Bois d'Arc Island, Dallas County, Texas

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  Bois d'Arc Island & Vicinity, Dallas County, Texas, 1900

- Sam Street Map of Dallas County, 1900

(added September 10, 2008)

They're Farming Bois d'Arc Island
(by Will A. Holford, editor)
(Submitted by Jerry Flook)

     This is an epic to the historic, and still fresh in the minds of people, the mystic and fearsome Bois d'Arc Island -- a strip of land in the southern part of Dallas County, a couple of miles wide, and eight or ten miles long. Its area, up to recent years, was estimated all the way from ten to twenty times its actual size, because of the density of its timber and foliage, the game which abounded there, and the easiness of getting totally and irretrievably lost on cloudy days, or at night.

     The writer was "born and brung up" within hailing distance of this noted game preserve, and while he never killed any bear, panthers, or deer on the Island, he was just the right age to absorb all the hunting stories and retain them in memory's casket at the time Bois d'Arc Island was at its height of glory. Later on, he traversed its wilderness-like jungles and learned for himself many things, which will, later on, be related.

     In 1879, Bois d'Arc Island was practically unknown, except to a few pioneer settlers who had traversed its edges, and decided it was not habitable. The panthers yelled, bears growled, and all kinds of wild animals made a protesting noise against its invasion by Man.

     This island was formed by a change in the river's course. In early days, the Trinity's course was what is now known as Parsons Slough. Later, the waters cut a channel west of the old river bed, and made what has, for the last seventy-five or more years, been known as Bois d'Arc Island.

     A fiction writer could take the actual facts connected with this island and make a story that would cause the reader's hair to stand on end, but this chronicler is merely a prosaic writer of facts, and can only, in a feeble way, say of the place, what should be written and published about it.

     His earliest actual knowledge was gathered in 1880, when the old Texas Trunk Railroad was being built just on its northern border. Though, previous to that time, he had been once or twice to help hunt cows on the margins of the Island, and had seen deer in herds of the size one sees chicks following Rhode Island Red hens around Garland these days.

     One of his earliest hunting experiences was a trip to the Island to hunt wild turkeys. The party went over early in the afternoon and camped near a big roost. Just before day, next morning, the gobble-gobble and the put-put of numerous turkeys could be heard, seemingly, all around the camp, and thinking all that was necessary to secure a good turkey dinner, was to walk boldly out and shoot one, this inexperienced nimrod sallied forth through he brush, making as much racket as a horse-power thresher-and never got in sight of a turkey. Some of the older hunters gave him some fatherly advice, which is not forgotten, even unto this day.

     On another occasion, while hunting squirrels on the Island, a deer jumped up just in front of him, and there is where he got his first introduction to buck ague. When the deer was about 100 yards off, he remembered his gun-an old-fashioned muzzle loader loaded with squirrel shot-and turned both barrels loose. Some of the shot must have taken effect, because no kind of racket could have made a deer run so fast, as that one did.

     Old Uncle Jack Ballard, who owned a lot of land, and lived near the lower end of the Island, kept a big pack of bear dogs, and used to have great times chasing bruin. He frequently killed a bear, and had lots of fun chasing them. He raised a large herd of horses, which grew up practically wild, and after he died, and his estate was being settled up, many of these animals were killed getting them out to the prairies.

     Parsons Slough was one of the finest fishing streams in Texas, probably, for many years. There were long, deep holes with gravel bottoms and crystal-clear water, and fish abounded there, until practically exterminated by dynamiters and netters. People went there to fish from all over Dallas, Collin, Rockwall, Kaufman, Ellis, and other counties, and for years, it was the hunter's and fisherman's paradise.  Many lakes were about the lower end of the Island, and fish were caught there by the wagon load, and left to spoil on the banks through pure wantonness.

     And, the fish fries they used to have! We have seen five hundred people at these affairs, and more fish cooked than four times that number could eat. Ten-, fifteen-, and twenty-pound catfish and drum, sliced up like ham, and fried to a crisp brown and piled in dishpans, where one waded in and ate, till eating was a burden. The men did the catching and dressing, and the women looked after the cooking.

     In the early days, nearly every family kept a pack of hounds, and it was almost a nightly occasion to hear the dogs trailing.  On clear, still nights, they could be heard for miles, and the prettiest music ever listened to, is a chorus of long-eared hounds on a hot trail, with all parts carried.  Many of these dogs have been known to follow a trail for two days, after which, they would be in the repair shop for several days.  Nothing would cause a fight quicker, than to abuse one of these dogs, or try to steal him. Horse and cattle stealing could be overlooked, but the man who stole a hound, carried his life in his hands.

     On occasion, dogs ran a deer across the prairie, from East Fork to the Island, and the fagged animal came right through the old Farmer's School House yard.  Uncle Lige Spillman was teaching, and he was a disciplinarian unquestioningly obeyed, but on this occasion, every pupil made a break for the doors, windows, or any way to get out and give chase. The deer appeared to be run down, and the boys thought they could catch him, but after running half a mile, they decided that he still had too much speed, and gave up the case. The dogs were about an hour behind, but were persistently holding to the trail. They had been running the deer, according to their owners, for over 18 hours, but we never learned if they caught him.

     The meat problem in those days was a simple one. Mash was fine on the Island, and hogs were turned loose there to hustle for themselves.  A few weeks before killing time, some owners would feed the hogs a little corn to make them gentle, but many merely went to the Island and killed and dressed what they wanted.  A "claim" was established by turning one or more hogs loose, and it was related of one man, that he lived off the meat killed and sold from his claim, after turning loose only one male pig there.

     But, now all this is changed.  Where once blinds were constructed around salt licks and deer were killed at will, where the aristocratic black bear roamed at will, where wild turkeys and bee trees abounded, and the scream of the panther was not uncommon -- is now a pastoral agricultural paradise.  Broad fields of alfalfa, big farms of cotton, corn and grain, occupy the place once the home of more fine game than any one spot of like size in Texas.  Navigation of the Trinity, with the consequent shutting out of the water from the slough, big levees, and the march of progress, have made of a game preserve, one of the finest farming sections of the state.

     Perchance, 'tis better so, but some of us pine for the good old times of fewer crops and more game.

- June 17, 1910, Garland News.
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