'Bootsie' hunted squirrels with Wolfhound pair

Could we read the sacred history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life, sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
• Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

By Jack M. Willis
Journal Correspondent

In seems like a long while ago that I was traveling all over our great state, in an effort to interest investors in purchasing investments in an insurance company. When I called in to home office one morning to find out the identity and locale of my sales efforts for the day, the first of two for the day were in the outlying countryside near Goldonna, Louisiana. Since I had never been in that part of the state, I started mulling over what I knew about this small hamlet located in Winn Parish in North Central Louisiana. Its claim to fame as far as I knew was that the highest geographical point in Louisiana known as Driskill Mountain was located nearby.

My appointment was with a gentleman named Edgar "Preacher" Bedgood, but as it turned out, as an aside from my sales pitch to Preacher, the main focus of the visit unexpectedly turned out to be meeting his brother, "Bootsie" Bedgood, who dropped in just as I was concluding my visit with "Preacher."

Bootsie had come by to drink coffee with his brother, but taking advantage of an opportunity dropped in my lap, I turned to a fresh page in my notebook and started chronicling the odyssey of a genuine character of an indeterminate age. He's already been written up by a number of periodicals and he wasn't the least bit bashful and he proceeded to verbally paint a cross-section of portions of his life. What was so amazing was that I soon determined that he was part pioneer, part naturalist and a genuine folklorist. He's a North Louisiana farmer by-product, who started helping out on the family red dirt farm when he could barely hang the plow handles over his shoulders and then steer the various implements hanging on to the reins and the cross-brace between the handles...i.e.. Turning plow, Gee Whiz, Georgia stock and spring tooth harrow. All of these various tools were the mark of a professional farmer around the turn of the 20th Century.

Aside from his farming skills and a thorough knowledge of the astrological signs for planting, he is also very much at home in what's left of the once verdant forests of North Louisiana. He has a Ph.D. in the harvesting of squirrels and knows all of the habits of these rodent tree-dwellers. When squirrel season opens on the first October Saturday he's already scouted out the territories where the fuzzy tails are most abundant. He knows what mast they're "cutting" (feeding on) and very seldom in over 60 years has he ever come home empty handed.

His two squirrel dogs made everyone that saw them sit up and take notice. When one thinks of squirrel dogs most people form a mental picture of a bench-legged feist or a rat terrier with black caps over their eyes, but Bootsie's were none of the above. On one of his brother "Preacher's" worldwide jaunts, he had purchased a really expensive pair of puppies with Bootsie in mind. When he came home and presented Bootsie with the dogs, he looked them over pretty carefully and begrudgingly accepted them. He put them in a pen with his other two trained squirrel dogs and it wasn't long until he sold his first two dogs for $500 apiece. Bootsie was probably the only squirrel hunter with a pair of Norwegian wolfhounds for squirrel dogs. They favor the Northern lobo wolf so much, that at the beginning of the season he has to paint them orange with spray paint, and put a goat bell on their collars to keep other hunters from shooting them by mistake.

But as much as he loves hunting, his first love is "fooling" with honeybees. He finds bee trees hidden in the wooded areas around his home, robs them and sells the honey. He learned the fine art of "beehive pilfering" from his father.

He went on to say that he only robs the hives during the months of April and May. That way you prolong the longevity of the hive by giving the hive enough time to rebuild a comb and make enough food to get the hive occupants through the winter. If you delay and rob them later in the year, the hive will perish that coming winter. When asked if he'd been stung many times he replied, "Sure, I get stung about 40 times each robbing, but I don't have any kind of arthritis-So draw your own conclusions." This statement is from an 86-year old man.

He baits the bees with some old honey and a piece of comb in a water pail. Rover bees smell the honey and bring back a group of worker bees. He gently captures three of the workers and sprinkles dry starch on the head of one, the tail of another and the whole back and body of another. Then he leans back a nearby tree to observe. As soon as the worker loads up with the old honey he heads straight for the hive. He times it and if the hive is about a mile away it takes that worker about 10-12 minutes to make the round trip. He keeps coursing these bees and moving the bait bucket ever closer to the hive. When he finds the hive he robs it, and he figured on his final effort before retiring, that he got about thirteen quarts of strained honey.

He then locates the queen and breaks off a piece of the comb and takes her and the hive comb home to his own contraption made out of a nail keg. It has ventilation holes cut in the lower edge. He hangs the comb inside the keg along with the queen and the occupants of their new home go right to work rebuilding the comb and making more honey. He clips the wings of the queen so she can't leave. As long as the queen lives in the hive the swarm won't leave and they keep on industriously working.

Mr. Bootsie said in closing that he had almost retired and contents himself teaching wood lore to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. You never know what kind of unique individuals you'll encounter on a summer's day in the great State of Louisiana.

Editor's Note: We questioned author Jack Willis, a veteran yarn-spinner, on the chronology of this article, as follows: "This piece has tread marks on it like it's been around the block a time or two already, but I'm game to give it another ride if you can place the time line a little more specifically--is Bootsie still walking around, or has he gone on to become a part of the local "culture"? And that bit about the orange paint on the wolfhounds sounds like something from P.W. Rooter's imagination, but we'll leave that alone and trust the yarn-spinners to get the spoof. Willis replied: The encounter with "Preacher" and his brother "Bootsie" took place in May of 1988; I don't know the exact date, but it's doubtful either are still living. "Preacher" had just returned from a position as Welding Superintendent and Union Steward on the Trans-Alaska pipeline . . . It sounds kinda like the feller who planted two sticks of dynamite in a dead pig on a bayou bank and blew up a stock marauding alligator.