Hunting Hogs

A Fire Within

In the summer of 1956, I could be found most anywhere in the neighborhood as long as I was within my mother’s voice range. I was not into sports much, and being only eleven had so far escaped the grip of puberty. Being the sweet little holy terror that I was, I spent a great deal of time prowling around, trusty Benjamin pellet gun in arms and sidekick dog Stinky at my side. I combed the yards and pastures in search of sparrows and meadowlarks…and any bank robber that needed blasting. Late afternoons often found me wearing down and resting two houses down the street in the front porch swing of Mr. and Mrs. King.

Summer afternoons in the swing normally had little melodrama; however, this particular year there was new excitement in this tiny rural northeast Texas town. A lot of interest was being stirred by the appearance of strange vehicles along FM Highway 909 that ran through my neighborhood. Seems there was a motion picture crew shooting scenes in Clarksville and various locations off 909 near the communities of Cuthand, Annona, and Boxelder. With all the rumors of the different movie stars involved, it became quite a mystery as to who was in those big buses transporting cast and crew from lodging in Paris. Who was sitting next to the window today? Some might hope it was their heartthrob Robert Mitchum, George Hamilton, George Peppard, or Eleanor Parker. There was even talk of director Vincente Minnelli’s cute little daughter Lizza being on the set.

The movie was Home From The Hills, from the novel of same title by author and Red River County’s own, William Humphrey. A story of a young boy’s (George Hamilton) struggles to become a man in his father’s (Robert Mitchum) eyes; all while experiencing a wide array of family difficulties in the setting of the post-depression forties. Mrs. Parker co-starred as the mother, and Mr. Peppard was a faithful friend and estranged brother.

For a child such as myself, the vehicles themselves were more amusing to see than the wonder as to who was in them. However, there was some concern as to what they were doing in Sulphur Bottom. This dense river bottom was a place from which came haunting tales of sulfur fumes, quicksand, panthers, bears, wild boars and other perils.

One day while being my usual unruly self at my father’s drug store, I got the message to come up the street to Gibson’s Grocery and Locker Plant to see what was in the locker (freezer room).

There lying on the floor was this huge black boar hog shipped all the way from California to be used in the filming. I still remember standing staring at that creature. His deep dark bristled hair and large tush amazed me. Not only was I intrigued as to size and ugliness; there was something more. Something I couldn’t explain at the time, but I was later to know it as a spark to a fire inside that I would someday find hard to extinguish.

Ferociousness aside, to many locals the hog was somewhat a joke on Hollywood. With their star animal expired from the heat and humidity, the west coast dudes soon learned that they did not need to go to all that expense of shipping an animal here to play the part of the wild boar. The real thing could be obtained from local families such as the Bivins, Belchers, or Smiths who ranched and hunted hogs near the set itself. As it turned out that’s just what they did. Bill Bivin’s place was about the last house before dropping off in the bottom, and he took care of their needs quickly. After all that’s what the author had in mind when he penned the chapter of the character young Theron Hunnicutt killing the wild boar that had been terrorizing locals, hence capturing the manly respect he sought.

From the grand premier though many more viewings of that movie, the character played by Uncle Jesse greatly inspired me when he proclaims, “Captain Hunnicutt (Mitchem) killed the last wild boar in Red River county.” Those words fanned that spark each time I watched.

In 1968, soon after coming home and settling down from college, I again heard tales of a few locals hunting wild hogs just as the movie depicted. I too yearned to do the same and tried a time or two with no success. Then, in the late seventies and early eighties I began riding with friend Donnie Smith, a descendent of aforementioned Smith family. We’d load up our horses and several fine cattle dogs that pinch-hit for hog dogs, and to the bottoms we would go. I was just becoming a dedicated handgun hunter and was dead set on killing me a wild boar with my S & W 29. Donnie was constantly adding kindling to the spark with each trip. Every approach to a rooted area or yelp from a dog sniffing a little scent made the fire worse.

One particular weekend, Richard King, friend and widely known Arlington gunsmith, was visiting. Donnie drove to my range where we were doing a little target practice and asked if we were game to join a couple other local cowboys for a hog hunt about 40 miles to the east, just a few miles from the very spot where the movie had been made. Although Richard had a little reservation about being horseback for the first time since he was a child, he was still excited as I over the invitation. We borrowed my business partner Morris’s S & W 57-41 magnum for Richard, did a little practice, and anxiously waited for morning to come.

With several hours of hard hunting the next morning in the Shawnee Creek area (a tributary of Sulphur River), ol’Joe finally hit a scent. Joe, a Catahoula Leopard Cross, was probably half a mile ahead of us, but we cowboyed up and closed the gap. As we neared the big hog, Lindy pulled a loop to rope the hog for a catch, but Donnie cautioned Lindy to hold up; that one belonged to me. After quite a run for a big fellow, the black listed boar bayed up in a fence-row near the creek. Exhausted, he was ready to fight. Lightfoot and Red were biting at the ears while Joe was tackling the nose. With another one of the Catahoula-cure crosses, Cisco, at the heals, I pulled from the saddle with the 29 ready. Granted it was a bit of a dangerous position but I needed a steady shot. With Lightfoot on the far side I could not risk a lung shot, and with a hog this big there was a lot of gristle-plate to penetrate. Best shot to look for was straight on, right between the eyes, as they say. Donnie passed in-between us slapping his chaps with his rope; the boar looked my way as I nailed him in the center of the imaginary X crossed from ears to eyes.

The ol’timers appropriately call boars such as mine tush-hogs because of the long lower tusk that could rip open an opponent with ease as was evident by the big slash in Red, the Black-mouth Cure’s shoulder. The trophy was not weighed but estimated at 450 pounds. It was a hunt of hunts and a prize I would always cherish.

You would think that such an adventure would have extinguished that fire within, but it was like we had just piled more sticks on the flame. I was so hooked on hunting hogs, seemed I constantly lived for the next outing. We began hunting many local areas and occasionally headed up to friend Sam Richards’s area up near the Glover River in southeast Oklahoma in the Kiamichi Mountains. The catch became more of a goal than a kill. Since we denied Richard a hog on the Shawnee trip, we even bayed him up a nice hog with good tusks up in the pine thickets near Sam’s home, just out of Broken Bow.

Years rocked on as I continued to spend time in the saddle on the back of Socks and ride the hog-rooted bottoms with Donnie. Time was beginning to help the fire die down. Occasionally we would have another exciting hunt such as the time Phil Johnston, writer/author handgunner, and his friend, gold medallist Lones Wigger, came down to spend some time with us up in the Eagletown, Oklahoma, area on the east side of Broken Bow Lake. Phil was trying out the new Colt Anaconda for his hog, Wig took his with a T/C Scout, and I used a six-inch Dan Wesson 44 magnum for the best hog of the bunch.

Over the last few years, the price of wild feral hog meat has become very appealing to a European market. Trapping of these animals has become a wide spread hobby for many. The population, however, still seems to steadily increase, but so has the number of hog hunters. That little flame flares up every once in a while, but Socks has been gone for several years, and I never replaced him. Truth is I can just walk out my backdoor and be in hog country living rural as I do. When the weather gets cold, I still like to ease behind the house on Mustang Creek and get me a porker for the deep freeze.

Ya’ know, I feel a little burning inside. Think I’ll ease down in the bottom and check for sign. Don’t think I’ll ever get that fire put out.

Buenos caceria. BB