Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:59

Letter From a Conservative Farmer: The Indian's Pig

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Letter From a Conservative Farmer: The Indian's Pig

Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner is an Associate Editor of the St. Croix Review. Jigs Gardner writes on literature from the Adirondacks, where he may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

I raised pigs for some years with an Indian who admired the size and condition of our pigs. When an Indian raises a pig he keeps it in a small pen and feeds it table scraps and a little grain now and then. You can imagine how impressed he was by our pigs: well housed, raised on milk waste, and corn. Immediately we settled on a deal: he'd bring piglets in the spring, I'd raise them, and he'd buy the grain.

It turned out to be a good deal for both of us: I didn't have to pay for the piglets, and he didn't have to buy that much grain, because I was feeding them so much milk waste. In the fall I'd send him a note when it was slaughtering time, and he'd come with a couple of his pals early on a Saturday morning, and we'd all do the job together. Build a fire to heat the water, bring a pig out, shoot it, stick it, hang it from a block and tackle in the barn, and dip it in the water, scrape the hair off, cut it open and gut it, cut it in half down the backbone with the bone saw, put it aside and then do another. Depending on everyone's needs, we'd do from two to four pigs. We had a good time joking and laughing, doing a job of work together. Afterwards we'd have a lunch and they'd go. John would butcher his carcasses when he got home, but I'd let mine hang in the barn overnight to cool out.

This went on for some years, four I think, and the next year I sent a note on Monday telling him next Saturday was the day. It was late in the season, mid-November, and I was trying to get the plowing done before it snowed or the ground froze, so I was anxious to get the slaughtering out of the way. After breakfast I went over to the back of the barn, set up a barrel and hauled buckets of water from the pond to fill it. I lit the fire and then I opened the big double doors exposing the wide barn floor between the stables where I set up sawhorses and across them laid a platform made of two by sixes, set up the dipping barrel beneath the block and tackle, sharpened several knives set out on the table, sprinkled sawdust on the floor, and went out to the fire with a thermometer to check the water temperature. Jo Ann came over and we waited together. No John. When the temperature was right I said, "We might as well start." We were doing only two pigs this time, one for each of us.

Jo Ann led the pig out to the barn floor where I put some apples on the floor, and when he lowered his head I shot him with the .22 between the eyes but a little above. Quickly I flipped him over, avoiding his kicking legs, stuck the long knife in his chest just above the breastbone, plunged it in beneath the bone and severed the carotid artery. When he was done bleeding to death, we dragged him over to the dipping barrel and I cut a slit under his jaw and caught the hook from the block under it. Hauling the pig above the dipping barrel, we tied the tackle rope to a post. We moved quickly to haul the hot water to the dipping barrel, filling it a little more than half full, and then we lowered the carcass into the water, hauling the rope up and down to move the pig in the swirling water. In two or three minutes, as soon as the hair was loose, we hauled the carcass up and began scraping off the hair. This is the hardest part of the operation, but if the water temperature is just right the hair will come off readily. We had to dip it a few more times before the first half of the carcass was done. Then I slacked off on the rope while Jo Ann guided the carcass to the table, where I cut a slit behind each leg, exposing a tendon. Using the hook at each end of a whiffletree, I snagged the tendons, secured the block to the whiffletree, and we hauled up the carcass to dip it again. Jo Ann had dumped three buckets of hot water into the barrel, and now we worked the carcass up and down until the hair was loose and scraped the hair off the rest of the carcass. The whole thing took us about an hour. Still no John.

Now we hauled the carcass up in the air, tied the rope to a post, and bucketed the water back to the barrel on the fire. Moving the empty dipping barrel to one side, we let the carcass down until the rear end was just about eye level. I opened it from the anus to the jaw with my knife and then began the delicate task of removing the innards without cutting anything except those ligaments that bound everything to the backbone. Carefully I worked down, releasing kidneys, liver, and heart into Jo Ann's hands until I was able to dump the rest in a wheelbarrow. Finally I washed the carcass with cold water from the pond. We were done with our pig and we dare not touch John's - what if he didn't show up at all? "Oh to hell with it. I've got to get back to plowing." Se we doused the fire and left the carcass to hang until the morrow.

It rained Monday, so I worked in the shop fixing harness. Just before noon a pickup drove in. A cousin of John's; I'd seen them hunting together. Ed something. His story was that John had moved, so he didn't get my card in time. "We'll be there next Saturday at 8:30," he said. I didn't know who "we" was, but I began to have misgivings, remembering now that I hadn't seen much of John this summer; strangers usually delivered the grain.

The weather cleared Thursday, so I plowed Friday and Saturday morning early. I went through the procedure: filled the barrel from the pond, lit the fire, set up the table, the dipping barrel, and the block and tackle, sharpened the knives. You have to understand that a pig is not fed the day before, just given water, so this pig now had two hungry Fridays to his credit. At 11:30 we doused the fire, put everything away (the barn floor has to be kept clear for other work), and I went back to plowing.

Dark comes down early in winter at the latitude of Cape Breton, so by four o'clock I was at the stable unharnessing. Jo Ann came to help and told me Ed, with a black eye, had turned up in the afternoon with two others, one of whom was passed out in the back, and promised again to be here next Saturday at 8:30.

We had two clear days the next week for plowing, and I figured one more day would do it. Once again on Saturday we got out the barrels and so on, and once again no one showed up. At noon I was hitched up, heading out to the field, when a pickup drove in. I turned the team and drove over to the house. There were two Indians in the truck, strangers to me. They said they'd come to slaughter a pig. I sat there on the sulky plow, looking at him and thinking. Then I climbed down and handed the reins to the driver. "Hold on, I'll be right back." I strode to the house, went to my desk and wrote on a pad: "Ed - Come and get your pig tomorrow, without fail." I went out and gave the note to the driver. "Give that to Ed." He drove off and I went to the field.

I finished plowing that day, and none too soon, for the weather turned sharply colder that night and the pond froze. I broke the ice and we were watering the horses there when a pickup drove into the barnyard and four Indians piled out, one man and three teenagers. They walked toward the barn and Jo Ann said, "One's carrying a rifle." "Uh-oh." I grabbed the halter and headed the horse for the barn on a run. I shut him in his stall and went through to the cow stable where the pigpens were. The Indians were standing, irresolute, in the barnyard before the door. I opened the door, looked at them and said. "Wait. If there's any shooting done around here, I'll do it. Wait right here."

I walked the 80 yards to the house without visibly hurrying, got the .22 and the sticking knife and walked back to the barn. The Indians were standing at attention against the side of the barn. "Come on" I said, as I passed them. I led them back to the pigpens. I showed them a heifer calf in a nearby pen. "I wouldn't want her struck by a stray bullet. Now it's my responsibility, you see?"

I loaded the gun and handed it with the knife to the man. "Give 'em to me when I tell you." I took two apples from a barrel, climbed over the pigpen door, and put the apples on the floor in the middle of the pen. "Rifle," I said, and the Indian handed it to me. As the pig bent to the apples, I shot him in the place above his eyes and immediately handing the gun to the Indian, I said, "knife." Flipping the pig on his back, I slid the knife in the flesh, ran it up the breastbone and plunged it into the carotid artery.

Blood gushed out all over my arm. I climbed out of the pen and the Indian and I unbarred the door and dragged the bloody carcass to the door. The truck was backed up to the door, and the two of us easily rushed the pig up into the bed of the pickup. "Here" I said, reaching in behind the door producing a rag. The Indian wiped his hands and then I wiped my arm. "You see why I had to do it myself?" I said smiling. He smiled and nodded. They all piled into the truck and drove off.

I enlarged the hole in the ice and we began watering the cows, two by two. The wind was picking up. We stood side by side, looking down at the icy water. Jo Ann said, "I feel sorry for the Indians." I thought for a moment, remembering the Indians lined up against the barn. "Yes," I said. After a bit she asked if I thought John would be back in the spring? I didn't think John was in it anymore, but all I said was, "Spring's a long way off." *

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