Volume 3, Number 1
We soon learn that this unusual personage is Joe McGill, and as the people in the Ozarks hills seem to express their liking and regard in terms of relationship, he is "Uncle Joe" to most of them that have always known him. We knew that man with the individuality of Uncle Joe must have an interesting life story, and so we set a trap for him, inveigled him into our office, and after some little side skirmishes in conversation, we ventured to make a direct attack. "Tell us about your early days here", we said. Then came the laughter that you want to hear again, because it is like nobody else's, and the quick terse voice, and -"Oh, I could tell a good deal, I reckon; I've had an adventurous life enough, and wandered around enough, always on the frontier, too, never could stand too much of city life. I like the hills and the woods and wild nature and wild things, and that is about all there was around us when I was a boy. We came here from Benton County, Arkansas, when I was eight years old, and settled down near where my mother still lives, near the Arkansas border in the pineries. My, but is was pretty in those days. The pineries stretched away for miles around us, and the hills were alive with all kinds of wild animals and game.
"I was born in Benton County, Arkansas, in 1846, and my folks being Scotch, they were just naturally shepherds, always kept sheep, and my father thought that these hills with the short winters were just the place for sheep raising. The grass was the finest I have ever seen any place; often it was higher than a horse's back. I herded sheep as far back as I can remember."
We were delighted to hear this from Joe McGill, for that proved us right in our first impression of the shepherd. A long line of Scotch shepherds behind him-no wonder he looked a shepherd of Israel, with his staff.
"You see," he said, "my great, great, grand father McGill came to this country with William Penn, and his descendants finally found their way to East Tennessee. My grandfather married an Irish woman so that on my father's side I am Scotch-Irish. The Indians were still living in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee then, and my mother's father was French and her mother a half-breed Cherokee Indian, so that I am one-eighth Cherokee Indian. That's one reason I like the woods so, I reckon, too, and liked to hunt so well. It was in my blood-though when I think of that I hardly know how I'd be classed, I've come from so many races, just plain American I guess.
"Well, as I said, nature was as fine as ever was looked at when we first settled down in the pines. We built our house of logs, with a hewn puncheon floor, and there was a great scope of country all around us, with nobody in it but ourselves, no body for twenty-five or thirty miles to the south west, no settlement nearer than Long Creek. In 1885 old Dr. Layton put up a 100-horse power saw mill some miles away, the first in the county, and he had the first cook stove I ever saw. It was as great a sight to me as the first flying machine would be today, I reckon.
"There were lots of sugar maples then, and we had a sugar camp; made all the maple sugar and sugar we could use ourselves and some to trade or sell. I worked in the sugar camp in the spring and herded sheep, too, the year around.
"One day when I was nine years old, there was a great commotion among the sheep, and I saw a big gray wolf bounding among them. I was scared; he looked as big as a horse to me, and I ran to the house for help, but there was nobody there, so I grabbed a gun from the corner and ran back again, and there was the wolf and the flock scattering. I got behind a clump of dogwood sapplings, and happened to catch my gun across the fork of a little sappling, and then I thought 'why
don't I shoot?' and shoot I did and killed old Mr. Wolf dead-just an accident,
mind you-didn't aim or know that I was going to hit him, but that was my first
wolf. He had killed three sheep before I got him.
"After that father got me a flint-lock shot gun, and I carried that with me wherever I went. It wasn't worth more than two dollars I reckon, but I wouldn't begrudge one hundred dollars if I had it now.
"There were no schools at first, but we finally built a little log school house, cut out one log about half up in front for a window, split logs in two, and drove round poles into them for benches. There was a fire-place, with a stick and clay chimney, and we had to move the rocks out of the way in order to find a place to build that clay chimney, Now think of that!" and Uncle Joe's laughter here was hearty and so contagious that we still laugh as we think of it. "My first teacher's name was Cowan. The school was a novelty, of course, and I liked it in a way, and learned to spell some at school. I never carried a slate or an arithmetic to school in my life; all I had was a McGuffey reader and Webster's old blue-back spelling book-and just to see the books the children have today-why it's a sight on earth, it is for a fact.
"I didn't care much for school, though, after the first, and I was needed with the herds. The stock ranged all winter long without feed. All the bottoms along the creeks and rivers were covered with cane; there were lots of fishing poles all ready for you along the rivers in those days, any amount of them. I was out in the woods with my gun and dog all the time looking after the sheep, and naturally got to know all the wild animals and learned to hunt them. When the sheep would tire of grazing and lie down to rest in the middle of the day, I would slip in and out among the trees on the hunt for something, and hardly ever a day passed that I did not carry some kind of game home-always had some kind of game on the table. I liked to hunt as well as an Indian, but I reckon that was in my blood, too.
"I had a dog that always knew the sound of my gun from anybody else's, and he always ran to me like wildfire whenever he heard it. One morning I was slipping along through the cane when all at once a big buck jumped up about twenty feet in front of me. He was a monstrous fellow and I was scared, but my gun was ready, and I shot him-aimed to break his neck, but didn't do it, but he fell and I dropped my gun and whipped out my knife to cut his ham strings, when I saw he was going to get up again. You know a buck will fight when he is wounded, and before I could get to him with my knife, he was up and at me. I climbed a tree, and left my gun on the ground; and now the funniest sight I reckon, that ever took place, if there had been anybody there to see it, though it did not seem the least bit funny to me at the time. As I went up the tree, the buck bounded past, stopped and turned to see why he had missed me. I slid down the tree to get my gun, and the buck saw me. Up the tree I went again, and again the buck bounded by then down I'd come and try to grab my gun and back he'd charge me again, and up that tree I'd go-up and down I went and back and forth he charged -up and down, back and forth, back and forth- how many times I never did know, but long enough for my dog to run three-quarters of a mile from home after he heard my gun. When the dog saw the buck he grasped the situation instantly and sprang on his head and threw him back on his haunches. I grabbed my gun and shot the buck right thru the heart.
"When I was twelve years old I went with father to Forsyth. We had a good many deer hides and some hams with us, to sell. The merchant there had a cap-lock gun that he said I ought to have. I wanted it powerful bad, but father said 'no'. So then the merchant told me I might have it on time and pay for it with hides, if father was willing. Father said, 'all right', so I took the gun. It cost thirteen dollars, and I was just three months getting hides and hams enough to pay for it.
"The deer were very plentiful here in those days. I've seen as many as twenty in a herd. One day I killed a deer and 'skun' him, and was going home with the hide and hams on my shoulders. It was raining and got dark early. All the way my dog kept growling and bristling, but he was so jealous of any other dog with me that I just thought another dog was following and paid no attention to his warnings. I stopped at a house on the way and had supper, from there I had to cross a creek before I could get home. The water in the creek was rising fast, and I had to wade, and was getting mighty anxious to get home. Just as I got across the creek, the dog gave a terrible growl. I looked back and could see a big bulge that looked like a log just on the other side of the creek; then I saw it move, then spring toward me.
(To be continued)
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