In 1948, my dad and my mom’s cousin were approached by the owner of Springer Timber Company who was selling 2,300 acres in north Monroe County, Alabama through which Flat Creek flowed. At the time, my dad was a mere 27 years old and did not have the $25,000 (about $11 per acre) to purchase the property. However, my dad and my mom’s cousin decided to go deep into debt and purchase the property.
Soon after they closed the deal and the property was deeded over to them, they sold off about 300 acres to a wealthy lady. She paid almost enough for them to pay off the entire original mortgage.
My dad loved the woods and going hunting with his friends. So, right after buying the property, he invited his dearest friends over. After a successful hunt of mostly squirrels, rabbits, coons and maybe a turkey or two, they prepared the wild game for cooking.
They cooked the wild game, which was for the most part a stew – a SWAMP STEW – thence the name ultimately became the SWAMP SUPPER. Everyone enjoyed it so much they decided it should be an annual affair, so it began!
Guests would begin to arrive around 3:00 in the afternoon and linger around the bonfire until as late as 10 p.m. All the cooking was done over an open fire. So, guests contributed by peeling potatoes or chopping onions, while others kept the fire going.
The flames from the bonfire were as tall as a two-story building and the wood logs as long as the pick-up trucks that the guests drove there. Most people had never seen such a huge bonfire.
Daddy Ross, one of our best friends, always helped with the bonfire. He would traditionally light the fire at 3 p.m. and tell age-old stories which the young boys at the Swamp Supper enjoyed. His knowledge on the history of the property, where numerous Indian arrow heads could be found, was priceless. He reminded us of Uncle Remus from Joel Chandler Harris’ collection of stories.
A few years later, a group of Louisiana natives who had fished with us brought a variety of seafood to cook and serve as an appetizer. Another group made chili with hoe cakes as an accompaniment. The hoe cakes were such a hit that many guests would make their meals on that alone!
As the years went by, the wives, mothers, grandmothers, and many other volunteers would send turnip greens, corn bread, butter beans, potatoes, pies, cakes and many other delicious dishes to go with the wild game harvested by the boys, dads and grandads.
The Swamp Supper continued to grow and became well-known throughout the Southeast. It went on even after my dad’s passing. But naturally, was not nearly the same after he was gone. The year after my dad’s death, former Alabama Gov. John Patterson gave a short eulogy in his honor.
The Swamp Supper continued until about 2007, and then reverted to just a small family gathering. At its peak, there were over 500 men and boys attending the Swamp Supper.
We had guests from all walks of life -from governors to tractor drivers – mixing and mingling together in nature. One year, Ben Russel of Russell Lands – who also owns a large acreage surrounding Lake Martin in Birmingham, Alabama – attended. He arrived in his helicopter and landed it among all our pick-up trucks covered in mud. These were some of the happiest times of my life.
The Swamp Supper provided the opportunity for hundreds of our friends to gather once a year. Owning land and enjoying all the wonderful things that it offers is truly a blessing in so many ways.
Whether you own 20 acres of farmland or 200 acres of timberland, This Is Your Land. So, feel free to share your own stories on how you enjoy your land with friends and family with us. We’d love to hear about any traditions, family gatherings or memories you’ve created on your land and share it on our blog.