Possums On A Half Shell

Paul Marion Fleetwood

Copyright 2020 by  Paul Marion Fleetwood


Photo of an armadillo.

Armadillo's are weird creatures.  I usually refer to them as "Possums on a half shell".  I've heard that they carry leprosy germs and that makes them a little scary.  But I didn't know anything about that when I first saw one of the critters.  Actually there was a whole bunch of them the first time I saw one.  That was way back in 1943.

That was the year my family moved from "Needmore" Arkansas to Gary, Texas. Needmore was a small community with one grocery store about 9 miles from Corning Arkansas on U.S. highway 63 going out toward Piggott.  All of the highways were just gravel back then.  Dad had given up trying to make a living on a small farm we rented.  We only had about 20 acres that was above the water line of Ring Slough.

Dad caught the flu that year and then injured himself trying to get on our old mule "Kate".  He broke some ribs when his foot slipped.  That along with a whole litany of bad luck, (which I have described in a different story)he just gave up trying to feed us by farming. For awhile he managed to make enough money playing poker with the men around there to keep us in groceries such as they were.  Finally he gave up and decided to join his dad and brothers who were sawmilling in East Texas.

After living for a time in the small town of Gary Texas, his family moved to a large tract of timber near Cleveland Texas. This place was about as far from civilization as one could get.  About 25000 acres mostly swamp land and I mean, way back in the woods.  We had no running water, no electricity, no phone, and no entertainment except for fishing.  But being a kid it was an adventure that  has given me material for several true stories. Remember this was war time and everything was rationed. Once I got in trouble over a roll of toilet paper but that's another story.'

I remember we hired an old boy called "Gotch" who had an old beat-up truck with a stock rack on the back to haul our meager belongings from Gary to Cleveland and back to the sawmill site.

I was 13 years old at the time and rode up on the back of the truck with our meager belongings from Gary to Cleveland. Thank goodness the weather was warm. When we got down near Cleveland which is not very far from Houston Texas I started seeing Armadillos all along the roadside.  I mean lots of them. It muct have been their mating season because they were copulating all along the roadside.   Apparently this irritated old Gotch.  He suddenly stopped the truck and picked up a  big limb and started knocking the daylights out of them. They were too stupid to run away.  It was amazing how many there were in that part of the country.  but their range didn't go very far North back then.  Now 75 years later they are plentiful even where I live in Southern Missouri.

But back to the story.  While we were there in this God forsaken swamp land miles from civilization my brother Billy and I caught a half grown Armadillo and tried to train him. He was pretty easy to tame and would just follow us around. We would take him for walks in the woods and down by a lake.  

We were told that the lake had been made by using dynamite to blast out a big hole in the ground.  It wasn't a big lake but it was completely full of fish and one alligator.  It was just full of four to five feet long alligator gars.  Stand on one side of the lake and they would just pile up on the other side near the surface. The sawmill workers would catch the big old gars for sport.  There were a lot of white perch (Texans call crappie white perch) and catfish too.  

My Dad didn't plan to stay there very long as he wanted to move to Missouri to the same area where I now live and where my Mother had grown up.  So Billy and I made plans to take our "little fellow" to Missouri.

But tragedy struck before that happened.  You see the men who worked the sawmill found out that Armadillo meat, which is lean red meat, made good catfish bait.  I myself used it for bait to catch catfish from the lake.  One day I caught 22 catfish and put them in the spring where we got our drinking water.  I wanted to keep them alive until I had time to clean them for supper.  But when I went to get the tools to clean them some wild hogs ate them all up.  No big problem though.  I just went back and caught a bunch more.  It was amazing how many fish there were in that swampy lake.

Well some time later Billy and I were playing around the sawmill with our pet.  We liked to play in the big old sawdust pile.  So we locked up our armadillo in a one of the small storage sheds while we were having fun. That happened to be the day they decided to stop sawing timber in that area.  At noon they shut down the Mill and all the men went fishing.  But we didn't know what they were planning to do.  So while we were playing in a different area the sawmill workers found our armadillo and made catfish bait out of him.  We were sad but we  moved away the next day never to see another  armadillo for many years until finally a few years ago their range  expanded North all the way to Missouri.  Now they are digging up my yard and being a real nuisance.  I wish they would go back to Texas where they belong.  And I'm glad now that we didn't import them to Missouri way back then. 

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