Was he a bootlegger? Maybe, Maybe not; he fished

By W.C. Abbott, Jr.
Journal Correspondent

He appeared to have a stiff leg that make him look awkward as he walked. It looked kinda like one leg was shorter than the other. Some people said there was nothing wrong with his leg, it was just that he carried small bottles of bootleg whiskey in the rubber boots he always wore.

Mechelle Smith, the fisherman who people thought was also a bootlegger, lived in Hope Villa in the late 1920s and 1930s. He made his own nets and caught buffalo fish for sale. At that time during the spring "buffalo run," usually March or April, a man with twenty or more nets who knew where to set them could catch six to ten fish per net that would weigh ten to twelve pounds each. He could expect to sell them for several months during the year.

I always wondered if the bootlegger tale was true, because my Dad, who was a teetotaler and had no "truck" with people who drank whiskey, thought a lot of Mechelle, who came to him for help with lots of problems, and Mechelle was a big help to Dad when Dad decided to do a little buffalo fishing. He taught Dad how to knit his own nets and he showed him where to set his nets so they'd catch more fish. They became pretty good friends - the professor and the bootlegger who had lots of common horse sense.

When I left Hope Villa, Mechelle was still setting a few nets and catching a few fish. That was a long time ago and I don't know what happened to him. I'll ask my brother Bill, next time I see him. He'll probably remember.

Back