“What I done and what I been accused of covers everything, you put ’em both together.” Wyatt Moore of Caddo Lake exaggerates, but perhaps not very much. During his long life at Caddo Lake, Moore was at various times a boat operator, commercial fisherman, boat builder, farmer, fishing and hunting camp operator, guide, commercial hunter, trapper, raftsman, moonshiner, oil field worker, water well driller, and mechanical jack-of-all-trades. Still, he always found time for his lifelong study of the natural and human history of Caddo Lake. Here, in words as fresh and forceful as the day they were uttered, is his tale.
Moore, who was given the gift of a unique story to tell and great power to tell it, was the historical interpreter of his strange homeland of Caddo Lake. Twenty-three miles long, some forty thousand acres at high water, stretching across two Texas counties and one Louisiana parish, Caddo Lake’s fresh waters merge into a labyrinthine swamp punctuated by inlets, holes, and geological oddities like Goat Island, Whistleberry Slough, Whangdoodle Pass, and the Devil’s Elbow. Here among these lost reminders of steamboats and old bateau men is Moore’s world.
Born in 1901 at Karnack, Texas, Moore grew up in a time when kids wore button shoes and in a place where pigs and chickens roamed the backyard. He drank his first whiskey at age eight, gigged fish, trapped, and hunted for pearls as a boy, and grew up to an easy assurance on the lake that comes only to those long accustomed to its ways. A walking library of the history of Caddo Lake, Moore delved into almost every nook and corner of it, and wherever he went, whatever he did, he sought to learn more about his subect. Sought out by writers and journalists—among them James Michener and Bill Moyers—because of his laconic wit and remarkable command of the region’s story, Moore became known as a resource as precious as the lake itself. Moore’s story is eloquently introduced by Thad Sitton in an opening essay that chronicles the history of Caddo Lake. Striking photographs of Moore at home and at work on the lake beautifully amplify his life story, and an exuberant word-and-picture essay of Moore expertly building the traditional boat of the region, a bateau, reinforces the vivid image we have of this remarkable man.
Thad Sitton is a historian of anthropological background and training, specializing in studies of rural Texas during the first half of the twentieth century.
Until his retirement, James H. Conrad worked as an oral historian, librarian, and archivist at Texas A&M University–Commerce.
Building the Last Caddo Bateau
Caddo Lake / A Suggested Reading List
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