15 May 65 : Frog gigging nightmare – like a scene from Deliverance : Gadsden, Alabama

This continues the letter dated Thursday 13th May 1965 which began:

Dear family,

Saturday 15th May

Well, last night we had an alarming night out. We were invited ‘frog gigging’. One of the fellows in the place where we were working yesterday asked us if we had ever done it – and at first I thought it must be frog racing – but it certainly isn’t.

So he suggested we went out ‘frog gigging’ with him last night. We met him at 7:30 and we went to his father in law’s place, (he was a real character). He and his buddy are hunting, shooting and fishing crazy, and the house is full of heads and feet of things they have shot – and guns were everywhere. Between them, they had about 15 guns ranging from his wife’s little handbag pistol to huge shotguns.

This is a ‘dry area’, that is no liquor is legal, and we got talking about this famous ‘moonshine’ that we as yet haven’t even seen, so they said “Come with us” and we went with them to a small shed, and they proceeded to produce gallon jars of moonshine, which we dutifully sampled!!!  The laugh was when both these men turned out to be deputy sheriffs – and showed us their credentials to prove it. So much for the law!!

Well, we set off in a car with a boat on top and drove for miles and miles along a very dusty dirt road through thick forests – throwing up clouds of red dust, and finally arrived at a very lonely looking shack.

img378 USA Tony - must flip photo!!
Tony during his travels through America. He would not have been smiling on this night out, however!

 

A man appeared with a torch and shone it into our faces – we wondered what on earth was going on – until we eventually found out that this man was a ‘bootlegger’ and was selling illegal booze.

We talked to him for some time and learned that he keeps his supply in the woods, and employs boys to run in and fetch it. Also if he is raided by the cops – those boys run into the woods with it, and hide it. If the boys are caught he pays the bill, and if he is caught he goes to prison. Sometimes he is lucky and can bribe the cops, but often he goes to prison.

He admits he can make plenty of money at this game and was quite happy to discuss it. We bought some beer off him and set off through the woods again. It was a beautiful night and the moon was full, and after about 30 miles we arrived at the edge of a lake. The lake looked very eerie as it had a layer of fog drifting over it and was very still.

We unloaded the boat and fixed up the motors. For frog gigging you have a flat bottom boat with two motors – one petrol, and one electric motor which is driven by a car battery. Also you have to have a powerful floodlight which is worked by another car battery.

Also, a very important piece of equipment, is a .22 rifle, which is used to shoot any snakes which you are apt to encounter, and these can be numerous. Water moccasins mainly, and they apparently are deadly and swim at night in the water.

 

Water_moccasin_cottonmouth_venomous_snake_agkistrodon_piscivorus
Water Moccasin (public domain photo)

 

We were instructed on how to use the ‘snake bite kit’ – this consisted of a length of cord to stop the flow of blood, a razor sharp knife to ‘slash open’ the bite, a sort of sink plunger device to suck out the poison, and an antidote to put into the gash – we couldn’t decide which was worse the treatment or the death from the bite!!

By this time we were scared to death and almost too scared to move. We got into the boat and went ‘gigging’. To do this you drive with the petrol motor along the edges of the lake, and shine the flood light along the shallow water.

When you see a bullfrog you stop the petrol motor and turn on the electric motor and silently glide in for the kill – the light paralyses the frogs and the poor thing is then ‘gigged’. A gig is simply a three pronged fork on the end of a 12 foot pole -something like a small trident, and razor sharp.

The frogs are caught for the legs which are about 12 inches long, and at the thighs are about as thick as a penny. These are considered a delicacy here and are eaten a lot.

There were a lot of bullfrogs around and the noise they made was fantastic. They sound just like cows mooing and just as loud. The noises all around were amazing, it seemed to us as though in every tree there was a woman playing the castanets – but in actual fact they turned out to be tree frogs.

 

 

Bullfrog_001
American bullfrog – photo in the public domain at CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=276180

 

Thankfully due to the very bright moon all the frogs were in the woods in the darkness, and the one or two we saw in the water, he missed. I don’t think I could have gigged a frog to save my life.

(Note from Tony: Although I didn’t describe it in my letter, probably to save my parents’ feelings, he did actually ‘gig’ several frogs, calmly cutting off their legs before throwing the dying frogs back into the lake. Colin and I were horrified and couldn’t wait to get away from all this as soon as possible.)

It was at this point that we began to notice a change in our companion. He was becoming quite drunk having been drinking heavily all night, and began laughing like a maniac every now and then for no apparent reason.

We hinted that maybe we should call it a day but he wouldn’t have it, and suddenly picked up his gun and began shooting wildly in the air.

He then started the petrol engine, and then careered down the lake, and we were horrified to see that we were racing towards a waterfall (we learnt later that there was 100 foot drop) and laughing like a maniac he turned at the last moment and we missed the edge by a few feet.

(Tony notes: I remember vividly how we realised we were approaching a waterfall when we began to hear a loud roaring noise, and we started shouting at our companion to warn him. But he knew, of course, and was just out to frighten us.)

Colin and I decided that he was a ‘psycho’ and we decided to get him to take us back to our car as soon as possible. This wasn’t as easy as it seemed, and he began to think we were talking about him – and very pointedly took charge of the gun saying “I don’t want it to get into the wrong hands”.

Back in his car, with the gun resting between his legs, he then drove high speed through the woods, down a railway line (disused).

(Tony notes: I also remember the nightmare ride along the railway lines very well. He was driving over the sleepers at great speed, simply to scare us. He certainly did.)

We then went to see a badger he had shot (months earlier I should imagine by the smell of it), then went to another lake (we dissuaded him from going snake shooting) went to a “nigger’s house” and waited while he shouted abuse at them, and then went on another long drive through the woods.

We finally persuaded him (very gently) that maybe we should call it a day. To our amazement he agreed and we finally got to our car at about 1:30 morning. He drove off at high speed, and we were very relieved to see the back of him – but not so!!

About 3 miles down the road we saw him waiting in the forecourt of a filling station. As we drove past he pulled out and came racing after us, and no matter how fast we went we couldn’t shake him off – we had about 20 miles to go and we hoped he would stop before then – which he finally did and that’s the last we saw of him.

We are convinced he was one of these types affected by the moon and was raving mad!! We shall certainly be more careful in the future.

To be continued… 

Tony notes: Even now, 53 years later, I can remember practically everything about that night, and I am still horrified and disgusted. 

I feel great sympathy for the family at the receiving end of this man’s racist abuse. Whilst we had to endure his company for just a few hours, they probably had to survive frequent visits from this drunken, armed racist.

We were quite sickened by his callous behaviour and couldn’t wait to get away as soon as possible. But we were in such a difficult position – he was obviously a ‘psycho’, drunk and armed. Even if we could have taken the gun off him, we had absolutely no idea where we were, and which way to get back to his car. 

We had earlier visited his father in law, so he was obviously married, and it is horrifying to think that he had a wife and possibly children. Not a pleasant experience to have been part of – it really was a nightmare.

Tiffany notes: I chose not to find/add any photos of frog gigging but this YOUTUBE VIDEO shows Alamaba frog gigging (from 2015 so unconnected to the events above!) Inevitably, this includes scenes of impaled bullfrogs, so be advised. 

Alternately, you can watch the fantastic Duelling Banjos scene from Deliverance HERE.

NB If you know which waterfall this might have been, please let us know! 

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1965 05 13 - 16 photo of letter
Tony’s letter home, covering 13th – 16th May 1965

2 thoughts on “15 May 65 : Frog gigging nightmare – like a scene from Deliverance : Gadsden, Alabama

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