by: James (Ron) Bailey
It was October, 1958. I was in my second year as Manager of the Spring Valley Wildlife Management Area in District Six. I had been on my own, so to speak, with respect to my law enforcement duties at Spring Valley for some time. That is to say, my training under the tutelage of Wildlife Patrolman, Vern Bare was completed. My Supervisor, Dale Whitesell, after consulting with Eldon Sturgeon, the District Law Enforcement Supervisor, gave me the green light to go ahead and make cases on my own. Emphasizing of course, that my first responsibility was my game management duties on the Spring Valley Area. I had worked with Vern in Greene, Montgomery, Clinton, Warren and on a couple occasions, Butler Counties. We made a lot of cases together – a good variety of both hunting and fishing. Everything from fishing without a license on the Great Miami River in downtown Dayton, Ohio, where we checked fishermen at night by street light, to closed season hunting in Greene and Clinton Counties. I had been to court a good many times. I knew the court procedures i.e. writing and filing affidavits (charges), testifying, search warrant procurement, etc. I was ready to go in that department.
Ohio did not furnish its Game Protectors with weapons in those days. If you carried a side arm, you bought it yourself. There were no firearm qualification requirements – you were on your own in that category, also.
What little firearms training I had was given me by Officer Bare and/or self initiated. I managed to scrape up enough money ($25.00) to purchase a World War I British military issued .38 cal. revolver. It had a non-glare parkerized finish. Biologist, Clyde Simmerer (who was a gun enthusiast and later my immediate supervisor) once observed, “Looks like it’s been drug over half of Malaysia on the end of a lanyard.” However, it was tight and shot accurately and I was comforted on more than one occasion knowing I had it.
Squirrel season was winding down. There was very little hunting pressure. Earlier, I observed an older model Dodge automobile pulled well back a lane (as far as it could get) into a woods on the management area. This particular woodland had experienced heavy hunting pressure at the first of the season and I doubted the hunter driving the Dodge would have much luck. However, while going about my duties, I heard the crack of a .22 rifle in his vicinity on three occasions. I decided I had better check him at the conclusion of his hunt. At about eleven thirty a.m., I observed him standing in the lane behind his vehicle. I went to his location and found a black gentleman enjoying his lunch. He was quite cordial. Two gray squirrels shot through their heads were laying end to end beside his right rear tire. This indicated he was a very good shot in view of the fact he was hunting with a .22 single shot rifle with open sights – no scope.
A good shot, I thought, but I heard three shots.
“Did you miss one?” I asked.
“No sir, I usually get what I shoot at,” he replied.
I realized I might have something – three shots – two squirrels – a good shot – what did he bag with the third shot?
“Well, I’ll take a look at your hunting license and let you get back to your hunt and your lunch,” I stated. The bag limit for squirrels was four and even though I was surprised he’d killed two as heavily as the area was hunted, he certainly had the right to continue hunting.
Ohio law required the hunter carry and display his/her hunting license between the shoulders in the center of his/her back on the outer garment. He removed his hunting license from a front coat pocket and handed it to me in response to my license inspection request. When I told him of the license carry and display law, he responded by telling me he saw me coming and simply wanted to make it easier for me to check his license. For that reason he removed it from his back and put it in his front pocket.
I noticed that during our entire contact thus far he seemed to purposely keep his front towards me. I grasped his right shoulder, turned him around and immediately saw the game pocket on the back of his hunting coat was bulged.
“Let’s see what we have here,” I stated as I thrust my hand into his game pocket and retrieved a very neatly wrapped (in a white cloth sack) mature red tail hawk. (Ohio law protected raptors or birds of prey long before they received Federal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1972). The red tail, like the gray squirrels, had been shot through the head.
“It’s obvious you know it’s illegal to kill a bird of this species, or you wouldn’t have gone to this effort to hide it. Can you tell me what kind of bird this is?” I asked.
“It’s a eatin’ bird,” he replied.
“Have you shot and eaten many of these?” I inquired.
“Yes sir,” he answered.
(About a year earlier, my best friend, Dale Taylor, came for a visit and accompanied me on a night patrol during which we apprehended two closed season frog hunters. Dale told me a joke about a Game Warden who had just apprehended a violator for shooting a “chicken hawk.” The Game Warden asked the violator what a chicken hawk tasted like and the violator responded, “bout like an owl.”)
I couldn’t resist it – I had to ask my violator the question, “What does one of these eatin’ birds’ taste like?”
“Pretty much like a young goat,” he replied.
I guess that makes more sense than an owl, I thought as I proceeded to issue the gentleman a citation to appear in court at Xenia, the county seat of Greene County. I told him I was seizing the hawk and rifle as evidence. I bid him farewell, went to the Area Headquarters (where I also resided), filled out and placed evidence tags on the “eatin bird” and the .22 rifle, put the bird in the freezer, secured the rifle at my residence and went about my duties. My “eatin bird” violator later plead guilty in County Court and paid a $75.00 fine plus court costs. His rifle was returned to him.
After dinner that evening as it grew dark, my coon dog, “Nap” (short for Napoleon and the best I ever owned) came to the end of his chain and let out a bawl, then a short chop (bark) thus telling me, “It’s a good night to hunt – they’re down and running.” Most coon hunters that own or have owned a good broke coon dog will tell you this phenomenon is true. The good broke coon dogs know when it’s a good night to go hunting.
The coon season did not open until sometime in November. I had received reports from several local coon hunters of a coon hunting trio from Dayton, Ohio, in a red Dodge pickup truck “summer hunting” the nearby Ceasers Creek and Andersons Fork vicinity and killing every coon they treed. The locals were up in arms about this; however, even at my urging, no one got the license number of the red Dodge pickup.
With the “signal” Nap gave me and the fact I couldn’t sit still, somehow I knew I needed to get to a particular location on Andersons Fork and get there quick. Call it what you will, the instincts of a young Game Warden, whatever, I knew I had to get to this location ASAP. I strapped on my trusty “Malaysian” .38, got in my International pickup truck and headed for Andersons Fork. It was about nine p.m. I proceeded through the village of New Burlington, then turned north on a gravel road across the Clinton-Greene County line and over a single lane bridge that crossed Andersons Fork. At this point the road followed parallel to Andersons Fork for a short distance, then went due north as the creek continued northeast (going upstream).
There it was parked beside the road – the red Dodge pickup. I went past it to the first farm lane, turned around and traveled “blackout” (lights off) back to and past the red pickup, back out to the paved Lumberton-New Burlington Road, turned around again and proceeded back to where the red pickup was located, eased up behind it and parked my truck.
As I turned the ignition key off and opened my door, I heard several hounds treed and the crack of a .22 rifle. I hurriedly exited, locked the truck, wrote down the red pickup’s license number, and took off on a dead run in the direction of the treed hounds. By then I could hear the coon squalling its death cry and the yelping/growling sounds hounds make when they’re finishing a kill.
Running across a cattle inhabited pasture, naturally without daring to turn my 5-cell flashlight on for fear my violators would see me, I managed to step, slide and fall in a big pile of cow manure – fresh, I might add. It was all over the outer side of my right (uniform) pant leg, my holstered Malaysian .38 revolver and the lower hem of my coat. In addition to all this, my binoculars that were hanging around my neck on a strap, flopped up and down during my “dash” to the violators, hitting me in the chin and nose causing me a slight nosebleed before I managed to stuff them inside the neck of my coat.
My hat was gone, departing my head somewhere between the pile of cow crap and my truck. Any hope of making contact with my violators – giving the appearance of a professional uniformed Game Protector for the State of Ohio – vanished. There I was – a third covered with cow shit, hat missing and a bloody nose once again running towards the scene of the crime.
I came to a flood control levee that ran parallel to the creek, flopped down on its sloping bank, crawled to its crest and realized (by hearing their conversation) my violators were directly in front of me on the opposite side of the creek. I fumbled for my binoculars, rolled over on my back, put them to my eyes, looked through them at the stars (a trick I’d read about to adjust your eyes for night vision through binoculars) and saw absolutely nothing. I waited a few seconds and tried it again – coal black, nothing. I finally did an inspection and found the black plastic protective covers on the big end of the lenses were still in place. After correcting this problem, placing the lense covers in my coat pocket and feeling I was at last ready to do business, I peered over the crest of the levee to discover my violators were very close to me – no more than twenty yards. Illuminated by ample lantern light, I could see one was holding a rifle while the two others were creek side skinning a coon. I decided to relax (as much as I could after my experiences so far) and let them finish skinning the coon before making the arrest.
As I continued to lay belly down on the levee, a big redbone hound found me and decided he liked me (perhaps because somehow he knew I also was a coon hunter). He checked me out smelling my ass, crotch and checking the cow crap smeared on my right side. He moved forward licking my face. Then a little farther forward, heisted his left hind leg as I realized he was going to piss on my head. What next? I thought as I rolled away from him at the same time slugging him in the rib cage with my fist. I dearly love hounds but that big redbone bastard was going too far.
He let out one hell of a bawl. Immediately one of my violators said, “Ole Jeb’s struck (meaning he’d found a coon track) – hear him – he’s right over yonder.” “Ole Jeb” started to return to his owner but I grabbed his collar and pulled him down next to me. “It’s O.K. old buddy, you stay here – stay,” I whispered in his stinking ear. He relaxed and laid up against my left side deciding once again I was his buddy. I didn’t want him to return to my violators. I wanted them to think he had in fact “struck.” That old hound stunk reeking with that “doggie” smell that most hounds seem to have. But what the hell, my right side stunk – may as well have a stinking left side to match.
I continued to watch as the two chaps in the creek finished skinning the coon. One “skinner” carefully folded and rolled the pelt up fur side out and placed it in a plastic bag. He continued holding the bag as the other “skinner” field dressed the carcass and washed the body cavity out in the creek. It was obvious they intended to take the hide and carcass home.
I decided it was time to move. I eased downstream along side the levee then went over it and crossed the creek. The redbone hound stayed with me. I crept up to the edge of the lantern light, then “Ole Jeb” and I stepped into the light. “Good evening gentlemen, my name is Bailey, I’m a State Game Protector and you’re under arrest,” I proclaimed. With that, all three went into action. The one with the rifle grabbed it by the barrel and threw it into the darkness as he ran into the darkness himself. The “skinner” holding the packaged coon pelt threw the pelt into the darkness and ran in another direction disappearing into the darkness. The third did the same – threw the coon carcass and ran into the darkness in still another direction.
Their two other hounds (blueticks) “checked in” as this was going on and were milling around the site. I noticed a leash laying on the ground with a dual snap end on it. I grabbed it and fastened one snap on Ole Jeb’s collar. I managed to catch one of the blueticks and hooked him to the other snap. If nothing else I had two of their dogs. If there’s one thing a coon hunter will go to ground for, it’s his dog and I knew I could use these hounds to get my fleeing coon hunters to return.
I spoke to the darkness, “O.K. boys, here’s how it stacks up. Number one – I’ve got two good coon hounds on a leash. I’m a coon hunter and have been for a long time. These potlickers look pretty good to me. In fact, good enough to tie to my bedpost (a phrase used by houndsmen that means he’s got a damn good dog) and eat my feed for the rest of their days. Number two – I’ve got your trucks’ license number. Number three – There’s three Sheriff’s Deputies waiting at your truck (a lie). Number four – I’ll have this place saturated with law enforcement officers come daylight and we’ll find that rifle, coon hide and carcass. Now it’s time for you to come back here to me and Ole Jeb and we’ll see what we can work out.”
At that time, the Ohio Game Law required night hunters carry a “continuous white light” visible for 360 degrees. A standard kerosene lantern conveniently met this requirement, consequently it was what most coon hunters or coon hunting parties carried. Outlaws as a rule, didn’t conform to this regulation for obvious reasons. This is why I was surprised to see this hunting party with a kerosene lantern. (Later my violators admitted they carried a lantern but only lit it when they had a coon to skin and clean. They also told me they sold their coon carcasses in Dayton. Under Ohio law the raccoon, along with certain other animals i.e. beaver, muskrat, mink, etc. was classified as fur bearing animals, legally taken fur bearers, taken in season by trap or gun and dog, could be bought and sold.)
One by one my coon hunting violators returned to the lantern lit area where Ole Jeb, the redbone, a bluetick and I waited. All three were wearing valid Ohio hunting licenses on their backs which I removed, checked against their driver’s license and placed in my coat pocket. I filled out citation tickets on all three but didn’t issue them – I wasn’t quite ready for that yet.
“O.K. boys, let’s go back to the tree where I saw your dogs treed and saw you shoot the coon out,” I said (a lie). Like obedient puppies, one picked up the lantern and we proceeded upstream with me in the rear to a big sycamore tree near the creeks’ bank.
A raccoon will rarely climb a sycamore, only when it’s really pushed by the hounds. I thought they were calling my bluff or their hounds could darn sure push a coon, but there it was blood stains on the tree trunk where the wounded animal obviously “walked” down the tree. There was blood stained leaves and hair all over the ground under the tree. I spread my big blue handkerchief on the ground and carefully picked up several of the blood stained leaves along with some hair samples, placed them on the handkerchief, folded it up and put it in my coat pocket.
I detained my violators for a good while – questioning them, trying to get them to admit guilt. We even engaged in some lively coon hunter talk about hounds and hunting but my violators wouldn’t admit anything.
As one stated, “Well, you’re damn sure a coon hunter and I wouldn’t mind hunting with you and that dog of yours (Nap) but if you think I’m gonna admit anything here tonight – you’re crazy – go ahead and take me to court.” The other two agreed with his “go ahead and take me to court” statement and wouldn’t admit anything.
They darn sure weren’t about to help me go back downstream and search for the rifle, coon pelt and carcass I’d made up my mind to find and thus cinch my case. I accompanied my trio back to their truck, helped them catch and load their hounds and returned their hunting licenses.
“Where’s those Deputy Sheriff’s?” one asked.
“Fooled you didn’t I,” I responded. “I’ll see all of you in Dayton in a couple of days,” I told them.
Just before their departure, one asked, “What have you got all over you – you smell like cow shit.”
“That’s what I’ve got all over me, “ I responded. “Had a little mishap on my way to catch you – stinks doesn’t it?” I said as my three illegal huntsmen departed.
I was convinced they would return to the scene sometime later, after they thought I was no longer in the area to at least retrieve the .22 rifle. I followed them to the Lumberton-New Burlington road then right into New Burlington where I turned off to the right hoping they would think I lived in New Burlington and returned home.
After awhile, I returned to Andersons Fork and went past the location where my vehicle and theirs were earlier parked to a catawba grove on the left side of the road. I parked my truck in a well concealed location. Back to the violation scene I went and proceeded to search for my “physical evidence.” I knew I had a “possession” case against all three as it was. (An officer witnessing the violation is Prima Facie evidence of guilt by law.) However, I wanted the physical evidence to go with the charges – an airtight case.
I continued the search for the coon carcass, hide, and the .22 rifle for some time finally finding the hide in the plastic bag. It was past midnight. My 5-cell flashlight was starting to dim. I always carried a small pen or “walking” light when working at night so I wasn’t too worried about getting back to my truck with no light to get me through the brush and water. I stepped into the edge of the creek and using some leaves, tried to clean the “crap” off me as best I could. I was pretty successful at it, by no means presentable for church on Sunday but sure better than before. I continued my search coming to the corner of a grain “stubble” field. The stubble looked like a somewhat comfortable place to rest and get out of the brush I had been fighting conducting my search. I laid down in the stubble on my back for a short while and looked at the beautiful starlit sky above. I got up and sat back down in the folded leg position. I was bone tired, damp and hungry enough to eat the ass out of a skunk. I remembered I had put a hurriedly made peanut butter sandwich in the game pocket of my coat before heading out on this patrol. I removed and unwrapped it. After all it had been through it really wasn’t fit to eat – I ate it anyway. Other than the faint odor of cow manure it tasted great.
As I sat there eating my sandwich, I saw two lights spaced about four feet apart, at exactly the same elevation, headed towards me. What the hell is this? I thought. Flying saucer, popped into my mind. There was a lot of flying saucer publicity going on at that time. Wright Patterson Air Force Base at Dayton, Ohio was the headquarters for “Project Blue Book,” the government’s official investigator of UFO’s. They were always in the news. Here I was, smack in the middle of nowhere at one a.m. in the morning, eating a “tainted” peanut butter sandwich and encountering a UFO that would probably abduct me. I knew I’d stand little chance against them armed only with my parkerized Malaysian .38. Then I realized what it was – an automobile. What’s an automobile doing in the middle of a farm stubble field at one a.m. in the morning? I asked myself. I’d always figured I was kinda dumb – not too swift — “slow,” I think is the term. I was a young Game Warden. My Game Warden instincts were not as “honed” or developed as they would some day be. Sometimes a realization had to sort of smack me up side the head, you might say.
Shortly the vehicle stopped. I heard a car door slam. A human male figure, carrying a rifle in the upright (barrel pointed toward the sky) position appeared in the light of the vehicle’s head lamps. He perched himself on the front fender of the passenger’s side with his legs draped over and astraddle the right head light. Holding the rifle in his right hand, he rested the butt on his right thigh. He raised his left hand and motioned the driver to go forward. The vehicle traveled very slow for a very short distance when the “gunner” raised his left hand again motioning the driver to stop. Immediately the brake light ignited, the vehicle stopped. The gunner took careful aim, fired a single round, jumped off his fender perch and retrieved a still flopping hen pheasant. He disappeared with the bird behind the headlights. I heard the car door slam again and the gunner returned to his same position perched on the front fender.
My heart was in my throat, Good Lord, what next, I thought. At that same moment, I sensed these outlaws were dangerous. Perhaps working at night fostered this premonition, I don’t know. But I do know the sense that I was about to enter a dangerous situation went all through my very being.
It was time to move out. My stalk would be easy. The cover of darkness was in my favor. Coon hunters were one thing, I understood them and spoke their language but this situation was different and a first for me. I realized I was bone scared and at the same time knew what I had to do. I’m proud to admit, I’m a strong believer in prayer – a sinner hell yes, but nevertheless, a believer in prayer. I took a moment and prayed, Lord, I know this is meant to be my life’s work. You wouldn’t have brought me this far this quick if it wasn’t true. You’re the only back up I’ve got here tonight. Give me what it takes to do what I’ve got to do.
With my prayer ended, I began my stalk. While moving toward my target I realized that walking in the dew laden stubble was almost noiseless. A sense of “well being” came over me. I knew my “back up” was there. As I approached the vehicle I wondered if there would be more than one individual inside. I realized I was no longer scared, the adrenalin was flowing, all my senses were awake and alert in spite of my lack of sleep. From that point on it was like I was on “automatic pilot.”
During my stalk the entire sequence of events unfolded again that earlier occurred with the illegal killing of a hen pheasant, only this time the killer shot a cotton tail rabbit. I decided I needed to approach the driver’s side of the vehicle. Try to determine clandestinely as possible, how many individuals were inside and if they were armed.
The gunner’s back was towards me. I hoped to stop the vehicle, get the occupants out of the vehicle, on the ground face down as quickly as possible and get any weapons out of reach any way I could. I figured it would take a few seconds for the fender mounted gunner to realize what was taking place. There would be no loud announcement from the darkness “Game Warden, you’re under arrest.” I knew I needed to be as quiet as possible.
I crept up to the passenger’s side of the vehicle (an old blue Buick) that was moving at a snail’s pace. I looked at the rear plates illuminated by a single bulb – Kentucky – Damn!
Many East Kentuckians – mountaineers, if you will, from the dirt poor coal mining east Kentucky mountains, migrated to all parts of Ohio and other Midwestern states in search of work. They were good honest hard working people. Many would work “up north” all week and return to their beloved Kentucky mountains on weekends. Unfortunately, many were absolutely lawless when it came to the fish and game laws and they hated Game Wardens. My training officer, Vern Bare told me many “war stories” about his dealing with them and could have told a hundred more. It will suffice to say, his dealing with some of these folks was “tough” to say the least. Vern was no man to fool with as many a violator had learned. “You take command immediately and you treat them exactly like they treat you – never let one get behind you,” he advised me.
With Vern’s advice going through my mind, I got close enough to see that only the driver occupied the car. Thank God! The door window next to him was down, obviously so he could hear any verbal commands the gunner might give over the old Buick’s noisy and smoky engine. I was right beside him, actually walking at an almost normal pace.
In a loud whisper, I told him, “Game Warden – shut the car off. Hand me the keys and get out of the car.” He jerked obviously startled and scared to death. I could see he was a little person – skinny and long haired. He regained his composure almost instantly. With my pen light in his face his eyes were glaring at me with all the hate in the world. He put the old Buick in park, removed the keys, handed them to me and exited the car as commanded. I did a quick “pat down” search of his person, satisfied he had no weapons, I placed him under arrest. The gunner who now was dismounted and standing in the light, looked bewildered not knowing why his “mount” had suddenly stopped.
The little guy I had in custody yelled, “Game Warden – a Game Warden got me.” With that my outlaw gunner came to attention and slid his finger through the trigger guard resting it on the trigger of the rifle in his hands. Slowly I told him, “Lay the rifle on the ground and step ten paces back – don’t leave the light. Yeah, this is a Game Warden speaking. Do as I say right now or —-.”
“Or what?” he interrupted. “By juggers, I reckon you don’t know who you’re dealin’ with do you? We’re from Pikeville, Kentucky. Game Wardens down in Kentucky don’t come in the woods at night – they know better — we shoot them,” he bragged.
That did it for me. I quickly decided I would kill this man if he gave me half an excuse. I was surprised at how calm I was after making that decision. I turned cold blooded as any killer could get and I knew it – it was scary. I suddenly realized I hadn’t drawn my revolver. I wondered how many cartridges I had in the cartridge pouch on my belt. I drew my gun thinking, Why in hell didn’t you do this sooner? Of course my “head light poacher” saw none of this as I was standing in the dark. My hillbilly outlaw leveled his rifle in my direction but he was at a disadvantage, he was in the light and I was in the dark – he couldn’t see me – I was a “sound target” at best. Why he didn’t make a dive for the protection offered by the darkness I’ll never know, plain stupid perhaps. I was sure his rifle was only a single shot – no magazine running parallel with the barrel – no clip.
With all the calm in the world I told him, “O.K. hotshot, here’s how it’s gonna be. I’m out here alone and I’m darn sure gonna leave here alive. You’re in Ohio now not Kentucky. Things are a little different up here. Game Wardens shoot hillbillys that hunt at night and out of season in Ohio. Let’s look at the situation we’ve got right here for example. You’ve got one shot – I’ve got six with at least twelve more to re-load with if need be. You can’t see me but I can see you – my gun sights are right square on your head. If you make one move I don’t like, I’ll shoot your head off. Now, here’s what you’re gonna do – you’re gonna lay your rifle down, take ten steps backward like I told you and stand absolutely still until I tell you otherwise. If you don’t the first thing I’ll do is shoot your buddy. Then I’m going to splatter your damn brains all over this hay field.”
“Do what he says – do what he says or he’s gonna kee-ull me,” my little companion squealed.
With that my hillbilly gunner laid his rifle on the ground and stepped backward as I counted in a loud voice, “One, two, three, four, etc.” At the count of ten he stood motionless stoop shouldered with his head down – he was sobbing – I couldn’t believe it. I knew both my outlaws were whipped – I was in command. I remembered Vern’s words, “take command.”
I told my little companion to come with me as we went to his hunting partner still motionless where I told him to stand. En route, I picked up his rifle, a single shot bolt action .22, unloaded it, removed the bolt and placed it in my pocket. I searched my second outlaw – clean – no weapons and formally placed him under arrest. He was trying to cover up the fact he’d been bawling, as I asked them for and received their Kentucky driver’s licenses. I holstered my revolver and we went to the old Buick where I found two ring neck pheasants (1 cock, 1 hen) and two cotton tail rabbits laying on the rear floor board.
Because they were non-residents from Kentucky, I knew I’d have to take them “forthwith” to the county jail to be booked and incarcerated to remain in jail until such time as the court convened or they posted an appearance bond. No citations here as East Kentuckians were famous for simply “going home” never to be seen again. I filled out citations on both for the purpose of obtaining their personal information. I told them the pheasants, rabbits and their rifle were seized to be held as evidence. I told them they were going with me to the county jail at the Sheriff’s Department in Xenia.
Going with me hell, I didn’t have a vehicle and really wasn’t sure where my vehicle was from this location. There was no choice but to use their old Buick. I told them we were going to use their car to get to my vehicle. I opened their car trunk with its “confiscated” key and placed all my evidence inside. I told the skinny outlaw he would do the driving and told his partner he would ride in the back seat with me.
I told my driver, “We need to get to the first bridge on Andersons Fork this side of New Burlington.” I knew if I got to that location, finding my truck (in the catawba grove) would be easy. “Do you know where that is?” I asked.
“Yes sir,” the driver replied. “Yes sir,” I thought, this guy is actually showing some respect. I was damn glad he knew where to go because at this point, I sure didn’t.
My outlaw seated beside me in the backseat asked, “Can we tell our wives where we’re going? – they’re back at the house asleep.”
“You can call them from the jail,” I replied.
“We don’t have a phone,” he responded.
Crap! I didn’t want to go through this exercise but at the same time I knew his request was reasonable. If I were in his shoes I’d certainly want my wife to know where I was going. “O.K. where’s the house,” I asked. He pointed in a west direction. With that the driver turned a little to the right. We exited the stubble field, went through a pasture, past a barn and stopped in front of a big old typical Midwestern farm house.
“Do you own this farm?” I asked, pretty well knowing the answer.
“No,” one answered. “We rent the house – we’re up here huntin’ work.” “Do you have work yet?” I asked.
“We think so – we’ll know in a few days,” the driver answered.
The thought flashed through my mind. If they get in that house without me with them, they could easily get a gun and I’d be in deep do-do again. Even with me going in with them, I wasn’t too comfortable. I knew we had to go in as near as possible together and I had to make sure they got the lights in the house on ASAP. We stepped up on the porch. One of my violators stepped toward the door. I was so uncomfortable with this, I drew my revolver again and held it at my side. “Hold it, we’re going through that door together — where’s the light switch once we get inside?” I asked.
“To the left side of the door on the wall,” one replied.
“Does it turn on a ceiling light?” I asked.
“Yes sir,” one answered.
We must have looked like the three stooges as we literally went through the door together. We were one unit taking little bitty steps – the two of them in front jammed together, with me jammed behind and centered between them with my trusty Malaysian .38 at my side. Inside, I felt for the light switch and turned on the ceiling light – we were in the kitchen. “Where’s your wives?” I inquired.
One pointed to one room just off the kitchen. The other said, “In there” and nodded toward another room off the kitchen. They were, for the most part, living in three rooms in the old house to conserve heat.
My “headlight” outlaw started through the first door. “No, huh-uh,” I said. “We all three go through together.” This doorway was smaller, but we formed “the unit” again and entered taking the same little bitty steps. Inside, my outlaw switched on another ceiling light. There was his wife and three kids sleeping on a full sized mattress on the floor. The mattress, two chairs, a sleeping bag, a woman and three kids – that’s it, that’s all that was in the room.
“We haven’t moved our furniture up here yet,” my outlaw explained as he gently shook his wife to awaken her. She woke up all right, sat up in bed, looked at me and started screaming.
“She’s in hysterics,” I told her husband — “Smack her!” He looked at me, then smacked his dear wife right across the chops. She stopped screaming immediately.
Meanwhile, wife number two, awakened by all the commotion, came to the kitchen with three more kids. She looked scared as hell and was crying. Both husbands were trying to explain what was going on with little success. I “hushed” both of them, “Ladies – ladies, calm down – I’m a law enforcement officer – a Game Warden to be exact – I’m not here to do you any harm. Now listen to what I’ve got to tell you.” Both young women calmed down almost immediately. I knew that when the person they initially viewed as a “threat” told them who he was and what was actually going on, they would be O.K. I told them what had happened, what was going to happen, and what to expect.
With the exception of one burst in which one wife told their men folk, “We told you not to do this but you went ahead – – – – now we’re all in trouble. We can’t pay for this.” She was mad, I mean darn mad.
Both wives stated they were going to follow their husbands to jail as there would be a phone there and they could call “down home” for the money needed to bail their men folk out of jail. The ladies got their kids up, (those still asleep – some kids can sleep through anything) dressed the kids and themselves. We exited the old farm house.
The wives and children got in a second “old” vehicle and followed the old Buick my outlaws and I were in. We proceeded south down a long farm lane and came out on the Lumberton-New Burlington road, which was in Clinton County – not Greene County. Crap! If these violations occurred in Clinton County, we needed to be going to Wilmington, not Xenia – ah hell! — another problem, I thought. I knew I could sort it out when I got to my truck as I had detailed county maps there.
En route to the truck, I noticed the women and kids in the car following us went straight towards New Burlington rather than turn right, as we did, headed for Andersons Fork. Something else was bothering me – why hadn’t I heard my mountaineer outlaws shooting the rabbit and pheasant while I was dealing with the three coon hunters earlier. I finally concluded they did their shooting during the time I followed the coon hunters to New Burlington and returned to Andersons Fork. (Later, questioning my two outlaw hunters, I was able to confirm this theory.)
We arrived at my truck. I handcuffed my two prisoners to each other. using a pair of handcuffs in my trucks’ glove compartment that my Training Officer, Vern Bare had loaned me. Yeah, I know, they should have been on my gun belt the entire night but they weren’t – another boo-boo. I sure never admitted this to Vern. I checked my county maps – the violations were in Greene County. My outlaws were wondering where their wives went. It was obvious they had a different plan than we did. After I removed my evidence from the trunk of the old Buick, placing the rifle behind the truck’s seat and the critters in an old Army footlocker I had in the bed of the truck for tools, we departed for Xenia.
As we passed through New Burlington, headed north on Rt. 380, the wives in their vehicle fell in behind us. When I looked in my rear view mirror the second time I saw a third vehicle was behind them. The highway was deserted at this early hour in the morning and I soon realized the third vehicle was part of the procession. “Who the hell is this?” I wondered.
We arrived at the Greene County Jail and Sheriff’s Office. I escorted my prisoners into a reception room that housed the radio dispatcher and served as the room where prisoners where booked for incarceration. I seated my outlaws on a bench against the wall and removed the hand cuffs. I told the duty officer that I had arrested two non-residents that I needed to jail until they could post bond. I told him I would file charges against the two later that morning with the Court Clerk. The deputy handed me a commitment form explaining, “If there’s more than one charge just put down one – what did they do?” he asked.
“Basically they were hunting in closed season,” I stated.
“That’s fine – put that down,” he said.
Suddenly, through the door came the two wives, their children and their landlord in a total rage. “What the hell do you think you’re doing Bailey – I’ve heard about you harassing everyone around Burlington and everywhere else,”—- I cut the landlord off, I damn sure wasn’t in any mood for this crap – I was getting madder by the second.
“Shut up and take a seat – one more word and I’ll” — he cut me off . “You’ve got no business on my farm any time day or night – you’d better have left these boys alone – just out there trying to get something to eat – damn you, if I ever catch you on my farm again, I’ll see that you never go on anyone else’s property,” he shouted.
That did it, I had him for interfering with an officer and now threatening an officer. I headed for him with the handcuffs that I had just removed from his “boys.” I was going to arrest him, charge him, and throw him in jail when a side door opened opposite the radio complex and the booking bench. The Greene County Sheriff came through the door clad in his pajamas and bathrobe. “What in the hell is all this damn noise?” he shouted. The land owner then began to vent his rage on the Sheriff who didn’t even acknowledge what the man said.
The Sheriff looked at his desk officer and stated, “Throw this bastard in a cell. I’ll charge him with disturbing the peace and whatever else I can think of in the morning,” he told the deputy.
The Sheriff then looked at his antagonizer, “You don’t come in the Greene County Sheriff’s Department at three a.m. and run your damn mouth like you’ve been doing – you’re going to jail my friend, and I’m going back to bed.” With that, the Sheriff left the room through the door he entered.
The deputy, big as a ton of coal, came around the desk, grabbed the land owner by the scruff of the neck – pumped his left arm halfway up his back and walked him to the cell block entrance door, pressed a red button opening the door and threw him in a cell. During this “arrest” the landowner, shall we say, had a change of heart. He was pleading not to go to jail, apologizing to me, the Sheriff and the Deputy. The last I heard out of him as the cell block door closed was,”Please don’t do this to me – please don’t – this is terrible —.”
My mountaineer outlaws and their wives actually began to apologize for the conduct of their landlord. “We went to his house and told him what happened and asked if he could help us,” one wife stated. “He told us he would bail our husbands out of jail. He didn’t act the least bit mad. If we’d known he was gonna do this we’d never asked him to help,” the other wife explained.
I looked at the big Deputy, “You know, with the way these folks have acted compared to their landlord, I hate to see them in jail,” I told him.
The big “ton of coal” Deputy responded, “I know what you mean – we’ve got a sort of family room they can stay in for a few hours. Once you get their charges filed and bond is set, who knows by then someone may post bond for them and they can go home.” With that I exchanged amenities with the Deputy and headed home. Daylight hadn’t yet arrived.
I traveled south on Rt. 68, stopped at a truck stop near the Village of Spring Valley and ate two eggs over light, hash browns, a double order of bacon, two cups of coffee and a big glass of water. To say I was hungry doesn’t get it – I was starved. I arrived at my residence on the Spring Valley Area at first light. I got out of my truck and looked to the east – it’s gonna be a beautiful day, I thought. Thank God I’m still here to enjoy it. I tagged the evidence I gathered throughout the night (one coon pelt, two pheasants, two rabbits and one .22 rifle). I placed the critters in the freezer and took the rifle with me as I went inside my home to find my wife, Joretta, up and in the kitchen.
“Have you been working all night — do you want breakfast?” she asked. “No, I had breakfast on the way home from Xenia. I’ll tell you all about last night when I’ve had some sleep,” I replied. I went to my son, Steve’s bed – he was still asleep. I kissed his forehead and thanked God that both he and I were still here. I went to my baby daughter, Betty Jean’s bed – she too was sleeping. I kissed her forehead and again thanked God that all my little family and I were still here. I took a quick shower and crashed.
There’s one thing about the bone tired sleep of a Game Warden – it’s “intensified.” As one old Game Warden I worked with later on put it, “I don’t sleep long but I sleep fast!” I awoke about two hours later to find a clean uniform with my badge pinned to the shirt along with clean underwear and socks on the bedroom dresser. I “dropped” my filthy (and stinking) clothes in the hall outside the bedroom earlier. Joretta had removed them to her wash room, I’m sure on the end of a broom handle.
By ten a.m. I had the “affidavits charging offense” filed with the Court Clerk in Xenia, charging my two Appalachian migrant violators. There were a number of charges I could have filed but “racking up” charges usually didn’t fly too well in court. Judge Rudd was one of the best “Wildlife” Courts in District Six and I wanted to keep it that way. Under the Ohio Revised Code each wild bird or animal taken in violation of the law, constituted a separate offense. Judge Rudd was a “cut to the chase — keep it plain and simple as possible,” type of Judge. I charged each with two counts of hunting, taking and possessing a wild game bird, to wit: a ring neck pheasant during the closed season; one count of hunting, taking and possessing a protected game bird, to wit: a hen pheasant; and two counts of hunting, taking and possessing a wild game quadruped, to wit: a cotton tail rabbit during the closed season. A total of five charges each – at least four additional charges could have been filed.
Bond was set at $500.00 each according to the bond schedule set by the Court. Later I learned the landlord and the Sheriff “reached an understanding.” The Sheriff released him. The landlord in turn posted bond for my two violators and they all went home. (Some time later I ran into the landlord in New Burlington. He was a perfect gentleman. He stated, “You know Bailey, I got a million dollar education that wasn’t worth a dime that night and especially after that Judge got through with me. Don’t ever worry about me poppin’ off to you again – we need you guys and I know it.”)
Earlier I had called the District Office from Spring Valley and reported the nights activities to my supervisor, Dale Whitesell. To his everlasting credit, Dale was every inch as much lawman as he was biologist. He loved to make a good case and hear about about a good case. “You’ve had a hell of a night – good job – get your crew down there started and get your butt to bed, but stay by the phone for a little bit. I’m going to have “Sturge” (the District Six LE Supervisor, Eldon Sturgeon) call you. He’ll be in here in a minute or two.”
Shortly, Eldon called and I related the nights events to him. “You’re making more cases on and around that little area (meaning the Spring Valley Wildlife Management Area) down there than half the Game Protectors in this District – damn good nights work – it’s a piece of work you’ll never forget,” Sturge proclaimed. “Do you need help with anything?” Sturge asked. “Yes I do,” I answered. “I’m going to Anderson’s Fork as soon as I can to try and find the rifle and the coon carcass the coon hunters threw. Then I’ve got to go to Dayton and cite those coon hunters into court. I’d appreciate it if Vern could meet me somewhere near Dayton to help me find them.” “You got it,” Sturge said. “Vern will contact you – I know he’s on duty.”
That afternoon around lunch time, Wildlife Patrolman Vern Bare (who had been my training officer) arrived at Spring Valley, entered the kitchen unannounced as he usually did. I was just finishing lunch. “Want some lunch, coffee, or something?” I asked.
“Nope, just had lunch,” he replied. “Well, some Game Wardens have to work long and hard to make a case. Others go out in the boonies, stumble around all night and luck up on one case after another,” he said smiling with a R.G. Dun cigar protruding from the corner of his mouth. “Good stroke, kid, now what have we got on deck for this afternoon?” he asked. That “good stroke kid” coming from Vern Bare was better than getting an award. I told him what I yet needed to do and we headed for Andersons Fork.
Arriving at the creekside scene where I first encountered the three coon hunters from Dayton, Vern asked, “Which direction did he throw the rifle?” I pointed in the direction. Vern looked around, picked up a chunk of a tree limb, “hefted” it a time or two and threw it in the same direction I pointed. “Let’s go get it and ‘fan out’ as we go,” Vern instructed. We fanned out as we headed toward the chunk and found the .22 rifle wedged in a blackberry thicket in short order. Vern retrieved the chunk and we returned to the “scene.” “Now, which way did the other yo-yo throw the carcass?” I pointed in the direction and we followed the same procedure. There was the coon carcass, covered with mud and leaves laying in the edge of the creek. I washed the carcass off, dropped it in a plastic bag and we returned to Vern’s patrol car. “We’ll go back to the area and get your truck – you follow me to Bellbrook, then we’ll go round up your coon hunters.”
At Bellbrook I got in Vern’s vehicle and we traveled the short distance to Dayton. “You’ve got your cases all sewed up now. You don’t have to get them to admit anything – just issue their citations,” Vern stated.
“I’d sure like to get them to admit it – damn sure would like to get the one that actually shot the coon out to admit it,” I responded.
“Tenacious, aren’t you?” Vern asked chuckling. “You like that don’t you?”
“Like what,” I asked.
“Getting these yea-hoos to admit they did it whether you saw them do it or not,” Vern stated.
“Well, I hadn’t thought much about it but I guess I do,” I replied.
Vern knew Dayton and Montgomery County like a cab driver. We soon had our coon hunter’s residences located (they all lived fairly close to each other and worked first shift at National Cash Register). I issued all three citations to appear in Greene County Court before Judge Rudd. All three admitted guilt and the “trigger man” told me all about it too.
Vern took me back to Bellbrook. I removed the coon carcass and .22 rifle from Vern’s patrol vehicle and placed both in my truck. “Get some rest before you go back at it,” Vern admonished.
“Sure will,” I answered. I returned to the Spring Valley Area and home. I tagged and secured my latest seizures, the coon carcass and the .22 rifle, enjoyed a good dinner with my family and went to bed and died.
The next morning I went to the Court Clerk’s Office in Xenia and filed affidavits charging each of the three coon hunters with hunting, taking and possessing a wild fur bearing animal, to wit: a raccoon during the closed season. The Clerk advised me the three defendants had all ready posted a $150.00 appearance bond with the Court. She was fairly confident they wouldn’t appear (thus forfeiting their bonds). This proved to be the case. Ultimately following phone contact, the chap that owned the rifle came to my residence, I returned his rifle and we swapped a few coon hunter tales.
Later, my Appalachian night hunters accompanied by their landlord, appeared in night court before Judge Rudd. After hearing the charges, they plead guilty “with extenuating circumstances, Judge” to all the charges. They were dressed like paupers even though they had obtained good jobs. Their wives and children were with them dressed in the same manner. Wildlife Patrolman, Vern Bare and Greene County Game Protector, Paul Keckler sat in on the proceedings.
Following the “swearing in” procedure, Judge Rudd asked for my testimony. “If it please the Court your honor —–,” I testified to the entire events that took place in the stubble field near Andersons Fork on that “night of nights.” I testified only to the actual events surrounding the illegal taking of the pheasants and rabbits, concluded my testimony and sat down.
Judge Rudd looked to the defendants and stated, “All right let’s hear your extenuating circumstances.”
With that, the landlord rose to his feet, “May I say something, Judge?” “And who might you be sir?” Judge Rudd asked. At this point I knew by looking at Judge Rudd’s expression that he knew full well “who” the landlord was. I also knew Judge Rudd was getting ready to “lower the boom.” “These folks rent a house from me ,” the landlord began.
Judge Rudd interrupted, “Oh yes, I’ve had a talk with our County Sheriff. I would guess sir, you’re the gentleman that came to our jail the night the defendants were arrested and tried to prevent Officer Bailey from performing his duties. Not satisfied with that, you roused the anger of our Sheriff who with all justification, threw you in jail. You are that person, am I correct sir? Do you confirm this sir?” Judge Rudd got louder as he concluded his statement and questions to the landlord.
“Well, yes sir, I – – -,” the landlord tried to speak.
Judge Rudd interrupted him again. “No sir, you may not address this Court – as a matter of fact, there should be charges filed against you by Officer Bailey and the Sheriff before this Court and the Court may well instruct both officers to file them. Now sir, you will leave this courtroom!” The landlord made a “hurried” departure. Whew! You could have heard a pin drop!
Judge Rudd turned his attention to the defendants, “All right gentlemen, now that the Court has extended you a favor by removing ‘an obstruction’ that certainly would not have helped your defense, I’ll hear what you’ve got to say.”
A shaking mountaineer poacher (the headlight straddler) rose to his feet, “We just wanted to try to get something to eat – – – -,” he never got to finish.
“Don’t you poor mouth this Court. There are many folks here in Greene County and elsewhere that aren’t too well off who don’t use their situation as an excuse to violate the game laws. I’ve heard groundhogs are very good to eat – some say as good as roast beef if properly cooked.” With that statement he looked at me, “I believe there is no closed season on groundhogs. True officer?”
“True your honor,” I replied.
“I don’t think there’s a bag limit either, is there?” he continued.
“No, your honor there is no bag limit,” I replied.
“Are there any groundhogs down on Andersons Fork near where you apprehended these two gentleman?” he asked.
“Yes, your honor, quite a few,” I replied.
He turned his attention to the defendants again. “You gentlemen know what a ground hog or woodchuck is?”
“Yes sir, we eat ’em,” answered my skinny outlaw.
“In other words gentlemen, you had a legal alternative to poaching rabbits and pheasants at night, didn’t you?” Judge Rudd asked.
“Yes sir,” they both answered almost together.
“I understand you are both gainfully employed over in Wilmington, is that correct?” the Judge inquired.
“Yes sir,” they answered.
“Is the new car you parked behind the Court the result of your gainful employment?”
“Yes sir,” one answered.
“How about you – you got a new vehicle too?” Judge Rudd continued.
“Got a new truck,” the other answered.
“Been able to buy clothes and food for your families?” Rudd inquired. “Yes sir,” they both replied.
“Then why are both of you and your families dressed as you are here in this Courtroom tonight?” Judge Rudd asked. No answer. “It didn’t work gentlemen – it’s old hat before every court in the country – you know what I mean don’t you?”
“Yes sir,” they both answered.
Boy was that courtroom quiet as Judge Rudd dealt with the two before him – even the “kiddies” hushed. “All right, you have plead guilty to these wildlife charges and the Court finds you guilty. You will pay a penalty of $500.00 each, the amount of your bond. You will not be sentenced to any time in jail. This Court is adjourned,” Judge Rudd ruled.
Never before or after this hearing did I see Judge Rudd as angry as he was with those defendants and their landlord. A $500.00 fine was a good one in that day and time. I’ll never forget Judge Rudd.
My “Busy Night on Andersons Fork” adventure, at last came to a close that night in Xenia, Ohio when Judge Rudd adjourned Court. I’d passed a personal test – reached a milestone perhaps. I had made some significant cases – some significant arrests – alone – as would be the case many times hence for me and as it is for all who wear the wildlife badge and patrol the wilderness. I didn’t do real good but not real bad either. In the years to come I would face much worse. There’s one thing I know for certain, my God above or my “backup” as I thought of him that night so long ago, was with me — as he would be the rest of my long journey.
Ron Bailey started at the Olentangy Wildlife Research Station at Delaware in 1953. He later served as Spring Valley Wildlife Area Mgr, Union County Game Protector (old District 6) and Wildlife Enforcement Agent (District 2). Ron entered the Federal Service in 1968. Retired from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as Special Agent-in-Charge of both North and South Carolina in 1992. He had fourteen years with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.