In the Creeks and Along the Rails: Tales from Pollock

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.

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