Sending Them to Buck's Pocket

Sending Them to Buck’s Pocket


By Elton Camp



  In North Alabama’s Marshall County, when a politician is defeated in an election, the saying is that he was “sent to Buck’s Pocket.”  How incomprehensible that would be to anyone who didn’t grow up in the area.  For those of us who did, the expression is filled with meaning. 


            Buck’s Pocket was an isolated canyon that could be reached only by walking and climbing down a steep path.  Although even most locals had only heard of it, the place was a fitting symbol of “oblivion” to losing candidates. 


            When I was about ten years old, my parents and I decided it was high time to see Buck’s Pocket.  My father, a lifelong resident of the area, had never been there.  No roads led into the place, so we drove as close as we could to where it was reputed to lie.  Off the road, toward where we thought the natural wonder was located, was a run-down farmhouse.  A ceramic churn sat on the front porch.  The yard was overgrown, but a truck, mailbox, and electric lines suggested that it was inhabited. 


            “We’ll ask there.  They should know,” my father said. 


            “I don’t know, Howard, it looks like a bootlegger house to me,” Mother cautioned.  “No telling what we might get into.” 


            My father and I argued that it’d probably be all right.  We pressed on.  A scruffy young man responded to our knock.  To our relief, his small daughter came out and stood beside him on the porch. 


            “Sure, it’s down behind our house a fur piece,” he responded in a friendly manner to our question about Buck’s Pocket. 


            “Can we drive any closer?” my father asked.  An open pasture lay behind the dwelling.


            “You can drive down a good ways.  We’ll go with you if you want.  My daughter ain’t never seen it neither.”


            So, off we went in our gray ’49 Ford, bumping slowly over the irregular ground and trying to avoid the many “cow pies” as the animals’ manure was called.  When we reached the edge of the woods, the rest of the way would be “on foot.” 


            Our volunteer guide led the way.  “It’s been years since I’ve been there, but I think I can find it.”


            The path he selected took us through patches of poison oak half knee-high and across matted briars that tore at our clothes and any exposed skin.  Biting flies and mosquitoes rose to the attack in swarms. 


            “I hope we don’t run up on any snakes,” my mother said as she glanced about nervously.  That possibility increased dramatically when we walked into an area with many surface rocks—just the kind of place rattlesnakes like to hang out. 


            “We got some big ones around here all right,” the farmer admitted.  “One was up around the house last week.  It was a good four feet long and as big around as my arm. Mean as the Devil.  All coiled up and shaking its tail.  I kilt it, but it took two shots.” 


    “Maybe we should go back,” Mother whispered to my father.  He shook his head and placed a finger vertically to his lips to urge her to silence.  He couldn’t back down in the presence of the other man without losing face.  Onward we trudged. 


            In time, we stood at the edge of a frightening bluff.  Far below us, we could see the tops of tall trees.  Massive boulders were everywhere.  We’d found Buck’s Pocket.  The large rocks we heaved over the edge plummeted downward with cracking sounds as they broke small limbs.  We were barely able to hear them land with thuds several seconds later.  To slip over the cliff would be disastrous. 


            “Now I know for sure where I’m at,” our guide asserted.  “There’s a cave on down where Indians used to live.  Want to see it?” 


            We agreed that we did.  To attempt the cliff face would have been impossibly dangerous so we descended cautiously through a small gap in the rough terrain.  Boulders and trees provided handholds to lessen the chance of a fall.  After nearly thirty minutes of sweaty hiking, there was the cave, or more accurately rocky shelter. 


            That Indians had once made it their home was easy to believe.  The open space under the massive rock outcropping had a level floor and was large enough for several families.  From the floor of the canyon came the sound of running water, apparently from a good-sized creek.  The surrounding forest provided game.  The basic necessities of life were there. 


            The return trip was far more difficult.  When she gave out on the hard climb, the father carried his small daughter piggy-back.  At ten years old, I was far too big to have hope of similar assistance.  When we reached the top, we washed exposed arms and hands in a small, but swift-flowing branch to remove poison oak as best we could.  It appeared to be effective for our family.   None of us developed skin rash, but it’s possible we just weren’t allergic to the plants’ noxious chemicals. 


            It was several decades before I saw Buck’s Pocket again.  It had been developed as a state park.  A paved road led into it and a campground with store, bathhouse, and a resident supervisor were in place.  It was far less exciting than the first time, but it was still strikingly beautiful and unusually peaceful.  The cave is now only a short, level walk from the roadway with a sign directing visitors to Indian House Cave.  I’d been more fun when it was harder to reach. 


            The saying about losing political candidates being “sent to Buck’s Pocket” isn’t heard as much now days.  Progress has caused the place to lose its mystique as an out-of-the-way refuge in which one could hide the shame of defeat or a limbo from which one might never return.  It seems a shame. We need places like that.


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The place was the reputed home of defeated political candidates. True story.