State of the Hogs: Don Horton
When you roll into DeWitt, you can't miss the sign proclaiming it the "home" of Harold Horton and Sam Cook. Both are in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
There's nothing wrong with putting those two names on that sign. In my book, both are famous and not just in DeWitt.
But you could probably add a few more names to that sign, starting with Don Horton. The retired Farm Bureau agent is famous in some parts as Harold's older brother. However, it used to be the other way around.
There have been few in Eastern Arkansas with a more illustrious prep career than Don Horton. And, that would include Brinkley's Jerry Eckwood. Their numbers as a running back -- against the same competition -- were similar.
Don Horton — or Uncle Donald to my family — set scoring records at DeWitt that still stand. He scored 196 points in his junior year at DeWitt, then topped that by quite a bit the next season. In case you haven't figured, that's an average of almost four TDs per game for the two years.
Don went to the UA on football scholarship and lettered three years in the late 1950s despite some serious injuries, the first a broken collarbone. He was the target of one of DeWitt's most famous recruiting wars, a battle that had the likes of Johnny Vaught (Ole Miss), Bear Bryant (Texas A&M), Paul Dietzel (LSU) and Bowden Wyatt (Arkansas) calling his house.
These days, that's not what you will find Don talking about. It's grand kids and their exploits on the ball field, or trips to the woods, rivers or lakes in Arkansas County for game. He's got three or four freezers full of catfish, squirrel, deer, ducks or anything else that's wild in those parts. He has some fine hunting dogs that make some of that easy.
The same competitive nature that made him spectacular on the football field is obvious when he's hunting or fishing. He counts everything. He keeps a ledger. And, if you don't believe the ledger, the evidence is in the freezers.
I helped put some catfish on those ledger sheets and in his freezer last week on a vacation to DeWitt. For reference, Don's wife's sister is my wife's mother's sister. His children — son Scott, Mark and daughter Susan — are first cousins to my wife and they grew up together in DeWitt.
I received an invitation to fish with the Hortons (Don, Scott and Mark) on a trip down the White River and into the muddy Mississippi. Our destination was the sand bars, opposite the main channel a few miles north of the mouth of the White.
It was like nothing I've ever done. The first few miles of the ride was through beautiful virgin timber on the White with the national refuge around us. Then, when we hit the big river -- close to one mile across -- there was a part of me that was thankful we were in two boats just in case of trouble.
You don't realize how many barges move up and down the Mississippi until you spend a day fishing the river. We were far enough from the main channel that the wake just rocked our boats in a gentle way. But I was always glad we had a good anchor in the sand.
It was a hoot. We baited six rods in each boat and reclined in soft chairs to watch. I was in the bow with Don on the motor. Mark and Scott, both Farm Bureau agents, were together in another boat and always within shouting distance. All four of us were busy checking our big hooks to make sure our catalpa worms were still there.
The morning, dark and dank, was slow and after about four hours each boat had only four or five cats in our ice chests. Then, the sun popped free and the cats began to hit. In the last hour of our trip, we loaded up. Finally, Don announced that we were leaving on the next fish, perhaps just a little disappointed we hadn't caught any 25-pound monsters and only fish in the eight-pound range. He smiled when one of his rod tips bent double.
Uncle Don didn't announce it at the time, but I think he knew for certain that our last fish gave us a one-fish victory in the friendly battle with his sons. He smiled all the way back to the boat ramp, the last portion a rough ride behind a huge tug boat going up the White to hit the canal that connects to the Arkansas River.
I had to head home, so I was excused from cleaning the mess of cats. I did go by on the way out of town to accept several bags of frozen catfish. "We had 15, they had 14," Uncle Don said. "Kinda thought that last one did it."
There was nothing lasting in the competition, but it is serious. I've heard Harold Horton talk about going duck hunting with his nephews, Mark and Scott. The first wave of ducks would hit the decoys and he'd raise his gun only to hear "click, click, click" because someone had secretly taken out his shells.
There were no pranks on me. I got the treatment of a king. I am sure Don was prepared to bait my hook, untangle my lines or anything else I had done. None of that was needed. I hope I surprised him with my prowess in a boat.
There were very few mentions of the Razorbacks, although there were mentions of the recent players who left the team after last season.
"A lot was made of that, but that happened all the time when I was up there," he said. "There were 56 in my class. There were only 20 left at the end. You'd get up in the night to go to the bath room and there was usually someone dragging their bags down the hall."
The talk at breakfast when heads were counted was simple. The question would circulate around the room; who took the last stage out of town? It didn't really matter. What did matter? The lines would be shorter at the chow hall and at practice.
"We saw All-Americans leave every year," Don said. "Just the nature of things. Life goes on. We never thought much about it."
Now, if you want to know what he worried about, it was simple -- who shot more ducks, who cleaned more catfish, who got the biggest deer. I'm just glad I didn't screw things up on our trip to the Mississippi.
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