March 24, 2012 10:20:20 PM
George Coleman Jr. grew up hunting quail. His father, George Sr., worked for Johnson Tombigbee Furniture, and at times Junior would hunt with the sons of his father's boss, Reau and Scott Berry.
Often they would hunt in Sandyland, a sprinkling of small houses and trailers along a road of the same name in northeast Noxubee County not far from Pickensville, Ala.
If you've ever seen a well-trained bird dog at work, you will understand George's love of quail hunting. If you haven't, it's probably no use trying to describe it. It's one of those sights that can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
"It's a beautiful thing to see, a trained bird dog working at his fully best," says George.
About 30 years ago a man named Lester gave George a bird dog, a German shorthair. George named the dog Junior, for himself. Though Junior wasn't the only name George had to choose from. While at East Mississippi Junior College on a football scholarship, he acquired the nickname "Chicken George," from the character on "Roots," the TV miniseries that aired the year he entered college. Over time "Chicken George" became "Chickenman."
As for Junior, he turned out to be a good bird dog.
"He knew what I wanted to do," says George. "He was not hard to train."
Junior, George and I happened to converge in Sandyland on a fall day in 1981. I'd had a flat tire in front a small grocery store/beer joint called Betty's Place. Blues aficionados know Betty's, where the late bluesman Willie King was the house band.
I was in no hurry to change the tire. Someone had offered me a mess of greens and helped me pick them. About the time I got around to the tire, a husky man in a pickup stopped to ask if I needed help. In the back of the truck he had a large wooden crate he used as a dog cage. Painted on the side of the box was "The Chickenman's Dog, Columbus, Miss."
We fixed the tire in short order, and George asked if I would take a picture of his dog. He got Junior out of the box and held his tail as Junior struck a pose. The resulting picture shows Junior in a cautious though compliant stance in the back of George's truck, the box with George's lettering behind him. As for George, all you can see is the edge of his plaid shirt, a whistle and one eye.
After his college and football career at EMJC and then Bluefield State in West Virginia, George drove an 18-wheeler. He hunted quail every chance he got. On a hunt in Ethelsville, Ala., he met Oscar Jones a renowned quail hunter and dog trainer from Kansas City, Mo.
Jones took a liking to the gregarious Coleman and told him if he would come to Kansas City, he would give him a dog.
As it happened, the Chickenman ended up in K.C. in his 18-wheeler and took up Oscar Jones on his offer. Junior #2, a pointer, exceeded his predecessor.
"You couldn't ask for no more," Coleman said of the second Junior. "I've eaten a lot of quail I've killed behind that dog."
After 20 years on the road, Coleman gave up driving to take a job as a policeman in Brooksville, a position he held for 10 years.
Coyotes and increased farming have taken their toll on the quail population, but George still hunts rabbit and deer.
For a recent exhibition at the Rosenzweig Arts Center of my photographs taken during that time, we had posters made. One of them featured the image of George and Junior. Geraldine Jones attended the show and recognized some of the people in the photographs, including the Chickenman and his dog. Geraldine told me she would have George get in touch with me.
Friday George stopped by The Dispatch. We talked, and I signed two posters, one for him and one for his mother. A small thank you for a lovely photograph and for helping a stranger change a flat tire 30 years ago.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.
1. Ask Rufus: By the flow of the inland river LOCAL COLUMNS
2. Possumhaw: The only good snake LOCAL COLUMNS
3. Other editors: We must dispel stigma surrounding skilled jobs NATIONAL COLUMNS
4. Roses and thorns: 4-22-18 ROSES & THORNS
5. Partial to Home: Revisiting Highway 61 LOCAL COLUMNS