Bobcat in a Suitcase by A. Dewitt Day
Back in the forties, my Papa was the mill foreman for a large sawmill just out of Caster, Louisiana. This mill was a part of the Longleaf Lumber Company. As you would guess we lived near the mill and were surrounded by a deep forest. All manners of critters roamed these woods: rabbits, squirrels, quail, deer, fox, wild hogs, and bobcats. I wanted me a bobcat. Some people called them wildcats and or lynx. But I learned in later years that lynx are mostly found up north. They are much larger and have bigger ears with tufts of long hair on the tips of these ears. What we had around Caster were bobcats.
Whatever, I made it my mission in life, being the youngest of ten children, with five older brothers, to catch me one ALIVE. I tried everything. I built, as well as a young boy could, a trap out of strips of wood from the sawmill. That thing didn’t work. Oh, I got one in it but that bobcat tore my trap up and got out. That really excited me and I learned that they were tougher than I first figured. I tried a wire cage made out of it….not one track. I was getting a little depressed. A friend of mine, Earl Babineaux, his Papa had a steel trap and would loan it to me only if my Papa would show me how to use it and set it. Of course I heartedly agreed. The reason for this is that steel traps can be real dangerous.
Papa showed me all about how to use a steel trap, where and how to set the thing. You set it on top of an old log lying in the woods. Notch out a place on top of the old log, cover it with leaves, peg the chain to the log and leave. Papa says when a bobcat travels through the wood, we don’t know why, but he will walk every log laying in his direction. Like I said, we don’t know why he does this but he will. I went and set the trap just like Papa had instructed me to do in an area I figured there to be bobcats. I check it for several days……..Nothing. I was persistent. I was determined. I wanted a live bobcat and I meant to have one if the whole mill town got the gout.
One morning after syrup and biscuits and leftover fried chicken and coffee I went to check my trap. Low and behold, I could hear the thing before I could see it. I had myself a bob cat……..a big one. Mad, that sucker was unwired. He wanted a piece of me bad. If he could have gotten to me I believe he would have killed me or at least thorned parts of me off that I sorely needed. I didn’t know an animal could get that upset. Now that I had him….how in tar was I gonna get him out of that trap and back to the house? That beast had cleaned out an area around that log, on both sides, as far as that chain would let him……………bare ground. He meant business. So did I. I had caught and meant to keep him however; we both had our problems at the time. He wanted to get loose and I wanted to take him home.
It struck me that my older brother Edward was home today. Papa was running two shifts at the mill and Edward had worked last night and was home in bed. I took off to the house, went in our room, because we slept together, woke up Edward and told him, “I’ve got me a bobcat man.”
“Where?” Still rubbing his eyes Edward asked, “What do you want me to do about it?”
“Help me get him brother.”
“You finally got yourself a tiger by the tail.”
“I got him by the foot.”
Edward got up, put his clothes on and we went out to the barn and got a thick tarpaulin, some rope and we headed back to the woods.
“I hope he hasn’t chewed his foot off,” lamented Edward.
“Chewed his foot off???”
“Sometimes a cat like that gets so mad and wants to get away so badly he will chew his own foot off just to get free of the trap,” Edward informed me.
“Well he’s mad but his foot looks O.K. to me.”
When we got to the log the cat was still there. We managed to throw the tarpaulin over the cat, log, and all. Edward began to work the tarpaulin around the animal, getting a paw full of claws out of the trap all the while rolling the bobcat up to where he couldn’t move. You talk about mad and growling.
We left and headed for the house growls and all. When we got there I thought Mama was gonna faint. “You can’t leave the poor thing all rolled up in that thing,” said Mama. She went inside the house and came out with an old leather suitcase which had belonged to Grandpa. It had the two leather straps around it. Grandpa had been a traveling preacher when he was alive and she told me to punch holes in each side where the cat could breath. I did that. The toughest job was getting that mad cat out of the tarpaulin and into that suitcase without letting him get lose. I am glad that old leather was flexible or Edward and I would have been eaten alive.
The cat was still scratching and growling and carrying on. He wasn’t happy at all. I couldn’t open it to feed him, not that he would have eaten. I couldn’t open it to give him water, not that he would have drank it. Mama let me keep it over night. Papa thought the whole thing was funny. Mama didn’t think so. Anyway, early the next morning I was up before dawn. Mama gave me FIRM INSTRUCTIONS. What they were in short was I, by myself alone, was going to release that Bobcat. That scared me because I don’t believe that Mama thoroughly understood the fury in this animal in Grandpa’s suit case. This thing could whip a pack of dogs and walk off. I had already determined that I, yours truly, wasn’t going to open that suitcase and let 40 pounds of raged, fumed, storm of Nature out with me standing there and looking dumb. No Sir, there had to be another way of doing this. Then my light came on. I knew how it could be done and that was to let someone else open the suitcase. That’s it! That’s what I’ll do. And this was how I did it.
Each morning the day crew arrived to work the mill that day and I still had time. I went down the road, which heads for Mill pond, set the suitcase beside the side of the road and backed up in some willows. I had to see this. That was the longest wait of my life. Pretty soon here came one of those black 4-door Dynaflow Buicks. The one where the front grill came out over the bumper, low to the ground, and the engine sounded like it was going 90 MPH when the car only went 10.
I could see there were four black workers in the car as it turned onto the road going slowly. They all looked at the suitcase as they went by, and they did pass it, but they couldn’t see me. Twenty yards past they stopped……..threw that old Buick in reverse with the motor, again, going 90 MPH and the car started moving backwards. When the back door got in line with the suitcase the door opened, out reaches this black arm………picks up the suitcase and again the car’s motor going 90 MPH and the car begin to gain speed. Not 50 yards down that gravel road ALL FOUR DOORS OPEN AT THE SAME TIME. Out each door bailed a black man onto the gravel road and the last thing out was the bobcat headed for tall timber. The car kept going straight off into the mill pond with the rear end sticking up smoking.
I knew it was time for Mrs. Day’s youngest son to vacate the premises. I got back home and Mama’s first words were, “Did you let that cat go?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Well, it was mostly true.
Papa cam in for his dinner that day. He looked a little flustered, troubled, disappointed to say the least. Mama, fixing
his meal, “Did you have a bad day?”
“I had four men that didn’t show up for work this morning, and on top of that some drunk ‘Son-of-a-bitch’ ran his car off into the mill pond. That’s the reason I had to get Edward to come in and work two shifts. At least he’ll get time and a-half.”
Author’s Note: A lot of us have sons, and they will do things. Things we may never know about or would want to. Just hope they never let the cat out of the bag.