Homer Bristow

I was rearranging junk in my garage the other day and found three of my fishing rods were missing an eye at the tip. I think they were probably broken by having the car trunk closed on them. This got me to thinking of my childhood fishing and swimming expeditions to Brush Creek. Brush Creek, as far as I can tell, begins at North Kansas Avenue and 160 Highway. I believe itís source is drainage ditches and leaky sewer pipes. This beautiful ďcrickĒ as most of us kids called it, meanders to the Spring River around Baxter Springs, where it dumps itís stinky contents into the river.

When I was growing up, almost all the neighborhood boys, when the weather got warm enough, spent most of our time on Brush Creek. Our method of travel was our feet, usually bare. Our route was the railroad tracks that crosses the highway at East Country Road and Highway 69. The first trip or two in the spring was pretty slow until our feet toughened up. We would walk about a half mile to the trestle then walk south down the creek to the low water bridge, or sometimes we would go north up the creek. Some of us had cane poles, some had rods and reels usually borrowed (or stolen) from their fathers. We would spend hours catching Bullhead Catfish and Perch.

Every now and then we would catch enough to eat, we thought, but by the time we carried them home, they would be dry, stiff and dead as a stump. My dad always made me throw them away. Some of the guys claimed they ate them, and they were excellent, but I always had a sneaking suspicion that their fish, like mine, were thrown away or buried. As summer grew hotter our trips to the creek grew more frequent. By then our feet had toughened up and had a nice layer of creosote from the railroad ties. As we walked down the tracks, lizards and snakes were everywhere, so we naturally had to smack them with our poles or our fathersí borrowed (or stolen) rods.

Most of these rods ended up like mine, with no eye on the tip, which made casting almost impossible. Around July most of us had tired of fishing and our attention turned to swimming. Most of the boys in my neighborhood swam in the Blue Hole. It was located a little over a quarter mile east on 160 Highway on the north side of the road. I believe one of the Beaty boys has built a house close to the Blue Hole. This swimming hole was just what the name implied. It was a round deep hole with very blue water. There were no snakes, fish, turtles, or frogs, in this water. We had been told it was alkali water.

We all pretended to know what alkali was, but all any of us really knew was nothing could live in it. This did not keep us from swimming in it, however. Some of our parents did not like the idea of us swimming in a very deep, very alkaline hole of water, so we had to take measures so they would not find out. We learned not to use our bathing suits or colored underwear, while swimming in the blue hole. This water would bleach out the darkest colors on earth, so a blue, red or black bathing suit would in a matter of hours, be almost white, a dead give away. This is the reason most of us wore nothing at all, and five or six boys wearing nothing at all, is probably why I never saw any girls at the Blue Hole.

Although the blue hole was a very good swimming hole, my favorite was Brush Creek. There was a wide spot in the creek, just a few yards south of the Maple Street bridge. There were large trees with vines hanging from them over the water. We would spend the whole day swinging from these vines and dropping into the sewage below. We swam and prowled Brush Creek all summer.

We all considered ourselves to be tough, but there were two boys in our group that I considered to be the toughest of the tough. They were Larry Tedlock and Ronnie Joe Burch. These two tough and brave outdoorsmen were both extremely allergic to poison ivy.

Brush Creek was world famous for having more poison ivy, than any other place on earth. At least we thought so. I have seen both Ronnie Joe and Larry so blistered and swollen, they were hard to recognize, and they would have so much Calamine smeared on them, they looked as if they had been white-washed.

Now if I had ever suffered like they did, I probably would never have gone within a mile of Brush Creek, no matter how much I loved it, but after the blisters dried and the swelling went down these two courageous, Brush Creek rats were right back out to that heavenly spot. Besides the poison ivy and oak, Brush Creek was famous for its blood sucking vermin. We all knew there were mosquitos as big as humming birds, but the ones that disgusted me the most were leeches. These slimy little slugs would attach themselves to any part of your body, so while splashing around in the water we would have to go to the bank every now and then to remove these little vampires.

Ronnie Joe Burch once told us that if you poured salt on a leech, that it would turn loose and turn into slime. I believed every word of this because all of us knew that he was an expert on crawdads, lizards, snakes and leeches. I donít remember if any of the other guys tried this remedy or not, but I decided one day to leave a couple of these little suckers attached to my abdomen until I got home, and try the salt on them. I think I made it about six blocks before I got paranoid and thought I was getting lightheaded from blood loss, so I pulled them off and left a couple of good sized hickeys on my stomach.

I had no idea that a couple of broken fishing rods could bring back so many fond memories. I wonder what else I might find in my junk littered garage.