Writins of Weakeyes Cody
Talented and witty writings
A Hunter's Horn @2003
Long ago in a faraway land when the world was only twelve years old, men and boys gathered with hounds on cold damp wintry nights to chase raccoons. Oh I know it seems primeval to modern intellects that we could do such a thing for pure pleasure, but it's true. And before you take me off your Christmas list you should read on.
The hounds consisted of beagles. There were Blue Ticks, Black & Tan, Red Bones, and others. But those three breeds were the most popular in my world. Along about now, I was going on some of my first hunts and made sure I helped gather firewood for the fire and look after the dogs, lest I wouldn't be invited along again. Upon arrival to a hunting site, I would fall out of the old truck and began gathering broken limbs and grass to start the fire. Finishing this with help from older boys, I would help unload the dogs and tie them up alongside the truck. Then after a time the men would determine which dogs they would allow to participate in the hunt. About six being about all that was needed for entertainment.
Then they would release the six and they would tear out into the woods and we would all gather around the fire to listen for the first bay of a hound to alert us to the beginning of a chase. Usually it wouldn't be long before the hounds would strike a trail and begin to bay. Each dog had an unique voice and the older men could tell what dog was in the lead. "That's your bitch, I believe Ezra, bringing up the rear." "That's my gip alright, but she ain't behind." Would come the reply. "Ol' Drum is in the lead!" Dan Hawkins, would chortle. "Just like allus!" "Not t'night he ain't! That's ol' Ike."
Well, they never agreed on what dog was in the lead unless the pack virtually tore through camp. But the fun I had was listening to the older fellas tear into each other about their dogs. It finally occurred to me one night that this was the object of the hunt. Not the hunt itself but the race. To see what dog was the fastest. Usually the winner was distinguished when the coon was finally treed. The lead hound would stand at the base of the tree and bay soon to be joined by the others. Then we were all obligated to leave that fire and strike out on foot or if possible in one of the vehicles, to the tree site and look at the coon away up there in the tree looking defiantly down at us. Then they would feed the dogs scraps of beef to reward them and we would lead them away. If no trail was struck and the dogs wandered aimlessly sniffing for a trail, one of the hunters would bring out a finely honed and thin cow horn and blow for the dogs. The sound of that horn would reverberate along the river and travel for miles to be heard by all those who lived therein. It was a good sound.
Sometimes, depending on the time, another pack of dogs might be released. And the old men would again sit before the fire smoking their favorite tobacco or chewing their favorite plug. Then sooner or later a jug would appear and be ceremoniously passed around from hand to hand. I hadn't as yet partook of this solemn ceremony and on one particular night as it reached my hand I paused long enough to look into the eyes of the man who had handed it to me. He had a studious aspect about him and I hesitated. Looking at the man I was supposed to pass it on to I could see his countenance was also of the same cast. So I upped the jug took an overly large pull of the shine and passed into the domain of men. If not a bit farther, and immediately receiving a hard slap on the back and a question; "That's good whisky, 'eh boy?" I opened my mouth to say something but my vocal cords were impaired and nothing came out. This brought a hail of laughter from everyone and all eyes were on me. It took near a full minute for me to find my voice but by and by it returned.
The most interesting nights would be whenever the dogs struck the trail of a wolf. Growing older I questioned the presence of wolves in that part of the country but those old-timers swore that their dogs were not only coon dogs but wolf hounds as well. A 'wolf' would back into a crevice or deep wash and turn to face his tormentors. The dogs would attack and he would slash and defend himself quite well. If the creature fought well the dogs would be called off. Sometimes if he was tore up badly before we reached the site, they would shoot him. It was always a long race when a wolf trail was struck.
When the world was 12 years old there was no television. We had radio, for those who could afford it. And we had movies. Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, Hoppy, Roy & Gene were frequently seen on our theater screens by my age group. But to me, there was no competition for the dogs. When invited to tag along I would cancel anything I had planned to join in.
I learned a lot around those fires. Politics, history, tales of old, all presented by men who had been rough riders with Teddy Roosevelt, been gassed in France in the Muse-Argonne, or back from the recent one where they told of the human skeletons they saw in Germany. They talked of building railroads, highways, tall buildings, bridges, fast women, horses and of course, dogs. It was my degree in the humanities. I didn't receive anything to commemorate it but I wouldn't take a million for the teaching of it. And damn! I'd love to sit again and hear those hounds run and the sound of Dan Hawkins's horn calling them in to the fire.
~ Weakeyes Cody