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My dad and I once got stuck in Suckersville

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise Saturday September 11, 1999.

NEDERLAND—If you were complaining about a pothole in your street, you’d have had much more to complain about in Jan. 1925 when often there wasn’t even a road. The shell ran out on “Highways” 69 and 96 near Pine Island Bayou, and beyond to Lufkin or San Augustine was only dirt road. The State of Texas and the nation were not fully convinced that Henry Ford and his “horseless carriage” were here to stay.

In Jan. 1925, Dad and I toured Jasper and Tyler counties for the Texas Anti-Saloon League. It as like a religious crusade, as Dad showed a silent, tearjerker film, named “Ten Nights in A Bar Room,” in all the country churches. As a result, all the bootleggers were supposed to see the error of their ways and chop up their whiskey stills.

We spent one night in Harmony Settlement, southwest of Woodville. Before bedding down in the old farmhouse that had a “dog trot” down the middle, I was frightened as the bear hunters told their stories around the fireplace. About midnight, I remember being rudely awakened by a big bear, pursued by yelping hounds that pounded his way through the “dog trot” in search of safety in the neighboring jungles.

A century ago, it seemed that some East Texans made a profession out of killing Old Bruin if he came within rifle range. Galveston Weekly News of Jan. 28, 1878, observed that:  “...A. Stephenson, the old bear hunter of Southeast Texas, killed 33 bears last season, and so far this season he has killed 49 bears...”

In 1890 Judge Hightower was a well-known bear hunter in Liberty County. On one occasion, he was trailing a big bear through dense jungle in the Trinity River bottomlands. Suddenly he came upon a clearing, where the bear was fighting off his dogs with every fang and claw, and his favorite hound was dead on the ground.

Very quickly the judge was clinging to the bear’s back with one hand, while plunging his dagger into every vital spot of the bear with his right hand. Suddenly Old Bruin sank to the ground in death, while the judge and the rest of his pack suffered only a few scratches.

In March 1878, a Galveston News reporter wrote about a big bear, being pursued by 2 men and a dog near the Sour Lake Hotel. While the bear was fighting off the dog, the younger man approached with a knife. The bear quickly turned on the man and sank his fangs into the back of his neck.

When the father approached with a gun, the bear rose on his hind legs, gave him a hug, then “crushed his skull in his mouth like an egg shell.” At the same moment a hunter named Steele from the hotel arrived and killed the bear. The two dead men were Indians from the Coushatta encampment on Trinity River.

While we were returning from Tyler County, our Model T “touring car” got stuck in a slough, where a week earlier several logs had lain to permit easier crossing. When an old farmer came up with a yoke of oxen, Dad asked him what happened to the logs in the slough.

“Ah sawed ‘em up yesterday fur farwood,” he explained as he discarded a mouthful of tobacco juice. He then charged us $15, equal then to a week’s wages, to pull us out.

As we departed up the next hill, Dad told the old pioneer that all he needed to obtain a month’s wages was about 5 more “suckers” like us.

“Three’s a’plenty!” the old farmer responded, as he cut off another chew from his plug of tobacco.

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