In the early 1960s, a few years before he died in 1965, my grandfather — the Rev. Irl Thomas Stovall — sat down and wrote about what he remembered as a child growing up in rural Missouri and as a young preacher and farmer in Kentucky and elsewhere. Here’s part of what he wrote:
I enjoyed hunting wild honey bees in the Missouri timber. I found a dozen or more bee trees. Some were rich and others had no honey. I would find the trees and father would rob them. There was not much objection to cutting a tree on anyone’s property as timber was not very valuable. I remember the richest tree I found. It was about two miles from home. We loaded into the wagon an axe, a crosscut saw from Axe & Answered, several pans and buckets and drove near the tree. We sawed the tree down and Father with bee hat on, and with some smoke, got out about fifty pounds of honey.
A neighbor boy and I found some bees watering at the river bank. We coursed them to two large trees in the river bottom. This nearly got us into trouble. The trees were a large, tall sycamore and a large tall water oak. The latter was very valuable for making boards. Soon we sawed them down and did not find enough honey in both of them for one person to eat. A few days later the neighbor who owned the trees said he ought to make us work up the oak into boards. There the matter ended.
My grandfather was born in 1890, so the time when this incident occurred was probably between 1900 and 1910.
There are not many details here, but he does mention his father using a “bee hat” and smoke to help get to the bee’s honey. I don’t know if this family actually kept bees or not. They very well might have since they were farmers and did anything they could to live off the land.
But wild bees were probably not very hard to find, and to find a stash with 50 pounds of honey must have been a pretty good day’s haul. Wild bees, unfortunately, are no longer plentiful enough for a young boy to enjoy hunting them.
I knew my grandfather well and remember him vividly. I was a teenager when he died.
Like just about everyone else I know, I wish my parents and grandparents were still around. There are so many things I would like to ask them about what it was like when they were young. Only now am I smart enough to know the good questions. Like, “What was it like to hunt for wild bees?”
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