The runaway pig and other early memories
November 25, 2009
From 1936 until 1945 my mom and dad, my brother Don, my sister Twila and I lived on the Ira Lamb place 10 miles north of Parks, Neb. It was there I rode the prairie on my pony, Dixie, spending many hours among the Sandhills where we hunted jack rabbits, pheasants, and prairie chickens. Once I even got lucky and killed a coyote with my brothers Remington .22 pump rifle. I was riding my pony, Dixie, bareback and without dismounting I hit the coyote behind the ear on my fourth shot.
The prairie was covered with deep snow upon that day and the coyote was running at full speed when it was hit, sending him tumbling end over end. My older brother Don, said it must have died laughing at my shooting as he could find no bullet hole. I folded back the prairie wolf’s left ear and showed him the bloody hole the little bullet had made.
I didn’t want to ruin the pelt I explained. Don almost choked and I won’t repeat what he said. He was eight years older than me and had never killed a coyote I reminded him.
When I was nine years old, Don gave me an old single shot .22 rifle that would fire only .22 short cartridges. I spent many hours and days in the two prairie dog towns near home learning to shoot with that old gun. In the years Don was in Imperial attending High School, I used the Remington .22 pump that had belonged to him and our recently deceased brother, Chester.
Besides helping with the cattle, horses and numerous other animals I attended grade school three horse-back miles over the hills to the east. On one of those late fall days Dad and Mom selected one of our pigs for our winter lard and meat.
Dad, Don and I walked to the large pen where the hogs were rooting among the ears of corn scattered at their feeding area. Dad had the Remington, but Don decided he wanted to kill the hog. Dad handed the gun to Don and told him to wait until the pig was facing him and shoot it between and a little above the eyes.
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Don fired at the pig just as it started to lower its head a bit for an ear of corn and the bullet struck too high in the head. The animal squealed and took off at a run for the south pasture. Dad grabbed the rifle, rushed to the barn, threw a bridle on old Red and raced to the pasture where he ran down the exhausted hog and killed it on the run, much like an old-time buffalo hunter.
He returned to the barn, saddle Red, sped to the dead animal and pulled it back to the butchering shed with a lasso half hitched to his saddle horn.
As best as I can remember the meat and lard were okay and I don’t know for sure, but I doubt if Don ever ate pork again.
On most Saturdays my dad would drive our 1936 Ford car to town for groceries and other items we could not make or do without on the farm. Our closest town was the village of Parks – some 10 miles south on a sandy two track road. Parks consisted of a few houses, a grain elevator, a small grocery store and surprisingly a little Post Office that was still open when I was last there in 2002.
I remember one snowy winter day when we drove a two horse team pulling a wagon to Parks for supplies and another December day we took the Ford, taking us 8 hours to dig our way through the 10 miles of drifted prairie trail to the little southwestern Nebraska village.
Another snowy late winter day I spent most of the short daylight hours digging our my coyote and skunk traps, rebaiting and resetting. This did me little good as that night and the next day another blizzard drifted them useless again.
These problems were nothing compared to my mom and dad gazing at their hail storm ruined corn crop, causing Dad and I to harness our four horse teams and spend many hours of daylight to dark gloom-filled days replanting the remainder of the seed corn when we knew it was too late in the season to grow into anything but small immature ears of corn worth little but feed for the horses and pigs.
We would butcher another hog and with Mom’s Mason jars of garden vegetables and fruit, we would survive another long cold winter.
I liked that old ranch known as the Ira Lamb place better than any place I have ever lived. There were pheasants and prairie chickens on our place. The coyotes were a hazard to our chickens and calves, but also a source of income for their hides and scalps.
In May when the pups were small I would ride the range hunting their sidehill dens and dug out the pups. At the Benkelman Courthouse I was paid $2.50 bounty for each of their scalps. Thinking back on those days now, I am a little ashamed of killing those baby coyotes, but we know they would grow into chicken and calf killers; the reason for the $2.50 bounty.
In those hard days our cruelty to those predatory birds and animals included corn eating rabbits, crows, eagles, skunks and any other bird or animal that preyed on the livestock that we needed to survive on the wild lonely land.
I may be making this sound like an extreme hardship to survive in that time and place, but if one would take almost any man, woman or child from our modern farms, cities and towns away from the advanced methods and machinery of today and were able to put them back into those days, I believe they would feel as if they had been moved to hell. Contrary to what I have just written those days of the 1930s and ’40s were to me some of the best days of my life.
I am in my late 70’s now and every day I am proud to have lived my early years as I did. My wife, Ronnie, also lived on a farm in northeast Nebraska during those years and she feels much the same about those days that now we old-timers call the Dirty Thirties and can laugh and talk for hours of our lives during the Great Depression.