The Tom Bearden

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Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2002 12:09:07 -0600

Hi Bud, 

Nice to hear from you.


Well, I probably knew Bennie Hudnall's parents and relatives, as for a long time my grandmother and I lived next door to Mrs. Portman and Mrs. Hudnall.  We were living there when I left there in 1953 to move to Shreveport and push hard on the Louisiana Hayride.  Those little houses were later taken by the Cheniere cloverleaf of the new highway I-20.  At the time, two of my friends --- Bryan Ritter and Harry Liner --- had a trio, the Rhythm Harmoneers, playing the Hayride each Saturday night.  Shortly after than I went single as a soloist.  Was doing pretty good, fronting for Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, etc., three records out, several of my songs recorded by leading artists such as Jim Reeves, Webb Pierce, Johnny Horton, and Red Sovine, until the Army dug me right out of there in June 1954 and that was the end of the Country-Western career.  That cat called Elvis came along (he started there on the Hayride, for goodness sakes!)  and for the next 5 to 7 years only the really well-established Country & Western artists could make a living, as the entire younger generation went bazonkas over rock and roll.  I saw recently that Horace Logan, the Program Director of the Hayride back then, has died.  Hoss Logan saw lots of Country-Western music history unfold, and helped make lots of it.  I was on the Hayride when Hank Williams died, while operating from there.  Hank's widow, the former Billie Jones, then married Johnny Horton, and of course Johnny later got killed in a car wreck.  Acts like the Maddox Brothers and Rose, Billie Walker, the Carlisles, etc. were on there.  Marty Robbins made one appearance, and the Opry snapped him up before the Hayride folks could get their act together.  Floyd Cramer (pianist) died a while back also.  Red Sovine, Jim Reeves, Rose Maddox, and many others I knew from the Hayride have been dead for some time now.


 And yes, you perfectly describe what was the old Cheniere Creek and lake area, first called Puckett lake before all the damming.  When I was a kid, there were three lakes there:  (1) Puckett Lake, the main one which everyone knew, (2) Middle Lake, which a few knew (it was hard to get to), and then there was (3) Little Lake, which few persons knew about and which was the devil and all to get to.  That was where the gators denned and where there was a beaver dam.   There were bear, some panthers, and even some wolves in the woods back then.  And plenty of bobcat. 


One of the real experiences of my life at 12 was to be stalked through the woods for about two miles by a panther, trying to spook me into bolting so he could jump me from the rear.  In such cases, a panther puts his muzzle down between his paws, and coughs.  In the little bushes, that sound just seems to come from everywhere, so you cannot tell the direction of the panther, but if you've ever heard it, there is absolutely no mistaking the sound.  That way he spooks his game into fleeing, and then can leap on it from the rear.  I knew instantly what it was, and that I was in serious trouble if I panicked.  I knew also that I must not leave my back exposed very long at all.  I had a very stout club and a hunting knife, and that was all.  So I would walk about 10 steps, then turn all around beating the bushes with the club.  It was night, and so that made it more tricky.  Anyway, I eased on along, doing my spinaround and beating routine about every 10 steps, until I finally came out into the clearing (a big cow pasture) with our house way on the other side.  My grandmother has placed a kerosene lamp in the back window, so I could see it when I came out of the woods.  After I got about 75 yards out in the clearing, I sorta "turned it on" then until I ran up the back steps and into the house.  I was fortunate because apparently the panther was not too hungry, just curious and considering whether to jump me or not.  Had he been really hungry, that story would have had quite a different ending.  I would have used my knife and club, of course, but the odds are overwhelming that the panther would have won easily.


When one met a bear in the woods, one learned very early to just get out of the trail slowly and quietly, and not disturb him. Likely the bear will then see you are no threat, and continue on.  However, bears are like humans: sometimes they get up on the wrong side of bed and in a real fit of temper.  When you meet one of those and he's in a bad mood, you had better have your gun with you, because he is just spoiling to jump something, and it's easy for you to get elected.  I was fortunate and never had to shoot one, but I did have encounters with several including one of those spoiling for a fight.  That one I was fortunate enough to just ease on aside and keep easing out of his way far enough that he lost interest as I continued to slowly depart.


Stupidest thing I ever did was at a Church opening of the Cheniere Church's new camp on Puckett Lake.  That night, after eating and singing hymns and being around the fires and the cook racks,  some of the other boys and I paddled several row boats out into the middle of Puckett Lake and went skinny dipping, tying the boats together in a circle and having a fine old time diving in and out in the neat moonlight.  Then I brushed a log under the water, as did my friend Roland Carter.  Then I brushed another log under the water.  Roland and I surfaced, and we exclaimed together: "Why are there so many logs floating in this water?" The realization hit us that there were no logs here.  So we took a flashlight from one of the boats, and shined it outward -- and we were ringed by about 20 pairs of eyes hanging low on the water.  With all the splashing and yelling etc., we had attracted a large gathering of big alligators, who were preparing to join in the fun.  Of course we decided their crashing the party would not be any fun at all, rather instantly.  So everybody leaped into the boats, and we all paddled furiously out of there, with the gators following us all the way through the boat run under the trees and all the way to the bank.  Now that moonlight swimming escapade was really Stupid with a capital S!


A gator also can gallop for a short distance, which back then few people knew or believed.  I had one come after me, so experienced "gator galloping" first hand, on the wrong end of the stick (fortunately they never learned to climb trees).  But folks used to think one had taken leave of one's senses if one spoke of a gator galloping.  Then of course with TV and nature programs, eventually the animal specials showed gators and crocs galloping for a little distance.  So it was nice not to be crazy after all about gator galloping.


The gators also learned to hunt the wild pigs that roamed the deep swamps.  A big gator would lie in a semicircle, with some good mash etc. and other goodies favored by the pigs in the middle of the semicircle. The gator just lies there with his mouth already open.  The pigs would come in, grunting and moving around, with each looking for the very best mash and feed, etc.  So one would spy that good mash in that semicircle, and not even notice the gator.  He would run in there grunting and snorting and rooting and eating, and the old gator would suddenly pop the pig with his big tail, knocking the pig up into the gator's mouth or where e could snap him.  Often he got the pig.  Sometimes he would just get a bite or nip, and wound him, and the pig would take of really squealing and grunting, dripping a trail of blood.  The old gator would often follow that blood trail, still trying to get that pig in case the pig was wounded enough.  It's really disconcerting to be a mile or so from where the pigs and gators usually are, and see an old pig come running down the trail by you, squealing and snorting, and then in five minutes to see the old gator clomping determinedly down the trail, looking for that pig.


In one of the big swamps down there, Singer Sewing Machine had a big game preserve and lodge for its bigwigs, with a chain fence around it.  They put in the native wild pig (we called them "Pine Hill Rooters") which would weigh about 95 or 100 pounds soaking wet.  But hunting those little wild boar was not "sporting" enough, so the clowns imported some European wild boar and some African wild boar, and turned them loose on their preserve also.  Great sport!  The predictable happened.  In storms, trees blew down on the fence here and there, and many of those big boars escaped and interbred with the native wild pig.  Bingo!  Now back in the deep swamps  -- I think that's the spelling) one would sometimes meet a 500 pound wild boar, just like out of Africa, complete with curling tusks etc.  A much more deadly threat in the woods!


Horace Logan, Program Director of the Hayride, was a great bowhunter enthusiast.  He used to bowhunt those big 500 pound wild boar.  Another real story in itself, how they did it.


The only old sawmill I know about was the big one that was formerly in Cheniere community itself, which was a bit North and West of where Dumas's store was.  Some of the buildings of the old mill were still standing there when I was a kid, and they even had left stores of short handle-stock wood, already rounded and ready for shaping.  We used to take out one of those, and use it to hit rocks for batting practice.  There was an old millpond there which had fish in it and some real whompers of crawdads.  Used to catch them sometimes to use for fish bait.


All the damming of the lake into Cheniere Lake, etc. occurred after I was gone.  So I really don't know much about what all they did, except that the three lakes disappeared as separate entities.


And yes, old records are hard to come by.  I'm still trying to locate the actual gravesite at Cheniere Church, where my first daughter, Bonnie, is buried.  All records have been obscured and lost in the decades since then, it seems.  I want to place a tombstone on the grave, but have not been able to find it.  It's astounding what changes can happen in a place when one has been gone for 50 years or so.


A few years ago, Doris and I were passing through Monroe on Interstate 20 from Shreveport and points West, so I took the Cheniere exit and we went down through the place again, at some length.  Very saddening experience.  Almost all the folks I knew and grew up with are now deceased.  Little streets have sprung up out of nowhere, and many of them are named after the families I knew (Pace, Ranier, Street, McDonald, etc.).  I'm sure some of the younger folks (the children then) are still kicking, but scattered all over.  The big sawmill was still there, and so was the store that was Pendarvis's old store.  My grandmother and I lived in a little 3-room apartment in the back of that store for two years.  Of course the old schoolhouse is long gone.  So is the little house off the road where I was born, and another or two of the places where we lived at various times.  The place was enormously changed.  Doris and I drove back over to the double bridges on  Cheniere Creek (on the way to what used to be May Haw Flat).  That was really the deep woods back then.  Now there are streets and subdivisions, brick houses, etc.


There are still a few folks my age that I grew up with, hanging in.  Roland Carter is still hanging on, but is in serious condition with cancer, hopefully yielding a bit to some new alternative treatment. Harry Liner did well in the insurance business and so is still around there, hanging in really well.   I started school with Roland in the first grade at the old Cheniere grammar school.  Bryan Ritter, who played the steel guitar with our little group on the Hayride, is still kicking but he and his wife Margie have moved out of Monroe.  I grew up with about 10 cousins, and we were all as close as brother and sister.  Now half of them are deceased; the others are still there, but --- like me --- they have gotten to be old dogs hanging in there.  One of the things old folks like me have are memories deeply associated with a whale of a lot of folks who are already deceased.  So the Cheniere I knew (and loved) is not the Cheniere today.  To be expected, of course, but it still is a strange feeling to see those places and so many memories associated, yet most everybody has now departed life's stage.


But as someone wisely said, one never steps in the same river twice.  The water moves on, always.  One just remembers, then turns and gets on with whatever the activity is these days.


Anyway, it's also gratifying to see that Cheniere and that part of Louisiana is indeed growing.  Last time I was through there several years ago, it looked as if all North Louisiana is slowly going to turn into one huge suburban area.


Sorry I can't be of more help on the sawmill you're looking for.  I never knew the name of that big one that had been there in Cheniere community proper; we just called it "the old sawmill".  I do know that at one time the timber crews running out of there were something, back in the days when logging used logging wagons and teams of 6 and 8 log mules or log horses.  My father went to work at 12 years old, driving one of those log wagons in heavy logging operations, which is a hard job for even a grown man.  With his father having died before my father was even walking, the family was in dire straits and so he worked full time at anything and everything from the age of about 10 up.  When he was 24, he was foreman of the entire logging operation with more than 100 men under him.  And he never finished first grade, could not read or write, never read a book or newspaper or magazine, etc.  But he was a helluva man. Worked like a dog all his life, and died from his ninth heart attack in 1955, not long after I entered the Army in 1954.


Anyway, glad to see you still remember lots of the old stuff, and are working on some of the history.  Bryan Ritter, if you can contact him, did years of research on North Louisiana in his treasure hunting affairs.  He found out things that were absolutely fascinating, going all the way back to when Monroe was Fort Miro and a Federal outpost and trading post on the Ouachita River.  Jesse James, e.g., had a plantation in there, and in those days it was still referred to by the locals as "the old James place".  Bryan may or may not know anything about the old sawmill you're looking for.  His E-mail address is:  Stir the rascal up, tell him I gave you his E-mail address, and ask him if he knows about the old mill.  He's still the best steel guitar player around!  Tell him to play another tune for me and for old times sake.


Very best wishes,


Tom Bearden

Date: Thu, 14 Nov 2002 13:19:49 EST
Subject: Cheniere Lake

Hello Tom, 

My name is Bud Rodgers & I was raised in Bawcomville/Siegle side of Cheniere . I, too, roamed the lake in a wooden boat, from the time I was about 7 or 8 years old ( I am 10 years younger than you.)  I fished, hunted & trapped  all over the lake & up & down Cheniere Creek, upper & lower, on to the mouth of Cheniere on the Ouachita. I camped on Pine Island, Coon Island &  Joe's Island, built a camp house (from a old cotton shed given to me by Grover Edwards). I duck & squirrel hunted up the north Cheniere Creek with Bennie Hudnall & his dog, Boy Dog. Not many squirrels fooled him. I bream fished out of old Red Street's boat, a many a time.  I shot "squealers", from the pen oak flats on the north end of Cheniere Creek , down behind Tom Bonnetts & Mr. Bancrofts place, on to the Meadows & over on the Little Lake side f! rom behind the old Peirce place & along Mr. Lehighi's on to the Landrum & Brantly Place, cross the road & back home. I really enjoyed your web site. I have been trying to research the old "Lenwil SawMill", with out much luck, I am hoping that you may remember something about it. It was gone, before I can remember, all that is left is a couple of concrete "Dry Kiln" buildings. I have been to the library, on the internet, with out any success. I did find a lady, named Betty Bawcom, whose dad was the name sake of Bawcomville.  She was married to a big league baseball pitcher, named Donald.  She has agreed to speak with me again & fill me in on what she can remember. She told me that she went to the old Lenwil School, when it was on the Cheniere Dam road (Hwy 3033), before they moved it to it's present location. Do you remember, what year they built the spillway & flooded the lake? I hope I can find out some info to pass on, there seems to be a missin! g peice of history, here. Thank you for your time. If you can remember any thing to help me, email me @