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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

I fought the law, and the law won
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Friday, October 18, 2013


Cousin Chuck was proud of himself that day, just after the annual trout fishing season began.

He had already caught nine beautiful rainbows and was angling for more.

Fishing on what is called "the falls" on Pigeon Creek in Mercer County (W.Va.), he stopped by a deep hole about midway down the steep valley where the mountain stream tumbled over large rocks, creating those holes every so often from the force of the water.

It wasn't long before he reeled in three more and was ready to move down the small but roaring stream.

He was indeed having a banner day.

At the next hole a fellow was fishing whom he did not know.

The friendly sort, Chuck struck up a conversation and it wasn't long before he was bragging about the 12 trout in his creel.

Chuck didn't think about the fact that the legal limit of trout to keep in a given day was eight. That is, until the man sitting on a rock beside that hole asked him a question.

"You don't know who I am?" the man said.

"I reckon I don't," Chuck replied.

"Well, my name is Gilpin, and I'm the new game warden."

Chuck, not one to get easily flustered, said, "Do you know who I am?"

Gilpin admitted that he did not.

""I'm the biggest liar in Mercer County," Chuck said, smiling broadly.

It was too late, of course, and Gilpin searched his creel, found the fish and wrote him a ticket. He also gave him a rather stern warning, letting it be known that he was not a man to be trifled with.

We all heard the story and wasn't sure it was true (Chuck really could spin a yarn), but we did know that Gilpin had been spreading the word that he would put up with no foolishness. He meant to enforce the game laws with an iron fist, and that was no small matter in the hills.

First, it was clear he had to be one tough dude. I mean, for a game warden to actually venture down a mountain stream or into the woods was a clear sign he had no fear.

Second, mountain people tended to do whatever they wanted, when they wanted. Such independence did not lend itself to being accepting of many rules.

I know this, of course, because I was one of them. If I wanted a squirrel and gravy and biscuits for breakfast, it did not matter whether the legal squirrel hunting "season" was in or out. Or if I had a hunting license.

Same was true for any game. We hunted and fished with the main reward being a meal. That's what God intended, right?

And someone was going to tell us when we could do that, and that we had to pay for a piece of paper to do it? I don't think so.

But Gilpin (that really was his last name and I never knew his first name) was the game warden and took his job very seriously.

It was a battle of wills, in a way, as word got around and all kinds of Gilpin stories started circulating.

Mountain folk, at least the ones I grew up with, were not mean, though. They did no more than shoot over his head in the woods a couple of times and I think someone let the air out his tires.

That just made him more determined than ever to enforce the law.

And it made most of us more determined than ever to be more careful when we broke the law.

The reason I am writing about this relates to a traffic ticket I received last year driving through Giles County (in Narrows, it's 40 mph, by gosh). I saw those dreaded blue lights flashing in my rear view mirror, and I muttered a few naughty words to myself since two of my kids were in the car.

As the town policeman walked toward my window, it once again hit me just how much I don't like such authority, however necessary I know that it is.

And maybe the worst part of it is, I still can't get over this knot in my stomach when I know I have been busted.

I call it the Gilpin Knot.

Although he never caught me, I spent years looking behind my back in the woods and on the streams. Any time something moved, I would get a knot in my stomach, expecting Gilpin to come out from behind a tree or rock.

It became so bad that I finally broke down and actually purchased a license to hunt and fish, and even paid more attention to the seasons and game limits.

So in the end, Gilpin won.

He's still winning.

Dang the law.

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