Monday, July 25, 2011
The Great Red Coyote Raid
I am descended from great east Texas hillbilly stock. Growing up I was reminded of that fact constantly through my father's never ending endeavors. I don't know if any of my ancestral family members ever married within the family but I am almost certain it must have occurred at least two or three times. There were times where my father and his family did things that just absolutely defied all common sense and were usually hilarious, even if that wasn't the intention at the beginning of the given endeavor.
My father and his brother, Henry, were hillbillies of the highest caliber that enjoyed their Schlitz beer, usually a case or two at a time. During the day they were good old hard working east Texas loggers and during the evenings they were usually too intoxicated to know what they were during the day. As you can expect, evenings were usually the time they cooked up most of their Mensa club ideas for solving some great problem that was before them. Most of the time they just argued over how to solve whatever problem they were discussing until they passed out on the front porch.
One morning we awoke to a chicken coop that had the remains of several unlucky residents that had fallen victim to some four legged prowlers in the middle of the night. Dad was incensed and told Uncle Henry that he was certain the fowl stealing suspects were wolves, and not just any wolf but none other than the dreaded east Texas Red Wolf. It didn't matter that Red Wolves hadn't been spotted in east Texas since the last covered wagon arrived from somewhere east. This was a point my mother matter-of-factly brought up to him as she casually cooked our breakfast. Well, dad felt the need to inform us for the umpteenth time that he was indeed born and raised on east Texas farms and therefore knew when he was dealing with a fearsome Red Wolf, the scourge of east Texas. My brother, Ken, was two years younger than me at 10 years old and asked dad, "Was it a coyote?" Of course dad hat to reiterate vehemently that it was a Red wolf and that he and uncle Henry would "Deal with those sons-a-bitches tonight".
Dad and uncle Henry went off to work and mom, Ken and I all did what it is that you do when you live in the country. We fed the chickens, milked our cow, did the laundry, swept off the back porch several times and took periodic naps in the shade. The chickens were highly important to us because we ate their eggs for breakfast and usually had fried or baked chicken two or three nights a week. They were also important to the local wild animal population who were known to snack on an escaped hen or two here and there. There were around sixty or so survivors in the chicken pen/coop that were obviously the best of the best as they had escaped the carnage brought on by the infamous Red Wolf Of East Texas.
Well, dad and uncle Henry came home from work around 6 p.m., each of them carrying a case of Schlitz beer. They assured my mother that they had a fool-proof plan to put the chicken raiding Red Wolf on the endangered species list. Mom told them it was just coyotes and to put whatever idea they had to rest before someone got hurt. They wouldn't have no part of quitting and dad was more determined than ever that they would carry out his and Uncle Henry's carefully devised plan.
But, you see, this was east Texas. As I said before, this was hillbilly country. This area of east Texas around Rusk, Texas was on the border between western Louisiana Cajuns and Texas Rednecks. A beautiful area of tall pine trees, grand cypress trees, deep rivers and abundant wild game frolicking around in meadows of deep green grass and dandelions. It was also an area full of poison ivy, poison oak, bull nettle weeds with a never ending sting that went to your soul and every kind of poisonous snake native to North America. So, you took the good with the bad.
Dad and uncle Henry had the good and noble intention of ridding us of a pack of marauding killer wolves. The bad part of the idea involved three things: Shotguns, tall trees and Schlitz beer. Even at the tender age of twelve I knew that there was no way this could end well. For me, several things came into play which had me looking forward to the evenings festivities: We didn't own a television; It got dark early that time of year; And I had been whooped with a razor strap for the hundredth time for smacking my brother with a nettle so I had nothing better to do on a Friday night than to watch my dad and uncle Henry climb two tall pine trees with shotguns, beer and flashlights.
The soon-to-be crime scene was fairly large. The chicken pen was twenty feet wide and about forty feet long with a large wooden swaybacked coop at the end. My father and Uncle Henry had been enjoying their Schlitz beer when they built the coop so there wasn't a square corner or level part of the floor in the whole danged thing. It looked like it was built by a cross eyed billy goat.
Dad slung his 20 gauge shotgun over his shoulder and shinnied up a sparsely limbed pine tree next to one corner of the coop. Uncle Henry slung his shotgun likewise and climbed a pine tree at the other end of the pen. Dad had some nylon twine with him and dropped an end down and told mother in his east Texas twang, "Anne, tie on a six pack. I'm gonna pull that case of beer up here one six pack at a time." Mother grudgingly obliged and uncle Henry quickly followed with the same request. I sat on the back porch with mom and Ken and listened to dad and uncle Henry pop the tops on beer after beer while they performed equipment checks repeatedly.
"Got yer shotgun ready, Henry?".
"Got yer flashlight handy, Henry?"
"You watchin' to the north and west?"
"Aight, I'm a'watching to the east and south. You git ready."
Now, that might seem like it was a quick conversation but it actually lasted 20 minutes or so in sober human time. Conversations in east Texas move very slow when you're obliged to take three or four sips of beer between responses.
Right after dark my dad yelled down to my mother, "Anne, you and the boys git in the house. The wolves won't show up with y'all outside on that thar back porch and there's liable to be shootin' when they do show up." The absolute core logic of the intoxicated east Texas hillbilly has never been surpassed by the rest of mankind.
Our house and out buildings sat on top of that sandy hill about 8 miles outside of Rusk. It was surrounded, as you've probably discerned, by pine trees, gum trees, willow trees and all sorts of wild shrubs and assorted undergrowth. A small stream ran along our property at the back in the shade of the pine forest. The house was a two bedroom wood framed home sparsely furnished with a wood burning pot belly stove, a rickety dining room table and four chairs that were also our living room chairs for not watching a television that we didn't own. Mostly they acted as back porch Schlitz beer drinking chairs for dad, Uncle Henry and other relatives that showed up from time to time.
Ken got sleepy went to bed around 10 o'clock. Mother and I each sat in a dining/living/Schiltz beer drinking chair next to a living room window from which we watched dad and uncle Henry as they laid in wait for the unsuspecting predators. We could hear them clearing, checking and then reloading their shotguns regularly along with the sounds of beer cans being opened from time to time. They were sure to rain certain death and destruction down on the unsuspecting wolves.
I dozed off in the multitasking chair sometime around midnight. Mother woke me with a couple of nudges with her elbow because the final act of the Great Red Coyote Hillbilly play was about to happen. We had an old kerosene lantern turned down low and I could see its reflection in the window we were looking out of. Off in the distance I heard a coyote, er, I mean a Red wolf yipping as he traipsed through the woods towards his midnight snack and certain demise. About that time I heard a second "wolf" yipping and figured it was an even match, two unsuspecting wolves against two drunk hillbillies. Two drunk hillbillies sitting in the moonlit night, fifteen to twenty feet high in pine trees with guns, beer and flashlights.
About an hour later mother and I saw the first Red Coyote arrive at the chicken pen. It was one of those bright nights that seemed even brighter with the reflection of the sand from our hill. He slowly scouted around it looking for an opening as the chickens peacefully slept inside the coop. Red Coyote number two arrived a few moments later and went right up to the gate of the pen and pushed against it a couple of times. Obviously this Red Coyote was a professional and had been in our pen before as he knew exactly where the gate was. I was somewhat surprised when mother said "You know, I don't here Bill and Henry talking. Do you think they're waiting for them to get in the pen?" Well, dad and Uncle Henry were obviously waiting with their eyes closed. The professional coyote pushed against the pen door a few more times and the hinges squeaked loudly. About that time I heard dad yell "Henry, the damned wolves are in the pen." Well, actually, they weren't "in" the pen, they were still outside it but that did not have any effect on what happened next.
I heard the loud report of dad's shotgun going off and then saw pieces of wood from the chicken coop flying. Instantly chickens started squawking and flooding out of the coop like family members from a family reunion when the last of the potato salad is gone. I heard Henry's shotgun fire and saw feathers flying in the moonlight as if someone had torn open a goose down pillow. Chickens were running blind and at high speed in the moonlight as they clucked like old women sewing a quilt. They ran into the chicken wire time and time again. About that time dad fired his shotgun at a stationary Red Coyote/Wolf. I think the animal was originally stunned at all of the commotion then just decided to hang around and see what fun was to be had. Dad missed the coyote by ten chickens and a fence post but he managed to fall backward from his perch in the pine and landed just about as squarely as you possibly could on the fence without trying to. His shotgun hit the ground about the same time his feet caught the top of the fence, bounced off and over his head, flipping him and depositing him unceremoniously face down on the ground. If there had been a net there to catch dad it would have been the greatest trapeze act of all time.
During this act, uncle Henry turned on his flashlight, dropped it, fired two more blasts from his trusty shotgun and then yelled "Bill! I got one!" Dad was face down on the ground and trying to suck wind into his deflated lungs. He didn't respond to Henry other than to make some labored sucking sounds and I think he may have even cried a little bit.
Mother and I ran out to check the damage to dad, the chickens and the dreaded Red Coyote Wolves. After a couple of hours the final tally was:
2 entire cases of Schlitz beer.
11 chickens dead due to being shot with shotguns.
8 chickens apparently dead of heart attack or due to sustained catastrophic damage from repeatedly running into the chicken wire.
5 chicken remains found outside of the pen after they had been killed and consumed by the Red scourges of east Texas, most likely during or right after the mayhem.
1 chicken coop wall with numerous bullet holes from at least 2 shotgun blasts.
1 broken arm
1 dislocated shoulder
1 broken shotgun butt
No Red Wolf Coyotes were harmed.
© 2011 Bill Hancock