Wright was his name. We called him "Old Uncle Lee." A black man
about 70 to 75 years old. He had mostly gray hair, a short gray
scraggly beard and very few teeth in his mouth. A snuff dipper,
he was. Old Uncle Lee was slim and agile. He could keep up very
well in the woods at night with a much younger group of hunters.
He never carried a gun or any hunting light. All Uncle Lee ever
carried on these hunting excursions was a tow sack. That's what
we, in deep East Texas,
called the large bag he carried across his shoulder; a tow sack.
You will find that many people know the tow sack as a burlap bag,
or a croaker sack. Those sacks had come from a feed store in Atlanta,
Texas, and had previously contained 100 pounds of various kinds
of livestock feed for animals on the farm. For now, that sack was
being used to bag raccoons from our hunt and Old Uncle Lee toted
that sack all night for the entire hunt. No matter how many raccoons
we bagged in a night, he never complained. On some hunts, it often
got pretty heavy to carry.
Fall of the year is my favorite season. Fall was harvest time for
corn. There were small cornfields planted across the countryside
by various neighbors, including my father and me. Small, part time
deep East Texas farmers
would plow the soil and plant rows of field peas, corn, melons,
etc. Those small cleared areas of ground sometimes might contain
a couple acres or more of row crops. The food produced there was
used to feed the family as well as the farm animals. Our family
would eat the fresh corn, peas, okra and other vegetables grown
there on those "truck patch" farms. My mother would manage to can
and freeze a lot of those vegetables and we would eat them year
around until a new fresh crop came on the next year.
these farmers hated, I mean really hated the 'coons. A pack or family
of 'coons could come in the field nightly and destroy a field of
corn in two or three nights. And that is exactly what would happen
if it were left unattended too long and not watched closely until
The "Black and Tan" breed of hound dogs really make excellent 'coon
hunting dogs. They dearly love to chase the 'coons and my dad kept
two or three of those Black and Tan hounds around the place all
the time. Anytime you head off for the cornfields, those dogs are
ready to go and do their thing. They had rather get into hot pursuit
of bunch of 'coons than to eat when they're hungry. The biggest
trouble you have is keeping those hounds quiet until you can sneak
up pretty close to the cornfield. You need to be pretty quiet not
to scare the 'coons away and try to get as close as possible before
turning the hounds loose. But those hounds, they smell the 'coons
and really get excited. They start yelping and barking and ready
to go. You can hardly hold'em back and have to let them go.
We would wait until after dark since the 'coons only start most
of their feeding activity after dark. That gave them a little time
to find the cornfield and start their destruction. If the fields
were not too far away, we would just walk over there, using a kerosene
lantern for a walking light and leading the hounds on a leash. If
they were further away, we loaded the hounds up in the pickup truck,
got our gang together, stopped by and picked up Old Uncle Lee and
headed off. Uncle Lee lived only a short distance away down across
the little mill creek and over the hilltop a ways.
Upon arriving very close to the cornfield, it was time to turn those
hounds loose. "Turn 'em loose boys," and the chase was on. That
is, if there were any 'coons in that field that night. If not, just
ease on over to the next closest field and start over. If, by chance
the 'coons had been there earlier and had gotten scared off, the
hounds would pick up their trail scent and pursue them to the trees,
where the dogs would "tree" (put up a tree) several of the 'coons.
The hunters then move to the trees and shine their headlight or
flash light all around up in the tree to find the 'coons eyes. The
'coons eyes will reflect or shine in the bright light. You can see
him then and take aim, usually with a 22 rifle, knocking him out.
Often times three, four or more 'coons could be killed at one cornfield.
Uncle Lee would bag the 'coons and we would move along to the next
field. Or, maybe we could just follow the barking hounds, because
they just might be in hot pursuit of some of the first bunch that
Sometimes, while hunting and having fun in the woods on a nice cool
fall night, we would all go along singing, "Uncle Lee's got the
'coon; Uncle Lee's got the 'coon; Gone on. Gone On…. Uncle Lee's
got the 'coon and gone on." Everyone would really have a lot of
country fun and comradeship.
Yep, 'coon hunting is lots of fun, just running them out of the
cornfield and hearing the hounds run, trailing the game and barking
up a tree. There is a distinct difference in the sound of a hound's
bark while on a 'coon's trail or after running it up a tree. The
hunter knows the dog's different sound and we could here that sound
change when the dogs "treed" and someone would yell, 'He's treed
! Let's go get'em !" Then everyone would hurry to the tree where
the dogs were.
Uncle Lee might have 8 or 10 'coons of different sizes in his bag
after a nights hunt. My dad and I might take a nice fat one home
to eat. Dad liked it dressed, prepared and pressure-cooked just
right with certain vegetables and spices. Me, I never ate but very
little 'coon in my entire life. I never had to. I liked fried chicken
or steak and gravy; or maybe cornbread and buttermilk. If I had
ever gotten hungry enough though, I expect I might would have eaten
more of those varmints. But, Uncle Lee, he was very happy to get
all those 'coons. Sometimes food for his family was pretty scarce
at home. He would take'em and skin'em, stretch and cure the hides
to sell at the pelt market in town to get some money. He would feed
all his family on the 'coon meat for a week or more, adding vegetables
and gravy, etc. Then if his food supply at home got low, he would
remind us that it was time for another hunt.
Thus, these little 'coon hunting escapades were great fun for us
and a very productive time, too. They became a livelihood for some
and an important part of the "right of passage" for me. They were
all just a part of my growing up in Cass County.