Saturday, February 11, 2017

Singleton laments the passing of old-timey coon-hunting of the Great Depression

Old-fashioned coon-hunters with old-timey lanterns.
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Coon hunting offered many hours of entertainment” was originally published in the Nov. 9, 1995 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

I will always say that anyone who didn’t grow up in the country during the last days of the Great Depression missed a great deal in life. It’s true that our youth of today have many ways that they entertain themselves. Recalling my early youth brings to mind what I believe our youth of today are missing. I know of nothing more enjoyable than the youth of community where I grew up together for a late autumn coon hunt.

Just a few weeks back, my high-school graduating class got together for a reunion. Much time was spent reliving the past good times and recalling the many wonderful memories – most especially during the months of late autumn when the light of a pale harvest moon floated across the chilly evening skies and the sound of the hunter’s horn gave a note that a coon hunt was about to begin. These memories were relived time and time again as we gathered for an evening of fun, togetherness and remembering old times.

Good hunting dogs

There was a time when great emphasis was placed on someone who could boast of having a pack of good coon-hunting dogs. I know that the proper word is raccoon, but country boys weren’t known too much for their proper use of the English language. I can’t imagine what would have happened if someone had mentioned that they were going raccoon hunting.

Yes, sir, a good pack of coon dogs was like having money in the bank. The owner of such a pack of dogs was one of the most popular men in the community during the coon-hunting season.

There were several types of coon hunts conducted in the local communities. There were the real serious type of coon hunts, when only the dyed-in-the-wool coon hunters took part. These hunts were for those who pitted their best coon dogs against all comers to see which dog would tree that sly old coon in the shortest amount of time.

On these hunts, there was no laughter or unnecessary talking. If anything was said, it was to identify a favorite dog by the sound of its barking. Only rarely did you find a teenager on one of these hunts. If a dog was ever known to lie about a coon being up a tree, that name stuck for the remainder of the dog’s life. The owner of a dog that would lie was kinda looked down on by the serious-minded coon hunters. But, one in a while, the truth would be stretched just a little.

Not-too-serious hunts

Then, there were those not-too-serious coon hunts. This was when almost anybody could go along. On these hunts, you could talk or laugh and maybe joke a little with other members of the hunt. The dogs that were used on these hunts were dogs of the less-serious breed. If a dog lied about a coon up a tree, it wasn’t a life-or-death matter. These hunts consisted of mostly the over-the-hill hunters – those who had passed before the more serious decisions of living and breathing the art of coon hunting.

And, last, there were those who went coon hunting for no other reason than to have a good time. These consisted of certain groups, such as Training Union classes, Sunday School classes, or just the local teenagers who had nothing better to do. These groups were always chaperoned by two or three older couples who saw that the proper conduct was maintained between the young boys and girls on the hunt.

It really didn’t matter a lot whether the coon dogs that were carried on these hunts knew the difference between a coon or a house cat. Refreshments were always carried, and time was taken out to build up a fire and make coffee or hot chocolate. There were always tea cakes or popcorn balls, or perhaps a large amount of roasted peanuts or pecans. More attention was given to helping the young ladies across the small streams than worrying about whether the dogs were going to tree a large, fat coon.

Eagle-eyed chaperones

During one of these crossings, a beautiful smile or a tight hand squeeze was worth all the coons that could have been caught out of the woods. Once in a great while, when the chaperones might have lost their way a bit, the young men would try and seek out a place where the stream would be too wide to step across, and on rare occasions, the young men would be allowed to pick up the beautiful young things and carry them in their arms across the stream. These crossings were supervised very strictly by the eagle-eyed chaperones.

The coal-oil lanterns were turned to their highest brightness, and the eyes of the chaperones glowed in the lantern light as these crossings were encountered.

I wasn’t too eager to find these crossings like the other boys. Being one of the larger boys in the group, it fell to my lot to have to carry across the stream a young lady who was quite large in size. This hefty young lady was always present on these get-togethers. While crossing the stream, I would get all kinds of squeezes and pats on the back, because it took some kind of holding on to get that large young lady across the smallest stream.

The other boys would lie and say that they couldn’t carry that much weight. I was always called on to carry the burden. But, all was not in vain; this young lady always brought a sack full of goodies to eat with her on the hunts. She always saw that I got my pick of whatever there was to eat that her mother had prepared for her to bring along.

Coons didn’t suffer

I can tell you for sure, the coon population didn’t suffer any from these hunts. The noise that accompanied this group would have scared the living daylights out of almost any animal within hearing distance. And, too, the coon dogs didn’t seem to want to get too far away from the group; they were afraid that they might miss the discarded food scraps at refreshment time. Besides, who wanted to hunt a silly old coon on a full stomach?

When the large fires were built and the snacks and refreshments were brought forth, no one ever had to guess where the hunting dogs were. They were always there, waiting for a handout.

In looking back, I feel a certain amount of sorrow for our youth of today. Little do they know what they have missed. Never will they witness the many good times the youth of our era enjoyed. We might not have had it all, but we had the most.

Under the watchful eagle eyes of our chaperons, we knew that our well-being was foremost. Their love and patience will dwell always in the memories of yesterday. Even today, when on occasion I come in contact with some of those who chaperoned these groups of my time, I see the twinkle of their eyes and smiles come to their faces as they, too, remember the good times of the past.

Always, if time permits, I am asked if I recall being selected to carry a certain young lady across the creek – a certain young lady who had become known to the others of the group as Fat Sally.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County in June 1964 (some sources say 1961) and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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