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One day as I was riding with my father through McClellan Swamp, just south of Blountstown, he explained to me why people down there used to let their hogs run free. He told me that if they weren’t raising them for market, most folks couldn’t afford to feed them every day. And not everybody wanted them penned up by the house because of the flies and the smell.
So, many rural families, including his uncles, aunts and cousins, would mark their hogs by cutting a distinctive notch in their ears and then turn them loose in the woods to mostly fend for themselves. This worked out well because hogs are smart, resourceful animals that will eat just about anything and can thrive in most any circumstance.
Every so often, their “owners” would take cracked corn and dump it out near their hog pens, which were really wooden traps. This was to make sure the hogs always stayed fairly close by.
When the weather turned cool, people would set the traps and catch as many hogs as they needed for the coming year. They might also trap them at other times to mark the new pigs and cut some of the young boars.
When Daddy stayed with one particular set of relatives, they would often get him to ride a mule through the swamp with a bag of corn that was split and draped across the mule’s back (like saddlebags). The old mule had made the journey many times and dutifully took him to each hog pen where he would dump out some of the corn.
Daddy said he enjoyed the chore because most of the time it was pretty easy. Except for once, when he was only about eight or nine years old. On that trip, things were going pretty well until the mule spooked, threw him on the ground and took off at full speed through the swamp.
“I bet I ran a mile, just as hard as I could go, trying to catch that mule,” Daddy said. “Sometimes, I could barely see him, he was so far away. Finally, he slowed down enough that I could grab his bridle. I’ve never been so happy to see an animal.”
I thought about the story for a minute and something didn’t add up.
I asked him, “If the mule remembered where all the hog pens were, don’t you think he could have found his way back home without you?”
“Sure he could,” Daddy said. “Problem was, I couldn’t find my way back home without the mule.”
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