WRITTEN FOR “PORTER’S SPIRIT.”
BY A “GENT. AT LARGE.”
Mudville, Miss’i. Nov. 24th.
DEAR SPIRIT--I am such a bird of passage that my own pointed often fails to “spot” me ; however, my present habitat is a small one-horse town upon the banks of the “Big Muddy;” plumage tweed gray, tapered off with cow-hide shanks ; food, principally soft “schnapps,” taken by suction. Old Agassiz, no doubt, would class me with the “suckers,” although, fishiologically speaking, I resemble more of the “mud cat”--Oregon trout, as the celebrated McM------, of the Washington House, calls it.
My object in squatting here is to enjoy the society of the snipe, woodcock, and myriads of water-fowl, which the winter months bring with them from the far North.
Although this is quite a small town, hardly honored with a place upon the map, still there are many interesting associations connected with it, as the site of a large fort in former years, the garrison of which met a tragical fate at the hands of the treacherous savages. It is quite a picturesque spot, too, situated, as the town is, at the foot of a lofty range of hills, decked with the evergreen magnolia, and swept at the base by the waters of the restless Mississippi.
A tradition exists that, in years long since, an aged priest was murdered upon this spot by the Indians. This story was strongly corroborated by the Dutch, who afterwards settled here.
They swore, and their children to this day swear, that upon a stormy night, when it seemed as if the evil spirits from Pandemonium were set loose, this old priest appeared upon the hills, moving his arms to and fro, as if addressing an audience. However, as this was long after both priest and Indians had disappeared from the country, it is the passing opinion of historians that the worthy burghers were either awfully frightened, or else most fearfully drunk.
I wish to introduce you to one of our “characters.” He is a long, lank pattern of humanity, with a very red shock of hair--shocking red hair, rather--and a pair of deep, sunken gray eyes, which look as if they were constantly on the alert to get a peep at the middle of next week. To use his own expression, “he keeps ‘em allers skinned.”
This is Turkey Tom--cousin to Tom Owen, celebrated in the songs of Thorpe--born, bred, and brought up in the State of Arkansaw, with a through ticket for any kind of a spree, from a ball to a “bar-fight;” a few in any kind of hunting, but especially death on turkies.
I was out hunting early one morning during the last “gobbling season,” and was quietly stealing through the woods, when I was suddenly accosted by some one issuing from the canebrake.
“Hello! I say, stranger, you ain’t seen nothin’ of a one-eyed, ball-face, bob-tail pony, cruisin’ aroun’ here this mornin’, is yer?”
“Nary one-eyed, ball-faced, bob-tailed pony, my friend,” I replied.
“Well, I reckon the little cuss has strayed to’rds home ; but I’ll lam his hide when I ketch him.”
The speaker was about moving on, when, seeing that he carried a rifle, I asked him if he had been successful in his hunt.
“Stranger,” he replied, “I’m allers successful, and it don’t matter whether I hunt in a clearin’ or a canebrake ; ef I ever place my eye on a varmint, he has about as much chance as a nigger baby in a bar-fight. He’s a gone darkey, sartin. As for turkies, I don’t know whether they war made jest ‘specially for me to hunt, or I was made jest to hunt them. When I was a baby, they give me a turkey bone to cut teeth on, and I rather reckon it worked inter my natur’.
“A turkey gobbler is mity cunnin’--the cunnin’est thing in the world, I reckon, except it is a wide-awake wider or a one-eyed Yankee. Hunt a gobbler rite close for a while, and he will git so cunnin’ that he won’t gobble without runnin’ his head in a holler, and won’t cross a branch where it is muddy enough to leave his tracks.
“Up in Arkansaw, oncet, I hunted jest such a one more’n a year before I fixed him. I had my heart set on killing him, and I actilly believe, ef I hadn’t got that gobbler, it would have been the death of me. He dodged me so long that I was jest wastin’ away to a shadder. That turkey roosted on my stomach and gobbled in my ear every night. At last, though, I fixed his flint for him. I diskivered he was too fat to fly, and findin’ it warnt no matter of use tryin’ to burn powder at him, I one mornin’ put my hounds upon his scratchin’s. My dogs is fast, but they run that turkey three hours before they come up with him. The last half mile I could track him jest by the grease that dropped out of him as he became heted ; and when the dogs picked him up, he warnt nuthin’ but one gob of ile and feathers.
“Stranger, that gobbler’s beard was so long that he allers carried the end of it in his mouth to keep from treadin’ on it, and his spurs war so big that I used one of ‘em for a powder horn.”
“Remarkably large turkies you have in Arkansaw, my friend,” I replied, as soon as I could catch my breath.
“Yes, stranger, but everything else is big in that State. The musketeers grow to be as big as blue herons, and the ticks there are larger than your terrapins here.”
Just then I heard something drop--can’t say what it was--believe somebody fainted.
That’s the way I first saw Turkey Tom.
Source: Porter’s Spirit of the Times, 20 December 1856 (vol 16): 252. University of Virginia Alderman Library, Barrett Collection.
Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.
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