Thursday, June 23, 2022


 A Love Story from the Greatest Generation


Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me


Everyone’s connected to a family. We’re just born into them, or adopted by them, without much say so regarding the circumstances. “You can pick your friends but not your relatives.” We’ve all heard that one.  We don’t have much input in the selection of our family and relatives.

The way family groups are made up can be as different as the individuals in them. There are, and always have been, all kinds of configurations of adults and children living together. The most important thing about families, however, is not their structure but their purpose. The primary reason families exist is to provide for the needs and well being of those in the group. Providing love and nurture, good health and positive growth, giving emotional and spiritual support for the members of the group, particularly the children, are the reason humans live in families.

As we said, families are different, but they all have some things in common. One thing common to all families, no matter what the structure, is the enormous influence they have on who we are and how children develop into adults. Who one becomes as an adult is in large part under the influence of the family members, adults and siblings he or she grows up with. “The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree”… “Your daddy won’t be dead until you are”… “You’re the spittin’ image of your daddy”…these old sayings are used to describe our resemblance in both appearance and behavior to our parents.

Our physical characteristics, of course, are a result of the genes we inherit from our parents. Both the genes we inherit from our parents and the experiences we have when we are young, however, determine our behavior and personality characteristics. It’s the old nature vs. nurture controversy. Which has the biggest influence on our attitudes and behavior, the genes we inherit or the environment in which we grew up? No matter which side of the aisle you line up on, the family is right in the middle because in most cases it’s responsible for both the characteristics you inherit and those you learn. We are products of the genes we inherit from our parents, and the experiences we have with our parents and our siblings as we are growing up.

That is why it is so important for parents to provide experiences for their children that will broaden their minds. These experiences don’t have to be expensive vacations but simple and inexpensive activities right here at home. The first and most important activity is to talk to and with your child at every opportunity. Take them with you whenever possible and interact with them constantly, particularly in their first three years of life. Take them to the park, the library, the grocery store, church, wherever you can, talking constantly with them about the things they are seeing around them. Play with them using their toys or whatever is available to encourage interaction. And, of course, read to them and with them at every opportunity.

You inherited red hair from your mother, your musical ability from your father. You learned to love the outdoors because your dad took you hunting as a child, and you love animals because your mom always had a soft spot in her heart for strays and took them in as part of the family. These are examples of the influences of nature and nurture. We can’t control the genes our children inherit but we can do something about the things they learn, through the experiences we provide them.

Tonight I am going to share a little with you about my family, southern working folk.  I thank you for indulging me for I wrote this as much for my family as I did for you.   My mother, Daisy Elizabeth Newman Hilton, Lib to her friends, grew up in Sumter.  Her parents were Selma Steele Newman and Van Telberg Newman.  Selma grew up in Olanta and Van in Sumter.  Unfortunately, I know very little about the upbringing or the family histories of my maternal grandparents except neither came from families of means or much formal education. 

Lib attended the public schools in Sumter and was an excellent student, according to her younger brother, Van Newman Jr.  Van hated having the same teachers Lib had, as the teachers always told him what a wonderful student his older sister was.  Lib graduated from Sumter High in 1942.  The family didn’t have the funds to send her to college.  However, she earned a scholarship to attend Meredith, a women’s college in Raleigh, NC, where an older cousin was already a student.  

My father, John Bingley Hilton, J.B. as he was called, grew up in rural Berkeley County.  His parents were Gussie Welch Hilton and Paul Tillman Hilton, both from Berkeley County.  My paternal grandparents and great-grand parents operated a small farm in Berkeley County.  They also operated a meat market in Charleston, selling beef, pork, and poultry from livestock they raised on the farm, then butchered and took to Charleston to be sold at the market.  As a youngster, J.B. worked on the farm and at the meat market in Charleston.  He attended Cross High School, in Cross, SC, graduating in 1941.  While he was a student in high school he began working part time with the Atlantic Coastline Railroad, in Holly Hill, SC, initially as a laborer, loading cotton bales onto flatcars.  While still in high school, he learned the Morse Code and landed a job as a part time clerk and telegraph operator in the railroad depot in Holly Hill.  Upon graduation from high school he went to work full time with the railroad.  So how did this working class small town girl and a poor farm boy from the sticks get together?   That will be, not the rest, but the next part of the story. 

J.B. had been working as a clerk in Holly Hill for just a short while when the railroad transferred him to, of all places, Sumter, SC, to work as a clerk in the freight depot. And wonder of wonders, within a few days he met a man that also worked in the depot named Van Newman. Mr. Newman went home and told his wife Selma about this hardworking, smart, handsome, young man that was driving a brand new 1941 Ford. Selma thought it would be a good idea to introduce their daughter, Elizabeth, who was a senior in high school, to this young fellow. Before you know it, Selma shows up at the depot just about quitting time, with Lib in the car. She honks the horn, as was her custom. Van comes out, but Selma sends him back inside to get that young fellow to meet Lib. I don’t know if it was love at first sight, but something clicked for it soon became a true love story.

In those days there were only eleven grades in high school. Lib was 17 when she and J.B. met. As previously mentioned, after graduation Lib went off to Meredith in Raleigh. During Lib’s freshman year at college, J.B.’s work with the railroad sent him for short stints to several other towns including Florence and Cheraw.  The two kids were smitten very badly, however, and a long distance romance was really not what they wanted.

The backdrop for this love story, of course, was World War II. The United States entered the war as J.B. and Lib were courting. Lib decided that she couldn’t stand being away from J.B. so she didn’t return to Raleigh after her freshman year.  It’s not the first time a kid came home from school because they were in love.  There was talk of marriage.

Before the wedding bells could chime, however, Uncle Sam called J.B. into the service of his country. He entered the army in the fall of 1943.  When he was being processed into the Army it was discovered that on his birth certificate he was named with only the initials J.B.  The good men in the U.S. Army informed him he would need a name as just initials wouldn’t do.  So he came up with John, probably from the Bible, and Bingley, which was the first name of his maternal grandfather, Bingley Welch. So he was christened John Bingley by the U.S. Army. After his christening, he was assigned to the 747 Operating Railway Battalion in the Transportation Corp as a telegraph operator because of his previous work experience with the railroad.   He was promptly sent to Clovis, New Mexico, for training.

The two kids were really love sick now.  As you may recall from watching old movies set during WWII, getting married before the guy goes off to war was the thing to do.   Their plan called for Lib to come out to New Mexico where they would be married. In early February of 1944, however, J.B. sent a telegram to Lib saying, “Plans have changed. STOP. Do nothing till you hear from me. STOP Love, J.B.” Lib thought he was being shipped out overseas. She was beside herself, upset and worried. Two days later, there was a knock at the front door, and there stood J.B. They were married Sunday, February 6th at Selma and Van’s house at 111 East Charlotte Avenue, in Sumter.

They went to Orangeburg, S.C., on their honeymoon. Taking a walk on Sunday evening around “downtown” Orangeburg they came upon a church where a service was being held. They heard the congregation singing as they came up the street. The hymn drew them inside. They both loved music and they both loved being in church.

J.B. went back to New Mexico and Lib soon followed. They rented a little room in a boarding house. The place was full of other couples like themselves, guys in the army whose wives had come out to spend some time with them before they were shipped out to the war.

In late May all the men were restricted to base. The rumor, of course, was that the invasion was coming soon.  Around 1 a.m. on the morning of June 6, Lib was awakened by sirens sounding on the base. She sat straight up in the bed and knew the invasion of France had begun. It was D-Day. First thing that morning Lib went to the base, where all the men were preparing to board a troop train, headed for the east coast and then on to Europe. She found J.B. and they said their goodbyes. She walked back to the room, crying all the way.

Once at the room she realized she had to go back to the base before the train left, as she might never see J.B. again. Finding a girl at the boarding house who had a car, she caught a ride back to the base. By this time the men were already on the train. Lib just happened to come up at the end of the train. Asking for Head Quarter’s Company, she was directed forward. At each car, with men hanging from the doors of the boxcars, she would yell out, "Where is Head Quarter’s Company?" Each time she was directed forward. She was worried that the train might pull off before she found her sweetheart. She broke into a trot, shouting her inquiry as she moved forward. Did she find him?

As you might expect, Head Quarter’s Company was at the very front of the train. Just moments before the train moved out…… there he was.   A few more kisses, another goodbye and he was gone.

Gone to Belgium, France, and Germany. Places with names like Koblenz, and Remagen. Not usually on the front, he did have to pick up his carbine to experience some combat action in the Battle of the Bulge, however, when the Germans launched their last counter offensive of the war. While J.B. was overseas, he and Lib wrote letters to each other often.  We have 84 letters that J.B. wrote to Lib that she saved. These letters are truly a treasure of our family. 

Thankfully J.B. came home unharmed, to spend the rest of his life with his beloved Lib. It was the railroad that brought them together. Their ride on the rails lasted a lifetime.  Now it’s time for the rest of the story.

After the war J.B. returned home to go back to work with the ACL Railroad.  Lib got a job as a bookkeeper at Carolina Hardware.  They borrowed some money and bought 12 acres of land on the Wedgefield Road, a couple miles out past the Second Mill Pond which in those days was “out in the country”.  There they built a little four room house.  Pretty soon there was also a chicken house, and a little barn, and a pen with a few pigs, and a fenced in field with a couple of cows grazing. 

In 1949 I came along, and in ’51, my sister Tricia joined the group and the farm family was complete.  As the years moved along, Mom and Dad continued to buy additional parcels of land increasing the size of the farm.  Corn, soybeans, cattle, and pork were the primary cash crops.  Peanuts, hay, pecans, and blueberries were also part of the mix.  For twenty-five years Dad worked both with the railroad and on the farm before deciding to focus on farming and engaging in other entrepreneurial activities.   

In 1966 Mom and Dad bought Blums, a ladies clothing store on Main Street upon the tragic death of Mrs. Blum in an auto accident.  Mom had left Carolina Hardware a few years earlier.  They renamed the store Lib’s and relocated to Guignard Drive, in a triplex, next to my grandparents’ flower shop, Newman’s Flowers, and Mary Boyle Interiors, in the same spot as the Dollar General is now, next door to Guignard Diner.  Mom and Dad had worked hard and had been very frugal over the years, saving and investing to slowly but significantly grow what was initially a very small nest egg. 

Working hard, saving and investing, they never lost sight, however, of the things that were really the most important to them: their family and their faith.  Tricia and I were the center of their universe. We were a tight unit that worked, played, and worshiped together. We all worked on the farm, helping with the chores, feeding the animals, milking the cows, driving the tractor, and baling hay, doing whatever it took.  The stories my sister and I can tell.  It’s a great life growing up on a working family farm.  The two operative words in that last sentence are “working” and “family”. Our extended family was important as well.  We were always interacting with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. 

The Grace Baptist Church was at the center of our family’s social life.  Mom’s family were members there when she met dad.  He grew up in a Baptist church in rural Berkley County so it was a good fit.  Mom, a gifted pianist, played for church services at Grace beginning as a teenager and continued to do so all her life.

Their real love and most significant contribution to life at Grace was their work with young people.  They led a Sunday School class for 5th and 6th grades for over fifty years.  Mom played the piano and Dad led the singing.  Mom arranged a medley of songs, primarily the choruses, which came to be known as the “Hash Choruses”, which they taught to all the kids that came through their class.  In addition, the “B-I-B-L-E” song was a standard as well.  One of Dad’s goals was for all the kids to memorize the books of the Bible in order. He adopted a policy of giving each kid $5 when they could stand in front of the group and recite the books in order.  I spoke with someone just the other day who as a kid had come through their class, and then their child had also come through, which resulted in both parent and child memorizing the books of the Bible.

In addition to leading the Sunday School class, they had countless hayrides, hot dog roasts, bonfires, parties, and celebrations at our house and farm on the Wedgefield Road.  The attendees were the kids, their parents, and the many other good folks from Grace Church. In 1962, Mom and Dad built a new house on the property just up from the original little house, complete with a pool.  Mom called this new spot “Heaven on a Hill”. Now the church parties also included swimming during the summer.

Music and dance played an important role in the life of our family.  Mom and Dad both loved music and loved to dance.  As previously mentioned, Mom was a gifted pianist.  Both Mom and Dad were very good singers.  As a kid, mom loved Shirley Temple, and adored Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. When my sister and I were very young we started performing at church, just singing of course, you wouldn’t dare dance in a Baptist Church.  But there were dance lessons at Betty Freeds’.  We were the Fred and Ginger of the dance studio, singing and dancing at all the recitals.  Mom and Dad loved it!  When I decided in the sixth grade that tap dancing wasn’t cool, it nearly broke Mom’s heart. 

As my sister and I grew to be teen-agers, Mom and Dad really became involved with our friends in a loving and supportive way.  Our friends were at our house a lot, at the pool swimming, in the basement shooting pool or just hanging out. The band I played music with in high school held all our rehearsals in the basement as well.  One of my buddies was kicked out of his house by his dad and, of course, he moved in with us for a while. 

In my last Fortnightly paper, entitled “Our Gang”, you may recall that I wrote about the high school social clubs of Sumter during the 50’s, 60’s, and early 70’s.  My senior year in high school the Esquires decided to contract with Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs for our Christmas dance to raise money to support our “activities” for that school year.  Mom and Dad decided to underwrite the event for us, putting up the deposit money for the band.  For a couple of “T-Totalers” they were very supportive of and involved with a bunch of wild and crazy high school boys.

My freshman year in college at USC, I joined The Footnotes.  Of course, we held rehearsals in the basement at their house as well.  When the band really started traveling and we needed a van, Mom and Dad stepped up and bought us a van which we “leased” from them.  I’m sure they lost money on the deal but they just loved helping us and being a part of the whole music scene. 

On and on went the list of their involvement and support of my sister and me and all our friends; chaperoning  house parties at the beach for my sister, taking all our friends to the lake house, water skiing, countless hunting and fishing adventures in the swamp, swimming parties, ……..

As time went by, Tricia and I grew up and started families of our own as Mom and Dad moved toward retirement age.  They never really retired, however, they just changed the kind of activities they did each day.  When the grandchildren came along they became the center of Mom and Dad’s universe, just as my sister and I had been earlier.  Incidentally, when the grandchildren came along there were name changes as well.  Mom and Dad became Nana and Papa.  They started all over again with dance recitals, hunting and fishing in the swamp, taking kids out on the farm, and trips to the beach.  The activities with the grandkids were as numerous or even more so than with my sister and I. Likewise, they got to know and interacted with the friends of the grandchildren, just as they had come to know mine and Tricia’s friends.  (See Addendum)

Eventually, Nana and Papa sold the dress shop and sold all the hogs and cows, too. They cut back on the farming and started planting pine trees on land that had previously been “row cropped”, replacing corn and soybeans with longleaf.  They joined a couple of square dance groups.  Dad became very involved as a leader with the Lions Club.  They became active as leaders of the XYZ club at Grace Church. 

The most exciting activity they added to their menu as they grew older was travel.  They began taking trips here and there.  They went on several bus trips sponsored by various organizations.  Next thing you know Papa and Nana started their own travel business, “Hilton Tours.”   They would work out an itinerary and then invite some friends to come along.  It was a huge success.  They lead dozens of tours and cruises. People would stop and tell me all the time what a great time they had on their trip to such and such a place with Nana and Papa.  They traveled with their friends all over the lower 48, north to Alaska, and then on to St. Petersburg, Russia.

All families develop traditions and Mom and Dad saw that we had them, too.  The most memorable one is our Christmas Eve celebration.  When my sister and I were “just up off the floor,” Mom and Dad started inviting folks over to our house on Christmas Eve.  Initially it would be our neighbors, of whom there were actually very few in those days, because we lived in the country.  Mom would serve some fruit cake, a little ham and other treats, and punch.  After a little small talk over the refreshments we would gather ‘round the spinet, with Mom playing and we would sing Christmas Carols. 

As the years flowed by, this event continued seamlessly. The attendees varied and evolved over the years; family and friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, grandchildren, and great grandchildren but the format remained the same.  We haven’t missed a Christmas Eve in 65 years.  When Christmas Eve is approaching I’m asked all the time, either by former attendees or those who know of Nana and Papa’s tradition, “Ya’ll having ‘the sing’ again this year?”  It’s an example of how we all yearn for the closeness of family and loved ones and for things that endure.  It’s that closeness and love that sustain us over time, through the good and the bad, the joy and the tears. 

Lib and J.B., Mom and Dad, Nana and Papa, whatever you want to call them, they were in love with each other their entire lives.  It was truly a love affair that lasted a lifetime.  When South Carolina came out with custom car license plates, Papa jumped on it, getting one for Nana that read, “MIBRIDE.” 

You know, Selma and Van, and Gussie and Paul did a pretty good job with the nature and the nurture they instilled and passed on to Lib and J.B..  Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Lib and J.B. did not depart from the training given to them by their parents when they were children.  They remained true to the values they were taught, that family and faith go hand-in-hand and are really what matter the most.  Being a parent is a miraculous blessing and an awesome responsibility.  My sister and I, our children, families, our friends, and all who knew them were truly blessed to have been touched by these two that lived and inspired “A Love Story From the Greatest Generation”. 


 Addendum: Remembrances from Grandchildren

Tracy Spigner:

Going fishing with Papa in the swamp...eating sardines and coming home to clean the fish with a spoon in his yard. Eating fried fish and grits for dinner. 

“Play cooking” on my play kitchen at Nana and Papas house...I always cooked butter beans and rice and they would always pretend to eat it all up.  

Going camping at Pirate Land at Myrtle Beach in the camper. They always let me bring a friend. We would ride bikes and they would take us to the flea market. Papa would cook us pancakes every morning on the skillet outside the camper on the picnic table.  

Nana and Papa were my Sunday School teachers in 5th grade. They taught me the books of the Bible song and the Hash Chorus.  

They would take me on Hilton Tours with them too. I went to the Grand Canyon with Hilton Tours and to Washington DC.  

Growing up my mom and I lived next door to Nana and Papa in the little house. When I would get in trouble with my mom I would take off out the back door and run through the pecan orchard to Nana and Papa’s house  

Papa would always introduce me as “the apple of my eye with whom I am well pleased”  

I loved how Papa called everyone stores or passing on the street it was always “Hello Friend”. 

I loved how he called Nana “My Bride” 

My favorite part of Papa was his hands...they were rough, big and strong...his fingers were crooked and had scars from being hurt. They were working hands! I loved to hold his hand. His hands made you feel protected and safe. You knew with his hands there you would be taken care of and he taught me that many hands make light work. 

My favorite part of Nana was her giving spirit. Nana would do anything to make others happy! She would cook your favorite meal, watch your favorite movie, play dolls with you, swim with you, let you have friends over, let you spend the night....she was always saying yes to others...trying to make others happy! Growing up I remember Nana was always smiling...unless the cows were out...Nana loved her family and wanted everyone happy! She would always sing “You are my Sunshine” to me! Nana was definitely my sunshine


Margaret Hilton:

I remember them both singing a lot. I remember singing on Christmas Eve together, Nana proudly playing the piano and giggling along to papa's jokes. Songs were also made up on the spot all year long- silly songs, sweet songs, nonsense songs... Singing was a way of communicating, lightening the load and bringing people closer. 

I remember walking into the house and smelling salmon patties frying in the kitchen. 

I remember Papa sitting in his chair and when I was tiny, him asking me to come and sit on his lap.  

I remember nana's roses- both their beauty and their sweet smell.  

I remember the passion they shared between each other, their romance lasted to the end and beyond that too.


John Hilton:

When I think of nana and papa I am overwhelmed with feelings of comfort, acceptance and love. Below are a few specific memories and lessons learned from each of them. 

When I think of papa I have so many wonderful memories. Hunting, fishing, working, playing softball right before dark on summer nights, swimming in the pool, and Jesus. 

Papa taught me how to look for business opportunity, which is the essence and spirit of my career. We cut and sold firewood together; cut, tagged and sold mistletoe; I watched and learned how he made a living drilling wells, cutting hay, selling blueberries and pecans, buying land, and trying to never say no to a chance to use the knowledge and equipment he had to make a dollar. 

He taught me how to love and appreciate Mother Nature and the great outdoors as he called it, which has grown into the essence and spirit of my earthly soul. We hunted quail, doves, ducks, deer, turkey, squirrels, and any other critter that might cause harm to one of those beloved game species. He would pick me up from school to take me fishing in the swamp, packing a cooler of snacks and drinks extra full just for me. He taught me of the special respect man should have of the land we tread on.  

Papa was the first person I ever experienced talking to about Jesus as if he was standing right there with us. I bet he had a similar experience as Oswald Chambers predicted for himself, that when he died it would take him a while to realize because he walked so closely with the Lord he wouldn’t even notice he had moved to the other side. 

Papa was a law abiding, honest, Christian man and he pretty well did what he pleased. I learned that life is full of restrictions and reservations but man was put here to rule the world, and a man should do as he pleases while he’s here. He was very good at figuring out how to negotiate through rules and regulations in pursuit of his goal. 

He never met a stranger, never said no to some poor soul in need of help and he made me feel that he loved me unconditionally. By the time he died, he was my best friend. 

When I think of Nana my first memory is how much she loved papa. They had a true fire romance. I can still vividly see her sitting in his lap holding hands and kissing. They were very affectionate and I’m glad I got to see them do this and love each other in this way. She was devoted to him and served him. That is not to say that she didn’t stand up to him and put her foot down when she strongly disagreed, because she did. I learned how two people could fight and make up and still love with passion. That is a special lesson. 

Nana was an excellent cook. Most of my other memories of Nana involve delicious food. Cube steak with gravy; pancakes and bacon with the best blueberry syrup still to this day I’ve ever tasted; salmon patties and grits; and real sweet tea. She would fry extra bacon, wrap it in tinfoil and give to me for a mid morning snack while out working with pop.

If I wasn’t feeling well at school, or I wasn’t feeling well about school, a trip to the nurse’s office and a call to Nana would have me on her couch watching TV with toast loaded down with melted butter. In my mind I can see her walking across the room bringing it to me like it was yesterday. 

She was a leader in her home, with her family, with her church, with the community and also with Jesus. 

I miss them both so much. I am lucky to have had them for as long as I did.  

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Our Gang

Our Gang 
Human beings are social animals. Throughout our evolutionary journey we have organized ourselves into groups. Families, clans, tribes, and nations are examples. This propensity to live and organize into groups may have come from the safety found in numbers, or to more efficiently provide food and shelter. Perhaps this need to belong to groups comes from deep psychological instincts that are hardwired in the human psyche
Take good care of yourself, you belong to me 
 In 1943 psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper “Theory of Human Motivation” in which he proposed a hierarchy of human needs. This hierarchy remains a popular framework in sociology and the study of human growth and development. The hierarchy is in the shape of a triangle or pyramid with the most fundamental needs at the bottom. 
 At the base of the hierarchy we find physiological needs. Air, water, food, clothing, and shelter are examples of these needs. Next we find safety and security needs. These might include personal security, financial security, health and well being, and safety against the adverse impact of accidents and illness. The third level, after physiological and safety, are interpersonal needs involving the feelings of belonging. Maslow believed that humans need to be a part of, and feel a sense of, acceptance and belonging within social groups, be these groups large or small. Large groups would include clubs, co-workers, religious groups, professional organizations, and sports teams. Small social connections include family, intimate partners, mentors, colleagues and confidants.
 Humans need to love and be loved by others. People often experience loneliness, social anxiety, and clinical depression in the absence of this love or belonging element. When combined with strong peer pressure, this need for belonging can overcome the physiological and security needs.
 Let us dig a little deeper into this need to belong. Sebastian Junger, American journalist, author and filmmaker has produced several works that examine the dynamics of the need to belong as it relates to soldiers having served in Afghanistan. These works include “Retrospo,” “War,” “Which Way is the Front Line From Here,” “Korengal,” “The Last Patrol,” and “Tribe.” A theory that Junger shares in these films and publications is the idea that the bonds of community and belonging found in army platoons engaged in combat are exceptionally strong. The brotherhood experienced by those in combat platoons promotes the building of powerful relationships that fulfill the need to belong to a trusted group. In many cases this brotherhood and belonging found in the platoon far exceeds any feelings of connectedness previously experienced. The after effects of this strong bonding when the time of deployment and combat have ended often precipitate responses from service persons that are unfortunate and sometimes confusing. 
 Many soldiers return home to experience serious problems as they attempt to reconnect with civilian society. Junger argues that many are unable to assimilate back into the larger society because of their feelings of being untethered and disconnected. They often experience alienation and anxiety, missing the brotherhood shared with those in their combat platoon. Many had not experienced these strong bonds of trust and belonging before their time in service. Upon returning home they experience alienation and anxiety because they are no longer a part of a trusted group. As we know, the rates of mental illness, homelessness, and suicide are very high among veterans of recent wars in the Middle East. 
 Another interesting question considered in Junger’s work: why do servicemen and women sign on for multiple tours of combat duty? Patriotism, perhaps, but Junger shares another theory. He maintains that many service persons sign on for multiple tours of duty in order to continue to experience the sense of belonging and brotherhood found within their combat platoons. Reflecting back on Maslow’s hierarchy, many return to combat even though they are placing themselves in harm’s way, as the need for belonging outweighs the need for safety. They return to combat not because they like war, but because their need to belong to a tightly bonded group is so powerful and met through the relationships in the combat platoon.
 As you have already surmised, part of our discussion this evening centers on the human need and propensity to belong to groups. We shall take a look at some specific groups that young men and women have formed perhaps to meet this basic human need to belong. The focus of these groups was initially scholarly and later social in nature.
 Let’s start a club
 The American fraternity and sorority system began with students who wanted to conduct discussions and debates secretly as the topics may have been thought inappropriate by the faculty of their schools. Today fraternities and sororities are used as social, professional, and honorary groups that promote social activity, community service, leadership, and academic achievement. 
 The Phi Beta Kappa Society was founded on December 5, 1776, at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was the first fraternal organization in the United States and established the custom of naming college societies using Greek-letter initials of a secret Greek motto. The motto chosen was Philosophia Biou Kubernētēs or philosophy is the Helmsman of Life, now translated as Philosophy is the Guide of Life. 
The group was formed by students who were patrons of the Raleigh tavern, a popular off campus meeting place. The founders of Phi Beta Kappa declared that the society was formed for congeniality and to promote good fellowship, with friendship as its basis and benevolence and literature as its pillars. Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa were established at Yale and Harvard and then spread to other colleges and universities. As time went by it became more of an honor society rather than a social organization similar to fraternities of today. 
The Kappa Alpha Society, established at Union College in Schenectady, New York in November of 1825 is considered the first general Greek letter fraternity. Phi Beta Kappa had been at Union since 1817 and Kappa Alpha adopted many of their practices but made fellowship, the development of brotherhood and friendship their main purpose. Soon to follow at Union College were Sigma Phi and Delta Phi resulting in Union becoming known as the birthplace of the fraternity and sorority system. 
The golden age of fraternities occurred after the Civil War, a time of rapid growth and the establishment of many new organizations, particularly in the South. The formation of Alpha Tau Omega at VMI and Kappa Alpha Order at Washington and Lee University in 1865, and then Sigma Nu at VMI, and Kappa Sigma at The University of Virginia in 1869 are examples of this growth. The Chi Omega chapter of Kappa Sigma, of which I am a member, was formed in April of 1890 at the University of South Carolina. The Kappa Sigma motto AEKDB, translates as After Each Kiss Drink Beer. Not really, but it’s a secret. I can’t tell you what it really means!! 
 The first secret society for women was the Adelphean Society, later Alpha Delta Pi formed in 1851 at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. The Philomathean Society, later Phi Mu, was founded in 1852 also at Wesleyan. The first women’s society to expand by forming different chapters was I.C. Sorosis, founded in 1867, later known as Phi Beta Phi. The first women’s society founded using Greek letters was Kappa Alpha Theta in 1870. Subsequently numerous other societies were formed in the 1870’s including Kappa Kappa Gamma, Alpha Phi, Delta Gamma, Gamma Phi Beta and Sigma Kappa. The first women’s society to be called a sorority was Gamma Phi Beta in 1882. Delta Delta Delta was formed in 1888, with Chi Omega, now the largest sorority in the nation, being formed in 1890. No doubt many of us know some ladies who are affiliated with these organizations and may have gone out with one or two during our college years.
 Let’s make it local 
It seems this need to belong to a group holds true for all ages. Young people often participate in group activities modeled after those to which adults belong and participate. We have all had some experiences of hanging out with a group of friends from the neighborhood. Sometimes these groups were a loose alliance, and sometimes more formally arranged. The focus for the rest of our time this evening will be on high school boys and girls growing up in Sumter who formed groups, often known as social clubs. These groups were patterned somewhat similarly to college fraternities and sororities.
 Ladies First 
During the fall of 1939, a group of thirteen young ladies attending Sumter High School formed a new group named Les Coeur Cognes which came to be known as LCC. 
 Charter members were Jeanne Harby, Lucy Stubbs, Margaret McLeod, Pretto Brunson, Mary Ellen Cain, Zadeth Beth Green, Susanne Mallard, Polly Moise, Carol Humbert, Sally Nash, Barbara Lee, Iva Belle Seale, and Less Moses. Of these ladies only Margaret McLeod Hunter and Sally Nash Wilson are still with us. The name was French and was meant to be translated as “The Heart Breakers”. Legend has it that Robert Moise was called upon to provide the name but his French was not as good as the ladies thought and the name actually translates as “the heart broken”. The idea of the club came about as Sumter girls met some girls from Columbia at the beach who were members of a group known as “Les Coquetts”. The primary social activities of the LCC in the early days were dances, initially held at the Armory on Artillery Drive. Meetings were held at the homes of the members’ parents to plan and organize for the dances. 
The LCC was in existence for many years. Over the decades countless young ladies that we know were members. They held dances and parties year after year. One of the highlights of the year was that spring event at which time “Mr. Heartbreaker” was named. 
 Boys will be boys 
Unlike the LCC which was the only girls club in town, there were many organizations that came and went over the years for young men. The first club I could find any information on was established in the fall of 1949. The club was formed by a group of senior boys at Edmunds High. The plan was to have twenty-one members. Someone suggested they use the French word for twenty-one which they believed to be “vontoon”. Much like the LCC they were somewhat mistaken as the French phrase for 21 is “vingt et un.” Somehow this was translated into Vontoon and so it was. In short order the membership grew to well over twenty-one. The club met in the parents’ homes of the various members, mostly “swapping lies” and laughing for a couple of hours. The highlight of the year was a house party trip to Ocean Drive chaperoned by Coach “Hutch” Hutchinson and his wife. It appears this club only lasted one year or perhaps two. 
Next on the scene was an organization known as Club 52. Formed during the school year 1951-52, this group was short lived because of a prank which involved the “plowing up” of a small portion of the front lawn of the school and the painting of disparaging remarks regarding the principal, Joseph Lyles, on the monument to Dr. Edmunds in front of the school. Several club members received serious disciplinary action and as a result the club was disbanded. 
Around 1953 or ’54, a new club, The Counts, was formed that left a legacy for clubs that were to follow. Described as being a “suave” yet “rough and tumble” group of young men, they left their mark on the community by establishing, at some point in time, a private location for “parking”. CPA as it came to be known, an acronym for Counts Parking Area, was located near what is now Henderson St. just beyond Wilson’s pond, parallel to Paisley Park. Back in the day, that entire area was undeveloped woods with only a little dirt lane leading up the hill towards what are now Ingram and Haile Streets. Only The Counts were allowed to park in this area. However, after the Counts disbanded, the area was open to all, but for many years after was still known as CPA. 
 Also, around 1953 or ‘54 another club was formed that would prove to become the longest lasting of all the socials clubs for young men, the Les Rois. French for “The Kings”, this group had a run that stretched into the early 70’s. Members of the Counts in the early Fifties felt the Les Rois were more scholarly, but couldn’t dance. We shall hear more about the Les Rois shortly. 
 The early 60’s saw the formation of a couple more social clubs for the men. One of these, The Diablos, beginning in 1961 or ’62, was active through 1965. This group had the distinction of actually designing and wearing a pin, similar to the pins worn by college fraternity members. 
 Also, in 1961-‘62, a group known as The Esquires was formed which had a little longer life span, essentially running parallel with the Les Rois through the sixties and into the early seventies. I was a member of this group during my junior and senior year at Edmunds, 1965-67. We shall hear more about the Esquires shortly as well. Over the years all the clubs seemed to have one primary goal in common: all wanted to go on a house party at the beach. These house parties most often occurred during spring break which happened around Easter. As we all know, the beach over Easter break is teeming with young people out to find a good time. In order to accomplish this adventure the clubs needed to raise money to finance the endeavor. The primary source of the fundraising was to sponsor a dance during the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays. Favorite venues for the dances included the American Legion on Artillery Drive and the VFW off Broad Street. Sometimes dances were held in surrounding towns such as Camden or Florence. Popular bands, usually from out of town, were hired for these events. Also, during the dance a raffle might be held to enhance the take for the evening. The profits would be used to rent a house at the beach for spring break. Sometimes, if the profits from the dance were sizeable, a house might be rented at the beach for Junior Senior Prom weekend as well. 
 Another thing all the clubs had in common, at least during the sixties and early seventies, was a clubhouse. The clubhouse was usually a ram-shackled abandoned tenant farmhouse somewhere out of town. Some club member or perhaps someone’s father would make arrangements for the club to take possession of an old house for use as a meeting place and party venue on weekends. The houses would be “fixed-up” and redecorated by club members complete with some kind of record player as music was a critical ingredient for making merry. The good folks that let us use those structures must have been slightly out of their minds but we surely appreciated their generosity and made good use of the facilities. The use of a particular house would usually only last a year or two and then the club would have to move to a new location. The liability factors that we face today, of course, would make such an arrangement completely out of the question. The Esquire house my senior year was located out highway 521 S. on Britton Rd, just beyond “Britton’s Siding”. The Les Rois house was out highway15 N., on W. Foxworth Mill Rd., a little way behind Mozingo’s Store.
 Let’s Jump Through Some Hoops 
 Leaving one group and entering another is what a cultural anthropologist would define as a rite of passage. Most often accomplished through some kind of ceremony, this passage may involve a change in one’s status in society. The term was coined by Dutch-German-French ethnographer Arnold Van Gennep in his work “Les Rites de Passage” (The Rites of Passage) in 1909. Van Genepp proposed the idea that the larger society is made up of many separate groups, with these separate groups divided into yet smaller subgroups or mini-societies. As members of society we all belong to multiple groups, some more important to us than others. “A house divided into rooms” is the metaphor used by Van Gennep, with a passage occurring when we leave one room, or group, to enter another.
 The ceremonies associated with rites of passage, often in the form of an initiation, have several effects on the dynamics the group, and on the individuals making the passage. Severe initiations produce what psychologist call a “cognitive dissonance,” which can be experienced when we voluntarily participate in an unpleasant activity in order to achieve a goal. Using “effort justification,” we reduce the unpleasantness of the activity by inflating the desirability of the goal. Hence joining the group is more important than avoiding the initiation. In addition, this cognitive dissonance results in increased loyalty to the group, more conformity among new members, and heightened feelings of affiliation. The ceremony/initiation may result in the forming of a “sacred bond” among the members of the group. 
 In our society these rites of passage and their accompanying ceremonies take on many forms. Graduations, debutant balls, first prom, first kiss, boot camp, commissioning of an officer, weddings, a swearing-in, bar mitzvah, baptism, and retirement are but a few examples. This passage may result in one leaving behind the past and becoming a different person as a result of the rituals and symbolic actions of the ceremony. Once the rite of passage is complete one may be viewed as having a different status in society. A married man is a different person than the single man he was before the ceremony. 
 Of course, different societies and cultures have different ceremonies related to their rites of passage. The Vanatu of Penetecost Island in the South Pacific have a particularly unique rite of passage for their young men moving from adolescence into manhood. Land diving, as it is known, requires the participant to jump off a wooden tower, 60 – 100 feet high, with no safety equipment, save the two vines wrapped around their ankles. The boys making their rite of passage jump at lower levels than the men who continue jumping throughout adulthood as part of a ritual to insure a bountiful harvest. 
 It was a week to be remembered
 But let us turn now to the rites of passage for the social clubs of Sumter. At some point in its history, LCC initiation began on what came to be known as “pick up day.” The girls that had been selected for membership were clandestinely “kidnapped” from their homes on the appointed day through a previously arranged secret agreement between the initiate’s mother and her “big sister” in LCC. The inductees were taken to someone’s backyard, usually the home of the president’s parents. This was when the process of “cognitive dissonance” began. Boys were invited to come and watch the proceedings which included the application of various natural and organic treatments to insure healthy and vibrant hair and skin. The initiation then continued throughout the following week, with strict regulations regarding appropriate dress to be worn to school and personal hygiene related to the initiate’s hair. In addition, inductee’s were required to learn and perform songs on demand which might include: “I’m a little prairie flower, growing wilder by the hour I’m as wild as I can be, I’m a baby LCC Les Couer, (clap, clap) Cogne, (clap, clap).” At the end of the week, the new members were, of course, welcomed with open arms into the sisterhood of the LCC.
 It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
 The rite of passage for the boys’ clubs was usually just a one night affair. These “ceremonies” also brought on a significant “cognitive dissonance” in the psyche of the initiates. Most often conducted at the club house during the summer before the inductee’s junior year, these events were only held at night. The attire for the initiates was designed to provide evidence to contradict that pillar of American democracy that “all men are created equal.” The cuisine for the evening could only be described as unforgettable dining. In order to improve the physical conditioning and health of the initiates, a vigorous regimen of calisthenics and cross country running was incorporated into the ceremony. In an effort to prevent any muscle soreness from the physical activity, certain liquids were generously and thoroughly applied to the initiates to sooth any sprained or inflamed areas. In addition, initiates were provided, free of charge, a complete and totally new hair style, very carefully and professionally done. In some cases at the end of the evening, a task was required which was specifically designed to help improve the resourcefulness and problem solving skills of the initiates. All in all, it was a very memorable evening that certainly provided a source of bonding for those who enjoyed the privilege of participating.
 It’s kind of hazy in here 
 Public perception and attitudes toward the rite of passage activities described above have changed significantly in recent years. Because of injuries and deaths that have occurred during initiations, hazing has been criticized by educators, law enforcement, and the general public and rightfully so. Definitions of hazing are varied. The Fraternal Information and Programming Group (FIPG) defines hazing as any action taken or situation intentionally created to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, or ridicule. Hazing is illegal is 44 states including South Carolina. As with many rituals, customs, and traditions, attitudes and behaviors regarding rites of passage are sometimes slow to change, however. No question that activities that could result in injury to initiates should not be a part of any organizations rite of passage. Some good advice related to this could be taken from the ancient adage inscribed in the temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece, meden agan, “nothing in excess.” 
 Where are they now? 
 So what became of the Esquires, Les Rois, and Les Coeur Cognes? As is usually the case, the men expired first. Both the Les Rois and the Esquires closed up shop at the end of the 1972 school year. One explanation provided was many of the young men of that time were more interested in becoming “hippies” than frat boys. Changes in attitudes, hair styles, music, clothing, and diversions were all part of the cultural movement to emphasize one’s individuality, trading in some of the old values of the past for some new values of the future. The times they were a changing. The LCC had a much longer romance, breaking the last hearts in the 2007 school year. In its later years the LCC had girls who joined from both Wilson Hall and Sumter High.
 Our Gang 
 The title of this paper, of course, comes from the comedy short film series known as ‘Our Gang” and later as “The Little Rascals”. The films were produced from 1922-1944. As you recall, the “gang” was a group of poor neighborhood kids engaged in one adventure after another. Over the years, the kids in the films changed. As some grew too old they were replaced by younger children. Some of the most memorable characters were Farina, Wheezer, Chubby, Jackie (Cooper), Stymie, Porky, Froggy, Buckwheat, Alfalfa, Darla, Spanky, and Petey the dog. In addition to being hilariously funny, the films were significant in two other ways. They were ground breaking in that the characters were shown displaying the raw, unaffected nuances of regular children as opposed to imitating the acting styles of adults. More significantly as a cultural statement, the white and black boys and girls were portrayed as interacting as equals. 
 One of my favorite episodes, which is relevant to our discussion this evening is the story of Spanky and the guys forming a club, none other than the notorious “He Man Woman Haters Club”. Like the social clubs of Sumter, they had a clubhouse and held meetings there. 
 So here we are this evening with “our gang,” gathered together as we do each fortnight. Formed over one hundred years ago we are still going strong. As with most exemplary groups, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As alluded to earlier, each of us are part of many groups in the larger society and this is but one of them, albeit an important one. Participation in “our fortnightly gang” helps us meet our need to belong, and I for one am extremely glad that I belong with you. 
 Dr. John B. Hilton Jr. - Fortnightly - January 10, 2018 

Primary Sources: Steve Barwick, John Boney,  Hillary Bordeaux,  Joe Boyle,  J.J. Britton,  Steve Creech,  Carl Croft,  Jimmy Cromer,  Stan Dubose,  Billy Edwards,  Frank Edwards,  Jessica Ellis Fralick,  Polly Harritt Harrell, Micki Harritt,  Susan Hunter Hilton,  Margaret McLeod Hunter,  Bill Kimbrell,  Curtis Kimbrell, Tom Lewis,  Tricia Hilton Limoges, Lauren Bostic Locklear,  Walter Lee McCracken,  Kirk McLeod,  George Morris,  Richard Murrell,  Tommy Reed,  Windy Rodgers,  Rufus Wactor,  Bob Wilson,  Sally Nash Wilson.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Mni Wak’áŋ Chante

Mni Wak’áŋ Chante

We live in a marvelous country, these United States of America, a place of remarkable diversity, both in its people and topography. Our neck of the woods, the south, is second to none in beauty and hospitality. When we travel, we learn so much about the people and places we visit. Often we learn about ourselves and the pluses and minuses of home. Tonight I will share some experiences and impressions of a place my son and I have come to love and appreciate for its land and people, the name and location of which I shall disclose presently. First, however, a little background.

When I was in junior high school I was exposed and fell victim to a terrible affliction, the sport of crazy people, duck hunting. For many years I suffered with this terrible addiction, held captive by the riff raff I thought were friends, but rather were other poor addicted souls, my hunting buddies.

As time went by, however, things got better. I found that I could withstand the temptation to set an alarm for 3 a.m. to go stumbling through the darkness into wet, cold, dank swamps, marshes, and other haunts of the mentally impaired. I kicked the habit. I settled down, got a steady job, and started a family. Everything seemed to be going so well.

Ahh, but then my first born, a most precocious and curious young man, came under the influence of an older gentleman, known to many as Papa. That gray-haired old man took that young boy to school in the most wondrous of universities, securing as his personal tutor the master of all pedagogy, Mother Nature. The little fella didn’t stand a chance; he fell in love with the outdoors, hook, line, and sinker.

Within a short while of his exposure to the sporting life, there was talk of flirting with madness again. The D H words were being spoken in my presence. The pursuit of quail, deer, and doves was too tame. Yours truly was being pressed into service to broaden the education of the young outdoorsman. Next thing you know, we’re down at the Sumter Wateree Club deep in the swamp driving a little john boat with a 1960’s vintage 5 1/2 horsepower Johnson through the pitch black dark, jumping logs, getting hung on stumps, and standing in waist deep freezing cold water. Pure ecstasy!! Spending time in the Wateree with John and Papa created memories I will treasure forever as I know John will too. I wouldn’t trade those experiences with John and my Dad for anything.

As time went by and John grew older we began to broaden our places to hunt ducks which included Rimini and Pack’s Landing and much of Lake Marion. Then John heard about Arkansas and how good the duck hunting was out there, so off we go to Arkansas. Soon we are lining up at 2:30 a.m. for the 4:00 blast off to go racing through the Bayou Meto to beat those other guys to the “hole.” We have had some great times in Arkansas.

We then became interested in even more adventurous treks in search of the green-headed, orange-footed swimmius quakamus or anus platyrhynchos to the zoologists.

My friend, Eddie Kinney, had been telling me for years about his trips to visit Hutch Hutchins up on the northern prairie. Eddie related stories of the extraordinary hunting up there and encouraged me to make a trip to the Great Plains.

So in the fall of 2001, as John was beginning his 10th grade year at Sumter High, we began making plans to head out on a great journey to the north. Eddie put us in touch with a guy in Devils Lake, North Dakota, Kyle Blanchfield, who owned and operated a hunting and fishing resort and guide service. We made arrangements to stay at Kyle’s place, Woodland Resort, right on Devils Lake. On October 11, John, Jeffrey Spigner, my nephew, and I flew out of Charlotte to Minneapolis, then to Grand Forks, North Dakota where we rented a truck and made the two hour drive west to Devils Lake.

One of our stops that first afternoon in Devils Lake was at the Wal-Mart to pick up some supplies. Like every Wal-Mart everywhere, we found a microcosm of the folks living in that community. Right away we noticed a large number of Native Americans shopping there. North Dakota is the home of those Native Americans that whose languages were various dialects of the Siouan (Sioux) Language of which the Lakota and Dakota are two of the primary groups. A sub-group of the Dakota are known interestingly enough as Santee Dakota. The name Dakota is a corruption of a Lakota word meaning friends or allies.

The name "Devils Lake" is a direct translation of the Sioux phrase mni wak’áŋ (literally: spirit water) The Sioux called the lake mni wak’áŋ chante, which separately translate as mni (water), wak’áŋ (spirit), and chante (bad). Early European-American settlers thought this meant "Bad Spirit Lake", or "Devils Lake." The "bad" referred to the high salinity of the lake, making it unfit to drink, and "spirit" meant the mirages often seen across the water. The Christian concept of the devil was not present in the Sioux religion.

By the time European-American settlers arrived in what is now North Dakota, the indigenous peoples there were nomadic plains Indians, following the herds of buffalo which they hunted on horseback. Their historic nomadic culture and development of equestrian culture and resistance to domination by the government and military forces of Canada and the United States have made the Plains Indian culture groups an archetype in literature and art for Native Americans everywhere. When we think of an American Indian most often we think of someone on horseback living in a Teepee.

As more European and American settlers moved into the Great Plains, the conflicts between the two cultures escalated. Names and places associated with the Sioux such as Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, the Little Big Horn, and Wounded Knee are very familiar to us. We remember, also, the Sioux were ultimately defeated and forced to accept government defined reservations in exchange for the rest of their lands, and domestic cattle and corn in exchange for buffalo. They became dependent upon annual federal payments guaranteed by treaty and were forbidden to hunt buffalo. The commercial buffalo hunters, railroads and the federal government, through systematic slaughter of the buffalo to deprive the Plains Indians of their primary food source, nearly brought the great herds to extinction. Because the Plains Indians regarded the buffalo as a sacred animal and religious symbol, their decimation had a negative spiritual and cultural effect on the Plains Indians, as well as depriving them of food and shelter. We shall return to the buffalo and to Native American’s later in our discussion but for now let us continue the story of our quest for swimmius quakamus.

We settled into our room at the Woodland Resort and then met with Kyle to discuss how we might find some ducks. We didn’t use Kyle’s guide service, but he was very generous and gave us some very helpful information telling us to head north out of Devils Lake on Highway 20, then turn east or west on the various side roads and ask permission from the local farmers to hunt on their land. We had a plan. By the way, in North Dakota all directions are given using north, south, east or west.

On that first morning we drove out of town heading north on Highway 20 as suggested. We literally began riding up to farm houses, knocking on the door and asking permission to hunt their land. The people of North Dakota are very gracious and welcoming. We were given permission to hunt more often than we were turned down. That first day we hunted a couple of potholes but the results were not very impressive.

The area in which we were hunting, eastern central North Dakota, is known as the Prairie Pothole Region and is the core of what was once the largest expanse of grassland in the world, the Great Plains of North America. The name “pothole region” comes from a geological phenomenon that left its mark 10,000 years ago. When the glaciers from the last ice age receded, they left behind millions of shallow depressions that are now wetlands. The smaller of these depressions are known as potholes. There are also larger sloughs or marshes the locals call coulees. The potholes and coulees are rich in plant and aquatic life, and support tremendous populations of waterfowl.

In North Dakota, ducks are hunted both in fields and over water. Hunting over and around water includes lakes, potholes, and coulees. In South Carolina, all duck hunting is done over water. There is no field hunting here. We had done a little field hunting in Arkansas using pit blinds which is much different, however, than the field hunting techniques of North Dakota. On this first trip to North Dakota we were planning to do all our hunting over water in the pot holes and coolies. We were not equipped to field hunt as we had no lay-out blinds needed to do so, and really didn’t know how to hunt a field. Consequently we were looking for ducks using potholes and coulees.

On our second morning we decided to change our strategy somewhat. We would scout and locate ducks, then find the owner and ask permission to hunt that area. As we were scouting we came upon a coulee that seemed to have promise. There were a fair number of ducks in the area. There was a dirt road running across to the other side, but it was very narrow and there was a sign there that said “road closed.” We needed to get to the other side to have a better look. The road was built up a little so that the water was about three feet below the surface of the road. After surveying the situation it was decided that we would drive across, no matter the sign, to reach the other side. We began slowly moving across this narrow little bridge of a road. We got about halfway across and then realized that the road grew increasing narrow as it proceeded across the coulee. It was going to be impossible to make it to the other side. Nothing to do but back up.

I asked John to walk at the rear of the truck as I was backing up, facing the truck so that if I was in danger of backing off the road into the water he could call out and stop me. I began backing up very slowly. It seemed all was going well. But then, bam-a-lam, off the road we went. I looked at John and he was wheeling around to see what had happened. He had been walking with his back turned to the truck! You can imagine there was quite an exchange between teenaged son and father regarding who was at fault and responsible for the rental truck laying with two wheels off the road, bottomed out and close to flipping over in the water. What a mess.

We were literally in the middle of nowhere. Somehow it was decided that I should be the one to walk and find help. Several miles later I came to a farm house. There I found a delightful older man who seemed not the least bit annoyed and actually happy to get on his tractor, drive down to where we were precariously hanging off the road and drag us back to safety. Miraculously, no harm was done to the truck. Not only did the farmer pull us out, he then gave us permission to hunt, as the coulee we had fallen into belonged to him. We’ve been hunting on Mr. Erikstad’s place every year since.

The majority of roads in the North Dakota country side are gravel. Hunting ducks in North Dakota requires a lot of driving on these gravel roads to scout and find the areas ducks are using. They move from field to field, eating the grain residue left on the ground after harvest. Before and after feeding in the fields the ducks rest and roost in the potholes, coulees, and lakes. Being migratory, they are constantly moving. New groups are coming down from Canada periodically. Their travel plans are generally related to the local weather or conditions to the north.

Late in the afternoon of our third day as we were returning to Devil’s Lake after a hunt in the same coulee into which we had almost overturned the truck, we experienced an event, perhaps by chance or by divine intervention, that changed the course of that first visit and all our future visits to North Dakota. We were traveling down a gravel road, just before dusk, when we came upon a field that was literally covered in ducks. More ducks than I had ever seen or even imagined there could be in one place at one time anywhere on earth. We stopped and observed as group after group of thousands of ducks, got up out of the field in the waning sunlight leaving to find water upon which to roost for the night. I know you think I am exaggerating but I assure you I am not. It was amazing. We sat there on the side of the road watching in awe at the sheer magnitude of the sight.

After a few minutes of believing the unbelievable, we noticed there was a pickup truck that had stopped a few hundred yards ahead of us to watch, as we were, that magnificent display of nature’s bounty. We decided to pull up and talk to them to get some information about the owner of that field. There we found a couple guys, one of whom was a wildlife officer from the Lake Alice Wildlife refuge. He, too, was amazed at the number of ducks we were seeing.

A moment later a funky old Dodge pickup truck came along and pulled over. The lone occupant, a man that looked to be about my age, got out and asked what we thought about all those ducks. As soon as we opened our mouths and uttered the first few syllables of our special dialect of Sumter, South Carolina Southerneze the guy driving the Dodge began asking who we were and where we were from and so on. He was very pleased to hear that we were father and son and nephew. This guy then proceeds to tell us that he and some friends would be hunting in this field in the morning and asks if we would like to join them. Glancing at each other in disbelief at our good fortune, we responded that we would be delighted to do so. That evening and the next morning were the beginning of a continuing adventure and friendship that has lasted fifteen years.

The guy in the Dodge that invited us to hunt was Bill Wakefield. Someone we didn’t know at all, but who, we would soon learn, was a legend in North Dakota. A man that knows how to get things done, he sprang into action on the side of the road that first evening we met him. “Follow us to the house” he insisted, in his distinct North Dakota accent “We need to get some gear together so we can hunt those ducks in the morning.” So follow him we did, to a farm house just down the road known as “The Blue Goose”. There we learned that we would be hunting with a group of Bill’s friends who had come over from Wisconsin. The next couple of hours were a frenzy of activity, gathering and loading dozens of decoys and other gear for the morning hunt, all accomplished under the direct supervision of our newly found friend. We had never hunted ducks lying flat on the ground in a field before, but we were very excited as we expected many of the ducks we had seen that evening would be returning to that same field the next morning. We were not disappointed.

The morning was cold and windy. In the dark, we set up a hundred or so field duck decoys and dozens of Canada geese decoys and a few snow geese decoys off to the side. We had a large group of hunters, eight all total, and all like us, had very little experience. There weren’t enough layout blinds to go around so we southern boys lay on the ground and covered ourselves with sage grass and barley stalks and waited in the dark looking up at a billion stars. There’s always that wait when duck hunting; waiting for daylight, that first whistle of the wings in the darkness, legal shooting time, the first call of a hen mallard, the first shot fired way off in the distance, and the first group to come in. We waited.

Aside from the fact that we couldn’t hit the backside of the barn lying on our backs on the ground, shooting straight up in the sky, the hunt was incredible. The number of ducks that were flying around in the sky over that field was astounding. Layer upon layer, drove upon drove, thousands upon thousands circling, circling, circling with many coming down ready to land on the ground in that barley field.

The hunt that morning was the first of many we would experience over the years through the friendship and generosity of Bill Wakefield. I would be remiss not to mention a few of the most memorable. There was the hunt when it began snowing hard just after sunrise, so cool looking we were smiling and laughing as if we were children who had never seen such a thing before. Then there was the time the meteorite exploded over the decoy spread in the pre-dawn darkness and the whole sky lit up in a surreal display of nature’s awesome power.

Let us not fail to mention the week that only 32 ducks were harvested during the entire visit. And then the week the temperature never got above freezing and the ducks were everywhere. One morning that week when it was sleeting and the wind was howling at 45mph, five limits were harvested in nine minutes after legal shooting time. It snowed the last night of that week and all the ducks, thousands, left during the night. Not a single duck to be found the next morning.

The hunting stories could go on but let us share a little information about this amazing place. A unique and disturbing phenomenon that has occurred in the Devils Lake region is the rising water levels and resultant flooding. We recently experienced a flood here of unprecedented proportions and know first-hand of the devastation too much water can cause. However, the flood waters here have now receded and we are cleaning up and working to return to normalcy. The situation in North Dakota is quite different, however.

Devils Lake is an endorheic, or closed basin lake, draining an area of 3800 square miles. The salinity of Devils Lake is high, similar to the Great Salt Lake in Utah which is a closed basin lake as well. Until recently there was no outlet from Devils Lake. In 2003, work began on an outlet to divert water into the Sheyenne River, which became operational in 2006. During the past twenty-five years, there has been a slow, steady, and significant rise in the water level of all the lakes and wetlands in the area. Devils Lake and other lakes in the regions have doubled in size, forcing the displacement of over 600 structures including 400 homes and an estimated 250,000 acres of farmland.

Lake Alice and Dry Lake which are north of Devils Lake and contiguous to several of the farms that we often hunt, have experienced a significant rise in the water level and flooding as well. Our friend, Bill, experienced the loss of farm land and structures because of flooding. Here are some aerial photos of ‘the hanger”, a big metal building, and 10 grain bins. As you can see, over time the water continued to rise and this area was inaccessible.

The “official” explanation for the flooding is that it stems from two factors: high precipitation for an extended number of years and lack of a natural outlet for that water to exit. Many in the area believe, however, that the ditching of low lying farm land in northern North Dakota and southern Manitoba has resulted in the rise of the waters. Because of high commodity prices during the last quarter century, farmers ditched these low lying areas to increase their plantable acreage in order to maximize profits. This ditching resulted in more run off flowing into the coulees and lakes. Over the last couple of years, thankfully, water levels have receded somewhat, resulting in farmers reclaiming a small portion of their lost acreage. This past October, we were able to drive to the “hanger” where Bill was working to clean up the debris left by the lake waters on the land around it in preparation for planting.
On the southern shore of Devils Lake is the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation. Established in 1867 in a treaty with the U.S. government the reservation consists of more than 400 square miles. The Spirit Lake Tribe, formerly called the Devil’s Lake Sioux ( Mni Wakan Oyate) is a federally recognized Sisseton Wahpeton tribe. There are approximately 6000 members living on the reservation. The largest community is Fort Totten where the tribal government is located. The tribe operates the Spirit Lake Casino and the Cankdeska Cikana Community College on the reservation. The unemployment rate is near 50%. There is a high incidence of domestic violence and child abuse cases, thought to be related to high levels of poverty and alcoholism. This is a sad state of affairs for these people whose ancestors were once self sufficient, proud and courageous.
North Dakota is a land of extremes. The wildlife, weather, agriculture, land, and its people, make our 39th state very unique. As previously mentioned, the waterfowl population and opportunities for hunting are second to none. The winter weather is unlike anything we have ever experienced. The average high temperature in Devils Lake in January is 14 with the average low being -2. On average there are 53 nights per year during which the temperature falls below zero. There are 104 days during which the temperature fails to top 32. The record low in Devils Lake is -41.

Agriculture is huge as 90% of the land in North Dakota is devoted to crops, the third highest percentage in the country. The size of the farms are huge as well, with fields referred to as quarters and sections. A section is a field that measures one square mile, 640 acres. Over the years the sizes of the farms have gotten larger, while the number of farmers has declined. Evidence of this can be seen by the abandoned farm houses found throughout the countryside. North Dakota is our nation’s largest producer of barley, wheat, oats, canola, flax, sunflowers, safflower, mustard, lentils, and honey.

North Dakota is the 4th least populated state in the country with an estimated population in 2015 of only 756,927 , 90% being White, 5% Native American, 2% Latino, 1% African American, and 2% mixed races and other. Most North Dakotans are of northern European descent, with 47.2% being of German and 30.8% of Norwegian ancestry. North Dakota has more churches per capita and the highest percentage of church attendance in the nation. 35% of the population is Lutheran and 30% Catholic.

In recent years North Dakota has experienced the highest percentage of population growth of any state, primarily due to the oil boom in the Bakken Formation in the north western part of the state. As a result of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling, the state was the 2nd largest oil producer in the country as of 2012, with an average of 575,490 barrels per day. With the current glut of oil and drop in oil prices, production has slowed somewhat recently. In contrast to its high percentage of population growth, the state is the least visited in the nation. It ranks last in the number of tourists that come to the state each year.

Our family has certainly done its part to improve the tourist ranking of North Dakota. After our first visit, John and I went back to North Dakota together with a couple of his friends three consecutive years. Following those four trips, John and friends began making the trip on their own without me. John has been to North Dakota every October for the past 15 years, with me tagging along the last couple of years since I am now on a more flexible schedule.

When we go up now we look forward to renewing our friendships and returning to a place that has become so familiar and welcoming. We love driving around the farm and seeing the work going on as it is truly an awesome operation. We also enjoy checking out Bill’s pet herd of buffalo. As previously mentioned, the buffalo were hunted and killed to near extinction, from an estimated 60 to 100 million in 1800 to less than 500 by 1900. Buffalo have made a resurgence thanks to the efforts of conservationist and ranchers. The current population of buffalo has been growing rapidly, and is estimated at 350,000 nationwide, which include herds on state and national parks, reservations and private ranches. Interestingly, the buffalo is on the ND license plate.

We have so many great memories from the adventures that we have experienced in North Dakota with Bill personally and as a result of his hospitality and that of his friends and neighbors. After a few years, Bill invited us to begin staying at the “Blue Goose” as his guest. On numerous occasions, Bill has taken us in his own truck to scout for ducks. In the early years those rides were crazy as Bill drives like a maniac. His driving would scare us half to death. Thankfully, he has mellowed somewhat as time has gone by. We are grateful for his hospitality, his love of adventure, but most of all, his friendship.

Given all the unique characteristics of North Dakota and the fantastic adventures we have experienced there, the take away that I bring home each time I visit is the generosity and friendly spirit of its people.

The essence of a true sportsman is not the quantity of the game harvested but rather the quality of the shared experiences with family and friends in Mother Nature’s great outdoors. The “trophy” is not what one hangs on the wall or the pictures of the kill but rather what we remember and cherish of our time together. It is a time of love and respect for God’s miraculous creation aligned with the love and respect we have for family and friends. To find, feel, and capture that love is actually the game we are hunting and hope to put in our bag.

Presented to:
The Fortnightly Club
Sumter, SC
February 17, 2016
Dr. John B. Hilton Jr.


It has been confirmed by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department that the flight of ducks we observed and hunted on Bill Wakefield’s farm during our first trip to North Dakota in October of 2001 is one of the largest flights to be documented in recent history and has assumed legendary status among outdoorsmen and wildlife officers in the region.