Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Arch A. Riffle – Orlando Nimrod and Groundhog Nemesis

by David Parmer

The favorite pastime of Orlando men without question was hunting. Today hunting is considered somewhat of a “sport” or “recreation.” In Orlando’s early days, hunting was considered more “putting food on the table” than a sport.

When we think of hunting, deer is the first animal which comes to mind. However, deer in the early part of the last century were scarce around Orlando. Farmers who earned their livelihood from the raising of crops could not allow the voracious appetites of ravenous deer take food from their tables. Deer as a result lived short lives around Orlando and were in fact scarcely seen.

Groundhog photo by Robert McCaw.

Large families were the rule during the early days of Orlando and it was always a struggle to keep food on the table for a large family. Generally the only domestic meat protein which found its way onto the Orlando table was pork. Most families raised swine and perhaps sheep; few however raised beef cattle. In order to make the family pork or lamb last the winter careful rationing was required. Still with a large family, a butchered hog or lamb could only go so far.

In the early 20th century, an animal which was plentiful as well as edible was the groundhog. Many Orlando families supplemented their meager supply of meat protein with groundhog.

Preparing Groundhog for the Table
Properly prepared, groundhog is as tasty and nourishing as any other meat. Orlando women prepared groundhog routinely as they would any other wild animal meat. It was however, first necessary to remove the scent glands, or “kernels” from the back and under the forearms from the groundhog to avoid the unpleasant taste of the glands. Some families allowed the groundhog to age a few days before using. Some preparers soaked groundhog in salted water to remove any “wild” flavor from the meat. Groundhog could be prepared by cooking in water or frying. Either way it was a tasty dish for the Orlando table surrounded by hungry children.

About Arch Riffle
Perhaps the most prolific hunter of the groundhog in the history of Orlando was Arch A. Riffle of Three Lick. Arch Riffle was the son of Jacob Isaac Riffle and Matilda Riffle and was born on Clover Fork in 1885. Arch was from a very large family of around twenty children, give or take a few. Food, no doubt, was always in short supply on the family table. Arch learned from a young age to hunt wild game to supplement the Riffle’s meager rations. Clover Fork was mostly grazing country with a few hilltop and bottom land crops thrown in. This was ideal country for the groundhog and they were plentiful. Arch developed a taste for groundhog growing up and continued that tradition as he grew older.

Arch married Minnie Blake and began raising his family of nine children on Three Lick. Arch lived on a farm owned by Mike Moran as a sharecropper of sorts about a mile or so from Orlando. Arch worked for a short time for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad but mostly he was a farmer and a hunter. Groundhog was his specialty.

Arch ranged many miles to hunt the groundhog. Since he never learned to operate an automobile, he was always afoot. His son Leo relates that Arch would go many miles in a day hunting. On one hunting day Leo recalls that his dad went as far as Long Shoal in Gilmer County before turning back for home.

Arch hunted with his mongrel dog which was an excellent seeker and hunter of groundhogs. After his dog put the groundhog to hole, Arch would dig the groundhog from its burrow and dispatch it with his Winchester pump .22 caliber rifle he bought from Marple’s Store in Burnsville. This rifle is still in family ownership today. Arch was also an excellent shooter and often could forego the digging part of the hunt by his accurate marksmanship.

Uncle Zeke's Observations
Arch Riffle’s reputation as a hunter was spread far and wide by P. N. Blake who wrote the Buzzardtown News as “Uncle Zeke” for the Braxton Democrat newspaper. Uncle Zeke may have exaggerated his tales a mite to make them even more interesting. In his column of October 10, 1927 , Uncle Zeke bragged that Arch and the Posey boys had killed 162 groundhogs so far that year. The Posey boys were Arch’s brothers in law. About a month later, Uncle Zeke reported that the groundhog kill total was up to 177 and that Arch hoped to make it 200 by year’s end. In a 1924 column, Uncle Zeke remarked that “since Arch Riffle’s hen has refused to set he wants to know if it would be all right to set a groundhog on the eggs.” Later in the same year, Uncle Zeke reported that “Arch Riffle says he is going to buy a new Ford this summer if he can catch enough groundhogs to pay for one.” Uncle Zeke also reported that Arch had complained that since he went to work for the railroad “he was three days behind in his groundhog hunting.” Arch did not hunt groundhogs exclusively. Uncle Zeke also reported in 1924 that “Arch Riffle says he got enough gasoline out of one polecat last week to run a Ford to Halifax”.

Arch Riffle was not however the only nimrod in the Orlando area when it came to groundhog hunting. Uncle Zeke also reported a great battle between the furry creature and J. R. Posey of Buzzardtown. Uncle Zeke told the public that “a large groundhog declared war on J. R. Posey the other day. After a fierce battle, J. R., with the dexterity of David, landed a stone on Mr. G. Hog’s forehead and laid him out for dead”.

Advancing age and financial necessity came to Arch Riffle and he left the area of his birth to live out the rest of his days in the smoky city of Parkersburg where his children had gone for work and to raise their families. There is no doubt Arch missed the sunny days of scouting the hills of Braxton and Lewis County for his arch nemesis, the groundhog, and the taste of groundhog pie.

Arch died in 1970 at the age of 85 and was laid to rest in the Mitchell Cemetery on Clover Fork in prime groundhog territory.

Note: Nimrod was the great-grandson of Noah and he was a mighty hunter. (Genesis 10:8-10)

For more on preparing small wildife for the table see the Sept '06 entry Squirrel for Dinner

1 comment:

  1. "Arch Riffle was my great grandfather. He died when I was just a year old. I love reading the old stories about him. Uncle Leo has also passed away in 2007 and is greatly missed. Aunt Addie is left with us and still lives in Williamstown. My grandmother Slyvia Riffle Posey did in 1980 and My own mother Mary (Posey) Farnsworth died in 2009. Thanks for the effort put forth in this blog.
    Sincerly Kathy Farnsworth Gordon