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The Bird Horse: An Old-time Florida Cracker Tale - The Weekly Holler #17

August 14 · Issue #17 · View online
American Mythology
Welcome to The Weekly Holler. This newsletter is published by Luke Bauserman. Luke grew up in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio. As a young adult, he worked in a nursing home while studying history in college. During this time, he made friends with and heard many stories from the “old-timers” of his community. Shortly before graduating, Luke won the Randolph Stone Award for Historical Writing from Ohio University. Luke is working on his first novel, an Appalachian folklore fantasy (updates forthcoming). 

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The Bird Horse
An 1895 drawing by Frederick Remington of a Florida Cracker
An 1895 drawing by Frederick Remington of a Florida Cracker
The following story is a tale from the Withlacoochee River country of Florida. It’s adapted from David M. Newell’s, If Nothin’ Don’t Happen:
My older brother Tarley always said there was only four real pretty things in the world - a big green tree full of ripe tangerines, a little speckled pointer puppy, a big shiny black stud horse, and the prettiest of all, a redheaded woman. And it was while he was looking for a redhead that he managed to latch onto the next prettiest thing in the whole world, which was a black stallion he’d seen at a rodeo.
This horse was the meanest thing I near about ever laid eyes on, and the only man who could handle him was a little runty feller who traveled with the show. He’d ride out at the end of the rodeo, sag down in the saddle, press on the horse’s back, and the horse would sort of kneel down. They called this act “The End of the Trail” and they’d play a little sweet music on their fiddles and jew’s harps to the end the performance. Well, the little runty cowboy got his neck broke trying to bulldog a wild old steer and there weren’t nobody else could handle that black stud. But Tarley always did have a way with dogs and horses, and for some reason that horse let Tarley handle him. So he wound up buying the critter for a song and brought him on home. 
Along about that time there come a judge from somewhere up in Kentucky who brought his bird dogs down from Crystal River to go hunting. He were a great quail hunter and he had five or six of the prettiest pointers anybody ever seen. Then he started looking for a good woods pony to hunt on and Tarley heard about it. 
“I’m going to have me a little fun,” Tarley told me. “Saddle up your buckskin and come along.”
We hunted up this judge and made a date to go with him. “I got the best hunting horse that ever hit the woods,” Tarley told him. “Wait till you see him. And I know where there’s plenty of birds, too.” 
Well, I couldn’t quite figure what was in Tarley’s mind, but for the next two or three mornings he was up and gone way before daybreak. He’d ride back in for breakfast about ten o'clock and the third morning he told me what he’d been doing. The time to locate quail is just at the crack of day and Tarley had been riding  an old road through the flat-woods every morning just as the sky begun to lighten up. When he’d hear a covey getting together, he’d blaze a pine sapling to mark the spot and ride on. A covey birds will near about always roost in their own territory, which ain’t too big - sometimes no more than a few acres. They’re pretty regular in their habits and a feller can find them about the same places at certain times of the day. 
When the day came for us to go a-hunting with the judge, I rode my buckskin, Tarley rode old Satan, which were a darn good name for that ornery stallion, and the judge rode a old, broken-down, swayback mare that just went around looking for gopher holes to step in and tripped over every log. 
We passed one of the pine saplings Tarley had blazed and he rode old Satan over to a nearby thicket. He must’ve pressed down on the horse’s back because it dropped down and one knee and put his nose in the wire grass - the “End of the Trail” act.
“What in the world ails that horse?” the judge asked.
“What do you mean what ails him?” Tarley said. “He smells quails in that thicket and he’s on point.” 
As if to back up Tarley’s claim, one of the judge’s fancy pointers sniffed his way over and froze into the prettiest point you ever seen. 
I’ll never forget the expression on the judge’s face, and I believe he’d of paid Tarley five hundred dollars for that horse then and there just to show it off to his friends. The only trouble was that when the birds got up and the judge started shooting, old Satan took off and no rodeo bronc ever went higher or broke in two faster. 
Tarley come unglued about the fourth jump and just missed butting his head into a stump that sure would’ve scattered his brains. That little act put a crimp in any deal for a hunting horse. It took me an hour to catch that devilish stallion. 
If Nothin’ Don’t Happen by David M. Newell. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1975. 
Next week’s issue features the “tail” of Tailypo.
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