I was 14 years old, in the 8th grade and living in Marlin, Texas. My home was an old motel just south of downtown on Commerce Street. 1948 was not a good time for me and my mother, not to mention a couple of step-fathers. My mother was in the process of getting rid of one and getting me another. Washing dishes in Bill’s café on the west side of downtown paid me enough for a box of shotgun shells or a couple boxes of .22 longs. Since the local movie theater cost 25 cents, about the same as a box of premium .22 long rifle shells, the movie experience was only about once a month; and only then if there were no funds for ammunition. Hunting had become a way of life after the first jack rabbit was in the bag. That was about a year ago, and there had been many trips to the river and nearby fields since.
Marlin was the mineral water center of Texas, having at least two bath houses. The hotels even had a couple of mineral water fountains in the middle of the street across from where my mother worked. I think I remember one bath house as being owned by Earnest Tubb. I thought that was hilarious at that time. If you put clear glassware in the fountain, the warm mineral water would turn the glass orange. There were always a couple of ash trays or glasses in the constant running water turning various shades of rusty red orange.
I did have a 16 gauge double barrel shot gun and a WWII surplus pack and canteen. My friend Jerry had an old Remington 22 LR rifle and a 20 gauge bolt action Springfield. That seemed to us to be plenty of equipment for a major hunting trip in 1948. The packs were filled with necessary items for a hunting trip. There were matches, coffee, salt, pepper, an empty 1 pound coffee can for making coffee with river water, and two empty tin cans to drink from. Two cans of pork and beans, a can or two of the all time favorite, Vienna sausage, a fork and spoon. While old butcher knives were fitted with homemade sheathes and called hunting knives, we had goodsteel pocket knives that did most of the work. An old army blanket on top of all that fancy gear was enough for a week on the Brazos River.
I hate to admit it but the river held a lot more interest to me than school. Jerry and I would leave for the river on a Thursday and usually not return until Sunday afternoon or sometimes as late as the next Thursday. We would leave Marlin and walk or catch a ride and go west about 5 miles to the Brazos river bridge. It was one of the old steel structures with all the support above. We would crawl under the bridge and lay on the girders with our .22 rifle. We would watch turtles come in to the bank, then pop a few. We didn’t do this much for it was a waste of ammo. Sure was fun!
I would like to see someone stop for a couple of kids carrying guns and give them a ride today. That would be a miracle. I used to take my shotgun to school and keep it in the principal’s office until school was out. Then I’d take it on the school bus to a friend’s house in the country, hunt that weekend and return Monday on the school bus with the shotgun. Talk about no way today!
We would start the hunt southward down the river, enjoying the adventure of our lives. About 6 miles down river a hasty camp was set up (all camps along the Brazos were hasty camps), an area that was a sheer pleasure to hunt and playin for a few days. There was a low, wide dam, or spill way, across the river near a bend. It could be crossed back and forth if reasonable care was taken. The water over the spill way was usually no more than 3 inches deep but it was moving fast and it was not an easy walk across. The bend in the river, less than 100 yards down stream from the spill way, was reported to have sink holes and strange currents that had claimed the lives of several good swimmers.
There Is Nothing Like Camping And A Wild Hunt
Even winter was good on that section of the river. Small game was plentiful, there were no fences and no one seemed to care if we were there or not. I did not recognize that the land along the river belonged to someone else. It was ours for the taking then! The land was used very well by me and my friends. No one nailed up “Keep Out” or “No Trespassing”signs, for there was no damage done to anything, no cows were killed, and campfires were taken care of.
Meager supplies were supplemented with game. There was sparrow, rabbit, snake, hawk, owl and what ever else was careless enough to get in front of our sights at a reason able range. Sometimes the river was not near and there was no water to wash the game in, so it was just cleaned and roasted over an open fire. It either wasn’t that bad or hunger over rode using drinking water to wash it with. And let me tell you, a sparrow or field lark tastes pretty good after a long day in the field without a rabbit, squirrel, or a big snake. One afternoon while looking for hell grammites for catfish bait, freshwater muscles were found in the river. They looked like oys-ters and should be good to eat roasted on a stick. They may not have been cooked well enough for they caused the Grand Daddy of all stomach aches that night. It was so bad that dying would have been a relief, but when the sun came up all was well again. Hoping for a fat rabbit or catfish for the next meal was the foremost thought in our minds when we began the next day’s hunt.
One night it was extremely cold, colder than I had ever seen it on the river. I sat around the fire and just cat napped all night. That was the most miserable and sleepless night I had ever experienced. The next day, after hunting a large area away from the river, two cotton tails and a hawk in the bag would be a big feed that night. I knew that I needed a more comfortable resting place and going home was absolutely not an option. A decision was made to go back towards the river and set up a camp near the river bank. If there was to be two or three more nights on the river in that weather, there would have to be a warmer place to sleep. If we could find one, a three day camp would be set up.
Two dead trees about 12 feet long that weren’t too rotten were dragged to a flat area and placed side by side about 12 inches apart. Firewood was gathered and placed between the logs until the entire length was filled to the top with good dry firewood. As the fire was burning to coals, the cook was preparing the daily fare (rabbit and hawk). The game was very good that night so a pot of coffee (usually reserved for mornings) was made to go with it. Later when the fire had died down to a really good bed of coals, more firewood was added to the fire. Extra firewood was piled close by for the night.
The North wind had settled a bit and with the log fire to our north, it was fairly comfortable. One log was rolled to the south about 5 feet and all the coals that fell between the logs were removed. This made a 5 foot wide space about 10 feet long which was just enough space for 2 hunters to sleep end to end comfortably. Some sand and leaves were piled up for my pack to help as a pillow and holes dug for hip bones. The Northwind did not get up to gale force that night so the one army blanket and the log fire warmth were not bad. I could not even imagine having a nice sleeping bag, deep fryer, prepared food, more than one ragged army blanket, or warm clothing.
Times sure have changed, now I need a large truck just to carry comfort gear and food. My body sure couldn’t handle that sort of abuse today unless necessary and I’m sure that I wouldn’t call it fun. Hunters like us can truly say “we can survive”! It would be very easy today with all the modern gear at our disposal, but I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t be as much fun as it was then.
By Tony Wilson
AGI Inner Circle Member