In the Creeks and Along the Rails: Tales from Pollock

by Robert M. Peters on April 10, 2012 · 18 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Articles,Region & Place

TrainonTracks

I was born in Natchitoches, Louisiana, a town known, if it is known at all, for four things:  it is the oldest city in the Louisiana Purchase Territory; the movie The Horse Soldiers was filmed there; the movie Steel Magnolias was filmed there; and an old tree at the end of a runway reached up and grabbed Jim Croce’s plane and killed him.

Though I was born in Natchitoches, I grew up in Pollock, located in the carpetbag parish of Grant. While the number of Pollockites is waning within the town limits, the real assault on Pollock comes against its once strong hinterland; for Pollock, like Athens, was more than the city itself. The Pollock of my youth was circumscribed by specific geographic features.  About ten miles north of the town proper flowed Fish Creek.  This was the northern march of Pollock, beyond which began the traditions, customs, and habits of a different commonwealth, Georgetown.  To the east about eight miles was Little River, a body of water which begins as Dugdemona Bayou, drains north-central Louisiana, and flows roughly southeastward.  At Georgetown, it meets Castor Creek and changes its name to Little River.  It courses its way into Catahoula Lake, then flows out of the lake in two forks: French Fork and Old River.  The forks merge to the west of Jonesville, and Little River eventually meets the Ouachita River and the Tensas River at a place called Trinity at Jonesville, where they all become the Black River.  (A Pollockite learns this with his mother’s milk).  Flagon Bayou begins at the southwest of Pollock near the old Louisiana and Arkansas Railroad and marks the southwestern and southern boundaries of greater Pollock.  It eventually flows into Catahoula Lake.  The bottoms of the Flagon are not unlike Tolkien’s Mirkwood. On a squirrel hunt in Upper Flagon Bottom, my father and I, on a dry October Saturday, killed three of Louisiana’s poisonous snakes within thirty minutes: a timber rattler, a water moccasin and a coral snake We left without a squirrel. To the west about six miles was the dry prong of Big Creek, the Louisiana and Arkansas Railroad, and U.S. 167.  At the western end of the dry prong of Big Creek lies Dry Prong.  If Pollock is Athens, then Dry Prong is Sparta.  We were bitter rivals in all matters: sports, academics, and girls.

Flowing through the Commonwealth of Pollock are five creeks: Big Creek, Clear Creek, Sandy Creek, Mill Creek, and Dyson Creek.  In addition, there are at least two branches: Sugar Branch and Carson’s Branch. The town itself is bounded on the north by Big Creek and on the south by Sandy Creek.  Sugar Branch separates extreme northern Pollock from the rest of the town.  Cutting around the eastern and southern edges of the town is the railroad now called the Union Pacific.  For nearly one hundred years, it had been the Missouri Pacific.  It had originally been built by the neo-carpetbagger Jay Gould, who called it the Iron Mountain Railroad.  Most of my boyhood was spent on the creeks and the railroad.  In those venues I was never alone; there was all through my formative nineteen years a cadre of loyal friends, boys all, who fished, who hunted, who hiked, who explored and who sometimes fought with one another up and down the banks, in the creeks and along the rails.

My pastor for the first nineteen years of my life was Brother Moses Eli Mercer.  My barber for the first nineteen years of my life was Mr. Springer, the head of one of five Catholic households in Pollock.  The principal for the first nineteen years of my life was Mr. Erskine Willett.  I attended Pollock High School from the first grade through the twelfth grade.   I graduated with forty-seven of the sixty who had begun the first grade.  Some had been “retained,” some had moved off, some had died.  Progressive Kindergarten had not made it into our climes in those days.  Polity in the Pollock of my youth was not an abstraction; it was Bracey Montgomery.  He was the mayor of Pollock, a justice of the peace, a school board member and coroner, not all at once but across the years, even beyond my nineteen years.  Law was not an abstraction.  It came in the persons of Mr. Thomson and Mr. Slaughter, two successive town marshals, and Mr. Sharp, the Grant Parish sheriff’s deputy for Pollock.  When a boy saw one of them coming, a boy knew that the law was coming.

Public schools, even in a carpetbag parish, had not, in those days, been turned into state schools by U.S. Supreme Court decree. Our teachers were not agents of the state against whom we had a constitutionally sanctioned adversarial relationship.  They were members of our commonwealth, our community, who had authority over us.  They were in every respect in loco parentis.  They were not only our school teachers.  They were our Sunday school teachers, our scout leaders, and friends of our parents.  Teaching was still a vocation, with all of the implications thereof.  Several of my teachers remained single until they retired.  My mother, herself a teacher prior to having been smitten by my father, lived for seven years in the same hotel room and for seven years took her meals with colleagues at the same hotel dining table.  When she moved down the Little River from Rochelle to Pollock she boarded with a distant cousin until she married my father.

Life in the Commonwealth of Pollock thrived around family, the school, and the churches.  Most folks in the piney wood uplands, the oak ridges and the tupelo bottoms were Baptist, Southern of course.  Next came the Methodists.  At first there were the Methodist Episcopal and the Methodist Protestant:  the MEs and the MPs.  Then they unified and became the United Methodist.  My father always held that, in Pollock, the Stewarts controlled the one and the Walkers controlled the other.  In response to one of my queries, my father attempted to explain the difference between the denominations.  He said that Methodists were Baptists who had learned to read and that Episcopalians were Methodists who had made money.  Catholics were folks who had a lot of kids and who openly drank beer; they sometimes fished on Sunday.  Papa said all of this with a twinkle in his eye; but his humor, often quite earthy, seems to have coated something of essence.  Actually my best friend and Papa’s best friend were Catholics.  It was whispered around the commonwealth that we were secret Papists.  There is some truth to that; therein am I much like our Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

When I graduated from high school and went off to college, a mere fifteen miles away, I did not leave Pollock; however, when I turned nineteen, I boarded an airplane for the first time in my life and flew to Europe.  I, along with many in my generation, contributed to the decline of Pollock. We left and did not return—the first generation to do that en masse.  Federal Judge Norman Scott closed three high schools in the parish and ordered that a consolidated school be built in a sage patch equally distant from each community: Colfax, Dry Prong, and Pollock.  In one fiat act, a federal judge destroyed Athens and Sparta.  The final and most deadly assault on the Commonwealth of Pollock has been the encroachment of suburbia from the south on its hinterland; the spread of Alexandria and Pineville is inexorably subsuming the outlying strongholds of Pollock. Yet Pollock still has voices willing to speak on its behalf and acknowledge in story its beauty and grace, its funny times and tragic moments, and its people with their flaws and with their virtues.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Katherine Dalton April 10, 2012 at 1:54 pm

It is a pleasure simply to say the place names you list, most of which are either wistfully sonorous (Catahoula) or have all the blunt humor of the best Anglo-Saxon English (Dry Prong). And that, my friend, is the South all over.

My husband has an older cousin in New Castle, Ky., who will still trace back the occasional current feud between neighbors to the hard feelings between rival high schools before the county consolidation–which occurred in the 60s, I believe. But she remembers and she is convinced a lot of other people do, too.

I think I detect the opening pages of a memoir. If so, good luck with it.

avatar robert m. peters April 10, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Mrs. Dalton,

There languish in boxes and on old floppies four or five score of vignettes, sketches and tales, primarily reflecting my experiences as a boy in Pollock. Every deep hole in Big Creek has its story; there is Atwood, the bantam rooster; Uncle Willie who blew up a laundry; the ghosts of Old Stucky Cemetery; crossing the slough; Miss Mattie and the rat; Tabler Worms; Miss Mattie’s Tomatoes; bluing in the water; possum on a pole, etc.

There are indeed memories; whether they can be successfully collected into something which resembles a memoir remains to be seen.

avatar David Smith April 11, 2012 at 9:12 am

Beautifully told, Mr. Peters. In the telling of your boyhood community’s unique quirks and virtues, ironically, you relate so many charming universals about the true South, the South that we hold in our hearts. Thank you!

avatar Trevor Fry April 12, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Outstanding article by someone who is undoubtedly a kindred spirit. I am a native of Pollock, or as I like to call it, a “Pollockensian.” Sandy Creek was my playground growing up, but I am intimately familar with all of the creeks that you mentioned. In fact, I walked the banks of Clear Creek just yesterday. Moreover, as a teenager, I lost half of a toe at Dean’s Hole, but that is another story. Speaking of creeks, attached is an article about the Indian mounds at Fish Creek where I have a camp that you might enjoy.
http://jennyellerbe.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/the-drive-to-fish-creek/

avatar robert m. peters April 12, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Mr. Fry,

Much has been found and lost in Dean’s Hole. A friend of mine broke his neck there but fully recovered.

I know the Indian mounds of which you speak very well indeed. I have hunted, fished and gathered mayhaws as well a chinkapins all around them. I have spent many a day at the mouth of Fish Creek catching Bar Fish.Although we are Sand Hill Southern Baptist, my father was the business manager of Camp Hardtner for nearly twenty years. On down beyond the Nine Mile Bend, I have perched atop Koin’s Bluff and shot gar with a .22. We were good friends with the nest of Barretts who lived just across the Old Iron Bridge.

Sandy Creek, before Big Creek was dammed and before the loggers clogged it, was full of small bass which the locals called trout. There is in fact, across the river at White Sulfur Springs, a creek called Trout Creek. I have walked right down the middle of Sandy Creek from what is called Finley’s Trestle to its mouth into Big Creek just beyond the old sawmill site. I have walked, taking several days, Clear Creek, right down the middle, from one of its western most branches near what used to be called Travelers’ Rest, one of the suburbs of Pollock to its mouth. You must be a generation younger than I. Old Pollock, it would seem, still lives in nooks and crannies, not only in some small locales among the creeks but also in hearts, even in the hearts of a new generation. That is good.

avatar Trevor Fry April 13, 2012 at 8:33 am
avatar D.W. Sabin April 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm

That looks like a Baldwin locomotive, a fine machine.

Yes, yes yes…the south is picturesque , I personally love the slanting light after the cotton harvest atop 200′ of delta topsoil but try this name of a brook on fer size, a little yankee stone-strewn stream draining western Connecticut:

Naromiyocknowhusunkatankshunk Brook.

I think it meant a stream issuing out of a rocky defile or consonant rich words to that effect.

The white men, not insufficiently renamed it “Bullymuck Brook”

One of my proudest possessions is the road sign from before they re-named it. I think the State renamed the brook because they paid too much for signs with hyphens.

avatar robert m. peters April 17, 2012 at 10:53 am

Mr. Sabin,

I am not an expert on locomotives; however, the steam engines which roared through my early childhood, with the hiss of the steam, the whine of the whistle, and the rhythm of the wheels made a wonderful music which talented men like Johnny Cash made into song. So they must have been Baldwins!

The last steam engine which I saw in service was during the 1957 Red River Flood. The diesel electrics could not negotiate the water, but the old steamers came out and moved the trains. When I think of the 57 Flood, I think of an old hound, sitting on a log being driven down the swollen river by the current. I have always hoped that he managed to get off. He did not look frightened. He looked sad and bewildered. It is claimed that the hills just to the west of the Delta, around Monticello, Arkansas, were pushed upward by the weight of that two hundred feet of top soil.

Ah, yes, the Delta: the South’s South. The Delta is a place of primitive beauty. As to the angle of the sun, I once penned a short story entitled “Among the Shadows” which plays on the angle of the sun, set not in the Delta but at the edge of the Delta at Vicksburg.

I have twice been among you Connecticut Yankees. I enjoyed the landscape, including the brooks, outfitted as they were with rocks and moss as well as the people. In our climes, we do not often use the term “brook,” we prefer “creek.” A brook is a bit too poetic for the prosaic critters which roam our creeks: alligators, snakes, snapping turtles, etc.

Could you make a photo of your sign?

avatar D.W. Sabin April 18, 2012 at 5:42 pm

rm peters
Thisahere Apple rig o mine can make photos but I’d need to know where to send it.

In Utah, along the beloved Wasatch Front, them brooks is called “cricks”. Then again, there are a lot of lil ole hills around here called ‘mountains” which don’t quite measure up but so what.

The Baldwin Locomotive Works was a storied institution. Diesel, the heroin jag of the modern era did them in. The paternal grandpappy was a Locomotive engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, pushing the trains up over the Lucin cuttoff in the Great Basin before going off up to his frozen end in the Yukon. The Engineers, track men, conductors and porters were somewhat akin to a family in the day and I took a cherished ride at around age 10 between Ogden and Sparks Nevada in my own roomette berth while the folks on the train told me stories about a grandpa I never met because he died when the old man was in the South Pacific, kicking various ass on worthless islands. They nicknamed me “moneybags” because I had a pocket full of change and told me many stories about the old railroad days. I still have the Locomotive Wrenches.

As a kid, the old man would take me on day long road trips to film the last run of particular locomotives passing by some announced cross road during its death run. Somewhere, there is about a hundred hours of Super 8 film footage of this sad march. We gave up on trains to our detriment. I wish I had that film.

avatar robert m. peters April 18, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Mr. Sabin,

I too wish you had that film. In the South, we have a peculiar attachment to railroads. For many, although not all, Southerners of the antebellum period the railroad was seen as a monster of industrialization. Faulkner picks up that theme in his subtle way in several of his works. However, with the rapid growth of railroads during Reconstruction and thereafter, the South quickly absorbed the railroad into its folklore and song. As a young teenager, I traveled with a friend on a motorcar, just the two of us, on a railroad which had been closed. It was a great adventure.

Your words:

“Then again, there are a lot of lil ole hills around here called ‘mountains” which don’t quite measure up but so what. ”

The with courage and daring I have scaled, clawed and climbed the highest point in Louisiana: Driskill Mountain, all 534 feet of it in Bienville Parish. Its sister mountain, just across the valley is Jordan Mountain, pronounced “Joeden.” In the mind of a child those so-called mountains measure up quite well.

Before I started to school, a dear lady whose husband worked for the railroad would go visit him when he worked TDY in other towns in Louisiana. The passenger train did not normally stop in Pollock; however, it stopped for water in Antone north of Pollock and in Georgetown. She would catch the train in Alexandria. From time to time, she would invite me to ride with her from Alexandria to Georgetown. The train would pass through Pollock. My parents would be at the Pollock station to wave and then race in the car to Georgetown to meet the train and take me off.

The primary school always got a late spring field trip south to the zoo and park in Alexandria. It was an all-day affair. Our principal, Mr. Willett always arranged for the train to stop on that one day in Pollock and take us to Alexandria. That afternoon, they brought us back on buses.

One of the summer things for us boys to do was to go to the depot and watch the mailman on the mail car “snatch” the satchel of mail off the post as the passenger train roared by. Each time, we would watch and hope that he would miss; he never missed.

avatar Trevor Fry April 19, 2012 at 10:40 am

Speaking of Driskill Mountain, our scout troop, Troop 32 of Pollock, will be climbing this “summit” next Saturday. I don’t think we will need Sherpas, but it still should be a great experience for these young men.

avatar Roy Lee Thompson September 4, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Dear Sir,
Thank you for sharing about you chilhood. You did not mention Kitchen Creek. My father was born at White’s Spur in 1910 just south of Pollock (Iron Mt. Railroad). My grandmother was raised west of Dyson Creek not to far from Big Creek Bapt. Church. I have several relatives buried there. I was raised at Ball and went to school at Tioga. Yeah, we spent a lot of summers afternoons cooling off in Kitchen Creek and also Flagon Bayou. Caught a lot of fish at Little River. Spent a wonderful childhood there but ecominics forces me to migrate to another area. After high school (1959) and a hitch in the Navy I settled in the Baton Rouge area. Made a living working in an oil refinery. Now I live in Union Parish about 5 miles from the Arkansas line. This area is somewhat like the place of my childhood and not over populated. We have rolling hills and creeks and I can hunt in my back yard if I choose. The parish seat is about 16 miles down the road and the closest town of any size (18,000) is about 20 miles to the north in Arkansas or you can go to Ruston, La. (about 30 or so miles south). So in some ways I have returned to my roots but I had to travel farther to find them and I hope that I will never be overrun by city folks here. The people who live here are of the same stock at where I was raised as a child. This is a plus also. Thanks again for your story.

avatar sandi January 29, 2013 at 10:29 pm

I enjoyed your memories. I spent the first five years of my life in Pollock. The marshall, Mr. Thompson was my grandfather and Erskine Willett was my uncle. I now live in Canada was thinking about my roots and browsing the internet when I came across your story. Thank you.

avatar robert m. peters January 30, 2013 at 9:54 am

Miss Sandi,

You likely knew or knew of my mother, Miss Inez. She was a close friend of your kinfolks.

avatar sandi January 30, 2013 at 2:24 pm

My mother was Lorene Thompson and my aunts were Leseye and Inez and uncles…Pete, Reg and Herman. My cousins were Ronnie and Gary and their mother Timonee. I was so young when we moved that I have an assorted collection of memories. I’m sure my aunt Inez would have known your mother. Apparently, I have a lot of “shirttail relatives” around Pollock according to my cousin, Ronnie, who sadly died a few years ago.

avatar robert m. peters January 30, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Sandi,
I will find a way to exchange e-mails.

avatar sandi January 30, 2013 at 3:23 pm
avatar sandi January 30, 2013 at 6:19 pm

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