Looking at the Promised Land
Running traps, checking lines
Dennis Burch says he “knows a few lies” about his days of trapping and hunting.
The 87-year-old Deweyville man, who moved from the Cove after his home was damaged in Hurricane Ike, says he made a pretty good living at it.
“It’s better than stealing and mooching – like some people nowadays,” he says.
Burch’s friend Archie Jones, 82, retired from Dupont, says he “ran with” Burch for many years.
“He’s one of the most unique men I’ve ever met,” Jones says.
“Archie’s a fisherman,” Burch says. “And a pretty good outdoorsman. We’ve caught hogs and chased deer together.”
As it worked out, Burch didn’t plan to be a trapper. He learned it early on and never left.
“I was born in ‘23,” he says. “And you’ve got to figure that in them days the old man would find something for you to do. We always had cattle and horses. That was one thing I learned pretty quick was riding. My father didn’t care how many alligators ate you up, but don’t let a horse throw you. This old boy that lived back in the woods – he come up one day with a motorcycle. My dad said, ‘Don’t you ever get on that thing. Don’t ride nothing that don’t stand up when you get off of it.’”
Burch had little formal education. He learned how to read by studying the Bible. His father ran tugboats throughout southern Texas and Louisiana.
“That’s how my father met my mother. He went down to Johnson’s Bayou one day to pick up a bunch of people, and she was one of them.”
Burch says he worked briefly at Dupont in Orange, but never had the desire to punch a clock.
“I was there eight months and it seemed like four or five years. It just didn’t seem right to me.”
Burch spent many years after World War II at the Gray Ranch in Cameron Parish, La. That’s where he met his wife Ruby.
“There were two or three times in my life when the muskrats came in, and there were plenty. You could get $1 or $1.25 a hide. Two years in a row we caught 6,000. We’d get 100 ‘rats a day by putting out 300 traps. There were no postings, no KEEP OUT signs. It was the law of the land back then – but nobody better come and get YOUR traps.”
Later, Burch worked in the Choupique area south of Sulphur.
“One year a storm washed all the muskrats up, but didn’t hit the nutria all that bad. All the guys that lived in the marsh down there, they did pretty good. They didn’t starve but got pretty poor sometimes I guess.”
Sometimes cowboys would come through on a cattle drive and stay a few days. Ruby would cook breakfast for them. Burch helped move the herd from Johnson’s Bayou up to north of Lake Charles in Gillis, La.
“We moved them through the streams. One of them broke up a whole houseboat one time.”
Burch also hunted alligator, and in all those years never really had one “get after” him although his hand had a close call with a mouth full of sharp teeth.
He could often get $65 per foot and could keep some of what he caught.
Another time, he got stuck in the mud and started sinking down before barely pulling himself to solid ground.
“I was sure my time had come,” says Burch, who went back to Gray Ranch. There, the foreman gave him some land and cattle and he and Ruby lived there.
That was probably his favorite time, he says.
“When I looked out on that marsh and saw all them ‘rats, I felt like Moses when he saw the Promised Land.”