Recollections of Cheniere Lake
by Tom Bearden
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When I was a kid, there were three lakes there: (1) Puckett Lake, the main one which everyone knew, (2) Middle Lake, which a few knew (it was hard to get to), and then there was (3) Little Lake, which few persons knew about and which was the devil and all to get to. That was where the gators denned and where there was a beaver dam. There were bear, some panthers, and even some wolves in the woods back then. And plenty of bobcat.
One of the real experiences of my life at 12 was to be stalked through the woods for about two miles by a panther, trying to spook me into bolting so he could jump me from the rear. In such cases, a panther puts his muzzle down between his paws, and coughs. In the little bushes, that sound just seems to come from everywhere, so you cannot tell the direction of the panther, but if you've ever heard it, there is absolutely no mistaking the sound. That way he spooks his game into fleeing, and then can leap on it from the rear. I knew instantly what it was, and that I was in serious trouble if I panicked. I knew also that I must not leave my back exposed very long at all. I had a very stout club and a hunting knife, and that was all. So I would walk about 10 steps, then turn all around beating the bushes with the club. It was night, and so that made it more tricky. Anyway, I eased on along, doing my spinaround and beating routine about every 10 steps, until I finally came out into the clearing (a big cow pasture) with our house way on the other side. My grandmother has placed a kerosene lamp in the back window, so I could see it when I came out of the woods. After I got about 75 yards out in the clearing, I sorta "turned it on" then until I ran up the back steps and into the house. I was fortunate because apparently the panther was not too hungry, just curious and considering whether to jump me or not. Had he been really hungry, that story would have had quite a different ending. I would have used my knife and club, of course, but the odds are overwhelming that the panther would have won easily.
When one met a bear in the woods, one learned very early to just get out of the trail slowly and quietly, and not disturb him. Likely the bear will then see you are no threat, and continue on. However, bears are like humans: sometimes they get up on the wrong side of bed and in a real fit of temper. When you meet one of those and he's in a bad mood, you had better have your gun with you, because he is just spoiling to jump something, and it's easy for you to get elected. I was fortunate and never had to shoot one, but I did have encounters with several including one of those spoiling for a fight. That one I was fortunate enough to just ease on aside and keep easing out of his way far enough that he lost interest as I continued to slowly depart.
Stupidest thing I ever did was at a Church opening of the Cheniere Church's new camp on Puckett Lake. That night, after eating and singing hymns and being around the fires and the cook racks, some of the other boys and I paddled several row boats out into the middle of Puckett Lake and went skinny dipping, tying the boats together in a circle and having a fine old time diving in and out in the neat moonlight. Then I brushed a log under the water, as did my friend Roland Carter. Then I brushed another log under the water. Roland and I surfaced, and we exclaimed together: "Why are there so many logs floating in this water?" The realization hit us that there were no logs here. So we took a flashlight from one of the boats, and shined it outward -- and we were ringed by about 20 pairs of eyes hanging low on the water. With all the splashing and yelling etc., we had attracted a large gathering of big alligators, who were preparing to join in the fun. Of course we decided their crashing the party would not be any fun at all, rather instantly. So everybody leaped into the boats, and we all paddled furiously out of there, with the gators following us all the way through the boat run under the trees and all the way to the bank. Now that moonlight swimming escapade was really Stupid with a capital S!
A gator also can gallop for a short distance, which back then few people knew or believed. I had one come after me, so experienced "gator galloping" first hand, on the wrong end of the stick (fortunately they never learned to climb trees). But folks used to think one had taken leave of one's senses if one spoke of a gator galloping. Then of course with TV and nature programs, eventually the animal specials showed gators and crocs galloping for a little distance. So it was nice not to be crazy after all about gator galloping.
The gators also learned to hunt the wild pigs that roamed the deep swamps. A big gator would lie in a semicircle, with some good mash etc. and other goodies favored by the pigs in the middle of the semicircle. The gator just lies there with his mouth already open. The pigs would come in, grunting and moving around, with each looking for the very best mash and feed, etc. So one would spy that good mash in that semicircle, and not even notice the gator. He would run in there grunting and snorting and rooting and eating, and the old gator would suddenly pop the pig with his big tail, knocking the pig up into the gator's mouth or where e could snap him. Often he got the pig. Sometimes he would just get a bite or nip, and wound him, and the pig would take of really squealing and grunting, dripping a trail of blood. The old gator would often follow that blood trail, still trying to get that pig in case the pig was wounded enough. It's really disconcerting to be a mile or so from where the pigs and gators usually are, and see an old pig come running down the trail by you, squealing and snorting, and then in five minutes to see the old gator clomping determinedly down the trail, looking for that pig.
In one of the big swamps down there, Singer Sewing Machine had a big game preserve and lodge for its bigwigs, with a chain fence around it. They put in the native wild pig (we called them "Pine Hill Rooters") which would weigh about 95 or 100 pounds soaking wet. But hunting those little wild boar was not "sporting" enough, so the clowns imported some European wild boar and some African wild boar, and turned them loose on their preserve also. Great sport! The predictable happened. In storms, trees blew down on the fence here and there, and many of those big boars escaped and interbred with the native wild pig. Bingo! Now back in the deep swamps -- I think that's the spelling) one would sometimes meet a 500 pound wild boar, just like out of Africa, complete with curling tusks etc. A much more deadly threat in the woods!