Anna Maria Island, December 14, 1988

’Gator tales

By Gib Bergquist

   As if the Cracker hadn’t seen enough of the Seminoles of late, with that recent trip up to Tallahassee to see his football Gators massacred, his third-grade daughter adds insult to injury by coming home from school with some special requests. Would ol’ dad help her and her friends build an authentic Seminole Indian chikee for an outdoor display celebrating the American Indian at her school? Would he also help her find a real Seminole name? Would dear mom help fashion together something approaching Seminole regalia for her to wear?
   Finding a name was the easy part. For one whole day she was “Coa-coo-chee,” the Seminole name for “wildcat.” The chikee, the traditional name for a Seminole dwelling, and the Seminole costume, were horses of a different color. For days we have been neck-deep in Seminoles.
   In our search at the local library for any and everything Seminole, the Cracker ran across some information written in 1939 about a Cracker folk hero he’d like to tell you about.
   It seems that down in Glades County there is a creek that winds its way through the marshes and prairies before flowing into Lake Okeechobee. The Indian called this creek “Thlothopopka-Hatchee” which means “a stream where fish are eaten.” Now this is a mouthful for any Cracker to say so today we call it “Fisheating Creek.”
   Fisheating Creek at one time was, and probably still is, chock-full of alligators and was a favorite hunting spot for a famous alligator hunter of yesteryear named “Alligator” Ferguson.
   Now Alligator wasn’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill alligator hunter. He didn’t actually hunt alligators. He let the alligators hunt him. You see, he learned to bark like a dog with such realism that the ’gators would swim right up to his boat in search of one of their favorite tidbits. Also, on occasion, Alligator would bring along a small pig and, at the propitious moment, he would make it squeal by twisting its corkscrew tail. This would drive the ’gators into a frenzy and they would swim within easy shooting range. Unlike the usual ’gator hunter, Alligator didn’t hunt them for their valuable hides and ’gator tail steaks like we do today. He hunted them for their teeth, which he extracted on the spot and sold for five dollars a pound.
  The Cracker is still scratching his head wondering why anyone in his right mind would pay good money for alligator teeth.
   But, to change the subject slightly, we pet owners here on the Island are faced with a flea epidemic due to the unseasonably warm weather. Now the Cracker is not recommending the following flea eradication method, but he’ll tell you the way it was told to him.
   Back in the late Thirties and early Forties, the Martin twins, Ruby and Truby, lived near Mulberry, Florida and were schoolmates of the Cracker at ol’ Mulberry High.
   Now Ruby said that one time their whole yard was just full of fleas — not in the house, mind you, just in the yard because they kept yard dogs and not house dogs. They employed a yardman named Jasper, who came regularly to rake and mow the lawn and, of late, to be eaten by the fleas. One day, Jasper, who was very wise in Nature’s ways and folk remedies, says to Ruby’s dad: <>
   “Cap’n, I knows how to rid yo’ yard of de fleas. All you gotta do is drag a dead ’gator over ever’ inch of yo’ yard includin’ up under yo’ house and ever’ las’ one of them fleas will hightail it right outta here.”
   A couple of days later, here comes ol’ Jasper and one of his boys dragging this dead four-or five-foot ’gator up to the Martin yard.
   Ruby and Truby were given the task of dragging that ’gator carcass over the entire yard and under the house, which was set up off the ground on pillars, the way we Crackers used to build them.
   Ruby swears on a stack of Bibles that it was months and months before they saw another flea around the home place. Preposterous? Knowing Ruby, the Cracker has to take her word for it.
   Do you?

From Cracker's Crumbs, 1995 Gib Bergquist

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