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12 Most Texas Tall Tales Growing Up Down By the River

Yampa River in Steamboat Springs

Took this picture of the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs while at a tennis tournament

This post references one of the best Saturday Night Live skits ever: Down By The River with Chris Farley. Here is some insight — I grew up in a log cabin down by the river! And since I am Texan, you know that I have a few tall tales up my sleeve.

Here are my 12 Most Tall Tales Growing Up Down By the River — that do not involve trucks or guns, even though I have used both concurrently and lived to write this blog post. ;)

1. Lighting the bonfire

At least one Texas tall tale should start with fire, right? Whenever we would have the cousins out for a big shindig, we would always have a bonfire to roast marshmallows. We would stack the wood 6-10 feet high and then pour regular gasoline all over the wood until we were dizzy from the fumes. Then we would all gather around this stack of gas-drenched wood, light a match, and jump straight up. A sheet of flame would go shooting out under our feet before settling into a bonfire with flames 15-20 feet high.

Now, that’s livin’!

2. Chasing armadillos

Armadillos come out at dusk on summer nights. We would separate into teams, and then try to chase these armadillos all over the river bottom. Of course, if you caught one you had the quandary of deciding what to do with it. As long as you pinned it down by its back, those claws could not get to you. And if you could get one to roll into a ball that was fun, also.

3. Double-dare you

If it was high, and overhanging water, we had to jump out or off of it. We were always on the lookout for new perches while floating down the river in inner tubes. We jumped off rock overhangs, out of trees and even off of railroad bridges. The real men, lacking in brain cells, would dive versus just jump feet first.

4. Just a swingin’

Of course, there were special trees ideally suited for hanging a rope swing. The best swings used ski ropes because you could then do trapeze-like tricks. And we all had our share of “hey guys, check this out” painful endings on our backs or bellies.

5. I got your bees’ knees — all over me

My favorite cousin and I were headed to the nearest rope swing when the elderly lady from a couple doors down stopped us. Her bees had swarmed, and they formed a huge ball in one of our pecan trees. She was wearing full beekeeper gear, and she had both a smoker and a cardboard box. She asked for our help even though we only had cutoff swimsuits on. She said the bees would not sting us if we used the smoker (as she is wearing full gear, mind you).

I held the ladder and cardboard box, and my cousin used the smoker and a stick to rake the dazed bees into the box. We had bees covering most of our bodies during this operation. Ironically, the lady in the beekeeping gear was the only one to get stung that day.

6. Snakes — think Raiders of the Lost Ark

South Texas is known for both droughts and torrential downpours of rain. We would “tie the boat high”, so it would float up with the floodwater, but we still needed to bail it out in the middle of the night to keep it from sinking.

I was headed down the river bank in my standard attire of “barefoot and wearing cutoffs” when my grandmother told me to come back and get the flashlight. I retorted “I know this river bank like the back of my hand”, but my grandmother… errr… insisted I get that flashlight. When I turned back around to shine the flashlight at the boat, I saw 10-12 cottonmouth water moccasins slithering up the river bank. I almost walked right through them in the dark.

7. Swimming upstream, both ways, in a flood

Speaking of Texas floods, I have seen some amazing things. I watched flood waters pick up a house on stilts, move it over about three lots, and set it right back down on its stilts! I’ve also seen a case where the flood waters ripped the house off of the stilts and stranded it in the treetops like a treehouse.

We would watch trees that were several feet in diameter float down the Guadalupe River during these floods. If any of those trees got caught in our treetops, that favorite cousin and I would swim out and guide the floaters back into the middle of the river. The waters were so fast, that we would enter the river about 100 yards upstream to give us the time to swim out to the trees. By the time we finished with a tree, we would be at least 100 yards downstream.

8. Not a nail in it

My grandparents raised me in a 2-bedroom log cabin that was their dream retirement home. My grandfather told every one of my friends, multiple times, about how that log cabin was built. “Not a nail in it”, he would always say because the entire structure was tongue-and-groove. My heart still swells with love when remembering those stories.

9. The fish was “this long”

Ok, what is a Texas tall tale without the token fish story? Except this one did not get away! We have pictures even if I have not seen the pictures in years. We once caught a 72 pound catfish! I was just a young kid, and that fish was almost as big as me! I was looking through websites to find one with good pictures, and I saw where someone caught a 200 pound catfish. Ours was a minnow compared to that one.

10. Zip line… wheeeee… thud

Way before the Geico pig tried out the zip line, the Vickery’s had one that went from the top of a Sycamore tree, over land for about 30 yards, then water for about 15 feet, before ending at the tie off on a Cypress tree. The important note about Cyprus trees are that the roots are above ground and look like stalagmites. So the key is to hang on tight over land, then time the release to land in the water while missing the stalagmites and not slamming into the tree at the end!

We put one of our “too young cousins” on the zip line because she wanted to be big like us. She didn’t get the memo about the “letting go” part. She slammed into the tree, broke her nose, and still refused to let go of the trolley. We had to pry her fingers off that bar! It would have been hilarious if we hadn’t gotten in so much trouble.

11. Mud slides

These are not California mud slides… these are Texas style! Think of it as a poor kid’s slip-n-slide. We took hoes and shovels and would remove the grass, right down to the hard-packed mud, leading up to the water on a sloped river bank. We would then use a garden hose to keep water running down the slide. Then we would get a running start and hit that mudslide at full speed. The best ones would go several feet, have little ramps and “banks”, and then have about a 5-10 feet drop into the river.

12. You mean there is a weight limit?

We had one of those little 6-seater aluminum boats with a 25-horsepower outboard motor on the back. My aunts and uncles decided they were going to go float the river, so six of them got in the boat with the all-important beer cooler.

The weight limit for that type of boat is about 600 lbs. The three uncles ranged between 200-240 lbs. And the three aunts were hearty Texas women in the 140-170 lbs range. As they started up the river, the aunt in the front seat exclaimed “we’re taking on water, my butt’s getting wet”. The uncle driving the boat decided to gun the motor to get the boat on top of the water. Instead, the boat did a nose-dive under water and dumped all six adults into the water.

Nobody was hurt — except for slight injuries to the uncle that chose to save the beer cooler rather than his wife!

So that wraps up my tall tales, and believe me — there are more where those came from! I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into a boy’s life that I will treasure forever.

Let’s hear your tall tales in the comment section… bring on some doozies!

Note: This post originally appeared on 12 Most where I am still a bi-weekly contributor. Feel free to stop by 12 Most to enjoy “Savvy Smartitude for Busy Professionals”.

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Brian Vickery

I love my wife and two daughters. I am blessed in that I also love my job as a principal and EVP of the Rocky Mountain Region for Mantis Technology Group. I am excited to promote our Pulse Analytics social media monitoring and sentiment analysis solution as well as our core software development and business intelligence services. I enjoy teaching and coaching, watching football and basketball, and playing tennis. I graduated UT-Austin. You can find Brian on .

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5 comments
B2MediaLLC
B2MediaLLC

Love it! As a long, tall Texan I can REALLY appreciate most of these stories - and have a few of my own that are very similar! :-) Thanks for the laugh. 

Jason E. Ballmann
Jason E. Ballmann

Brian this is great! I grew up in Texas too and know the viciousness of water moccasins. Not fun to be chased by them. :(

Brian Vickery
Brian Vickery

Water moccasins...copper heads...coral snakes...occasional rattlesnakes. Then you have the spiders, scorpions and fire ants! And mean yellow jackets and red wasps!!

Jason E. Ballmann
Jason E. Ballmann

OUCH! I'm hurting!!! I got stung by a bee on a hike here in California a couple of weeks ago, thankfully I'm not allergic. But didn't hurt as bad as a red wasp man!