Last Bigfoot in Dixie

Last Bigfoot in Dixie

Wally Avett

October 2014 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-485

Killer bear, Appalachian psycho, Yankee gold...

He's on the trail of something big...

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Deep in the Great Smokies, a huge black bear kills a child at a campground, and a hunt begins in a quiet mountain community where such threats are rare. Wade, an outdoorsman and backwoods columnist, is quickly deputized to find and slay the massive beast terrorizing tourists and locals alike.

While on the trail, he is wounded by a pot-grower’s booby trap and stalked by Junior, an authentic Appalachian psychopath. Two fellow deputies are gunned down, and rumors of buried Civil War gold surface. Wade gets unexpected assistance from a wannabe writer whose gifts prove helpful even after mushroom trances and spiritual quests—enhanced by a Minnesota Vikings horn-helmet.

The discovery of a mysterious doll ties into grisly murders from the past, and Wade meets a tough, old Marine with a puzzling treasure map. All the while, the looming threat of Junior’s lethal lunacy stalks Wade and his colorful allies.

Wally Avett is a semi-retired realtor in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. He lives in the same little town, sometimes compared to Mayberry, where he was editor and chief writer in the 1970s for the weekly newspaper. These days he writes a column, the Hillbilly Ranger, for the hundred-year-old Cherokee Scout newspaper at Murphy. Avett’s first novel, Murder in Caney Fork, was published by Bell Bridge Books, 2014.


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SHE TRIED TO run, but he grabbed her.

If she screamed at all, none of the other campers heard her.

She could feel him behind her, looming over her, smell his foul breath on her shoulder.

Doing a little shuffle-dance in the muddy trail, she tried hard to es­cape, but he used his weight to pull her down in her tracks.

>In fact, tracks were all we had the next morning to read the scene where she was killed and eaten..

Chapter One

I WAS WALKING down the sidewalk on Tennessee Street, minding my own business, intent on finding lunch at my favorite greasy spoon when the siren on a sheriff’s car split my hearing from only six feet away at the curb.

"Get y’r ass in here and l’es ride,” Chief Deputy Earl Millsaps was snarling at me in his best tough-guy face, but he was laughing at the same time. "What did you jump for?” he asked, turning to his driver, a moon-faced deputy named Bobby Joe Patterson.

"You see him jump, Bobby Joe? Ought to be in the Olympics.”

Bobby Joe laughed right on cue. His job was to drive the scar-faced chief deputy and laugh at Earl’s jokes, which were corny and harmless.

Shaking my head, ears still ringing from the siren salute, I climbed into the rear seat of the Crown Vic cruiser knowing I would have to ask them to let me out later because the inside door handles had been re­moved. Prisoners who usually rode back here had left a stale stink, and I had to look forward through the cage-grill behind their seats, familiar and comfortable.

"I don’t know whether I ought to ride with y’all again. Last time I got in this car six months ago, we had to rescue a bird-dog named Cheney from an old well out in the country.”

"That was a heavy sonuvabitch. Had to haul him up outta that well with a piece of cord; cut my hands bad. We ort to get us a piece of good rope to keep in this car, Bobby Joe.”

"He is the sheriff’s favorite bird-dog, Earl. We had to get him out,” Bobby Joe said patiently, like talking to a child. "I’ll buy us some good rope next week at the flea market.”

My status at the sheriff’s department has always been somewhat fuzzy. I am not an officer, but I write a regular column for our little weekly newspaper here in this mountain county seat town, and since I am a personal friend of the sheriff, it gives me free run of the depart­ment and the adjoining jail.

His deputies and jailers look at me with amusement mostly, but a lit­tle respect since I have access to the newspaper. In the last political campaign I wrote some publicity stuff to help him get re-elected, but that’s about as far as it goes. I’m not a reporter; they know it and speak freely in front of me.

"By the way, boys, I have not had breakfast yet. I don’t mind being kidnapped if it’s for a good reason. But where in the hell are we going?”

"You ain’t gonna believe this,” Earl said, turning back to face me through the grill. Bobby Joe had the light-bar flashing and the siren moaning; we were in full high-speed response mode. Tires squalled on the two-lane blacktop as we swerved through curves and dips toward the lake.

"Got a call that a little girl got killed and eat up by a bear out at the campground.”

"Well, I’ll be damned.”

"Sheriff’s coming from home in his own car to meet us out there.”

"Not a local girl, is she?”

"Don’t know, have to wait and see.”

SHERIFF HARLEY Elliott opened the door for me from the outside, so I didn’t have to ask anybody. He looked worried, not in uniform, wearing jeans and a flannel shirt and a baseball cap. Mumbled something about being called out of a warm bed before breakfast.

"Makes two of us,” I said. "’Specially that part about before break­fast.”

"I been out here by myself nearly an hour. Family’s absolute tore up. Damn bear’s eat her legs off; body looks awful. Bring y’r shotguns as it might come back. I ain’t got nothing but this pistol.”

We met the mother and father at the campground manager’s office, which was a mobile home permanently installed at the entrance to the place. The office was basically the trailer’s living room, and the woman who ran the place was trying to console the dead girl’s mother.

"I’m Sheila,” she said, coming over into the kitchen area to whisper to us. "I’m the manager this season, but I’m new at the job, and I don’t know what to say to these people. They want to move their daughter to a funeral home, and they’re scared to even go outside this trailer.”

As the mom and dad stared bleary-eyed at us, Sheila said the dad had found the girl’s body about dawn and they figured she had left the family tent to go pee when the beast took her. The man made a little smile at us; he seemed comforted by the sight of uniformed deputies with riot guns.

"Marla was the only child we had,” the woman sobbed, wiping tears away with a red dish towel Sheila handed her. "She was all we had. She was just eleven years old, and now she’s gone. I don’t know what to do.”

She wrung her hands and continued to wipe at her eyes as the father began to speak slowly and so low we had to strain to listen to him.

"We live up in Ohio,” he said, "and it’s become a family ritual to come down to North Carolina to camp in a tent in the mountains early in the spring. We all like roughing it, sleeping in the natural setting near our lake.

"My daughter’s school has a spring break each year, and I took vaca­tion time from my factory job and it worked well. It is usually chilly down here in April, but not as cold as Ohio, and we have good down sleeping bags.

"We had talked about getting a regular camping trailer or even a small RV, since we could afford it. I’ve gotta good union job at the plant, and my wife runs her own beauty shop.

"They didn’t want no camper,” he said, the small smile again. "So I let them out-vote me. They liked the big canvas tent and sleeping bags on the ground. We cooked on a wood fire, and if one of us had to pee in the night we took a little flashlight—each one of us had one—and went to the woods or down the path to the outdoor toilet.”

"Had any of y’all seen a bear around here?” the sheriff asked, looking at the couple and then Sheila. "Maybe heard a bear trying to get in the garbage can? Anything like that? Bears come around camp­grounds sometimes.”

"No,” they said, all three shaking their heads.

The man continued to talk in a low voice, the mother nodding bleakly in support.

"We took a long hike along the lake the previous day on a marked trail system and ended up very tired. We celebrated with a fast-food meal in town, came back out here, and sat around the fire a little. Went to bed early and slept like a log.

"I woke up just before daylight,” he said, choosing his words care­fully. "Her sleeping bag was empty and cold, so I knew she had got up to pee and had been gone for some time. I lay there for about five minutes, giving her time to come back, but she didn’t. So I went looking for her.”

He said he went first to the toilet that served the campground, but she was not there so with his flashlight he searched the open woods near the tent. Returning to the tent for a stronger light he began the search again, calling for the child in a low voice which became louder minute by minute.

"I figured she had got out in the woods with that little light and got turned around,” he said. "My wife was standing at the tent hollering for Marla, and I was out in the woods with my big flashlight calling for her. We figured she was lost but not far away, and we’d get her in a few minutes.”

Then he got to the part where he had stumbled across her ravaged body about fifty yards from the tent and his voice broke. An involuntary sob shook his entire body, and out of the convulsion he moaned, a loud sound that reminded us of an animal.

"Lord, help us!” he cried, and the wife wrapped her arms around him, her face buried in his shoulder.

There was silence in the room for nearly a minute; none of us could speak to their loss. We could only hear their shallow breathing as they wept. The sheriff grimaced and looked at me, shaking his head and reaching out to pat the man’s shoulder.

The spell was broken when another cruiser rolled up outside, fol­lowed closely by a county emergency medical unit and the coroner, who was actually a local funeral director elected to the part-time job.

"We want to do a full investigation on the scene,” the sheriff said qui­etly. "We’ll be as quick as we can, and then you can have your little girl back. We’re sorry this has happened, so sorry it has happened here in our county. It’s gonna take us most of the morning, but you can have the body by lunchtime.”

Outside, in the yard of the manager’s trailer, he gathered us all to­gether and made a little speech.

"Men, this is a tragic thing here today, and I want you to help me look it over real quick and real good. We’ve always had bears in these mountains, but in all my life I’ve never known of a damn bear killing anybody—never—have you?”

No one answered, only the shaking of heads. It was a mystery.

"We’re all going to the scene now, out here in these woods. I’ve al­ready looked at it. Be careful, stay off the tracks, look for clothing or pieces of the body that might be laying around.

"Noland, you and Charlie go to the barber shop and get the king of the bear hunters.”

Nervous laughter. "I reckon he’s the king; says he is. Bring him back, along with anybody he wants with him, and we’ll let these hunters look at the tracks. They brag about how good they are, so let’s put’em to good use.”

The two deputies headed for their car, and the rest of us were just leaving the yard when the dead girl’s mom came out on the porch of the trailer and motioned for the sheriff to come to her.

I was standing next to him when she told him.

"Sheriff, I don’t know whether it’s important or not, but there’s something you might want to know. Our little girl was becoming a woman.”

He looked puzzled, first at her and then at me.

"She was bleeding, and it bothered her. She was having her first pe­riod.”

He nodded that he had heard and turned without a word. No fur­ther conversation, we hit the woods behind the official party.

THE WOODS IN THE Smokies are pretty the last week of April, and early morning is a special time. Sarvis and dogwood are blooming white, like starbursts of fireworks in the new pale-green foliage. It was warm; you could tell the weather was changing, rain coming.

During the winter months the sheriff and I had often bird hunted to­gether. We both liked bird-hunting, liked to watch the dogs work to find quail or the bigger mountain grouse. Fast-shooting shotguns, briar britches, and the thrill of hitting birds on the wing made it all a great game to us.

"You ever hunt bears?”

"No, Sheriff, not much anyway. They took me a time or two, had to loan me a rifle. Walked all day and never saw a thing.”

"Well, the exercise shouldn’t hurt you. You and me walk all day fol­lowing bird-dogs, don’t we?”

"Yeah, but it’s not as bad, and it’s not the same. We walk about thirty minutes at a time and then ride some and walk a little at the next place. Bear hunters walk for hours at a time and have to lead their dogs until it’s time to turn’em loose. Dogs try to trip you and bump into the back of your legs and go around the wrong side of every tree you see, dragging you along.”

He grinned, and I knew he was rubbing it in. We had a wonderful sys­tem for birds, and he knew it. He had enlisted every Democrat school bus driver and mailman in the county, and they all cooperated fully with our system. If they saw a covey of quail crossing the road or a grouse, they called and reported it to him. He wrote it down in the little note­book we called the Covey Book, arranged by road names. So to find birds for an afternoon’s sort we drove to Big Meadow Road or Smith Top, looking where birds had been spotted, and started hunting.

Sheriff was a good wing shot and a pleasant companion. And hunt­ing in an official car, we were never chased away by irate landown­ers. My only complaint was that he was also an excellent politician and had a habit of never terminating a conversation with anybody.

"People like to talk to you,” I had told him more than once, "but it doesn’t have to take the whole day. Tell them you have pressing business or an appointment or whatever, but let’s go on and not stand here all day.”

"They are voters,” he said sheepishly, "and they are all related to each other. Next election ain’t far off, let’em talk.”

It was frustrating for me. Sometimes we would walk together from the courthouse down to the drugstore to get coffee, and it would take two hours to go just the one block. Folks would see him and come up to tell some of the longest stories about their son in the Army or their father’s cancer operation or how they grew Irish potatoes in the family garden or some such. He never hurried them to get to the point, if there even was one.

"By the way, Sheriff, this morning I was noticing that scar on Earl’s face. He didn’t always have that, did he?”

"Naw, happened last fall, I think. Him and Bobby Joe had to take a crazy woman to the state mental hospital, the loony bin down at Morganton. She kicked out a side glass in their car, and I think she musta scratched ol’ Earl with her fingernails.

"Insane people can fight like a wildcat, and they’ll scratch ya and bite, and you can end up with a bad infection from their germs. I think that’s what happened to’em. Bobby Joe had some bad bruises, too, outta that deal, best I recall. Don’t allow my men to use their sticks and black­jacks too freely,” he added.

I’d heard that particular sermon a hundred times before; it’s part de­cency and part pure politics.

"If a deputy beats a man unmercifully for no good reason,” he said, "it may come back to haunt all of us in the next election. That man’s kinfolks may make ever’ one vote against me. I could get turned out of office and that bad deputy lose his job, too.”

"This looks like your place,” I said, and we caught up with the rest of the men, standing along a narrow trail through the laurel and looking down at what appeared to be a pile of scattered rags.







Chapter Two

THE OHIO PRE-TEEN had died hard, mauled by a large and vicious black bear. Her body lay on its back, what was left of it, in leaves that had apparently been raked over it by the animal. Her face was turned to the side at an odd angle, blonde hair in a tangle, gash on her cheek now black with dried blood, with one eye knocked loose from impact and hanging on a stem against her nose.

"See, he ate her legs,” the sheriff said, pawing at the leaves to un­cover the rest of the body, "and then he covered her up, probably plan­ning to come back and eat up the rest of her. Keep a close look out with those shotguns; this bastard just might come back.”

The deputies looked around nervously, and the coroner stepped in closer for a better view. "Didn’t have a chance, poor little girl. Looks like a broke neck and, look at that, that arm’s broke, too.”

Her pink pajamas hung on the stump of the body in bloody tatters, both legs missing. "Skull’s crushed, too,” the coroner said. "Probably have to be a closed-casket service. We’ll do what we can, but the funeral home up in Ohio is gonna have a real doozy here. Hope they’ve got a good school picture of her they can use sitting on the casket.”

Professional funeral matters bored the sheriff, who was looking back down the trail where the killing had taken place.

"Boys, le’s go back down here where it happened and leave the coro­ner to take his pictures, but be careful, and for God’s sake don’t step on no tracks. Where he got her it’s a little bit muddy, and maybe we can do some good.”

Bobby Joe stayed behind to guard the coroner, who busily snapped pictures with a digital camera as we walked away. The kill scene was ninety feet away on the same trail, where it crossed a damp ravine.

"Look how far he dragged her body,” Sheriff said, "and I betcha she was going to pee by the light of her little flashlight and saw this muddy place, slowed down to pick her way through the mud, and that’s when he grabbed her.”

"You don’t know for sure it was a ‘he’ bear,” Earl said. "Mighta been an ol’ sow-bear with cubs...”

"Yeah, maybe. Mighta been one o’ them campground bears that’s al­ways hanging around to get food scraps and bust open the garbage cans.”

"This campground here does a good job with their garbage, don’t have cans they can get into and never has much of a problem here. We don’t get called out here much,” Earl said. "I recollect me and Bobby Joe been called out here for a bear problem only once in the past four er five years.”

In the distance we could hear a siren approaching at speed. The sher­iff grimaced; Earl shook his head and grinned. The deputies dis­patched to bring the bear hunter were young, and both lived for the opportunity to drive at high speed on county roads with their siren blar­ing.

"Earl, say something to that boy when you get a chance,” Sheriff said patiently. "It ain’t necessary to blow the siren on every call. He went out in the country to investigate a loose cow on the highway one night last week—damn siren woke up a hundred people. I know cuz ever’ damn one of’em called me about it.”

Earl looked at me and grinned. He said he would take care of the problem.

L. B. BRADFORD CALLS himself the king of the bear hunters, and I suppose he probably is, if the bear hunters have a king. He cuts hair in a barber shop downtown on a back street and takes time off to hunt bears anytime he pleases.

"Good morning, Sheriff,” he said, not smiling at all and not ragging the officer about politics, which is his usual manner, since he is a strong yellow-dog Republican. "I’m sorry ta hear about the little girl... y’all sure it’s a bear?”

"Yeah, looks like it from the tracks, but I want you to help us. Take a look, and then bring in some men and dogs to catch this brute.”

Ronnie Jacobs was with L. B. They said it was just luck that he’d been in the shop getting his crow-black hair cut when the deputies came in. Ronnie is nearly full-blood Cherokee and known throughout these mountains as a tracker.

"We’ll let ol’ Ronnie here look at y’r tracks,” L. B. said. "He’s better at it than me; thinks he is anyway. He still hunts with me whenever he gets hungry for fresh bear meat.”

Ronnie ignored the jibe, and the sheriff shook his head. L. B. was al­ways kidding somebody about something; his natural calling.

"I b’leeve I’d just as soon eat a damn truck tire as a damn bear,” the sheriff growled, and I silently agreed.

Then the sheriff brought out the needle his own self a little, and I had to grin. He brought it back on L. B. "Son, I have to worry about you sometimes,” he said, mock serious. "In the summertime, when it’s too hot to hunt, do you still referee at the rooster fights down on the Georgia line?”

General laughter and snickering all around; even Ronnie was gig­gling as we all waited for L. B. to give a good answer.

"I’ll tell you, Sheriff, two things you might want to keep in mind. Number one, when it’s really hot you can’t fight roosters because of the heat. And number two, that cockfight you’re talking about is across the line in Georgia. It’s not in North Carolina, and it’s not in yore jurisdic­tion.”

"Good enough,” I said. "Good enough. Let Ronnie give us the ver­dict. Show’s over. Calm down.”

"No hard feelings.” The sheriff clapped L. B. on the back, and we watched Ronnie Jacobs on hands and knees working over the muddy tracks.

"Here,” he told us, "and here,” pointing with a stick at tracks in the mud and leaves. He showed us where the girl had been taken down, even showed us the rounded prints where her knees had impacted as she fell under the weight of the big bear.

"Look at this, Unaka,” Ronnie said. He was sneering at L. B. now, the verbal round-robin ongoing.

"He calls me that all the time,” L. B. said. "Unaka is supposed to be an Indian word for either ‘white man’ or ‘mean white man.’ Cherokee maybe thought all white men were mean. Don’t pay any attention to him... I don’t.”

"Unaka, your bear is a big one,” Ronnie said, pressing his insult and smiling at L. B. "Great, big one.”

"Only Cherokee word he knows. He’s a plumber and a part-time Bap­tist preacher,” L. B. said merrily. "Like all them Cherokee, he lives off those gambling checks the tribe pays out from their casino. How big?”

Very solemn now, Ronnie stood up and looked into each of our faces for reactions. "Your bear, my brothers, is very, very large. I guess from the size of the track it is a very large boar, not a sow as there are no tracks of cubs anywhere. Here in these mountains L.B. and I kill bears that sometimes weigh three hundred or more pounds, but this big male could easily weigh twice that.”

"You’re shitting me,” the sheriff said. "You mean 600 pounds? Re­ally?”

"I am serious,” Ronnie told us. "The tracks cut down, even in soft mud, twice as deep as an ordinary bear would. That little ninety pound girl never had a chance. He probably broke her neck with one swipe of his paw.”

"A man gets his picture in the paper around here if he kills even a 350-pounder,” one of the deputies said. "I hate to think about a bear weighs as much as a pony.”

"This bear could kill and eat a pony,” Ronnie said, "and he probably already has—somewhere, sometime—we just haven’t heard about it here yet, and there is one more thing... funny-looking track. Can’t get a real look at a good track. With this mud an’ all, it’s tore up too bad, but something’s not right.”

Off in the distance, to the west we heard the first thunder.

SURE ENOUGH, THE coroner’s funeral home got the job of what the obituary would call ‘local arrangements.’ They finally got the girl’s body out of the woods about noon. We stayed and watched but were not much help.

Other volunteer bear hunters arrived and stomped in the mud at the scene, vigorously conferring and cursing. All agreed that the big bear had to be killed, and the heavy spring rain would wash away both scent and tracks. They would try the next day. It would be the greatest hunt in the history of the county, men and dogs from thirty miles away calling in on cell phones and the CB walkie-talkies to offer assistance. A regular bear-hunting posse.

"I wouldn’t want to be around that bunch,” the sheriff said grimly. "They’ll shoot anything that moves, and I’ll be lucky they don’t just accidentally shoot one of their own. We ever have a bear jump on any­one around here before, Earl?”

The chief deputy said he could not remember an incident where a wild bear had hurt a human except for one time. "Ten years ago there was a bunch of dumb-ass drunks hunting—most bear hunters don’t drink that much, or not at all, but these boys were hitting it pretty hard, and they treed a small yearling in the gap up at Burningtown. ’Member that, Bobby Joe?”

His driver nodded; verification of Earl’s stories was required, just a normal task. "We got some of the beer, too, didn’t we?” he asked.

Earl scowled and got back on the narrative. "Don’t tell everything, Bobby Joe. One of the drunks shot at the little bear in the tree, and it jumped out and knocked him down and broke his leg. Bear was not hit, ran away, and the rescue squad had to go up there and bring the man out.

"We wuz town po-lice back then. We went on the mission, but we never got any of the beer. The bear hunters give two cases of beer to the rescue squad boys...”

"I don’t know what I’d do without you,” the sheriff said. "Le’s go get in some dry clothes. Maybe they’ll catch our bear tomorrow.”

I WENT HOME TO the boarding house to change clothes, and my landlady and I ended up drinking coffee and talking most of the after­noon. Actually, Miss Margaret did the talking, or most of it, like she usually does—with style.

"I have things to tell you, Wade.”

"Yes, ma’am, I’m ready to listen.”

"You might as well. It’s going to rain all day and all night, too. I just got the latest weather from Chattanooga TV, and they always know. Our weather comes from the west so always listen to Chattanooga weather folks on Channel Three, and they’ll tell you.”

"Yes, ma’am. You told me that before, and I believe it.”

"Well now, Wade, you’re a sweet boy, but you weren’t born and raised here in Proctor, so you don’t know everything. It’s my duty to tell you about things.”

Which she did, at some length. Thank goodness her favorite tel­evision shows, re-runs of Andy Griffith and Wheel of Fortune, would not come on until later so we didn’t have to watch them right then.

The house is a big two-story Victorian thing with lots of ginger­bread trim and lacy stuff around the corners and the eaves and a wrap-around porch on three sides with banisters and elaborate railings. All painted wood in an ivory tone with two contrasting colors on the window frames and the eaves.

"You’ve been awfully nice to mow my yard here for free, Wade, and I appreciate it, but I don’t expect you to paint the house...”

I didn’t expect to ever paint the house, either. I hate painting.

So she had entertained a local gang of house-painters during the morning, she said, and properly served them coffee and cookies on the porch as they had looked over the job. One of them wrote down notes in a little booklet and had promised to call her back in a day or two with an estimate.

"The Spivey boys, that’s who it was,” she said. "The whole family paints for a living. Now tell me about the little Yankee girl and the bear. I want to know it all, already heard some; it’s all over town, but you were there. Tell me.”

The rain peppered down on the roof above, and we drank strong cof­fee in china cups encircled with flowers and vines. I told her in detail about what I had seen and heard at the campground.

"That’s sad, Wade. That’s a sad story.”

"Tomorrow’s maybe gonna be dry. If it stops raining long enough, they’ll try to hunt down the big bear.”

"Well, it’s not going to stop tomorrow. Chattanooga says it’ll rain all night and all day tomorrow. We may get three inches of rain before it quits. That’s good. We need the rain.”

She was right on the money.

It rained all through the next day, which was a Thursday, and lots of bear hunters rode the roads with their pickups and four-wheelers but never found a track. Word of the girl’s killing spread like wildfire through the county, and any black animal—Black Angus steer or Labrador dog—was in mortal danger.

It cleared up Friday and Saturday, and the big bear hunt began, with all the proverbial precision of a Chinese fire drill. The sheriff tried to organize the hunters into designated groups, each one accompanied by a deputy, with only partial success.

"I just hope to God nobody gets shot,” he told me. "All these guys want to be the hero and get the bastard. They’re too eager.”

Sure enough, late on Friday a gang operating without a deputy had seen their dogs in pursuit of what they said was "a black wooly animal” and shot it dead. Turned out to be a big Angus calf, and the owner was not happy about it.

He called me and wanted the county to pay for his calf. He named his price, and it was fair, I’d say. So I said to take it up to the slaughter­house and have the whole damn thing ground up into hamburger meat. We can pay for it outta the jail budget and over time feed the meat to the prisoners.

The king of the bear hunters brought out his legendary strike-dog Preacher on Saturday morning. There were dozens who just came out to see the famous dog.

Preacher was, they said, a mixture of Plott Hound and Redbone, but his wonderful nose might have come from a distant bloodhound ancestor. The strike-dog’s job was to stand on the hood or the top of the pickup truck and be driven slowly over backwoods trails until he scents the spot where a crossing bear has walked across the trail.

"Preacher, by God, can smell where a bear has crossed last week... after three thunderstorms has passed,” L. B. said, trying to keep a straight face. "You believe that?”

"Hell no, ya lying devil,” his audience would answer, and L. B. would grin like a possum. Hell of a showman. They said he was offered $10,000 in cash money and a late-model Jeep for ol’ Preacher, and he wouldn’t take the deal. I was surprised they had not written a song about him. Preacher, I mean, not L. B.

"Sheriff, you know I’m losing money not cutting hair on a Saturday morning,” L. B. said. "Country people like to come to town and get their hair cut on a Saturday, and a hard Republican like me loves to make money.”

"You got enough money, L. B. Le’s see if that sorry dog o’ yours can smell anything.”

Sheriff told me about it later. He and L. B. rode the mountain trails out near the campground all day... nothing. Said Preacher rode on his throne, a ragged piece of outdoor carpet that had been riveted to the hood of L. B.’s battered pickup.



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