HOW OLD DAVE HULL SCREAMED DOWN THE ALLIGATOR, AND WHAT FOLLOWED.
WRITTEN EXPRESSLY FOR “PORTER’S SPIRIT.”
DEAR SPIRIT:--Several years ago my business called me up the St. Francis River, to one of those villages that spring up in the great West like the work of enchantment ; and on my return, it was my luck to get on board of a one-horse steamboat, with a stern wheel. My fellow passengers were composed of the class that one might expect to meet on the borders of civilization. There was the hunter, the squatter, the farmer and Yankee—and where on this earth, I would ask, wont you find the latter? I think you’ll answer that there aint no such a place on earth ; but among the motley crowd was one who particularly attracted my attention. He wore a hunting coat of dressed buckskin, leggings of the same material, and on his head was a fox-skin cap with the tail attached. He was, I should judge, about thirty-two or three years of age, stood six feet one or two inches in height, was straight as an arrow, had broad shoulders, and long black hair, and a beard that looked as though it hadn’t been shaved in a generation.
His dark piercing eyes were ever on the move, and he seemed under a state of anxiety that he could not master. When our boat, though built expressly for light draft, would touch and be detained on the sand bank for a short time, his restlessness would know no bounds, and he reminded me of an untamed panther glaring through its cage. He held no conversation with any of his fellow passengers, rather wishing to avoid them, while they on their part, evinced no greater inclination to break upon his cogitations. Such, however, was not the case with me. My curiosity was awakened, and I determined to feather in on him. At first my advances were received with great coolness, but by degrees I broke the ice, and after having got him to “smile” with me two or three times, I found him quite tractable.
In the course of our second day’s journey, we stuck on the head of a bar, and for a time it seemed as though we had permanently located till “a rise.” My restive friend seemed to be on nettles all the while. He would be up on the hurricane deck one moment, then down in the engine-room, and the next would be pushing through the cabin, as though he was in chase of some fugitive. After lighting our boat of considerable of her cargo, on board of a barge that we had in tow for that purpose, we succeeded in getting off, and then, with the prospect ahead of not being again much detained with sand bars, my friend seemed more easy and tranquil.
In the course of the evening, I took occasion to observe to him that during our detention he seemed much excited.
“Excited, stranger! well, I reckon you’d be excited too, if you wur in the tarnal fix I’m in.”
“Important business?” I ventured to ejaculate.
“Important business! Why, stranger, I recon you’d think so if you had a pintment with big Bill Sparks, the bully of East Arkansaw, to fight it out at the Pint (Montgomery’s Point) on a certain day, and that day so darned nigh that it ‘ud take this everlasting squeaking and snorting thing a kicking the hul time to get thar!”
“Has your engagement been of long duration?”
“No ; I just sent him word last fall that I’de meet him thar this spring, and jerk him like a peeled ingin, and if I don’t keep my pintment, the diggings that I range in will be too tarnal hot for me when I gets back, and I’ll have to absquatulate!”
“I suppose your ‘some’ at a rough and tumble?” I observed.
“Some! some! Why, neighbor, I’m lightning; I’m Ben Legett, of Rockey-Fork ; I’m the Buffalow Bull of all that range. I’m the untamed catmount of all them wilderness! Some! why, stranger, I’m a whole team ; a perfect wheel horse without a rider! No, I’ll take that back, stranger; it’s everlasting excruciating to acknowledge it, but seeing as I’m away from home, and seeing as you are not likely to come up our way again, and if you did you’d not likely say any thing about it”—(and here he began to feel of his thumb-nails in such a way as caused me to experience a queer sensation in the corner of my eyes)—“I’ll own up, for I love the purty thing.”
“May I be so bold as to ask under what circumstances such an event occurred?” said I, very respectfully ; for by this time I began to regard him with as much veneration as a pig does a hungry bear who is in the act of condescending to embrace him.
“Well, stranger, seeing it’s you, I’ll tell you! but we’ll liquor first.”
After imbibing, we walked out on the boiler-deck, took chairs, and my friend commenced :
“Several years ago, a good many of the boys wur collected around old Dave Hull, on a ‘lection day at our town, when a general call wur made on him for a tale. Dave was one of them critters that couldn’t sleep in a log-house with the chinks knocked out, for the want of air. He had spent his life in hunting, trapping, skelping Ingens, and such like amusement, and was known to be one of the everlastingest liars in our whole range. But some how or ruther it had got whispered round that it wurrent holsome to tell him so.
“Says Dave, ‘Why, boys, if I tell you one you won’t believe it, so what’s the use of talking to you when I could be employed in crucifying red-eye?’ The boys all assured him, let it be what it mout, they’d gobble it. So, after taking another pinch at the bottle, Dave commenced :
“It seems that Dave went up the Abine one fall to spekelate with the varmints for their skins. His old canoo wurrent long for this world, as the insurence wur nearly expired on her. When he got to a place whar he thought skins and peltries wur purty plenty, he got out, tied old dugout to a stake, built a cabin, and went to work jerking the hides off the varmints mazin industerously.
“Dave, being the only human critter in all them diggings, arter a while began to feel sorter lonesomish, and concluded he’d have some domestic si’ety. So he goes down to the river, drags the old dugout to the edge of the swamp near his cabin, fills her with mud, sand, leaf, brush, &c., ranges long down the swamp, pounces on an alligator’s nest, totes them to the canoo, hunts up an old she alligator, grins her inter submission, till she walks of with him to whare the eggs wur, sets them in the mud and sand, covers them with the brush, and finally tends them, to keep off the coons and other pesky suck-egg varmints.
“ ‘Well,’ says Dave, ‘one day, some time arterwards, as I was coming to the cabin, after being out to look at my traps, what should I see but that same old “she” making tracks for the river, with my whole family of little ones, that had hatched out, following her. I tell you what it is, boys, I wur pesky riled at that. Only think of the ungreatfulness of the everlasting old skunk, after all my trouble in finding the eggs, toting the canoo and other truck thar, for her to coxe my property off in that way, without so much as saying, with your permission, Uncle Dave! I tell you, boys, it just made the dander rize rite on top my head, and I drawed a bead on her and gin her one scream! My voice struck her somewhar just back the fore-shoulder, and I wish I may be treed on a forked streak of lightning by a thunderbolt, if she ever gin a kick arterwards. Well, I gathered the inhabitants up and toted them to the cabin.
“ ‘Sometime arterwards as I wur returning to my cabin one evening, I thought I seed some one thar I hadent invited to call ; and I wur just a going to get down on my all-fours to paw and tear up the ground, and to brag that I wur a buffalow bull, and could jirk any everlasting sneak that would take such liberties with my property, when I seed it wur the allroarest biggest bar I ever clapped my eyes on, and he wur coming rite arter me. I threw old pin driver in the palm of my hand, drew a bead, and pulled the trigger an instant too soon. I only broke one of his fore legs. Well, you better believe we wur intamate before you, bat your eye. I whipped out old butcher, and then commenced one of the most budifferces scrimmages you ever clapped your eyes on. He just gin me one slap, and I thought the hull family of Hulls wur extinct. I landed about fifteen feet off, but afore he’d got to me I had caught my second wind. He wur rite on top me in an instant, but I whipped old butcher through his ribs, and then it commenced in down earnest. Oh, it was splendiferous! It wur delightful, boys, to see how the critter played them hind legs of his. I tell you what it is, he made the fur and leather fly, but butcher wur in that fight and taking an active part, too, I tell you. In our scrimmage we’d rolled down the bank into the swamp, whur the old canoo lay, now sunk under the water, and she wurrent morn half full of mud and truck, and as luck would have it, when we got to that place it wur bar’s time to be under, and maybee you think I’me the the man that wouldent take any honest advantage I could git in a free fight. If you do, all I got to say is, your mistaken in the person, for he’d no sooner, lit in old canoo, then I sent butcher clean through his gizzard, splitting his heart right in two. Well, boys, he gin out, and never even so much as thanked me for bringing that scrimmage so budifferously to a conclusion.
For some days arter that I wur extremely sore and melloncolly, and when I turn to reflect upon the ungreatfulness of this world, thar I wur, had come all the way out thar for their special commodation, and now, to think how hard I’d toild all fall, winter and spring, for their benefit, among them and for them, now, to turn round and to treat me in this ungrateful manner ; boys, I tell you my feelings wur so allfired hurt, that I come tarneral night spiling, and so I jest come to the conclusion that I’de pack up my furs and peltari’es and make tracks for the settlements.
“ ‘Having them kinder feelings on me next morning, I shoulders my axe and walks down in the swamp, and the first big cypress
tree I come to, I socks rite inter it. Well, I know I was allfired mad, and were jerking into the big licks, but I hadent chopped at it more nor twenty licks, when I heard the allfiredest cracking, and on looking, I tell you it wur just switching the saplins around in that neighborhood awfully. Well, it hadent moren lit afore I wur atop of it, but I dident stay long thar, for the next thing I knowd, I lit in the fork of a saplin about twenty yards off ; I scrambled down out of that, and went to see what was the matter. When I got to my tree it wur making things fairly rip round in its neighborhood. It wur just see-sawing, first on one side, then on tother. I tell, you what it is, boys, an earthquake is a small circumstance to the way that tree wur making things rush. I wish I may be shot if it wurrent so everlasting crooked it couldent lay still ; so I concluded, as I dident feel very well after my jant up in the forks of that saplin, that I’d go to the cabin, and that possibly by morning the pesky thing would get still enough for me to trim it. Next morning I went down to whur it wur, and thar it wur sure enough, about ten feet under, agoing it at its old licks, first one side, then tother, making everything tremble around about thar. It seems that the tarnal thing had just got steam up, for it wur now putting in the awfulest jerks, and moving its way under, at a two-forty gait.
“ ‘So I concluded I’de be particular about the next tree I’de hitch on to, and select a strait one. Bym-by I finds the identical chap I wur a looking after, and I pitched rite inter it. I took out what I considered a pretty big chip, and then goes round on tother side, and did the same. When I got the second chip out, I went round tother side to see what on earth wur the cause of the tree’s not falling, when I found it wur necessary for me to take out another chip. When that was done, I had to do the same on tother side ; and so it continued all morning and afternoon, first one side then tother, till about half an hour by the sun—then there came a little puff of wind, and down came my tree. But, boys, may I never line another bee-hive, if thar wur anything of it left but the top. The fact is, it wur so everlastin straight, that it just kept settling, and I’d just been chopping off the butt end, first one side then tother, all day.’
“Here Dave took a long swig at the bottle, and, after giving a long breath, just pinched of another mouthful. He now seemed mazin satisfied, as he eyed first one and then another of the boys. And I tell you what it is, strainger, thar wur some of the awfulest faces made in trying to keep it down you ever did see. But they all declared it had took, till it came to my turn to acknowledge the corn. It wur too darned much aganst the grain for me ; flesh and blood couldent stand it. So when he axed me, I just busted rite out, and says I, ‘I wish I may be peeked through creation, by the bill of a hurricane, if I can gobble that down, Mister Hull!’ ”
No quicker said than zip! zip! he wur inter me. The way we went at it wur most budifferous. Talk about a bar and alligator fighting! or a catamount on his back, and a whole pack of dogs on top of him! Shaw! it wurrent a circomstance to our fight. Tie a dozen old tom-cats by the tail, hang them across a pole ; get a pale full of ants, stir them up till the inhabitants get right wicked, and then pore them onter the varments, and I recon youd have about the scacest idee entirely of the beauty of that ere scrimmage. But it wurrent no use how much I spread myself in that are fight, for I seed second best were the best I could get out of it, and so I just blated.
“Strainger, I couldent draw a dead bead on old Betsey for nigh on two years arterwards, for the everlasting critter had eenmost gouged both eys out ; three of my teeth wur knocked out, and had droped down inter my holler ; two of my fingers wur shorter by a jint, and thar wur skacely flesh enough left on my bones to keep the jints together. I wur entirely chawed up!”
Here my friend heaved a deep sigh, arose and walked aft. It was the last I saw of him until we arrived at the Point.
Should your readers have the curiosity, and you desire it, I will give you an account of the bully fight of the two bullys.
Source: Porter’s Spirit of the Times 1.19 (10 January 1857): 299-300. (University of Virginia Alderman Library, Barrett Collection).
Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.
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