Friday, October 28, 2011

The Bell Of The Tchula Lady

It was the hottest part of August when the weird idea to go frog gigging over on the River struck us. I asked Paul Jones what he knew about the frogging over in that area and he told me that it should be good. He had not seen any vehicles with boats over at the landing at night in almost a month. He figured we could catch about as many as we wanted. Paul, Burney and I started planning right then but Paul Jones interrupted us with one of his cryptic final statements. “The River has been channeled but down about two miles there is a double bow where you follow the old River for about half a mile. When you get to it, you can see it is marked on the side by a mile marker, #27. If I was you, I would get in the middle and drift down past the last bow and don’t try to catch any frogs ‘till then.” We stared at him. He didn’t say anything else. Paul Jones has a habit of knowing way to much about the history of this place but when pressed he said “maybe nothing, but do what I say and there won’t be no trouble” That’s all we could get out of him.
A week later we were ready. We had boats, we had coolers, we had lights, we had beer, we had everything we needed. We even picked up a couple of stragglers in Mark Stewart, Mark Rose, Stewart Allen and Terry Cutrere. Two boats to cover the River with me driving one and Burney the other. We planned about a 10 mile drift and then to come back up to catch what we missed on the way down.
Catching frogs is not done with a gig. One man sits in the front usually wearing heavy gloves, 2nd man in the middle holds the light, and the 3rd man drives the boat. You shine their eyes and blind them, pull the boat in tight and grab them. Simple as pie.
The night was black as pitch as we headed downriver floating and talking until we started seeing a few frogs and then split up to cover each side of the river. We caught some, put ‘em in the cooler, missed a few but everyone had a shot at it and we drank beer and enjoyed the night. Before we had gone 1/2 mile the fog rolled in on us and it started getting quiet. Mark Rose in the other boat shined his light high on the bank and we could just make out marker #27 and we floated into the first bend.
You could tell it was the old river as tall timber overhang this part and we let the current pull us forward. The water was low but the river narrowed here. It was spooky but it seemed like frogs were everywhere. We split up and started getting them. We had caught 10 before a frantic bobbing of the lights caught our attention and we eased the motor until we crossed over and found Burney holding a snag waiting for us in his boat.
Both boats shined their light at a mass of old timbers jutting from the bank. The huge timbers were covered by big frogs and I started to tell Burney they could get in to them but he said “Listen” and we all quieted down. It was still in the swirling fog with just the slapping of the water on the boats but You could hear it low and slow, the chiming of a bell coming from the old wreck in front of us. As we listened it quickly got louder. The frogs in front of us escaped into the water as we realized that the sound was coming from the old pile-up. Shining the light we spotted an old marker at the top of the bank. It read The Tchula Lady.
As the noise grew louder a shrill shriek seemed to echo in it that hurt our ears, the blood curdling sound seemed to reach into your soul and it seemed like the fog seemed to swirl in amongst the timbers until it looked like people were moving there. We quickly backed into the middle of the River. I almost had to fight Cutrere to get control of the motor after Paul grabbed his leg to tell him to turn the light downstream and almost caused the whole group to panic and sink the boat. We all took off downriver until the noise faded behind us. Not much frogging was done after that and later when we came back up the river it was done at full throttle hugging the opposite side of the River.
Paul Jones had built a fire on the bank and was waiting for us when we got back to the landing. We tried to tell him about what happened but he already knew. He told us the tale then. “The Tchula Lady was a paddle-wheeler that ran mostly from The Misissippi, up to Yazoo City and then to Tchula carrying supplies and people. During the Civil war it carried soldiers and was ambushed in that bow below Parkers Landing by Union cavalry with cannons and sank with all hands. It caught in a snag at the bend of the River and everyone that made a swim to the bank was shot. No one survived. The ship burned right there and the old timbers in the bank are all that’s left of it. The story is that it is still trying to make the run up river and the ghost don't want to be disturbed. I have heard that the sound of the bell will burst your eardrums or make you lose your mind if you stay and listen too long.” That was the end of our frog hunting expeditions on that River.

1 comment:

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