Saturday, February 20, 2010

Catching Turtles

One day I was walking home to the farm from school, and Julian Rhodes, my third sister's son, then about nine years, was with me; when we got to Toisnot Swamp, where there were two long railroad bridges, we saw a negro coming up the embankment from the water below; he had in his hands two turtles; we asked him how he caught them.

He said, "On hooks."

"What kind of hooks?"

He said, "Large fish hooks," and he showed us one that he had in his pocket.

What did he put on the hooks?


On the way going home Julian and I talked the matter over, and came to the conclusion that we must have some hooks. When we got home we told our story to the whole family and embellished it the best that we could, trying to enlist enough sympathy with our plan to get the hooks.

At last father said, "I will get the hooks for you." The next day Julian went home with me again and continued to do so as long as the interest in the turtles kept up.

But this interest came to a very sudden stop. My father not only got the hooks for us, but he put the hooks on the lines and put some lead on, too, to help sink the hooks; he showed us how to put the frogs on the hooks, by hooking them through the back. He also told us to put our lines in places so that we would not forget where they were; but to tie them under the water so that others would not see them and rob our hooks. This we did in the morning as we went on to school; in the afternoon we were so anxious to reap the fruits of our planning that we ran nearly all the way to the swamp.

The first day we got two turtles out of the six hooks that we set. We did not know how to get the hooks out of the turtles' mouths, for they had swallowed the frogs, hooks and all. So we carried our trophies in pride and jubilation to the farm. Everyone in the family was highly pleased; for stewed turtle with some parsley put in for flavoring certainly does make an appetizing breakfast. Our good luck followed us for some time, and we had got up quite a reputation as fishermen. The enthusiasm was dying out a little, for we no longer ran in our eagerness to get to our hooks, but went along more like workmen on their way to work.

One day when we had lifted nearly all of our hooks without finding a turtle, we came to one of the hooks that seemed to be hanging onto something down under the water; we could pull the hook up a part of the way, and then there would be a pull on the line like there was a strong spring working against us. We could not pull the hook out of the water; Julian and I both had a trial at it.

We were about to leave it, when I thought of one more way. I cut a pole with a fork at the top; with this pole I straddled the line with the fork, and, keeping the line taut, followed it down in the water, trying on each side of the line to dislodge the hook; at last, I felt the object on the hook giving way, and I was drawing the hook with what I thought to be a large turtle to the surface, when quicker than words can tell it a large copperbellied moccasin came out of the water with the hook in his mouth. He was at least one inch in diameter and three and a half to four feet long.

My hands were so near his head I was afraid that he would bite me; I was so excited I really did not know what I was doing; but to save myself I grabbed him about the neck with my left hand; the snake was busy, too; he tried to turn his head to reach my hand with his mouth; but he did not have enough free neck to do so; he did the next best thing that he could; he brought his long wet body out of the water and threw it upon my shoulder and around my neck. I had already got out my big jack-knife and opened it with my teeth; with this I commenced to cut off his head; two or three pulls of the sharp edge on his throat and his head was off, and I felt the body relax. I dropped my knife, took both hands and unwound the nasty, slimy, scaly body from around my neck and threw it off with that strength born of panic, and got out of the swamp as quick as my legs could carry me.

Julian was ahead of me, for as soon as he saw the snake he made a bolt to get away; he must have fallen in the water, for he was wet all over. We sat down on the railroad, and after breathing hard for a while became calm; then my fighting qualities came to my rescue; so I went back, got my knife and the snake and brought him up on the railroad. Julian held the body while I pulled the skin off. We carried the skin home, and stuffed it with wheat bran, and this snake skin was hanging in my room when we moved away in 1868.

This story was taken from Tributes to My Father and Mother and Some Stories of My Life by Jesse Mercer Battle, 1911. It appeared in The Connector, newsletter of Tar River Connections Genealogy Society in the Summer 2005 issue.

Jesse Battle was the son of Amos Johnston Battle, grandson of Joel and Mary P. Battle. Amos was born at Shell Bank, Edgecombe County, North Carolina. In 1830, he married Margaret Hearne Parker, of Edgecombe County, N. C. He served as pastor of Baptist Churches in Nashville, Nash Co., NC; Raleigh, Wake Co., NC; and Wilmington, New Hanover County, NC.

In 1843, Amos and Mary Battle moved to Wilson, Wilson Co., NC where Jesse Battle, the author of Tributes… was born on Nov. 11, 1850. Therefore, the stories of his childhood took place in and around Wilson.

The full text of the book, Tributes to My Father and Mother" can be found at

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