Olí Red and the Armadillo
by Newt Harlan
Uncle Babe had a Redbone hound pup named Red that came from excellent squirrel dog stock. He bought Red for $250, and the dog was showing great promise. At sixteen months old Red had already begun demonstrating his good bloodlines. He had an excellent nose and didn't cold trail much at all for a pup his age. When he barked treed you could go to the bank that a squirrel was in that tree.
And talking about barking treed, that pup had a mouth that would make the Mormon Tabernacle Choir take notice. It was clear as a bugle and rang out like a bell. It was so sweet that it would almost bring tears to your eyes just to hear.
It was obvious from the git-go that this pup was gonna be a keeper; a real meat-gettin', braggin'-on dog.
The only problem was that the pup had one bad habit: he loved to chase armadillos. If he was on a squirrel trail and happened to cross an armadillo, the squirrel hunt was over until the 'diller was run in a hole or otherwise disposed of.
Uncle Babe had a reputation as a dog trainer, and he tried every trick he knew to break that pup of his love for armadillos, but nothing seemed to work for long. He tried switching the dog when he ran a 'diller -- didn't work. He tried rubbing the pup's nose with 'diller droppings -- worked for about an hour. He tried whipping the pup with a 'diller carcass -- no success. Uncle Babe tried every idea and technique that he knew or heard about, but Red still loved to chase armadillos. It was starting to look like this pup was going to be a good squirrel dog, but only somewhere they didn't have 'dillers, and that wasn't anywhere near the thicket country around Saratoga.
As luck would have it, one Thursday in early November we hauled a load of cows up to Cleveland to the auction barn. While we were there standing around the holding pens bull-shitting and telling honest lies, Uncle Babe ran into ol' Booge Hicks, a friend of his from up around San Augustine. After they got past all the "How's your momma and them and everybodys," the talk got around to the important things like fishing and hunting. Shortly, Booge inquired as to how Uncle Babe's pup Red was coming along since he owned the pup's momma and had sold Babe the pup. Well, naturally, Uncle Babe had to tell Booge about the armadillo problem that he was having, hoping Booge might offer all or at least some of his money back since the pup wasn't working out as good as expected.
Ol' Booge didn't bite on that, and instead kind of thought for a minute or so with his head tilted back and his eyes closed like he was studying some very important idea and wanted to be sure he had it all tied up before he gave it to us.
Finally he said, "You know, Babe, I know some ol' boys up in Sabine County that train dogs, and they claim that if you're having trouble with a dog foolin' around with something that he ain't supposed to, that the best way to break them of the habit is to put 'em in a barrel with whatever it is and roll the barrel down a hill."
Uncle Babe wasn't going to let Booge get ahead of him and allowed that he'd heard the same thing from some fellow over around Jasper or Woodville, but he had never personally tried it.
The subject sort of dropped as we started discussing cattle prices and how everyone had done on opening weekend of deer season. We could tell Uncle Babe was getting "antsy," and pretty soon we'd done our good-byes, hand shakes and "say howdy to your momma and thems," and directly we were in the truck heading back toward Saratoga.
There wasn't a lot of conversation on the highway during the trip, mostly because trucks in those days were a lot noisier inside than they are today and you had to almost holler to be heard, but you could tell Uncle Babe was studying on something by the nervous way he wallered his chaw around in his mouth.
Before long we rolled into Sour Lake and decided to stop at Miss Happy's beer joint for something to wash the road dust out of our craws. We'd no sooner got settled at the bar and Miss Happy got the tops popped on some cold ones until Uncle Babe started laying out his plan. As soon as we got back to the camp in Saratoga, Donnie and I were to go out and catch an armadillo. Uncle Babe was going over to the Sun Company warehouse and see if he could find a 55 gallon barrel with a clamp top lid. Then we were going to meet back at the camp to see if the idea about the armadillo and ol' Red in a barrel would work. I told Uncle Babe this sounded like a pretty good plan to me except for one minor thing -- there ain't no hills in Saratoga. The closest thing to a hill that I'd seen was a couple of places along Village Mills Creek where the bank was maybe 40 or 50 feet high. Uncle Babe said not to worry, for us to take care of the armadillo and he'd take care of the hill.
After a little small talk with the regulars around Miss Happy's, we headed on to Saratoga and the camp. It didn't take too long after we got there for Donnie and me to round up an armadillo -- we were both a lot faster in those days. By the time we got back to the camp with the 'diller Uncle Babe had found the barrel with a clamp-on lid and was waiting for us, so we were ready to start the great experiment.
We put the armadillo in the barrel in the back of Uncle Babe's truck, loaded in an ice chest of cold ones, hooked Red to the dog tether and headed out in search of a hill. We went over through Batson and turned north on Hwy 146 at Moss Hill. I thought maybe we'd find something resembling a hill around Moss Hill, but as Uncle Babe said, the name is a misnomer -- there's higher hills in Saratoga than in Moss Hill and Saratoga ain't got no hills. We continued on north through Rye and on past the cutoffs to Ace and Schwab City. It was just turning dusk and we were about two or three miles outside of Livingston when we came to THE HILL.
Being raised up in the thicket and coastal prairies we didn't have too much sense of height or grade, but that hill seemed ideal for our purpose, especially given the good judgment we'd gained by the consumption of a few cold ones on the trip up. It was probably about a mile long and rose up about two fifty or three hundred feet. We reached the top of the grade, Uncle Babe pulled off the road and we piled out to get a fresh beer and take care of necessities that arise from drinking beer. We finished that business and were ready for the great experiment.
We took the barrel out of Uncle Babe's truck and laid it on its side behind the tailgate. We unhooked Red from his leash, and taking great care not to let the armadillo out of the barrel, we put him in the barrel with the 'diller and clamped the lid shut. We rolled the barrel slowly to the shoulder of the road and lined it up so it was ready to start the downhill roll. For a moment Uncle Babe had second thoughts as he looked toward the bottom of the hill. "Sure is a long way to the bottom", he said, looking to Donnie and me to see if maybe we'd offer some objections. Neither of us spoke, so Uncle Babe said, "Oh, what the hell," and gave the barrel a little push to start it rolling.
The barrel started rolling down the hill, slowly at first as the passengers inside made it kind of cattywampus, then gathering speed until after covering about 100 yards it was going around faster than gossip at a church picnic. After about 200 yards it was really spinning when it hit a culvert that none of us had noticed. Wham! The barrel flew about twenty feet in the air and landed standing up in a ditch about half full of water. We climbed in the truck and drove down to where it sat to inspect the cargo.
Ol' Red never did run another armadillo. Ol' Red never did run anything else.
Sometimes great ideas don't turn out all that well. That's what they call experience.
A graduate of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, Newt Harlan is now semi-retired after 35 years of selling steel in the southern United States. He says he has no formal writing training or experience, unless he can count 3 years of high school journalism in the late 1950's. Ye Editor thinks that counts. She also thinks that anyone who sells steel for 35 years must have a lot of stories to tell.