Fall Fiction: Coon Dog Cemetery Hunting Club Part 1
November 1965: “Oughta’ Be A Law Against Deer Hunting”
Long ago they had named the club ‘Coon Dog Cemetery’ to honor the legendary dogs, hounds with names like Run-Around Sue, Ol’ Rip, Kentucky Mike and Wrong-Way Pete. Dogs that had found their final resting place in a small, sacred plot of ground at one end of the property. Over the years, as the deer herd grew and prospered, some of the hunters at Coon Dog became almost as renowned as the dogs their club paid homage to…
“Yesiree, ya’ shoulda’ seen the look on ol’ Dillon’s face… When ol’ man Mizell come bustin’ into camp and Dillon realized them three turkeys wasn’t quite as wild as he thought they was, why, it was a sight to behold, all right. I’ll tell ya’ that much!”
Dexter Smith pushed back his camouflaged cap and ran his hand through his thick tangle of gray hair while Chip and Marty glanced at each other and smiled broadly. Everyone knew Dillon Boswell was always getting himself into some kind of serious predicament, and this latest escapade came as no real surprise to the boys.
“And it’s taken him the better part of three whole days to finagle a way get his Jeep back,” Dexter continued. “He jus’ come in with it a few minutes ‘fore you two got here… A little on the muddy side as ya’ can see, but not much worse for the wear.”
He laughed and shook his head.
Chip and Marty had just arrived in camp. As usual, Dexter had been on hand to greet them. While they were unpacking their gear in the large umbrella-style Army tent reserved just for them, Dexter was bringing them up to date on all the excitement of the past few days. Unlike some men in camp who seldom had time for the younger generation, Dexter always took a special interest in the boys. Since Chip and Marty were the youngest hunters at Coon Dog Cemetery, he always went out of his way to include them in most of the traditional “men’s” activities, and to make them feel like they were an important part of the overall camp scene.
There was nothing fake or put-on about Dexter Smith. Chip and Marty had a youthful appreciation for everything new they encountered in the deer woods, and Dexter loved their enthusiasm. He also enjoyed the role of being the wise old buck hunter who could teach them things they didn’t know. Most of all he enjoyed their company.
“Today’s young’uns will be the deer hunters of tomorrow,” he would often say. “And it’s up to all of us old-timers to get ‘em headed in the right direction.”
Chip Avery, 15, was the youngest of the inseparable pair. His long-time hunting companion and best friend in the world, Marty Tripp, was three months his senior. Marty had recently turned 16. For both boys, this had been a milestone event. With a valid driver’s license in his wallet, he and Chip could go places and do things never before possible. A whole new world had been opened to them, and they were taking advantage of every opportunity. Although their personalities were vastly different, their passion for deer hunting bonded their friendship as nothing else could.
“Yep. I wished you two coulda’ been here for the fireworks,” Dexter went on. “We ain’t had nothin’ like this happen in camp since ol’ Perry Baxter got stuck in the mud over off Black Snake Road three seasons back. I’m sure y’all have heard me tell that one b’fore. He got bogged down so bad in a low spot that all four wheels of his Scout were dang-nigh completely outa’ sight. It was on a weekday ‘bout a month ‘fore the season opened, and since he was all by hisself, he finally walked out to the highway to try an’ fetch some help.
“Well, some little ol’ lady passin’ by saw ‘im an’ thought he was an escaped convict they’d been lookin’ for aroun’ these parts, and she made a beeline to the nearest phone and called the state patrol. The next thing ya’ know, ol’ Perry was sportin’ a pair a’ wrist bracelets and bein’ toted to the county jail, muddy boots’n all! It took a full day and a half ‘fore he could convince one of the deputies to come down to camp and get somebody to vouch for ‘im. Poor ol’ Perry. He ain’t been back to deer camp since. Somehow, bein’ in jail seemed to change his whole attitude toward huntin’… Somebody told me here awhile back he started coachin’ a girls softball team….” Dexter shook his head. “Deer camp does strange things to folks, sometimes….”
“That’s for sure,” Marty agreed.
“Anyhow, as I was sayin’, only Dillon coulda’ got hisself in sump’n like this. Yes, sir, they oughta’ be a law against deer huntin’. Sometimes it’s almost more’n a mere mortal can bare! Especially in a club like Coon Dog Cemetery where ya’ got some of the most outrageous stump sitters you’ll ever hope to run into.’’
“We’re just glad to be here,” Chip said.
“And to be a part of it,” Marty added, nodding in agreement. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this week to get here and for opening day.”
“Well, the waitin’s over,” Dexter said cheerfully. “Soon as y’all are settled in, we’ll go out and do some quick scoutin’ for in the morning. The way things are lookin’, it’s gonna be a humdinger of a year!’’
“Will you tell us about Dillon and his Jeep while we’re unpackin’?” Marty asked.
‘’It’d be my pleasure,’’ Dexter said.
He sat down on a bench and cleared his throat. ‘’It all started three days ago, like I was sayin’….”
…Dillon Boswell roared into camp with the three dead turkeys thrown in the back of his shiny new Jeep. He jumped out and hefted the three birds over his shoulder, holding them by their feet. It was a considerable load, but Dillon was a big man. He grabbed the pistol off the front seat of the open vehicle and started toward the cook tent.
“Hey, Dexter! Hey, Jack!” he hollered across the clearing. “Lookie what I got!”
Dexter Smith and Jack Cadwallon were playing poker on a homemade camp table in the shade of some tall pines. Several dollar bills and some loose change lay on the table top next to the deck of cards. Behind them, Dusty Gresham was snoozing comfortably in a hammock strung between two saplings, with the latest issue of Field and Stream balanced across his broad midsection. Jess Ferguson was in the cook tent sorting through some boxes and setting up his kitchen in the proper order—as only he could do. These four men were the only hunters left in camp. Cap Sullivan and the others were out in the woods scouting for sign.
“Camp meat, boys!” Dillon stated ostentatiously as he displayed his bounty. “This much fresh meat oughta’ hold us for several days.”
He glanced over toward the cook tent. “Hey, Jess, you know how to roast a wild turkey?”
Jess poked his head out between the front flaps of the spacious walk-in cook tent. “I’ve roasted a turkey or two in my time,” he answered dryly.
“Yeah, but have you ever roasted a wild turkey before?” Dillon asked, pushing the point.
“A wild turkey oughta’ cook the same as a tame bird,” Jess said with obvious irritation in his voice.
“I didn’t know they was no wild turkeys aroun’ here,” Jack said, looking up from his inside straight draw. “Where’d ya’ git ‘em? In town?”
He burst out laughing.
“Back down the road about a mile and a half, for your information, Mr. Smarty Pants,” Dillon answered defensively. “Just past that rundown farm of old what’s his name… There was a whole flock of ‘em. Musta’ been a good 15 birds in all. They ran across the road into the woods, and I nailed ‘em as pretty as you please – three shots, three dead turkeys.”
He proudly held up his long-barreled .22 Magnum revolver for everyone to see.
“You sure them turkeys was wild?” Dexter asked. ‘’They look kinda scrawny if you ask me.’’
“You’re derned right, they’re wild!” Dillon insisted. “Just look at ‘em. You can tell by their tail feathers.”
“What’s the big deal?” Dillon said. “We got us a Thanksgivin’ feast for sure, now. Jess, how ‘bout pluckin’ and cleanin’ these critters for me, will ya’?”
“I’ll cook ‘em, but I ain’t about to pluck ‘em or clean ‘em,” Jess answered coolly. “You shoot ‘em, you clean ‘em… Rule of the camp.” He turned and disappeared back inside the tent, letting the flaps close behind him.
“Okay, just be that way!” Dillon yelled. “You don’t have to have a hissie fit… I’ll do it myself. It’s gotten to where a man has to do everything around a deer camp these days!” He continued muttering under his breath.
“How come ya’ shot three hens?” Dexter asked. “Wasn’t there no gobblers in the flock?”
“A turkey’s a turkey,” Dillon answered impatiently. “I couldn’t tell what they were. They were runnin’ full out.”
He walked over and placed the dead birds on a plywood table next to the cook tent. “Anyway, a tender young hen is a lot better tastin’ than a rangy old gobbler. I thought everybody knew that!”
“Oh, I see,” Dexter said, nodding his head. “I reckon fillin’ ‘em full a’ .22 Magnums makes ‘em taste better, too!” He winked at Jack.
• • •
The battered pickup truck drove slowly into camp along the sandy logging road. It rolled to a stop beside Dillon’s Jeep. The stranger inside studied the shiny red Jeep for several long moments. At length, he opened the door and stepped out. No one noticed the shotgun he was carrying until he had walked all the way around his truck. Suddenly, the entire camp came alive. All heads turned to the unshaven man in the bib overalls. Even Dusty sat up and came to attention, a bit bleary-eyed from his nap.
“Howdy, Mister,” Dexter yelled out in a friendly voice as the man approached. “Sump’n we can do for ya’?”
Without speaking, the man gazed about the peaceful camp until his fiery eyes fell upon the three dead turkeys. A heavy silence filled the air. He spat a stream of tobacco juice from one side of his mouth with the calculated precision of 40 years’ experience.
“Which one a’ you gol-derned idiots shot my turkeys?” he demanded.
The antique double-barreled shotgun went up in front of him in a menacing position.
All eyes turned to Dillon. Once again, Jess poked his head out of the cook tent to see what all the commotion was about. Dillon stammered and cleared his throat, but he couldn’t seem to get any words out.
“Which one a’ you blasted fools owns that-there Jeep?” the man demanded in a loud voice. He spat again.
“Oh, boy,” Dexter whispered to Jack. “Looks like the gobbler’s done come off his roost to collect his hens.” He snickered under his breath.
“Ol’ Dillon’s sure gonna’ need a coupla’ aces up his sleeve to buy his way outa’ this’n,” Jack whispered back, never taking his eyes off the shotgun.
“Uh… I… er… you mean… these… wild turkeys… belong… to you?” Dillon stuttered.
“Wild turkeys! Wild turkeys!” The farmer erupted. “Why Hells-a-fire! Them-there turkeys come from my barnyard flock. They’s about as wild as that-there hound-dog settin’ in the back a’ my truck!” He aimed the shotgun squarely at Dillon. “You’re the one who done the murderin’, ain’t you?”
Several rapid glances were directed toward the droopy-eyed part-Blue-Tick hound standing in the back of the farmer’s truck, but the shotgun and the man holding it quickly reclaimed everyone’s attention. Suddenly, the empty pistol Dillon was holding, which moments before had been like a proud appendage, felt heavy and incriminating in his hand. In truth, he had emptied the six-shot revolver at the flock of running turkeys, but everyone knew he was prone to exaggerate on nearly every occasion. Now, the gun was useless.
“I knew sump’n didn’t look right about them birds,” Jack whispered.
“I didn’t know they were yours,” Dillon pleaded. “I thought…”
“Thought what? They was wild?” the farmer asked. “Why you consarned city-slicker fool! Them turkeys was my chur’ins pets! You city folks don’t know didly, do ya’?”
Dillon swallowed with noticeable difficulty. “I’ll pay for ‘em.” he offered. “I’ll pay you a good price. Whatever’s right with you. How much? Does $25 sound about right?”
“Apiece?” the farmer said. His small, beady eyes cut right through Dillon. “Why that don’t even come close. Them hens was breedin’ stock.”
“Okay, okay,” Dillon said. “I’ll make it an even hundred. That’s fair, isn’t it?” He swallowed again. “One hundred dollars… Here….” He started to reach down into his pocket.
“Don’t you move!” the farmer yelled, raising the shotgun higher. “And drop that-there weapon you’re holding.”
Dillon did as he was told. He cringed as his brand-new revolver hit the ground with a sickening thud. He raised both hands slightly.
“I’m not moving! I’m not moving!” he said quickly, trying to convince the farmer.
“I oughta’ fill yer’ thievin’ hide with buckshot the way you done my turkeys,” the farmer said in an ugly tone.
“Look, Mister, I’m real sorry. It was an honest mistake. Those turkeys went runnin’ across the road into the woods, and I thought they were wild. But I’m willing to pay you and make it right. Just name a fair price. How much?”
“A hunerd dollars apiece ain’t nowhere close, neither,” the farmer said. “Them turkeys was special. They’s worth a whole lot more’n that.”
“What? A hundred apiece? That’d be $300, Mister. Three hundred dollars! I’m willing to pay you a fair price like I said, but that’s… ridiculous!”
“You callin’ me names after ya’ gone and murdered my pet turkeys? Why, I oughta’ give ya’ both barrels right now, you…. you…. sorry….”
“He’s just about hot enough to do it,” Dexter whispered to Jack.
“No. No. I’m not calling you names,” Dillon pleaded, holding up both palms in assurance. “If you say it’s gonna’ take $300 to make you happy, then three hundred it is. A hundred apiece. That’s fine with me. Is it okay with you?”
“I said a hunerd apiece ain’t nowhere close, you thievin’ turkey killer!” the farmer snapped, glancing around camp. “But bein’ you’re a greenhorn city-slicker fool who don’t know no better, I’m a’gonna’ let ya’ off light.” He looked back toward the parking lot. “Th’ow me over the keys to that-there Jeep!”
“What? My Jeep? What are you plannin’ to do?”
“Why I’m a’gonna’ settle with ya’ like I said. Th’ow me them keys! Now!”
“My Jeep? Are you…? That Jeep’s brand-new, Mister. It cost $1,700….”
“It don’t matter if it was give to ya’,” the farmer answered matter-of-factly. “It’s a’gonna’ be mine, now!”
Dexter was beside himself. “That feller’s got some kinda’ nerve,” he told Jack in a low tone. “I sure wish Chip and Marty could be here to see this. Looks like things’re about to get right interesting.”
Dillon could find little humor in the situation. “Why that’s extortion!” he declared. “You can’t get away with this… It’s highway…”
“… robbery?” the farmer finished for him, with an even meaner look in his eye. “There ya’ go again, callin’ me names. You’re jus’ askin’ for a load a’ buckshot, ain’t ya’? I flat-out oughta’….”
“But that’s not even within reason, Mister,” Dillon pleaded.
“’Bout as much reason as shootin’ a man’s turkeys outa’ his back yard, I’d say. Now throw me over them keys! I ain’t askin’ again. And fix me up a deed to that-there Jeep. Quick-like! I ain’t got all day!”
Dillon looked around in desperation, as if silently appealing for help from his companions. In the face of the shotgun, however, no one dared to move. Finally, he got up his courage.
“You can’t get away with this, Mister. I’ll call the law on you.”
“Suit yerself, city slicker. You’re welcome to call the sheriff if’n ya’ got a mind to… Ain’t likely to do ya’ much good, though… Sheriff a’ this-here county just happens to be my step-brother.”
A wicked smile crossed the farmer’s face, as if he had been through all of this many times before.
“An’ I’m sure the local judge would jus’ love to try this-here case in his courtroom,” the farmer continued. “Ya’ see, he’s my wife’s daddy, and we’re kindly a close-knit family. Fact is, I ain’t had no occasion to visit his courtroom since that no-count Davol boy come snoopin’ ‘round my farm after my 14-year-old daughter… I put a screechin’ halt to that… He’s still in the jail!
“Let’s see… Entering private property what’s been legally posted by the law… burglarizin’ a feller’s back yard… murderin’ and a’stealin’ livestock with a deadly weapon… takin’ the very food off’n a poor dirt farmer’s table… That oughta’ be good for a right healthy fine and about six months on the county work gang. Now fix me up that-there deed and have ever’ one a’ these other slickers to witness to it. And make it legal and proper like you city folks know how to do. I’m a’tellin’ ya’ for the last time, I ain’t got all day!”
Jess produced a sheet of paper and a pen from somewhere inside the cook tent. Dexter and Jack cleared some space on the poker table. Dillon sat down. With a shaky hand, he began to write out a makeshift transfer of title.
“What’s your name?” he asked the man with the shotgun.
“Willard Mizell,” the farmer answered, emphasizing the ‘m.’
“How do you spell it?”
“Cap’tal W-i-l-l-a-r-d, cap’tal M-i-z-e double l.”
When the document was complete, Dillon signed his name at the bottom of the page. With great ceremony, each of the other four men solemnly witnessed his signature. Mizell kept the shotgun trained on the group during the entire procedure. After everyone had signed, Dillon stood up and approached Mizell. Reluctantly, he handed him the paper along with the keys to his Jeep. Mizell looked it over, then he folded it up and stuffed it into the top pocket of his overalls. He spat one last time, tipped his hat, and cautiously backed away toward the parking area.
“What about your truck?” Dillon asked weakly.
“Take it,” Mizell said almost graciously. “I ain’t a’gonna’ be a’needin’ it no more. You can take that flea-bit hound, too. He’ll come home when he’s a’ mind to… Better watch ‘im, though. He’s bad to run deer.”
Mizell got in Dillon’s Jeep and carefully balanced the shotgun across his lap. He cranked the engine.
“What about your turkeys?” Jess hollered.
“Y’all can keep them, too,” Mizell yelled.
A shrewd smile suddenly broke across his sun-wrinkled face for the first time.
“They ain’t fit to eat, nohow!”
He backed the Jeep out into the road and rumbled off down the sandy trail toward the highway.
Dillon walked over to the clearing where his beloved Jeep had been parked. With legs that felt like jelly, he sat down on the ground and stared down the empty logging road in silence.
“I reckon this is one time when a turkey ain’t just a turkey,” Dexter said to Jack in a low voice.
He and Jack looked at each other and tried to be serious, but they couldn’t hold back. Dexter cracked a big smile. Then Jack started to laugh. Dusty and Jess joined in. Soon, all four men were laughing uproariously.
Editor’s Note: Signed copies of the author’s latest book, Dawn of American Deer Hunting, Volume II, can be ordered by sending $40 (price includes tax and postage), to Duncan Dobie, 3371 Meadowind Ct., Marietta, GA 30062. This story was excerpted from an unpublished, full-length, book manuscript titled Coon Dog Cemetery by Duncan Dobie. The author welcomes and appreciates your comments and feedback. Email him at [email protected].
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