Whitesburg KY

Turtle hunter made a costly mistake

Having left home when I reached the age of 16, I began feeling my way through the uncertainties of a hostile and unforgiving environment.

Mother had passed away before I turned three and I had a stepmother before I turned four. Now I had to learn to survive as best I could. I had a rough time just making it from one day to the next, but I was determined to make it and not starve to death in the process.

I learned to subsist on meager fare and never did resort to stealing, but now, on the other hand, I wasn’t above rounding up a handful of green apples and sharing them with Aunt Callie Back’s old cow in exchange for a chunk of salt from her salt block. Course of wound up with a belly ache plenty of times, but they tasted good at the time and filled a hollow spot in my tummy.

I never did get the hang of catching wild game to eat, but I was good at catching fish. Needless to say, I roasted quite a few fish and I didn’t care if it was for breakfast, lunch or supper.

Then someone told me how to catch turtles using baited hooks. So I figured maybe iffen I was able to catch me some turtles – or turkles, a some old-timers called ’em – I could earn me a little money.

There was an old-timer known as Blind Jim who would pay a quarter for every one anyone brought to him, no matter what size it was. But it had to be delivered alive. Actually, I got pretty good at catching them, but I sure didn’t like delivering the hard-shelled or snapping turtles. They were downright ornery and I didn’t have any fingers to spare. So I allus held them as far away from me as my arms would reach.

One day as I started out to check my hooks, I just up and bummed me a chaw of ‘baccer. It was Red Ox, but I figured I was man enough to handle it. In a short time I found out that I wasn’t as grown up as I thought I was. As I started up the railroad track, I couldn’t figure out which one was moving, me or the track. And it appeared like there were twice as many ties as there ought to be to me. That track sure got narrow in a hurry. Course I was having a hard time staying twixt the rails, but I was not about to spit my chaw of ‘baccer out and admit I wasn’t man enough to handle it.

Lucky for me I kinda got straightened out by the time I got to where I had set my lines and didn’t fall in the river. I had caught two soft-shelled turtles ’bout the size of a plate. I started back down the track with my catch and one of them kept trying to take a bite of my leg.

After it had done this about a dozen times, I told it if it did it one more time I would spit its eye full of ‘baccer juice. About 10 seconds later it did it again, so, true to my word, I raised it up and spit its eye full.

What happened next I’ll never forget. It took about three breaths with ‘baccer juice bubbling out its nose and died deader than a doornail and went limp as a dishrag. Not knowing what to do, I stood there staring at it. In no time flat I had lost a whole quarter, equal to about $1.50 now.

I had made a costly mistake, sure as shooting.

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