Introduction to Delta Pieces: Northeast Louisiana Folklife

Map: Cultural Micro-Regions of the Delta, Northeast Louisiana

Working in the Delta

Working in the Delta – Susan Roach
Delta Folks – Hunter And Fisherman Kenneth Hebert: "Love It More Than Anything" – Sylvia Frantom
The Rolling Store – John L. Doughty, Jr.
Delta Folks – Whitey Shockley: Mississippi River Fisherman – Susan Roach

Making Music in the Delta

Telling Stories in the Delta

Delta Archival Materials

Delta Folks

Kenneth Hebert

LaSalle Parish

Kenneth Hebert hunts and owns Catahoula dogs; makes catfish traps and fishes for catfish; and makes blowing horns.

Hunter And Fisherman Kenneth Hebert: "Love It More Than Anything"

By Sylvia Frantom


Kenneth Hebert, nicknamed "Bear," hunts and owns Catahoula dogs; makes wire catfish traps and fishes for catfish; and makes his own blowing horns. He owns eight acres of land originally part of twenty acres of his family land. This property is part of the "open range" in LaSalle Parish where wild hogs are allowed to run free. Hebert says he loves this life and would want no other, but it is a way of life that is disappearing in many parts of Louisiana. Kenneth Hebert joyfully sounds his blowing horn as he calls his animals out of the forest. "Yeah, they got dragging around, ain't they? They'll get up here in a minute. That's just part of them." Referring to his hogs starting to come towards him from out of the forest. Hebert sounds the horn again. "I imagine [I have] around 100 hogs, first one place and then another. Pretty good little bunch of them. I used to have a terrible lot of them. But lighting killed my horse there a couple of years ago, and I just ain't never got another one." Sissy, his Catahoula cur dog, barks with glee as more wild hogs, and finally tame goats and wild turkeys come out of the woods towards him. Hebert happily surveys the animals in his domain as he feeds them.

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About his dogs.

Hunting with Catahoula Curs

Born August 3, 1948 in Jena, Louisiana, Kenneth Hebert learned to hunt with a Catahoula cur dog given to him by his grandfather. He's been hunting with Catahoula dogs "ever since I've been on the ground. My grandfather had them. I've had curs all my life. Whenever we were young, you'd go around somebody who had a big bunch of puppies. It was nothing for all the boys to have a cur dog and everybody had their special one." When he began hunting as a boy, "We started hunting with BB guns. I used to be awfully good with sling shots."

Hebert says he loves hunting with a Catahoula dog more than just about anything. Named Louisiana's state dog in 1979, the Catahoula leopard dog (also Catahoula cur or hog dog) may have been descended from Native American breeds or crossbred with dogs of the European explorers. What he likes most about them is that "they're just an all around good dog." He says of their versatility, "Most other dogs you can train them for one thing and that's it," but a Catahoula can be used for catching and driving hogs and cattle and for hunting raccoons, deer, and squirrels. Hebert uses Catahoulas as "catch dogs" to round up wild hogs in the woods and to hunt deer and coons. He said that his dog will hunt squirrels, but "I just as soon eat a rat as a squirrel." Catahoula curs also make great watch dogs and are friends to the family.

Kenneth Hebert looks for certain qualities in his Catahoula curs including eye color, size of tail, color of head, colors in the coat, and whether it has a "dew claw" on its feet. He believes these physical attributes indicate whether a dog will be a good hunter or not. His favorite dog, Sissy, has blue double glass eyes, but she has a pupil in her eyes [is not albino]. He said, "If you've got a real glass eyed cur, these bright days here, he'll have his eyes might near shut. He can't hardly see at all in the day time." While this can be a disadvantage for day hunting, completely blue-eyed curs are prized for hunting at night. Hebert prefers bobtailed dogs: "There's a strange kind of Catahoula cur that's naturally bobtailed. Used to be that's all I'd ever have was a bobtailed dog. Just had half a tail." Also, Hebert believes the color of a dog's head can indicate problems: "A lot of times if you get a dog that has a lot of white up on his head, he'll be deaf." However, it's not always true because Sissy has white and tan on her head, but she's not deaf. In addition to a good or distinctive coat color, he looks for a dog with a dew claw like Sissy has. Hebert says it's an old wives' tale or Indian tale that "whenever you go to pick out a puppy, you look for the dew claw [a vestigial digit on a dog's front or back feet]. It's supposed to be just about the toughest dog that you can get. If a dog has a dew claw, then it won't kill him if he is bitten by a snake." He believes the tale is true because "I've had snakes bite dogs [that have dew claws] before and their heads would swell up as big as a truck tire. They'd get kind of sick but wouldn't die on me."

Kenneth Hebert also likes other breeds, including the mountain cur, and he once had a favorite one he named Bob. Bob had double dew claws and half a tail; his coat color was black with brown on it and his eyes were gold. Hebert says that when a mountain cur is crossed with a Catahoula cur, it makes a good dog. He has had two or three of them in his life.

He once had a yellow brindled cur with gold eyes named Cowboy that was a cross between a Catahoula cur and a hound. He would pick up his front paw to shake hands with a person and grin at them. Hebert called him Cowboy because he was so friendly: "It don't make no difference whether you know him or not, the sucker is smiling at you and wanting to shake your hand." He hunted deer with him.

A friend of Hebert has a block-headed, blue leopard cur dog that he thought about breeding with his dog, Sissy. This particular blue leopard was tri-colored with dark blue and yellow in it. He says he could have had Sissy registered, but it doesn't matter to him that she's not. His good friend and hunting partner's Catahoula dog named Blaze was Sissy's father and she was given to Hebert.

According to Kenneth Hebert, it is not necessary to spend much time training a Catahoula because "it's mostly just natural to them." A Catahoula will "go after whatever animal you tell it to." He said, "You don't really have to train them to do the hog; you have to train them to listen to you." "Sometimes she'll get off out there and you'd think she could sew buttons on a shirt, she's so smart. She generally listens pretty good. She's super smart," he says of Sissy.

Once he brought home two glass-eyed Catahoulas he was going to use for hunting hogs. One was half pit bull and half Catahoula and the other was full-blooded Catahoula. He said the half pit bull dogs "are good for catch dogs, but not good for all around drive dogs." His wife and daughter saw the two puppies and they claimed them for themselves. He told them, "No, girls, these are my puppies. I'm going to raise them up and hunt the hogs with them." However, Hebert lost the battle: "Well, needless to say, I didn't get to raise them up. Well, they gave them baths and hauled them in their cars until they got up there to 90 pounds a piece." He called these dogs "ladies' dogs" and said they made good watch dogs and protected his wife and daughter well. He said "If me or Cil or Susan had a fight, then I had to watch where the dog was at." Once, when he kissed his wife on the cheek, the dog nipped him on the cheek. He reflects, "These dogs didn't like men but they protected Susan right and left."

Hog Hunting

Rural LaSalle Parish is legally "open range," permitting wild hogs to roam freely the way they did in the early days of settlement in Louisiana. Many state open range areas have been closed because of expanding populations and pressure from timber growers because hogs root up young trees. Hebert reflects that the days of open range wild hog hunting in LaSalle Parish could be coming to an end. In 2000, the LaSalle Parish police jury voted to end the open range in their parish; however, it was challenged because it conflicted with an existing state law allowing hogs to run at large there. For now, the parish is still open range, leaving the folk tradition of hunting free range hogs intact. Landowners allow their own hogs to roam across the heavily forested woods and swamps to fend for themselves; consequently, the hogs are virtually wild. Owners have their own methods of marking and identifying their animals, so each year they must locate and identify them. This requires some skilled herding and penning by the owner's dogs.

The dangerous subsistence tradition has a long history that calls for various methods to keep both the hunter and his dogs safe from the vicious wild hogs. Kenneth Hebert hunted wild hogs with a horse until lightning killed the horse several years ago and he hasn't gotten another one. Horses keep the hunter from being hurt by wild hogs and the horse can also locate the dogs in the woods when they have hogs cornered. He explains, "If you go out on a windy day, you couldn't hear the dogs. All of a sudden your horse throws his ears forward. He's listening to them because he hears better than a man does. You turn the reins loose and if it's a good hunting horse, he'll go to the dogs. It's all just a terrible lot of team work to it."

Hebert says wild hogs usually come out only at night so he has to go hunting early in the morning. Hebert tells the story of one very cold morning when he was in the woods with his horse and Catahoula cur dogs:

It started an old, slow drizzling rain, and I didn't have a slicker suit or nothing else. Got good and wet. Cold. I stayed there just as long as I could and I called those old dogs back in. Well, let's warm up a little bit. Took me a pocket knife and found me a pine stump. Built me a fire. I stood there and warmed up and tried to warm up best I could. Shoot, I'm going to the house: I'll freeze to death out here. I went back up to that old horse and tried to climb up on him and just as soon as I throwed my leg up over him, that horse started pitching. I went ahead and managed to get all the way up on him, but there wasn't anyway that I could ride him. He pitched, and the last time I seen him, he was going up, and I was going down. Way off up in the woods: it must have been 10 miles to the house, that sucker pitched down there in the bottom and stopped. First thing hit the ground was the back of my head there. That fool has done went crazy on me. I'm going to have to get back on him. I knew I was going to have to get back on him, because I knew I wasn't going to walk back to the house. I eased down there and caught him just snorting and carrying on. Got the old girt tightened up and I pulled it just as tight as I could absolutely get it. I went ahead and climbed back up there on him. He was awful: he had a hump in his back. He decided he might not ought to pitch no more. I hurt for three days around here! All those cur dogs just standing there looking at me, as if to say "Ha, Ha, you done hit the ground!"

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One cold morning.

Hebert's traditional hog hunts follow a particular pattern. Hebert drives around in his truck with his dog in the back and stops if he sees a hog. He lets the dog out, and it corners the hog, usually against a tree. However, if a hog has been "dogged a lot," the hog will continue to run. In that case, Hebert hollers at the dog to catch the hog, and the dog will grab the hog by the ear or sometimes the face. Next, Hebert ropes the hog and if it's a boar, he castrates it. He marks the ears with a pocket knife by cutting notches in them when the hog is young. He explains that the marks are legal indicators of specific owners: "Everybody has a different mark. That's the way you tell them apart." Sometimes other people steal and kill his marked hogs and this makes him angry because when marked they are rightfully his property.

He, his dog, and his horse have been hurt by wild boar hogs on some occasions. He reports that most people think the big tusks on the top are the ones that "cut," but it is really the smaller bottom tusks that injure. Hogs use the top tusks to pull up roots to eat, but the lower tusks are "razor sharp." "I've had my horse cut and my boot cut," he relates. Dogs are frequently wounded on the hunt: "I've had my dog cut awful bad." When that happens, he uses alum to stop the bleeding: "Whenever you hog hunt, you take alum. It's the best wound dressing you can get." A stab wound on a dog is very hard to heal. He also says sows, or female hogs, will "bite the living heck out of you." In addition, he warns that hogs are known to fight to try to keep you from getting another hog. One of Hebert's Catahoulas named Peewee was so afraid of getting hurt by the hogs that he "would jump up in the saddle with me. All the hogs would be right up under the old horse, and Peewee would be sitting right up there with me." He believes in rewarding his dogs for excellent behavior; for example, he had one Catahoula dog who "loved M&M's," He said, "Whenever he'd do something really good on the hogs, catch a big hog or something like that, I'd feed him M&M's."

In addition to using his Catahoula dogs for hunting and herding hogs, he also likes to coon hunt with his dog, Sissy. He says Sissy "hates coons with a passion." Since raccoons will fight dogs to protect themselves and can carry rabies, Hebert has to make sure his dogs have their rabies shots before coon hunting.

Kenneth Hebert also enjoys cooking what he's killed after the hunt. He believes he's a good cook because his friends ask him to cook for them when they get together. His mother was from LaSalle Parish, but his father was Cajun from Dulac, Louisiana, and taught him to cook with "lots of seasoning, lots of onions." Hebert calls himself a "red pepper man." He likes to fry fish, and make stew out of game that he kills. He barbecues and roasts a lot of hogs: "We butcher six or seven hogs around here in the community at a time." Hog butchering is done in cool weather. To get the hair off the hogs, they place them in a fifty-five gallon drum with hot water in it to make the hair slip off. Hebert saves the hog fat from the wild hogs to cook with all year. He and his friends roast wild hogs so often that he jokes with them, "I'm getting sick of roast hog. I've had enough of this."

Making Catfish Traps

Kenneth Hebert with vat he used to dip nets. Photo: Sylvia Frantom.

Kenneth Hebert's grandfather was a commercial fisherman and a farmer. He also made hoop nets and catfish traps and sold them. In addition, Hebert's aunt made wire traps, large hoop nets, trammel nets, and gill nets. For Hebert, making nets or traps "was handed down." His grandfather taught him to make large white oak hoops for hoop nets, although most people today only use fiberglass hoops. He says, "My grandfather would take a white oak log and use a sledge hammer and froe to split the log. Then he would use a drawing knife to shave the white oak until he got it just like he wanted it." His grandfather placed this strip around a railroad spike on a tree and kept bending it until he had a half circle. The two half circles were joined together with nails to form a hoop. Hebert helped his grandfather dip these white oak hoops in a tar bath to waterproof them. He says, "We did that many a day, dipping the hoop nets, but now they have commercial net coat." The tar was "regular roofing tar," heated in an eight or nine feet wide and two feet deep circular tank to soften it. They used oak limbs to make a fire under the tank; a pulley and rope in a tree over the tank helped them dip the hoop in the tar. Hebert and another man stood on each side of the vat and used long sticks to knock the excess tar off the hoops: "If you were mad at the man on the other side, [you could] hit it real hard and throw tar over on him. A sure enough good cussing is what you'd get."

Hebert also makes wire traps for catching catfish. He generally makes them during the winter when it is too cold outside to do anything else. He says, I "sit there by the fire, drink a little whiskey and throw a little net." Now, he uses concrete reinforcement wire and nylon net because they last longer, but his grandfather used cotton net which would rot. Hebert cuts the wire to fit the net, and then he bends the wire. He covers the wire with netting and makes the throats or entrances with nylon net. A catfish trap has two throats that the fish go through until they reach the last chamber which contains the bait. He explains that catfish will not turn around and try to come back through the entrance to get out, but will remain in this last chamber until the fisherman pulls up the trap. Hebert buys cheese bait and places it into a net bag to go into the trap. He only makes wire traps every couple of years for his own use and not for sale.

He says he also occasionally makes white oak slat traps. He uses white oak because it doesn't warp. People steal his fish or even his traps: "If you have someone who's been fishing all day and they haven't caught anything, then they catch your net with a hook, they'll steal your fish. Sometimes they'll even take your net." Hebert says, "The world as a rule is just as dishonest as it can absolutely be."

Kenneth Hebert with a drag net used for fishing with a catfish trap. Photo: Sylvia Frantom.

A wire trap is classified as a hoop net and he has to have a license to use it. The traps he makes catch small catfish and he catches them for his own use. The large hoop nets his aunt makes are for commercial fisherman only and are designed to catch buffalo and other large fish. Hebert says he has to work to maintain his traps. He has a vat he uses to dip his traps in commercial net coat to keep the wire from rusting, but he says that the "main thing is to keep them clean." He uses washing powder to soak the "river scum" off them. Also, he checks to make sure there are no holes in the net where the fish can swim out.

Hebert fishes on Little River, Catahoula Lake, and Kiddlin Bay, which is a lake only a mile from his house and part of the family land. He enjoys going fishing with his friends: "All the boys meet up here in the early morning. I get up and I turn that outside light on and a half dozen or more boats are here." Hebert says, "I'm not much of a pole fisherman. I can't sit there and watch no cork go up and down. I like to get out there and get it done and get back." He jokes that he thinks fishing with a trap is "the lazy man's way of fishing."

When trap fishing, he uses twenty feet of line on his traps. He ties the line to a root on the river bank and throws the trap into the water. Hebert stresses that the trap position is important: "Sometimes if the river is deep enough, you hang them straight up and down. Most of the time, you lay them flat on the bottom." He explains that there has to be a strong water current to fish with catfish traps. Hebert says, "If fish are running good, you'll run them [check the traps for fish] about every two days." Other times, he has to leave them for a week to catch enough fish, but he believes, the good thing about traps is that "Fish won't die in them."

Sometimes a beaver cuts the line with his teeth, and Hebert has to drag the bottom of the lake with a net drag until he finds it. He calls this process "fishing them blind." A net drag has "fingers that will stick in the net" and is attached to a line on the boat. It may take him a long time to retrieve the lost trap.

Making Blowing Horns

Another craft that Hebert does is making hunting horns from cattle horn. An old man named Jack Allen showed Kenneth Hebert how to make blowing horns. Over the years, he has made two or three of them. He makes them only for his own use as he needs them when the one he is using "starts splitting." He makes them out of cow horns with a pocket knife, and even carved a wild hog on one of them. He relates a story about a special horn he had made:

I had one that I was some kind of proud of. I got up there to the creek one day, and the old horse didn't want to cross the creek. She got to acting crazy and everything else. I hit her with my fist one time and that didn't help. Next thing I knew I'd come around with that horn and hit her on the head with it. It split from one end of the horn to the other. So I threw it in the creek and I had to come on in and make me another. We've got the hogs on the outside (he hears them in the forest around him.) They're getting the acorns and the mash right now pretty good. A little bit later in the evening, they'd all be up here running and rooting and carrying on. They (the hogs) can hear this (the blowing horn) a way lot further than they can hear you holler."

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A special horn.

Hebert says some people say blowing a hunting horn is a lot like blowing a trumpet. However, he doesn't think that's so because his daughter played a trumpet in school so he said to her, "You blow my blowing horn and let me blow the trumpet. I couldn't blow her trumpet. She couldn't blow my blowing horn."

Blowing horns are invaluable to Hebert's way of life. He uses his horn to call his pet goats, turkeys, and even tamed wild hogs to be fed from out of the woods. He also blows it when hunting hogs, coons, and rabbits with his Catahoula and Beagle dogs.

Living the Good Life

Hebert realizes that hunting and fishing has changed a great deal since he was a boy: He says the fishing is not as good as it used to be and "hunting has went way downhill. There's still plenty of deer. Just about have to have a hunting club now." Across the road from his house is a hunting club and another is planned near the other side of his property. Kenneth Hebert values the freedom of living a life close to the land. He loves to fish, hunt, and cook with his friends in the Jena community. His sense of humor and the companionship of his Catahoula cur dog help him through hardships. Hebert treasures his way of life and hopes it will endure.

Sylvia Frantom wrote this article as a part of the Delta Folklife Project in 1994 and she revised it in 2012 for Delta Pieces: Northeast Louisiana Folklife. She is a native of Louisiana with a heartfelt interest in Louisiana history and folklore.