Rerun from the December 6 2006 edition of the Jackson County Times.
The steam locomotive pulling the “Railway Wild West Show” puffed to a stop in Sneads. Circus roustabouts unloaded horses and covered wagons. Indians, cowboys, and an older man with a white beard waved to the crowd. The handbills advertised that “Buffalo Bill Cody” would present his astounding show the following afternoon. In Faraway Europe, World War I was starting.
As the show began the next day, a local teenage cowboy sat in the bleachers with his father. The family owned a large spread of land along the “Big River” east of Sneads. Virgin pine timber, a turpentine still, and a herd of half-wild cattle were included in their operations. The boy could be described as a young giant, lean, and 6 feet, 4 inches in height. He had grown up in the saddle.
After “Buffalo Bill” had driven the Indians away from chasing the pioneer wagons, it was time for the trick rider to perform. An assistant had dropped small cotton bags around the inner edge of the circus tent ring. The rider entered the arena at top speed. Leaning sideways from the saddle, he swept the bags from the ground as the horse dashed by. One by one, he did not miss….The spectators applauded the skills of both the rider and his horse. It was a good show.
The boy leaned over to his father and said. “I think I could do that.” On the way back home the boy made his plans. He currently had the best mustang cowhorse he had ever seen. Well trained for roping and bulldogging, the animal was strong and fast. In addition, he seemed to have a sixth sense of which direction a running calf was going to swerve. The rider was kept close to his target.
For weeks, he practiced grabbing objects from the ground. With his long arm, this was no problem. However, there was the main secret that he hadn’t yet shared with anyone. The young Pebble C. Stone intended to catch a wild turkey from horseback! Even an overconfident teenager knew that he had better keep quiet. He didn’t want to be known as the “village idiot” of Sneads. For more that fifty years, the eventual outcome was known only by the immediate family and employees.
Now, fast forward to the 1970’s. The teenage rider is now an elderly passenger in my Ford Bronco II. We were members of “Camp Seclusion” in Liberty County, and were returning from a River Styx fishing trip. We had known each other lifelong. Suddenly, a young wild turkey ran across the sandy road ahead of the vehicle. “When I was young,” He said, “I caught some turkeys about that size.” “What kind of trap did you use”, I asked… “No Traps,” He replied, “I caught them from horseback.” I continued to drive, thinking I might have misunderstood. “Peb” was known among all the club members as a “straight arrow.” He was respected as being a serious man, 100% truthful. Unlike some others, he told no “tall tales.” While he had a dry sense of humor, he would always end such remarks by saying, “Now I’m just joking.” That coment did not come. “Peb,” I said, Did you say you caught them from Horseback?” “I did,” he replied, “And I want you to understand I’m bragging on my horse!”
I’m not a turkey hunter, but over the years have seen quite a few. Without exception, they were alert, had great vision, and were as fast as greased lighting…. Now, I was about to hear about an adventure that had been kept quiet for over fifty years! “Tell me all about it,” I said….
He told me about the circus and the trick rider, followed by practice with his own mustang. He was satisfied. All he lacked was a wild turkey. Weeks passed into spring. One morning, as he was on his way to work the cattle, he noticed a large windfall pine. In falling, the tree had created a spacious cavity in the ground. He saw movement…a turkey hen was raising her brood in the protected area under the root system. Peb kept his distance from the nest and rode on. At suppertime that night, he told his parents that he was going to need an enclosed pen in the backyard. His mother agreed to have a turpentine still worker build the cage.
As the turkeys grew, Peb continued to ride by. The nest adjoined an open area of several acres, which was the feeding space for the flock. The birds did not associate the horse as a source of danger. At this point, some of my own experience kicked in: any wild creature almost disregards the rider. They concentrate on the horse, which they don’t fear nearly as much as a human. The dominant scent of the horse is also a major factor. Pioneer hunters knew this and used horses whenever possible. When seeking large game.
Peb was ready. Everything now hinged on one question: Would the mustang accept a running turkey as his target? Nobody had the answer.
On the appointed morning, he pulled a tight cinch on the girth strap, and rode along on his usual path. He knew the feeding timetable, and the young birds were spread out over the meadow. Seeing one turkey which had fed into an isolated area from the group, he reined the horse to point directly at the bird. The “catch” signal and his spurs were suddenly applied. The mustang leaped forward…to his amazement, the horse “locked in” on the running turkey just as though he was a fleeing calf! As the bird swerved to a straight path to gain speed, the little mustang passed alongside. Pebble swung his big hand to the ground. The rest is history. He straightened in the saddle with a struggling wild turkey caught by one wing! Bird #1 was deposited in the new pen. Peb’s mother was delighted…
On following days, turkeys #2, #3, and #4 were collected. It became apparent that the mother hen placed a higher priority on the sheltered den and adjacent food supply than the number of her brood. The young bird’s which had not been chased still had no fear of the horse. Their memory span did not extend from one day to the next. This was an ideal scenario for Peb Stone. He finally placed nine birds in the pen. His mother prepared and cooked the tender turkeys.
After finally telling about this long ago experience, Pebble could sometime be persuaded to tell the story again…
Occasionally, a listener not aware of the man’s reputation would say that he didn’t believe him…
Peb had the same remark each time: “If you don’t believe me, ask my mama!!” Hearing this and seeing that Peb Stone was obviously into his 80’s, the doubters decided that he had lost his mind. What they didn’t know is that he was born when his mother was sixteen. At this time, Mrs. Stone was close to 100, in good health and mentally sharp. Nobody ever had the nerve to contact her for verification of her son’s honesty!