I have been thinking about writing a little more about hillbillies. As you can imagine, there are different levels of hillbillyism! For instance, a friend of mine’s mother and sister both smoked pipes and also chewed tobacco. I guess though, on the grand scale of things, that is better than smoking pot and also doing other drugs.
One level I haven’t talked about is river people or river community people. In my experience with them, they are quite different. They make loyal friends but terrible enemies. Usually, no one, including conservation officers, law officers, or much of anyone else wants to mess with them. In fact, it can be dangerous to your health.
I believe that this comes from a tradition of taking care of themselves. If you think back in time, say a hundred years or so, if something happened, it would have taken a half a day for anyone to have contacted the law. Then, it would have taken another half day for the law to have reached them. Then after reaching there, they would have been around a group of people that were not all that cooperative because they already had, or wanted to take care of things themselves. Generally, they did!
As the years go by and things have changed, this is starting to get some what watered down, but old ways die hard! The following is some of what I have heard from other people who have been around them or that I have heard directly from some of them.
A friend of mine, let’s call him Tom, became a good friend of one of these river guys. Eventually, the river guy’s family kind of took a liking to Tom. One of the members of the river family told Tom that if anyone ever gave him any trouble, to let him know and he would take care of it. Tom’s feeling was that the guy meant to take care of it permanently.
Years ago, I became friends with an older river guy with whom I did business. Let’s call him Harry. Harry kept inviting me to come down to go on a fishing float trip with him. I finally did. It was an experience,(understatement). Like me, Harry was an outdoorsman. He liked to hunt, fish, etc. Being born on the river, he was practically born with a gun in his hand. In fact he was carrying one that day. He was using it to shoot snakes, (now against the law), and also because he was uncomfortable without a weapon.
At any rate, I told Harry that I would kind of like to have a small gun like his to carry for safety. I explained to him that I had been in a situation or two that had made me uneasy. Harry then told me that he had the perfect gun that he would sell me. I asked what it was and Harry told me that it was a 410 shotgun pistol. I asked how long the barrel was and he told me that it was probably 10 to 12” long. I told him that with a barrel that short, it would be an illegal weapon. He then told me that when he made it, he hadn’t been too worried about legalities. Being naturally curious and dumb, I was stupid enough to ask Harry why he had made it. Harry then told me that he had made it to kill a guy and to then throw away.
As you can imagine, this Hillbilly is now talking to himself. Hillbilly, you are in the wrong place. Hillbilly, just shut up. Hillbilly see no evil, hear no evil, etc. Hillbilly, why did you get yourself into this stupid fishing trip and so on. I was hoping he would end his explanation with that. But no! He went on to explain that he had planned on taking care of a bad guy, (a convict out on parole). One who had gotten away with raping some young girls because their families were afraid of him. The ex-convict had begun to cause problems for some of Harry’s family.
In all fairness, Harry had talked to law enforcement. They said that the guy was no good but their hands were tied. According to Harry, they had told him to kill the ex-convict if he gave him trouble! This seemed a little off to me, but perhaps they meant in self- defense. I am not sure that they and Harry were on the same track. Anyway, he went on to explain that he had beaten the guy up once and told him to leave his family alone. While he was telling me the story, he mentioned that when he went after the guy that time, he had been reaching in his pocket for his brass knucks but they weren’t there. The more he talked, the more uncomfortable this Hillbilly became. Now to my relief, he went on to explain that he didn’t wind up killing the guy. After about the 4th time Harry went after this ex-convict, the ex-convict wised up and backed off. All I can say is that the ex-convict’s IQ must have only been about 4 if it took 4 times of having Harry after him to decide to move along.
I might say, being both stupid and bad, a few years later, this ex-convict, went on to cause trouble for another family. I knew this group. They were like a whole family of Harrys. Surprisingly, they were nice enough to warn him off rather than to just kill him. They, like Harry, would have killed him. He backed off! I don’t know what ever happened to the ex-convict. Usually someone either does kill them or they wind up back in prison.
At any rate back to the float trip. Harry continued to tell me more stories and facts, including the fact that he, if he didn’t have another gun, would at least have a 25 caliber automatic in his back pocket. He was never unarmed even if he was at church.
As the day wore on and the list of illegalities committed or illegalities planned but not committed, and other eyebrow rising stories continued, the Hillbilly became very aware that his moral line and Harry’s moral line were nowhere close. In fact, they weren’t even in the same state or perhaps even in the same country. I did discuss some of these things with him. He respected my opinions but was not swayed. Though I continued to do business with him and remained friendly, I did not hang around with him anymore. I might add, that before I left that day, Harry showed me the 410 pistol he had made and had me shoot it. He sat up a coffee can about 30’ away. I shot at it and almost completely destroyed it. Years later, I thought to myself, --- oh great! He got my finger prints on that gun!
A few days after I took this float trip, I talked to the same friend whom I called Dick, (earlier in this post), about this float trip saga. Dick told me that he had once gone hunting with Harry and his family. He said that once was enough. He like I, had had experiences that frightened him and he didn’t want a repeat.
My experiences and some of these stories I was told are from 25 to 40 years ago. Most of these people are long dead. However, a lot of the culture of these river towns or even small country towns that are some distance from major law enforcement is much the same. My stories are from Missouri but could just as well be from most states. In fact, a good buddy of mine that was in law enforcement said that this type of thing was what he ran into in a river town in Oklahoma. He said that most of the officers would not go there for much of anything without backup. Like me, he thought it was just the culture. It is not that they are bad people but generally, they are a hardy, self- reliant, clannish, and feel like they are self-governed. This being the case, they are suspicious and standoffish to strangers. I don’t mind being around them for a short time but I am a gregarious hillbilly that can visit with them and pretty well fit in. In fact I will and can talk to about anyone! Just ask Cynthia or about anyone who knows me.
From the Hillbilly’s Corner!
Umm...yes. The Hillbilly can talk to anyone. Anyone! By the way, I didn't hear these stories until after he had me safely married so I couldn't get away. He knows some scary people!