By Gary Dison
On a breezy spring day in the early 1930s, the author’s father, Neal Dison, then in his late teens or early twenties, saddled his horse and headed from his home in the Pine Grove community toward Castor. The horse trail they took that day was considered a shortcut. Horse-drawn wagons took another, longer route. At walking pace, the shorter route took about 2 ½ hours. Somewhere along the trail, the normally calm horse became nervous or “spooked” as they called it. The horse did not want to continue walking. Neal assumed the horse was spooked by some sort of wild animal. He looked around for large animals, maybe a large cat, but he saw none. He looked closer at the path in front of them for a rattlesnake or some other creature, but saw none. It was when he focused on his hearing rather than his sight that he realized there was no sound. The piney woods would normally have been filled with all sorts of bird songs, the chittering of squirrels, and a variety of other sounds of nature. Then he realized that the leaves were no longer rustling in the breeze as they had been only minutes earlier. He later recalled that the total lack of sound or movement as being, “an eerie quiet.”
All of a sudden, he heard what he thought was the train on the Louisiana and Arkansas Railroad in Castor. With no sounds from nature, the sound of a locomotive carried for miles. However, the sound was coming from the wrong direction and the train was not due in the area for quite some time. Then he realized what had spooked the horse. They were in the path of an oncoming tornado. (In those days, there were no tornado warning systems of any kind.)
Neal dismounted the horse and led him to a large tree, all the while speaking calmly to the horse to lessen the horse’s anxiety. The wind began to blow. He took his lariat rope from the horn of the saddle and wrapped it a couple of times around the horse and the tree. The wind howled and rumbled. With the remainder of the rope, he wrapped it around himself, the horse, and the tree. He could hear limbs breaking as the rumbling and churning sound grew louder. He gently rubbed the horse and spoke to him ever so calmly.
The sound was deafening. The wind blew harder and harder. It became hard for Neal and the horse to breath. Neal placed his face alongside the horse’s head, his mouth next to one of the horse’s ears. He calmly spoke directly into the horse’s ear and covered the other ear with one of his hands. He gently stroked the horse’s head. After what seemed like an eternity when, in reality, the time could have been measured in seconds, the turbulent wind and rumbling sound died down. The eerie stillness returned. Neal looked around and saw that several large trees had been twisted, some were snapped, and some uprooted. The tree they were tied to was undamaged. He continued to calm the horse as if by habit. Neal and his horse were not in the direct path of the tornado, but they had been close.
Neal loosened the lariat rope, remounted the horse, and continued toward Castor. The trail was littered with downed trees as the tornado had cut a swath directly toward Castor. Neal had no way to warn the town. He and his horse slowly continued on their journey. When Neal arrived at Castor, he saw that one of the churches, the schoolhouse, and some homes had been destroyed. He helped as much as he could and returned home safely to the Pine Grove community.
Do you have a story your parents or grandparents told you, a story that has been passed down through the generations, or any other type of story connected to Bienville parish? If so, email it to BPJNewsLA@gmail.com.
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