Last Sunday’s column about alligators in Oklahoma brought back some memories for Towana Spivey, who is director and curator of the Fort Sill National Historic Landmark Museum.
As a historian and archeologist with a biology minor, Spivey has been observing Oklahoma wildlife most of his life. He has encountered Oklahoma alligators in the past and sent me the following e-mail, that I am blogging with his permission.
“Growing up around Madill and Hugo, I have spent a lot of time in the wild areas searching for evidence of early historic or prehistoric people and have often encountered unique wildlife situations,” Spivey said.
“I observed one of the last ‘”red wolves”‘ in Oklahoma in the Enos area of Lake Texoma back in 1968 and even pursued a runaway elephant in the wilderness northeast of Hugo when it escaped into the wild from the nearby Cole Brothers Circus. I have twice been caught in life threatening quicksand on Red River and was uncertain if I would ever be found again.
“As a small boy living in Madill around 1954-55, some of my friends and I killed an alligator in Whiskey Creek south of town. It was approximately 4-5 feet in length although it looked much larger to us at the time. We took it home and posed with it for a photograph taken by the sister of one of the other boys. I remember the smallest of the gang was clowning around with the jaws of the alligator while posing for the photo and when he dropped the jaws, it almost snapped his ear off.
“About 11-12 years later, I was doing an archeological survey on the Washita River arm of Lake Texoma near what is called ‘”Hole 13″‘, a primitive but favorite fishing spot for many people. As I walked along the shoreline of the river intently studying the surface and water’s edge for artifacts, I was startled by a large alligator on the beach that suddenly straightened its legs, rising from the sandy surface and running quickly for the water. I was between it and the shoreline and it had to run past me. It disappeared into the murky waters of the Washita River and I did not see it re-appear. It was approximately 6-7 feet in length.
“In later years, I have seen smaller alligators in various waterways that may have been turned loose by pet owners. However, keeping alligators as pets was not the normal thing to do in southeast / southcentral Oklahoma during the 1950s-60s, with one possible exception. A man named Jimmy had a concrete pool at the east end of Madill’s main street in which he kept several alligators.
“The pool was on the south side of the street in a vacant lot near an old stone building. There was only a low fence surrounding the pool and there were no other special safeguards or procedures for observing the alligators. They were just wild alligators that he kept penned up. I do not know where they originally came from but I do remember shooting sparrows with my BB gun and taking the dead birds to feed the alligators on Saturday afternoons.”
“I heard later that in 1957 during a period of heavy rainfall, many of the alligators escaped by floating over the low fence. It was a time of flooding in the Lake Texoma region and many standard drainage patterns of the creeks and rivers were subverted. What affect this had on the alligator population in that area, I cannot say.”