Guest Post: Our Pet Crow (A True Story of the Williams Boys in Somerset)
[NOTE: Halleck and Jesse Fisher Williams had seven children, including four boys. The Williams boys – Eugene, Tommy, Charles, and Paul – (and their three sisters, Lois, Josie, and Opal) had first cousins in the families of Fisher, Neikirk, Barnes, Coomer, and Jasper (among others) — all well-known names in Somerset. This recollection is told from the perspective of Paul Williams – late of Cincinnati – who (at the time of the retelling) was the last surviving sibling of the Williams clan.]
Two of our sisters were already married and our oldest brother [Gene] had joined the Army about two years earlier. So in the spring of 1939 it was Tom, Charles, and me – and our sister Opal – living with our parents in the Williams farmhouse... in the Possum Trot community outside Somerset.
Now Tom could climb anything, but he was especially good at climbing trees. The taller the better. No matter if it had any limbs or not. He’d just wrap his arms and legs around it and shinny up a tree like a monkey.
We were over in G.P.’s [Neikirk] woods, behind what’s now Glen Neikirk’s house. One of us spied a crow’s nest — about 50 feet up, in the top of this tree. Must have been an oak... but hardly any limbs in the lower half. Well, Tom decided he’d climb up there and have a look. So he just scooted up that tree.
When he got up to the crow’s nest, he found four baby crows... so small they couldn’t fly. He tucked them in his coat pockets and then climbed back down to show me and Charles. I don’t know what made us decide to take them home and raise them... but that’s what we did.
Mom really ‘got on’ Tom for climbing that tall tree. But that never kept Tom out of trees... he’d climb anything that was standing.
We took an old bushel basket and filled it with straw... then hung it up on the outside of the smokehouse wall. About 7-8 feet off the ground, so the baby crows would be safe.
We took rolled oats and added a little water. Those crows would sit up in that basket with their mouths wide open and squawk just like they’d do if their mama crow was feeding them. We’d give them just a pinch at a time... they really gobbled down those oats. Later, they ate dry cornbread, too. We almost always had cornbread.
These crows just had real thin hair fuzz when they were little. But before long some tiny feathers came out. They started sitting up on the edge of that basket while we fed them... and sometimes they seemed to perch there just out of natural curiosity.
Before long, they’d jump down to the ground and start walking around. They couldn’t fly yet, but had just enough feathers to drop that far without getting hurt. Well, we’d keep catching them and putting them back up in that basket, for their own protection. But they’d jump right out again.
It was probably about the end of May because the rosebushes had roses. One afternoon, there was a big, hard rain. We looked out and saw three of these crows standing there with their heads back and their mouths open. We thought it was strange and funny-looking so Opal even snapped a picture. But later, after the rain stopped, we found those three crows in that same spot just rolled over dead. We figured they just drank so much rain water that they drowned! If we’d realized that’s what was happening, we would have run out there and brought them inside the barn.
Only one crow lived from that nest, and he became our pet for the next several months. Nobody ever understood why he didn’t drown himself in that rain along with the others.
Dad named him Jim. No particular reason that I know of. And Jim grew up to be an adult crow.
Jim was quite a crow. He’d roost in different trees around the farmhouse. Didn’t build a nest... he’d just sit up on a limb. He ate mulberries out of our mulberry tree right next to the road.
We’d holler for Jim and he’d come flying. We’d hold out our arms and Jim would perch on our forearms. He’d follow us everywhere we went... except church. That Jim never once went to church. Now, Charles remembered that Jim DID follow us to church... just like he followed us to school. But I say ole Jim didn’t have any religion at all... and he always stayed home on Sunday mornings.
But when we’d go to school, Jim would follow us. No matter how hard we tried to send him home, he wouldn’t do it. He’d fly up to us, then sit up on a telephone pole. We’d keep walking... and tell Jim to go home. Then he’d fly up to us again and land on the next pole. He did that – pole-to-pole – all the way to school... about a mile and a half.
We had three grades in one room. There were 13 of us in the sixth grade and we were over along the inside wall. The seventh grade was in the middle of that room. Charles and the other eighth graders were along the windows. Mr. Clair Kane was our teacher.
School started in July that year. It was hot and the windows were all the way up, of course. Some of those eighth graders would practically lean out the windows to try to catch a little breeze. Well, one day Jim flew by and saw Charles sitting there, with his arm resting on the windowsill. So Jim figured he’d just land on Charles’ arm like he was accustomed to doing. But Charles wasn’t expecting Jim, so he was kind of startled and shook that crow right off his arm. Well, that unfriendly reaction surprised Jim... and he flapped and hollered a bit. Then he just re-lighted on the windowsill right next to Charles and looked in at all those students.
Mr. Kane got upset... he didn’t want that big ole crow disrupting the three grades in his classroom. Well, Jim just sat there a while and finally he went on home. I don’t think he learned anything at school that day... except that he wasn’t very welcome.
When we worked in the garden, Jim came over there with us. When we’d turn up a clod of dirt and find a cricket or worm, ole Jim would jump right on it.
That spring we had a BIG garden planted... a half acre or more. Over behind the farmhouse and to the side of the barn.
One day, Charles and I had to put in a whole row of pepper plants. This row was probably 90 feet long or maybe more... and that was hard work. Charles poked a hole for each one and dropped in the pepper plant and I’d come behind and tamp the dirt around it. Then Charles would move up a few inches and drop in another one. We did that for hours.
When we finally got to the end, we stood up and looked back down that row. Jim had been right behind us the whole time... and we hadn’t known it. That ole crow had pulled up every single pepper plant! He didn’t eat them or even damage them in any way — just plucked them up and laid them down. The whole row!
I guess Jim thought he was helping us, but we sure didn’t appreciate it. We threw clods of dirt and sent Jim back to the farmhouse. Then we had to go back and replant that whole, long row of peppers.
In the afternoons, Dad would take a break and smoke his pipe. Jim would fly over and sit on top of Dad’s shoulder. After a while, Jim got to where he’d reach over and pluck the cooled ashes out of Dad’s pipe... and eat them. Well, I once had a pig that ate coal, so having a crow that ate tobacco ashes didn’t seem all that strange. Maybe Jim had an addiction to nicotine!
Mom liked Jim well enough, but Jim didn’t really [do much with] her.
In the hot months, it was hard to sleep. The boys’ bedroom – upstairs in the northeast corner – had two windows. We’d often sleep with our heads practically resting on the windowsill to try to catch the cooler outside air.
Charles remembered that Jim would fly over about dawn and land on the windowsill of our bedroom. Then, if we didn’t wake up right away, Jim would peck us on the head until we did. Being pecked on the head by a crow is a more effective wake-up call than any alarm clock I’ve ever had.
The only space around the farmhouse that was paved was the short walk going from our front porch to the concrete steps next to the road. It’s called McKee Circle now, but it was Clifty Road back then. One day I was playing “jacks” out on that walk. Ole Jim zoomed down on me from who-knows-where and snatched one of my jacks. Right on the fly... zoom! Then he flew over and landed on a big rock near the chicken house. Jim just sat there ‘til I reached him... and then he flew off. I don’t know if he flew away with that jack still in his mouth... or if he dropped it somewhere by the chicken house. But I never did find it. So we had to play with nine jacks from then on.
I hate to call Jim a thief, but my jack wasn’t the only thing he stole. Charles remembered this part of Jim’s story. One day, Aunt Lu [Neikirk] took off her wedding ring and set it on the windowsill before she went out to work in her garden. Well, crows like shiny things (like jacks and rings), so Jim just swooped down to that windowsill, snatched Aunt Lu’s ring and flew off. Aunt Lu must have seen Jim at her window, because she knew exactly who took her ring when she didn’t find it where she’d left it. Aunt Lu was a good Christian woman, but she cussed that crow with every bad word she knew.
Jim must have seen the error of his ways, because he later dropped Aunt Lu’s ring right there in her garden, where he knew she’d find it. Which she later did... but even so, Aunt Lu never warmed up to that crow afterwards.
Dad was painting the farmhouse — either late that summer or early fall. White. He was up a tall ladder painting underneath the eaves. Well, Jim zoomed around the house and started aggravating Dad. Jim tried to land on his shoulder, but Dad shook him off. Jim tried to get into the paint to see what it was, but Dad shooed him away.
Finally Dad got so annoyed that he took a swipe at Jim with the paintbrush. Jim ended up with a big stripe of white paint on his chest and belly. That paint stayed on that crow for a long time before it eventually wore off.
This most likely started in early fall. There’d be some crows going by... flying northeast. At first Jim would turn his head sideways, so he could see them, and he’d just watch them fly on by. Jim wouldn’t do anything else though. But later, after he got used to seeing those other crows, Jim got to where he’d call out to them... or call AT them. Not sure which. We used to say that Jim hollered at them, but crows can’t holler.
Then it was late fall — that same year, 1939. One day, Jim wasn’t around. Not the next day either. Or the next.
It had been a full week that Jim was gone and we all figured we’d never see him again.
Dad was working with a construction crew at that time. They all knew about Jim because Dad had told them about our pet crow. They were eating their lunch when one of the workers asked Dad, “Halleck, you hear anything from Jim?”
“No,” Dad replied. “I guess somebody shot him for a crow.” That’s exactly what he said.
Jim was just like a pet dog. We all cried when we realized he surely wasn’t coming back.
Later, we figured that Jim joined up with some of those crows who’d fly by on their way to other places. It was probably his instinct to migrate with them. Even though it meant leaving all of us... who’d raised him as good as his own mama crow could have.
As remembered by Paul Williams, put to paper by Jeffrey Salter