The Big Thicket

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And those old Indians, before they started back, they’d get that deer meat and put it on a scaffold and build a smoke under it in the sun. And the women would watch it while the men would hunt. That venison is all lean meat and it will dry as hard as a piece of wood. They’d put that in a sack and carry it back home. We fixed a lot of it that way. If you want to cook it tomorrow, you throw it in a pan of water tonight, and tomorrow it makes the best hash you ever had almost; it’s mighty nice.

 

My daddy built our house out of pine, hand-hewed logs, notched and fitted and leveled. The floor was three inches thick and hewed out of logs. The kitchen wasn’t built on to the rest of the house but was connected by a shed. It was built out of round logs, not hewed. The floor was red clay, built up about twelve inches higher than the ground. They’d always have a mudcat chimney, take about a day to build, neighbors help. Women would cook and men built the chimney. I stayed right there till I was twenty years old, when I married and moved to Saratogie, and I’ve been here ever since.

Uncle Bud and Uncle Jim was our closest neighbors, six miles to their house. Uncle Bud hunted a lot. He called me to the gate one morning, said, “Come here, I got a purty for ya.” I went out there and he reached back in his saddle pocket, and he had a little old bear about ten inches long. The old mama bear had one of his dogs hugged up and about to kill it. He run in and jabbed his gun in her mouth and shot her, and the print of her teeth was on each side of his Winchester. She had two little cubs in her bed and he carried ‘em home and raised ‘em. They’d walk on their hind feet and hold up a broom just like somebody.

We raised what we eat, had a garden. Always had a patch o’ corn and sweet potatoes, sugar cane and maybe some peanuts. We’d raise peas and when they’d get dry, ma’d put somethin’ in ‘em to keep the weevils out. Had all kinds of meat: venison, turkey, squirrel. We’d cure bear meat. You can cure it just as good as you can hog meat, and you can season with it, too. You can eat all you want of it and drink the lard, and it won’t make you sick. Now old summer bear, they ain’t fit to eat; they’re pore; they stink. But in the wintertime, they’re big and fat and they’re good. I liked bear meat, but in the summertime, I wanted venison. We could get that any day we wanted it, and turkey too. I loved squirrel just any time, and we eat rabbit in the wintertime.

 
 

The people here was very poor and some of them didn’t want to ficht for the Negroes [in the Civil War]. You see the wealthy people here was the only ones who had Negro slaves. So when the war started they said, “Well, I’ll just go out here in the woods and stay.” These people was called jayhawkers. They had everything to eat without worrying about anything—plenty of game and fish. Their people would have corn ground and carry it out to a big forked oak tree right on the edge of a pond and put it in the fork ofthat tree. To keep it from getting wet, they had a doeskin they put over it. The pond to this day is known as Doeskin Pond. They’d cut down a tree and rob it, get all kinds of honey. Where Honey Island is now there was two big pear trees and they taken some plank and built a table between those two trees. They’d put all the honey and deer and stuff that they wanted carried off on this table. Their people would come and get this produce, carry it to Beaumont and sell it, and buy their tobacco or whatever they had to have. They’d take it out to Doeskin Pond and put it up in the tree, or leave it on the table at Honey Island.

The [Confederate] government would send soldiers in here and try to get them out, but they never could get them because they kept guards stationed around and when they’d see them coming, they’d leave their hideout. The soldiers would search everywhere for them and never could find them. They never would go in or out the same way. They never would break a limb off. They wouldn’t leave any sign where they went into their hideout.

They caught a few jayhawkers one time and carried them to Woodville and put them in jail on the courthouse square, and put guards all around there to guard them. Somebody, in order to free the jayhawkers, brought a lot of whiskey and the guards all got drunk. Then someone got a fiddle and started playing. Mr. Warren Collins began a jig and was entertaining everybody, and all the time he was dancing, everyone was leaving, one at a time. When the party was over there was no jayhawkers left and the guards was too drunk to find them.