Much of my boyhood living in the Gore Springs community east of Grenada was spent roaming the woods of an area that had once been part of a sprawling United States Army training facility during World War II.
Stretching from Elliott to nearly what is now Highway 8 and the Providence Road, Grenada County’s Camp McCain, named for Major General Henry Pinckney McCain of Carroll County, Miss., was established in 1942 and served as a primary Army training post during the second world war until it was closed as such on Oct. 15, 1944. At that time, much of its lands and buildings were sold and only about 3,000 acres, including firing ranges, were retained and converted to a Mississippi National Guard training post.
Back during the war, over 7,700 German prisoners of war were housed at Camp McCain. Some of the prisoners lived in barracks located just south of what is now known as the Zero Road, not far from where the camphouse of Zero Hunting Club is located. Back when I was a boy, Zero Road was a dirt road with no gravel. It ran from Providence Road at a point just down the hill from Providence Baptist Church all the way to Camp McCain Road near the old “Fire Tower Road.” That portion of Camp McCain Road has since been renamed the James H. Biddy Road, named for my wife Beverly’s Uncle Harold Biddy, who was a prominent General of the Mississippi National Guard.
The area of old Camp McCain where I roamed, sometimes alone and other times while hunting with my friend, James L. ‘Mister Jim’ Moore, who was like a surrogate grandfather to me, was bordered by Highway 8, Providence Road, Zero Road and Camp McCain Road. There were no roads anywhere in between the back of my house and Zero Road. That was quite an area to roam, and I did it with my mother’s blessings. Sometimes I ventured beyond those borders, but that was against Mother’s blessing, except when I was accompanied by Mister Jim.
On one of our forays into the old Camp McCain area, Mister Jim showed me the site of the barracks where the German prisoners were kept. Mister Jim called the barracks the “Berlin Hotel.” I do not know if that is what it was commonly called, but that is what Mister Jim called it.
Mister Jim had superb ways of telling stories. He told me that the Army boys who guarded the prisoners had some German police dogs. Mister Jim always called the German Shepherd breed German “police dog.” He said that one of the Army’s German police dogs had puppies and one of the puppies had its tail freeze off during a cold spell, similar to what we have been having lately. Anyway, the Army boys gave the puppy with the froze-off tail to Mister Jim and he named the dog “Major.” Mister Jim had many “Ole Major” stories and, one time, according to Mister Jim, when Major treed more than 40 squirrels before dinner time (that would have been before noon), Mister Jim “promoted” Major to “Colonel.” But Major would not answer to “Colonel,” so Mister Jim continued to call the dog “Major.”
This recent cold weather caused me to recall Mister Jim’s tale of his dog Ole Major.
I also remember another cold weather tale that Mister Jim told me. This one is about one of the German prisoners of war. Again, according to Mister Jim, one day one of the prisoners escaped. Mister Jim said one afternoon the Army boys came by his place and told him about the escape and asked him to be on the lookout. Mister Jim said that it turned off real cold that night, and the next morning when he was milking he noticed smoke coming up from a nearby cotton field in Red Grass Creek bottom. The field had been thoroughly picked, but it was in the days prior to cutting off the cotton stalks shortly after harvest. The bare cotton stalks were thick and as tall or taller than a man. Mister Jim said that he figured right off that the escaped prisoner was likely hiding in the cotton field and had started himself a fire, trying to stay warm.
When Mister Jim took the milk to the house, he told his wife Miss Willie about the smoke and, as Mister Jim got his gun, he told Miss Willie that he reckoned he would go down to the creek bottom and round up the prisoner. Well, Miss Willie did not think that was a good idea, and she reminded Mister Jim how the Army boys had told him to send for them if he saw anything. Mister Jim knew there was no need to argue with Miss Willie, so he saddled his horse and rode over to the Berlin Hotel and reported to the Army what he had observed. They had him leave his horse, and Mister Jim rode in a Jeep with the Army boys and one of their police dogs. Coming along Providence Road, Mister Jim told the Army boys exactly where he had seen the smoke. In fact, the smoke was still visible.
They stopped the Jeep a ways off and went on foot down into the cotton field where they found the cold German trying to cook a terrapin. Mister Jim related that he doubts that he had ever before seen such a miserable looking fellow, and that the German seemed quite happy to have been caught. Mister Jim persuaded the Army boys to stop by his house and let Miss Willie fix them all a good breakfast, including the prisoner. Mister Jim said he even gave the German a pair of old gloves that the man seemed to greatly appreciate.
I do not know for certain but I think that, when Mister Jim went to get his horse, is when the Army boys gave him the puppy that would become Ole Major.