The Dying Art of Deer-Driving in the South Carolina Low-Country. (Essay)

Article excerpt

The Gullahs are descended from African slaves taken to work on the cotton and rice plantations of the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. Isolated until recently from white and even other African American influences, the Gullahs developed a distinctive creole language and preserved many West African customs, as well as methods of cooking, fishing, and hunting. By tradition, the Gullahs were farmers, first as slaves and then after the Civil War as small landholders, sharecroppers, and plantation laborers. Some were skilled woodsmen and worked as drivers in deer hunts. In this tradition, mounted drivers and hounds would flush deer out of the thick woods and undergrowth of the South Carolina low-country to where hunters with shotguns waited at intervals along the deer paths. Low-country deer-driving recalls the African hunting practice of driving game into nets or towards waiting armed hunters, while the hounds, horns, and mounted huntsmen are elements of the English mounted hunt. With the outside world increasingly intruding, the Gullahs have found it more and more difficult to keep alive their unique traditions. The loss of open land and the preference for the ease of "still hunting" have nearly doomed the mounted hunt. These images chronicle nearly a century of low-country deer-driving tradition as still practiced by the South Carolina Middleton Hunting Club.

Bill Green, the only remaining Gullah deer-driver, currently works at the Middleton Hunting Club in South Carolina's low-country, where he cares for the horses, trains the dogs, and locates the deer. The owner of Low Country Cooking and Catering, Green also has been a guest on the Martha Stewart Show, where he demonstrated his traditional technique of steaming oysters in a wet burlap bag. Photograph courtesy of Ileana Strauch, 1980.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The way Bill Green does his job hasn't changed all that much since the days of Joe White, a Middleton Hunting Club driver in the 1930s. The Middleton and the Lavington clubs outside of Charleston are the last where deer are still driven in the traditional way, with riders waiting for the deer to be forced out of the woods by drivers and by hounds. Note White's McClellan army saddle, which could be purchased cheaply after the Civil War as army surplus and which is still used today. Photographs courtesy of Edward Lowndes.

[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

David and Walter Gourdin, two brothers pictured here in the 1930s, mere the drivers for Medway Plantation and remain a rare example of the art being passed down through generations of a single family. Their grandfather, Dublin Gourdin, was a driver born into slavery at Medway. Photograph courtesy of Edward Lowndes.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Very few Charlestonians could afford to keep a horse, so they would rent fully tacked horses and mules from Gullah farmers. …