"Doc" Cox was
County Game Warden. He was a hard-living,
of a fellow with a habit of bowling over anybody that
got in his way.
had a lot more enemies than friends in Wise County,
and it came as no
surprise to anybody when he was killed.
Doc had a
for the arrest of a man named Ted Carter, charging him
fish near his home on Guests River. He went out one
day in early July,
1931--possibly the Fourth of July--to arrest Carter,
and he never came
back. His body was found in a sitting position behind
of his car. He had been shot to death, the bullets
coming from a
Ted Carter was later
to trial for the murder, but came clear--primarily
because it came to
that Doc Cox had been fooling with his (Carter's)
In 1931 the
salary of the
Wise County Game Warden was $90 per month. Out of that
$90, he had to
his own car and pay his own expenses. If he was
killed, he even had to
furnish his own casket. There were certain "fringe
Game Warden could supplement his income by performing
duties as county deputy sheriff, process server,
truant officer, and
Public. In this latter capacity, he became an
important man in local
the best-known "outside" contact of the many hundreds
back-country mountaineers in places
Bear Creek, the Glades, Johnson Flats, Pole Fence Gap,
Thacker's Branch, Hoot-Owl Hollow, the Nettle Patch,
Big Pickum, Little
Pickum, Pick-Your-Britches, and Hell-For-Certain.
Escorting the County
Registrar of Voters into these backwoods communities,
he could make it
easy for people of his own political leanings to get
and he could make it equally difficult
of Doc Cox, seventy-four men took the Civil Service
exam to determine
successor. Not one of them passed the exam.
It was then that my
Henry Gilmer, the bank president, and Roy Fuller, the
warden, suggested that I apply for the job. Up to that
time, I had been
backing a friend named Lonzo Roberts in his bid. Due
to my limited
I had not even considered myself a candidate.
With a little
from Gilmer and Fuller, though, I went into action.
And once I set my
on getting the job, it became an obsession with me. I
My kid sister, Etta,
going to high school at Norton and keeping house for
me at the time. I
told her to ask "Prof" Burton to send me all of Norton
pertaining to county and state geography, fish and
wildlife, and game
I shut myself up in the house and studied like hell
for the next thirty
days. The only times I left the house were to visit
the privy. (As I
already pointed out, inside plumbing was a rarity, as
well as a luxury,
in those days.)
When the second
Service exam was given, two men passed: Dave O'Neill
and Patrick Hagan
Spivey, a young man from Scott County who was named
for my father's old
and dear friend, Patrick Hagan.
When Spivey and I
adjudged to be absolutely equal in our qualifications
for the job, he
that we settle the tie by flipping a coin. Though I
rather have settled it in a back room
the door barred, I finally agreed to the coin toss.
Later, during my
as Wise County's "Bull of the Woods, " the story got
around that when
coin was flipped I blocked Spivey's view of it, picked
it up with my
resting on the butt of my pistol, and said, "It's
heads; I win." That's
just another of those stories that have no foundation
in fact. The coin
toss was conducted in the presence of supervising Game
and I won it fair and square.
But I can't
definitely what would have happened had it gone the
other way. I wanted
that job, more desperately than I had ever wanted
anything in my life.
I went to work
County Game Warden in April, 1932.
It wasn't as easy or
pleasant as I had anticipated. First of all, there was
that I had to live down. Doc, as I hinted earlier, was
rounder. He used the office of game
as a base of power, and he was sometimes arrogant and
brutal in the way
he dealt with people.
involved, too. In hard times, even decent and normally
are apt to have little respect for fish and game laws.
And those, good
buddy, were hard times. How many men will let their
families go hungry,
when there are fish in the streams and squirrels in
the tree? The man
with protecting that wildlife has a real job on his
hands. A dangerous,
thankless job. That was the situation I faced in 1932.
And then there is a
element in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia
(and, in fact,
all of the Southern Appalachians) that considers
itself exempt from all
game and conservation laws, in good times or bad.
They'll kill a man
and over less, than even the big city gangsters.
Many a game warden,
order to stay alive, gives the hard-core mountain
poachers a wide
He enforces the law in perhaps ninety percent of his
county, but he
to hell out of the other ten percent. Or he makes
"deals" with the bad
boys, and polices them on their own terms.
When I took
oath of office, I decided to make the fish and game
laws of Virginia
to all citizens of Wise County on an equal basis
whether they be
friends or enemies, relatives or strangers,
law-abiding people or the
and most disrespectful bastards on earth. Toward that
end, I set about
establishing myself as the best man in the county with
my fists or with
a gun. If I was issuing a citation and a man started
handing me a line
of crap, I was pretty apt to lay down my pistol and my
badge and invite
him to put up or shut up. And I practiced for hours
every week with my
Smith & Wesson triple lock .44 Special, until I
became as quick and
as accurate with it as any man in that part of the
don't care much for many of society's laws, they have
always placed a
of stock in The Law of the Gun. Just about everybody
who lives in the
owns a gun and knows how to use it. It's a regular
custom for the men
a community to get together on holidays and special
occasions for a
match"--shooting at stationary targets or at objects
thrown in the air.
Some of them, of course, get to be expert shots.
York, the famous World War I hero? He was from our
part of the country.
It's quite possible that even today, some of the
in the world have never even heard of clay pigeons!
I made a point
enter every one of those shooting contests I could get
into. It wasn't
long before word got around that the new game warden
was the best
shot in that part of the country. And such a big
pistol too. Why, that
thing would blow a man's head off! I didn't do a thing
in the world to
discourage that kind of talk.
One of the
of my career as a marksman came in a match at Guests
River with Ted
the man who had killed my predecessor, Doc Cox.
My first three
were all bullseyes, on cans tossed into the air. Then
someone set an
shotgun shell on a fence post about twenty-five feet
away. I whipped
my pistol, aimed, and fired. It was a perfect hit. The
shell casing was
untouched, but the cap was blown off! Ted Carter
examined the casing,
and put his gun away. The match was over.
I'll be the first to
that I had scored with a lucky shot. But it wasn't
exactly an accident,
either. It really represented luck, plus nerve and a
hell of a lot of
practice. Whatever it was, it sure didn't do my
reputation as an expert pistolero
benefit" of the county game warden job at the
time I took over
full jurisdiction over dog laws. It was a source of
Wise County had no
pound in those days. It was my job to levy and collect
rabies shots, destroy unwanted animals, and otherwise
enforce all laws
pertaining to dogs. The licensing and vaccinating end
of it was a
but very profitable business; I could sub-contract the
work and still
a nice profit. But I've always loved dogs, and I hated
to kill them.
It was just another of those things
had to be done--unthankful, unpleasant work. Somebody
had to do it.
on the "fee system" of law enforcement until the early
received one dollar for each arrest, and $50 for each
Justices of the peace were elected by the people. They
got one dollar
each warrant issued. It was a system that invited
fraud and political
that's the way things were done in Harry Byrd's
One of the
pleasant aspects of game law enforcement is the
comradeship an officer
finds among sportsmen. A game warden is essentially a
the building of good will and respect for the law
is as much a part of his job as is the apprehension of
I tried to make
always available, without fee, to attend meetings of
Boy Scouts, or businessmen's organizations and to
address them on any
pertaining to conservation, game laws, wildlife study,
of firearms, or just about anything else.
I was able to
on helpful bits of information to fishermen and
hunters, things that
make them more likely to come home with something in
the creel or
other things that would underline the importance of
to their fellow man. A lot of hunters, for example,
came back and told
me that they had improved their shooting a hundred per
this little suggestion I used to make: Stand an
unloaded shotgun by the
head of your bed, and practice using it for a few
minutes each day. On
a self-determined signal, grab up the shotgun and
throw down on same
on the ceiling--then check the sights to see how
accurately you have
Repeat a few thousand times, and eventually you'll be
able to throw
on a target
and have it in your sights immediately.
of Southwest Virginia were in ancient times (and are
again today) a
home for deer, the species had practically disappeared
from Wise and
counties many years before I became Game Warden. Deer
had been hunted
killed into virtual extinction in an area encompassing
many hundreds of
After a lot of
talking and politicking, and with the aid of some
state and private
I arranged in 1932 for the importation from Pisgie,
Carolina, of fifty healthy young fawns.
first "positive" deer seen in that part of the state
since Civil War
the fawns were raised on P. Terpster's dairy
farm in Powell's Valley until they were
enough to be released into the wild.
of the herd, called "Old Dick" jumped over a
sixteen-foot fence in
to escape from the farm, suffering a broken foreleg in
the process. He
was quickly recaptured and his leg splinted--but,
being a cripple, he
to remain behind when his playmates were turned loose.
Old Dick lived
captivity for so long he just couldn't adjust to the
ways of a wild
when he finally was released. He took up first at
Coeburn High School,
then at Virginia City, where he became such a pest
that people in the
wanted him taken elsewhere.
the buck and took him into the mountains and turned
him loose in the
of a herd of nice, fat young does over near Cracker's
Neck, but he soon
showed up in civilization again, bumming around
Coeburn and Wise High
One day a big,
boy named Ed Parks got a gun and shot Old Dick. He
probably figured the
deed would make him a local hero, but it didn't quite
work out that
I arrested young Mr. Parks for killing the deer
illegally, and he got
maximum sentence: a $100 fine and six months in jail.
It was his own
testimony that convicted him.
before Trial Justice "Uncle Tommy" Hamilton, who was
born and raised in
the mountains of Wise County, living a good part of
his life in the
town politics is something that is impossible, really,
to describe to
who hasn't experienced it. Perhaps this little story
will give you some
idea what it's like:
In 1938 I
a Norton woman cast an illegal vote by mail. It was a
to do, but it was very much in accordance with the way
we did things in
those days. Without those kind of votes, we couldn't
win an election.
of a militant old Republican named P.D. Bishop, who
ran a used auto
business in Norton, a warrant was issued charging me
with fraud in
It was an extremely serious charge, sure to cost me my
job if proven in
court. In fact, I wasn't at all sure that I could even
stay out of
the way things were shaping up. The local Republicans
knew I was a real
vote-getter for the Democrats in that area, and they
were all for
hell out of the thing.
But then I got a
break. Deputy Sheriff Jim Collins came to me and told
me that Orb
Cordor, who was at that time the postmaster at Norton
and a local
party leader, had contracted to take delivery on two
ten-gallon kegs of
moonshine whiskey on the Post Office loading platform
at 11 p.m. one
just before a big election. That information gave me
the "wedge" I
to free myself from that charge of voting Margaret
I waited until just
the moonshine was due to be delivered before calling
on Mr. Cordor. I
mince any words: I knew all about that illegal whiskey
transaction that was due to take place
U.S. Government property in just a few minutes, and I
was ready to blow
the whistle--but if Mr. Cordor would be kind enough to
agree to use his
influence to have the election fraud charges against
me dropped, I'd
quiet about the moonshine.
It didn't take
long to reach what is commonly known as a political
to call it a "gentleman's agreement."
Orb kept his
and I kept mine. And neither of us was ruined.
in Southwest Virginia in my day, you got votes where
you could find
Lizzie Woliver, for example. They were both good
Democrats, but Lizzie
was illiterate as hell. That made it rough, because in
of Virginia, every voter must pass a literacy
test---unless of course,
the voter is blind.
to go wrong with Lizzie Woliver's eyesight once each
day. She'd show up at the polls wearing dark glasses,
blind as a
bat, and some loyal party worker would
to lead her into the voting booth and help her to vote
Rash, continued to vote for several years after he was
too feeble and
to find his way around. We carried him bodily to the
polls! Like I say:
you got votes where you could find them.
some of the things I had a hand in while hustling
votes for the
party in Wise and neighboring counties. It was rotten
me, the other side was cutting corners, too.
Sometimes, I think they
outdid us. But not often.
areas were allowed to vote by mail--so you can guess
what happened to
of their votes. In my capacity as as Notary Public, I
of Voters, a lady named Rose Roberts, all over
the back country.
Rose and I
the mountain people mark their ballots and place them
to which the Notary's seal was affixed. But we had a
nasty habit of
the envelopes, throwing out the "negative" ballots,
ones. Sometimes we'd let a few Republican ballots go
with, just so it wouldn't look so bad--and because
everybody knew there
were a good many loyal Republicans in the back
justification to offer for this action, other than to
say that in my
I knew that the policies of the Democratic party were
the best ones for
the people of my area in those days of starvation and
I wanted to keep my job.
serious business--most of the time. But i t does have
i ts lighter
a school-age colored boy gigging fish near Coeburn. I
took him to his
where he lived with some old people--most likely his
The shriveled-up old
called from inside the house when we walked up on the
"Honey, do you get
"Get some fish,
," the boy snorted. "The man done got me!
Norton, president of the. Norton Coal Co., had
peculiar problem. He was
taking a party of friends, including Mrs. King of
in Bristol, and Judge Carter of Scott County, on a
fishing party into
mountains. His problem was that he had a gallon of
in the trunk of his car, but he was afraid to take a
drink in the
The party had
me on the road on their way into the mountain, and
Willetts had flagged
me down for a quick conference.
"Let me handle
Webb," I said.
the other car, I engaged Judge Carter in conversation
for a few minutes
and then I got him off to one side and said, in a very
"I don't know about you, Judge , but I feel pretty
rough today, like
I'm coming down with a cold. I believe Webb keeps a
little bottle in
trunk of his car sometimes, and if you don't mind, I
think I'll ask him
for a drink--strictly for medicinal purposes."
"Why, that's a
idea, Dave, " said the judge. "I've always
regarded whiskey as a
wonderful medicine, and I think It'll just join you in
a little drink,
a huge man, and chewed tobacco. I'll never forget the
picture of him,
his big cud of tobacco in one hand as he downed two
table glasses of
whiskey, without batting an eye--strickly for
One day in the
I was driving from Tacoma to Norton with deputy Ray
Wells and my
Tom when we came up behind a horse-drawn wagon. A
young man about
years old, dressed in his "Sunday" clothes , was
standing up in the
running the horse and whipping it with a long, stiff
pole. The horse
already gone lame. It was dead tired, bathed in foamy
and ready to drop in its traces.
the wagon long enough to see what was going on, then
swung around in
of it and stopped. Charging back to the wagon, I
grabbed the pole out
the boy's hand.
"Now we'll see
you like it on the other end of this goddam thing, " I
Whap! I laid the
down across his shoulders, breaking it in two. And I
proceeded to wear
him out with what was left of his whip, breaking it
with just about
lick, until it was worn down to a length of less than
ways had stopped, and people in their cars sat
stupid-looking and bewildered, all the time I was
don't know why I whupped you, do you ?" I said.
figure you would. But you take what's left of this
whip with you, and
it be a reminder to you that if I ever hear of you
beating this horse
I'll come back and take up where I left off."
back in the car again, Ray Wells said, "Dave, that man
will kill you
kills me for defending a poor, dumb animal against
that kind of
I replied, "I'll consider it an honorable way to die"'
And I still
me that a lady named Maggie Wagner of Pound, Virginia
as the Pound) was keeping an unlicensed
Pound's Justice of the Peace, warned me in issuing the
was a wicked woman. He suggested that I take along
some help in going
investigate the report, and that we use extreme
dealing with her. Thus forewarned, I
Ray Wells with me when I called on the Wagner woman.
nor I knew Maggie Wagner, other than by reputation.
When we arrived at
her house, we found a boy skinning a squirrel (which,
out of season) in her front yard. I called the boy
over to the gate to
moment, the front door of the house swung open and a
woman stepped out with a big pistol in her hand.
Cursing violently, she
threw down on us and squeezed the trigger--but the
Wells and I
up the steps, grabbed the woman, and slapped handcuffs
a large, raw-boned man with black hair and a three-day
stubble of beard
came out of the house. He made no move to interfere
with our arrest of
the woman, so we left him behind when
took her off to jail.
later, as she was being booked, Maggie admitted guilt
and her attempted assault on Ray and me. But both she
and the boy
that the unlicensed dog at their house belonged to the
man, whom they further identified as a
man who had killed two people.
to the house, where I found the "bad" man sitting on
the front porch
his head down and a pistol laying across his lap. He
made no move as I
approached, and when I picked up his gun I saw that he
that he had "lost his nerve." He said that he had
armed himself because
people had told him the first thing Dave O'Neill would
do was kill his
the man that I'd killed a lot of dogs, but never one
a license for his dog--and paid a fine for being
late--and the case was
on the road to Wise, is a community called Stoney
Lonesome. I went
one day, looking for a boy suspected of violating the
met me on the porch, and we became engaged in
conversation. The boy
to the door, saw me standing there in my uniform, and
turned pale. He
the door and went back inside.
and I talked a few more minutes, and then he called to
the boy to come
on out. The boy did not reply. The father called
several more times,
boy still didn't answer.
father stepped into the house to investigate.. The boy
out on the floor--dead. He had suffered a fatal heart
of the law can sometimes walk into an explosive
it. That's another way of saying that he can get his
head blown off
time several seasons back when a rabid dog was running
Ford, near the town of St. Paul. The dog was known to
other dogs in the neighborhood before it was killed by
those dogs, of course, had to be destroyed right away
to prevent rabies
dogs was owned by a mentally retarded nine-year-old
boy whose family
in a little farm house below the road, at the foot of
halfway down the embankment when the boy's mother
cried out a warning.
Mr. O'Neill! He'll shoot you!" she yelled, and I
dove for cover.
holed up in the barn with his dog and a shotgun. He
had been told that
I was coming to kill his dog, and he had decided to
shoot me first.
From my cover
an old outbuilding, I began a long-range conversation
with the boy. He
wouldn't listen to his mother, but he listened to me.
to him what rabies was, and why I had
take his dog. After a few minutes he walked out of the
barn, crying a
bit, but without the shotgun. He turned the
dog over to me.
little boy a promise, and I kept it. On my next trip
to Burton's Ford,
I brought him a new puppy.
a big coal operator named Gibson moved to Norton, I
received a tip that
he and two men who worked for him were killing deer at
them out of the mountain in Gibson's car.
me just fine. Though I had never met Mr. Gibson
personally, I knew a
something about him. And what I knew, I didn't like.
John O'Neill had
been marked for death as a result of his union
organizing activities in
a Harlan County (Kentucky) coal camp where Gibson
swung a lot of power.
Fortunately, John got out of Kentucky with his family
a few hours ahead
of the "goon squad." But I didn't consider the matter
after Gibson moved to Norton and started poaching on
the deer that I
worked so hard to bring back to that country.
weeks of careful investigation and surveillance, I
caught Mr. Gibson
his two companions with the goods. Sure that they had
deer in the trunk of Gibson's car as they came down
off the High Knob,
I pulled out behind them and sounded my siren. He led
me on a
chase down the mountain and when he finally did pull
over, it was at a
lonely spot on the road.
was dealing with bad actors, I was ready for anything
as I approached
All three sat in their car, not moving or speaking.
a huge, bull-necked man, weighing maybe 260 pounds. He
sat behind the
giving me the fisheye.
I'd like to search the trunk of your car, if you don't
mind," I said.
Gibson made a quick move with his right hand. But he
hadn't moved the
six inches before I rammed the muzzle of my .357
Magnum into his neck,
just below his left ear.
there!" I said. "One false move and I'll kill you."
drained from the big man's face, and his Adam's apple
bobbed up and
slight motion, or maybe it was just a nervous quiver,
in that very split-second, I shoved the gun barrel
deeper into his neck.
I tell you!" I shouted, right in his ear. "Don't
move move a
or I'll blow your goddam head off!"
was just reaching for the keys," he said.
Maybe he was, and maybe he wasn't. It developed later
that he did have
a pistol in his coat pocket. He might have been going
for it, before I
changed his mind.
was there, all right--a freshly-killed deer in the
trunk of his car. I
was able to get a conviction, with the maximum
sentence, for the two
get a warrant for Gibson, who was guilty as hell but
insisted that he
aware that the other two men had put a deer in his
car. Judge Taylor,
with all the evidence laid out before him, backed
see you figure that one out.
law enforcement is dull work, and sometimes it's
pleasant, and sometimes it's pretty grim.
dog licenses in the Stonega coal camp in 1933. The
on. The mines were shut down, and just about everybody
at Stonega was
Dog licenses were something that most people just
house in the Negro section of the camp, an unlicensed
dog lay in the
yard. I climbed the steps to the high front porch and
knocked on the
A giant of a man, well over six feet and black as
coal, swung the door
open and looked down at me.
he said, "you ain't goin' kill my dog." He was
standing full in the
his shoulders almost touching the facing on either
side, his right hand
rest ing on a gun rack overhead.
into my mouth and offering him one, I said, "Partner,
what on earth
you think I came here to shoot your dog?"
I pretended not to notice that the big black hand was
now fondling the
handle of a pistol in the gun rack. Under the pretense
of fumbling for
a match, I got my hand on my own pistol and before the
big black man
what had happened, I was aiming it at his bellybutton.
man under arrest, I escorted him to the court of Judge
The judge fined him $75 for attempted assault on an
officer, $5 plus
for the unlicensed dog, and gave him thirty days in
when I had begun to feel sorry for the old boy, he
pulled a roll of
out of his pocket so big that when he peeled off four
even make a dent in it. I have no idea what he had
done to get that
of money in those days, but whatever it was, you can
bet it wasn't
probably, is by now familiar with the tragic story of
pigeon--of how this species was once almost as
numerous as the sparrow;
and of how it was slaughtered into extinction.
President Woodrow Wilson
wrote that as a youth in the Ohio Valley, he once
observed a migratory
flight of passenger pigeons 250 miles wide, flying at
sixty miles per
that took twelve hours to pass. Yet within forty years
from that time,
they were extinct.
"passengers" were not wiped out by famine or by
disease or by
predator. They were killed out, by people. My maternal
Beverley Nickels, as a young girl witnessed and took
part in the
I have heard her describe how everyone in her
community (Tom's Creek,
Wise County) used to go out to where the pigeons were
groves, and club them down until their bodies covered
the ground. They
carried them away by the sackful--to eat, of course.
The pigeons were
in similar fashion wherever they went, until
eventually they just
from the earth.
is a similar
story--but with a happier ending. It's the story of
"The Slaughter of
called Big Laurel, in Wise County, there was an old
house that belonged
to the local postmaster, James Taylor Adams, the
author of a book
The History of Wise County. One spring day in the
early Thirties, the
place became the scene of the "slaughter."
turn in the weather and a huge, late snow interrupted
of millions of northbound robins. "Grounded" by the
the several acres of wild rhododendrons surrounding
place in Big Laurel as their roosting
take long for the word to get around. Soon thousands
people, some of them interested only in "killing for
sport"' but many
them actually starving, converged on Big Laurel from
miles around to
in the slaughter. They killed the robins around the
clock, with all
of weapons, in a scene of carnage that must have been
passenger pigeon disaster.
Taylor Adams, on whose property (and over whose
protests) much of the
took place, wrote a letter to the Bristol
Herald-Courier describing the
scene and expressing his indignation. The Associated
Press picked up
story, and "The Slaughter of the Robins" became a
immediately, I received a call from Richmond. The head
of the Game
suggested that I go immediately to Big Laurel, bring
the slaughter to a
halt, and press charges against everyone involved.
of my investigation I interviewed, family by family,
every resident in
the area. I got them to "telling on" each other, and
wound up issuing
judge, old "Tommy" Hamilton, really laid it on the
and children. He said, in language they could
understand, "Now, you
'uns knowed you was breakin' the law
when you killed them
were convicted. Men were fined $20, women $10, and
to the satisfaction of bird-watchers and
conservationists the world
if any, of the fines were ever paid--simply because
those people didn't
have any money. "Uncle Tommy" knew they couldn't pay,
and didn't expect
them to. He just wanted to teach them--and poachers
read the story--a good lesson!
Howard Johnson and I were looking for fish poachers on
one evening when a call came over the radio that the
post office at
had been robbed. We were only a short distance from
the only road out of Pardee joins U.S. Highway 23. We
quickly threw up
a roadblock there, and within minutes a late model
Ford came roaring
down the road.
was a young, redheaded fellow. Seeing our roadblock,
he veered out of
road, swung his car around, and headed for Norton. We
gave chase, but
suspect had a good half-mile lead on us.
a sharp curve a mile or two up the road, we saw the
the road. Howard and I got out on foot and approached
knowing the fellow had probably run into the
knowing how far. We knew he was armed
dangerous; people who rob post offices usually are. A
shot rang out.
he was there. And dangerous!
against going into the woods looking for the suspect
before more help
But by the time the reinforcements got there, darkness
had set in. No
was made until the following morning, and by then the
days later, the suspect's sister talked him into
giving himself up. He
was an escapee from reform school, and a desperate
young man. (He would
have to be quite desperate, as well as quite stupid,
to stage an armed
robbery in a dead-end place like Pardee. There was
only one road out,
in the age of radio-telephone communications, escape
by automobile from
such a place is well nigh impossible. Anyway, by
bringing her brother
the girl probably saved his life--and perhaps the
lives of several
people, as well.)
to me one spring afternoon in the Forties that someone
was fishing in
Norton Reservoir, the town's source of drinking water.
Ray Wells, and town policeman Bill Willis, I hurried
up the mountain to
reservoir on foot, we could make out the outline of
five human forms in
the twilight. But before we could close on them, one
of th suspects
was injured. I opened up with my big .357 Magnum,
providing cover for
nd Ray as they began a flanking movement.
three of our "desperadoes" surrendered. They turned
out to be a fellow
named Kohnny Wyreman and his two young sons. Just
little fellows! From
them, we learned the indentity of their two
accomplices: Hubert Hensley
and Leonard Starnes.
down rain as we walked the mile back to our car. After
and his sons at their home, we hurried to a justice of
the peace to get
warrants for the other two men.
Hensley at his home, still dressed in his rain-soaked
He said he hadn't been out of the house. As to the
condition of his
and long handles, he said he'd been "sweating."
too, has a moral: Don't shoot unless you're looking
'em right in the
If I'd shot one of those little Wyreman boys, I'd
never, ever have
the Big Cherry country one night, I happened upon the
campfire of a big
party of 'coon hunters who were whooping and hollering
and having a big
time. From their voices, before I ever reached their
camp, I recognized
then as a bunch of fellows I knew. Old Andrew Starnes,
was with them, and I knew from the way they were
carrying on theyt
all had a drink or two of Drew's liquor.
I walked right
the camp unnoticed, and the first thing that caught my
eye was the hide
of a squirrel that had just been skinned. Squirrels,
of course, were
had greeted me, I walked over to the pot in which the
cooked. A silence fell over the group. I leaned over
the meat, and then I looked right at old Drew, the
cooking?" I demanded.
around at the others, then took it upon himself to
answer for all of
house cat," he said. "A man's got to eat somethin!"
of my duties
as State Conservation Officer in the early Fifties was
against sheep-killing bears--not too unpleasant a job
for an old bear
like me. It was like "punishing" ol' Brer Rabbit by
throwing him into
briar patch, if you know what I mean.
of 1951, I received an urgent call concerning a number
of sheep kills
Smyth County, near Marion, Virginia. I loaded up four
good dogs and two
good buddies--"Hoss" Gillenwater and Andrew Starnes,
both of them real
hunters and experienced moonshiners--and set out for
farm of Crock Gwynn, where the bear had been helping
himself to the
the spot where the bear had been crossing the fence
I went to a nearby log and loaded it up with honey,
even pouring honey
all over the ground around the log. Then I took Ross
and Andrew off to
Claytor Lake to fish for a couple of days, giving the
bear time to find
day, we found evidence that the bear had discovered
heavy log, and tearing up a patch of earth around it.
as little human scent as possible, I loaded up the log
with honey a
time. Then I set two bear traps nearby. A bear trap
weighs about forty
pounds and has fourteen-inch jaws, with sharp
"'teeth." When it takes
of you, it won't let go. To each of my
I attached an eight-foot chain with a toggle on the
other end--so that
the bear could run a bit, giving my dogs (and their
old master) the
of a chase through the mountain.
you, is a very trap-wise animal. He may look a bit
clumsy and not
smart, but he'll step over or around even the
best-concealed trap just
about every time--and steal your bait.
day, the big fellow eluded our traps. But finally, on
we found that he had stepped in one, then lugged it
off into the tall
timber. The chase was on.
the dogs loose at the spot where the bait had been
laid out, so there
be no mistaking what their quarry was. (Ranger and
Blue, the two
dogs, would have known anyway; but Speedy and Queen,
their poor bones, were not so well
on bear--though both were already good coon dogs.)
was a hot one. The bear crossed ridge after ridge,
with the dogs in
Finally, the toggle hung under a big root, too big for
the bear to
and he was anchored there. He had to
on the scene with Hoss and Andrew, the four dogs were
"talking" to the
bear at close range, staying just out of his reach.
When a real,
hunting dog is in that state of excitement, he goes in
for the kill the
instant he senses blood. For that reason, it is
the first shot be a good one. A wounded bear can kill
a dozen powerful
dogs in less time than it takes to tell about it, if
they're going in
he can reach them. And they'll damn sure go in on him,
I fired at the bear with my .22 Colt Woodsman, the
bullet striking him
slightly off-target but breaking his jaw on both
sides. Before I could
fire again, all four dogs swarmed into the bear and
there ensued, for
next few minutes, the damnedest fight you ever saw.
there that I learned first-hand how a bear goes about
killing a dog. He
picks him up with his front paws, much like a man
would, and bites him
almost in two. Then he throws him off to the side and
picks up another
dog. Had not that particular bear been fighting with a
might have killed all four of my dogs. As it was, they
all came out of
the fight with nothing more than a lot of scratches
young ones far better dogs than they had been a few
ended when I stepped to within five or six feet of the
bear and fired
enough, we discovered when the bear was dressed out
that he had in his
stomach the remains of a black sheep--one of Crock
Gwynn's prize bucks.
As I mentioned earlier, that particular
took place in midsummer. I lost eighteen pounds before
it was over--a
deal of it blood, to those damned Smyth County
mosquitoes. In the
I have named four of the best dogs I ever saw, and two
of the best
companions that ever any man went into the woods with.
at rest now, in that land the Indians called the Happy
God rest their souls.
Warden O'Neill displays bear