INTERVIEWEE: John Echols (JE)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT)
DATE: October 23, 2000
LOCATION: Uncertain, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Lacy Goldsmith and Robin Johnson
Please note that the video includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to background noise or off-camera conversation that is unrelated to the interview.
DT: My name is David Todd and it’s October 23rd, year 2000. And we’re on Caddo Lake not too far from Uncertain, Texas. And we have the opportunity to visit with Colonel John Echols who’s been involved in protecting Caddo lake for a number of years and I wanted to take this chance to thank him for joining us.
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JE: No problem, it’s my pleasure to do it.
DT: Well thank you. We often start these interviews by talking about people’s childhood and early days and I was wondering if you might be able to tell us if there was an early experience that might have contributed to your interest in the outdoors and to protecting nature?
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JE: Well I guess you could say that I was kind of raised outdoors. My dad was a hunter and fisherman and ever since I can remember he took me huntin’ and fishin’ right with him and I went right along with him and I guess it all started back then. I’ve just always loved the outdoors and—and it just—just become a habit I guess. Flyin’ and Air Force went along with that. I was outdoors all the time, I could look down on it anyhow.
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JE: And—and my childhood and up until I went into the Air Force, I hunted and I fished and I camped out and stayed in the woods and—as much as I could.
DT: Can you tell perhaps about some of those early trips hunting or fishing?
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JE: Oh yeah, well.
DT: Where would you go?
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JE: Well, any creek, any river, anything that was available and sometimes just in the woods, you know. And I can remember taking my BB gun along, me and a friend of mine, and we’d go out and kill a bird and roast a blue jay, anything, it didn’t make any difference, it tasted good right over a little fire there. But that’s been years and years ago. I wouldn’t do it now but, you know, I did back then and thank goodness they’ve got them all protected now. A lot of people don’t understand that, but they—they—they have. Going back, I fished on Caddo as a teenager—even before I was a teenager. I was born in Ranger, Texas and then we moved to Lubbock and then to south Georgia where my dad farmed for awhile and we all like to died of malaria so we moved back to Texas. And he come across the border from Shreveport on what then was [route] 80 and found a job in Marshall and we’ve been here ever since. And, course then we started fishin’ Caddo and my dad used to bring me down here and we fished Caddo and—before motors were even very big when, you know, six horse motor was a tremendous amount of motor and most of it was paddling—paddled, right.
(Talking at same time)
DT: Did you have a pirogue?
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JE: No we didn’t have pirogue, just an old—old boat—aluminum boat and I used to have a wooden boat that was made out of cypress that we carried around for frog huntin’ and stuff like this and stayed out at night.
DT: Can you tell about some of your frog hunting?
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JE: I can tell you a real good story about that. I went up the river from—on Big Cypress Bough was Longs Camp and across from Longs Camp there’s a slough back in there and it opens up into a couple of lakes. Well a friend of mine and myself went out frog huntin’ at night. And we went back in there and knew we was in the wrong place when a alligator hollered at us so we started walking out and we got lost. And when I found myself, I was—we’re about thi—standing about this deep in water and I was at Big Cypress Bough. But it was a wonderful experience. We got frogs and we had a good time and it was just nature back then I guess, just natural to go out and—I wasn’t worried about anything, you know, before the war and, you know, everything was just kind of loose.
DT: How—would you gig these frogs?
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JE: I—I gigged the frogs. I had a…
DT: Explain how that works.
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JE: Well you had a spring gig and it opened and it had a trigger right in the middle and you put it on a long pole and you saw the frog through a carbide light. Now you—well you know whether a carbide light is or not, you know. And you put the carbide in there and water drips down and it makes gas and therefore it—with a reflector and it’d light and the frog’s eyes show up real good. And you just take that on a long cane pole and gig ‘em and that closes and it—it doesn’t hurt ‘em. But it closes on ‘em and they can’t get away. See the light blinds ‘em. And we used to sell ‘em the to the old Hotel Morrison(?) for twenty-five cents a pair. And that—that was pretty good money back then being a teenager and oh, I don’t know, I just worked my way up through the years and hunted and fished Caddo. And then the war come along and I volunteered for the service and—with the intention of going into Cadets and it took me awhile. I went through two AM schools—airplane mechanic schools and specialized in the B-25 and then I was up in Do—Westover Field, Massachusetts and finally my paperwork caught up and I went to Cadets from there. And—November the 2nd of 1942 and a year later Nov—and—November the 3rd of 1942 and November the 3rd of 1943, I got my wings and commission. And I served twenty-eight years and then I come back to Caddo Lake.
DT: Now why did you decide to come back to Caddo?
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JE: Well, I always loved Caddo Lake. You know, it—it kind of grows on you. They’ve got an old saying, “If you ever dip your feet in Caddo Lake water you turn web-footed and you’re gon’ be back.” And I found this—the house that I presently have here. My dad and sister, my mother passed away and the three of us bought it together. And so when my sister got married and moved out, why I bought my dad and my sister out. And I rented it out ‘till I retired in—and moved up here and I bought it strictly for retirement.
DT: And what year was that?
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JE: That was back in 1962 or ’63 and I retired in 1970. So I’ve been retired thirty years, well semi-retired because I went back to work at Parks and—I had a boy at Texas A&M and it cost a little money. So I we—I was Park Ranger down at Caddo State Park for about three years. And then bought my dad out at Longs Camp Fishing Camp in—‘cause I was—he was sick and he wasn’t quite—quite able to run it so I just bought him out and run that ‘till he passed away and then I sold it and I completely retired then.
DT: Can you tell us about your semi-retirement years maybe as a bait camp operator and as a ranger?
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JE: Oh well as a park ranger, it was—it was a lot of fun. That was before I bought the camp out and I’ll tell you one story that is a true story. I was down on the waterfront and a kid asked me, he says, “Sheriff, where’s a good place to fish?” And I told him, I says, “Throw it right out there by that stump.” He threw it out there and he caught a bass just about that long. And he says, “Boy,” he—”that—that—that’s a good deal, can I do that again?” I says, “I don’t know.” I just turned around and walked off ‘cause when you’re ahead, you better quit. And then there was another lady down there one time and this is the truth too. It—was on the waterfront and her husband was behind us and she says, “Sir, where’s a good place to fish?” And I looked at her and said, “In the water?” And she says, “No, where—,” she says, “I mean where do they bite?” I said, “Right in the mouth.” And she looked at me kind of funny and then she started to laugh and said, “I asked for that didn’t I?” I said, “Yes, ma’am. If I could answer those questions I’d be a millionaire, I wouldn’t be working down here.” And it was a lot of fun things happened at the park, you know. Come in one morning and they told me to get down to the bottom there where the campers there, says there’s—they’d been up all night long. I said, “What’s a matter.” They said, “Well I—we really don’t know, we—there’s somethin’ going on down there.” So I drove down there and, sure enough, they were all ganged up around there and I drove up and I said, “What’s—what—what seems to be the problem down here?” They said, “Alligators are out there—they’ve been after our dogs all night long.” And I said, “They what?” Said, “They’ve been out after our dogs all night long,” said, “they’ve been hollerin’ and everything.” And about that time, I don’t know whether you noticed it when you was down at my house, when a car crosses that bridge it roars because it’s got an iron grating underneath it and one went across the bridge and says,
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“There’s one now.” And I like to fell out laughing. They looked at me and I said, “That’s cars going across the bridge down here.” Then we all had a fun laugh, you know. Campers are good people. Most outdoor people, you know, are just—even though—they—they’re scared, once you explain to ‘em, you know, they—like that, they were—it was their fault. They knew it. They—but that was just as funny to them as it was to me so. I enjoyed my little stay at the state park, about four years, and…
DT: What would be a typical day as a ranger there?
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JE: Oh, a typical day is first thing you do is pick up all the garbage. And then you start keeping the park clean, building stuff, and—jack of all trades, work on cabins and just anything that needs to be done.
DT: And the people who would visit Caddo, what do you think brought most of them here?
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JE: Oh, I just think the lure of the outdoors and Caddo Lake. Caddo Lake wasn’t that well-known back then, you know. A few people knew it, but not a whole lot of people were that interested in it. We had people from Stephen F. Austin University and they were interested in it because Caddo Lake was one of the first offshore drillings in the world.
DT: Now tell us about that.
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JE: Well, the—the oil wells down on Big Lake, before there was any drilling in the water anyplace, it was drilled on Caddo Lake. And they said that, oh, what’s his name?
DT: Howard Hughes?
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JE: Howard Hughes, yeah, his daddy used to go around selling drilling bits with a sack over his shoulder down here on Caddo Lake, you know, and—to the different wells. And it—it—it—it’s quite a historic place also, you know, and Potters Point and you have to read the books to get all of that. Old man Potter, he was our first, I believe, Chief of the Navy for the State of Texas. And that’s—there’s just a lot of history around Caddo Lake. But I guess I became more involved with Caddo Lake after I quit the park and after I sold Longs Camp and… The Corp of Engineers in 196—they filled up in 1966. The Corp of Engineers build a bri—build the dam at Lake of the Pines, okay, stopped the flooding and—for recreation but first…
DT: That’s upstream up here is that right?
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JE: That’s on Big Cypress Bough. Of course, that’s the first lake—that’s the first thing that they built it for was flood control. Second thing the water supply, third thing, recreation. Well, they had gotten so that when we got a lot of rain and Little Cypress was uncontrolled, we were just getting flooded three or four times a year. There was just, you know, what I call nuisance floods for some people—for some of us and a lot people it was more than nuisance because it cost an awful lot of money. So myself and L.B. Stewart, who is dead now, he come to see me because I had written a letter to the Corps of Engineers and said, “We’ve been thinking about forming an organization.” And I said, “We can try and we can see what happens.” So there was six of us got together, myself, L.B. Stewart, Dick Frederick, how many is that, three or four? I can’t remember them all right now, that—you know they say that your mind’s the first thing—your mind’s the second thing to go.” But anyhow, there was six of us. Robert Hall was another one.
DT: And a lot of this was instigated because, or at least they knew you were interested, because you’d written a letter to the Corps. What did you write them about?
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JE: About flooding, shut the gates down at Lake of the Pines, that’s what it’s built for and…
DT: They were letting too much water out?
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JE: Oh yeah, they was openin’ ‘em wide open see and floodin’ us and what was happenin’, little Cypress, you get a lot of water—rain over the watershed and Little Cypress comes in below the dam quite a way down, in fact between Jefferson—here and Jefferson, Little Cypress comes in. Well all that water’d be coming down, well, Lake of the Pines had already opened their’s up and it filled it up and it’d back up and then all of a sudden overnight, it’d come up six, seven feet so—which was useless. So we—we got together and each of us twen—put up twenty bucks and advertised a little bit and went to school and figured we got a hundr—fifty people we’d have an organization. Well we signed a hundred and five, I believe it was, the first night. Our dues were five dollars a year. Incidentally, Caddo Lake Asso—Greater Caddo Lake Association is what we called it and we are a non-profit organization and registered with the State of Texas and everything. We’re over eight hundred strong now. But the first time the Corps of Engineers come up here—they sent some people up here and they said, “What’s been going on twenty years, you know—or a long time, you don’t change.” I says, “People get together, you can move mountains.” I said, “I’m going to stick a knife in your side and I’m going to twist it so much ‘till you wish you’d never heard of Caddo Lake.” Having been on the IG team, I knew kinda who to write.
DT: Now, the IG team is?
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JE: Inspector General’s team in the Air Force. I kind of knew who the proper people to write was and I wrote—Ford was president, I wrote him three letters and then I got a call from Major General Lewis who is retired down here now. And he says, “No use to write any more letters to Ford, he doesn’t see ‘em.” I said, “Somebody’s seen ‘em or I wouldn’t be getting a call from you.” The next thing I know, him and district engineer was down here. And they had written me letters and—actually they had—they had given me false information and I proved it.
DT: And your letters were mostly about this flooding problem?
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JE: Uh huh, and I—I proved ‘em wrong and he says, “Well,” the district engineer says, “Well I wasn’t familiar with this.” And I said, “Well you should have got familiar with it,” which he should have. He said, “You almost got me fired.” I said, “I’ve been working on it.” But anyhow, we finally got that straightened out and then the next thing that reared it’s ugly head was a German company wanted to build a paper mill in here, up above—on Little Cyp—on Little Cypress Bough—or Big Cypress Bough rather. I’ll get that right in a minute. So we couldn’t live with a paper mill down here, it would ruin the lake everything else, the effluents draining into the lake would turn it black and the smell is awful. I don’t know whether you’ve ever been around a paper mill or not.
DT: No, tell me what…
(Talking at same time)
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JE: Have you ever been around a town sewer system? That’s a sweet smell compared to a paper mill. And so I finally wrote him a letter and told him we wasn’t against him or was aga—against any dirty industry and that cancelled it out. And Lady Bird got mad because she already had so—seven hundred some odd acres, or had it on the contract to him so he cancelled that out. But that’s neither here nor there. It didn’t bother me a bit in the world because it’s protecting Caddo Lake. And gradually it worked into where—more than what we ever envisioned it to work into the Greater Caddo Lake Association of—of protecting Caddo and getting everything. They tried to build a dam up there on Little Cypress or Little Cypress Utility District. And went to Austin, fought that out. Even before that, they wanted to raise the dam four foot on Caddo Lake down here which was just a small dam. Well that—that was going to flood a bunch of people out and so that was a Caddo Lake compact between Louisiana and Texas. And—they wrote it so that—in Louisiana any flooded land they’d pay market value and in Texas they’d pay cost. Well some of this land in Texas has been handed down generation to generation to generation around Caddo—it might have cost fifty cents an acre back then. Well there’s a lot of difference. And we had to go to Washington. Our Texas Senate wouldn’t listen to us. We went to Washington ‘cause it had—by state, it had to go under the jurisdiction of Washington and we beat it in Washington.
DT: Well, tell about the trip to Washington. What happened?
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JE: Well, nothing happened. Myself and Steve Leonards(?) who’s dead now and—and Judge Richards Anderson who was our county judge, we all went to Washington and went to this hearing up there. And we had—we had had a couple of Senate Subcommittee hearings here on flooding. And there was some senators and representatives that were down here and their aides were here. And so I—we ca—car—carried them out on a boat trip all around Caddo and fed ‘em down at Big Pine Lodge and everything. And when we walked in, they’re the first people who met us and said, “We’re all for you.” So we presented our case, Judge Anderson did. And they called on me and I just told ‘em everything had been said that could be said and that I wasn’t gon’ to take up their time with going through the spiel. I had all kind of written out here, but just, you know, “It’s in your hands” and I held up a big picture that I brought up here from Caddo and I said, “If you don’t do it, it’s going to ruin scenes just like this.” And the next thing we knew, why Caddo Lake compact was a dead issue.
DT: And what do you think the reason for raising the dam would have been?
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JE: Shreveport wanted to pump water out of Caddo Lake. And—see they had a permit to pump water out of Caddo Lake, or they thought they did. But they didn’t have. They—they had never gone through the proper procedure to get a permit from the Corps of Engineers to pump water out of Caddo Lake. It’s 404 Clean Water Act falls under, I think it’s [section] 404, falls under the Corps of Engineers and it—it defines streams and everything that fall under it and wetlands and all. And—to get this, you have to go through quite a permitting—you do anything in wetlands you have to go through quite a permitting procedure before it’s ever approved, if it’s approved, by the Corps of Engineers. You can’t come in here and log this without a permit from the Corps of Engineers, it’s a wetlands. And thank goodness they can’t ‘cause they’d cut it, you know, they’d cut it. But the Association has really, I guess, really got me into the conservation thing. That’s when it started dawning on me that Caddo Lake needed protecting and the only way we could protect it was through a group of people. And I still say today, and I’ll believe it ‘till the day I go in my grave, if you get everybody together, you can move a mountain if you want to, you know. Now don’t tell me you can’t do anything with politicians, they work for us and I’ll tell ‘em, “I’ve been in three wars and thank goodness, that’s what I fought for, my right to say what I wanted to, who I wanted to, and, if I wanted to.” But…
DT: So the system has worked pretty well…
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JE: The system has worked excellent for us I would say.
DT: Can you give some examples of how Greater Caddo Lake Association might work together? You wrote letters, you went to hearings…
(Talking at same time)
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JE: Oh yeah, we’ve been to hearings and—and Don Henley and us go back quite a ways. Don Henley’s helped us an awful lot and, of course, we were fighting for Caddo Lake and I don’t know whether you—you’ve ever heard him say it or not and now I’ve heard it and I think it’s the truth that he caught his first fish in Caddo Lake from Linda and that’s one reason he fought for Caddo Lake. And we’re very, very thankful for him and Dwight and—but we go back to the Little Cypress Utility District and then after that, I forget what else it was, and then they were going to put a…
DT: How did you fight the Little Cypress [dam]? Maybe you could…
(Talking at same time)
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JE: Well we went to Austin and had—they had public hearings in Austin and I just went down in Austin and stayed. I carried my motor home down there and put it in an RV park and I stayed and that’s where I met Janice [Bezanson] and—and…
DT: How long would you be down there?
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JE: Oh, sometimes two or three weeks. Hearings went on quite awhile and finally it—after all the hearings were over and…
DT: You had to hire an attorney or?
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JE: No. We didn’t have the money to hire attorney.
DT: I see, so you represented yourself?
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JE: We represented ourselves. I—myself and another fellow, can’t remember his name right now. But we represented ourselves at—at the thing and, course, we had a lot of help from other people that was there and felt the same way we did. And…
DT: What sort of things would you say on behalf of Caddo against Little Cypress…
(Talking at same time)
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JE: You know, see, like—like we told ‘em, there was plenty of water. Why would Longview want to take water from a—a Little Cypress Utility District when they got within their city limits Sabine River running through it? Why would Kilgore want water? Why does Marshall want to pay for water when they’re getting their water free? Well their comeback was that that’s going to give out. Well it’s never going to give out, you know, I don’t think it will. They just got through doing exactly what I told ‘em to do at the hearing, sink the pipe a little lower in the bayou and then they had all the water and that’s just exactly what they’ve done now. But we—they spent all these (?) that were in on this thing, Longview, Marshall, Kilgore, I forget who else, spent two or three million dollars. And then you finally come down to where it went to the Texas Water Quality Control Board then I think and they—I just addressed them and told ‘em that they had all the facts, there’s no use of me going over it again like everybody else was going over the facts, they had ‘em in front of ‘em. And they did issue a permit for Little Cypress Utility District but the permit read that they would have to mitigate ten thousand acres of hardwood bottom land—prime in one section and it would be managed and they’d have to pay ten dollars a year to manage it and if they didn’t, why it’d go to Texas Parks and Wildlife to manage and they’d collect the money. And then it had to come to a vote on
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the local population and—because to get the money and the population just voted it down. I—it was, I forget what it was about, one of the hearings, I was down in Austin and they said they was gon’ have a hearing in the county courtroom and it was on Caddo Lake and I said, “I suggest you go to the civic center.” I said, “When you mention Caddo Lake, people come out of the woodwork.” And they didn’t believe me but they got up there and then they moved it to the district court and then they finally wound up out at the civic center. They had to postpone it for about two hour ‘cause people will—you—they’re laid back ‘till you—they think you’re going to mess with Caddo Lake and then they—they come out of the woodwork and they’ll—they’ll take care of everything.
DT: Can you tell a little bit about the proponents of say the Little Cypress project or of the Army Corps of Engineers plan to dig the canal in later years? If they’d know there was such opposition, what’s maybe spurring them to develop the…
(Talking at same time)
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JE: Well one of—one of ‘em said, “We’ll build a Little Cy–,” one of the—our illustrious people around here said, “We’ll build a Little Cypress Reservoir whether y’all like it or not.” Well we showed him he wasn’t quite as powerful as he thought he was. And on—on—on the—the ditching of Caddo—what they planned to do was ditch out—it would have gone right through Longhorn ordinance and come out down there by Big Pines and they’re going across the river and then going up that way. And it was unbelievable what they wanted to do. And Don Henley got in on this and helped us an awful lot on that. He’s very instrumental in beating that and showing that it wasn’t cost—cost effective. In other words, they said they had so many people that would ship here, we tried to find out who they were and they said, “Oh, that’s confidential. We can’t give you that information.” You know, and it—that’s supposed to be public information. If—if—if they’ve got people that were going to ship on it and you’re going to ship so much and guaranteed, then they should have been able to name who they were, but they could—they didn’t prefer to or they wouldn’t or—or they didn’t have ‘em, it was speculation. I don’t know which it was, it doesn’t make any difference, it’s a dead issue now and it’s just some of the things that we’ve gone through down the line and… I was elected on the Board of Directors over at Jefferson for that building project over there. I don’t know whether you’re familiar with that, it’s—it’ll be dedicated in January. Chapman was our representative then and he set up the Cypress Valley—what is it they call—Cypress Valley Alliance. And they own a building over there now and they’ve built a brand new building over there, those was the mo—the everything and they’ll have the dedication in January. Well this is a multi-million dollar deal that was put through in all the counties that is in the watershed of—of Caddo Lake and it’s tributaries are going to have a chance to put displays what—what their primary thing that they’re pushing
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within this building and now have to keep it up themselves. But also they’re trying to get Texas A&M and I don’t know, sev—several of the colleges, they’re got dorms up there so that graduate students and other students could come up and study and they’ll be similar to what they’re going to have right down here at the Longhorn and—where they can come and study firsthand and get right on the river and the ecosystem and everything.
DT: Well speaking of Longhorn, can you tell about the effort to get a national wildlife refuge there?
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JE: I had very little to do with this except to support Don Henley and—and—and Dwight Shellman. Dwight’s really the one that did most of the legwork, let’s put it that way. I went to New Mexico and—to that—out there and we were very happy and this…
DT: You went and visited the Fish and Wildlife Service office?
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JE: Yeah, I—I—I know practically all of ‘em ‘cause I’ve dealt with ‘em so much and—and which they’ve supported us, you know, that about any—any foolin’ with Caddo Lake. They—they were against that also, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Texas Parks and Wildlife, everybody was, you know, they—they said, “It’s an ecosystem that needs to be preserved.”
DT: Why do you think that is? What is it that Parks and Wildlife or Fish and Wildlife Service or you yourself see in Caddo? What is special about it?
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JE: It’s a very, very unique place that you don’t find anyplace else in the world hardly. It comes closer to the Okefenokee Swamps than anything I’ve ever seen. When you get all around and get back in the back part of it and everything. And it’s—as the RAMSAR Treaty said, “It’s a ecosystem worthy of national—international preservation.” It’s one of the few left and, you know, we’re losing so much of our habitat now to—and I know a lot of people don’t believe it, but if we didn’t have all of our game and other stuff, it wouldn’t be the same world we’re livin’ in. And I tell people the one reason that I won’t—that I work for Caddo Lake, I would be awful, awful disappointed if my grandchild or my great grandchild came come up to me and says, “Granddaddy, why did you let this happen to Caddo Lake?” And I get pretty sentimental. It’s just a place that I dearly love and it’s unique. It’s different every time you go out on it. You all—see something new every time you go out on it and you never know what you’re going to see.
DT: Can you tell about some of the things you’ve seen on Caddo over the years.
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JE: Yeah, I’ve seen alligators, I’ve seen deer, beaver. You just name it and I—I guess I’ve seen it if it’s here. Now I’m sure we’ve got mountain lions or leopards here, I have not seen ‘em but I have seen the tracks and it’s that big around.
DT: And have you heard them also?
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JE: Yes I have heard ‘em also across the river.
DT: What do they sound like?
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JE: A woman screamin’. It’s a weird, weird thing, make the skin on your—nap of your neck go right up. And I have seen people that have seen ‘em and I haven’t seen one. They say well we’ve got river otters here now too also. Our ex-game warden told me we had river otters here. But now I’ve—Bob Spate’s(?) is a friend of mine. He lived on Caddo for years and he has seen a mountain lion down here or puma, whatever they want to call ‘em. As far as I’m concerned they’re all the same thing. He has seen one down here.
DT: Did you mention earlier that you might have seen a wolf?
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JE: Oh yeah, I saw a wolf and game—game warden said it wasn’t but when he hit the bank, it was a gray wolf because he stood real high.
DT: Bigger than a coyote?
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JE: Oh a lot bigger than a coyote. I’ve seen plenty of coyotes and this is—this would make two of a coyote. And I was as close—I was within two foot of him swimming the channel going around and around him and I thought about it and, you know, maybe hitting him in the head or something, and I said, “He ain’t bothering me, let him go.” And he went over to the bank and crawled out and turned around and looked at me and off he went through the woods and… All kind of experiences like that. I fish an awful lot, I do most of my fishin’ by trotline and…
DT: Tell about that. How do you run a trotline here and…
0:38:41 – 2124
JE: Oh, you—you got some regulations. You have to mark each end of it. You can only have fifty hooks on it. You can only have a hundred hooks I believe it is total. But I bait with minnows and I catch catfish the way—the biggest one I’ve got weighed about forty-three pounds I think.
DT: And this is a yellow catfish or…?
0:39:05 – 2124
JE: Yeah, Appaloosa—Appalachian cat and… I’ve caught—last—last—last fall, before I had this operation, I was catching fish and I told my son, I said, “I got him in the boat, you’ve got to get him out” because I was getting short-winded you know, and had to do with my heart val—heart, oh veins, you know, stopping up. But anyhow, that—out on the dock, you noticed I had that trough out there, that’s where I keep my minnows. I pump water out of the lake and it circulates through there. Then that long pole is for the big catfish to clean ‘em and the other place over there is just to clean the regular sized one. We hang the big ones up to skin ‘em and clean ‘em.
DT: Well now I understood that there used to be quite a paddle fish industry here and that you’ve actually caught one?
0:40:07 – 2124
JE: I—I—if you go to the state park down here, the paddle fish you cau—see hanging up there is the state record and I own it.
DT: How big is this fish?
0:40:18 – 2124
JE: Oh, he’s not that big, he weighed fifteen pounds I guess. I caught him on a trotline. I don’t know how because they feed on plankton but I’ve caught a couple of ‘em trotline. They’re protected now so I guess I’d be a long time before—before anybody breaks my record but I don’t know. There’s a story goes back about T.J. Taylor and L.B.J.’s wife. That he used to—they used to net ‘em down here and just gut ‘um and throw ‘em out on the bank when—and get the eggs out of ‘em for caviar and he’d ship it away from here for caviar and that’s what—that’s what they say happened to most of the paddle fish. Now I know that they’ve—they’ve stocked Caddo Lake with paddle fish again now, whether they come back or not I don’t know. I forget how many they put in down here. But I got a letter and everything that they were going to stock ‘em and they did stock ‘em, trying to get ‘em back into the system again and…
DT: And have you also seen alligator gar?
0:41:37 – 2124
JE: I’ve seen alligator ga—I’ve seen alligator gar up to seven, eight feet long come out of Caddo Lake. They used to shock ‘em down here and get ‘em—the Fish and Wildlife did that. And fish gar, alligator gar, I—I don’t know how f—I’ve caught ten or fif—of fish gar here weigh up to, oh I’d say ten or fifteen pounds. But alligator gar get way on up there, they get big. But they won’t bother you.
DT: Now do you eat the fish that you catch?
0:42:15 – 2124
JE: No. I eat the fish that—the edible fish that I catch. There’s nothing makes me madder than to see somebody throwing a edible fish away. It’s a waste and there’s a many people that need it—that wa—that are hungry nowadays. It’s a waste of edible food and I’ll turn ‘em in in a minute. That’s one reason I guess that they outlawed yoyos down here.
DT: What are yoyos?
0:42:41 – 2124
JE: They were a spring device that you pull down. It had a little spring on it and it’ll set, kind of like a—a curtain that roll up—a shade and when the fish bites it, it jerks it and it’d pull him halfway out of the water. Well they’d go off and leave these things fishing for the weekend and go off and leave ‘em baited, you go by and see a fish hanging out of the water like this and rotting, you know, and they just—and the Fish and Wildlife probably just, they finally—Texas Parks and Wildlife probably put—put a stop to ‘em. They outlawed yoyos on the Texas side of the lake. I hated to see it but it’s—‘cause ninety-five to ninety-eight percent of the people fished improperly. There’s only that two or three percent, as it always is in anything, that screws it up for everybody, pardon the expression.
DT: But when you were a warden, did you have much experience…
0:43:44 – 2124
JE: I wasn’t a warden now, I wasn’t a game warden, I…
DT: A ranger right? Excuse me.
0:43:48 – 2124
DT: Did you have any experience trying to educate people about the game laws?
0:43:55 – 2124
JE: Oh yeah and if they wanted. I had—I knew the game laws if they wanted to ask me I could tell ‘em and also I’d get ‘em a book for it, you know, just…
DT: Well speaking of fish, I was wondering if you had much experience with some of these water quality issues that have affected the lake over the years, proposals for discharges and…
0:44:21 – 2124
JE: Oh yeah, well there’s—there’s not many—that many discharges through here, you know. They wanted to put a chicken plant up here it would eventually—that was squelched also.
DT: How was that fought?
0:44:39 – 2124
JE: Like we fought everything else. You have to go—you have to go through politics to get most of it, as you knew—being from Austin as you know. But you just write letters I guess that the pen is powerful if you stay with it and write enough letters, somebody’s going to pay attention to you.
DT: Did you generate a lot of letters…
0:45:02 – 2124
JE: Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah. Again, like I say, people are laid back in East Texas but mention Caddo Lake and you’re going to fool with it, they’ll come out of the woodwork.
DT: Can you describe some of your typical members perhaps that have been—what gets them interested, what gets them concerned? Are most of them fishermen or hunters?
0:45:28 – 2124
JE: Fishermen, canoers, hunters, it covers the whole spectrum. You don’t have to be a resident of Caddo Lake or—you can be from Montana we—we got ‘em from South Dakota—we got ‘em in a lot of different cit—that have been on Caddo Lake and they said, “Preserve it.” And we, as I said, when we started out, our dues were five dollars a year. Our dues are still five dollars a year. We’ve never gone up. We’ve put a letter out every, about every three months and the latest everything going on on Caddo and we send that to everyone of our members and so they get an update on everything.
DT: Now I understood that one of the current issues has to do with hydrilla and water hyacinth?
0:46:18 – 2124
DT: Can you explain what that’s all about?
0:46:21 – 2124
JE: Well, you don’t see it in here right now but the water hyacinth I guess were worse this year than they’ve ever been. I couldn’t get out on the lake this year because of my—but my son was out there and he said, “I’ve never seen ‘em like—,” said they were three and four foot high and you just couldn’t get through ‘em at all. So they finally sprayed ‘em an awful lot. And we’ve been—still an ongoing battle about grass carp for hydrilla and the moss and stuff. Now whether they’ll eat—I don’t know whether they’ll eat that other or not—the…
0:47:11 – 2124
JE: No the, oh, purple flower.
DT: Water hyacinths?
0:47:17 – 2124
JE: Water hyacinths and now whether they’ll eat that or not—see a lot of this was brought in here and as the story goes, the water hyacinths were brought in here by, I won’t name any names, but they brought just a couple or three plants because they was in Florida and they saw ‘em and they thought they were so pretty, you know. And—and things like that what gets it to going. You can’t blame ‘em, they didn’t know any better. I wouldn’t have known any better back then either, you know. But we—we’ve been fighting for grass carp and I don’t know for sure, but I think grass carp are in here now. I’ve seen indications of where there was moss and everything it completely—last year before this operation I had, I was out on the lake, where it was just solid, looked like it used to be solid, I—it looked like this water out here right now, just as clear. And I drove out through there wasn’t a bit of moss. And that’s the way grass carp operate, they spread out. And I asked Dan, the game warden about it and he says, “There might me.” That’s his—was his only statement. So, at any rate, we really don’t know. But the vegetation has been a real problem because all this in the winter time dies down, it goes
0:48:52 – 2124
down it makes soil. And it’s gradually filling up the lake. In the long—years down the line, some of this—this place right here, if there’s enough vegetation, sooner or later it would fill up because it goes down, comes back up. And—see the—that’s like Big Cypress Bough. I pull logs out of the—the association had a log pulling machine and I pulled logs out of here that were solid rich pitch pine when you sawed into ‘em. Still had the old square nails where they lost ‘em. There’s no telling what kind of timber is on the bottom of this lake where they—used to be a big—it still is a big timber industry around here and I guess it used to be bigger. But I’ve seen these logs—I sat in my house one day and I thought it was an alligator had come to the top of the water right behind my boathouse. I kept watching and it was a log. And what it does, it gets down and lays on the bottom and it’s rotting and then it fills up with gas and it’ll raise up and it’ll float a little pi—while and that gas escapes and it goes back to the bottom again. So that’s the reason you got to watch where you’re going all the time on the lake.
DT: Now was there a time years back where steamboats…
0:50:27 – 2124
JE: Oh yeah.
DT: …might have been pulling logs through…
0:50:29 – 2124
JE: …oh I’m sure there were because they had steamboat traffic up through here years and years ago, that’s the reason government ditch was built and there’s a government—Jefferson was the biggest town around here then and…
DT: Can you tell about maybe some of the historic uses of Caddo.
0:50:49 – 2124
JE: Well, it—it—it was—it was—it’s a state park. The mill pond was where they stopped and got wood I understand and…
DT: To fire their…
0:51:00 – 2124
JE: To fire the boilers with and these were all paddle wheelers I understand. And I’ve never understood how they got about—around the big raft in Red River, I guess they offloaded and loaded again on this side until the Corps of Engineers cleaned that out. But Jefferson was a booming town back then, you know, as—as the history says. It was the docks and everything else over there and cotton was big and timber was big, everything in Jefferson was really booming. Marshall wasn’t very big. Then railroad come along and they wouldn’t let ‘em go to Jefferson so they come to Marshall and Jefferson died but—died down.
DT: I had a question about considering your long experience with Caddo and the threats to it and your efforts to protect it, what do you see as issues that may come up in the future? What sort of conservation challenges do you see in years to come?
0:52:26 – 2124
JE: Well, we have to—we have to be very, very careful in our selection of what they do with the water at Caddo Lake. As I was told three or four years ago by man from the Department of the Interior, for us to get ready in East Texas because we was gon’ have a boom with—and it’s beginning to show with industry. Houston’s running out of water, San Antone is running out of water. Everybody’s running out of water and there’s a lot of water here and there’s a lot of cheap labor. This is a very economical place. So we have to be very selective of what we do here so we don’t pollute our water supply, don’t pollute Caddo Lake, don’t ruin Caddo Lake ‘cause it’s a—it’s a jewel sitting right here and everybody that comes to it knows it and loves it. Hello there. I’ve never seen a day that if you wanted to go out on Caddo Lake and catch you a mess of fish, you might have to work, but you can catch you a mess of fish. You can’t say that on every lake. And it’s not a man-made lake, it’s—it’s natural.
DT: Is that right?
0:53:59 – 2124
JE: It’s—it’s a natural lake.
DT: Is that one of the things that makes it distinct?
0:54:03 – 2124
JE: Yeah, I think so.
DT: Well now if generations to come have to deal with some of these environmental problems and efforts to protect Caddo and other special places, what sort of advice would you give them to encourage them to be…
0:54:23 – 2124
JE: I’ve already been giving that advice to the younger people.
DT: And what is that?
0:54:27 – 2124
JE: Stay the course, keep on top of everything. Weigh it, read about it, know more about it than they know about it. Then you’re ready to do what you need to do. I’ve got a son coming up well, the one that retired. He’ll fight for Caddo, he loves it. I’ve got another son in Houston’s gon’ retire and when he does, he’s moving to Caddo. He’ll fight for it. And I’ve got a grandson I’m sure that’ll fight for it too. And we have a lot of families that are the same way. Our present president of Greater Caddo Lake Association, and I knew him when he was about that high, and he’s the president now and I’m very glad to see him getting—I’m the vice-president, but I’m very glad to see ‘em getting young people in the offices, that’s where they need to be. And, you know, I realize that my time on this earth is probably limited. I’m eighty-one years old and I can’t believe it. But I realize that I can’t live forever but I keep telling everybody I am and I try to make myself believe it but truthfully, I won’t be here forever. And to people that have fought for it are getting close to my age and they’ve got—the young people have to start taking over and they’re doing it, staying on top of everything. With the computers and everything they have now, it’s a whole lot easier than it was back then.
DT: Well and over the years, what sort of changes have you seen in Caddo from when you first came here as a boy to now?
0:56:24 – 2124
JE: Vegetation. See it—we, as human beings and people, for—it’s the old adage, “For every action there’s a reaction” and they built the Lake of the Pines to stop the flooding. It flooded every year and it flushed the lake. And then that was the end of—just about the end of the flooding. But they stopped that and when they stopped that, then here come the vegetation because it flushed it every year out of here and it got muddy and it couldn’t grow in mud but now it can grow. And that’s the change I’ve seen takin’ place is mostly the vegetation and of course house—there a lot of houses been built but I don’t blame people for that. I love Caddo Lake myself and I love to live on the shores of it just like they do. And I don’t knock ‘em for it a bit just as long as we keep our septic tanks and everything in the proper working order. And it’s—we have regulations now by the county and all that’ll handle that but… I just tell the young people, stay the course and keep after ‘em. Don’t let ‘em get a minute ahead of you. And they will, you know, for the dollar sign why I’m sorry they’d ruin it.
DT: The last question we usually ask people is if they could describe a place in the outdoors that they especially like, they enjoy visiting, that gives them pleasure to visit.
0:58:20 – 2124
JE: Yeah, and I can’t get there right now because of the low water but car—back in Carter and Clinton Lake, you get back in there and it’s like it is right here. Of course, we’re close. That’s far away from everything. I had a friend, my wife and I, from San Antone, her husband had died, she come up to see us and I took her back in there and I guess this remark says it all, “See, you don’t have to go to church on Sunday do you, you can come right back here.” And I guess that says as much as anything. And that was a stranger, the first time she had been on Caddo Lake. And I carried her back in Carter and Clinton Lake, me and my—my wife then. I’ve got my second wife now, my first wife died and passed away and, yep, she—that—I guess that would sum it up.
DT: Just a very quiet, peaceful part of the lake?
0:59:28 – 2124
JE: It looks like no one has ever been there before you. Yes. Peaceful, nice and quiet and you look at the birds and everything is just—can you hear the birds singing, the crickets hollerin’ and everything else. It’s just—it’s just a wonderful place to be.
DT: Well thanks for sharing this part of Caddo Lake with us and for taking the time.
0:59:55 – 2124
JE: No problem, you come back anytime and I’d like to show you a whole lot more of it.
DT: Thank you very much.
1:00:02 – 2124
End of reel 2124.
End of interview with John Echols.