Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It's that kind of place.

I have no idea what story is contained within this picture's alloted thousand words, but I was cleaning out some files in anticipation of switching over to a new computer this weekend when I stumbled across it and said "that's so weird it needs to be on the blog".

I took it some years back on a state highway somewhere between the southeastern Oklahoma towns of Antlers and Broken Bow. As I was driving along I looked over, saw something dangling from the highway sign, thought "what the hell?" and turned around to take a look.

It turned out to be a string of decapitated catfish, mainly flatheads. I have no idea what compelled someone to hang them there: an angler's pride, some kind of hillbilly voodoo, perhaps a warning to to stay the hell on the main roads (homegrown weed is and always has been a big cash crop in the mountains of SE Oklahoma). I never figured it out. I snapped the picture, looked over my shoulder to make sure Leatherface wasn't watching from the trees and got back in my truck.

I shouldn't have been surprised, though. My mother was born and raised in Antlers and I still have a pile of relatives down that way. I spent a lot of time there as a child so I was well aware things are a little, well...different in that part of the state.

How different? When I took that picture I was down there on an assignment, writing about... Bigfoot.

Yep, it's that kind of place. Beautiful, but strange, a little spooky and completely unlike the popular image of Oklahoma. The year prior I had been down there on another assignment, writing about Oklahoma's timber industry. While there I had arranged to drive around some logging sites with a local timber company foreman. As I got into his truck and snapped my seatbelt into place he looked over at me and quite unexpectedly asked "You gotchaself a gun, doncha?"

Now, for those unfamiliar with that part of Oklahoma, it's as rugged, as isolated, as wild and as suspicious of outsiders as any place in the country. I was going to be spending all day in the woods with this guy, alone. And here he was asking me if I happened to have a gun on me. Cue banjos.

As it turns out I did, in point of fact, have myself a gun. Yep, it's that kind of place. Notebook? Check. Tape Recorder? Check. Camera? Check. Glock? Check. But I wasn't sure if I should tell him or not. I didn't know this guy from Adam. And he was big, kind of wild-looking. I was from "the city." Cue banjos again.

 Would it be tactically prudent to keep it a secret or should I just come out and say upfront that I was packing. Was it a trick question? Would I be violating some company policy? The question, however, was rendered moot as he pulled a scoped .223 from behind the seat and shoved the barrel into the floorboard next to me.

"This is for coyotes 'an such," he informed me with a grin. I instantly wondered if nosy reporters, taxonomically speaking, fell into the "such" genus. "But," he continued, "Ah don' go nowheres roun chere without a gun. Dope growers. An there some roads you doan wanna go down even then."

Great. With the prospect of armed conflict apparently part of the day's tour, I figured I might as well tell him. He gave me an approving look and off we went, engaged in perhaps the most heavily-armed interview in Oklahoma journalism history. Yep, it's that kind of place.

I never ran into Tony Montana and his little friend on that trip, and I after I snapped this picture I went on, but never found Bigfoot, either.

Didn't really matter, though. The locals were scary enough...


  1. Great tale man. I'm really glad you decided to continue with this bloggin' malarkey.


  2. Thanks, SBW. I may be ringing up beer, smokes and slurpies down at the Jiffy Trip before too long, but I think at this point the blog will probably stick around for the foreseeable future.

    I'm finding it helps keep me sane(r)...

  3. Will you get a discount on beer at the Jiffy Trip? That could be the silver lining...

    Sounds like a, er, grate place you visited. That string of fish is just too weird.

  4. Hey Chad,
    It’s funny how come banjos have become the universal word used with strange, backwater and downright hairs up on your neck type areas, Mr. Reynolds has a lot to answer for! (Just like Star Wars bar has come to describe a group of strange and butt ugly folk). Great tale which brought a lob sided grin to me face, now remember Chad…. Keep to road……
    Still smiling,


  5. Two friends and I were float-fishing a lonely part of the Arkansas River once between Florence and Pueblo, Colo.

    We came across someone's permanent campsite/picnic spot where a whole lot of bleached catfish skulls were nailed to the cottonwoods.

    Maybe the Catfish Cult is larger than I thought.

  6. Actually Murphyfish, I've always thought it unfair that banjos, the movie Deliverance and James Dickey's novel will forever be associated with "squeal like a pig"...

    Charles, I've seen catfish in a lot of places, but that was a new one on me...