The Alligator Caper
The great alligator caper has long been a tale that has grown out of proportion over the years. At the last Jeff lunch, I promised to sort out some of the facts, myths, and legends. Without major investigation, there would appear to be more than one tale and more than one incident. Roy McBride has been kind enough to send along a recounting of his alligator experience along with a photo, all of which I will list below.
Before getting to Roy’s narrative, however, let me mention a few tales I have heard.
I have heard that Rudy Krisch and Wayne Gabehart and David Frazier participated in a theft of an alligator from either the zoo or the reptile pit at the Witte Museum. There are several sub tales that follow, including that David kept the alligator under his house for a while before returning it to its home at the zoo or reptile pit. There are other rumors as well. If anyone wants to write out a narrative and send it along, I will gladly publish it. If laziness prevents writing it out, call me and tell me and I will type it up.
It was not an alligator, but several of our classmates broke into the zoo to fish and were nabbed by the police and taken to jail. I did hear that Jim McNeel was driving the getaway car, and it was his lawyer brother who went to the station to secure their release. Jim has promised to flesh that out, but someone bigger than I will need to get on his case to produce.
Well, maybe more fact than rumor. Danny Sciaraffa admits to fishing at the zoo and catching some nice ones, but he also confesses that he subsequently found out he was fishing in the spot where the sewage from the hippo pens was released. Like Jim, Danny has promised to write this up, but I stopped holding my breath some months back.
I bet many of you did not know we had a bunch of wild and crazy bunch of classmates among the male population. Here is my offer to you: I will post any tales of escapades that anyone cares to send to me or call to me. Just send to email@example.com or call me at 210-492-3773.
Now, here are brief comments from Roy about alligator theft and then his narrative along with a photo of Roy, Richard Cummings, and Bubba Smith.
I have no knowledge of anyone that took alligators from the Alligator Gardens. As I’ve already explained, that’s who we gave our gators to because we could not find anyone else that would take them. I’m real skeptical about the story of anyone stealing gators or getting in trouble with the law. Maybe stories like this just get exaggerated through the years. The take home message, from the guys that actually caught the gators, would be that it was a job that required a high degree of physical effort and a small amount of capital investment (picks, shovels, ropes, etc.). While there was a limited opportunity for profit, there was an unlimited opportunity for excitement and adventure.
In the 1950’s South Texas was in the grip of a severe drought. The earth was so dry that deep cracks crisscrossed the surface and if you dropped your knife in one of these cracks you stood a good chance of not getting it back. During this time Richard Cummings, Bubba Smith and I were hunting coons on the Nueces River 10 miles south of Tilden. One morning after daylight while walking back to our truck we saw some unusual looking tracks in the dry riverbed. At this time the Nueces was not flowing and only occasional pools of muddy water served as a reminder that it had once been a river. The tracks we had discovered were unusual in that they were divided by a narrow straight line as if the animal was dragging something. Since we were intimately familiar with all the local animal signs, it didn’t take us long to figure out that the narrow drag mark between the tracks was made by the tip of an alligator tail. We followed this trail until we came to a pool of water, probably 100 feet long and 30 or 40 feet wide. We followed the tracks to where the alligator entered the water and then circled to the far side where we were able to determine, by the absence of its tracks, the alligator hadn’t left. Due to zero visibility in the water we cut off some limbs and made some poles that we could use to probe around in the water. The water was not over waist deep in the deepest part. We waded and poked around but were unable to make contact with the alligator. On one side of the pool was a sloping bank that angled down to the water’s edge. While prodding along one side of the bank I found a tunnel that entered the side of the bank below the water’s surface and went straight back. When I extended my pole further into the tunnel something grabbed it and nearly twisted it from my hand. So now we knew for sure that it was an alligator and we had found its lair. One of us stayed behind to make sure that it didn’t leave, while two of us went to a nearby ranch to borrow some picks and shovels. We spent the rest of the afternoon digging off the side of the bank and throwing the dirt into the water in front of the entrance to the gator’s hole. After a while we had enough dirt in front of the entrance to separate the hole from the larger pool of water. We then bailed out the water into the main pool which resulted in lowering the water level in the gators hole. After a lot of effort, we were rewarded by seeing the very tip of the gators snout. We took a rope, made a noose and poked it over the gators head with our poles until we judged we had the rope around its neck. We tightened the rope and pulled the gator out of its hole into the main pool where we were standing. We quickly made it to the bank with the gator in tow. From there we pulled the gator out of the water. In the following weeks we used the same techniques to locate and capture more alligators now that we knew what to look for and where to find them.
What we hadn’t learned is what to do with them once we had them caught. We heard rumors that women (strange creatures that they are) liked alligator skin purses and men liked alligator boots. But we still didn’t know where the market was on alligator skins. We put the alligators in the back of our truck and took them to the Alligator Garden on Broadway near the Witte Museum. Who would know more about alligators than the owner/manager of the locally famous San Antonio Alligator Garden. We asked if he wanted to buy any alligators. He responded by asking us where we had got them, and when we told him the Nueces River he said, ” there’s not any alligators in the Nueces River”. Our reliance in this man’s expert opinion decreased considerably at that point. We also realized that our new business venture had suffered its first obstacle. We began to search for other things to do with these alligators that nobody wanted. We donated one, free of charge, to the San Antonio Jr. College swimming pool. Eventually we gave the rest of the gators to the man at the Alligator Garden just to get rid of them. We found out soon enough alligators don’t make good pets and you can’t teach ’em nothing. In fact, even with close observation, you can’t tell for sure what they are thinking.
Our buddy, and fellow gator hunter, Richard Cummings was killed in a motorcycle accident within a year. I’m attaching a picture of the three of us with some of the alligators. Left to right: Richard Cummings, Roy
McBride, Bubba Smith.