Historical Articles by W. T. Block

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The last time that anyone saw Jasper, the albino buck deer with the pink eyes, he was grazing with his harem of white-tail does on Penitentary Ridge, about ten miles west of Hackberry, Louisiana. Jasper had been moved to that locality in 1920 along with 100 other white tails, but first 1 suppose that I should write something about Jasper's background.

About 1918, Bud Byerley, a flathead at the Browndell log front in Jasper County, Texas, found Jasper as a half-starved fawn, lying beside his dead mother. A panther had killed the doe a couple days earlier, and her body was already half-eaten. Byerley bottle-fed Jasper with either goat's or cow's milk as he had a half-dozen other orphan fawns, until there were six half-grown deer in the log camp, tame and had become general nuisances with their eternal begging. When Brown-Rosenthal Muskrat Company of Orange advertised to buy up to 100 tame deer, Kirby Lumber Company sold the small herd to them.

The Brown-Rosenthal Muskrat Company, which was incorporated in New York, was the operating division of the Orange-Cameron Land Company, which was located in Cameron Parish, but was headquartered in Orange. The latter belonged to Lutcher Stark, and both the land company and the fur company were managed by George Raybon, who rode around the "rat lands" in his powerful speed boat, the "Mink."  Dean Tevis, the veteran Enterprise feature writer, wrote much about the land and fur company during the 1920s.

In 1885 Jabez Watkins, the railroad tycoon, had big plans to extend his Iron Mountain Railroad from Alexandria to Cameron; as a result he bought about 200,000 acres of marsh land at 10 cents an acre, bordered on the east and west by the Sabine and Calcasieu rivers, and on the north and south by the present-day Intracoastal Canal and Gulf of Mexico. In 1904 Watkins sold the huge tract to John Deere for 60 cents an acre. The land changed hands twice more before it was sold to Lutcher Stark in 1918 for $1.75 an acre.

Brown and Rosenthal, who were New York fur buyers, agreed to develop and manage the trapping operation, which soon became the largest in the nation. The fur company trapped $1 million worth of pelts in 1920, which increased to $3 million in 1924, and Stark received a percentage of all the trapping income.

Brown-Rosenthal dug 82 miles of ingress canals throughout the rat lands; and built 12 "rat camps," each consisting of a bunk house, fur house, kitchen and mess hall. In 1925 the Johnson Bayou fur camp became the scene of a brutal double murder of A. A. Byrd of Nederland and John Springer of Lake Charles; and their murderer, Ned Harvey, was hanged at Cameron two years later.

The fur company employed up to 500 trappers and planned to rotate the trapping lands so that no area would ever become overtrapped. The fur company also built a nearby base camp and central fur warehouse, where 50,000 muskrat traps and other necessities were also stored. The base camp was managed by John Carouthers, who was also a graduate biologist, and who kept records of all the fur-bearing animals, alligators and marsh fowl population within the rat lands.

Stark and the fur company developed the rat lands in many other ways as well. They introduced cat tails and other marsh grasses, believed to be muskrat delicacies. Stark developed a special steel trap to replace the usual killer traps in use elsewhere. And they set aside a special reservation of ridge lands, 6 miles square, where no hunting and trapping was permitted. And that was the location, soon to be called Penitentary Ridge, where Jasper and the other 100 white-tail deer were released in 1920.

George Raybon visited Penitentary Ridge in 1925, where he found Jasper and his harem of about 25 white-tail does seemingly content with their environment. On his second visit in 1927, Raybon was unable to find Jasper or any albino offsprings that he had hoped to find. Raybon believed that Jasper had been killed either by a panther or a bootlegger. By 1927 Penitentary Ridge ("if a Revenoor arrives here alive, he won't leave here alive") had become a notorious haven for about 2 dozen bootleggers, who eventually killed out the herd of deer.