The Vagabond: opossums, mules and a peculiar billy goat


By Danny Crownover

Claude Stowers, Jr., recently sent The Vagabond an interesting article on possums, and the article noted that possums are actually our friend.

It seems that the animals are able to withstand up to 80 rattlesnake or coral snake bites, and thanks to the possum, there is an antidote to poisonous snake. In addition, they do not get rabies and they eat thousands of ticks. Claude’s article brought memories of possums and other animals around Gadsden from the old days.

Back in 1897, an interesting news item reported by a local correspondent concerned the organization of an opossum farm at Cedar Bluff. It attracted much attention over the state and throughout the nation. Everybody was wondering why anybody wanted to raise such animals when one could go out into the woods and catch plenty of them during the hunting season.

It was later reported that the farm was a complete failure because the rodents ate each other. In fact, the cannibalism reached the point where there was only one opossum left.

In 1890, while some carpenters were putting the finishing touches to extensive improvements and enlargements in the old Belk-Hudson department store in Gadsden, J.H. Ott heard a peculiar noise in a trash can. Upon looking down into the receptacle, he saw what he thought was a large rat. Ott held it down with the straw end of a broom and called a carpenter to see what he had caught.

The carpenter said that the supposed rat had the longest hair he had ever seen on such an animal, and that he could hardly believe it was a rat. The trash can was rolled out into the light, and the intruder soon was found to be an opossum. It was taken out and weighed, and it tipped the scales at nine pounds. It is thought that the opossum strayed into the store when the back door was open during that day. This was first time (and possibly the last) that an opossum was captured in a department store.

It was often reported that little boys at home could go out to the back of the garden and “pluck the opossums from the bushes like berries.”

Back in 1893, a large billy goat, closely shaved all over with the letter ‘G’ and a square and a compass painted on each side in a vivid red color, began roaming the streets of Gadsden and soon was a familiar sight in the city.

The billy goat apparently felt at home anywhere and was frequently seen in stores, churches, outhouses, city hall, the courthouse and other places, always foraging for food. He could jump higher and farther than any other goat in town and was always full of mischief. If anything, exciting occurred, such as a fire, a political gathering or a riot, the billy goat was right up at the front.

Old timers recalled that he was known as “Bill the Masonic Goat.” Some said he was used for initiating candidates in the Hoypoyloy Club.

It was common in the old days to see a horse on the side of the road that had expired. It was said that nobody ever saw a dead gray mule, which many people believed. It is a matter of record that a gray mule named Vic died in Cherokee County in the fall of 1898. The animal’s death was regarded as so unusual that the neighborhood paid honors.

It was said Vic was as an institution. She was the property of J.B. Chapman of Kirk’s Grove. She was born May 11, 1862, and died Sept. 7, 1898, at the age of 36 years three months and 26 days.

Vic was a faithful servant and never indicated that she ought to go on the pension roll until the last crop she made, after which she simply laid down and died.

“She was never afflicted with a mortgage or other mule-killing device,” her owner remarked.

During that same year of 1898, a young local news reporter was standing in front of the Etowah County courthouse when a handsome carriage drawn by two spanking mules drove up with a popular young man and pretty girl from East Gadsden. They were accompanied by two male companions sporting two Winchester repeating shotguns. Probate Judge R.R. Savage was summoned, and by the time he reached his office, a large crowd of curious citizens had gathered. He quickly married the young couple.

The reporter noted that it was a “delectable marriage” after it was discovered that the contracting parties were merely eloping, and that weapons were to prevent interference on the part of the parents and a posse in hot pursuit.

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