Henry Hutchens stepped carefully down the steep, rocky path leading to a sandy patch of soil on the bank of the North Deep Creek. Directly ahead, water spilled 12 feet over the rocks of Shacktown Falls. The winter sky was mostly clear, the air not too cold. A fall drought exposed more of the creek’s rocks than he remembered, but no matter — Henry was home.
Standing next to a pool of calm water just below the falls, Henry begins to draw an invisible picture in the air that, to him, is wonderfully vivid.
“The old mill was right there, near those rocks,” he said, waving a finger just left of the falls to the spot where the Yadkin Valley Roller Mills operated from 1895 until 1949. “We liked to explore it and watch the water hit the old wheel right here. ‘Course it didn’t turn; the mill closed when I was 3.”
Henry Hutchens was born in 1946 and lived his childhood on Styers Mill Road in Yadkin County. “We were poor. I mean we didn’t have nothin’,” he said. “I can’t say there was raccoon or possum on our table to eat, but I feel like there might’ve been. You didn’t ask.”
If there was a raccoon on the Hutchens’ dinner table, it probably got there thanks to one of the dogs Henry, and his brothers, Bud, Marshall and Gene, watched the coon hunters try out down on the creek. He pointed to a stretch of water just below the falls and described the scene.
“That’s where the men would bring the dogs,” he began. “They’d anchor a rope across the water and fix a tire to it. They’d tie a raccoon to the tire and then center the tire and raccoon out in the middle of the creek. One by one, they’d turn loose the dogs.”
For Henry and his brothers, along with their cousins Larry and Johnny Hutchens, this was pure entertainment. The coon hunters were testing the dogs. They wanted to learn if a dog would fight or run. Turns out mixing a dog with an angry raccoon tied to a tire in the middle of a creek is a bad idea — for the dog.
“Those dogs would swim out there and try to take the raccoon off the tire,” Henry said, already starting to laugh. “And the raccoon would take the dog under water and try to drown him. Any dog that went back for more was a good coon dog. One that got scared, wasn’t. Of course, we didn’t take part. We just enjoyed the show!”
The creek provided countless hours of fun for the boys of Shacktown. Henry tried to list the gang and stopped after a couple dozen, but admitted there were probably a hundred who loved the place as he did. The kids were all related, either by blood or by experience.
“We spent five days a week down here from spring to fall,” Henry remembered. “Fishin’ and swimmin’ mostly. I don’t have a single bad memory about this place.”
The gang included the Pinnix and Williams boys, the Hennings, Collins and Couches, plus the Browns — brothers Wendell and Roy and their cousin, Donnie.
“Make sure you get ‘em all in,” Henry urgently insisted. The task is nearly impossible, much like diving to the bottom of the sunk hole and making it back to the surface.
The sunk hole, as Henry calls it, is a natural whirlpool formed in a horseshoe bend of the North Deep Creek about 500 yards upstream from the falls. “Can’t get there now,” Henry said. “David Pardue built a house up there and it cut off our trail.”
It was a popular swimming hole for the brave (or foolish) among the gang. “You’d come down here and there’d be 10 to 15 people swimmin’,” Henry said. “We had a vine to swing off of, water was deep. Wendell was the only one I knew who could go down to the bottom and come up with a handful of sand.”
It’s a good thing Wendell was there the day Henry’s little brother, Gene, decided to take a dip in the sunk hole. Henry chose not to join his brother in the water. He liked to swim, but not there. “I didn’t want none of it,” Henry said matter-of-factly. “I absolutely would not go in there.”
Gene dove in, but didn’t come up.
“I hollered for Wendell to go get him,” Henry recalls. “And sure enough, Wendell dove in and brought him back up — and then Gene goes right back and jumps in again, with me standin’ on the bank tellin’ him not to do it!”
Telephoning the fish was another show Henry and his friends enjoyed immensely. Although very much illegal, as a spectator sport it was perfectly legitimate and entertaining.
Some older men would occasionally show up at the creek with an old crank telephone. They’d strip the ends of the phone’s wires, submerge them in the water, and start cranking the old phone.
“The electric current generated would cause the fish to come to the surface,” Henry described, as another grin creeps onto his face. “And while they were crankin’ they’d say, ‘Callin’ Frank Mackie! Callin’ Frank Mackie!’”
Frank Mackie was the Yadkin County game warden in the 1950s and ’60s. It was his job to snuff out (among other things) telephone fishing. And he did, but with the grace of a Mayberry sheriff. Oftentimes while the men were taunting him with their chants of “Calling Frank Mackie,” he would pop out from behind a tree and announce, “Here I am!” A good-natured fine would follow. The men would pay up, and the game continued.
However, when it came to moonshiners, Henry and his friends knew to keep away. “We didn’t bother them and they didn’t give us no trouble,” he said. “We knew to stay out of the woods downstream. That was their territory. It would’a been dangerous to go there.”
These days, moonshiners on the North Deep Creek are only a memory. So, too, are the coon hunts, sunk hole misadventures and the rest. For Henry Hutchens, the memories are good, real, and very much alive.
“I dream about this place,” he said honestly. “I still remember when Marshall thought he could clear out both ditches at once!”
He is remembering the day his brother drove a ’46 Ford truck too fast down Styers Mill and managed to visit the ditches on both sides of the slick, dirt road.
“He wrecked right in front of Roger Cain’s farm,” Henry said with a shake of his head, still not quite believing what happened next. “And Roger came over, pulled the truck out with his tractor, set it back on its wheels and cranked it up — and then Marshall drove it away!”
The stories are endless and the joy obvious as Henry remembers the best times of his life. It’s the reason he nearly teared up this past fall when he fetched a yellow plastic bag from the end of his driveway.
“When I saw that bag, I knew it was the (Yadtel Telecom) phone book,” Henry said. “But when I pulled it out and saw the picture on the cover, I said wow!”
Yadtel had chosen the Shacktown Falls for the cover shot. When Henry saw the image of his favorite boyhood hangout, the emotions welled up. “I could feel my eyes getting watery,” he said, “because it brought back good memories.”
Henry contacted Yadtel and requested a copy of the photo. The company happily obliged and provided him with a framed print. The picture now hangs on a wall in his house on Rockford Road, nine miles north of that special place on the North Deep Creek where Henry Hutchens and the boys from Shacktown found a home all those years ago.
Mark Cartner is the Public Relations Coordinator for Yadtel Telecom.