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Uncle Lee's Got the 'coon and Gone On.
Gone On !

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie

Lee 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.

Now, 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 harvest time.

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 got away.

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.

© N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray" October 1, 2007 Column

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