A Hog Claim
Copyright 2015 by Gene Fletcher
Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash
family hog claim was scattered over thousands of acres of
wilderness. The hogs were mostly razorbacks, descendants from the
hogs brought to Florida by the Spanish invaders. They were generally
black in color with some occasional differences.
Some were "listed,"
meaning that the hog had a five to eight inch streak of white hair
across the back and running down the shoulder.
Some had really
wicked teeth that we called "tushes" protruding from the
upper and lower jaws to look like a pair of crossed swords.
all of them had a thick stand of stiff bristled hair that ran the
full length of the body down the backbone. The hog's backbone was
raised above the rest of the body thus looking like a razor and
providing the reason for the term razorback.
Living a wild and free
life in the woods had its dangers. Wildcats were a constant danger to
young pigs, especially when the sow left them alone to search for
food. The hog's teeth were an effective weapon in the defense of
the pigs. There were rare reports of panthers feeding on the hogs but
I suspect that most of the panthers had long since been driven away
by the late 1940's and early 1950's when I worked the hogs with my
hogs ran wild on the open range and foraged for themselves like other
wild animals. At the time, the open range was available to anyone who
wanted to put their hogs and cattle out to graze. As best I can
understand it, the law at the time required the owner of land to
fence his land to keep other people's animals off his land. If the
landowner did not fence his land, anyone could and did use it for
grazing. Our hogs ranged mainly on the land that belonged to the
timber companies that owned most of the land in Dixie County.
85% of Dixie County was owned and managed by companies involved in
the timber industry.) Most of the original stand of yellow pine and
cypress had been cut years ago. In the early 50's, the companies were
just beginning to clear vast tracts of "cut-over"
timberland and plant row upon row of slash pines. Like many parts of
Florida, industry brought dramatic changes to the land. The giant
bulldozers that cleared the land were not known for their gentle
touch. When they were finished, the wilderness that I enjoyed as a
boy ceased to exist. The landscape has changed so much that all of
the landmarks that I recognized are gone and I can easily get lost in
the woodland where I helped my father work our hog claim.
population of Dixie County in the early 50's was quite small and the
wood range was vast. When we went hog hunting in the wilderness to
the West of the family farm, it was not uncommon to hunt all day
without meeting another soul. In some respects, I treasure this
memory of solitude in the wilderness above all other memories of
growing up in Dixie County. At that time, you could stand still in
the woods and hear only silence, occasionally interrupted by the
sounds of nature. The cry of a bird or the sound of an acorn dropping
to the ground was all that could be heard. Years later, when I
became a resident
of towns, large or small, I was surprised at how noisy they were,
especially at night.
people had hogs running wild in the same area so our hog claim was
mixed with others in the area. One of the largest hog claims
belonged to Madison Fletcher, my Fathers'
uncle, the youngest brother of my grandfather, William Rete
Fletcher. My father and I occasionally encountered Uncle Madison and
his hired man when we were working our hogs. Uncle Madison had a Jeep
with a four-wheel drive, a rare piece of equipment in those days.
Madison looked old and sinister to me and he was grossly
overweight. He always caused the little Jeep to sag on one side.
Because of his weight, he rarely got out of the Jeep and when he did,
he walked with the help of a walking cane in each hand.
was some long standing differences between Uncle Madison and my
father. Most of these that could be traced back to the death of
"Grand Ma Fletcher" in 1937. She was the widow of George
Washington Fletcher (1848 to 1914) and thus Uncle
mother and my father's grandmother. In addition to Uncle Madison and
my grandfather, William Rete Fletcher, there were five other children
who had a claim on her · estate. Despite my father's attempts
to keep the ranch/farm together, most of them sold their share to
Uncle Madison. The ultimate result of all the trades was a split
between them with my father getting less than one-half of the land.
I move on, one last comment on Uncle Madison. He was a registered
Republican in what was then known as the Solid (read Democratic)
South. In the late forties and early fifties, being a Republican
was unheard of in Dixie County. I jokingly tell people that I was 18
years old before I discovered that Damn Republican was two
words. In the schoolyard, calling someone a Republican would guarantee
a fight. It was the equivalent of calling someone an S.O.B. I don't
think that political philosophy had much to do with his choice. I
think Madison was just trying to be contrary. It was just one more
way that he found to irritate and embarrass his family.
of our hogs were "marked" to show that they belonged to my
father. All hogs were "marked" by cutting designs in the
hog's ears. Each mark was registered with the appropriate local legal
authorities. Once you registered your mark, no one else could use it.
All hogs bearing your mark were yours. An unmarked hog was
basically up for
mark it and it is yours.
mark was fairly simple. In the right ear, we cut "crop under half
crop". A crop would be made by cutting the top of the ear off
leaving an ear with a straight top where it would normally be
pointed. Then the ear would be cut in half down to approximately
one-half of length of the ear. Finally a crop to the right making a
straight line from the middle of the ear to the edge of the ear
completed the right ear.
left ear, we cut "swallow fork". This cut would be a simple
"V" cut into the ear to replace the normally pointed part
of the ear.
of the other marks that I remember are:
Split--the ear would be split down the middle about one-half way through
Split--the ear would have the top cut with a straight line thus
removing the tip of the ear and then split down the middle of the ear
to about one-half of the length of the ear.
bit--a small notch cut from the top side of the ear nearest the head.
bit--a small notch cut from the bottom side of the ear nearest the
Over bits - 2 small notches cut from the top side of the ear nearest
Under bits -2 small notches cut from the bottom side of the ear
nearest the head.
splits -two parallel cuts running about one-half the length of the
you can see, the number of ear marks available could supply a large
number of owners.
the animals would be marked when they were very young and still at
their mothers side. The males were castrated at the same time. My
father performed this surgery with his pocketknife that he had honed
to a surgical edge using a whetstone. He would sharpen the knife
until he could shave the hair off his arm with it. When the marking
and cutting was done, the cuts were treated to prevent screwworms.
the earmarks on hogs was not an unknown practice. If caught, you were
considered to be and actually were a thief. Your treatment by law
enforcement was not always harsh but it was at the very least,
unpleasant. Many marks were easy to change. For example, our hogs had
a "swallow fork" in the left ear. The simple addition of an
"under bit" made the hog "belong" to someone
don't recall hog theft being a serious problem. In retrospect, I
suspect that the low theft rate was in large part due to the time and
attention that my father gave to his hog claim.
were in the woods checking on the hogs on a regular basis. The farm
community, known as the first district, because it was voting district
number one in Dixie County, was small and we knew everybody. It was
difficult for anyone to move around in our area without my father and
others knowing about it. One of my fondest memories of my father is
seeing him looking carefully at the car tracks in a dirt road out in
the wilderness behind our farm. After a minute or so, he said,
''that's a strange car track". I wonder what they're
doing back here?"
We followed the tracks for several miles until
we found the vehicle in question. The driver turned out to be an
outsider (not native to Dixie County) who was known by my father. As
we visited with them for a few minutes, they said they were out
scouting for some good huntin' grounds to hunt on when the season
opened. My father was satisfied with that, so we drove off to
continue working the hogs.
they were eradicated in the late fifties or early sixties, screw
worms were a constant threat to all livestock and wild animals in
Florida. The adult was a fly that deposited eggs on or in an open
cut. The eggs hatched into larvae that moved into the cut where they
fed on live flesh. The mature larvae would drop out of the wound,
fall to the ground and emerge as a fly to repeat the cycle.
worked on the program that ultimately wiped out the pest. Scientists
discovered that the female flies only mated once in a lifetime. They
sterilized vast numbers of male flies and released them to mate.
Eventually, but not before they had killed a lot of animals, the
screwworm fly vanished from Florida.
they were eliminated, the only way to combat the pest was to treat
all cuts with a salve or liquid that killed the worms and the eggs.
In order to treat the hog, you had to catch him. We would catch the
hogs, mark and cut (castrate) them, treat them for screw worms and
release them. Two weeks later we would catch them again to apply a
follow-up treatment for the worms.
"worked" the hogs one or two times a week. As a rule, we
would go for a drive after school and look for our hogs. I learned to
drive when my legs were long enough for my feet to reach the brake
and clutch pedals. I am not sure how old I was. My guess is nine
or ten years old. When we worked the hogs, I would drive the truck
and my father would ride shotgun to look for the hogs. (My brother
was three and one half years younger than I was so he stayed
home.) The drive was great fun when I was just learning to drive.
Later, it was a drag because my father insisted that we drive as
slowly as possible. I often poked along the dirt road in first gear
at two miles per hour for what seemed to be eternity.
the vast area of our hog claim, we could find most of our hogs
without much trouble. There were water holes to check. There were
food sources to check and you could always look for "sign."
The woods hogs foraged for their food and left large patches of
ground that were "rooted-up. " This "sign" was
easy to follow. My father could look at it and tell if it was fresh
and the animals were still nearby. I never got very good at reading
signs. I watched him do some of it by noticing how distinct the
footprint was and similar techniques. My father was a hunter and
woodsman, and he could see things that had been disturbed and use
this information to track game. On these drives, he looked for hog
sign. Quite by accident, we would occasionally see the tracks of
other animals. When they were turkey tracks or deer tracks, we paid
pickup truck, a three-quarter-ton Chevy, was stocked with the things
we might need to "work" the hogs. In addition to one or two
guns, including at least one rifle, we had salve and liquid screw worm
treatment, ropes and a cane pole, an ax, a "come-along" (a
device used to pull the truck out of a bog) and a jug of water. We
always packed dry corn, sometimes shelled and sometimes on the cob,
to feed the hogs. We tried to feed them once a week to keep them
accustomed to seeing the truck and us.
corn was a treat for the hogs. They would learn to recognize our
truck and come running after us. For those who did not see the truck,
my father would call to them. He had his unique trademark call that
cannot be accurately described on paper. The call was
would echo through the woods. No one called exactly the way he did..
I tried many times to duplicate the call and failed each time.
we found hogs that were fairly tame, we would stop the truck and call
to attract as many hogs as possible. Some of them became so tame that
we could distract them with the corn and quietly come up behind them
and catch them by one or both hind legs.
were tame enough to come for the corn but too wild to catch by
hand. These hogs and pigs were usually roped. My father's technique
for roping hogs involved the cane pole that was always stuck in the
back of the truck. The body of the truck was about 18 inches
high. The sides had a sort of lip on them that slanted up and out for
about 4 inches and then curled under forming a cylinder the length of
the truck body on both sides. The cane pole was stuck in this
cylinder, butt end first.
pole was the same type that many of us used for fishing in the lakes
and rivers in the area. It was twelve to fifteen feet long and
it tapered from a base of about an inch in diameter to a very small tip
at the other end. We used a 1/4 inch cord with a loop at the end. The
cord was draped around the pole in a sort of spiral. The loop was
draped across the tip of the pole to form a loop large enough for the
selected animal to walk through.
would scatter corn in an open space to give us room to maneuver the
pole. When the hogs began to eat the corn, they had their snouts to
the ground and their eyes focused to find the corn.
would hold the pole to reach out into and over the bunch of hogs. We
would drop the pole down until part of the loop rested on the ground
in front of the hog we were after. The hog would walk thought the
loop so that the loop was around his neck. I never mastered the next
step but I saw my father do it hundreds of times. He would
simultaneously pull the pole with one hand thus disentangling the
pole from the rope. With the other hand, he would jerk the rope so
that it tightened around the body of the hog. As the hog jumped in
reaction to the rope, the loop might catch him around the neck but
more often it would slip down the body of the hog and tighten
securely around one or both hind feet. This entire maneuver happened
in the blink of an eye. It was successful about nine times out of
catch was successful, you had a wild hog on the end of your rope. The
hog was usually rather unhappy about the process and expressed this
displeasure with an ear splitting variety of squeals and frantic tugs
on the rope. If the "catch" was a pig or a
(teen-age hog), the rope was simply pulled until the catch could be
picked up. If the catch was too large to pick up, someone would
follow the rope down to the hog's foot and grab both hind legs. When
you have both hind legs secured in this way, the hog cannot turn far
enough around to either side to bite you. Some of the full-grown hogs
that we caught weighed 200 pounds or more. When the catch was that
large, one guy would hold the hind feet while two guys, one on either
side of the hog, reached down and took one of the hog's ears in one
hand. The other hand reached under the hog just behind the front
legs. When each grabbed the others arm to form a sort of sling, the
hog could be lifted and carried safely to the truck without fear of a
additional hazard in the catching process was the possibility that
the other hogs might decide to come to the aide of the one that had
been caught. This rarely happened, but when it did, life got really
complicated. You were faced with an unappetizing dilemma. Do you
release the "catch" and defend yourself against the other
hogs, thus risking an attack from the "catch" or do you
hold the "catch" and risk a bite from his friends. I
don't recall any time when we released a "catch" under
these circumstances. The primary explanation for this daring action
was not our bravery. It was our dog.
the years that I helped work the hogs, we had several highly trained
"catch dogs." My personal favorite was a male black and tan,
bulldog/mongrel mix named Terry, after Terry and the Pirates in
the comics. When one of our dogs had a litter of pups, I was given
the honor of first pick and the other pups were given to
neighbors. Terry was my choice. On our farm, everyone worked. There
were no non-working pets. So, Terry was part pet and part work dog. A
good (well trained) catch dog responded to command and was totally
fearless. These dogs, weighing 30 or 40 pounds, would pursue and
literally catch a full-grown hog or steer, usually by the ear or
nose. They would release their catch on command. Many dogs were
trained to release when they heard a cow whip pop. We rarely used cow
whips. So, our dogs were trained to release on voice command. Down!
hogs around us appeared to be a threat, we would call the dog from
the truck. The dog would hold the hogs at bay until we got the other
hog loaded into the truck. We tried to avoid using the dogs to catch
any animal because of the screwworm problem. A dog bite made a wound
that attracted the flies and required treatment at the time of the
bite and two weeks later.
hogs that could not be caught by hand or with a rope were caught with
the help of the
dogs. A well-trained catch-dog was a very valuable animal. Working
from voice commands, they would, in the words of my father, "catch
anything that walks." Normally, the target hog was running away
rather than walking. The dog usually stayed in the truck because he
tended to disturb the hogs and make them skittish. When we needed
him, one of us would call. "Come here Terry" and he would
jump out of the truck, ready for some action. His first move would be
to "bay" at the hogs. By this I mean that he would bark at
them and jump or dodge around them to distract them.
me, a baying (barking) dog can keep several hogs busy. The more
aggressive hogs would make a run at Terry. His "duck and dodge"
routine usually kept them off balance long enough for us to get a hog
loaded. When there was a grown hog to be caught, the command was
"catch him" accompanied by a finger pointed at the targeted
hog. In most cases, the target hog was easy for Terry to identify
because he was separated from the bunch. Once in a great while, Terry
would go for the wrong hog. We would shout to him, down, down.
In most cases it worked.
you shouted, "Catch him" and pointed out the target, you
need to be prepared to react quickly. Catch dogs are very fast.
They would go bounding after the hog. In 99 cases out of 100, the
hog would see them coming and run like crazy away from the dogs. This
chase would almost always head for the woods where the undergrowth
would give the hog some place to hide. Our job was to follow the
chase, on foot, as quickly and closely as possible. The dog would
chase the hog until the hog tired from running and turned to fight.
When the hog turned to fight, the dog would "bay him up"
with the bark, jump, duck and dodge routine. Hopefully, this would
keep the hog in place until my father or I arrived.
comes the tricky part. While the dog "bays him up", one of
us would come around behind the hog and grab him by his hind legs.
This is a maneuver that must be done with the utmost skill and
speed. One wrong move and you are faced with 200 pounds of angry wild
hog. All of this happens in a fleeting moment in the midst of the
noise and confusion of the chase. It is exciting and
dangerous. When I think back about these wild chases through the
woods and palmetto scrub, the danger of snakes, stump holes, cat claw
vines and other assorted hazards seems to be overwhelming. At the
time, the danger never occurred to me. I was having too much fun.
you had the hog by the hind legs, you had to call off the dogs. If the
chase had been especially exciting, the dogs were hard to call off.
They were excited and their blood was up. You had to control the dogs
while holding the hog. And if all went well, one or two men would
come to help you load the hog. It was not a good idea to let the
go unless you enjoyed dealing with the business end of an extremely
truck was fitted with a custom-made (by my father) pen for hauling
hogs and other livestock. It was made from treated pine lumber. The
corner posts and support posts were 2 by 4's and the slats were 1 by
4's spaced about 2 inches apart. The pen was tall enough to stand
about a foot above the cab of the truck. The back panel was on hinges
and served as a gate. So, the trick was to have the three who are
holding a very irritated hog to open the rear gate on the truck, and
toss the hog in and slam the gate quickly before the hog can turn
and escape or fight. This means the three of you must move quickly as
a team so that the entire process is one fluid motion that ends with
the slamming of the gate.
truck body was higher than the cab and I was young and foolish. These
two facts caused me to destroy the truck body when I was about 12 or
13 years of age. We were planting tobacco in the spring. We were
working at the 520-acre farm that was about 2 miles from the 160 acre
"Home Place". My dad sent me back to the home place to
bring some tool that was needed. As I got in the truck, he said,
"Don't forget to watch that low-hanging limb and drive around
it." I took off in the truck. I completely forgot my
instructions. I drove under the low-hanging limb so that the limb
caught the top of the wooden body that stuck up above the truck's
cab. The result was a disaster. The limb was entangled in the
wooden body so that it pulled the body up and out of the truck,
breaking it, in a heart beat, into many pieces of worthless wood. True
to his style, my father never scolded me about this mistake. He went
into town for a new supply of lumber, and we built a new body.
also built portable hog pens that we used to trap hogs. The hog pens
were built in the same fashion as the pen for the truck body. The
only significant difference was that the portable pen had a trap
door. The trap door was activated by a device that consisted of a
cord tied to the top of the trap door and run up and over a rod that
was about 8 or 10 feet above the ground. The cord, with a stick tied
at the end, was stretched down into the pen where it was held in
place by stakes in the ground. We would scatter shelled corn outside
the pen and make a trail of com into the pen and around the stick
that was holding the cord that held the trap door up. When the hog
rooted the stick to get to the corn, the stick would be pushed up from
the stakes and released. The trap door would fall by its own weight,
and the hog would be trapped.
caught lots of hogs in trap pens. However, some were too smart to
fall for the trap.
a hog would eat the com right up to the door and stop without eating
one grain inside the pen. This was proof that hogs are plenty smart.
I suspect that it also shows why they can survive in the wilderness
and thrive on the food that was available to them in the wild.
fall acorn crop fattened our hogs. If there was a "good crop,"
the hogs would fatten quickly and be like money in the bank. I
remember going hog hunting to gather hogs to take to the livestock
auction in Gainesville, Florida. Sometimes we would gather full
grown hogs. Other times, we would gather shoats, teenage hogs. I
don't know why we would pick one or the other. I also don't know why
we "rounded up cattle" and "gathered" hogs but
that is what we did.
our preparations for a trip to the livestock market, we would make
several trips to catch the hogs to be sold. When we returned from
these trips, we would unload the hogs into a hog pen near the cattle
pen and stable. There was a "loading chute" (ramp) so that
the truck could be backed up to it for unloading the hogs. We would
feed and water the hogs each day until we had assembled a "load".
Early on Monday morning, we loaded the hogs up the ramp into the
truck for the ride to the market. The market was first come, first
served. My father liked to get there early in the theory that the
first prices were the best prices.
Once in a great while, I was
allowed to skip school and go to the market. It was great fun for
me. Gainesville, some 50 miles to the east, was a much bigger town
than anything in Dixie County and it had larger, more varied stores.
livestock auction had a bit of a country fair, carnival-like
atmosphere. We saw some people we knew. We ate at a restaurant, a
rare occasion. We saw the excitement of the auction that was
primarily hogs and cattle but occasionally had horses, goats, and
other animals for sale.
The hogs were kept in separate pens according
to ownership. Each bunch was weighed and identified by breed or lack
thereof. They were brought into the auction ring, one bunch at a
time. The owner was allowed to "no sale" the lot if he
thought the price was too low. This rarely happened because you still
had to pay the house the auction fee for the sale. Most of the hogs
were gentle enough to move through the system easily. For those that
were less cooperative, there were whips and battery operated
cattle prods. In the center of the auction ring, there was a sort of
post with steps on it so that the hog handler could climb out of
harm's way if the hogs turned on him.
auctioneer had his own unique patter or chant with a singsong rhythm
that I could
duplicate. The ring and most of the pens were open air under
a tin roof. It was a remarkable odor that drifted about on a summer
afternoon when the temperature rose above 90 degrees and a shower
pounded the tin roof. You soon had the air filled with the smell of
humidity-laden sweat from man and beast and various types of very wet
manure. In addition, most of the buyers and sellers alike used
tobacco. Some smoked while others dipped or chewed. The sweet smell
of fine cigars tended to be overcome by the dippers and chewers who
spat in many directions.
buyers were all pre-registered, so they were well known to the
auctioneer. They made bids with subtle hand gestures that I could
hardly see. It was years later before I discovered that there was no
danger that I might make some innocent move with my hand and buy
unwanted livestock. But back then, that concern made me keep pretty still while I
watched the auction.
stayed at the auction until your hogs were sold, you could get a
check for the proceeds less the fees to the auction house. If you did
not collect your check by closing time, they sent it to you by mail.
In any case, you got your money fairly fast. My father always said
that a hog claim was like money in the bank. Unlike cattle, hogs
were a good "fast investment" to turn around for cash and
there was very little capital investment involved.
late 40's and early 50's, the charge for school lunches at Old Town
Elementary School was 15 cents per day. Normally, my parents would
give me a dollar on Monday morning to be used to buy a weekly lunch
ticket for 75 cents and ice cream for 5 cents per day. Ice cream
was only available to those students who ate all of their lunch and
had the 5 cents needed for the purchase price. Most of the students
would comply with the first requirement but many could not afford the
5 cents. On one particular Monday morning, my parents searched the
entire house and could not find two dollars, one for me and one for
my brother. My mother gave my brother and me 15 cents each and sent
us off to school. On that same Monday morning, my father took a load
of hogs to Gainesville to cash in some of his "money in the
fall of each year, my father would gather about 20 hogs that were
"good and fat" and pen them up in a feed lot. We would
feed them com for about a month or so to get the woodsy taste out of
the meat before we had our annual hog killing. The timing for the hog
killing depended on the weather. A killing frost was needed to reduce
the supply of flies and other insects that are attracted to the
event. This rule has caused my family
use the expression, "It is cold enough to kill hogs."
Anyone who had worked in a hog killing would immediately know that
this means a really cold day.
killings were important in insuring a good supply of pork through the
winter, and they were important as social events as well. Typically,
we would invite several families to "come help us kill hogs."
These friends and neighbors would arrive early and stay late on
the appointed day. There was no cash compensation, but each worker
was given a share of the fresh pork to take home. There was an
unstated agreement that you would be invited over when they killed
hogs so that you would have a share of the fresh pork.
duties of the day were basically allocated according to gender. The
men did the killing, cleaning and gutting. The women cut the meat,
cleaned the chitllins, and prepared the sausage meat, the lard meat,
and the meat for hog-head cheese.
in the morning, we would fill the sugar kettle with water and build a
fire under it to have hot water ready to scald the dead hogs for
cleaning. We would have breakfast just as the sun came up. Well fed,
we went to the hog pen to start the killing. My father shot a hog
directly between the eyes with a .22 rifle. The hog would drop in his
tracks without a sound. Immediately, my father would cut the hog's
throat to bleed him.
would come gushing out of the hog's neck as the heart took its last
few beats. Some of our neighbors would use a container to catch the
blood to be used in blood puddin'. My family did not prepare blood
puddin'. When the bleeding stopped, the hog was rolled onto a sled and
pulled by a small tractor to the sugar kettle. By this time the water
is hot. The secret to the cleaning process is to have the water as
hot as possible without getting it so hot that it began to cook the
skin. If the water was too hot, the hair will "set," meaning
the hair will not come off. If the water was not hot enough, the hair
would not come off. After testing the temperature, the hog is dunked
into the water headfirst. Holding the hind legs, the handler gently
rolls the hog around until the entire body has been soaked. A patch
of hair is normally tested to see if it can be pulled out.
the hair begins to come out, the hog is done. He is pulled out of the
sugar kettle onto a table. Two people begin to wash and clean the
hog. They used butcher knives to scrape the skin and pull the hair
out. Cans of water are repeatedly poured over the hog as the
scraping continues until the hogs skin, head and feet are squeaky
clean. Hogs that came to the cleaning table black and dirty left the
table with fair, almost human-colored skin.
the hog was moved, a stick would be inserted in the hind legs just
A cut would be made behind the Achilles tendon. The pointed ends of
the stick were inserted into these cuts thus holding the hind legs
apart and in a fixed position. The hog was then hung upside down by
the stick hung on a support post. Now we were ready to gut the hog.
This is an especially tricky process filled with hazards that could
ruin the meat. The first step was to insert a corncob in the hog's
anus. I suspect that the reason for this is obvious. If the hog was a
male and most that were killed for meat were males, the penis was cut
off and fed to the dogs. When you start to cut the hog open, you
start by cutting a circle around the anus followed by a cut down the
center of the belly of the hog until you reach the rib cage. If you
know the anatomy of the animal, you make the cuts so as to avoid
puncturing the urinary bladder or the small intestine.
removed the innards and held a number 3 washtub to catch them. My
family did not eat chittlins , but there was always a volunteer who
took them and cleaned them. At our house, it was usually Luler (Lula)
The first step in the intestine cleaning process is to dig a hole 4
or 5 feet deep. The contents of the intestines are dumped into the
is poured through the intestine several times to flush them out. The
intestine is then turned wrong side out by using a smooth stick to
push one end back through to the other end in the same way you might
turn your socks wrong side out. The final step is to scrape each
intestine until it was totally clean. Luler would dip the gut in a
bucket of clear water and then place it on a board and scrape. She
repeated this process until it passed her inspection. The smell that
accompanied this operation cannot be easily described. Let's just
say it would easily turn your stomach.
people used the small intestine for casing for the sausage but we
bought dry casing that came packed in salt. We soaked the casing
over night to soften them. I don't remember what the bought casing
was made of but my hunch is that they were hog intestines, too.
the intestines were removed, the lungs, liver and heart were
extracted. Here again, you could make a mess. If the gall bladder was
punctured, it made an awful mess. For some strange reason, the livers
were often discolored so that we did not eat them. In most cases, we
gave the Lungs (called lights by the locals) and heart away.
it was time to dismember the hog. The head was cut off and given to
someone for extra cleaning before it was put in a pot to boil.
Ultimately, the head would form the basis for hog-head cheese. A
handsaw was used to cut the breastbone and separate the rib
cage. The shoulders came off next, followed by the removal of the
meat (bacon) and the hams. During this entire process, globs of fat
were trimmed from various sides of the interior of the carcass and
each ham, shoulder and side of bacon was trimmed of some of its fat.
Our hogs were fattened in a pen for at least eight weeks because they
were "woods hogs" with a "woodsy" flavor to the
meat. Two months of grain feed not only removed the woodsy flavor, it
also got the hogs very fat.
fat was tossed into number 3 washtubs for use later in the day. When
the last hog was scalded, the sugar kettle was thoroughly cleaned in
preparation for cooking the fat down into lard and
cracklins. Cracklins are the remains of the meat and fat after the
oil has been cooked out of them.
cook-off often lasted late into the night because it was one of the
last chores of the day_and it could be done with the light from a
lantern or flashlight. When the cracklins were cooked down and crisp,
they were skimmed up with a strainer and the remaining oil or lard
was dipped up and poured through a cloth to strain out the remaining
bits of cracklins. The lard was stored in five-gallon lard cans for
future use. The cracklins had a number of uses such as adding
flavor to our farm vegetables but my favorite was to use them to make
cracklin cornbread. Cracklin cornbread is simply cornbread that has
had cracklins mixed in before it was baked. It is simply wonderful
when it is served with mustard greens and fried pork chops the day
after a hog killing. The longer we kept the cracklins the more they
dried out so that over time they had to be soaked in water overnight
to soften them for use in the cornbread.
one team cooked off the cracklins, others were working on the
sausage. Most of the meat in the sausage had been trimmed and
separated as the hog was cut into hams, shoulders, and side meat.
Nothing was wasted. All of the meat went into the major cuts,
cracklins, sausage or hog-head cheese. My father liked his sausage
on the lean side so we mixed in very little fat. When the tub of
sausage meat was ready, it was run through a hand operated meat
grinder, twice for good measure. The next step was critical.
is much debate in hog killing circles on the question of how much
seasoning to add to the mixture. Opinions ranged from "none"
to the father of six who said, "Put plenty of red pepper in it
to keep the young'uns from eatin it all up". My father was in
the mid-range of the seasoning scale with some sage but not to
much. The mixed sausage was then stuffed into casings using the same
hand operated grinder with the blades replaced with a corkscrew
device to push the sausage into the casing. Once the sausage links
were stuffed, we draped them over a tobacco stick and hung them in
of the first chores that I can remember being assigned was to be
keeper of the smokehouse fire. My father was very particular about
the fire. He followed the rules that he had learned as a boy. The
most important rule was to have a smoldering fire that did not have a
flame. If there was a flame, the sausage would cook, not cure in the
smoke. You have no idea how hard it is to keep a fire going all the
time without having a flame. I remember going into the smokehouse to
check the fire and feeling the bite of the smoke in my eye and
smelling that wonderful smoked meat smell. The air inside the
smokehouse would be thick with smoke, and the fire would be down to
embers. I could find the fire by listening to the occasional hiss of
oil dripping from the sausage on to the
My father always poked a small hole in bottom loop of each sausage
link to allow the oil to drip out as it cured. He used a thorn from
the same wild orange tree that his grandma Fletcher had used long
meantime, the hoghead cheese (also called souse) was in the
works. The hoghead cheese contained all that remained of the hog. The
heads, minus the jowls, which were saved for New Years Day, were
soaked in warm water and scraped until they were completely
cleaned. The feet were cleaned in the same fashion. Any other
scraps that had not gone into the cracklins or the sausage finally
went into the hoghead cheese. The heads and feet were boiled in
kettles until the flesh easily slipped off the bone. This "meat"
included a lot of fat and cartilage. After a through mixing, the
meat would be run through the same grinder that had been used for the
sausage and mixed with seasoning according to the maker's taste. My
father followed the moderate seasoning rule when he mixed the meat.
He would be up to his elbows in the mixing tub and would occasionally
stop to taste his mixture. After a taste, he would add a touch of
something and go back to the mixing. When he was satisfied with the
taste and consistency of the mix, the final product was poured into
flour sacks and tied securely.
hung the sack in the smokehouse where it would drip oil and settle,
from the force of gravity, into a congealed loaf. I don't remember
how long we waited for the hog head cheese to settle but when it was
done, we pealed the flour sack off and sliced it in cuts that were
the thickness of thick bacon slices. As usual in the rural South,
we fried it in the lard that we had recently rendered down. We
served it cold in a sandwich.
was no reason to fry it because the ingredients had been cooked
before they went into the mix. It was fried to serve it hot.
was usually late at night when all of these tasks were completed and
the day was done. The folks who had come over to "help out"
were tired and ready to go home with their "fresh pork." The
fresh pork consisted of backbone (great with rice), back strap (the
large part of a pork chop), uncured sausage, lights, liver and pork
fifty years later, I tell these stories, many people recoil at the
killing and blood I have described. I don't recall the day being
horrible. It was a great day because it was a break in the monotony
that comes with farm life. We changed the routine, had friends over,
worked cheerfully together and enjoyed the fresh pork at the end of
good day for a hog killing was cool with full sunshine and a
cloudless, clear North Florida sky. When you are ten years old, you
share in the excitement but not in the harder work. Life is good.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Gene's Story List and Biography
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher