and trying to get into the boat. Well, he said he got that dog in the boat, and he had an eight-pound bass, two dimes, and a nickel! [laughter] P: Let me ask you about other names for snakes. Does the indigo snake sometimes make it down? W: Yes. I do not know of any other name for them. The indigo snake supposedly will kill rattlesnakes. P: That I have heard, too. W: One of the most unusual things that I have seen with snakes happened when I was squirrel hunting one time. I was real young, and I saw this squirrel run down to the end of a limb. The limb come down real close to the ground. It was a big tree, but the limbs hung down, and he would run down to the end of the limb, and then he would run back. Oh, was he barking! I heard a barking, so I figured I would go over there and shoot that barking squirrel. A lot of times when you are squirrel hunting in the swamp, that is the way you find out where one is. He starts barking, and you go over and shoot him, if you can slip up on him. They are kind of hard to slip up on. Anyway, I started easing over. I saw him going on this limb, and he would go down there and bark, bark, bark. Then he would run back up and bark. He would run back the other way maybe twenty feet, and he might stay up there for a minute. Then he would run back down. He acted unusual to me, which is the reason that I watched him this long, number one. Number two, I was out of gunshot range, anyway. So I was watching him as I sneaked up on him. I got up where it was clear, to where there were no bushes and no shrubbery. That is the reason these limbs had grown down to the ground, I guess: there were no small trees under it or anything like that. I got up there pretty close to him, and I watched him when he went out to the end of the limb. 74



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Well, I looked down there, and there was one of the biggest rattlesnakes I have ever seen down at the end of the limb. I would say the limb was only about three feet off the ground. The squirrel would run down there and just have a fit, then right back up and right back down. Every time he would get a little closer, so it was real easy to see what was going to happen. That snake was just going to sit there, and he was up like that, with his tongue going and everything. Now, this is what we call "charming." This squirrel eventually was going to get a little bit to close, and that snake would get him. So I let him run back up the tree, and I shot him before the snake got him. Then I went on and killed the snake. But that is one of the most unusual things I have seen, and I never seen that happen again. P: That is interesting. W: One time I stuck my hand in a hollow log trying to find fish that had hidden in the sand. One time got a snake. When you feel something like that, you just grab it and pull him out. Well, I did that one time, and it was a moccasin. Of course, nobody told me to throw him down or anything, but I got rid of him. P: Yes, I would, too. Are there any animals, birds, or snakes associated with bad luck or good luck? Is it good luck to see an owl or hear an owl? W: I like to hear an owl when I am fishing. I do not think it makes the fish bite, but it sounds good. A lot of people say if the owls are hollering the fish are biting. P: So people do say that? W: Yes. I have also heard people going by a pasture say, "Look at all the cows feeding. Let's go get our fishing boat and go fishing, because we know the fish are feeding." P: I have heard that one. W: But you go by the next pasture and all off them are laying down in the shade, so what are you going to think then? P: You said softshell cooters are some of the best eating. How do you catch them? W: There are so many ways. In the ponds put a trot line out-drive your stakes down and bait your hook with pork. I always heard bait your hook with pork, and I have always done that. Well, I did not always do it, but I have and it works. Bait your hook with fatback, not necessarily salt pork, but pork fat. Put small, little pieces on there. Put it where it will almost float on top of the water. Put your trot line out across where it will be right close to the 75



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top. The turtle will come up to get the bait. When it goes back down, that is when he is hooked. If you put your bait down way under water, then he might just feed on it and never get hooked. I have seen them do this in the river. But if you put it up close to the top of the water, he will come off the bottom (because he does not want to be seen much anyway) to where he can get the pork. Then he will start back down, and that is when he gets caught. P: Do you use traps for softshell or for other kinds of turtles? W: For other kinds traps are used. You can see them on display, especially down close to the mouth of the Suwannee River. P: The kind that you can nail to the side of a log? W: Yes. P: Then you just wait until the turtles drop in. W: Or just run your boat up there. That is the way they do it. Nail it to the side of the log. Of course, you know where all your traps are. If you have a fast boat, you run it up like you were going to run over the log, and the turtles go on the other side. Of course, they go right into the trap. P: How do you know which side they are going to fall off on? W: On the side opposite from where you are. They are hidden on the side next to the bank, see. P: Okay. I see. W: You just have to be smarter than the turtle, that is all. P: How about church? Were you raised religious? W: Yes, I was raised a Baptist. P: How important is church or religion to you now? W: It is of the greatest importance. I mean, I would not say that church is the greatest importance, but religion itself is. P: That is what I am asking. W: Believing in a supreme being is more important than anything. That is the greatest thing, really, that there is in my life: believing in a supreme being. P: Your mother was Baptist? 76



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W: Yes. P: Okay. I ha ejJ st a couple more things I would like to ask you about. reams. Did any kind of dreams mean anything? W: No, not yet. I still have a bunch that I hope come true. P: What about sayings, like "don't can when you're pregnant," or "if you hear a dog howl . ."? W: "Don't can when you're pregnant"? P: The food will spoil. W: Where did you hear that? P: Oh, that is from someone up the river. W: Are you serious? P: Yes. W: No, I never heard that. P: Or other sayings, like "if you are sitting down and someone spits under your feet .. W: Oh, yes, I have heard that. "You should not get married" or something like that. P: Did you hear any others? Do you know any others? W: No. P: Your area of expertise is animals. Are there any other wild plants that you would use for food, like smilax? W: No. P: Okay. Well, I think that is all I can think of. 77


Billy Wilkerson
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Title: Billy Wilkerson
Physical Description: Book
Publication Date: 1982
Copyright Date: 1982
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Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
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P: This is Cathy Puckett, and I am interviewing Billy Wilkerson
at his home in High Springs.
W: High Springs, Gilchrist County.
P: Gilchrist County, Florida.
W: Cow Creek.
P: Cow Creek?
W: Yes.
P: Okay. The date is August 13, 1982. Is your correct name
Billy Wilkerson?
W: Right.
P: All right. Let me begin with some some general information.
When and where were you born?
W: I was born I guess probably seven miles the way the crow
flies from here on the Suwannee, or maybe half a mile from
the Suwannee River. At that time, in 1929 when I was born,
there was a little town nearby--Bell. Do you know it?
P: Yes.
W: That is where the post office was, where we got the mail,
and where we did what shopping we did. Actually, it was
several miles north of Bell in the woods, an old homestead.
They homesteaded land there, my mother and father did.
P: What were your parents names?
W: Charlie and Maude.
P: What was her maiden name?
W: Deheart.
P: Maude Deheart. When did they come to Florida?
W: I do not know. The Dehearts came to Florida from
Pennsylvania, and my father came from Trenton, and his daddy
came from some place in Georgia.
P: Sounds like my family.
W: But, of course, they were born and raised here.
P: Both of them?
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W: Yes, they were born here.
P: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
W: Yes, I have three sisters and three brothers.
P: I have not met them. Are they all around this area still?
W: Yes. The farthest one is Tampa; I have a sister in Tampa.
Then I have two sisters in the High Springs area. And the
other surviving brother lives in Lake City, but he owns a
place on the river.
P: On the Suwannee?
W: Yes. Then my other two brothers live on the Suwannee, up
near the old home place.
P: Oh, really? Does anyone still live on the old homestead?
W: Well, I own it, but I do not live there. I go there pretty
often.
P: You still have the land?
W: Yes, I still have the land and the house. I do not even
rent the house. I keep it and go there. It is a little
place to go.
P: What did your parents do for a living?
W: Dad farmed, and that was it. My dad passed away when I was
six years old, and my mother never remarried. There was a
brother younger than I who was four years old, so there was
a two-year difference in our ages. You can readily see
there was a lot of work back in those days because money was
not very plentiful. My mother mostly raised turkeys, and my
job, one of the first jobs I can ever remember having, was
driving the turkeys to acorns.
P: Hickory nuts?
W: No, acorns: black-jack acorns, post oak acorns, and water
oak acorns. Not the hickory nuts--they would not eat them.
What we would do in the spring of the year when the hens
were laying is try to find their nests. You had to watch
them and find out where the nest was. If she knew you were
looking at her, she would never go to her nest. She would
hide behind a tree or something, so you had to hide really
well to see her slip into her nest.
P: Kind of like an Indian.
W: They did that, I guess, because they did not want anybody to
know where their nest was. Then when you found out where
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their nest was, you checked on it periodically to see if it
was okay, whether if a fox or anything had caught her and
tore up her nest or whatever. Then when the little ones
came along, we put them in pens. We had hundreds of
turkeys--this was not a little project.
P: I was going to ask you how many.
W: It was not just a few--it was a lot of turkeys. The young
children would drive the turkeys once they got big enough to
romp and get around.
P: Herd them.
W: You just drove them right out of the woods. We owned quite
a bit of land. Back then there were no fences, and there
were very few people that lived around there. Our closest
neighbor was maybe two miles away.
P: Yes. Quite a way.
W: So you just herded the turkeys all day long. You watched
them and drove them into the woods, and they would eat the
acorns. That way you did not have to buy feed for them.
Then in the afternoon we would drive them out. The problem
was, when you got back to the fence you could hardly get
them across it because a turkey is a turkey. But that was
one of the main money crops--turkeys. Of course, we had
chicken eggs, too, and other things.
P: When did you sell your turkeys?
W: In the fall of the year. There were some guys who would
come by. They knew that my mother raised turkeys, so every
fall of the year when the turkeys were grown, right before
Thanksgiving and at Christmas, they would come by with the
trucks to where you had the turkeys penned up. Of course,
you checked with two or three buyers to got the best price,
and the fellow would come with the truck. Of course, there
were no phones and no electricity in this area at the time.
It was nothing like it is now.
P: Yes.
W: Before the trucks came, Mother would go to town and tell a
store owner or somebody like that when they where going to
be ready, and she find out what the prices were.
P: Did you slaughter them, or did they slaughter them? They
took them off, just carted them away in a truck.
W: All you did was just catch them and put them in crates, like
you see them hauling chickens just down the road now. We
had just the big pen, and everybody got in there--the kids
and the buyers ( they had brought some help with them)--and
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caught the turkeys and put them in the crates. The crates
were bigger.
P: Yes.
W: We would put about four or five turkeys to the crate--it was
a wooden create--close the lid on them, and they would get
the truck loaded.
P: Now, these were not wild turkeys originally?
W: No.
P: They were domesticated turkeys.
W: However, there were lots and lots of people's turkeys back
in those days that did revert into wild turkeys. I was
living close to the river, and there were lots of wild
turkeys over around the river. Our turkeys would be just
kicking it up in the field, and my mother would say, "Get on
the horse and go see what is wrong with the turkeys." I
would get there, and a bunch of wild turkeys would fly up
from them. What it was is the wild turkeys were causing the
tame turkeys to kick up. The hens were coming to visit the
gobblers in the spring of the year. As you get near the
wild hens, they would fly away.
P: So they mixed.
W: They mixed. Then, of course, in driving the turkeys you
would probably lose some. Once in a while one or two would
get away from you.
P: How did you drive them? Did you just have a stick?
W: You just took a dog fennel or something like that. They
were not hard to drive. The old turkeys always knew what
you where doing anyway, because they remembered the year
before. So they would just go, and the young ones would
follow them. You just do not get in a hurry with them. It
is kind of like herding sheep, I suppose, although I do not
know anything about that. They were not hard to handle at
all.
P: Did you like doing it?
W: I was like any kid, I reckon.
P: You wanted to go play.
W: Well, I enjoyed that because it was out in the woods, and
you had plenty of time to stop and play a game of marbles
with one of your other brothers while the turkeys were
feeding, because we did not constantly drive them. We had a
couple hundred acres or so, and we lived pretty well in
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middle of it, so once we got them out in the woods, then we
could slack up and take our time, and they would just feed
around the woods away from the field.
P: So you could then have that time, but when they were laying
you had to follow them.
W: When they were laying you had to watch them go to their nest
because you had to find out where their nest was. Then you
would come back and report that you had found such-and-such
a turkey nest, where it was and everything. Then every day
or two would have to go back to it and find out if something
had broken the nest up or if something caught the turkey.
When she started sitting on the nest hatching the eggs, she
would sit there. Of course, later on we got incubators, and
then we would pick the eggs up once they got through laying
them. We would let the turkeys lay in their own nests, and
then we would pick the eggs up and carry them to the
incubator. At first they would sit there on the nest day
and night. Of course, foxes and bobcats, and various things
like that would get them if you did not watch out.
P: How did you know they were going to be laying? How did you
know a hen was ready to lay?
W: Well, once a year they always do.
P: All the hens do.
W: Yes.
P: So it is like chickens.
W: Well, no. Chickens lay all the time. But domestic turkeys
lay once a year, just like gobbler season for wild turkeys;
gobbler season is only in the spring of the year. That is
when they mate. Wild turkeys do not mate year round. They
mate just during the spring gobbler season. Then all the
rest of the time the gobblers and the hens would separate.
They stayed separate practically all the time. They stay in
one place. The young gobblers are called jakes.
P: Jakes?
W: Yes. They will stay to their self. They will not even stay
with the old gobbler. You will see a bunch of young jakes.
If there are fifteen or twenty, they will all bunch up and
stay to themselves. They never go around the hens or the
little turkeys or the old gobblers. There will usually be
one old gobbler, too. He will stay here and another one
will stay over there. They do not normally stay together.
P: How about hens? Do they usually stay together?
W: Yes, they stay together just about all the time. Of course,
5





when they have little ones, you will see maybe two of them
together. Last year I seen two hens, one old gobbler, and
about twenty-five young ones together. The young ones were
big enough to fly.
That is the deal on the turkeys. They do not mate year
round, only in the spring of the year. When they start
mating, the hens start laying, and they lay an egg a day for
fifteen or eighteen days or so. Then they sit on the eggs
day and night until they hatch.
P: So they do not sit on them until all of them are laid.
W: Right. They lay one egg at a time and then go on about
their business.
P: But they lay them all in the same place.
W: Yes. The next day they will go lay another egg about the
same time. They will start picking around, and you do not
see them any more. "Where did that turkey go?" She slipped
out of sight. She will be in a brush pile or something like
that where she has her nest.
P: Is that where they make their nests, in brush piles?
W: Yes. Then when they leave that nest they rake leaves over
their eggs, so you cannot go along there and just see their
eggs. A turkey makes her nest in an indented place. She
scratches it out and puts the leaves back in there, and then
she sits in there and lays the egg. When she gets through
laying the eggs, she just scratches leaves over it where no
varmint can come along and find the eggs.
P: That is neat.
W: A turkey has more sense than [most people think]. A lot
people think it is an insult to call others "you turkey,"
but turkeys are really more intelligent than we give them
credit for. Try to drive one up to that fence and put him
across it. He will fly to the fence, but he will not fly
across it. He will run his head through it, but that does
not mean he is dumb. Anybody that has ever turkey hunted
knows they are one of the hardest game to hunt. I would say
that they are probably the hardest game there is to
approach, to slip up on.
P: Do they hear well? Why would that be?
W: They are just so alert, I guess. All I know is you do not
slip up on a turkey. No one that I know of has ever slipped
up on a turkey. You might hear him yelp.
P: What is a yelper?
6





W: A turkey call. It sounds like a turkey yelping. They make
them out of cedar; they are thin cedar boxes. In fact, I
have one right here.
P: Oh, I would like to try it.
W: Okay. You can yelp a turkey. He might be right over there,
and he will answer you, but you better not try to go to him.
He has to come to you or you do not get the turkey. If you
try to go over there to him, that is it. He is so alert, he
will pump one time, and whenever he does that . .
P: He is gone?
W: He is gone. He might not even do that, but usually he will.
You do not slip up on turkeys.
P: Are wild turkeys good to eat?
W: They are delicious.
P: Just as good as domesticated turkeys?
W: Yes. Most people think they are better. Some people prefer
wild game. Let me tell you about something that happened
last year. I knew where there was a bunch of wild turkeys
on the other side of the river. Well, they used to go back
and forth across the river. Every afternoon you would see
them. A turkey will bat his wings when he starts across the
Suwannee. He will bat his wings about three our four times,
and he will sail. A turkey is a beautiful bird. He puts
his feet right behind him and his neck out in front, and he
will sail all the way across the river. When he leaves the
bank, that is it. He just sails. Anyway, I knew where this
bunch of turkeys was because I had seen them sail across the
river when they went to the fields. I had seen them, about
a dozen, flying over late in the afternoon, so I figured I
would go across the river.
P: At the same place?
W: Same place. I watched them from my boat while I was
catfishing. So I went across the river and hid behind a
tree. Then they lit all around me, and I killed every one
of those turkeys.
P: You killed nine turkeys.
W: You always dream about the holidays and having turkey. I
crossed the river and hid behind a tree. I loaded my gun.
I got my shells--I bought a high brass #4. I knew just what
I wanted. I thought that was the thing to kill turkeys
with. I had always killed them with #1 buckshot, unless I
just happened to see one when I had #6 or #8. I killed a
lot of them with #8, but you have to shoot them in head. If
7





one little shot hit him in the head, it would kill him.
With a turkey, it does not take much. Just thump him on the
head and you will kill him.
So I got across the river and sat down behind a tree. I hid
real good so when the turkeys came I could see from the
bank. I could see them when they came up there, and I could
see them when they left, because they sailed right to me.
So I sat there, and I looked and I looked. After a while,
all the turkeys were right there. They were on my side of
the river fixing to go across to the other side.
P: Oh, no.
W: They were all around me, so I grabbed my gun. One was about
twenty steps from me, and I put my gun right on him. Well,
there was another one right there, and he was stepping so
lightly. He stepped up there, and I figured he was going
right to the first one, so I waited on him. I knew I had
the one in my sights, so I could not miss him. I just put
my gun right on him until this other one came up. He came
up and stuck his neck right across this one, looking. They
were curious; they were was not sure. They knew that there
was something there that was not supposed to be there, but
they could not tell what it was. There were a lot of low
bushes, see, and I could just see them through the bushes.
I waited till he got just right, and I pulled the trigger,
and every turkey flew off. Because of the force, they just
scattered. I happened to just miss them, so they escaped.
Of course, they flew into the trees. They went right into
the trees, and I did not get another shot at them.
P: Oh, no.
W: That is the reason I like to hunt them, because they are
kind of a novelty. You think I am going to get that turkey,
but if you try to outdo it, you end up with nothing. But
turkeys really are fun to hunt.
P: What else do you like to hunt?
W: I duck hunt. I love to duck hunt. Now, take the creek
here, for instance.
P: Cow Creek?
W: Yes. It is usually full of wood ducks. Last year there
were no wood ducks. Well, there were a few. In fact, I did
not even hunt them; there were so few that I did not want to
kill any more. The year before last there were a lot of
wood ducks in the creek. The sport of that is the creek is
real thick with vines and growth on both sides, and when you
ease down the creek, you have to be on ready, because
whenever that duck sees you, he is going to fly. Just the
minute that he comes off of the water, you better be
8





shooting or he is going to be in the bushes, and you are
never going to get him.
P: Yes, wood ducks are hard to hit.
W: He is fast to start with, and then that creek is so thick
you probably will not see him till he flies because he is
the color of the water. When he comes off of the water, you
might see him, and you might not. He might be around the
bend. If you see him, you better shoot. I mean, it is just
like that.
Another story about that is there was a bunch of high
palmettos on the other side of this tree, and the squirrels
were thick. Every time you would start to duck hunt, the
squirrels would just run all over you because you are so
much quieter than you would be if you were squirrel hunting.
You crawl in there, and you are usually really, really
quiet. So that is where I was. I slipped up the back of
the tree where I thought the ducks were, and there was this
hickory nut tree standing there. It was just full
squirrels, and they were just running round and around. The
palmetto was just right around at the root of the tree. I
looked over in the creek, and no ducks. There were four or
five of these young squirrels, and I really like them, so I
figured I would just go ahead and shoot one of them. I shot
one squirrel that was up in the hickory nut tree, and he
fell in the palmetto patch. No sooner had he hit the
palmettos than there was just the biggest commotion you have
ever heard in the palmettos, and out came this bobcat, as
big a one as you have ever seen--with my squirrel! He never
knew I was there, but he was watching the squirrel, too. He
was going to get him when he came down the tree. When I
shot him and he fell right down side of that tree, the
bobcat did not pay any attention to me. He just grabbed the
squirrel, and that is what all the commotion was all about.
P: So he grabbed the squirrel.
W: He grabbed the squirrel and out he came right by me. I did
not even have time to shoot. I mean, I did not even think
about shooting it. I did not think anything like that would
happen.
P: That was a surprise.
W: Then one time I shot a duck. I do not know if it was the
same day or if it was the same hunting season. The duck had
just come off the water. He was probably six or eight feet
up, and when I shot him, he fell right back on the water.
No sooner had he hit the water when here came this hawk, a
big one. Of course, he was going to get the duck. I did
not have any alternative but to shoot the hawk, because he
was only that far from the duck. He was just going to
whoosh down and get him. Probably what he had been doing
9





was sitting there watching the duck. I have seen them do
that lots and lots of times.
P: What kind of hawk is it? The one with the red shoulders?
W: I do not know what kind it was, but he was a great big hawk.
P: He did not get your duck, though.
W: No, he did not. I got him.
P: How do you cook squirrel?
W: Well, they cook them in different ways. I deep-fry them
like chicken. I will tell you another way I cook squirrel
that is delicious.
P: I am collecting recipes.
W: If it is an older squirrel and you think it will be tough--
they are better when they are young--I put it in a pressure
cooker on ten for thirty or thirty-five minutes, and I take
some bell pepper, a little bit of garlic, some seasoning,
onion, and celery, and put it in a little bit of bacon
grease--very little--and saute it. Then when the squirrel
gets done, I put that in, and it makes it a little folk-
like. Then maybe I put a little corn starch in it after
that if I want it a little thick, and then I put it over
rice. It is delicious.
P: That sounds like a kind of gumbo.
W: Yes, and it is really delicious.
P: It sounds good.
W: You can deep-fry it, of course, and a lot of people say that
squirrel is good barbecued. I have never barbecued it
because I think squirrel would be like venison. If you
leave venison in big chunk, it is good to grill. But if you
just put steaks on there--there is no fat in them--most
people overcook it. If you are going to put it on the
grill, you want venison just put on the grill and turned
over, more or less. If there is any heat at all, you just
cannot cook it very long. If you do, venison will dry out,
and it is no good. It loses its flavor and everything.
Venison, to my notion, is the best. Of course, venison is
delicious. You can put an apple on it or whatever you want
to fix it with.
P: An apple?
W: Yes.
P: Can you tell me how you fix venison stew?
10





W: About the same way, except that when I put it in the
pressure cooker, I put an apple in there with it. If it is
to feed six people, I put a half an apple in and cut it up.
It takes a while for this [to cook]. Most game recipes call
for an apple. Then you can add your bell pepper and celery
like I was talking about. Then when you get that fixed, put
a little bacon grease in and then put your flour in and
brown it. Then add the bell pepper and all the other stuff
in with that. The venison gets tender in the pressure
cooker. Then put it all together, and you have a gravy.
P: That sounds good. When you put the venison in the pressure
cooker, do you put water in it?
W: Just a little bit of water.
P: About how much? About a half an inch?
W: Yes, an inch or something like that, just enough to make
your gravy.
P: [Venison sometimes has a strong taste.]
W: That is why a lot of people do not like wild game.
P: I do.
W: But if you know how to fix it, [it is good].
P: What other ways do you cook venison?
W: My favorite way, if it is young and tender, is to put it in
a little bit of fat.
P: Bacon fat?
W: Yes. [Season it with] salt and black pepper, and roll it in
flour. Take all the bones out to make a steak. That is
what makes venison good. A lot of people have it cut up
like a cow. Well, when you leave the bone in it, where the
saw goes through it that takes away from the flavor.
P: Yes.
W: The best way to fix it is first to put it in the
refrigerator. Leave it about two days to chill and lose
some of the wild taste. Then take it off of the bone and
cut it up into small steaks, bite size or however you want
do it. Salt and pepper it, flour it, and fry it just a
little bit, in other words, just like it was a country-fried
steak.
P: It sounds great.
11





W: You can cut it with a knife, a fork, or whatever.
P: It is so tender.
W: Yes.
P: So you are cutting it pretty thin?
W: Yes, fairly thin. Do not cut it thick like you would a
regular beef steak.
P: [Cut it like] a real T-bone steak?
W: Just about like that, about a half-inch.
P: What is Everglades Spice?
W: Seasoning?
P: Yes.
W: They are making that down below Fort Myers. (I cannot
remember the name of the little town down there.) It has
just come out, and it has taken over everything. Everglades
Seasoning. It is the best I have ever tasted. It has all
the Nature's stuff in. I know you have probably seen
Nature's Seasoning, but it was so much better than Nature's
Seasoning. It has the same things in it, like garlic and
celery and all that other stuff, and it is really, really
delicious. You can get it at places like Wards [Supermarket
on NW 6th Street in Gainesville].
P: Yes. That is right where I live. I will have to try that.
W: That is where we get most of ours. They have it in two
different-size containers. I guess you can put it on
everything--any kind of seafood, any kind of soups, stews,
steaks, and okra.
P: Put it on okra?
W: Put it on your okra and just chop it up. Put in a very
little bit.
P: Not coated.
W: Do not coat it up. Just chop it up, put in a very little
bit of bacon grease, a very little bit of water, sprinkle
Everglades Seasoning and a little Accent on it, put a lid on
it, and cook it for about twenty minutes. It is delicious.
P: I love okra.
W: Do you?
12





P: I do. I have some growing in my yard.
W: You will really like it if you ever try it like this. Get
some Everglades Seasoning and put that and a little Accent
on it. It has its own salt and everything.
P: Well, I will try it. Wards Market is right around the
corner from my house, and I love okra.
W: You cannot forget that name, Everglades Seasoning.
P: No. How about other wild game? I do not know if you would
consider gopher tortoise game, but have you every eaten
gopher?
W: I eat them all the time. I love them. I have two in a drum
out in my pickup truck.
P: How do you catch them?
W: You do not have to run them down or anything. [laughter]
There are several ways. The way I got these was I was just
driving and saw them crossing the road.
P: That is the easiest way, I imagine.
W: Yes.
P: When they get down in their holes, it would be kind of hard.
W: The easiest way to catch a gopher tortoise, or whatever you
call it . .
P: You call them gophers?
W: I call them gophers. There a lot of people in Jacksonville
and Jacksonville Beach, and they come over and just pull
them. Well, I would rather pull them, too, but that is a
lot of work. When you pull a gopher out of a hole--I do not
know if you have ever done it--but he is something else.
P: They are strong.
W: You have to hook him. First you slide it under him, and
then you turn him and catch him on the shell. Then you pull
him out of the hole. If he is big, there are a lot of times
you will pull through his shell. If there is a bad crook in
his hole, which usually there is, you can hardly get him
out. I mean, I have seen two men unable to pull a gopher
out.
P: Really?
W: The best way to catch a gopher is to put two sticks as big
as a pencil and about eight inches long on top of his hole.
13





Stick one here and one here on his hole, according to how
big his hole is.
P: On either side of the hole.
W: Right up on top--not on the side, but on top of the hole.
P: Okay.
W: Then take a piece of nylon cord, and if there are little
trees or roots around there, just tie one end of this cord
to the root. Make a loop in the other end, just a regular
loop.
P: That will tighten up.
W: Yes. Then just lay one side of your loop right on top of
those sticks. Let the rest of the cord just hang down on
the dirt in the bottom of the hole, in other words, right in
the mouth of the hole. Fix it, in other words, where he has
to crawl through that loop when he comes out of the hole.
P: I see.
W: When he crawls through that loop, it will catch him every
time, because he drags his feet. He does not pick his feet
up and walk.
P: Yes. Exactly.
W: It might even catch him right around the neck, right around
the head. I have seen that happen. I do not know how it
catches them like that, but it will. It will catch them by
one or the other leg, or sometimes both legs, but it will
get him when he comes out of that hole, and you have the
other end of it tied to this root out there. So you go back
to it and check it every evening.
P: So he will get himself caught up real tight.
W: You bet. Then he will turn around and try to go back down
the hole.
P: And that will tighten the loop.
W: Yes. Well, to start with, he will try to crawl on off, and
that is going to tighten the loop. Then he is going to try
to go back down the hole because his home is his shelter,
but he cannot go back in that hole because that loop has got
him. Now, do not fix your cord very long. You do not want
it long enough that he can go back down the hole and around
the curves, because you have to pull him out of it. Fix it
just long enough that he gets caught and he could maybe go
that far without going back down the hole again.
14





P: About two feet.
W: Yes.
P: Okay.
W: Then when you go back up there and see that cord pulled
tight, you know you have got the gopher. All you have to do
is catch the cord and pull him out. You have the advantage
because you have one foot caught, and maybe two feet, and
you can pull him out fairly easily because he is not very
far down.
P: Where did you learn that way of catching gophers?
W: Trial and error.
P: You invented it.
W: Yes. You can take a place where there are a lot of gophers,
and you can catch every one if you want to. Now, sometimes
one will break that cord. He may be big enough that, if you
do not go back soon enough, or if he gets caught early in
the morning and you do not go till late that afternoon, he
might be pulled around the tree trying, trying, trying to
get loose. They do not give up.
P: Yes, and they are strong.
W: They are put together like a Sherman tank. Strong.
P: I have seen them knock over an iron kettle.
W: Have you ever tried to butcher one?
P: No.
W: You have never tried butchering? Mm, mm, mm. You have a
problem when you start trying to butcher them. I remember
[one time when my neighbor] Ann [was eating dinner with us].
We had gopher, and I had fixed it. Of course, they like to
come over and eat, and they like for me to go over and fix
theirs, because I cook a lot of wild game. Of course, Ann
did not knw that a gopher does not have a backbone.
P: Oh, no, and Ann thought it did?
W: Ann ate that gopher meat and said, "This is good. What part
of that?" I said that it was the backbone. "Well, give me
another one." This was a big joke. "Is this more
backbone?" I said, "Yes, it is backbone." I do not know
how many pieces she ate thinking it was backbone.
15





P: That is funny.
W: So two or three days later, the next weekend or something
along in there, I said, "I have some more gopher, but I gave
all the backbone away already." She said, "What in the hell
did you give the backbone away for? That is the best part
of him." Well, we liked to have a fit. I laughed about
that thing so much because we kidded her. Actually, she
found out. We were laughing so that she knew something was
wrong. "What is wrong with it?" She just did not know
that gopher does not have a backbone. She was eating the
legs, see.
P: That is where the meat comes from.
W: Most of what you eat is the legs, because they are just
connected to the hull. The legs go right through them, and
they are connected to the hull on top. They are not
connected to the hull on the bottom. Just meat and muscle
is all that is connected with that bottom part.
P: So how do you butcher them?
W: Well, I will tell you. There are two ways of cleaning them,
and I can tell you both ways. The easiest, simplest way to
clean a gopher is to get an old piece of toilet paper, raise
his tail, and just wipe it.
P: And just what? Oh, no! I got it now. [laughter!]
W: Well, where his neck comes straight back there is a little
hump. That is where his neck is attached to his hull. His
neck and all through there is fastened to the top of his
hull. So you just take a hammer and hit right there where
that little knot is up on his hull, and that breaks his
neck.
P: So he is dead.
W: Yes.
P: Or knocked out.
W: He might still move like a gator. You know, the only way to
kill a gator so he will not hit you with his tail when you
are butchering him is to cut his head off after you have
killed him. Take a machete or an ax and cut his head off.
Then take a wire and it run down his backbone and pull all
the marrow out of his backbone. Then you can clean him or
whatever you want to.
P: A gator, or a gopher?
W: A gator.
16





P: Okay. You run a wire down his back?
W: Run a wire down his back and pull all the marrow out of his
backbone, and that keeps him from moving. You can cut his
head off, and he will still hit you with his tail because
they just keep moving. He does not know that he is going to
hit you.
P: Reaction.
W: Like kind of batting the breeze or moving a paw, or
something like that. In other words, if you do not want him
to move, chop his head off, run a wire, like a good stiff
wire--we used to call them clothes line wire--down his
backbone and just pull out that marrow. Twist it around and
pull it out. That will kill him completely. In other
words, it will not just kill him, it will keep him from
moving around.
P: Is marrow intestines and all of that stuff? What is marrow?
W: Well, I call it marrow. Do you know the soft part that is
in your backbone, the soft, chalky-like stuff that is in
there?
P: Yes.
W: That is [marrow].
P: I see. I do not know what it is called, but I know what you
mean.
W: Well, you pull that out. You do not have to get every drop
of it, off course. Just run the wire down and twist it
around and pull it out, and some way or another it does
something to the nerves. See, all that is connected, of
course, to your nervous system, to your back. [It is the]
same way with all animals, I suppose.
P: Yes.
W: Like the last time Roy [inaudible] and I killed two gators
coming out of the pond.
P: What pond? Over here?
W: Well, it was not right in this area. It was south of here
about five, six, or seven miles. This was a long time ago.
P: But it was fairly close.
W: Yes. It was not right in this little area here, but it was
in the general area. Well, we got this gator, a three-
legged one; something had bit [the other leg off]. It was a
big gator. To begin with, we really did not go gator
17





hunting. We went catfishing.
P: Oh, no. How did [you wind up with the gator]?
W: We put trot lines out in the lake, you see. After dark we
went back to check the lines. Well, the first thing I saw
was a gator's eyes. I had a rifle, a .22 single-shot rifle.
You put one bullet in and shoot it, and then you have to
take the hull out and put in another one. It does not work
automatically. I certainly did not go gator hunting with
it. I just always carried it. If I go fishing, I carry it.
Any time I go anywhere, I carry that rifle. You never know
when you are going to see a rattlesnake or whatever. So I
had the rifle in the boat with me. No sooner had we left
the bank, I flipped the headlight on to check the lines, and
there was a gator on one of the lines.
P: He was on the line?
W: Yes. He was only about a three- or four-foot-long gator,
but I knew it was not a catfish when I saw him there rolling
and tumbling and everything. So I told this buddy of mine--
he is kind of wild.
P: What is his name?
W: Billy Stephens. He is younger than I am, but he is really a
good boy. He was raised on the river. He is a regular
river rat, if you want to call him that, so he loved to hunt
and fish. Another one of the boys that went with us decided
that we were not going to catch any fish anyhow, so he just
laid down in the back of the truck and went to sleep. He
had had a few beers, anyway, so you might say he was half
asleep and about half passed out.
We got in the boat, and the first thing I did was shine the
light right on the line, and it was right there.
P: How did you set up the trot line?
W: Well, we drove stakes down into the pond because there is
nothing to tie the ends to beside it. We drove the stakes
or stubs down and tied one end to it, and then went on down
to the other end and tied it to a small tree because there
was nothing else to tie it with.
P: About how big were the trees?
W: Well, like an inch and a half in diameter, say from two
inches in diameter at the bottom to an inch at the top, at
the little end.
P: Do you have to go into the water to put it in?
W: Well, no, you are in the mud in the bottom of the lake. You
18





just take a anything to hit the stake with--a lighter knot
[from a pine tree], a hammer if you happen to think about it
and carry one with you, or whatever you can hit it with.
You drive it down a foot or two in the lake bottom. You tie
one end of the trot line to that and put your hooks on it
every two feet apart till you get to the other end of your
big line. When you get to the other end of your big line,
drive another stake down and tie off that end.
Anyway, we had a trot line out in the lake. It was a pretty
good-sized lake, and I figured we would catch all the
catfish we wanted. Well, that is the one that the gator was
on. We were paddling the boat. We did not have a motor on
it because it was more or less useless, since all we were
doing was just going there and back. I told Billy, "We got
a gator up here!" "Well, shoot him," he said. I said, "No,
let's not shoot him. He is a small one, and the lake is
down low." That is the reason, or one of the reasons, I
said we would catch plenty of catfish, because the lake was
low. They did not have much to feed on, so they would be
hungry. I was in hopes we would catch a lot of soft-shell
turtles. We did not, but they are the best eating around.
We were taking catfish off, and before we got up to the
gator, he took off--with the hook. So Billy said, "Shine
your light around and see if you see him." Well, I shined
my light around, and there was a gator there and a gator
there and gators all around us. So I said, "God! There are
gators all over the place." He said, "Well, I would not
mind having some gator tail. Let's shoot us one of them."
So I did.
P: How do you figure out which one to shoot? Can you tell by
eye shine how big they are?
W: Yes, you can tell by how big their eyes are and how far
apart they are. Then a lot of times you can see them, part
of them--a little bit of his head will be laying out.
Sometimes [you can see] just his eyes, because they sit on
top of his head. I have seen them coming across the lake
looking like a Model-A Ford with its headlights on. They
are not quite that big, but I have seen some big ones. You
get out in the fog by yourself, . .
P: And they get bigger and bigger.
W: They get bigger and bigger! And you do not have a boat
under you, especially if you are wading or fishing or
whatever. Anyway, I told him, "There is a big one right
there. Paddle on up there to him." He paddled me over
there, and I shot him, and that gator just went into a fit.
They will do that, you know.
P: What do they do?
19





W: Tear up the water everywhere. Down he went under the water,
and we could not see anything. Then he popped right back up
and here he comes--right straight to the boat. He was not
afraid of it. Just about the corner of the building [to
here is how close he was], and he was coming right at us. I
waited till he got about half-way to the boat. I had to
because I was getting another cartridge. Billy was
hollering "shoot him!" all the time. He was pretty excited
by now. He was scared of the gator.
I waited until he got about half-way to the boat. I had my
gun right on him by them, and I waited till he got up right
just where I wanted him, and I shot him again. Then he just
went crazy again. Just churning, just hit the water real
hard with his tail. So he went under again and came back up
again. I was getting another cartridge fast as I could
because I knew I would probably have to fire again because
he was so big. That bullet was probably bouncing off. I
had some hollow points in my pocket and some with straight,
steel bullets. Are you familiar with a hollow point?
P: No.
W: That is a regular steel bullet there, see.
P: Okay, I see.
W: It is made out of lead, if you want to call it that. A
hollow point will be like this copper one here.
P: Oh, yes, I have seen them.
W: And there is a little hole in the middle.
P: I have seen those.
W: When it hits, it will flatten out. In other words, when it
hits something, it will make a big hole, especially if it
goes through and comes out.
P: I have seen those.
W: I did not know which one I had. I knew if it was a hollow
point, it probably was not doing very much. Probably when
it hit his head it just flattened out right there and
knocked him out.
So I waited. When he came up the last time, he came up
right close to the boat, maybe ten feet away. I let him get
about to the end of the gun barrel from the boat and I shot
him again, and that finished him off. Well, we put him in
the boat.
P: How did you get him?
20





W: We just reached down and manhandled him into the boat. He
was a pretty big boy.
P: Was Billy scared when the gator got that close to the boat?
W: Oh, yes. He was hollering "shoot him!" all the time. He is
just scared of a live gator. He just did not want the gator
to come up there and bite his leg off or something like
that, you see, which I did not, either.
Anyway, we got the gator into the boat. There was some
discussion on how to get him in there, but I finally got a
hold of his tail, and Billy got his head. We started on
across the pond to look at the other lines, and the gator is
flopping and banging and beating. We had a little twelve-
foot john boat, so it was nothing big, and the gator was
almost hanging over one end of it. He was about as long as
the boat is.
P: So he was about twelve feet.
W: Well, he was about eleven, ten and a half. So we started
looking around, and there were gators everywhere. We could
see their eyes everywhere. There must have been fifteen
gators in this little pond--it was not a big pond. Billy
said, "Let me get up there and shoot one." He is quite good
with a gun. I said no. "Oh, come on, come on. Let me do
it. I want to shoot one." I said, "We have all the gator
tail we can do anything with." "Well, so-and-so wants some,
and so does Ma." He calls his mother Ma. So he got one.
P: He just wanted to shoot a gator.
W: He wanted to shoot a gator is what he wanted to do.
P: He was not worried about Ma.
W: He wanted to shoot the gator. I finally said okay. So I
took the catfish off the other lines, and I said, "I am
going to go straight in. But if you see one on the way, you
shoot him." Well, I knew he was going to shoot one, because
they were all around. And sure enough, pow! He shot two
like that. They would not come back up. He thought he had
actually hit them, but maybe he just stunned them a little
bit. If you shoot them in the nose, you are not going to
hurt them. We started back in, and Billy shot one right
close to the boat, so we put him in the boat.
P: How big was he?
W: He was probably about six or seven feet long. So I was
paddling the boat, see, and about the time he started easing
up on that one, this big gator that was in the boat came
back alive.
21





P: Oh, no.
W: Well, the head was towards me, now, because I was paddling
the boat, and he was at the front now. Billy had the shot
gun, and I shouted, "Hey, this gator's to life back here!
We have to do something! I am going straight on over the
hill." "No, no, no," he said, "be quiet. Just ease up
here." Well, I was barefooted, see, and I did not want him
to biting my foot off. I just put my foot on his head, and
boy, when I did, he returned.
Well, Billy could not see very good back there. It was
probably 11:00 at night, and he had the light up front, but
you could just see a little silhouette back there. This
gator got up on his feet. He did not have but one front
leg, because the other one got bit off, I reckon. It was
healed, but it was bit off right to his trunk.
P: Like amputated.
W: Yes. There was nothing to do but to catch the gator.
Otherwise he was going to catch me, so I caught the gator.
I just laid the paddle down and got him right by the snout
like that to hold his mouth shut. Well, he got to raring
and doing up like this.
P: Trying to escape.
W: Trying to escape, trying to get out of the boat, trying to
do something. He did not know he was going to get out. He
did not even know what he was in, I reckon, but he wanted to
get back to the water. He did not want any part of where he
was, and I was just holding on. But I was going to let him
back [in the water]. I mean, nothing would have pleased me
more. I saw what I was going to try to do. I was trying to
get his head out of the boat. He got up and scratched me.
His right paw was all he had, and he just came down like
that and scratched me bad. Dug in, I mean.
That is when I hollered to Bill, "I am throwing this gator
out of here," and I threw him out. He whirled around,
looked back, and dragged him by the tail as he went over the
side, trying to pull him back in. I said, "My God, man! I
just threw the gator out of the damn boat. I do not want
him back in here. Leave him alone." "No," he says, "we
killed that gator, and we want him." I said, "No, we do not
want him. You might want him, but I do not want him." He
said, "Hand me the tail. You take his head up there." I
said, "I want no part of it!" "Well," he said, "we are near
about the edge, now, the bank, so we will just go on in."
We hung the gator over the side of the boat and left Billy
holding his tail when we got to the hill with it. We just
had about fifteen feet then to go to get back. So we got
him out on the hill.
22





P: The edge, is that what you call it?
W: The edge of the water, the bank. It was the bank, the hill,
edge, or whatever. It was a nice sandy place, a nice little
beach at nice lake. So we pulled him up on the sand there,
and I could see that boy laying there in the back of the
truck. I told Bill, "We might as well load this gator up."
P: Oh, how mean!
W: He looked up, and he knew what I was talking about. I said,
"We might as well load this gator in the truck," and he said
yes. I thought the boy would wake up, but hell, he did not
wake up. We threw that gator in the back of the truck with
him. He looked over and opened his eyes and saw that gator
over there. When he opened his eyes and saw that gator, I
thought he was just going to have a fit, sure enough. He
came out of that truck like a bullet.
P: Oh, that is funny.
W: And you know what? We had to take that gator out and shoot
him another two or three times with the rifle no further
than that from his head before we ever killed that gator.
See, he might or might not have known when we was coming in
what he was doing, but he was not dead. He was just . .
P: He was just stunned.
W: Yes, he was just stunned, just knocked out--more or less
just out of his head. He could still hurt you, too, because
he was in the right frame of mind to.
P: Have you ever known anybody who has been hurt by a gator?
W: No, other that what I read in the papers. No one ever
around here. On the river itself I do not know what has
happened to the gators.
P: Have you seen them going away?
W: The thing about it is a lot of people say they do not like
gators in the rivers. They say they eat fish. But nothing
could be farther from the truth. Three or four years ago
the river was full of gators. They have been killed out
since. I do not know who has done it or why, and I have not
seen anyone do it. It has been against the law ever since
it was done, but I know they did it. There is no way that
that many gators [could have died off naturally]. On a
sunny day we could ride down the river from the mouth of
Santa Fe to the Rock Bluff bridge, which is three-fourths
[of the way down the river], and count twenty or thirty
gators on a trip down there and back--in a pretty fast boat,
too. I know we made a sound. But now you hardly see a
23





gator.
P: Why do you think that is?
W: Well, people killed them to bootleg the hide and the meat.
And even if you do not bootleg the hides, the meat is worth
killing them for now.
P: Do people sell the meat illegally?
W: Sure they sell it.
P: I have not heard anything about it, if that is what they do.
W: Well, you know they do. There were that many gators in the
river back two or three years ago, and now there are hardly
any; you just do not see many gators in the river any more.
I am on the river an awful lot, and I just do not see them.
I saw a little one that was probably around four or five
feet long. When did I tell you this?
P: Day before yesterday.
W: The day before yesterday is when I saw the first gator I
have seen in the Suwannee River in a year.
P: I have not seen many gators, either. Up in the Okefenokee I
have seen some, but not down on the lower part.
W: Right. So you know that just in the last couple of years
[there has been considerable demand for] the meat. They say
gator tail, but you cannot tell if you are eating gator tail
or jaw. The jaw tastes just like the tail.
P: Really?
W: Sure. They have big muscles in their jaws, and there is
maybe two or three pounds of meat on each side of a good-
sized gator between his jaws and shoulders. It all is
beautiful white meat just like the tail is, so there is no
difference in the tail and other meat. So they just bone
everything out and sell it. Say you get anywhere from
twenty to fifty pounds of meat off a good-sized gator: at
three or four dollars a pound . .
P: You are going to be making lots of money.
W: They go out and get three or four gators in one night
dishonestly, so you can see where they can make three or
four hundred dollars a night.
P: Do they sell them like people do gopher tortoises, where you
just sell them to somebody or to restaurants?
W: I do not know about that. All I am doing is just expressing
24





what I think. The best way to do it is to get lined up with
several restaurants.
P: Right. But they can sell them now in restaurants.
W: They might say to the restaurant owner, "We will sell you
this gator meat for so-and-so (hush-hush or whatever). We
will sell it to you for a dollar a pound less than you can
get anywhere else." Well, now, naturally most of the
restaurant owners are going to fall right in line.
P: What about the hide?
W: Well, they can throw the hide away. But, now, I maintain
this. The thing about it is, the game department made pan
fish--that is, lead belly, shell crackers, speckle perch,
and others--legal in Okeechobee. You can catch them out at
Lake Okeechobee and sell them. It is not illegal.
P: Anybody can?
W: Anybody can. Well, you have to have twenty-five dollars for
a license, or something like that. Do you know where Astor
or Astor Park is on the St. Johns [River], down out of
Ocala?
P: I am not sure. Is it out near Welaka?
W: Welaka? No. Anyway, the last time I was fishing on the St.
Johns River, I saw these fisherman pull two baskets up, half
as big as this porch. They were about that high and about
as long as from here to right here.
P: Can you give the dimensions roughly, because I would like to
get it on tape.
W: Well, they were probably twelve foot long and six foot in
diameter, and I think it had a muzzle at each end. When
they pulled these wire baskets in, I am going to say they
probably had 150 to 200 fish in each one. They pulled them
up near where my friend and I were. We happened to be
sitting at the mouth of a little creek, right where those
baskets were--one on one side and one on the other. They
just pulled up there and did not pay us a bit of mind. I
saw what they were doing, but Sonny said we were not game
wardens. That big old basket had a door in each end of it,
and they just dumped fish and dumped fish and dumped fish.
Now, who is going to say where those fish are going? You
know they are not catching them for their families. There
is no way.
P: They must have an awfully large family!
W: Well, they had 150 to 200 brim and shell crackers or
whatever in each of these baskets. You know they have to be
25





selling them. But who is going to ask, "Where did you get
these fish from? You cannot sell these fish. They are
illegal." "We got them out of Lake Okeechobee." "Oh, well,
that is okay, then." That is just like gator. They have
the gators out of the river now. The only thing that I hate
about it is the fact that if they had left the gators in the
river, [the fishing would actually be better]. See, when
the gators were out of the river before, the fishing was
lousy.
P: When the gators are out?
W: Right, because of the garfish and the mudfish. They are big
fish. The garfish get to where they are forty to sixty
pounds. I read one time--maybe you know this--how many
pounds of fish it takes for a fifty-pound gar to survive,
and it is an awful amount of fish poundage. He has to catch
maybe half of his weight per day--that many fish. Well, the
gators catch the big fish, like the gar and the mud. They
go ten, fifteen, twenty-five pounds. So it is a balance.
P: You are exactly right.
W: I mean, that is the way God put them here. In other words,
everything balances out, so if they would just leave
everything alone, it would balance itself out. The gators
would take care of the gar and the mud. The little gators
would eat a few of the small fish, sure, but there would not
be anything like what the big gators would take care of with
the big garfish. Now the gators are gone, and the big gar
are back everywhere. You can just see them all over the
river. When there are a lot of gators, you just do not see
very many gar.
P: That is very interesting. It is just like hunting. When
you hunt, you believe in killing one or two and leaving the
rest alone.
W: Yes, I do not doubt that. If I see something like turkey
around here, or deer, or anything game, [I do not kill it
for the sake of killing it]. We have a feed planter for the
deer. We have feed all over the place for the deer, and
they come up here. One got in here one night. She ran in
the gate. We tried to get her out of here, so she ran to
that gate there and ran to that fence. She knocked that
fence open. That gate post right there is still loose; I
mean, she knocked it and about tore it completely loose.
She bloodied her nose and was crying and all that. Well, we
finally herded her up and got [her out]. The night lights
had her blinded, see, and she could not see the fence. But
we finally brought her back up. She had run into the fence
on that side of the lane and on this side, but we finally
got her out the gate.
We do keep animals around here practically all the time, but
26





we do it legal. I mean, I may like [to eat] deer and all
that, but we do not kill anything unless it is in season.
All my brothers have dogs, and they like to hunt in the
woods. They want me to hunt with them. And we do a lot of
fishing. I also do some trapping, if I need to--fish
trapping.
P: Do you have traps that you have made? Do you have traps
here?
W: Yes.
P: Do you make them yourself?
W: Yes.
P: I would like to see those. Karen was telling me that I
needed to ask you about that.
W: Yes. Now, there are not catfish like there used to be.
When I was a boy, I grew up there, and we could just go down
and put a trot line out a way across the river.
P: In the Suwannee?
W: In the Suwannee. I smoked cigarettes back then. You would
go out, and by the time you had smoked a cigarette and
started back across, you could start getting fish off of
that trot line. They were just in there like that. [There
were] beautiful channel cat. Nowadays they are just not in
there. I think it is due to pollution.
P: That was my question.
W: I think Occidental [Petroleum Company] had a lot to do with
it. That is my opinion, now.
P: I do, too.
W: The last thing I read that came out on it was about two
weeks ago--and you probably read it in the paper, too--about
Occidental and how high Goose Creek was, the pH, and
everything.
P: I did a story about the Suwannee River in the [Gainesville]
Sun about two years ago.
W: Did you?
P: It was a three-part series, and the second part was all
about Occidental.
W: Well, I probably read it, because I read everything in the
Sun.
27





W: From front to back. There is nothing that goes by.
P: That is good. It is hard for people to do.
W: I mean, it might not look interesting, but after you get
into it, it might be. I can pass my time reading anything I
can get.
P: So you think pollution [is to blame]. What else? You think
it is mostly Occidental?
W: No, I do not think that it is all Occidental. I think they
contribute a great deal to it. I think second, and maybe
even [just as bad], is people building houses.
P: Oh, yes.
W: The first thing a person does when he buys a river lot is
clear out everything so he can see. He cannot leave it like
it is; he will not leave the environment like it is. He
bought it because he wanted to be on the river, but he did
not want it like it was beautiful [naturally]. He has to
clear it all out and just destroy everything, and then plant
grass out there so it is just like he was back in town,
really.
P: That is just terrible!
W: Well, that is just they way it is. Okay, so you get all the
limbs out of the river, all the brush, all the treetops and
everything else. Then where do the fish live? There is
nowhere in the world. If you want fish in a lake, you want
brush piles out there.
P: You mean like the tree tops?
W: Yes. Dump them in there and make a big brush heap which
will stay there underwater, where the fish are. Then you
can go back there every year and fish. Any fisherman will
tell you that. The little fish will go in to protect
themselves--they can hide and get bigger. The bigger fish
will go in there to catch these little ones; once in a while
one of them is going to come out, and that other one will
get him. Then the extra large fish are coming in there to
catch the ones the size under them. So you get all the fish
gathered around these brush heaps. [You will find in] 'most
any lake where people fish and will fish for a long time
these brush-heaps. They are just like old cars that they
haul in the gulf. You have read that, where they haul them
out to different places in Panama on the beaches and
everything like that. They haul them out there and dump
them in. That is like an old ship where it has sunk. It is
a good place [for fish]. It is the same with trees and
28





brush.
P: I even heard someone calling beer cans "minnow homes."
W: Well, that probably could be, too. I would go as far as to
say that if they were regular metal where they would rust
out in a few years I do not think they would hurt as much as
some of the others would do, like aluminum.
P: So that is the second reason that [the river has declined]?
W: That is the second reason. The third reason is when
subdivisions are built. When the river comes up, it goes
out into sloughs. There again, little fish and big fish and
everything goes out, and a lot of your little fish will stay
out.
P: In Cypress Pond?
W: Yes. All you have got to do is look around. A pond that is
left like nature put it there, where there is a lot of
shade, a lot of stuff to absorb the moisture and everything,
water will stay in there a long time. You clean up
everything around it and plant grass around it, and soon
that pond is dry. You have seen this happen.
P: I have heard other fishermen say it, but not quite like
that. You have done more thinking.
W: That is true. So what do you get when they buy up all these
things and subdivide? Really, the county commissioners and
[people like that] are to blame, because they let the people
come in, and they approved these subdivisions, knowing full
well the water is going to rise [during the rainy season].
It reminds me of a story I heard. A guy was talking about
these real estate [salesmen] selling land. They had come
down on the river on these sloughs where the water had been
up and had marked [the water line on] some of the tress.
You can tell that the water had been up high. They had to
ride their horses down in there because it was kind of
boggy. The buyer was riding along with him, and the
salesman was telling him all about how beautiful this was
and how wild hogs had rooted around on the ground and
everything. The buyer saw these marks way up the trees, and
he asked the real estate salesman, "What about these marks
here?" Well, the dumb real estate salesman thought he was
talking about the hog rooting there.
P: Oh, no!
W: He said, "Oh, don't worry about it. That is from the wild
hogs' rooting." He just kept trying to sell him, saying
"this is beautiful" and "that is beautiful" and whatever.
When he got back up to the house and started to get into the
29





car, he asked, "Well, what do you think about the property
down there? Do you think that is beautiful down there?
What do you think about it? Do you want to go ahead and
close the deal today?" The man answered, "No, sir. I am
not too fired up about the land down there. I would like to
see, though, if you have some more of those hogs that made
the marks on those trees."
P: Thirty-foot hogs!
W: Thirty-foot hogs scratching on the tree! But I said that
only to prove my theory. When you get below Tyler's Bluff--
do you know where that is?
P: Yes, I now where that is, the lower part of the river.
W: Okay. On down, there are all the estuaries and creeks and
sloughs and whatever going out from the river. There are
rays in there, places out there where the fish can hide,
where the little fish stay until they get big enough to
protect themselves. There are fish there. I mean, that is
about the only place anymore where you can go and really do
some good fishing.
P: So you have seen a lot of change in your lifetime with fish
on the Suwannee.
W: Yes. Oh, God, have I ever!
P: I guess everyone I have talked with says that the fish [will
replenish themselves in time].
W: Everybody says, "Oh, they just will make more fish," and it
goes on like that. "It does not matter that there are no
more fish caught." The fact is, the fish are not being
raised. I think that they should get some of these wildlife
officers out of their automobiles and fast boats and put
their cans down there to restock the wilderness. It does
not cost that much for 5,000 bass here and 5,000 bass
minnows--two- or three-inch small ones. Put them in up and
down the river, with shellcrackers and brim, and just start
restocking it yearly. Not just now and let it go five
years; I mean every year.
P: Until they are back to what they were.
W: Until they are back to what they were. They are not going
to overstock it because somebody will be trying to catch
them or something. I do not think they will overstock it
because the gar are going to eat them up as fast as you can
get them in there. But there are a lot of things they could
do to bring them back, to help them replenish. They will
never bring the fish back like they were. There is no way
they are going to.
30





P: You have really done some thinking about it.
W: Well, let me tell you something else. Last week I went
[fishing with my brother]. It was his birthday this past
Monday, and he wanted me to go with him and cook meat on the
river--just take a frying pan, meal, grease, and salt and
pepper.
P: What kind of meal?
W: Corn meal to cook hushpuppies and fish. We were carrying
everything--onion, tomato, cucumber, and some water. What
we did was we went down on the bank and caught enough fish
and cleaned them. Then we put two rocks or logs together on
the bank, broke some limbs to put under there, and started a
fire to fry the fish. We had not done that in a long time.
We used to do it all the time. We would take the frying pan
with us just about every time we went fishing, just like the
good old days. We would take the frying pan and cook on the
river. That was when they were their best, you know.
When we were getting ready to go, he asked, "Where can we
catch enough fish? That river is a rising." Perch do not
bite much when the river is rising, and neither do the
catfish. I said, "We could go to the mouth of the Suwannee,
by the Santa Fe, I guess. It has been ten or fifteen years
since I been there, but we always used to go there." We
used to go up there and catch a bunch of fish right out of
the mouth in the clear water around there. But we had not
been there in a while, so we went there. Do you believe
that we could not see a fish in that river? The only thing
we saw was mullet.
P: Oh, no.
W: There used to be lots of little fish--little chubs, stump
knockers or black chubs (whichever you call them), red
belly, and sand fish--but not a one of them did we see. Not
one did we catch, and not one could we see. In the past you
would see them going off when we were in our boat. That is
all because that river has been torn up and messed up so
much.
P: I bet there are a lot of houses.
W: Yes, there are a lot of houses. I know that people have to
have a place for recreation; I will agree with that 100
percent. But when you get thousands in one place, like in
that river, even though they are stopping at the bridge, by
the time that water comes from the bridge on down, it is
pretty well polluted all the way. Now, you have to admit
that.
P: Oh, yes, I do.
31





W: You can look down on the bottom there, and there is grayish
blue silt all over the bottom of the river. And I know what
it was: it is what has been kicked up from the bottom and
pollution from homes.
P: It is just like you say. They plant grass all over. I
lived in Fort White, and it was amazing. I used to swim
there. I would get in where the tubers get out and swim
down toward Santa Fe, and the sound that I would hear more
than almost anything else was the sound of hammers, which
meant that houses were going up.
W: Yes.
P: And they planted a green lawn all the way down to the river
bank. They would be out there with garden rakes raking out
that grass that runs into the river.
W: Yes. Well, the fish feed on it.
P: That is right.
W: Say you put in at this bridge right up here and go up or
down. You just look. All you have to do is look in between
the houses where they have not cleared and you would see
what the river used to be like years and years ago before
they started [building houses]. There is just no place for
the fish to raise anymore. Not only that, you go on down
the Suwannee, and it is that way right on down. They should
do something, but I do not know what. Of course, it will
get worse, I guess. There is very little bit of it left
they can sell. People have bought up everything. Fifteen
years ago people said they did not notice the homes.
P: Then the next thing people will want, particularly some of
the northerners that have come down, is a dam, because they
do not like it when it floods. Some of the people who have
lived here and are used to it say, "We will just move our
furniture. We will be all right. We are used to this."
W: Across from my land there is a big curve. When the river
would rise and overflow its bank, the bank did not make it
go straight. The water would not have to follow the bank.
It just went right straight across and washed sand, limbs,
trees, and whatever up to the houses. They went down to the
mouth and channeled the mouth of the river out where it will
dump the water out so it might not ever come up that high
again. But if it does, everything is just going to wash out
the houses.
P: Some maybe deserve it.
W: Yes. What else do you want to know?
P: You were telling me that Suwannee cooters are the best
32





eating.
W: Softshell [turtles].
P: Softshell cooters. Okay. How do you catch those?
W: Well, some people say to take fat meat.
P: From a hog?
W: Yes.
P: Okay, that is what I thought.
W: You put a trot line out just like you would for catfish, and
put a little piece of this fatback, sort of in a square,
right on the line. But instead of putting it down in the
water, like you would for a catfish, you put it right across
the top of it. Then you put short lines on them with no
hooks, see. Cooters feed in the daytime, rather than at
night like catfish. Catfish feed at night, but streaky
heads, hardbacks, and softshell turtles feed in the day
time.
P: Streaky head is one that has the yellow stripes.
W: Yes.
P: What does the hardback look like?
W: Well, the hardback is like the streaky head.
P: But it does not have the streaks?
W: Well, some hardbacks have, and some do not. Some of them
are just this big. I am not going to tell you what we
always called them.
P: What did you always call them?
W: Horse turd cooters.
P: Why did you call them that?
W: Well, he looks like a horse turd. He is only about that
big. He has got a high hump. He will sit up like that, but
he is only about that big around.
P: And they never get bigger?
W: That is as big as they ever get. You can catch quite a few
of them if you are fishing on the bottom. Trot line fishing
is best. They call it trot line fishing because you have to
anchor the line before you throw it out.
33





P: It is down deep?
W: Yes, down on the bottom. Have you ever seen a softshell?
P: I have had some. I was just trying to figure out what the
other turtles were. I know a cooter with a really black
shell is what they call a Suwannee cooter. It has a really
dark shell, and I think it has some yellow stripes.
W: The stripes are green or greenish yellow.
P: Let's get back to catfish.
W: Well, all the names of the catfish, the way to catch them
with a bush hook and trot line, and what you use for bait I
think you already have on the tape. When the river is low,
the catfish were always in holes in the river. At nighttime
they will come out. That is the reason a lot of people fish
at night.
As I was growing up, my family used to kill a hog once a
year, usually in the dead of winter--around November,
December, or January--when it was really cold. They saved
all the entrails out of the hog, and we rendered the fat and
everything. When we got through butchering the hog, that
was it. When I say butchering the hog, I mean killing the
hog and gutting them. We would just split the stomach
apart. Then we took the entrails down to the river and
dumped them out in a hole. In the winter time the river was
low, and we would dump them out in this hole which was a
good catfish hole, right on our property on the edge of the
river. The hog had eaten corn, peanuts, and all this, so
the entrails just soured. Then we would just put a few
shovels of filling so it would drift on down, because it was
just like mash, like chicken feed ground up before they had
eaten it. That stuff would just settle down in this hole.
This has probably happened in the daytime, between 11:00 and
maybe 2:00. Then at nighttime about dark we went down there
and built a fire--it would be cold weather, like I said. We
would take livers out of the pork and fish for the catfish
all night, and there would be fish right around where you
had dumped this stuff, see.
P: That is pretty neat.
W: By then they would have the catfish holed up. They would be
downstream, and all this scent would be going downstream,
and they would smell it and start following the scent of it
right on up to where the pockets where laying on the bottom
of the river. All you had to do was fish right around
there. You could use an old spinning reel, an old casting
reel with big old black monofilament line on it. You had
this little old line, and boy, I mean, if you hooked one of
them, you had to hold on. Or maybe you just had a throw
line. Just tie your line to a root and put your sinker on
34





the end of it with a big hook with a chunk of liver on, and
throw it out there. The chunk of liver has to be able to
fit. You did not catch any half-pound catfish hardly at
all. I mean, you usually caught four-, five-, six-, ten-,
fifteen-, twenty-, or even thirty-pound catfish. They were
all out there in that hole, and they where just trying to
get that food.
P: That is pretty neat.
W: That is the way you would holed them up. It is just like
fishing with a trap nowadays. I mean, that is the same
theory, except for the bait that you use in your trap. A
soy bean cake is like meal or ground-up chicken feed; it has
a texture like that. It washes off gradually when you put
it in a hard cake and gradually washes away from the basket
and goes down stream. The fish smell it and just follow the
scent. A little bit of particles in the water is enough
that you can trap them.
P: So soy bean cakes attract catfish?
W: And some pan fish.
P: Do you put other kinds of bait in there besides soy bean
cakes?
W: No.
P: That is the best bait, anyway.
W: Nowadays it is. We used to use corn from the cob.
P: Now, you were telling me the names of catfish, such as
channel catfish.
W: Fresh water channel cat is the best. Blue, I would say, is
the next. You can always detect channel cats. They have
long whiskers on the side, a parted noise, and a forked
tail. Blue, shovel nose, or boot head--whatever they call
them; there are probably several different names--I think
are all the same species of fish, which is the blue cat or
the blue head. They look just alike to me. They will get
to be a big fish themselves. That is what they catch on the
Oklawaha and the St. Johns. Up there they weigh seventy-
five to a hundred pounds, so they get to be pretty big. But
down here in the Suwannee, where I am used to--the Suwannee,
Santa Fe, and Ichetucknee--there are just little street
walkers or polliwogs.
P: Why do you call them street walkers?
W: Well, there are so many of them. You can find street
walkers anywhere because they are so plentiful. But the
real good ones are seldom found.
35





P: And they are not as good.
W: And they are not as good, by far. They do not even come
close to being as good as the others. The reason I named
them street walkers is because they are plentiful. They
will bite anything. When one bites your hook, you do not
have to worry about him getting on it, because he will just
swallow everything. He is just gullible. He is dumb, like
most street walkers. So that is my theory on it; that is
the reason I named them street walkers.
P: What are their other names?
W: Well, you have the butter cat and the yellow cat, which is
about the same. They are a pond cat.
P: Are they all street walkers?
W: No, I do not call those street walkers. Street walkers are
yellow. A street walker is a big-headed, speckled bully
that has a little tail on him. He does not have much of a
tail, but he has a big head. And he is ugly, too, like most
street walkers are. That is the reason I named them that:
they have a big head and think they know it all. One will
go up there and get any kind of bait and swallow it.
P: It does not matter what.
W: No. You hand them anything, and he will take it. But, now,
you take the butter cat--it is known as the butter cat,
yellow cat, or pond cat--that is your Lake Okeechobee
catfish. Most people they think they are wonderful, because
that is all they ever get when they buy them out of a
restaurant. I have seen them advertised in the Gainesville
Sun the other day--"Lake Okeechobee catfish". That would
have made me not buy them, but most people will buy them.
Well, they are all pond catfish. They are not that bad. If
you are out camping and cooking outside, then those kind of
catfish are good. Any kind fish or wild game is better if
you cook it outdoors.
P: I agree.
W: So pond catfish are okay. You can eat them, enjoy them,
love them, and have a good time--if everybody is outside.
But just to go to a pond and catch them and clean them and
bring them back home to cook, I do not like that.
P: How do you usually cook your catfish, and what do you eat
them with?
W: I cook them with grits and hush puppies.
P: Do you cook them in bacon fat or bacon grease?
36





W: Yes, I like either bacon grease or hog lard to cook fish
with. I do not think anything else would cook any kind of
wild game, chicken, or fish.
P: What kind of coating do you put on it?
W: Everybody has their own thing. There are some good mixtures
out now in mixes now. My main hang-up is hush puppies.
P: How do you make those?
W: I do what a lot of people have never heard of: I put fresh
bell peppers in all my hush puppies. That is a major
ingredient, because if you do not have that, to me it just
is not a hush puppy. You can always tell when somebody
knows how to fry a hush puppy, because he will dip them out
with a teaspoon if he knows what he is doing--and a very
small teaspoonful at that--to put in the grease. If you see
somebody dipping them out with a tablespoon, then you know
right away that he does not know what he is doing, because
you do not need that much when you are frying hush puppies.
If you have the right ingredients in there--just a level
teaspoonful--you drop it in hot grease, and it swells a
little bit and cooks all the way through. If you have more
than that in there, it will be brown on the outside and raw
on the middle. You need the right mixture using self-rising
meal.
P: Corn meal?
W: Yes, half corn meal and half flour. Maybe not quite half
flour if you are going to put egg in it; in that case, put
about a third flour and two-thirds self-rising corn meal.
Then put in your onion, bell pepper, and whatever seasoning
you like, like salt and pepper. I always use canned
tomatoes that we can ourselves. I use the juice out of them
for moisture.
P: How much of that do you put in?
W: Well, according to however many I am making. In other
words, I mix it until it is good and pliable, not too stiff
and not too thin. I do not want it runny, but I want it to
where you can dip it up and it will stay in the spoon. I
want it just right. I put in a good bit of bell pepper. I
chop it up real fine and put that in there, and I put all
the tomato juice out of the jar of tomato, or two jars of
tomatoes--whatever it takes. Even a lot of the times I will
just pour a whole jar of tomatoes in a blender and just beat
them up, and then I pour them in there for the liquid. So
you have a vegetable with your hush puppy; you have your
tomato, bell pepper, onion, and whatever else you want.
P: That sounds delicious.
37





W: They are delicious. If you put a gob of them in there at
one time, you will get a gob when you bring it out, but if
you will put a little delicate spoonful in there to start
with, it will come out just right.
P: Do you put garlic in it?
W: Yes, a little bit of garlic. The best thing to do on that
is to use garlic powder.
P: Right, instead of a garlic clove. You were telling me some
stories the other day. First, you were going to tell me
about coachwhip [snakes]. You said they chased you.
W: Coachwhips have been known to chase people.
P: What stories have you heard?
W: Well, a coachwhip snake will get to be a pretty good-size
snake, probably six feet long. The tail part, about two to
two and a half feet, will be a light brownish color, and
they are dark at the head. He is kind of bulky but he
really is scared of his own shadow.
When I think of the coachwhip, I think of my mother and one
time when we were breaking corn. Back then we broke it and
put it in piles, and then came along with a mule and wagon
and picked up the piles--with the ants, centipedes, and
everything--and put them in the wagon. We were always
watching for snakes, because back then we had velvet beans
or whatever in the corn. After you picked the corn, we
would turn the cattle in there, and they would get plenty of
protein from the velvet beans, the grass and fodder, and
everything. You could not pull the fodder from the corn
stalks with the velvet beans in there because the vines had
them all wrapped up.
There is a line at the fence between two forty-acre fields,
and this one coachwhip ran out there like he was going to
eat everybody up. It was kind of a sparse place there where
the grass would hardly grow, like a lot of the Gilchrist
County hills there--so poor you cannot even raise a
telephone pole in it. Anyway, that coachwhip ran out there,
and my mother grabbed a corn stalk and ran at him, and he
ran through the fence like an old bullet vine or grape vine.
We called them bullet vines; back at the house they called
them muscadine, black grapes. These are black grapes, just
like you go picking, except they are not as improved and not
big. This coachwhip ran back through the fence, back on the
other side, and she ran over and was going to jump the
fence. She was going to hit him! She jerked a corn stalk
up and pulled it out of the ground, and she ran to hit the
coach whip. She was going to jump the fence or climb the
fence or something over there, and here he came back on our
38





side.
About that time some of us kids ran at him. He was watching
us, and she was straddling the fence, and he ran straight
back under her feet, going back through the fence, because
he was trying to get away from us. He had not even seen
her, but, of course, she had seen him coming. She thought
he was after her, so she just threw the corn stalk down and
took off across the field.
Of course, I have had some fights with snakes, even rattle
snakes. I remember one time these two guys I know killed a
rattlesnake. They saw him swimming in the river and hit him
with a boat paddle. Of course, you know, naturally, you
cannot kill a snake just hitting him with a boat paddle, but
they did not know any different. So they hit him with a
boat paddle and put him in the live well, and then just kept
fishing. One of them caught a fish, and when he went to
lift the live well to put the fish in, here came the snake--
into the boat!
Well, one of them could not swim, and the other one had not
been in the Olympics, either. So that rattlesnake just took
over the boat. I mean, he was in real control of the boat;
he just could not paddle it and make it go where he wanted.
He did not know what to do with the oars, but he was the
captain. Well, both of these guys jumped out. The one that
could swim some hit the water, and the one that could not
swim finally hit the water, too. He got the lead rope out
of the boat and held on to it. But they just gave the boat
to the rattlesnake till they finally got it.
There are a lot of stories on boats. I think the tightest
place I was ever in in my days of hunting and fishing was
when I used to shoot fish with dynamite.
P: You used to dynamite?
W: Yes, I was a real bad ass. I loved to do it, just like I
love to go catch them with a hook line now. The first time
that I was ever in trouble--and I would not advise anybody
to do it--was when I slipped off from home and got me a
piece of dynamite.
P: Where did you get it?
W: I got it from my Uncle Web, who was notorious. If you do
not believe me, you interview Mr. Saul and ask him about
Uncle Web Deeheart.
P: Okay.
W: Or ask Melvin, my other uncle. Now, he would tell you some
stories about Uncle Web. He was just as bad before he
started as game warden. See, that is one reason they hired
39





him.
P: He knew how to do it.
W: Well, he was so bad the only way they could stop him--they
could not catch him; they were stopping him--was to hire
him. I mean, really, that is the truth. Those are the
facts.
P: You went down to Uncle Web's.
W: Yes, I got this dynamite and climbed a tree out over the
water.
P: Is this a stream, or is this the Suwannee?
W: No, this is the Suwannee, but it was clear back then.
Sometimes it will get clear.
P: Right.
W: I had seen him put a cap in the dynamite. He would take
half a stick of dynamite, like forty or sixty proof, put a
cap on it, and take the fuse and slide it down in the cap.
Then he would pull the fuse out a little ways. If he wanted
it to bust real fast from the time he lit it, he would slide
it down all the way to the bottom of the cap and then pull
it out a little bit. Then he would cut it off just as close
to the top of the cap as he could get it. That made the
fuse shorter, but it would still bust a cap which would bust
the dynamite. Well, I had seen him do this, so I decided
that I wanted to try it, too.
P: About how old where you?
W: I was probably twelve to fourteen, somewhere in that area.
So I climbed a tree. Of course, I knew where the fish would
be because I went with him so many times. That is another
story. I saw him get busted one time. Anyway, I lit the
dynamite, started the fuse, and threw it. There was some
moss hanging down, and I was excited and threw it right into
the moss. The momentum of the dynamite made the moss swing
out, and there was no way I could get down the tree because
it was out over the water. I knew before the dynamite
busted that I could not be two steps back going towards the
ground because it was high.
P: Were you in a live oak?
W: No, it was actually an ironwood tree. It looked like it
took forever for it to swing out. But just when it started
back to me, I said, "Well, this is it," because I knew it
was going to bust in just a second. But it turned loose and
fell out of the moss, and just before it hit the water--it
never even hit the water--BOW! Boy, water went everywhere,
40





but it was far enough away from me that I did not get hurt.
The time that I did get hurt was at one of the popular
springs around today in the Bell and Trenton area.
P: You do not want to name it. Okay.
W: Some friends of mine came by and asked me if I wanted to go
shooting dynamite with them. Of course, they knew I shot
dynamite. Now, I did not like to shoot it in the springs.
Sometimes it would help; it would blow out all the logs and
everything and disintegrate them and cause damage. But
sometimes if it was too low and deep in the spring and burst
in the bottom of the spring, it might have a tendency to
cave it in. I never knew that it would do that, but I was
always afraid of it. Anyway, these two friends of mine--
they were farmers, and they were a lot older than I was--
came by the house asked me if I would mind shooting the
dynamite. They said they knew where we could get a lot of
fish.
P: Mullet, right?
W: All kinds. This spring had a long run before it got to the
river, and the river was real low. The spring run was full
of fish: mullet, big bass, red belly, shell cracker, brim,
and everything. They said, "We will get this other guy (who
was a neighbor), and we will go down to the mouth where it
dumps into the Suwannee. We will get in there with limbs
and everything, and we will cut them and just drive all
these fish. We will come back up beating on the water,
wading and swimming." Of course, it was so low at that time
after you got up just a little ways that they did not have
to swim. They could just wade to beat on the water.
P: The water was only about to your hip?
W: Yes. So they were going to drive all these fish up into the
spring, and they said, "You go up in the spring and get in
one of those big cypress trees." Somebody had nailed boards
on them [for steps] because they had shot them there many
times before. That was the way the old-timers did it.
Richard [Franz] can tell you all about this. They had
nailed boards on the trees and climbed up to the top of them
and shot these fish out from the trees. So I said, "Okay.
Fine with me." They knew I had the dynamite, which by this
time was getting kind of hard to get. Eventually it did get
hard to get. You could not get it unless you had a reason,
like blowing out stumps and so forth.
P: Yes.
W: So I went with them. We went down there, and I went on to
the spring. I think this was on a Friday afternoon; it was
afternoon in the summertime. They walked all the way back
around to the river. They started their driving. I could
41





hear them coming--blam! blam! blam!--splashing on the water
and hollering and whatever, driving all the fish. Then here
came all the fish a long ways ahead of them. Fish were
filtering into the springs real slow. I could see some of
them. I was way up at the top of a high cypress at the
mouth of the drain where the spring boiled up and started
out. This huge cypress was there, and it had the cleats on
it that somebody had nailed so you could climb up it. I
went up higher than anybody else. People did not go up that
high to dive out of it. I sat down on a limb, and there was
another limb right up over me. I had my bait, and, of
course, I started smoking when I was about ten or eleven
years old, so I had my cigarette, my Prince Albert there
ready to light off. There there was no problem there. I
had my matches to light my cigarette with, and I lighted off
my cigarette. [You light the dynamite with a cigarette]
instead of an open flame because the open flame might
distract you some way when it started spewing.
P: You always light the dynamite with a cigarette?
W: Right, with a cigarette or cigar, because it was just
sitting there doing nothing but burning. You stick that
fuse to it, and then you could tell right away [if it had
lit]. If you had a match with an open flame, it would make
some degree of noise or something like that.
Anyway, I was sitting on the limb, and they came driving all
the fish in there. A bunch of them got in there, and I
figured that was as good as it was going to get. They were
probably about fifty to eighty feet, I would say,
downstream. The spring had filled up with fish, so I raised
up (I would not shoot them sitting down), caught this limb
up above me, and lit my dynamite and pitched it. I had to
gauge my fuse just right because I was throwing it long way,
see. I wanted it to go under the water a little ways.
P: Right.
W: As I was watching it go down, I grabbed the limb up above me
as soon as I turned it loose. I was leaning against the
trunk of the tree with my left shoulder. As soon as I
turned it loose, I put the cigarette in my mouth and reached
up to grab the limb up above me. Well, what I grabbed was a
wasp nest that big around right over my head that I had no
idea was there. I did not even know what it was until I
heard the noise. By the time I heard it, I knew what it
was--I had been around so many of them in my time--and they
were popping me all over my head, face, shoulders, and
everywhere.
Well, I could not do anything but just jump. I mean, there
was no way I could stay in that tree, not with that many
wasps all over. By that time they were all over me. [Break
in tape.] I said, "You cannot see these stings on me yet.
42





Look up here." He looked up there, and the wasps were
everywhere. Those little guinea wasps are the worst kind.
"My God," he said. "I do not see how you [got out of
there]."
P: You were lucky.
W: Oh, I was stung on my head, my shoulder, and everywhere. My
eyes swelled shut. It was just one of those things.
P: When the dynamite hits the water, does it break the fish in
parts?
W: No. Dynamite will kill the ones that are real close to it,
according to how powerful it is. It will kill some, but it
will just addle some that are a little ways away. They will
come to the top of the water. Of course, the river is fully
risen in November and December, and it is full of fish,
especially mullet. The bay is full of them, and everybody
will catch thousands of them in nets. A lot of them they
cannot use, or they cannot get them out fast enough, so they
die. Back then I would cut a little piece of dynamite about
that long off the stick.
P: About two inches.
W: About two inches off of a stick. Instead of thirds, I would
cut a fourth. I knew where to go on the river--not just one
place, but several--according to where I figured it was the
safest. I would walk along till it got just like I wanted.
I would never go up a tree. I had a burlap sack with me,
and I would just wait till I found six or eight of them, or
however many [was enough]. There might be fifty, but you
would never get that many.
You have to be careful to protect their roe. If you threw
it right on them, it would bust their roe inside of them,
and they would not be any good to eat. You have to throw
your cord forty or even sixty [feet] away from them, instead
of trying to throw right on them. You have to decide how
many you want--a dozen, half a dozen, or maybe just four or
five for your family--and just throw it away from them a
little bit. It would just addle them, and they would be
floating on top of the water. Then you would just go out
there and put them in your sack. That way the roe would not
be busted.
P: How do you fix roe?
W: Yellow roe, red roe, or white roe? I like white roe best.
That is the male.
P: The male [mullet] has roe? Oh, okay. So the female's is
red or yellow?
43





W: Yes, right. There are thousands of eggs. You have seen
mullet roe.
P: Yes.
W: The male fish has white roe. I like the white roe best. I
like it with scrambled with eggs.
P: You just take it out and leave it alone?
W: Yes, try to preserve it so the eggs do not break or separate
and everything goes all over. It is in a casing. We fix it
many ways, and it is just delicious any way you fix it, if
you fix it right. Most people like it fried in deep fat.
We always just salt and pepper and meal it, just like we do
the rest of the fish. In fact, we have roe in the freezer
now. I keep it year round. I like white roe, so I keep
plenty of that in the freezer. White roe is usually cheaper
than the regular, anyway. Times have changed, now, so we do
not dynamite fish or any of these things anymore.
P: You were telling me last time, and it is not on tape, about
how people used to travel to Suwannee in wagons, and about a
trip you made. Would you describe that for me?
W: [That is] one of the few things I remember from being a kid.
I was probably two years old, and my brother was probably
four. We had been on a camping trip down the Suwannee. We
did not live far from the river. We would load everything
into the wagon and go. We just had an old wagon with old
eight- or ten-inch sideboards. For some reason, they wanted
to stay overnight, so we did. Well, we had to go right by a
graveyard, and we came back by that graveyard with all the
kids in the wagon.
P: Horses pulling it?
W: Yes, one horse, and it had an old seat with the old buggy
springs on it. I guess maybe my older sister and mother
rode in the seat, and all the kids we were hanging over the
little old sideboard. One of my brothers was sitting by our
daddy. Well, he just fell right out, tumbled right over in
front of the front wheel. [The road was] hard dirt there, a
little bottom place where the water stood. Of course, it
was dry then. Anyway, I heard the wagon go "bump bump" when
the back wheel went over him. Boy, he started screaming.
He was hollering at first.
Well, what had happened was we were passing the graveyard,
and he wanted to look at the graveyard. He could not even
talk plain yet. He must not have been but three and a half
years, so I could not have been over year and half, because
there was two years difference in our age. "Look at the
graveyard! Look at the graveyard!" Out of that wagon he
fell. Of course, the horse and nobody else did not even
44





notice him because all the young 'uns were hollering.
Nobody thought anything about it, and he jumped up into the
back of the wagon. Here he came running screaming "Wait!
Wait!" with his mouth open wide. I remember just how he
looked. Those things were highly common. That was a way of
transportation back then. We had a car, but I guess it was
like all cars back in those days.
P: They were not real dependable?
W: No, they were not real dependable.
P: So people took an annual trek up to the town of Suwannee.
Is that where you went?
W: Oh, no, we just went down the river about two miles below
our house.
P: Near Rock Bluff?
W: Yes, we went down near Rock Bluff for a weekend or maybe
overnight. I do not even remember if it was a weekend or
overnight or what. I do remember we spent the night. It
was common for people in those days to get in a mule and
wagon or horse and wagon and go to Cedar Key or wherever
they wanted to go. I would say that in Gilchrist County at
that time probably 5 percent of the people had automobiles
in the early 1930s. Automobiles was very undependable then,
so they still depended on their mule and wagon or horse and
wagon or carriage or whatever. Now, when they really wanted
to go sporting, like go to Bell to the store to buy
groceries and carry their eggs and whatever on a Saturday
afternoon, then, of course, they would use the car. But
other times they would use the horse and wagon.
P: Going back to the mullet, after you got home, did you salt
it to keep it all year?
W: Yes, we put it in salt barrels and kept it all year. Salt
mullet was good, and it is still good to this day. I still
like salt mullet.
P: Did you soak it overnight before you cooked it, after it had
been salted?
W: Yes, right. It was soaked it overnight or at least three or
four hours, mainly to get the salt out. You have to change
the water regularly, too. You might say it was cooked
before you ever put it in the fry pan, because the salt
cooked it. But you would go through the process of frying
it. Salt meat, salt bacon, salt cabbage, salt mullet, it is
the same thing, the same procedure.
P: Is that what you would eat together?
45





W: Yes. I remember one time we went all the way to Gulf
Hammock. Do you know where Gulf Hammock is?
P: Yes, I do. How long did that take you?
W: That was about a three-day trip. We stayed there a week.
We camped, put our tent out, and everything. And the birds!
The first night we were not used to the birds. Now, this is
what my uncle told me, and I am pretty sure he would not
tell me anything that was wrong. He passed away about a
year ago. Anyway, I heard some terrible commotion after we
laid down at night. We did not have sleeping bags, but we
had heavy comforters. This was in fall of the year. I
asked him what that was, and he said it was a bird pulling
the tops out of the palmettos, like the cabbage palm that
they make palm salad and whatever else to eat. He said it
was those birds would get up there and jerk the bread out
and eat it. It was kind of scary, lying there with the
birds are all around making this racket. Well, they were
not all around, but maybe you would hear one over in the
east, and one in the west, and one in the south, and all I
could do was listen. My God, I thought. Maybe he is not
going to get enough of that. Maybe he wants a little meat
to go with his cabbage.
P: Little Billy Wilkerson! [laughter]
W: That was one of the unique experiences that I remember of my
childhood.
P: What kind of food did you eat or did you carry with you?
W: We carried white salt bacon. Actually, salt bacon, flour,
and meal were probably the only things we carried.
P: Did you catch squirrel or go hunting?
W: Oh, yes. Our trip was to catch mullet or salt water fish of
any kind at the creeks. We went in one of the creeks over
there.
P: The little salt marsh creeks.
W: Salt marsh creeks. I do not know [if we did it every time],
but I know every other time we would put a net across the
creek when the tide was up, and when the fish started out
with the tide they would run into it, and it would catch
them by the gills. The old people would hunt in the
daytime, so there was no scarcity of food. We kept cabbage
palm, and, of course, that was good and still is. If you
want to eat any better than that, why, there has to be
something wrong with your brain.
[Begin new interview session.] So anyway, I was standing by
the creek. It was about a hundred or a hundred fifty yards
46





down. I walked down there with my coffee (it was just this
past spring a year ago), and I heard this "shhheew." I
thought what in the world is that? You could not tell where
it was coming from, because it is really hard to determine
where a sound like that is coming from. I kept looking. I
had heard it a couple of times. Now, it turned out to be a
turtle laying eggs.
P: Each time she blew?
W: Each time she blew she had just gotten through laying an
egg, and there were two of them that had come out probably a
second apart, falling directly into this little hole she had
made.
P: Can you tell me the diameter?
W: The diameter of the hole was probably two inches or an inch
and three-quarters, and the egg probably was an inch. It
did not touch the side; she was so precise with this. She
was standing when it came out of her. In other words, it
was like an inch and half before it got even level with the
ground. You could clearly see the egg falling. They went
down this hole about four inches under the ground. That
hole turned and went off to the side. So I stood there and
watched her in more or less in disbelief. It was soft sand
right on the shoulder of the creek, right up where the creek
bank started leveling out. That turtle was huge.
P: What kind of turtle was it?
W: An alligator turtle with the ridges on her back and the kind
of wart-like things from the head up there.
P: How big was she?
W: She had a big head. It was probably about thirty to thirty-
six inches long and about twenty-four inches wide. I mean,
we cut steaks off the head that you would not believe.
Anyway, Ruth [my wife] came down to the creek, and I had
maneuvered over right close to this turtle--she was just
across the fence from me. I was trying to be quiet, because
I knew she was going to hear. She could not help it! She
did not see the turtle, and I moved her around to where she
got right back up to where the turtle was, just over the
fence from her. The old turtle started "shhheew" when she
laid those eggs. I said, "What is that? What is that
noise? What do you reckon that is?" "I do not know what it
is," she said. She looked around and saw that turtle right
there at her heels, and, boy, she came out of there. She
said, "What in the world is that?" I said, "That is a big
alligator turtle. She is laying her eggs. Let's just stay
and watch it." She laid some more eggs, and, of course, my
wife settled back down.
47





P: So the turtle would go down flat on her underside after she
laid them?
W: Right. After she laid them, she would just sit right down
on the ground.
P: And how long did she rest?
W: She would rest probably about two minutes, maybe three.
Sometimes she would rest four minutes, but never more than
four; usually about two or three minutes. And then she
would just gradually rise up again. She would just
gradually come up till she reached full height, legs
stretched out and on her toes. She looked like she was
straining, and then "chung, chung"--two eggs would come, and
then "shhheew," like boy, that was really a relief. Then
she would sit down on the ground again.
Finally she was through; she just quit. We had watched her
lay probably twenty or twenty-five eggs. I do not know how
many more she had laid before we got there, but I am sure we
saw her lay around eighteen or twenty-two, maybe twenty-
five.
When she got through, I told Ruth, "Well, now she is through
laying eggs. All we have to do is cover those eggs up, and
we have ourselves a big, fat turtle here with about forty
pounds of meat." It was delicious. I kind of hated to kill
the old turtle that way, because you know she had labored so
hard laying those eggs, but I knew she was like anything
else in laying season. Whenever an animal has little ones
or when they lay or anything like that, I knew she was
probably at her peak as far as being fat and good meat.
P: Is that the best time to get meat, generally, when it is
laying season?
W: It is like a mullet. Have you ever seen a mullet with roe
in it? That is when they are the fattest that they ever
are. It is nature's way of providing for them, to take care
of their young and everything. They get round and fat, and
then they will have their little ones or lay their eggs.
Just like a brim, a shell cracker, or a perch, they are
always at their very fattest when they lay.
P: And that is the best time to eat them.
W: That is the best time to eat them, when they are fat. They
are juicy, good, and delicious.
P: You are making me hungry for recipes.
W: So I climbed over the fence and got this big old turtle. I
thought she was through laying, and she was; she did not
48





have one egg left in her. I finally picked her up--she was
heavy--and got her over the fence.
P: Did she struggle?
W: Oh, yes, she struggled some, but not much. I put a two-by-
four in her mouth. She was snapping at me, and she bit a
chunk out of that two-by-four. You know how thick a two-by-
four is. I just stuck it in her mouth. I got her up here,
drove the truck down there, and loaded her into the back of
the truck. I thought I was going to have to get the tractor
with a boon and hoist down there, but I did not. I mean,
she was that heavy. She was big, over a hundred pounds, and
she was struggling, too, which, of course, made it worse. I
sure did not want her to bite me. I tried to keep her head
away from me and all that.
P: How long was her neck? Pretty long?
W: Well, they are not long like a softshell, but they are long
enough that she could reach around bite you.
P: If you are not careful.
W: Yes. If she slipped out of your hand and dropped on your
foot, chheew! Anyway, I got her in the back of the truck
and brought her here. I shot her with a rifle, and we
butchered that turtle. I do not know how many pounds of
meat we got, but it was [a lot]. It was just like
softshell; you could not tell the difference.
P: It was good meat.
W: Delicious. Just use salt, pepper, and flour, and fry it.
It is just tender. It is like a softshell. There are
several different types of meats--white meat and dark meat.
P: So they have white meat and dark meat.
W: Yes.
P: And you salt and pepper it and flour it?
W: Yes, and fry it just like a country-fried steak or like
fried chicken.
P: You just eat the legs, or do you eat more than that?
W: No.
P: It is not like a gopher where you generally eat just the
legs?
W: No. It does not have a backbone, either. It grows right to
the shell, just like a gopher [tortoise]. It is built just
49





like one, except it is so much bigger and meatier. You cut
the meat from their shoulders, muscles, hands, and head. As
I said, we cut several steaks from the head alone. I am
talking about steaks an inch thick, just off the top part of
the head, because the head was so big like that. They are
the ones that have this little thing like a worm in their
mouth. They sit there with their mouth open, and the fish
thinks it is a worm and comes in.
P: [Begin new interview session.] This is Cathy Puckett
interviewing Billy Wilkerson again at his home in Gilchrist
County. The date is August 14, 1982. Billy, I would like
to talk about the fish traps.
W: First of all, the size would probably be beneficial. A
catfish trap is about twenty inches in diameter and about
five feet long. [You can make them] various lengths. Of
course, all the old-timers built them, but you can buy them
now in some of the seed and fertilizer [stores]. We used to
bait them with corn. We would soak break corn out of the
field in water for three days or something like that, until
it soured. Then we put it in the basket.
P: How did you keep it from floating out? Did you put it in a
container?
W: No, just put it in there. It will not come out.
P: Oh, you mean the whole ear?
W: Yes, put the whole ear in there.
P: Okay.
W: Just drop the whole ear in there. They will eat that corn
off the cob.
P: What kind of fish go after the corn?
W: Catfish, and pan fish, perch, shell crackers, brim, and
whatever. You put that right against the bank. Lay it
close to the bank, up under the trees in a likely spot.
P: Not that deep?
W: Not very deep. If the river is rising, you put it close to
the edge. If the river is falling, you put it farther out
because the fish will come to the bank more so than when the
river is rising. You put an anchor on, say, a twenty-foot
line, or longer if you want it, on one end of the basket,
and on the other you always have your muzzle. That muzzle
is always pointed downstream because the fish feed upstream
always. Of course, use a double muzzle in a catfish or a
perch trap. Let them swim upstream, and they swim into it.
A double muzzle on a cat trap is to keep them from getting
50





out once they get in. They hardly ever get out if they go
in through two muzzles.
P: Where do you put it for catfish? In rocky areas?
W: Everybody does it differently. If you cut open a catfish,
there will usually be a crawfish in him. A crawfish, of
course, hangs around the rocky places, so I like to fish for
them around rocky places.
P: How many can you get in one trap, if you are lucky?
W: Well, if you are lucky you can get a hundred or more. It is
according to how many it will hold.
P: How about brim and shell crackers? Do you bait that trap?
W: No, you just put it out there and hope. I mean, just keep
your fingers crossed. It used to be very common to catch a
bunch of perch, but nowadays there just are not that many.
P: [Begin new interview session. Ed.] This is Cathy Puckett
continuing an interview with Billy Wilkerson. The date is
August 17, 1982, and we are at his home in Gilchrist County,
Florida.
W: What do you want to go over to start with?
P: How about we go over some of the things you just told me.
W: About the catfish?
P: Yes, about the catfish, but first of all the people. I want
to get that name down.
W: Oh, flat-wood hoosiers.
P: Flat-wood hoosiers. What are they?
W: Well, see, we were in the Cow Creek area of Gilchrist
County. That is a creek that goes into the Santa Fe River
about five miles above where the Santa Fe goes into the
Suwannee. It goes through a flat, wooded region that is
owned by a lot of paper companies now, and I guess probably
when I was growing up. I was growing up in the sand hill
area, which is full of blackjacks and post oaks.
P: Is that where you got you taste for gopher tortoises?
W: Right. Near the Suwannee River people lived in the flat
woods; they were flat-wood hoosiers. We would say, "Do you
want to go visit so-and-so? They live in flat woods, right?
They are flat-wood hoosiers." I mean, there were people
there who never farmed or owned land as such; most of them
never homesteaded. They would just come out and build a
51





little shack or some such on a piece of land anywhere that
was dry, and they made their living catching fish in the
creek or the river and catching wild hog or anything for
game.
On Friday or Saturday afternoon you would see them going
into town with a load of posts that they had cut with an ax
or a crosscut saw. Of course, none of them had chain saws
or power saws back then. In fact, I remember the tale where
one of them went to a saw shop to buy a saw, or to trade in
his old crosscut on a new one. The power saws--chain saws--
had just come out, so they tried to sell him this chain saw.
Of course, it ran on a gasoline engine. He told them that
it did not look to him that it would do the job that the
other would do. He could not cut as many posts with it.
Well, they said, "This will cut ten times as many as you can
cut with a crosscut, and more." There was some discussion
about it, and finally they talked him into taking the power
saw with him. He kept it a week, and then he brought it
back in on the next weekend. He told them at the saw shop,
"There is no way that you can saw with this saw. I have
tried it every way in the world. I can saw just little bit
more with than I could with the crosscut," he said, "but I
have to work a lot harder." They said, "Something is
terribly wrong with that. Let's take it out back and try
it." They had logs, stumps, and everything outside the saw
shop to try them out on, so he took it out there and pulled
the crank rope and cranked it up. He said, "Now, what a
minute. What is that noise I hear?"
P: Oh, that is great.
W: So I guess that is the way they got their name flat-wood
hoosiers. It was not that they were not good people. They
were all good people. It was just that they made their
living differently from the rest of the world. Most of them
never sent their kids to school or anything like that.
Maybe [they went] to the first and second grade or so, but
that was it. If they came out knowing their name when they
saw it written down, it was pretty good.
P: Now,, you were just telling me a story about your
grandmother. Can you repeat that story?
W: Well, this is something that was brought down as a legend, I
guess, or something like that.
P: It is just a story.
W: This was back in the late 1920s or early 1930s in Bell,
Florida. Some men were fighting, and they were cutting each
other.
P: And you call that framming?
52





W: Yes, they were framming each other around. Anyway, the
story is that this lady's husband was doing the cutting on
some guy. He had him down and was cutting him with a pocket
knife. Back then that was one of their main weapons, a
pocket knife. Guns and things like that were not that
frequent. All you had to do with a pocket knife was sharpen
it once you dulled it. She told him to just go ahead and
cut his liver out while he was cutting him, that she wanted
to fry a piece of it for supper. That is pretty raw right
there. There were a lot of folk tales.
I know a boy who is probably my age--he and I have discussed
this before--whose uncle was Harley Conner. He killed the
high sheriff of Gilchrist County a few years back. He shot
him, was convicted, and I am pretty sure electrocuted for
it. This has not been all that long ago. They were having
a family argument, and some of them called the law. The
high sheriff come out, and he and Harley were good friends.
I think that Mr. Conner just did not know who the sheriff
was when he came up, because he shot him with a shot gun. I
think he shot him once or twice before he [the sheriff] got
back to his car. He drove down the road just a little ways,
and they found him dead. The people in Gilchrist have not
always been tame people, nor have they always been violent.
They have just been people that did what they had to do to
survive.
P: Did you ever hear your mom talking about the law when she
was young, and what kind of law they had?
W: Well, yes. I have heard a lot of tales concerning people
who were killed on the river. That was one of the first
stops for the old river boats where they put off supplies
that they would bring to the settlers in this area. I have
heard them talk of people that were killed there. I have
heard them talking of one confrontation between Mr. Walker
and a Mr. Gall. They say that Mr. Walker was a real mean
man and that he beat people who worked for him. He would
beat them, stomp them, and whatever. He would beat anybody.
P: White people?
W: Oh, yes. I do not think he had anybody black that worked
for him. [If he did, he] probably killed all them before
they got to the field--whipped them or whatever. I do not
know that for sure. I do know that white people is what he
had around him. He would get on to them and beat them
terribly.
He went to town on a Saturday afternoon, and this little
fellow named Gall that lived in Branford was there. This
was back in the 1920s or early 1930s. For some reason,
Walker did not like the way Gall sat on one of the lazy
benches. He parked his old truck, which was an old Model T,
got out of the truck, went over to him and just beat him,
53





stomped him, and everything real bad. All the law was
afraid of him. There was nobody that would have anything to
do with him. Well, the fellow Gall told him he would see
him when he came back into town the next time.
Sure enough, when he come back into town the next time--it
was a week later, on Saturday afternoon, when everybody
usually went to town--Gall was sitting on the lazy bench
awaiting Walker. He said he was still not over the beating
that he gave him the week before. But this time when Walker
got out of the truck and walked around it, Gall started
shooting him with a .38. Of course, Gall was right close to
him, and the first bullet hit him. He shot him again, and
the next one hit him. Then Walker started running around
the truck to get away from him, and Gall went right in
behind him and kept shooting. I think Walker finally got
back to the truck where his gun was on the seat or in the
truck somewhere. He got his gun, but before he could even
turn around with it, he dropped dead. Gall had killed him.
And they never arrested Gall or anything. They were just
glad that he did the deed for them.
P: So people took the law into their own hands a lot more then?
W: Yes. I believe that was fairly common, especially around
here. After they cut Alachua County in two and made
Gilchrist out of it, then Gilchrist and Lafayette have never
developed as fast as Alachua, Columbia, Suwannee, and some
of the other counties. I do not mean that the people are
way behind times or anything. One can decide that for
themselves.
P: Yes. It is just different.
W: But it is just that they never progressed. The people never
progressed like they did in Alachua and some of the other
counties, like Columbia and Suwannee. My own personal
opinion is that the people who left Gilchrist when they were
young and then came back into the county after twenty or so
years had more knowledge. I believe they had more knowledge
of the surrounding country and even rural areas than the
people that stayed Gilchrist. I was talking to some guy the
other day, and I asked him, "How about us going up to the
mountains and staying for three or four days? You, your
wife, and your son can ride up with us." Well, he said, "I
have never been out of Gilchrist County. I do not know what
to look at or what." That does not mean that the guy is bad
or good. It is just that he does not know.
P: He does not have a comparison.
W: He does not read much. TV has grown popular, and I think
that has educated people more than anything else. I do not
mean children--I mean adults. And I am sure that this
county is not the only one. I can probably name several
54





counties in the state of Florida, and a lot of other states
in the Union, where TV has probably played a big part in
educating them.
P: I agree.
W: I think the educational channel is the best thing that has
ever happened. If they put it back on commercial TV, like
they are trying to do, then it is going (to be wasted].
There is nothing to look at on commercial TV anymore. It is
like everything else. If you really want to see TV, you can
do one of the two things. You can turn it on to a
commercial station, or you can go to a black community on a
Saturday night and see TV as it is, because that is all you
see. I do not mean that this is good or bad, either, but
they are filming the way black people act, and they are even
adding to them. If I was a black person, I would raise hell
about that, because it is not doing them any good. They are
getting their color exposed, but it is not doing them any
good. [It is only making] them look like fools and idiots.
So except for educational TV, like channel five [WUFT,
Gainesville] and seven [WJCT, Jacksonville] we get here,
that is all we get.
P: Have you heard other stories or legends about the Suwannee
River or about this area? About ghosts stories or charms?
Do you know any charms, like how to make someone love you or
something like that?
W: Or dislove you or break their arm or something like that?
No. I do not believe in ghosts.
P: I know, but have you heard any haunt stories, even if you
did not believe in them?
W: No. We scared some people real bad one night.
P: How did you do that?
W: This was when there were very few people living in the area.
There were some ladies who lived here whose husbands were in
the service. This was when they started inducting people in
the service back in the 1940s. They lived by themselves,
and two of my brothers and I went up [to their houses] and
eased their door open one night about midnight. We had
carried some huge rocks up to the door, and we started
rolling those huge rocks around and throwing some smaller
ones in the house. Well, the only way they could get out
was the back door. I do not know if you know what a red top
sandspur is or not, but it grows about this high and has a
string of spurs on it about three inches on top. If you
look out across them, there are just sandspurs everywhere.
It is not the little flat sandspurs.
P: Yes. The tall ones.
55





W: Right. Of course, they had these cotton gowns on that they
slept in, as ladies did back then, and they just went right
through the back door into that field of those sandspurs--
and there were forty acres of them they had to go through
before they got to my mother's house, which was where we
come from. We took off back to the house, and we beat them
because we could go down the road and they had to go through
sandspurs. You can imagine how those cotton gowns caught
those sandspurs.
P: Oh, no.
W: We were already in the bed when they got there. They woke
my mother up and wanted to know if they could sleep there
because there were ghosts in their house and a lot of other
reasons. Well, she found out about it, and by the next day
we wished that we had not done it.
P: Did you get a whipping?
W: Oh, yes, bad. But I think most ghost stories are like that.
I think ghost stories are just stories.
P: Okay. Well, let's get back to fishing again. Today you
named some catfish.
W: Oh, street walkers. No, channel cats, of course, are by far
the best to eat. Anybody who knows anything about eating
catfish will tell you that. In fact, most people will tell
you that nothing compares to a channel cat, as far as an
edible fish.
P: Even compared to other kinds of fish, too?
W: Well, yes, but I take issue with that, because I think the
red belly is as equally as good as a small channel. What I
mean by a smaller channel is anything three pounds down. A
lot of people just want a fingerling, but I do not
particularly like the fingerling catfish. I like them big
enough to fillet, to take the fillets off of them. I think
they are at their peak then. They are still juicy and
tender and flaky, if you know how to cook them. There is a
lot more meat. However, a red breast, a red belly, a shell
cracker, a brim, or a blue gill is as good if you know how
to cook them. Now, when they get real big, then they get
coarse.
P: Are red breast and red belly the same thing?
W: They are the same fish.
P: Okay. I like red breast. How big is too big?
W: Once they get over three-eighths of a pound, then they are
56





big and start getting coarse. On up toward a half pound or
anything like that it is coarse and not as juicy as one that
is only a quarter pound or three-sixteenths, or something
like that. Now, that is a good size. I am talking about
how much he weighs when he is caught out of the water. That
is the better fish.
Now, the channel cat is a unique catfish. He does not act
like a polliwog, a street walker, a speckle cat, or a butter
cat. He lives in the channel of the river. You do not
catch him using rotten bait or anything like that. You can
catch him on shrimp, and they have to be fresh shrimp,
usually. In other words, he strikes his bait just like a
bass.
P: Do you fish for them at night or day? Can you tell me how
you fish?
W: Well, usually you have better luck at night or on a real
cloudy day, because they are like all catfish, I suppose:
they are a night creature. In other words, you see more of
them out at night. If you were gigging in the river with a
headlight, then you would see a catfish at nighttime, but
hardly ever do you see one in the daytime. If you are up a
tree looking for mullet, for example, back when a lot of
people shot them with dynamite, you hardly ever saw a
catfish. Sometimes I have seen them school in the daytime,
but that is another story. But they are really a night
creature.
One of the best things [to catch them with], if you can get
them, is crawfish out of the river. Shrimp is good bait,
too. Chicken liver is good if you fish for them with a hook
and line. A channel cat is not quite like a speckle cat, a
butter cat, a blue cat, or a boothead (some people call them
blue and boothead, but they are about the same fish).
P: Or a yellow cat.
W: Well, the yellow cat and the butter cat are about the same
thing. A boothead and blue cat are about the same thing. A
street walker and a speckle cat are about the same thing,
except for the speckle government cat. Now, the speckle
government cat is different. He his just like the channel.
He eats just like a channel, and he looks like one except he
is gray speckled.
P: Does he taste like one?
W: He tastes like one. The government developed them some way
and put them in some lakes. When the river got real high
back in 1948, it overflowed, and some of the fish got into
the Suwannee River. But you never see them anymore. I have
not caught one in a long time. Maybe about ten or twelve
years ago when the river was real high I caught a few, and I
57





caught some nice ones.
They eat just like [a channel cat]. Their head is pointed
and their tail is forked, just like the channel fish. A
blue channel is recognized, among people who know good
edible fish, as being one of the best in the nation. What
the difference is, of course, is the texture of the meat.
The texture of a speckle cat is tough. When you fry him,
you can hardly get him off the bone. He just clings to it,
and he is kind of mealy. Now, they are extremely good for
chowder if you want to make catfish chowder.
P: Do you know how to make that?
W: Yes. I make the best there is, I think.
P: I have to get that recipe. I have been looking everywhere
for one.
W: The way you do that is you take your bell pepper, onion, a
little garlic--there again, I do not measure anything;
common sense will tell you how much to put of each one--and
Everglades Seasoning, and put that in bacon grease. You
saute the onions and bell pepper, and just leave them. Then
put the catfish in a little bit of water and put a lid on
them in a pot. Cook them till they are done, as many heads
as you can get in there.
P: Is it just head?
W: If it is just the head, that is fine. If you want it a
little more meaty, then [use more meat]. If you catch a
mixed string, you might want to put the speckle cats in the
chowder, and you would probably want to fry your channel.
Cook them in boiling water--a little bit of water, not much
--with the heads. Then pick all the bones out if you want
to, leaving just the meat. Then dump your bell pepper,
onion, celery, little bit of garlic, and whatever else in,
and bring it back to a boil. Then add milk to taste and add
some butter. There you have some of the best catfish
chowder in the world.
Now, if I want it thicker, if I am using an average size
pot, say a two- to three-quart pot, I put two big stalks of
celery, one whole bell pepper (if it is a huge one; if it is
not very large, I put in two), and about three cloves of
garlic and one large onion in it. Then I will put some
Everglades Seasoning in, or just salt and black pepper. If
I have one jalapeno pepper, I will that in it. I saute for
two minutes or a little more. When you put that in, it
thickens it quite a bit. If you want it thicker, then dice
up some Irish [red] potatoes, real small, maybe a quarter
inch or even smaller if you can, and put them in there.
Then add the milk and butter. It really is a nice dish.
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P: Now, do you boil the fish before you put it in the chowder?
W: Right.
P: So you have two different pans--one going with the
vegetables things, and one going with fish.
W: Right.
P: Do you take the eyes and stuff out of the fish before you
boil them?
W: Yes, I always do. I always take the eyes out regardless.
If I am cleaning a fish, I skin his head, too. A good
friend of mine once caught a channel cat that weighed
twenty-seven pounds, and he gave me the head. He knew I
liked to make chowder with them, so he gave me the head off
of him. He went ahead and skinned it and froze it. Then he
called and told me that he had it for me, so I went over and
got it. Well, I made a big pot of chowder just out of the
one catfish he gave to me.
P: How did you fix swamp cabbage? Boil it?
W: Yes. You just trim away all the old boot, as you called it.
Go down to the tender part, to where you can break it with
your thumb and finger. Then you have gotten into the good
cabbage, the part that is not bitter. You just keep
trimming it to where you cannot break it. You just throw
that away, and then go on down and get another shuck off of
it. If you follow this procedure, you will not have any
bitter cabbage. Now, there are so many ways of fixing swamp
cabbage, we could talk about that all afternoon. If have a
ham hock, that is one of the best seasonings that you can
put in, that or lima beans.
P: My mom [did that], too.
W: Put them in your water and boil them for about forty-five
minutes or an hour, till they are tender. Then slice the
cabbage and put it in slice down like big Irish potatoes or
something like that. Put salt and a little bit of black
pepper to please you. Put enough water in it so that it
just covers the cabbage, but do not cover it unless you like
a lot of juice in it. It does not hurt them. Then put a
lid on the pot.
Some people say it is better in an iron fryer, but I
disagree with that. I think the thicker the pot that you
cook them in the better. I think it can be stainless steel,
aluminum, or whatever, and your cabbage will not turn. If
you cook it in an iron pot, it will turn a little darker.
That will not detract from the taste, but it might make a
little indentation on your brain that makes it not quite as
good. Put them in whatever you want to cook them in, but
59





the thicker the pot the better. Put a lid on, and do not
ever stir them. Cook them till they are flaky and tender.
A lot of people stir them and stir them, and they will be
like mush when they come out. Well, but I do not like that.
I mean, I will eat them, but I do not like them that way.
People do that at cookouts and everything. The best way
that I like swamp cabbage is with oysters.
P: Oh, I have never heard of that.
W: Prepare your swamp cabbage the same way, except put in a
little bit of bacon grease. Salt and pepper to your taste,
put the lid on, and cook them till they are flaky and done.
Then put the oysters in--raw oysters. If you want to make a
gallon of swamp cabbage, put in about two quarts of raw
oysters right out of the shell, not washed or anything.
Dump them in there and then stir them one time, put the lid
back on them, bring them to a boil, and turn your fire out.
Then everything in that pot will taste like oysters. The
oyster taste will go through all your swamp cabbage. Swamp
cabbage has a soft texture, anyway, and the flavor will go
right through.
P: Did you eat it that way when you were young?
W: Yes.
P: So you went collecting oysters often?
W: Yes. Anytime there was a month with an R in it, like
September or October, we went to the coast and caught fish
and gathered oysters.
P: But when you were little, you would pretty much have to eat
oysters right there because they would go bad, right?
W: Yes, unless you cooked them and then brought them back
cooked or something like that. You could do that.
P: Did salt them to keep them while you were there?
W: No, we would never salt them, but we would cook them--fry
them or something. You could do that in nothing flat. Then
you could get some block ice to put on them to bring them
back. If you wanted to keep them two or three days, you
could get block ice. As long as you could afford the ice,
you could afford the oysters.
P: Yes. The other day you were saying something was the sign
of good luck in fishing. My dad used to say a dragon fly's
landing on the pole was a good sign.
W: Well, I have heard quite a few things. But all I remember
along that line is if you started fishing and got your
fishing pole out and somebody stepped across it or walked
60





across it, that was supposed to be bad luck. Oh, my God!
If anybody stepped across your fishing pool before you
started fishing, even at the house, [that was bad]. Oh, no.
When you were getting the pole out, nobody stepped across
that pole. That was just like signing your death warrant,
just about. I mean, you just did not do that. That was
really bad.
P: That is what I am asking you about. I know you probably do
not believe in those, but I am curious to about hearing
them.
W: I do not remember that many of them, Cathy, because things
that I did not believe or that did not amuse me a lot [I
just do not remember].
P: You just threw them out.
W: Yes, I just let them go.
P: Okay. How about times when it is good to fish? Do you fish
when the river is rising, or is it better when it is lower?
Is a full moon better than a waning moon?
W: Well, I have two brothers who would tell you that there is a
major and a minor feed time for the fish. They keep up with
it. They say, "This is a major time, and this is a minor
feed time." But it is a proven fact, scientifically, that
they are wrong. In most cases, if you put the kind of bait
that the fish wants out there in front of him anytime, he
will keep feeding on and on. A fish does not know when the
moon is full. There is a limit to anything, of course. We
all know that. But I do think that sundown in the evening,
the daybreak in the morning, or a moonlit night are the best
times to fish. These are proven facts. There was one time,
however, when I went right at noontime when the sun was
straight up--the sun was beating down so hot I could not
stand it--and caught more fish than I did at any other time.
But to say that one time is better than another, I would not
dare say it. I do think that moonlit nights are terrific.
P: Okay. The other day you were telling me about fish nesting
and people boating, and what it is that really destroys the
fish.
W: I think that what really destroys the fish is boating in the
rivers. It is terrible in the rivers, especially in the
small rivers. I do not think there should be allowed
anything over a ten-horse motor. To begin with, if I owned
a boat with a 100, 150, or 200 horsepower motor, I would not
take it to one of the rivers around here. I mean, I just
would not do that. A lake like Ocean Pond or [the river]
out from Lake City toward Jacksonville or something larger
than that is fine, I think, but I would not launch a big
boat on this river. Now, if only one person were going up
61





the river and he would be gone and would never come back
and there would never be anymore of them, that would be
different. But nowadays everybody has them. I mean,
honestly, you cannot even look around without one of them
coming by going the other way. By the time a wave gets
through coming this way, it is already going the other way.
All the sediment--mud, rock, sand, and everything--piles up
on the edge and covers the sand. I am sure that people know
what I am talking about. All they have to do is go down
there and spend one weekend on the Santa Fe or the Suwannee
rivers, anywhere on them, or even just one day on a Saturday
or Sunday in the summertime, and they will know what I am
talking about. Look at the edge of the water: it is muddy.
It will start from the time they start with the boats [and
continue] right on.
I noticed it today. There is mud everywhere at the edge of
the river. That is the way it is everyday. In other words,
that mud is all the way out down in the river. I am pretty
sure that you never [saw it], but the river used to come up
high every year and go back down, and it would leave holes
in the swamp full of water. It would go back down in the
sloughs, and some of these holes would be thirty yards in
diameter.
P: Like a cypress pond or something.
W: Yes, some of them would be bigger than that. You could go
in there with two or three people and just walk around. You
could turn the mud up, and all at once all the fish came to
the top of the water, and you could catch them. The big
fish would come up like they were swimming. They did not
know where they were going, but their fins would be out of
the water. You could catch them like that and go up on the
bank with them. If you were close enough to the bank, you
would just throw them up and then reach back and get another
one. That is how the river is now along the edges, twenty
to forty feet out from them. In fact, later on in the day,
the Santa Fe, as small as that river is, will be that way
right out in the middle of it. I mean, mud will keep
pouring out of the bank.
P: Like you were standing in there and stirring up all the
water?
W: Right, boiling mud up. When it hits the bank, those waves
are constantly popping the bank like that. It is washing
that mud right out on both banks. It has gotten to where a
fish cannot breathe. They have to have the clear water to
breathe in, and the mud keeps them from breathing because it
hangs up on the gills in some way. They have to get out to
the deep water, to the deepest holes in the river.
Now, as far as the boats tearing up the bottom of the river,
if there were just the normal amount of boats, I do not
62





think that would have any bearing whatsoever. When you get
under the wave you cannot feel it; there is no turbulence or
anything under the wave. Now, there probably are some
vibrations from the bottom. If you had sonar to detect it,
there is no doubt you would have vibrations at a thirty-foot
depth or a forty-foot depth, but nothing to kick mud up.
The edge is where it comes from, wherever that wave can get
it. At four feet deep, or three or two, or even six inches,
it just constantly keeps washing that mud back in. That,
connected with the people who live on the river, who have
bought lots and homes and went and cleaned them up, [is the
biggest part of the problem].
P: You were telling me about that. Can you tell that story
again?
W: Well, what gets me is people living in Jacksonville,
Gainesville, Lake City, Live Oak, and other towns around
here. They come to the river and buy a river home. They
just want to get out of town and have nothing to do with the
city. They want a place where they can get out on weekends
and just live with nature. The first thing they do when
they get their lot on the river is clean every brush, every
blade of grass or weed. Everything that has anything to do
with nature, they destroy it. They clean all the
underbrush, leaving a few big trees, trying their best to
fix their lot just like the one in town, or so it can look
prettier than the one next door. They plant grass and
everything.
P: They rake out the grass, too.
W: Sure, they rake out the grass, too, and they pull out all
the weeds out of the river, all the brush, and all the dead
brush where the little fish can hide and hibernate and keep
themselves out of the way of the big fish. The big fish can
then come get them because they do not have anywhere to
hide, especially when there is a boat coming along. Oh,
there might be a little grass left alone that they missed by
some hook in the crook. The little fish would go under
that, but when a boat comes along, it will muddy the water
till the little fish cannot even hide under that, so they
have to get out in the middle to breathe then. They have to
get right out in the big fish's territory where they can
catch them. All you have to do is put a little bit of
thought to it, and it is so simple. Go down there and watch
the garfish feed.
P: Can you tell me how garfish feed?
W: Yes, I can sure tell you how they feed. I wish you would
come over some day and go down there. Take a pole and line
and sit there. You can hear them in these tree tops.
P: You can hear them?
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W: Oh, God, yes.
P: In the bonnets, in the tree tops?
W: Yes, they are slapping them and everything. They get in
there, and it sounds like three completely wild people in
those bonnets--I am not exaggerating. A tree top it is
called a bonnet by a lot of old men.
P: Okay. Now I see.
W: So you have a twenty-by-twenty-foot bonnet area where they
are banked up against these trees. Hiding among the roots
of those are some crawfish and little shrimp. So your
little fish are staying up under there to eat them. Now,
what happens is the bigger fish come in there trying to
catch the little ones, and then the garfish come in there
trying to catch those bigger fish. So the way they have
learned to feed is several of the garfish will stay around
those bonnet patches. The reason I know this is because I
have watched them in the river when it was clear.
P: Right.
W: You can climb a tree and watch. They will stay around those
bonnet patches, and there will be two or three of them that
will go in to the bonnet patches. They will get in there
and they will just slam! slam! slam! The water is splashing
and the bonnets are splashing. They beat their tails bam!
bam! bam! like that and stir the little fish out. Then when
the little fish run out, well, these fish that are laying
dormant out there--they can lay in pretty swift current and
never look like he is moving a fin--why, he is going to take
care of them just like that. That is the way the garfish
feeds. When the gators got killed off, now, they are not
around to eat the garfish and the mud fish. That leaves the
next biggest species, which is the garfish, to be the
dominate feeding creature.
P: And you do not have the little fish like you used to.
W: Right. The gator was the dominate creature. He is the
boss, and he does not eat little fish. They might just eat
a few, but very few. That is how we lost the balance of
nature.
P: Let me ask you something else. You were talking about the
river rising every year. Does it still do that, where you
get these little ponds and deep holes?
W: It does, but you do not get the fish. As a usual thing,
when the snow melts in the North in the spring of the year,
that is when the big river rises down here. I think it all
comes from the North; it comes underground and boils up in
64





these rivers down here. That is how we get our high rivers.
There will not be any rain to speak of, but the rivers will
still be high. Of course, if you just go along and look,
you can see that there is a tremendous boil in the bottom of
the Suwannee and Santa Fe and other rivers. It cannot be
coming from anywhere but the northern part of the country.
Look at the Ichetucknee. Pretty water like that year round
has to be coming from somewhere.
P: Do you know any folk remedies that your mother might have
used, like for colds, cough, cramps, warts? I have a whole
list.
W: No, I do not, Cathy. The only thing that I remember is that
I was always told that my father could take a wart off
anything.
P: He was a healer.
W: Well, I have heard so many people say, "I had these warts,
and I could not work with them, so I went to your dad." I
think warts used to be a more abundant than they are now. I
think they used to be more a problem then. Not only people,
but animals, too. My mother told me we had cow that had
warts all over. She said she had warts on her ears and eye
lids until you could hardly see her eyes. And she said that
my father took the warts off the cow.
P: How did he do it?
W: I do not know. All I ever heard was people used to tell me
that when they would go to him to have him take their warts
off he would rub them, or rub part of them or something, and
say, "They will be gone the next time you look at them," or
something like that. And a few days to a week later there
would not be any warts anymore. I cannot help but believe
that there was something to these stories, because it was
not only him, but I have heard a lot of other people that
could do this, too. But it is really hard to believe.
P: Yes, but I have heard it. I have been asking the people
that I have interviewed about folk remedies, and they say
that there are different remedies for warts. They say that
sometimes there would be a healer--they called them healers
--who could heal warts by touching them and saying
something, and they would be gone.
W: I know my mother has told me about this cow. In fact, that
was the most amazing thing that she had every seen, because
the cow had warts all over. See, back then you did not see
your cattle every day; it was maybe once every six months
you saw them. We had cattle from the mouth of the Santa Fe
to Rock Bluff, through the woods and everywhere.
P: Did you have them branded, or how did you know they were
65





yours?
W: Some of them we had branded. We would herd them and brand
them or mark them somehow. You had your mark registered,
and you put your mark in their ear. You had either a mark
or a brand.
P: What did you drink when you where little?
W: Milk.
P: Fresh milk? Water?
W: Yes, fresh milk. We milked a cow everyday.
P: How did you celebrate Christmas?
W: Well, I guess like all the other kids in the neighborhood.
We never had, as far as I can remember, a big shebang. We
never had Santa Claus come into the house. We opened the
toys we got on Christmas morning; we did not open them the
night before. We did not get any special favors that
morning. You could get up as early as you wanted, which was
always before daylight. We had to milk anywhere from
fifteen to twenty cows every morning.
P: Did you sell your milk?
W: No.
P: Did you drink all of that milk, or did you use some of it
for butter?
W: We used it for butter, clabber, and fresh milk. Back then
the woods cows did not give that much milk, plus you had to
raise the calf, and he got half of it. All you did was just
turn the calf in and let him suck a little milk to get a
little bit of milk down. Then you parted the calf out and
milked the cow. We did this anywhere from a half mile to
three-quarters of a mile from home. We put all this milk in
five-gallon buckets and carried it back to the house to
strain it. Of course, we would always ride one or two of
the yearlings when we were boys. After we got back to our
place and strained the milk, I might have made the butter,
or my sister did.
Then we had to walk to where we caught the bus, and that was
almost half a mile from our house. We had to be there
usually before daylight because we were the first ones to
get on the bus. Back then they had to go so far because
there were only about two or three buses going to the Bell
school. There were not that many people, but they covered
the same territory that is covered now, so there was a long,
long bus ride.
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P: What did you eat for lunch? Biscuits?
W: We carried biscuits and syrup, ham meat, spare ribs, baked
sweet potato, and beef. We butchered our own cows, so we
always had plenty of hamburger and steak. We carried that
in our lunch. I guess that was about it. We did not go to
town to buy groceries except on Saturday. Then, if you
wanted a piece of candy when Mama went to town, you told her
what you wanted--a Butterfinger or Baby Ruth or those
[Hershey's] kisses. You got a sackful then for a nickel.
You know what I am talking about, those silver tips?
P: Yes, I know what your talking about.
W: They were delicious, if you like chocolate. I never cared
much about them; I never cared much about candy. I always
drank lemonade or some kind of drink like that. I never
cared nothing about candy.
P: How about sugar cane?
W: Yes, we grew sugar cane and cooked our own syrup and made
our own syrup mix.
P: And sugar?
W: No, we did not make the sugar. If you cooked it at low
temperature for a long time, like three or four months, it
would thicken and turn to sugar.
P: Brown sugar.
W: No, it was crystal clear.
P: White?
W: Just a clear sugar. It would not be white like you see the
snow-white sugar. It would be crystal clear sugar on the
side of the jar. Have you ever seen it?
P: Yes, that is like they have in Venice, where they grow sugar
cane. Let me ask you about animals and if you know other
names for them--common names or names that you use. [What
about] bats?
W: No, just bat is all I know.
P: Bear?
W: No, I do not think I know any for bear. You might keep
calling and I might know something else, but I do not think
I will.
P: Okay, I will just run down the list. Panther?
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W: No.
P: Deer? Hawks? Pocket gopher--you know, the one that makes
the sandy mounds?
W: Oh, salamander?
P: Okay, salamander?
W: Yes.
P: A mole? Possums? Did you eat possums?
W: I have never eaten any except one time when a black lady had
some cooked with a sweet potato, and it was delicious.
P: They have to be cooked right, though?
W: I suppose they do, but I do not think it would be a threat
to Einstein to cook one of them right. I think you could
without any major problems, but I just never cooked them.
P: Otter? Did you ever catch otter or sea otter?
W: I have caught otter and killed them.
P: Do you eat them?
W: No.
P: Did you use their skin?
W: Yes.
P: Rabbit? There is a swamp rabbit and another kind of rabbit.
W: Yes, a swamp rabbit and a cottontail.
P: How do you know the difference?
W: Well, the cottontail has a white tail, and a swamp rabbit is
a dark rabbit, and he does not have a tail.
P: Do you eat both of them?
W: Yes.
P: Which one is better to eat?
W: I do not like either one of them. But they make good gravy.
You can take the hind legs from them. I mean, they are
delicious if you are a rabbit eater, but I just do not like
hair in my mouth, I guess.
P: Raccoons, most often called 'coons?
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W: I do not any other names.
P: Did you eat them?
W: No, but I know they are edible. Some people like them. I
think really it is a matter of what you are used to when you
are young.
P: Did you eat deer?
W: I have eaten deer steaks, yes.
P: Did you ever catch deer?
W: No, they were just not that common around here.
P: How about skunks?
W: No.
P: Any other name for them? Have you ever heard them called
pole cats?
W: Yes, that is what I call them.
P: You do not know if they were called anything else?
W: No. I have heard of skunks, but I know them as pole cats.
P: Okay. Flying squirrels?
W: I am familiar with them, but I cannot recall them being
called anything else.
P: How about a gray squirrel, just a regular old squirrel?
W: Squeak.
P: A squeak? You called them that?
W: Yes, that was what I always called them. I used to say,
"Let's go down here. We might find some squeaks down here.
We might see a squeak."
P: You eat them, right?
W: Oh, yes.
P: When are they best to hunt?
W: In the winter months.
P: When they are storing fat?
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W: Well, that is when hunting season is, I guess. Of course, I
always try to get a bunch of them and put them in the
freezer, and they are good all during the summer. But the
winter months are the only time I have ever hunted them.
P: Did you ever see wildcats? You call them wildcats?
W: Yes, I shot a panther one time.
P: You shot a panther?
W: Yes.
P: The one with the long tail, or the one with the short tail?
W: No, the long tail. The short-tailed one is a bobcat. A
panther is a different color normally, although they can be
the same color as a bobcat. This one was black from his
head and front shoulder down to his middle, and then he
started lightening up to dark gray. Then on his hind
quarter on down he was light gray. I do not believe he was
a full-grown panther, but I am not sure of that. I think he
was trying to catch some quail. There was a covey of quail
--two coveys, in fact--that stayed right around my yard all
the time. There were some brush piles around there.
Well, my brother and I had been deer hunting. We were just
coming in, and I told him, "I heard the quail. There must
be a rattlesnake trying to get them." I just assumed it was
a rattlesnake because they are bad about catching quail. I
figured it was either that or a house cat from one of the
neighbors. There is nothing that will do more damage to a
covey of quail than a house cat. Quail will usually go in a
pattern, and a house cat can just sit right there and wait
for them. He has a lot of patience, and he will just sit
there--sneaking. When they come over, why, he has got one.
I have seen them catch them time after time; I know they
will. That is why I do not like to see people let their
house cats get about half wild. They will breed and will
raise other cats. Then directly you have a bunch of wild
house cats in the woods. That is the reason there are
hardly any birds.
This cat was out there, but, of course, I did not have any
idea [it was a cat]. I just took my gun out of the truck,
and I said, "What just a minute. Let me walk around there.
I am just about sure it is a rattlesnake." There was an
opening for a little ways, and then it got heavily wooded.
Some of the quail, the old ones, were sitting in the trees
making this noise. I do not know if you have ever heard
quail make a noise when they are calling their little ones
just to tell them not to move or anything.
P: Yes, I have.
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W: It is not like a bob white or anything like that. They are
chirping, and those little ones know that they should freeze
when the old ones are doing that. They were up in the tree
on a low limb, and they did not fly or anything when I
walked up to see what was wrong. I figured if it was a
snake it would probably have gotten me at my heels. Well, I
kept walking on up there, and about that time there was a
terrible racket. The panther was just coming along,
knocking over weeds and everything. Then he hit the open
space where I could see him. I did not know what it was
because he held his tail like that. I said, "My God!" I
did not even think about shooting him right then, I mean,
just for a split second. I probably should not have shot
him to start with because all I had was #6 bird shot. I hit
him in his hind quarters hard enough that it knocked him
around. I did not get but one shot before he went right
into the bushes. He was right at the edge of the creek
shrubbery.
There were some people who lived right down the river from
me, and I knew that he was going over a little ridge and
right down to their place. They had dogs all up and down
the river. I said, "I just going to leave and see what
happens when he hits that gate." There was a gate right in
front of their house by the road, and sure enough, just
about the time I got through thinking about what was going
to happen, those dogs just started having a fit. I never
heard anymore about it, except for a friend of mine, a young
guy who lived down a ways, got out and looked for tracks.
He asked if I knew there was a panther around here. I said,
"Yes, I just got through shooting it." He asked, "Is that
what that was?" I said, "You bet your buns. That is how
come all the dogs down there were barking, your dogs and
everybody else's." He said, "I did not notice it. I just
found his tracks. I have been seeing his tracks for a
couple of days." But we did not see any tracks after that.
P: Where was this?
W: This was on the Suwannee River, near Lake City. Now it is
the Suwannee Heights subdivision on the Suwannee--on the
Gilchrist County side--about four or five miles south of
where the Santa Fe River dumps into the Suwannee River.
P: When did this happen?
W: This is was probably in 1974 or 1975, right around in that
area.
P: Okay. How about more special names. Owls? Remember the
owl we heard on the river? Do you call that a hoot owl?
W: A hoot owl. You know, I was thinking the other night that I
never hear a screech owl anymore. They used to be real
common back when there were a lot of woods and everything,
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but I never hear one anymore. Do you know what I am talking
about? The screech owl goes whooooo whooooo.
P: Yes. Turkeys?
W: No. I know a lot of other things that are called turkeys,
but I have never heard a turkey called any other name.
[laughter]
P: How about snakes? Now, you were laughing at me about the
way I was saying the one kind. It is a hognose snake; I
figured that out. What about the one you were talking
about, the adder?
W: The adder. We used to call it spreading adder. I always
heard them called the spreading adder. He spreads his head
if you kick at it or something.
P: It is a hognose snake. It looks like the rattlesnake.
[Ed.: Hognose snake and spreading adder are colloquisms for
the pygmy rattlesnake.]
W: Right.
P: It is what I call a hognose. I finally figured it out.
W: Why do you call it a hognose?
P: They have that blunt nose.
W: And hogs usually do?
P: Right.
W: What about a piney woods rooter?
P: That is a hog.
W: I know it, but he does not have a blunt nose.
P: That is true. You are right.
W: There are other names for those pineywoodsrooters now.
P: I have not heard of them.
W: Razor back.
P: Oh, right, I have heard that. Is that just the male or
both?
W: No, that is either one. A boy told me that a guy gave him
some piney woods rooters to fatten up. I might have told
you about that. He had caught them out of the woods, and he
just gave them to him. They were down in Dixie County or
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somewhere. He had them on a five-acre ranch that he had
bought. Most people that live in town buy one of those
highland [sandhill] ranches. The first thing they do is
post a sign on every post all the way around--Do Not Enter,
No Trespassing, We Will Shot You If You Come On This
Property, and all that stuff. They buy one or two little
pony horses and put a little tar paper shack out there for
the horses to get under. The next thing you know they
cannot afford feed for the horse, so they have to sell them.
Anyway, getting back to what the guy told me about the piney
wood rooter, this might interest you. It is said that they
gave it to him, and he had this little five-acre patch that
had pine meadows and pines out there. He figured he would
just shut them up in there and feed them to fatten them up.
He was told he probably could get some meat out of them when
he butchered them. Well, he said, "I thank you. I
appreciate it." So he put them all in there, went to buy
them corn, and tried to feed them for two or three months.
They would have nothing to do with corn. They just kept
eating pine roots and palmetto bugs and things like that.
Finally he decided they were as big as they were going to
get, so he shut them in the pen. (He had built them a pen.)
Then he had a butchering day, and he got him some help over
there and went to shoot them. He was going to shoot them
down with a rifle, but he found out he did not have any
cartridges. So he said, "Heck, I do not want to go all the
way to town to get some cartridges. I will just take my
hammer and knock them in the head." That is the way they
kill them at the butcher places. So he just grabbed the
hammer and went out and grabbed the biggest one that he had.
He grabbed him by the ears and popped him right between the
eyes with a hammer. Well, his ear slipped out of his hand,
and he almost cracked his hand. He said that he cooked the
rest of them and cooked the fat out, and he said he did not
have a bit of lard. He said he got four pints of
turpentine, though. [laughter]
P: You were telling me another joke on the river.
W: Oh, about the guy with the little fire stall that was so
attentive?
P: Would you tell me that?
W: Sure. This might not have been the truth; I do not know.
In fact, I seriously doubt it. He was telling me that he
was sitting there fishing one day. He was smoker, and he
said he had his hand in his pocket looking for his lighter.
He had his dog in the boat with him. He was sitting there
tight-line fishing. This is back when fifty-cent pieces
where common for change; you cannot find a fifty-cent piece
anymore. Anyway, he went to pull his cigarette lighter out
of his pocket, and the fifty-cent piece just chunk! right
73





into the water. (He was sitting right close to the edge of
the boat.)
Well, the little dog was so attentive--he had seen what was
going on and everything--and he just jumped in right behind
the fifty-cent piece. Over he went, down out of sight, down
in the water. The water was partially dark. I guess he
just figured he would grab that fifty-cent piece and come
right back up. He had trained him to do things like that.
Well, he stayed gone and under the water for quite awhile,
so finally he said, "My God, he is going to drown! That
crazy little thing got down there, and either a gator got
him or he is hung under a log or something like that." So
he said, "I will just pull the anchor up and go on and
leave, I reckon, and just forget about him, because I know
he is gone. He cannot come up after this." About that time
the little dog popped up just a-blowing and a-panting and
trying to get into the boat. Well, he said he got that dog
in the boat, and he had an eight-pound bass, two dimes, and
a nickel! [laughter]
P: Let me ask you about other names for snakes. Does the
indigo snake sometimes make it down?
W: Yes. I do not know of any other name for them. The indigo
snake supposedly will kill rattlesnakes.
P: That I have heard, too.
W: One of the most unusual things that I have seen with snakes
happened when I was squirrel hunting one time. I was real
young, and I saw this squirrel run down to the end of a
limb. The limb come down real close to the ground. It was
a big tree, but the limbs hung down, and he would run down
to the end of the limb, and then he would run back. Oh, was
he barking! I heard a barking, so I figured I would go over
there and shoot that barking squirrel. A lot of times when
you are squirrel hunting in the swamp, that is the way you
find out where one is. He starts barking, and you go over
and shoot him, if you can slip up on him. They are kind of
hard to slip up on. Anyway, I started easing over. I saw
him going on this limb, and he would go down there and bark,
bark, bark. Then he would run back up and bark. He would
run back the other way maybe twenty feet, and he might stay
up there for a minute. Then he would run back down. He
acted unusual to me, which is the reason that I watched him
this long, number one. Number two, I was out of gunshot
range, anyway. So I was watching him as I sneaked up on
him. I got up where it was clear, to where there were no
bushes and no shrubbery. That is the reason these limbs had
grown down to the ground, I guess: there were no small trees
under it or anything like that. I got up there pretty close
to him, and I watched him when he went out to the end of the
limb.
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Well, I looked down there, and there was one of the biggest
rattlesnakes I have ever seen down at the end of the limb.
I would say the limb was only about three feet off the
ground. The squirrel would run down there and just have a
fit, then right back up and right back down. Every time he
would get a little closer, so it was real easy to see what
was going to happen. That snake was just going to sit
there, and he was up like that, with his tongue going and
everything. Now, this is what we call "charming." This
squirrel eventually was going to get a little bit to close,
and that snake would get him. So I let him run back up the
tree, and I shot him before the snake got him. Then I went
on and killed the snake. But that is one of the most
unusual things I have seen, and I never seen that happen
again.
P: That is interesting.
W: One time I stuck my hand in a hollow log trying to find fish
that had hidden in the sand. One time got a snake. When
you feel something like that, you just grab it and pull him
out. Well, I did that one time, and it was a moccasin. Of
course, nobody told me to throw him down or anything, but I
got rid of him.
P: Yes, I would, too. Are there any animals, birds, or snakes
associated with bad luck or good luck? Is it good luck to
see an owl or hear an owl?
W: I like to hear an owl when I am fishing. I do not think it
makes the fish bite, but it sounds good. A lot of people
say if the owls are hollering the fish are biting.
P: So people do say that?
W: Yes. I have also heard people going by a pasture say, "Look
at all the cows feeding. Let's go get our fishing boat and
go fishing, because we know the fish are feeding."
P: I have heard that one.
W: But you go by the next pasture and all off them are laying
down in the shade, so what are you going to think then?
P: You said softshell cooters are some of the best eating. How
do you catch them?
W: There are so many ways. In the ponds put a trot line out--
drive your stakes down and bait your hook with pork. I
always heard bait your hook with pork, and I have always
done that. Well, I did not always do it, but I have and it
works. Bait your hook with fatback, not necessarily salt
pork, but pork fat. Put small, little pieces on there. Put
it where it will almost float on top of the water. Put your
trot line out across where it will be right close to the
75





top. The turtle will come up to get the bait. When it goes
back down, that is when he is hooked. If you put your bait
down way under water, then he might just feed on it and
never get hooked. I have seen them do this in the river.
But if you put it up close to the top of the water, he will
come off the bottom (because he does not want to be seen
much anyway) to where he can get the pork. Then he will
start back down, and that is when he gets caught.
P: Do you use traps for softshell or for other kinds of
turtles?
W: For other kinds traps are used. You can see them on
display, especially down close to the mouth of the Suwannee
River.
P: The kind that you can nail to the side of a log?
W: Yes.
P: Then you just wait until the turtles drop in.
W: Or just run your boat up there. That is the way they do it.
Nail it to the side of the log. Of course, you know where
all your traps are. If you have a fast boat, you run it up
like you were going to run over the log, and the turtles go
on the other side. Of course, they go right into the trap.
P: How do you know which side they are going to fall off on?
W: On the side opposite from where you are. They are hidden on
the side next to the bank, see.
P: Okay. I see.
W: You just have to be smarter than the turtle, that is all.
P: How about church? Were you raised religious?
W: Yes, I was raised a Baptist.
P: How important is church or religion to you now?
W: It is of the greatest importance. I mean, I would not say
that church is the greatest importance, but religion itself
is.
P: That is what I am asking.
W: Believing in a supreme being is more important than
anything. That is the greatest thing, really, that there is
in my life: believing in a supreme being.
P: Your mother was Baptist?
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W: Yes.
P: Okay. I ha ejJ st a couple more things I would like to ask
you about. reams. Did any kind of dreams mean anything?
W: No, not yet. I still have a bunch that I hope come true.
P: What about sayings, like "don't can when you're pregnant,"
or "if you hear a dog howl . ."?
W: "Don't can when you're pregnant"?
P: The food will spoil.
W: Where did you hear that?
P: Oh, that is from someone up the river.
W: Are you serious?
P: Yes.
W: No, I never heard that.
P: Or other sayings, like "if you are sitting down and someone
spits under your feet .."
W: Oh, yes, I have heard that. "You should not get married" or
something like that.
P: Did you hear any others? Do you know any others?
W: No.
P: Your area of expertise is animals. Are there any other wild
plants that you would use for food, like smilax?
W: No.
P: Okay. Well, I think that is all I can think of.
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