Hal Roth - December 2006
Old News from Delmarva
Mr. Fred and a Coonhound Tale
I was browsing through some old newspapers one evening when my phone rang. “I have a story for you,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “I’ve been readin’ your book Conversations in a Country Store, and this story beats anything you’ve got in there.”
The following narrative is repeated exactly as told to me. Although I have been assured that all participants, the speaker excepted, have left for that great coon hunting woods in the sky, family names have been omitted as a courtesy to descendants.
“I and John _____ coon hunted a lot together, and my father had a sawmill down in Sageberry Swamp, back of Quantico. He had a fellow worked there by the name of Eli _____. His wife had some relatives were all plumbers, and their name was _____.
“Now I’m gonna drift a little from my story for a minute. Two of the [Eli’s wife’s relatives] were twins, and they would not take ’em both in the service. The reason for it was one of ’em had a heart condition.
“So they decided what they would do. They were workin’––both of ’em then––in the meat business in the A&P Store. One of ’em would go up to Bainbridge in the Navy for a week, and then the other one would slip in there, and he’d go back to the meat business. And that went on like that till it was time to go overseas. [The U.S. Naval Training Center at Bainbridge, Maryland, operated on the Susquehanna River from 1942 to 1976.]
“So then they were in a real problem. The one who was there decided he had to do somethin’, so he hurt himself. They give him an opportunity to recuperate, and they finally discharged him. He come back, and he and his brother wound up becomin’ number one plumbers.
“Now these two twins had a brother named Fred. They were from North Carolina originally, and Fred come up here and lived with Eli. Down in North Carolina they were in the bootleg business, but it got so hot for ’em down there they skipped away. They had an old place back in Sageberry swamp that I restored––enough so they could live in it.
“Now I’ll get back to my story.
“Eli and Fred lived way back down in the swamp, and Old Fred was a great hunter. He’d shoot deer back there––didn’t matter what the season if he was hungry––and he had an old coon dog that was good. He would hunt coons all year ’round, so the game wardens, they were gettin’ tight on him.
“One night Fred said, ‘John, the first night it’s a little foggy, I want you down here a little early. So it weren’t over a couple weeks later it come on foggy, and I went down there with John.
“Now Fred, he could imitate a squirrel and bring ’em from all over the woods to a tree right over top of him. He could imitate raccoons a fightin’ when they were in the sex drive. He could do anything like that.
“So he decided this night it was foggy that he’d hurry up to the store in Quantico. I forget the name of the people that run it. He told ’em, ‘Boy, I’m goin’ coon huntin’ tonight. I ain’t got no meat.’
“They said, ‘It’s gettin’ foggy.’
“He said, ‘That don’t make no difference. I got one dog can run ’em in the fog or anyway.’ He knew they would squeal on him.
“He come on back and we were waitin’, I and John.
“So Fred decided he’d wait till the game wardens got there, and it weren’t long till here they come in this old car. It had a two-way radio in it that plugged into the cigarette lighter.
“So Fred, he kicked in the woods and started this: ‘Aroooo, awoo, awoo’ and went off in the swamp.
“One game warden followed him and the other stayed in the car so he could talk on the radio.
“So Fred was goin’ through that swamp, just a howlin’ and a howlin’. He got down in there, musta been three quarters or a mile. It’s a huge swamp. Weren’t nobody but he or John could find their way around in there.
Fred kept bellerin’ away and got that warden down in there a good half to three quarters of a mile, and all of a sudden he shut up, just like that.
“In a few minutes it come over the radio. The warden said, ‘It’s funny he shut up like that.’
“The man in the car said, ‘Maybe he’s havin’ trouble findin’ the right tree. He’ll tree shortly.’
“It weren’t long and he started treein’. That was Fred.
“Well, then he shut up again and never said another word.
“John, he had got underneath the warden’s car––she was parked close to a ditch––and shorted the battery out and run everything down. John was mad. He wanted to shoot that warden so bad, and at the time he’d a-done it too. I said, ‘We’re gettin’ outa here.’
“Well, Fred come up and we met.
“After the fog cleared the next mornin’, this old game warden come up as muddy as a hog wallerin’. It was a muddy place anyhow. And it was summertime. Hot. Ticks. The skeeters had eat him up. He was really tired. He said, ‘If I ever get up with that dog, I’ll kill him.’ We were standin’ out there where we could hear him.
“We were there all night too, but we parked our car way back, before you got to where the lane to Fred’s place was, so we could slip out and go anytime we wanted. The last thing we heard of the warden was: ‘If I ever get up with that dog, I’ll kill him.’ He was just done in. And that got in the papers, how the game warden had got outsmarted.”
Well, I couldn’t resist searching for the alleged article on how the game warden had been drawn into the wilds of Sageberry Swamp and had spent a most uncomfortable night there. I never found that piece of journalism, but I did discover other news about Mr. Fred’s adventures.
There was at least one other occasion when Fred managed to escape unscathed after an encounter with a game warden.
“Dog Law Case Is Dismissed Here,” the Salisbury Times headline read.
“There is a game law that prohibits training dogs during closed season, but the judge didn’t think the law applied in this case.
“Neither did Fred ______’s attorney, Vaughn E. Richardson, who argued that ‘nothing in this law says he can’t have two dogs in the trunk of his car.’
“Thomas Gambril, Wicomico County deputy game warden said he found Mr. [Fred] at his car, which was stuck in the mud in a Mardela woods around 11 p.m. on February 1. Gambril testified that [Fred] first told him he was coon hunting and then later changed it to training his dogs.
“Judge Milton K. Larimore dismissed the case yesterday in People’s Court.”
But Fred did not always manage to escape the long arm of the game wardens: “Deer Hunters Pay $101 Here––Woman In Group Wins Acquittal,” another Salisbury headline announced.
“Five nocturnal deer hunters are poorer today––$101.50 each––because of illegal deer hunting charges.
“A lone woman against whom an illegal deer hunting charge was preferred was acquitted. She was with one of the two groups picked up by game wardens near here Thursday night.
“The case against Barbara _____, who entered a plea of not guilty, was dismissed by acting Judge Harry E. Hudson.
“At the time of the arrest, Miss [Barbara] was accompanied by Fred and Hollis _____. She testified she did not know what the men planned to do with the lights and guns in the woods.
“In two separate groups, the others were Norman_____, Ralph_____ and Earl_____ of near Hebron.
“State game wardens Ben Robbins and Paul R. Forester and Deputy Warden Jack Gambril made the arrests at 8 and 9 p.m. in the Sageberry-Cherrywalk Road section in the vicinity of Hebron.
“The game wardens said they were checking the Hebron area for poachers when they encountered the [Fred’s] group using portable spotlights and in possession of a rifle with bullets in their pockets.
“Robbins said he was returning from Salisbury about 8:30 p.m. when he met Forester, who had remained behind to continue his investigation. Forester was headed toward Salisbury with the other three. The second group, in addition to having portable spotlights, had a loaded rifle and two shotguns, the game wardens said.
“The charges against all were that they ‘unlawfully did throw or cast rays of a spotlight or artificial light on or across a field while having in his or their possession or under his or their control a firearm by which any deer could be killed.’”
Then there is the indictment I came across, which had been entered against Fred for larceny and possession of stolen goods, but that’s another story that I’m going to skip.
According to my narrator, Fred never did mend his ways and succeeded in his poaching more often than not.
In the process of searching old papers for reports of Mr. Fred’s dubious escapades, I came across an unrelated coonhound tale that I can’t resist sharing with you.
The two-column headline in the January 5, 1952 Salisbury Times reads: “Old Coon Hound Goes To Court––Everybody’s Pet, Nobody’s Dog.”
“Hurlock––Mollie, a crippled coonhound, roamed the streets of Vienna for almost four years and was everybody’s pet but nobody’s dog.
“But last October, Mollie had a litter of 11 high-bred puppies and people began to claim her––and the puppies.
“Three claimants, two lawyers, a deputy sheriff, two replevin warrants and many Vienna citizens came to Trial Magistrate George H. Rooks’ court here to find out who owned Mollie and her family. Meanwhile, Mollie and the 11 puppies slept quietly in their doghouse on the farm of Fred Sellers near Vienna.
“Mr. Sellers was one of the claimants. Others were Houston Hughes and George Richardson, both of Vienna.
“Gist of the lengthy testimony was that about four years ago Albert Kruger, who lives near East New Market, gave Mollie to Mr. Hughes. After roaming the streets, Mollie finally began to stay at Mr. Richardson’s home, and the Richardsons petted and fed her.
“Mr. Hughes still took the dog hunting, though, and he told the court he always felt she was his.
“After Mollie had her litter, Mr. Richardson, who said the dog had been tacitly given him by Mr. Hughes, sent her to the Sellers’ farm.
“When Mr. Hughes couldn’t get Mollie, now seven years old, to hunt with him this season, he had a replevin warrant issued by Trial Magistrate Eldridge Lloyd of Vienna. Deputy Sheriff Hamilton Porter carried the dogs away from the Sellers’ farm.
“Mr. Sellers had a second replevin warrant issued the next day, and Sheriff Porter returned the dogs.
“Mr. Hughes asked removal of the case from Vienna. Judge Rook was faced with deciding whether the dog had been given to Richardson and to whom the puppies––some now given away––belonged.
“Judge Rook decided Mollie belonged to Mr. Richardson, who had cared for her for two years. He advised Mr. Hughes that the cost of keeping a coon dog for two years was $390 on a basis of $3.75 a week to Mr. Richardson and $80 to Mr. Sellers.
“If Mr. Hughes wanted Mollie and her pups he would have to pay the total $470 for keep, but meanwhile the dogs belonged to Mr. Richardson.
“Mr. Hughes, who was not represented by counsel, paid court costs of nearly $12.”
You can reach Hal Roth at email@example.com