During the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Jap Hatley family was at the core of a group of men and boys who shot anvils on Christmas night in front of George Duncan’s General Store.Daddy, I suspect, was the overall director and PR agent for the event, making sure everybody knew about the upcoming Shoot.
My older brother, Billy Wayne, somehow got to Dallas, 80 miles away, to buy two pounds of black powder, which came in red containers reminding me of larger versions of Prince Albert cans.
To have anvils to shoot, Daddy and Billy Wayne lugged two of Elvis “Bish” Collins’ anvils to the front of Mr. George Duncan’s store right at the edge of FM 69.
Bish was almost kin, since his brother, Dub, married Momma’s youngest sister, Rosie Pearl. Truth be told, I think Daddy traded on our near kinship with Bish as the main argument to get the anvils.
Maybe Daddy held in reserve the killer of an argument that the Dike’s anvil shoot was going to become a major tourist event for people in Flora, Mahoney and Hatchetville … maybe even Sulphur Bluff and Birthright.
Bish was free with his anvils until, in one anvil shoot, we broke the snout off his favorite anvil, which gave rise to the saying still used by older Dike residents on the Caney Loop, “Them Jap Hatleys can bust an anvil.”
Jimmy D., middle brother, still wants to sue for slander.
Billy Wayne, older brother, stopped him cold on the lawsuit with, “Jimmy D., we did bust that anvil. No way to argue with hard fact.”
Me sue? Heck no. I made a fair amount of money using Bish’s desnouted anvil to change out teeth on Daddy’s mowing sickles. My pay was 50 cents a sickle.
After securing the anvils, the next issue was finding a site so tourists would have ample access. I personally think Mr. Duncan agreed to let the anvils be shot in front of his store in exchange for the legal designation of his store as the sole source for the event’s cokes, peanuts, potato chips and fireworks.
With all the necessities for a Christmas Night Dike Anvil Shoot in place, somewhere around dark thirty on Christmas Night, one anvil was turned over with its snout on the bottom and its feet pointing straight to the sky. In the middle of the upturned anvil was a hole deep and wide enough for two ounces of black powder.
After the hole was full, a fuse was made with a line of powder poured from the hole to one side of the upturned anvil. Then, a wet newspaper was slapped over the upturned anvil. The second or top anvil was placed right-side up directly over the bottom anvil with the wet newspaper providing an airtight seal so all of the explosive power was directed at the top anvil, which usually blew three or four feet into the air.
With the anvils properly “loaded,” everybody stepped away 20 or 30 feet so a member of the Dike Black Powder Anvil Shooting Team, with a blazing, tightly wrapped, heavily gasoline-drenched burning taper attached to the world’s longest cane fishing pole, could be used to touch off the anvil fuse.
With the touch of the newspaper flame, an explosive roar rattled windows throughout the community and could be heard as far away as Flora and Mahoney. Once, somebody in Nelta six miles away on the Sulphur Bluff side of the county heard the anvils shoots, which probably had to do with the mysteries of weather and sound waves.
Along toward the end of one Christmas night of anvil shooting, which everybody agreed had been perhaps the best anvil shoot ever, I came in possession of a cut-rate Roman candle. I had the candle spurting globs of fire high enough and long enough to please any number of Romans.
At any rate, several events conspired: completion of a “loading” of the anvils with black powder; an accurate Roman Candle shot from my candle into the anvil fuse; and the explosion of the anvils totally surprising the anvil shooters who were only three or four steps removed from the anvils when they shot. Daddy said his ears rang for a month.
To this very day, I am still surprised I did not get punished. Perhaps I was blessed with the combination of confusion and several empty bottles previously holding Four Roses Bourbon.
But, here, 60 years after the fact, I can say without fear of contradiction that I saw my Roman candle ball rise in a perfect trajectory, flying slowly up and out and then slowly down and into the anvil fuse to bring a wonderful explosion and light show which brought another Dike Anvil Shoot to a full, satisfactory conclusion.
The Sulphur Springs News-Telegram is pleased to welcome Don Hatley, Ph.D., to our list of area correspondents. Dr. Hatley grew up in Dike, the son of Gladys Lucille McDonald Hatley and Jasper “Jap” Lee Hatley. He’s married to the former Mikell Sue Skeen. He holds a Ph.D. from East Texas State University. For 40 years, he taught English at Northewestern State University in Nachitoches, La., and served as dean of the college of liberal arts before retiring in 2008.
Dr. Hatley's columns have appeared in The Natchitoches Times.
He is the co-founder of Nachitoches-NSU Folk Festival. In 2004, Hatley was inducted into the Louisiana Folklife Center’s Hall of Master Folk Artists.