1960. Well, it wasn't quite Halloween yet, but it was close to it.
Late October, a Friday night. A nice, crisp, cool, still nightcool
enough for an outing shirt but not for a jacket yet. I was home
alone at our isolated ranch house, nine miles west of Georgetown
in Williamson County, two and a half miles north on a private dirt
road from the nearest highway, two miles from the nearest occupied
house. My folks were gone to a meeting of the Texas & Southwestern
Cattle Raisers' Association. I was writing a paper for a history
class, banging on my old L. C. Smith & Corona upright that would
stand up and spit keys at you if you made it mad. I'd made it mad
a couple of times already.
I'd been to town earlier in the day, both to visit my girlfriend
and make sure she was going to be able to go with me to the local
dance on Saturday, and to go to a Mexican bakery to buy some of
myand my dad'sfavorite cookies. Called roscas,
they were ring-shaped, iced, and flavored with anise. Both Dad and
I loved licorice but Mom wasn't all that fond of it, and those licorice-flavored
cookies kept us out of her cookies.
Being as it was close to Halloween, the bakery was getting ready
for that unique holiday the Mexicans call El Dia de los MuertosThe
Day of the Deadwhich is celebrated on November 1st, All Saints'
Day for the Catholic Church. The peculiar Dia de los Muertos
baking and candy-making was in progress, and the results were all
over the shop.
El Dia de los Muertos is celebrated with some of the most
macabre confections imaginable. Little candy skeletons everywhere,
doing everything you can think of. There was a hot-rod race with
two plastic convertibles manned by candy skeletons, with candy skeletons
as starters, pit crews, and audience. There was a skeleton wedding,
with the bride, groom, wedding party, priest, and spectators all
skeletons. There was a skeleton nightclub with a skeleton piano
player, skeleton dancers, skeleton waiters, a skeleton barkeep–the
list could go on and on. The only time of year I really didn't like
to go into that bakery was just before Halloween. It was a creepy
place at that time of year.
half past nine I finally won the fight with the old upright and
got the paper finished. I went into the kitchen, heated up the coffee
pot, poured myself a cup, filled my pipe, and went out to sit on
the front porch and listen to the night. There was a three-quarter
moon overhead and the night was almost as bright as day. I could
see a long way. I could hear a long way, too, because there were
no city noises to interfere. A coyote howled a long way off, a big
truck changed gears on Texas 29 two and a half miles to the south,
an armadillo was rustling in the dry leaves west of the house, and
somewhere off in the brush I could hear a nanny goat softly calling
for her kid.
Then, away off to the north, I heard a sound. It got clearer. It
was a pack of hounds in full cry. Somebody was hunting ‘coons, and
the pack had the scent. I wished I was with the hunters instead
of sitting on the porch.
Then something dawned on me. This was a big pack of houndsa
huge pack. There were more hounds in this pack than there
were in all of western Williamson County. I knew every hound around
our place, and there weren't a full dozen coon-hounds in five miles
of our house. This pack had thirty or forty hounds in it.
Not only was it a huge pack, it was headed straight for our pasture–and
it was coming fast. It was coming too fast–no hounds I'd
ever hunted with moved that fast.
Dogs in the livestock! That's one thing a rancher fears more than
anything else. Dogsferal, tame, or dumpeddon't kill
like wolves or coyotes do, one animal at a time to eat. They chase,
pull down, and kill as long as there are animals to chase. Two months
earlier four dogs by the tracks got into a neighbor's small pasture
while the family was gone. In the pasture were 22 head of registered
Suffolk sheep, the teen-aged son's 4-H project. The ewes were valued
at about $75 each, the ram at $150. When the family got home every
sheep was dead. Each one had its throat torn out, but only one had
been eaten on. The rest were killed simply because they were there
and they ran, so the dogs chased and killed them.
went into the house, got Dad's Winchester Model 12, and loaded it
with three #1 buckshot shells. Then I loaded my Winchester .30-30
carbine and the family's nine-shot .22 revolver. I put on a jacket,
stuffed a half-dozen more buckshot shells, the rest of a box of
.30-30s, and a full box of .22 long rifle hollow-points into my
pockets. Then I went outside to save the stock.
When I got outside the hounds had the house surrounded. I could
hear them baying in chase all around me. I could see nothing. There
was no movement in the grass, no shadows among the trees. The brilliant
moon showed a tranquil landscapebut all around me were the
sounds of hounds in chase.
To say that the hair went up on the back of my neck would be to
understate the matter by a considerable margin. The hair went up
all over me. I put my back to the wall of the house and, moving
cautiously, the shotgun off safety in one hand, the .30-30 with
the hammer back in the other, fingers on both triggers, I began
to circle the house.
What caused me to look up I have no idea to this day. When I did,
I had to sit down. My knees temporarily gave way. I let the hammer
down slowly on the carbine and put the safety on the shotgun. Then
I watched as a flock of Canada geeseone of the more poetic
names for geese is ‘the hounds of heaven' for the sounds they make
in flightclear in the moonlight, circled the house. The bright
moonlight, reflecting off the metal roof, apparently fooled the
leader into thinking he'd found a body of water the flock could
rest on. In a few minutes the flock chose a new leader and lined
up in their Vee to head south, their baying growing fainter and
fainter in the distance.
I went back inside, unloaded the guns and put them in the rack,
and heated up more coffee. This time I dug out the bottle of Old
Crow Dad kept for visitors and poured a generous shot in my mug
along with the hot coffee. When I told Dad what happenedand
why the bottle was still on the counter when he and Mom got homehe
said he didn't blame me a bit.
October 8, 2012 column
More "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"