from the upcoming book about A Living History of The Texas Upper Panhandle
The Old Swimmin' Hole
By Benton W. Philips of Enid, OK
Would you think that kids growing up in the 1940s were part fish? They seemed to always find water to play in. What is it about the fascination of creeks, lakes, and oceans or any water? (Not that the fascination with water meant bathing for boys growing up.) Maybe it’s true that man came out of the sea and had gills at the beginning of time.
Water has always been scarce in the Panhandle, and there were no concrete swimmin’ pools in 1945, except Perryton, Texas, when I was a lad of ten. The creeks and stock tanks had to do. We had the Kiowa Creek and Plummer Creek where I grew up in the town of Darrouzett, in Lipscomb County, Texas, population about 200.
But we had the “old swimmin’ hole.” The pool was about two or three hundred yards north of our schoolhouse and was nothing more than a wide spot in the Plummer Creek. We had to climb across two barbed wire fences and clamber up and over a small, bare, and dusty hill to get there. I suppose folks have been swimming there for a long time. That’s where my uncles, who were born in the early twenties, learned to swim. I was told the only one that ever drowned there was a boy who lived in a little town about twelve miles west of Darrouzett. He was near my uncles’ age.
The hole was about thirty yards wide and forty yards long, and to a boy of ten who couldn’t swim, it seemed bottomless. A few short willow trees grew on the north and west banks, and two big cottonwood trees grew one on the northeast bank and the other on the southwest bank. The one on the southwest bank had the center burned out, probably by a lightning strike, and had a hollowed out place inside the trunk. It was a good place to get out of the wind for the older guys to light up a stolen cigarette.
We non-swimmers did our splashing and playing in a shallow place on the southeast bank. Splashing didn’t last long though. We learned to dog paddle real soon. If we didn’t learn on our own the big kids would throw us in the deep water, and we had to learn mighty quick.
In the big tree on the south side, a rope was tied way up high on one of the branches that grew out over the water. We could swing out on that, kind of like Tarzan, and then dive or drop off into the water. Some swimmers years earlier had put a ladder on the swing side where we could get out made of 2 X 4s and cedar post that someone had probably sneaked off from one of their father’s stash. A big high bank on the north blocked the wind, which was also was a good vantage point for people to drive up and watch us. Sometimes one of our parents would drive up on that high bank and honk the horn. That meant we’d best skedaddle for home.
I suppose in today’s parlance you could call the old swimmin’ hole our “social center” because that’s where we spent most summer afternoons.
Sometime about the last of May, it had been a long winter. Come four o’clock when school was out for the day, you would see maybe a half a dozen boys running towards the swimmin’ hole, clothes and shoes flying in the air till finally for the last few yards, you saw nothing but bare skin. We seldom had swimsuits with us. There were times the minnows would nibble on the bare parts.
“Last one in is a rotten egg,” we would hear someone call out, most always the first one to hit the water. This time of year the water was cold, and usually we jumped in then right back out and stood around shivering until someone got brave enough to go back in.
In the warmer part of summer sometimes, the girls would dare to invade our domain. They would yell to warn us they were coming and then go over the hill till we got out and put our suit on if we had one.
There was usually a raft, a wooden deck on top of four 55-gallon barrels that we had tied or wired together. We would move the raft to the middle of the pond by pushing it along ahead of us as we splashed and kicked to propel ourselves. Or sometimes we would find an old board that we could use as an oar to paddle the raft to where we wanted it. Once away from the shore we lay dozing in the warm summer sun, spread-eagle like a bunch of sun drenched toad-frogs.
Once in a while one of our dads would give us an old inner tube that they could no longer patch up and use. We would toss that in the water and float around on it. There were times when we would splash through the water, wading up the stream until we rounded a bend. Once around the corner we would spend all afternoon fishing. I don’t remember that we ever caught many fish, but we learned a lot of good stuff from the older guys.
Most every afternoon, at some time, someone would yell “Snake! Water Moccasin!” and fingers would point to an S-shaped shape making its way across the pond. Often times it was only a stick floating by. Occasionally there really was a water moccasin, though I never knew of anyone getting bit while at the old swimmin’ hole. In the panic of trying to get out before the snake got us, you could see plenty of browned arms and legs splashing through the water, scrambling to get to the bank.
The Plummer Creek wasn’t the mighty Mississippi but me and my friends – we sure enjoyed those hot summer days that we spent on the banks of that old creek - just a bunch of Panhandle Huck Finns.