In the late fall of 1938, my mom and dad moved from the edge of the loess bluffs near Charleston, Miss., to the small town of Jonestown, Miss., the heart of Delta farming country. My dad was the farm manager for a large plantation (which he was very good at), and the move was to a farm bordering rather famous Swan Lake.
At that time, I was in Desoto County, Miss., working for a large sawmill, merchandise, and farming complex owned by ex-state senator Bolivar Dean.
I had not seen the place where my parents moved to, and the first letter from my mom spoke briefly of the many thousands of ducks that resided on Swan Lake only 300 yards from their back doorstep! I could hardly believe what I was reading, having been hooked on duck hunting since I was old enough to hold a gun.
They were not bragging. The shooting season had not yet opened, and that old lake-marsh was absolutely plastered with ducks all the way from its south end near Highway 61 and the little town of Jonestown. Never have I seen a place so solidly filled with ducks!
I was told by local hunters that it was probably the finest duck lake in the South. I believed them and as soon as the season opened, I was there for the shooting.
It was absolutely fabulous — especially the mallards and gadwalls that loved the place. It also harbored virtually every species of duck that inhabited the Mississippi flyway.
Sometime in the past, I published a report of a hunt where my friend John Sommers and I bagged a limit of eight ducks, every one of them of a different species.
It developed that the people who lived in and around Jonestown had formed a sort of club called the Jonestown Wildlife Association. Since my parents lived right on the bank of the lake, I was taken in as a member.
Later, after leaving the Desoto County job and coming home to get ready to join the service, I was made a sort of warden. In fact, my friend Burdine Mosely and I “split” the job between us and each of us received $37.50 per season to more or less patrol the lake to keep poachers down to a minimum. It was good pay since shells could be bought at Jimmy Lee's store for 75 cents a box.
My regular hunting buddy was the local druggist, a man a bit older than I but a rabid duck hunter. His name was Jack Stanford, and he could always find someone to take over in the store so we could hunt if the ducks happened to be plentiful and flying well.
Jack was an excellent shot and could paddle a boat with the best of them, but for some unknown reason he simply could not call ducks with any success.
This may have been why he picked me as his hunting buddy. I had learned the art well in the Tallahatchie River floodplain where I had grown up under the tutelage of the best duck callers in the state.
We hunted together constantly, and I must say that Jack always gave me public credit for calling in most of the ducks that we killed.
After all of these years, Swan Lake still exists. It actually seems to be larger than it was back in the old days when Burdine and I were wardens.
It lies in plain view just opposite the Clarksdale airport on Highway 61. On wintry days, drivers going by are almost certain to see ducks milling around the vicinity.
Every time I see it I get a “warm, fuzzy” feeling recalling the fine times that it furnished us in the past, and I am thankful it still survives.