Morgan LaFour had a reputation far and wide as a master duck and goose-caller. His daughter, Sharon Elliott said, “He use to stand in the bathtub at our home and call geese with his mouth out the window. I’d look outside after he called, and our yard was filled with geese. “He always used a duck call to call ducks,” said Sharon, “but he called geese with his mouth.”
In a 1955 Houston Chronicle article, Bob Brister wrote, “Paul Germany and Karl Heisley ended the season with the biggest thrill of the year . . . besides limits of sprig and mallard. They got to watch LaFour call a single goose high out of the clouds right down into the blind.”
Darrell Skillern, of Cove, an avid sportsman and duck hunter, recalls when he first met Morgan LaFour. He was just a lad and living with his folks in Channelview at the time. His dad and a friend, Henry McNulty, or Mr. Mack as Darrell called him, took him along on a trip to see Morgan LaFour in Wallisville to negotiate a duck hunt. At that time, Morgan was charging $5 for day hunts and $3 for kids. Times were still tough during those days and Darrell’s dad was having a hard time justifying paying that much for a hunt when he had always hunted for nothing. They headed back home that day without closing the deal. They made two more trips with the same outcome. Halfway home after the third trip Darrell said to his dad, “You’ve already made three trips over to see Mr. LaFour, why don’t we just hunt.” Darrell said his dad wheeled the car around, headed back to Wallisville and sealed the deal.
Darrell said Morgan would hook all the hunters boats up like cars in a train and pull they snake-style down a cut in the Trinity to the back of Lake Charlotte. “The stream was navigable then,” said Darrell, “but you would probably not be able to navigate it today as the mouth is silted up and too shallow for most boats.”
Morgan would pull the boats to the first blind and the last boat in the train would untie and row over to his blind. Morgan would repeat the process until all the hunters were settled.
Morgan’s blinds were completely covered with cane on all four sides with a small opening on the side where you entered. Darrell said he would make them with a cane overhang where the boat would be concealed. Inside there would be benches all around and open on the top. Darrell said he was so young on this first hunt he could not sit down to hunt, he had to stand.
Darrell’s dad was not too impressed at the end of the hunt. You see, his dad loved “yellow feet” mallards and all they bagged that day was pintails, teel, and gadwalls, but for Darrell, it was the beginning of his love affair with duck hunting.
Darrell said he loves everything about duck hunting, from the preparation to the cold, the rain, the misery, working the dogs, the decoys, the anticipation of opening day, the sunrise when it dispels the night, and even getting stuck in the mud. There is not much that brings him more joy than duck hunting!
Dave Wilcox of Anahuac said, “The first place I ever hunted was at Morgan LaFour’s in 1967 or ’68,” Dave was then five years old. There were four who went on that hunt, his dad, Curtis “Bubba” Wilcox, Brodie Hand, and another he cannot recall. He said at the time he thought it was pretty dark and spooky as they made their way through the water in wooden skiffs, but he has come to love every aspect of duck hunting.
Dave believes what draws most men to the sport of hunting is an ingrained primal instinct to do so. It’s the satisfaction of outsmarting the prey, the ability to blow that duck call and fool the birds and draw them to you. He said there is great gratification when you finally learn to recognize the birds by their call and are able to mimic them. Duck hunting is not for the faint of heart, Dave says, “Its hard work and much of it is two steps forward and one step back,” but at the end of the day it is worth it all!
The Wilcox "Love of the Hunt" has been handed down from Grandfather, to Father, to son...
Dave's grandfather, Curtis Corneil Wilcox, his dad, Curtis Hairston "Bubba" Wilcox, and friend Dave Wolfean
...And the son passed it down to his son!
Dave's son, Dave Curtis "Curt" Wilcox
Danny Hankamer, son of Daniel Hankamer said, “When I was 8 or 9 years old Dad and I set out with Morgan in a flat bottom boat on a cold, cloudy morning on Lake Charlotte.
He dropped us off in an old wooden duck blind surrounded by huge cypress trees with lots of moss hanging on it. Dad set out decoys in about knee deep water and all we had to do was wait for the sun and ducks. I used my single shot .410 and knocked down a male Wood Duck as he landed right in front of us.
I thought it was the prettiest duck in the world. Dad (Daniel) of course bagged a few Mallards and Mr. LaFour picked us up and headed back to the dock. Morgan helped us clean the ducks in his garage, which was located close to where the Wallisville Heritage Park and Post Office are today.
North of the mouth of the Trinity River delta, sea cane marsh gave way to flooded timber bottoms. The largest of the timber lakes, Lake Charlotte, was once crystal clear, its surface a checkerboard of widgeon grass, the shoreline and small tributaries rimmed with cypress and tupelo and dotted with Indian mounds. Sportsmen knew Lake Charlotte for its mallards and later for the man who hunted them there, Morgan LaFour, whose highball mallard call could be heard ringing through the cypress trees.
Morgan was born in 1905 and started guiding at the age of seventeen. As a boy he proved his prowess early by shooting 109 mallards in one morning. Sportsman Harvey Evans recalls Morgan once told him of those outlaw days. “You don’t shoot when they first light. You wait till they swim together, and you stand up and whistle at ‘em so they stick their heads up, and that’s when you get the shot.”
The LaFour’s were a family of outstanding Trinity Bay watermen. Father Emmet was a market hunter, and the family he raised made a living by hunting, trapping, and fishing. Morgan trapped muskrats in High Island marsh and ran trotlines and hoop nets on Trinity River, selling his fish at the family’s outdoor stall in Wallisville. Sylvia Lamb, LaFour’s niece, remembers seeing him come downriver some days with hundreds of pounds of catfish, the skiff so low in the water she could barely see the gunwales. “You know,” Sylvia adds, “Uncle Morgan lived his whole life on the water and couldn’t swim a lick.”
Hunters who came from Houston in the days before Interstate 10 had to take the long way to Morgan LaFour’s Guide Service, traveling on Highway 90 from Houston to Crosby, then on to Liberty. At the end of the drive was the large red arrow on the sign “Duck Hunting—Morgan LaFour Guide Service” pointing to a small white house with its screened front porch by the side of Wallisville-Liberty Road. On Saturday mornings the road was lined with cars. The drive and the wait were usually worth it, as a hunt with LaFour almost always meant a morning of greenhead mallards.
The flight of mallards came in high and from behind the timber, a long line of dots in a ragged, sweeping line that seemed to stretch halfway across the horizon. Morgan LaFour stood watching them quizzically, squinting into the early-morning sun. He never put the little black duck call to his lips. “They’re just looking,” he said finally, spitting expertly over the gunwale. “But they’ll do business if nobody starts shootin’ while they’re making up their minds.”
LIFETIME IN THE WOODS ~ While we waited and Morgan was watching, I looked him over. Thirty-three years a guide on this same lake, hunting and fishing commercial trapping and catching the big buffalo fish as they came up out of the Trinity River. A whole lifetime of greenhead ducks and catfish and muskrat. His eyes bore the perpetual squint of a man who has looked many years into the sun, his face was tanned and tough as leather, corrugated with the deep crow’s feet of a big man’s laughter. His vice-grip hands were powerful and calloused by the duck blinds to be built and skiffs to be fixed.
All of a sudden it was like a big hen mallard screaming for attention under the blind. I instinctively reached for the 12-gauge and all the time knew it was Morgan opening up on that deadly little Olt’s caller. Morgan LaFour, I had always heard, is part duck. I wondered now, listening to his call, if maybe he’s not all duck when he’s working a bunch of mallards . . . a sort of Judas duck in disguise which transforms automatically into a deadly efficient hunter when the time comes; a Jekyll and Hyde with a rasping highball and quiet little chuckle that makes a drake think he’s listening to Marilyn Mallard in her bath water.
I looked up, peeping through the hole in the marsh-cane blind, and saw them peeling off out of the sky, wings cupped and fishtailing straight down into the decoys. They were so high their wings whistled like individual bombs bearing down on top of us.
And suddenly they were there, hovering over our heads, great fat aristocrats of all ducks with green heads and beady black eyes, and heavy orange feet letting down for landing gear. Morgan suddenly stood up to shoot, dropped his call aside, and then realized the main part of the bunch had broken off out of range. “EEEaaauh, eeeaaauh, eeeaaauh.” He grunted with his mouth, a sort of guttural straining that weirdly resembled a duck.
That bunch turned like they were pulled by a magnet, cupped again, and settled straight into disaster. I picked out drakes and got in front of one. He folded. Another was bearing straight up and the barrel picked him up and got straight over his straining neck. With the shot he collapsed. A hen cut across the end of the blind and Morgan cut her down. When it was over there were five fat mallards floating around the decoys. When LaFour does the calling, any half-wit can shoot the ducks. And he does not miss at all.
Between ducks, he would tell tales of older days about the way Lake Charlotte was before pollution and silting hurt that part of the country. And how many ducks a good shot could kill when he was a boy and his father before him was hunting ducks for a living on this same water.
And he can tell some of the funniest tales a duck hunter ever heard about the potlickers he has taken out and the things they’ve done. The language of a born woodsman is curiously funny in describing such matters.
Once when we were hunting, clouds banked up behind us and I started putting on a slicker. He stopped me and pointed back toward the cloud. “Just a few rump showers,” he advised. “Git yer hind end wet and then the sun’ll come out.”
He was right. He told one about a wealthy doctor who took a blind and promptly knocked a big fat pelican out of the first flight that passed over. He asked after the hunt what kind of goose it was. “When I told him it didn’t seem to bother him much,” Morgan grinned. He said I was sorry for killing the pelican, “but he sure did make a wonderful splash.”
And he likes to tell about the Louisiana Frenchman who got mad because he was missing and got plumb “determined.” He looked up and saw one lone duck flying for the decoys. (You ought to hear Morgan tell it.) “Cm on duck, keep on come, and dis ole Frenchman cut you’ fly.” If he wants to, Morgan LaFour can probably speak Cajun as well as he can duck. At least he has the dialect down pat. But if you think he’s good at tall tales or conversation . . . get him some time to blow a duck call for you. . . Or ask any mallard.
LaFour quit shooting in 1976, complaining that he just couldn’t see anymore. On his last hunt, which was with Dave Middleton at the Middleton Ranch in Monroe City (pictured above), before anyone else had even seen them, the man who could not see any more pulled up and killed two overhead mallards. Morgan LaFour died February 18, 1981.
At break of day the lonesome call of a duck comes across the lake . . . yet there is no duck
The boom of a gun echoes to break the stillness . . . yet there is no hunter
The soft swish of the paddle breaks the surface of the quiet river . . . yet there is no fisherman
The trodding of boots and the jingling of traps mingles with the many marsh sounds . . . yet there is no trapper
One of nature’s noblest men is no longer with us.