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The "Dumb Bull"

In the spring of 1936 several teenage brothers in the Poston area of South Carolina were bored for something to do. One brother had his friend Joseph Furches visiting, and as boys will be boys, they came up with something. Paul Poston, about ten years old at the time, joined in his brothers' fun and relates the story.

"Lance, the usual leader of mischief, decided that they should make a dumb bull. "What's a dumb bull?" I asked. Lance explained as they began to create it. They took a nail keg and knocked out both ends, then stretched a piece of cowhide over one end as tight as possible. A small hole was bored in the center of the cowhide and into the hole went a string heavily waxed with beeswax. They tied a knot in the string on the inside of the keg so it wouldn't pull completely out. When they set the keg on the ground and pulled the waxed string, it made the most awful sound ever heard in that part of the country.

"Our equipment complete, we started moving about the countryside so the terrible noise could be heard from different locations. ‘Uncle’ Jessie Ellison and two of his grandchildren lived in a house across the swamp and ‘Aunt’ Sara Eaddy lived down the road with five of her daughters. We decided to start in the swamp between Uncle Jessie's and Aunt Sara's house. When we pulled the string and changed the rhythm of the beat, it sounded monstrous. The quiet night was shattered when all the dogs in the community started barking and howling; even the mules started braying. Then we heard some pounding coming from Uncle Jessie's house. The next morning we learned that he had nailed all the doors and windows shut!

"We worked our way down a ditch in front of Aunt Sara's house. On hearing the horrible noise, Mr. John Henry and his wife left their house and ran like a streak to Aunt Sara's, about two hundred yards away. About the same time, Mr. Cooper was returning home from Poston and heard the noise. He hollered out, 'John Henreeee, did you hear that?' John Henry stuck his head out of the window and yelled, 'I sho' did.' Mr. Cooper called back, 'What did it sound like?' John Henry yelled, 'I don't know but I believe it's the devil!'

"About that time we cut down on the string and Mr. Cooper yelled out, ‘Close the door and open the window, I'm coming in!’ We could hear the women and children screaming and all the dogs around were having a fit. We thought it was hilarious, but when Dad learned what we were up to he made us stop.

"The next morning everyone in the community wanted to find out exactly what had happened the night before. Uncle Jessie found a track in a ditch where two dog feet had come together, and he was sure something big had been through there. Now, normally my Dad wouldn't stand for our foolishness but he reluctantly went along with it this time. He agreed with Uncle Jessie that probably a ‘big tiger’ was on the prowl.

"Preparations were made all day Sunday in case the monster returned. Folks borrowed gun shells, rifle bullets, axes and pitch forks to protect themselves from this unearthly creature. By nightfall there was so much tension, few people got any sleep.

"That night Uncle Jessie thought he heard something outside his house. He opened the window just wide enough to stick his gun barrel out and let go with two or three rounds, increasing the anxieties of everyone else. There were no beastly sounds Sunday night, however. Monday morning everyone figured the creature had moved across Lynches River to Snow Island, or into the swamps of Marion County. Later in the week we had a bit more fun with the dumb bull but when Dad heard about it, he put a stop to all our shenanigans. He was afraid somebody was really going to get hurt.

"Well, since we weren't using it any more, Lance's friend Eddie decided to borrow the dumb bull. He tried it out one night in the woods near Ariah Davis's house. He pulled the string a time or two and Ariah pulled the trigger on his shotgun. Eddie had to lay flat on the ground until Ariah ran out of shells, then he got up and ran for his life. He kept the dumb bull silent a few days, then set it up behind Doward Perry's haystack. He was squatting down pulling away on the string when Doward eased up in front of the haystack, poked his shotgun barrel through it into Eddie's face and yelled 'Stick 'em up!' Eddie fell over backwards, hands and feet flopping in the air. When he got a grip on himself, he got up and ran away as fast as he could go, leaving the dumb bull behind. Well, the cat was out of the bag then, that was the true end of our dumb bull adventures!"

Adapted from "The Land Between the Rivers" by John Paul Poston, 1999. Used with permission.

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