CIRCUS MEMOIRS
My Boyhood - 2

 

From my father and these shoots I first acquired my incentive for shooting and hunting, of which I have grown fonder as the years pass. Well do I remember my first fifteen cents. I spent five cents for gunpowder, five cents for shot and five cents for caps. Then off to the hills! Sometimes I returned with a quail, a squirrel or a rabbit, and as often empty handed.
Coons and opossums were very plentiful in the woods in those days. Some negroes living in the town always owned a few coon hounds. I often wanted to go with them coon hunting, so one night they decided to permit me, the condition being that I was to supply a quart of whiskey (cost ten cents). There was no tax on liquor in those days. I was to carry an ax, and we were to set out about nine o'clock at night through the dark woods. After a time we would hear the hounds on the trail, and the negroes could always tell when the coon was treed. When we would get up to the dogs we would find them at the foot of the tree up which the coon had climbed. The negroes would then set to work chopping the tree down, always knowing which way to throw it. We would stand holding the dogs so as to let them get into the tree tops. They would always get the coon, after a most exciting fight. Thus ended the coon hunts, after tramping the woods all night until daylight next morning.


Fox hunting was another favorite pastime, but after an experience of walking ten miles in the rain, over hills and valleys, I gave it up, and will tell you of my last one. Tom Scholl, whom I thought was a great friend of mine, came for me one day to attend a fox hunt. It was to take place the following day and was to start from his uncle's home, near the forks of Indian and Kentuck Creeks. I asked my father's permission to ride a horse, but he refused, saying: "My son, I do not feed horses to chase foxes." This was an awful blow, but after thinking it over I decided to attend the chase anyhow. I tore down the back fence, saddled the horse and slipped away to the forks of the creek, determined and ready to take part in the chase the next day.


There were two roads to the forks of the creek. Scholl and I took one of them. When we arrived we spied father's horse tied to the rack in front of the store. He had taken the other road and arrived there first. About this time a farmer went to the store and father asked him if he had seen the boys. The farmer replied: "Yes, they are over to Scholl's uncle's." Father followed over, took the horse and returned home, leading my horse, leaving me to chase foxes afoot - not a very pleasant prospect. Besides, there was the thought of what was to follow on my return home. Scholl consoled me by saying that we would ride "turn about" next day in the chase.


In the morning the fox was started. Away went the dogs and the riders, and I, afoot. I did not see my friend, a horse or a fox during the chase. I pulled up at Ike Short's afoot, more dead than alive. He gave me a large slice of bread and butter and I went on my way to the forks of the creek, where we arrived about dark. Then came the question of my getting home, and what I would get on my return. I proposed to ride behind my friend Scholl, but he said his father would not stand for that, but that we would "ride and hitch," which means that he would ride two miles, then hitch the horse and walk on. I would come afoot to where he had hitched the horse, mount and ride past him a mile or two, hitch the horse and walk on. Well, Scholl started out and I followed, expecting to find the horse hitched awaiting me, but to my disgust, my good friend had forgotten to hitch the horse for me, and I walked about ten miles home. This was my last fox hunt.


After a hearty meal at home we boys would often go to the meat shop, help ourselves to sausage, beefsteak and potatoes, then go to the hills, build a fire, cook the meat by holding it over the fire with a forked stick and bake the potatoes in the ashes. A feast fit for the gods, as I thought.


About that time in my life I felt that I wanted the experience of running on the river. Steamboats were then in the height of their prosperity and Polk Cook, a friend, and I decided that we would hire out on one of the boats, to work in the cabin as cabin boy or in the pantry as knife shiner. If we failed in those ambitions we would go as deck sweepers. Anything - but we must work on a boat. I furnished the money to buy two blue and white checked shirts, two leather belts, and two butcher knives in leather cases which we strapped to us.
 


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