Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsTourists

Old Store's Denizens Trade Slices of Times Past for Tourists of Today

June 08, 1986|GUY COATES | Associated Press

MOUND, La. — Now that they don't shoot motorists from the worn front steps of the general store anymore, tourists occasionally stop by to peek at relics of another era.

Located just off Interstate 20 in the Mississippi River Delta, Louisiana's smallest incorporated city has just a few homes. The social center is the old plantation general store with a potbellied stove and some potbellied old-timers sitting around spinning yarns.

It also has some interesting merchandise, like a coffin, a velvet-covered pine box, left unsold from the 1920s.

If you own a 1915 Model T Ford, there is a manual that will teach you how to drive it and fix it

'Slowly and Cautiously'

Nobody's fool, Henry Ford was probably looking ahead to lawsuits when he warned on Page 146 that motorists should "always drive a car slowly and cautiously."

At least one motorist ignored Henry in 1928, reminisces Police Chief Dink Smith, looking toward his 83rd birthday and looking back on a record of never arresting anyone.

"Yep, this store was rough in the old days. Like fighting a bear with a short stick. There were some tough customers. Boss Hammick ran the law here in 1928 and he didn't put up with much.

"I was on the front steps of this store when he shot a driver as the car topped that railroad track over there. That car was running too fast past the store and old Hammick had warned him twice. Said he would shoot him if he did it again.

'Shot Him Dead'

"Well, he ran by again, must have been doing 90, and Hammick pulled out his pistol and shot him dead. He could use a pistol like some people could use a rifle."

These days it's real quiet and peaceful in Mound. Not much to do but argue about the population, which the 1980 Census placed at 39. Residents like to quarrel over the numbers, but mainly they like to talk about the past to tourists who sometimes buy the smoked turkeys, hams, sausage and souse made by store co-owner Claude Clarke.

"I marinate the turkeys in my secret solution for about 24 hours before I smoke them," Clarke said. "I'll sell about 600 to 800 during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. One company buys 91 a year for gifts."

Clarke will take anybody on a tour through his smokehouse and cracklings manufacturing shed behind the rambling cypress store that once served as store, post office, jail and mortuary.

Jail in Cellar

"The jail's in the cellar and you can't see it anymore," he said. "It's flooded. They used to have a sump pump to see that prisoners didn't drown."

Those were the days when the store was George S. Yerger Co. General Merchandise, and Yerger was king of this corner of the Delta.

The store was the center of his 50,000-acre plantation that included cotton gins in a community that once had as many as 3,000 residents.

The building dates back to the turn of the century and was the company store for Yerger. He made his own money--Brozine Currency--for use by his employees, who numbered in the hundreds.

Man of Many Trades

Yerger apparently was mayor, sheriff, store manager, gin operator and undertaker in his heyday, Clarke said.

And, as store manager, Yerger didn't let all of those fights the old-timers talk about last too long.

Clarke reached behind the counter and came up with Yerger's homemade billy club, a two-foot-long dented affair that appears to have seen much use.

"It was rough," said Moss Dudley, cackling. He sits near the police chief, both seeming to be looking for heat from the old, cold stove. It's about 75 degrees outside. "When I was 12, I'd come here and watch Mr. Yerger bop 'em when they'd buy liquor and drink too much. He didn't like trouble."

Days Are Gone

The store once had shelves reaching to the 25-foot-high ceiling, filled with dry goods. Those are gone now.

"One of the Yergers, a cousin to George, ran that area but a spider was on one of them shelves, bit him, and he died," said the police chief.

"Now, don't believe everything he tells you," said Clarke as he walked by, smiling.

The chief choked on his soft drink, laughing at that remark. "I can tell you plenty and it's true enough," he said. "You know, I never arrested anybody because nobody would give me any trouble.

'It's Been Quiet'

"They woke me up out of bed about eight years ago and told me I was police chief. It's been quiet, but I could handle any trouble."

"You can't handle much now," Dudley said with a laugh. "You're sitting in that wheelchair now."

"I can lay this Coke bottle up aside your head," Smith said ominously. Then they both laughed.

Several tourists gathered around to listen to the banter and then went over to sign the visitors' book, which includes names from Australia, England, other European countries and most of the states.

Only two, small signs on Interstate 20 let travelers know about the store.

"We get a lot of people through word of mouth," Clarke said. "They're all nice folks. About 40% of them buy something, even if it's only chips and a drink."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|