|Stove Pipes, Bare Feet, and Bullet Holes
Look before you step...
A recent story on our local TV station about a man in South Atlanta that was upset because his pet
8-foot long Boa Constrictor snake had gotten loose from his house and was "lost out there
somewhere in the neighborhood," made me recall several more stories/encounters I’ve had with
snakes over the years.
I have talked about some other encounters in earlier stories that I have written -– like the snakes
we captured and put on display out at Poinsett State Park when I was a lifeguard there in 1960 and
1961. The recollections that follow, are just a few more encounters that have come my way.
I grew up in Sumter, SC and lived in my grandmother’s house on Church Street. Also living there was
four of her children -- my mother, Uncles Andrew and John Humphries, and Aunt Ethel (Stubbs).
Uncle John was an avid fisherman and in addition to fishing at his place down at Santee near Camp
Shelor, he loved to fish in the Wateree Swamp between Sumter and Columbia, and also in the
Pocotaligo Swamp down by Manning.
It was on one of these trips down to the Pocotaligo Swamp to go fishing with a friend of his that
wanted to show Uncle John his new found secret place to catch lots and lots of fish that I had my
first (and only, I might add) encounter with stove pipes as required fishing equipment.
When we arrived at the designated meeting place, we were greeted by the man standing by the
trunk of his car with the lid up. When we walked over to where he was, he reached in and pulled out
two 20-inch sections of regular stove pipe and handed them to Uncle John and then reached in and
got two more and handed them to me.
He said, without even looking at us as he reached in and got two more pieces of stove pipe, "Put
these on -– we’re going to need them where we’re going."
We stood there holding the pieces of stove pipe and watched the man unsnap the pieces (they can
open up via a long seam that crimps together to close the pipe) and then placed one around each of
his legs and snap the pieces back together. He stood there with the pipes sitting down on top of his
boots and the tops of the pipes coming up to just above his knees.
Finally, Uncle John asked, "You’re kidding us, aren't you?"
"No way, Rabbit (Uncle John’s nickname), you’re going to needs these where we’re going."
"Need them for what?" he asked hesitantly.
"To keep from getting bit by some mean-ass cottonmouth!"
Cottonmouths (water moccasins) are highly poisonous snakes and can become quite aggressive when
threatened. They can strike with tremendous force -– enough so that they can actually break a
child’s leg when striking.
Needless to say, Uncle John and I were not too happy with this new addition to our fishing trip and
it all came to a grinding halt about 10 minutes later as we were sloshing our way through the swamp
when it happened.
The loud noise sounded like something metal had struck one of the stove pipes. Our fearless leader
let out a string of "unrepeatable words" as he started kicking away at the very large water moccasin
that had just struck at him and hit the stove pipe protecting his leg.
I think it only took us about 2 minutes to get back out of the swamp and to the safety of the
clearing where we had parked our cars. Needless to say, that was the last time I ever went into the
Pocotaligo Swamp to fish and for sure, the very last time I ever wore stove pipes to protect my legs
from snake bites!
The above fishing trip took place in 1952 when I was 10 years old. Fast forward to the summer of
1959 when I worked at Aiken State Park in SC. My brother Storm was the Park Superintendent
and I was head lifeguard at the swimming lake.
Aiken State Park (10 miles west of Aiken, SC), straddles the South Fork of the Edisto River as it
makes its meandering way through this part of SC on its way to the Atlanta Ocean. The state park
straddles the river for about 4 miles. Traveling along this stretch of the river and associated
swamp is like going back in time -- primeval in looks and sounds and zero evidence of man’s
What it does have is good fishing and you guessed it, lot of snakes -- really, really big ones –-
especially the dreaded cottonmouths.
One night when we were closing the park (we rode through the entire park, rounded up visitors
wherever we found a car still parked and then escorted them to the gate before locking it for the
night), we came up on a car parked at one of the river access parking lots.
We blew the horn on our Aiken State Park truck and waited for our fishermen to come out.
Nothing happened. We sat there 15 minutes tooting the horn and just as we were about to give up
and leave (and end up locking them in the park), out walks 4 black men carrying cane fishing poles
and each man also carrying a sting of fish that was at least 3 feet in length.
We were absolutely dumbfounded at what we saw.
Not because they were black (SC State Parks were still segregated in SC at this time) or that
they had more fish than you could shake a stick at, but at the fact that all four of the men were
You hear me? No shoes, no boots, nothing -- just bare feet sloshing through the mud and waters in
one of the most heavily snake infested areas along the Edisto River there was to be encountered.
"Are you guys crazy or what?" I asked. "You don't even have shoes or boots on ... aren't you afraid
of running into water moccasins and getting bit?"
"No sir," one of them answered back.
"And why not?" I asked him hesitantly.
"Because I can smell them and we just go around them!"
All this time I had been worried about walking around in swamp areas with boots on and sometimes
even with stove pipes around my legs and all I had to do was just sniff the air and avoid them!
Live and learn as they say!
There was another time there on the river in the park that was even more dangerous (at least
to me, anyway).
As I mentioned before, the Edisto River was a great place to fish and on one of my days off from
lifeguarding at the swimming lake, my fearless brother and I decided to go fishing using a small
wooden boat that someone had given to him.
We were slowly making our way downstream -– letting the river current slowly pull us along as we
cast our fishing lines near the banks -- when all of a sudden, a huge water moccasin drops down into
our boat and landed between us and started slithering around and trying to strike at us.
Seems like we had drifted into some overhanging branches that the snake had crawled out on to sun
himself and we came along and knocked him off his perch above the river.
While this was scary enough, it was what happened next that scared me even more.
What I didn’t know was that Storm had brought his 14-shot .22 caliber Luger type pistol along for
the fishing trip. Do you know how fast a small wooden boat can fill with water and sink when you
punch 14 holes in the bottom of it using a pistol shooting hollow-point bullets?
I’ll tell you –- REAL FAST!
Storm had unloaded his gun on that poor snake. What’s funny is that with all that shooting, I still
don’t think he ever killed it because it continued to slither around in the boat as it rapidly filled
with water and we started sinking.
Unfortunately for us, we were sinking too fast and before we could get the boat moving again we had
no choice but to jump out of the sinking boat and swim for the river bank and crawl out. My guess is
that we covered the 15 plus feet of water between us and the river bank in about one second!
This episode cured me for life from fishing in rivers in the middle of snake infested swamps.
There was one more episode of snake encounters that also occurred at Aiken State Park. Actually, it
was more of an observation than an actual encounter.
All of the lifeguards stayed in one of the cabins that were located there in the park around a lake
called, you guessed it, Cabin Lake. This was a small, man-made lake with one side of it being a
700-foot long grass covered earthen dam.
Every night when we returned there to our cabin for bed time, we carefully inspected every nook
and cranny of the cabin -- under beds, under the covers, open cabinet doors, etc. Why? Because
Cabin Lake was water moccasin heaven it seemed!
On sunny days, you could find anywhere from 50 to maybe 200 cottonmouths laying up on the
earthen dam just yards away from our cabin sunning themselves. Since this was a fairly secluded
area with few visitors/fishermen (gee, I wonder why), they tended to have this beautiful lake all to
themselves. You couldn’t pay me to walk the entire length of that damn!
Bottom line -- didn’t like snakes, especially mean ole water moccasins, back then and still don’t today.
|Stove Pipes, Bare Feet, and Bullet Holes
By Mike Bailey
Stove Pipes, Bare Feet, and Bullet Holes
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