Reflections: I Sat Around a Campfire with William Faulkner

I don’t want to mislead anybody. I was not a close acquaintance of the great Faulkner and not many people were. In fact, I’m not sure he had many close friends. Please forgive me if I sound disrespectful, I’m certainly not a Faulkner expert. I do concede myself fortunate to even have been in his presence. I can assure you that he didn’t know me. Now to my campfire story:

Although my immediate family (mother and father) were poor and share-cropping in the Mississippi Delta, my mother had a very rich uncle. His name was Campbell White, and he amassed a fortune clearing the land around Lambert, Marks and Crowder in the Delta. Before and during the Great Depression, he only had a third grade education but became one of the largest sawmill operators and richest men in the north Delta. He was a real man’s man – tough as a pine knot and loved the outdoors, especially hunting. The only thing that he loved more than hunting was drinking his whiskey and Ole Miss football.

When he retired from farming his several thousand acre plantation in the late 1940s, he moved just outside of Oxford so he could be close to his beloved Ole Miss Rebels. He bought a nice home and several acres about five miles from Ole Miss.

Uncle Campbell’s favorite hunting sport was fox hunting. Not the English kind but just sitting around a campfire, drinking and listening to the dogs run at night. He had a pack of about 80 high quality Foxhounds. In those days (late 1940s and early 1950s) we didn’t have any deer in the Mississippi hill country, as they were killed out during the Depression. So you could run your dogs and not worry about them leaving the country chasing a deer. When Uncle Campbell came to the Oxford area he brought all of his Foxhounds and a nice black man with him. He soon realized that he needed more help with the dogs.

That’s when life just got better for me and my family! Uncle Campbell gave my mother 21 acres of land that joined him, if we would build a house and me and Daddy help with the dogs and the hunts. Sometimes I think that we would have been better off if we had just bought the land, but we couldn’t have afforded it.

Loving the Rebels and going to all of their games, plus being a big donor to the University, my Uncle had made several acquaintances from Oxford. For several years, he had invited a few down to his hunting camp in the Delta. I found out years later that William Faulkner and Ike “Doc” Roberts had accepted his invitation. I don’t remember this.

Anyway, when he put on one of his big Oxford fox hunts, he’d invite some of the Oxford “Big Shots.” None of these people meant anything to me. I was too busy helping Dad keep up with the dogs while they sat around the fire getting drunk and having a good time.

Well, I remember one hunt when Uncle Campbell, “Doc” Roberts, Bramlett Roberts, Stan Landrith and William Faulkner had more fun than they needed. Mr. Landrith got sick, and he moved away from the fire and upchucked. Now I didn’t say he was drunk … I said he got sick. Uncle Campbell told me and Dad to stay and round up the dogs; they had to take Mr. Landrith home. Dad and I stayed near the fire blowing the fox horn and collecting the dogs. Less than an hour passed when they came back. Mr. Landrith had lost his false teeth, and they started looking. Somebody went to where he’d upchucked, and there were his dentures. I will never forget it. Mr. Landrith picked them up, wiped them on his pants and put them back in his mouth and left.

Jay Mitchell and his wife.

At this time, I was just a kid and put no importance to being on a hunt with William Faulkner – I didn’t know who he was. Several years later and going to University High School in Oxford where the English and literature teachers tried to make him a saint, I did think that I might have had a special moment. Growing up in Oxford at that time, I didn’t appreciate him. We saw him on the street and made fun of his crazy English riding boots and pants. He was so different from the locals and certainly not friendly.

I am in my 70s now and own several Faulkner first editions in my Faulkner library. I have had to get over my biases and learn to appreciate his genius. I have done that. Okay, this isn’t much of a story, but did YOU ever go fox hunting with William Faulkner? Ha, ha! I did!

This Reflections story is from Jay Mitchell of Coldwater, Mississippi, as seen in “The Oxford So & So.”

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