lt above: map of the Oil Creek watershed as it is today. When the events in this entry occurred, Stonewall Jackson Lake, Burnsville Lake with the Riffle Run camping area and I-79 did not exist. Click on the map to read it more easily.
rt: even more of the species of fish pulled from Oil Creek & its tributaries, from the top down: shad, 'backer boxes bluegill and sunfish, redhorse sucker, crappie.
lt: snapping turtles and frogs also made for good hunting and good eating.
John’s two favorite memories of fishing with his grandfather however were on Oil Creek. Around the month of June in 1939 or 1940 when John was around six or seven years old, one evening after work at the Orlando depot, Gaver gathered up his fishing pole and told John to come with him to do “some casting.” Of course, to Gaver and John that meant fishing. They walked down Oil Creek below the ball field beside St. Michael’s Church to a favorite fishing hole. Gaver cast his line softly into the deep hole and promptly set a hook into a huge Northern pike. He skillfully landed the huge fish and they promptly took it home and put in a large washtub. The fish filled the tub and then some, from corner to corner. “Shaking like a leaf,” according to John, his grandfather told him “where there’s one, there’s another,” so Gaver and John set out for the same fishing spot to try their luck again. True to his prediction, Gaver set his hook into another gigantic identical pike which again was quickly brought to bank and taken home to the awaiting wash tub. John reckons the pair of fish each measured around forty inches long. Needless to say, John was both quite impressed with his grandfather’s skill in landing the fish, and his grandmother’s ability to prepare a delicious fish dinner.
lt: John Allman with his infant son and grandfather Gaver Allman.
rt: Gaver Allman takes his hat off
Another fishing excursion on Oil Creek with his grandfather occurred just below the mouth of Clover Fork. John and his family, who were Pittsburgh residents, were visiting his grandparents in the fall of 1959. Wading the creek, Gaver and John struck a fish bonanza in a school of white shad. They landed fish left and right and soon ran out of bait, so they began cutting bait from the smallest of the fish they had already caught. Altogether Gaver and John took home about fourteen or fifteen fish for the dinner table. John vividly remembers his grandfather telling him at the conclusion of that successful fishing trip that the experience would be “something for you to remember me by.” Perhaps the words were prophetic; Gaver died the following year. John will always remember the companionship of his grandfather in fishing for the big ones in Oil Creek.
Reminiscing further about his grandfather, John brought to mind another fishing experience with him. Prefacing his story, John recalled that his grandfather was a devout worshiper in the Orlando Methodist Church and was very strict in observing religious scruples. John had never heard his grandfather utter any off-color word in any situation until the day in question. John, his step-father James Walther, and his grandfather Gaver were fishing in Oil Creek between the mouth of Threelick Run and the Orlando bridge. Gaver was wearing hip boots as were his fishing companions. Feeling the call of nature, Gaver had turned away from his fellow fishermen to urinate. Just at that time a large fish struck Gaver’s line which was in the water, creating a panic situation. Losing his balance at this critical juncture, Gaver fell backwards into the water. Arising from his Baptist-like immersion, John was shocked to hear his grandfather say, “Aw, shit, I peed myself, I lost the fish, and my boots are full of water.” John didn’t say whether he reported the incident to his grandmother.
John Allman loved to visit his grandparents in Orlando which was also John’s home early in his youth. John not only enjoyed fishing with his grandfather and his friend John Gibson, but he also enjoyed playing baseball for the highly successful Orlando team. On one visit to Orlando, John suited up to catch for the Falls Mill team at a baseball game at Falls Mill. (Several Orlando boys and men also played for Falls Mill, including Claud Mick, the Orlando postmaster and lanky first baseman.) After the game, John returned to Burnsville where he met his grandfather and the two decided to return to Falls Mill to try their luck in the Little Kanawha waters. Gaver fished the river downstream from John. As John was fishing, an ominous figure in the form of a rough looking fellow with a shotgun made an appearance on the river bank and gazed in a hostile manner in John’s direction. John acknowledged the bank-watcher with a wave of the hand, but otherwise tried to ignore his presence. After a while, Gaver, who was moving upstream in his fishing efforts, arrived at the spot of the shotgun-toting observer and spoke briefly with him. Curious about the conversation, John later inquired of his grandfather about the encounter. Gaver told John that he was acquainted with the man who happened to have a still close by, and, since John was unknown to him, he had to keep an eye on the young stranger.
rt:P. N. "Newt" Blake, aka Uncle Zeke
frog gigging is so closely akin to the fine art of fishing that it deserves mention in any article about rod and reel. On July 3, 1917, Uncle Zeke reported, “Ed Ball, while hunting jug-a-rums recently, fell into the creek and got his feet wet. J. R. Posey says it was the first time his feet have been wet for over a year.”
Pan fish like sunfish and pumpkin seeds were called "'baccer boxes," because they were as small as a Prince Albert tobacco tin.
rt: William "Red" Beckner
Red’s grandson Bill Beckner recalls that when he was a boy, he would often accompany his grandfather on Oil Creek fishing trips. Describing him as the “most patient man in the world,” Bill recalls that his grandfather could sit for hours without moving when his line was in the water. Bill also remembers that his grandfather would often stop and visit with neighbors while he was fishing. On one occasion, Bill was fishing with his grandfather on Oil Creek and had fished the stream all the way from Orlando to the railroad cut near Posey Run. Bill recalls that his grandfather caught two nice bass, one of which was fourteen inches long and the other twenty-one inches long. On this outing, his grandfather took Bill out of the water near Road Run in order to visit with Bill McPherson and measure the two fish. Bill remembers the pleasure that his grandfather received from talking with his neighbors on their porches and then heading back to the creek for more fishing.
rt: Sonny Conrad
lt: Fred McCord
rt above: John Bragg's high school photo
lt above: Jessie (Riffle) Bragg, John's mom.
lt: Pres and Jessie Bragg's sons John and Joe Bragg in front of their home in the 1950s
above, right: John and his six pound bass on than wonderful day in June, 1967.
One nice day around 1958 or 1959, John Bragg and his neighborhood friends Rodney Henline, Jimmie Riffle, Larry Casto, and John’s brother Joe, decided that the fish behind Lee Skinner’s house needed thinned out.
rt: Larry Casto
lt: John Bragg in Deck & Lila (Gregory) Brown's store. Bea Brown, wife of their son Ford is behind the counter.
However, the most unique instruction he received from his fishing tutors was how to catch a turtle. Simply put, turtle fishing takes more courage than guile. The only equipment needed when going turtle fishing is a gunny sack and a steady hand guided by courage. The courage requirement comes from the need to put a bare hand into a hole under a bank feeling around for the tail of the turtle. Once this protuberance is felt and secured by hand, the turtle must be swiftly tossed onto the bank and placed in the gunny sack. John once saw John Gibson catch eight to ten turtles at a time by this method.
Not only was John Gibson an expert at catching the turtle, he was also an expert at skinning the turtle, and a gourmand when it came to describing the different tastes of turtle meat. Catching the ugly turtle has already been described, and as interesting as the catch might be, the skinning of the turtle adds a new dimension to the culture of fishing for turtles. John Gibson would drive a large nail into the head of the turtle which he then hung from the wall of the barn or outhouse. This made the de-shelling of the turtle much easier than if it were on the ground. After the de-shelling and gutting, the turtle was ready for the pot. John Gibson delighted in telling his culinary listeners that turtle meat had seven distinctly different tastes. John Bragg and John Allman, grandson of Gaver Allman, speaking of Oil Creek turtles, both indicated to the writer that turtle was a real delicacy.
above lt: Jack Riffle in the 1940s
above rt: John Gibson the turtle expert with his prize fox hound.
rt: business end of a snapping turtle
There was as much delightful story-telling as there was fishing on these enjoyable nights on Oil Creek and are a source of good memories to John Bragg.
This story is still told today after more than fifty years to the amusement of the Jeffries family, but perhaps not to John, the rock thrower.
lt above Judy Burkhart
rt above: Judy's home
lt: John Jeffries
Nelson and Stanley Mitchell were sons of Homer Mitchell and Lula (Henline) Mitchell and lived off and on in the Orlando area, as well as for a time in Webster County. Both Nelson and Stanley died relatively young and are not available for first person accounts of the big musky which they caught in Oil Creek near the Mart Posey residence between Posey Run and McCauley Run in the 1930’s. An old saying tells that a “picture is worth a thousand words,” and the photo at the beginning of this entry of Nelson and Stanley Mitchell holding their trophy muskie says it all.
rt: Stanley and Homer Mitchell as young adults.
Arthur Williams of Bendale was married to Lura Barnett, sister of Orlando ’s Bill Barnett. Arthur and Lura were friends of Coleman and Helen Jeffries of Orlando. Arthur and Coleman spent many a night coon hunting in search of “old Ringeye” in their late years. Arthur enjoyed the thrill of the hunt. Arthur equally enjoyed the thought of dropping a line in the water in search of “the big one,” but his hunting companion was no fisherman. Arthur had not been able to wet his line for many years, mostly for lack of a fishing companion. In the early 1970’s, Arthur was in declining health, along with advancing age, and longed to go fishing in Oil Creek. On a visit to the Jeffries home on Oil Creek one day, Arthur expressed his desire to go fishing in Oil Creek. Coleman and Helen’s son John happened to be at home from Glenville State College on the occasion, and, being somewhat of a fisherman himself, volunteered to take Arthur fishing in Oil Creek. Happily, Arthur accepted the invitation and on the appointed day, met John at Orlando for their fishing expedition. The two fishermen decided to wade and fish downstream. The day was a good day for the fishermen but a bad day for the fish. John recalls that he caught around seventeen bass and Arthur caught around fourteen between the railroad bridge in Orlando and the home of Fred and Ruby Bee, just below the first railroad crossing below Orlando. Arthur was happy and especially satisfied with perhaps his last fishing experience. He died in 1982 at the age of 76.
lt: Ernest Roy "Heaterhuck" Henline
More vivid in Bill Beckner’s memory however are the earlier fishing trips on Oil Creek that he took with his Uncle Bill when he would come in to visit with his parents, Oras and Edith Stutler, on his three week annual vacation. Bill Beckner recalls that he would be his uncle’s fishing companion for that time and that they fished most every day up and down Oil Creek from Orlando to Burnsville from early in the morning to late in the evening. Bill also recalls that his grandmother Beckner’s sole condition for letting him fish with his uncle Bill was that he take his nephew to the barber shop in Burnsville for a short haircut.
lt above: Bill Stutler with his folks Oras & Edith (Skinner) Stutler on a summer vacation visit in the 1960s. (They are in the yard of their their home, the former Dolan Hotel, with Bea & Ford Brown's house in the background.)
lt above: sister Grace (Riffle) Reynolds
rt above:brother Claude Riffle, from a school photo taken in the late 1930s.
lt: bull frog
Fred Henline, son of Orlando native but long-time Parkersburg resident Polar Henline, often visited family in the Orlando area in order to fish. Frequently accompanied by his brother Charles, the two fishing connoisseurs disdained the lowly fish worm as bait in favor of the more regal minnow. Fred and Charles would often spend an entire morning seining for “minnies,” as they called them, and fish the entire afternoon with the lively bait. Swearing that the “minnie” was the premier bait to land the big bass, Fred and his brother often brought the proof back from the creek for the next morning’s breakfast.
Uncle Zeke spent much of his time sitting on the porch just west of Orlando observing who came and went. Uncle Zeke also kept a keen eye on Oil Creek to see who was fishing. On April 17, 1930 , Uncle Zeke wrote: “The creek banks are now decorated with the small boy and the fishpole.” On May 29, 1930, he observed that “Charlie Given and ‘Short’ Bennett, two noted anglers of Orlando, were in our vicinity one day last week endeavoring to lure their choice of the finny tribe. And b’gosh, they got ‘um.” “Charlie caught two skillets full.”
Uncle Zeke was also interested when Orlando people went fishing elsewhere. On August 8, 1929 , he noted that “A. J. Barnett and family have been visiting and fishing up on the Little Kanawha River the past week. Alva says he had good luck. He succeeded in catching a little turtle.”
rt: Alva Barnett, on a work day. Alva Barnette was a mail carrier. When weather was good an auto would do fine, but in the winter and spring, the carriers went back to their horses and saddlebags.
comment 2 from John Bragg
When I was just a little boy, my parents, Presley and Jessie Bragg, went to Burnsville for an Eastern Star meeting. My older sister Margaret was left in charge as babysitter for me and my older brother Joe. As I recollect, I was given permission by my sister to go fishing in Clover Fork below our home. I was pulling in some bluegills when I thought I saw my parents’ automobile drive past on the Clover Fork Road toward home. A short time later I heard my sister Margaret calling my name in a not so friendly manner. When I responded, she came quickly down the field and grabbed me by the ear and marched me home. At home, my sister advised my parents that I had left without permission whereupon I received a good whipping because of my trip to the fishing hole.
I prefer to refer to the episode a “clash of memories” with my older sister, and at every family get-together we get to re-hash whose memory is the better.
comment 3 by Wesley Riffle
Wesley Riffle, grandson Daniel Floyd "Flukey"Posey, recalls his grand-dad with much admiration. Wesley was raised by his grandparents and recalls that Flukey “possessed the wisdom of Solomon.” One day Wesley had planned on going night fishing with four friends. Wesley had gotten all of his chores done, had dug his fishing worms, and was gathering his fishing pole when his grandfather asked him where he was going. Upon advising his grandfather of his fishing plans, Flukey said that he couldn’t go. Being the obedient grandson, Wesley sat aside his fishing plans. The next day, Wesley learned that his four friends had spent the night in jail in Burnsville for illegally fishing with gill nets. Wesley says that but for the wisdom of his grandfather he would have been sitting in jail also.
comment 4 from Doris (Riffle) Snyder
My family, the Bertha and Layton Riffle family, lived near Gaver Allman in Orlando. Our home had two large catalpa trees in the front lawn which was visited each summer by ugly green worms, easily the size of a finger. These worms could strip the leaves from the tree in no time at all. My brother Ronald knew that Gaver Allman was quite a fisherman and prized these green worms for fish bait. My brother frequently would gather up as many of the worms as possible and take them over to Mr. Allman for his next fishing trip.
Doris' mother's parents were Wade and Ida Bell (Myers) Mick and her father's parents were Marion and Cora (Reynolds) Riffle.
comment 5 by Dale Barnett
When I was growing up in Orlando during the 1920’s and 1930’s, I frequently watched Gave Allman fishing in Oil Creek. One day around 1934 or 1935, Mr. Allman was trying his luck in a fishing hole behind Tom Godfrey’s house and caught a nice pike. He wanted to keep on fishing so he asked me to take the trophy pike to his home and to give it to his wife, Mishie. At that time I was just old and big enough to carry the large pike to his home.
I also watched Gave Allman go turtle hunting around Orlando. During the spring of the year, Gave would visit marshy areas along Oil Creek and carry with him a long steel rod with a hook on one end and plain on the other which he would plunge into the wet mud hoping to hit a sleeping turtle. If he would strike what he thought was a turtle, he would turn the hooked end of the steel rod around which he would again plunge into the same hole and hope to snag the turtle and pull it out of its muddy nest. The steel rod was about 3 or 4 feet long.
rt: A snapping turtle couple
Some Orlando residents would go “turtle grubbing” a different way. I recall John Gibson go “grubbing” by feeling along the water line of Oil Creek for holes which would be searched by hand hoping to find a turtle. I have been told that turtles, which are in holes in the bank of the creek, go in head first and so if a turtle is located, it will be its rear end which will be grabbed. There should not be an opportunity for the turtle to bite the “grubber” since it will be pulled out by the tail or rear leg. At least that is what I’ve been told.
Night gigging was also a popular way to fish in Orlando in the 1930’s. When the water was clear, giggers would wade or go by boat carrying a carbide light. When the fish was spotted by the light, it would then be gigged. Many large fish were gigged in this fashion.
Many fish were also taken with the use of illegal carbide bombs. Charley Knight sold carbide at his store which was normally used for night lanterns. To make a carbide bomb, a large can with a lid would be loaded with chunks of carbide. A small hole punched in the can would allow water to infiltrate the can. When the water came into contact with the carbide, a gas was created along with pressure in the can. When the pressure built up high enough, the can would then explode in the water and the resulting concussion would kill or disable the fish which would float to the top of the water.
Another popular way to fish for suckers in Oil Creek was with loops. This involved using a regular fishing pole and line, at the end of which would be tied a copper loop about eight or ten inches in diameter. It is necessary to shine the copper so it will be visible in the water. Suckers are very placid fish and are usually oblivious to a copper wire which is slowly moved by the fishing pole until the loop is about midway up the fish’s length, at which time the rod is jerked. Hopefully, the jerk of the pole flips the fish out onto the bank. Redhorse suckers were a favorite fish to loop because they are generally larger than regular white suckers.
Besides Gave Allman, two Orlando residents I recall who fished all the time were Red Beckner and Cecil Skinner. After Red Beckner retired from the railroad, I recall that he fished all over Oil Creek. He was so expert at fishing, he could it seemed, even catch fish on a sand bar. Cecil Skinner was good at looping fish and frequently went night gigging.
comment 6 by an Unknown Person
In his July 2, 1925 column of the Buzzardtown News, Uncle Zeke reported that “a certain person of our town says that owing to the enormous size of the fish he catches he is compelled to use a thirty-three foot section of B & O railroad rail for a fish pole.”
Marshall Posey, who Uncle Zeke noted was the famous catcher of carp with a muskrat trap, was the son of Willim Sanford "W. S." Posey and Sarah (Riffle) Posey. He worked as a well blower for the Philadelphia Gas Company. He died at the young age 35 from influenza in 1918. His 13 year old son Vinton died of influenza the previous day.