Lone Ranger & Tonto Revisited . . . by One o’the Nine

Originally published October 30, 1986, this story is one of many my uncle loved to tell about his favorite of my grandfather’s horses, Old Georgia. The author and Old Georgia are depicted in the photograph. I’m also pretty sure that’s my oldest brother watching from his perch atop the lott fence.


I suppose everyone finds a certain amount of pleasure in looking back over their past. When my eight brothers and I get together we always remember the past and tell over and over again the things that happened when we were boys growing up on the farm in the years of the great depression. One of the things I remember most is the horses (and mules) we had to ride and plow. There was Old Kitt, Old Nell, Old Elix, Old Crip and last but not least was the queen of the horse lott, Old Georgia.

Old Georgia was the only mare horse we had and the one my daddy gave me to plow. She was the only horse I ever knew that could get one foot out of the traces and stomp up one row of corn while eating another row as she went along. I was a lad of only ten or eleven years, and about all I could do was cry and beg her to do better.

Old Georgia was not a plow horse; we only used her when we were trying to get the crop laid by. She was a trained catle horse, and one of the best. When I got the saddle on her and climbed on, she was no longer Old Georgia, but suddenly to me she became the great horse Silver, and I the Lone Ranger.

I remember once one of my brothers and I had to go after some cows on the horses and we had to go through a small colored community to get them. My brother had taken an old black jacket and cut out a black mask, put it on, and I had a large rubber band with a chicken feather placed in it around my head.

We were the Lone Ranger and his faithful companion Tonto. We raced our horses through the little community at top speed crying at the top of our lungs Hi ho Silver, and get um up Scout. Of course everyone came out to see what was happening, and nothing pleased us more.

Once, while racing Old Georgia at top speed, we tried to jump a narrow ditch which was about four feet deep. Old Georgia slipped and fell into the ditch and lay there with all four feet up in the air. She could not get out. We had to go get help to pull her out.

I have heard about lots of young men turning their sports car over, but I am the only one I know that has turned their horse over.

Today I have three daughters that grew up in Jacksonville and never knew the joy of having a horse and playing Annie Oakley. I know this sounds foolish to young people today, but I wish every boy and girl could experience the joy that we had, poor as we were, playing Lone Ranger on the farm.

Postscript: This particular uncle was quite capable of weaving fact and fiction to the extent necessary to enhance a story. This fact was well known in the community, and people soon gave up guessing and accepted all his stories as truth. One undisputed truth if even half of the stories were true is that Old Georgia lived a charmed life. She came through many a scrape and lived to a ripe old age. Another truth is that animals were kind of important to all of us who were lucky enough to have grown up on a farm. I have my own Old Jack the mule stories as indeed you probably harbor your own favorite animal stories.

A Cheap Country “High” . . . by One o’the Nine

In this story by One o’the Nine, one of my father’s eight brothers, you will learn how syrup is made from sugar cane. I manage to get a bottle once in awhile when I visit my brother who’s still living in Florida on the “old homeplace.” He makes and bottles it the same old-fashioned way, with the same grinding mill, boiling off method. He makes the day a big community event every year around Thanksgiving. Sometimes he hires a country band to come by to play and sing, and people come from miles around to sit around and watch the syrup cooking, or tell stories and listen to old-fashioned blue grass and country music.


009_9-2I imagine that only a few people born after the thirties know what cane skimmings are, or where they come from, and velvet beans are also an almost forgotten item that was once a vegetable crop for north Florida farmers. When I was a boy on the farm at the age of about fifteen, one of my older brothers and I had an unforgetful experience with cane skimmings and velvet beans.

During the ’30’s and ’40’s, we grew about three or four acres of sugar cane to be used in making syrup. Syrup and biscuit was a big item in our diet during those years. We had two cane mills and two eighty gallon kettles used in grinding cane and making syrup. It usually took us at least two weeks of steady grinding to get all the sugar cane convered to syrup Our day began at 4:30 in the morning and ran until 9:30 or 10 at night. I remember grinding cane early in the morning when it was so cold the juice wouldn’t separate from the cane. We would build large litered knot fires around the piles of cane to warm it up enough so the juice became liquid and the cane stalks could be run through the mill without crumbling.

In the process of syrup making the cane juice is boiled to evaporate most of the water leaving a liquid sugar, or syrup. When the juice begins to boil, all the trash and impurities associated with cane juice comes to the top and has to be skimmed off and put in barrels until it can be disposed of, usually by feeding it to the livestock. It doesn’t take cane skimmings long to ferment since there is a fair amount of sugar left in them.

One Saturday, about three weeks after cane grinding was over, Papa and Mama went to town and left my older brother and me to pick velvet beans for the next year’s seed. I had never tried to drink fermented cane skimmings before, but I had heard that you could get quite drunk on them. Well, this Saturday I went to the syrup house for something and smelled the sour cane mash and decided I would try drinking some. So I drove a nail in the bottom of the barrel and drew out about a pint bottle full.

There were bees, bugs, frogs, and lots of other things floating on the top, but the bottom was clear and good. After I pulled the nail out of the barrel and filled my bottle I reared back and took a big swig. I was really surprised because it tasted kind of sweet and didn’t burn at all. I drank most of the bottle and then refilled it, then plugged the hole with the nail to keep the barrel from emptying. I put the pint bottle in my back overalls pocket and went to get some croker sacks to put velvet beans in.

On the way my older brother saw the bottle in my pocket and wanted to know what I had in it. I lied and told him I had a bottle of water to carry to the velvet bean field. My brother somehow knew I was lying and began a scuffle to get the bottle. I was afraid if I told him he would tell Papa and I would get my behind tanned, so I quickly reasoned if I could get him to drink some then he wouldn’t tell. I told him I had the cane skimmings and they tasted gooood. He took a swig from the bottle and licked his lips, then drained the bottle.

We then went back to the barrel and filled two more bottles and headed for the velvet bean field. We picked about a peck of beans and then we drank all the skimmings in our bottles. We were both feeling tipsy by this time, so we sat down and leaned against a big pine stump that stood in the field. We both went to sleep and didn’t wake up until almost sundown. We hurried home with our few beans and drumped them on top of the pile in the storehouse that we had previously picked.

The Lord was watching over us I know because Papa and Mama didn’t get back from town until after dark, so Papa didn’t get to see the small amount of beans we picked. I don’t believe he ever knew we got on a cheap drunk on cane skimmings. Neither of us ever drank any cane skimmings again.

Postscript: Should you wonder what “litered” wood is, it comes from the trunk, limbs and roots of pine heartwood, and most likely has been charred and dried out by fast traveling wood fires. It’s very heavy as all the light sapwood has rotted or burned away. The beauty of it is that it lights easily even when it’s damp, so it’s great for starting fires quickly, and then piling on slower burning woods.

The older brother in the story was my father, which means this incident would have taken place not long before he ran away from home to marry the girl who would become my mother. Making syrup was a yearly event. Everyone in the family pitched in to help out. I fed the cane stalks into the mill to squeeze the juice into pails, or sometimes Daddy let me skim for awhile. Would you like to see syrup making in session? In spite of the work the long day was fun. Neighbors stopped by to have a cup of cane juice or to watch and talk, maybe buy a few bottles of syrup to take home. The aroma in the air was sublime in spite of the stickiness that collected in your hair, and at the end of the day there was enough syrup to share and last until the next cane grinding, same time, same place, next year. And guess what Mama always made for supper whenever we finally got home? Yup! Pancakes and sausages newly made cane syrup!

My Photographer Beginnings

When I was a child of about ten with a big brother away serving in the Air Force in the vastness of worlds unknown to me, I dreamed of having a camera of my own. I’d seen such wonderful photographs in Mrs. Guthrie’s NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazines in her classroom at school, and I wanted to do that — travel the world taking intriguing photographs of people and places and things. Even though I had no money, I knew I didn’t want one of those mundane little brownies I’d seen in the homes of my friends and extended family either. I wanted one I’d seen who knows where, a folding camera similar to the one here. Nothing less would do to accomplish my dream of being a great photographer, and — being the determined type — I turned to my brother in the big world “out there” for help.

There was not a camera like that to be had in the small town closest to where I lived — at least as far as I knew — but my brother found one in Wyoming that he thought might work quite well. So during the summertime I worked and saved all the money I could from helping in neighbor’s tobacco harvests. I saved about $30, my take-home for the entire summer period that began in May and ended just as school was beginning in early September. I sent him my money and the next time he came home on leave, he brought me my beautiful Ansco folding camera that is probably a collector’s item now, and I’m so sorry I don’t have it anymore. In actuality it didn’t do anything more than a simple and cheap Brownie box model would have, but boy did it look impressive! As and when I was able to overcome the additional problem of finding money to buy film rolls, I made many, many photographs documenting the years that followed.

This is the mule I rode bareback by enticing him with Spanish moss (he was gullible enough to eat anything!) to sidle up alongside the wooden fence, so that I could climb the fence and hop over onto his back. I didn’t need a bridle either, as I could embed my fingers into his  mane well enough to ride him around the lot. If he was outside the confines of his lot, it was imperative that he be bridled and saddled, because he was prone to run like a wild stallion straight towards the  highway about half a mile away.

Though not exactly NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC quality, this is a snapshot of the brother (about 19 at the time and home on leave from the Air Force who found and bought the camera for me) trying to “drive” Old Jack backwards. Old Jack was notorious for his stubborness, and to get him to turn away from the lot fence if it wasn’t his idea was practically impossible. For those who may not know these things, a mule is the male offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. Females of the ilk, called “hinnys” or “jennies,” are from a female donkey and male horse. Both are usually, though not always, sterile. There! Probably more than you ever wanted to know but you know it now all the same!

Over the years I photographed many moments of life in the country with that dinky but pretty looking camera, many of which have survived and need desperately to be organized and labeled and otherwise documented for posterity of whatever excuse I can think up. There are also, alas, many unphotographed moments that remain only in memory — some of the most memorable from then and now can only be shared through written or spoken words — not photographs. More on that little problem later. (To be continued.)