The next time you’re feeling adventurous and have a good solid keel underneath you, head up Hatchet (Ponchishatchee) Creek as if you are going to Barrett’s Fish Camp. Go past the entrance to Pennamotley, round the east end of the big island (the western end can be a bit shallow), and as Hatchet turns back to the right towards Barrett’s, hang a left into Weogufka Creek. After a short distance Weogufka starts to bend back to the left and there, on the right, is your goal, the entrance to Fixico Creek. After a dogleg to the right the first cabins will come into view and here you’ll want to slow and take in a part of the world few folks have seen. Fixico Creek and the Fixico Mines got their name from Chief Tallasse Fixico. In an 1855 U.S. Supreme Court document, Fixico was described by the government as a “friendly chief of the Creeks”. Being a nice guy and in good standing with Washington, D.C., Chief Fixico was granted land east of the Coosa River. His certificate, No. 28, was recorded on April 12, 1820 at the U.S. Land Office. Chief Fixico, not knowing any better, sold the land in 1828 to a George Taylor. Six years later Taylor, also blissfully ignorant of the law (oh, if he had only had the Internet), sold a portion of the land, about 40 acres, and that’s when the trouble started. An act of 1817 provided that no land reserved to a Creek warrior can be offered for sale unless directed by the Secretary of the Treasury. Both a treaty and act of congress declared “that if the Indian abandoned the reserved land, it became forfeited to the United States”. By selling the land without the approval of the Treasury Secretary, Chief Fixico unknowingly abandoned the property, and so it reverted to the U.S government. As public land, it was later offered up for sale, leaving poor Mr. Taylor without. As a side note, an 1832 census of town Chiefs of the Creek Nation indicates a Talasee Fixico (note slight spelling difference) as chief of Hickory Ground, which you know as Wetumpka. So it appears our good man Chief Fixico may have gone south and taken charge of a much more prominent village on the Coosa.
In the early 20th century, the community of Fixico was known as Fixico Mining Camp, with the mines primarily producing graphite. Not trying to sound perverse, but that would literally put some lead in your pencil! Today graphite is a key component in the making of lithium ion batteries, but its uses back then were a little more mundane. In 1910 the community of Fixico was in its heyday and had a population of 266. The 1920 census lists the town with 176 people, but by 1930 it was down to 120.
Sometime in the early 1920’s two of the folks that left Fixico were Mr. Elijah Green Caudle and his teenage son Joseph. (Note: Elijah was one of 8 children,all easily found through a little research, but there are no records bearing his wife’s name. As Joseph appears to be an only child, it is possible that Mrs. Caudle, Joe’s mother, may have died giving birth to Joe or shortly thereafter.) Mr. Caudle sold his property to Alabama Power Company and moved to Gantt’s Quarry, which is on the southwest edge of Sylacauga. Mr. Caudle sold his land because it would soon be inundated by the future Lake Mitchell, but he had laid down roots that would bring his son back to that area about 25 years later. World War II was over and peace had been restored. Folks were in need of recreation, and in the late 1940’s Fixico Creek would become one place to find it. The Caudle’s son Joe, along with his wife Mildred, returned to Elijah’s old stomping grounds and got to work building. Due to the nature of the terrain, the road that ran along the slough that still bears the name Fixico Creek was relatively close to the water. Soon several cabins were built, some sitting on posts extending out over the water. The place acquired the name Little Joe’s Fishing Camp, although to look at Joe in a photo he doesn’t appear little at all, not in stature anyway. Perhaps Little Joe was a nickname bestowed early in his life.
Honkytonk Tales However he came about his moniker, Little Joe’s Fishing Camp would become known not just for cabins and fishing, but for a honkytonk as well. This addition to the Fixico camp, ostensibly built over the water to avoid problems with the law and alcohol, was no doubt an interesting place. Stories have come forth of numerous trap doors and hidden spaces, some for concealing alcoholic beverages and others for lowering the same into a waiting boat underneath. Rumor has it a formidable attorney local to the area frequented the place, and sometimes intervened when Little Joe ran afoul of the law. It is said this attorney was so respected and/or feared for his skill in the courtroom that no prosecutor wanted to tangle with him and hence, most of Little Joe’s legal problems didn’t amount to much.
If you are familiar with Fixico Creek or have looked at it on Google Earth, you know how remote it is. Imagine back in the day driving there or taking your little runabout with its 5 h.p. motor and sailing in from elsewhere on the lake. It must have been worth the trip, and chances are after what was probably a bit of a journey, it was easy to justify hanging out there for a while, having a drink or two. But you didn’t want to overdo it. Word on the slough is that Mrs. C. (Mildred) would tend bar, and when a patron became rowdy, she would reach down, pull out a pistol, and point it right between their eyes. The click of the hammer being cocked was probably enough to quickly sober up anyone. At this point it might have been best to rent one of the nearby cabins for an overnight stay. For anglers or others desiring to spend some time on the water, small wooden boats could also be rented, but it was strictly BYOM, as in Bring Your Own Motor. This was not out of the ordinary, as motors back then bore no resemblance to the hightech and heavy engines of today.
Speaking of today, virtually nothing remains of the honkytonk. Towards the back of the slough are two wooden posts jutting up out of the water, the last remnants of the outermost roof supports, under which boats could be tied up out of the weather, or possibly out of sight. If you venture past these posts, way back on the left or northern shore you might spy an old stone chimney standing close to the water’s edge. This is all that is left of Little Joe’s parent’s house, probably nothing more than a log cabin. Little Joe, born in 1904, left this world in 1966. His wife Mildred, born in 1909, passed on in 1983. They are buried side by side in the Moriah Cemetery in Coosa County.
Fortunately, most of the fish camp’s cabins remain, and they each have their own fascinating story to tell. If you decide to visit this outoftheway nook of Lake Mitchell by boat, be sure to check out Three Moose Lodge. One of the original cabins, it has received some additions over the years, but still sports a lot of history and character. If you come by land, bring a really good map, a full tank of gas, and a week’s supply of food, just in case. Be alert, for this is Big Foot country, as the signs will tell you. Also be aware that Little Joe’s Fishing Camp is a “cabled” (not “gated”) community, so unless you’re expected, your last quarter mile may be on foot. However you get there, stop and tune in to your senses while letting the mists of the past envelope you. You just might detect the smell of fish and small outboards, the clink of glass, the sounds of laughter or a beer being slid down the bar, and, if you listen very closely, you may still catch some strains of music from the old honkytonk echoing off the hills. Welcome to Little Joe’s Fishing Camp!
[Sources for this story include the 1940 U.S. Census, Ancestry.com, Findagrave.com, Chan Aldridge (area 1), but most of the credit is owed to Ray Petty (area 12). Thanks Ray! For questions, comments, or to share your own historical story, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. ]
Update to the story above
It turns out that Little Joe was in business earlier than first thought. I found this information in the U.S. Federal Census. The census page I will be referring to is a standard Dept. of Commerce multi-line and columned sheet from 1940. It was enumerated by Mr. Grady C. Jones on April 8 of that year. With the county listed as Coosa, the unincorporated place name Hillwood was written in, and subsequently marked out. Likewise, the township or county division was first listed as Beat #18, then marked out and Fixico written in. To give you an idea how sparsely populated Fixico was at this time, I will give a brief rundown of all persons listed as residents. Our Little Joe, Joseph P. Caudle, is the first entry, listed as Head of household, 36 years of age, occupation Manager and industry engaged in was Fishing Camp. His annual earnings were $1,500. His wife Mildred is next and her occupation is given as Housekeeper. Their son JoJo was, not surprisingly, unemployed at the tender age of 6. The last entry or final enumeration for Little Joe’s Fishing Camp was William Leonard, age 30. As for his relationship to Little Joe, he was listed as Helper. Mr. Leonard’s given occupation was Caretaker of the fishing camp, for which he earned $720 a year. Note: The earnings amounts given above were based on a 42-hour workweek, for 52 weeks a year. The remaining entries on the page were for the Ralph Lumber Camps Boarding House. Issiac R. Anderson, 62, was given the title Head of household, and he was the manager of the lumber mill. Fred O. Cranford, 43, was listed as a lodger at the boarding house, and he was the mill foreman. Fred’s wife Sarah, 41, was the boarding house manager. The Cranford children were Bettie, 13, and her 7 year old brother Ralph. It appears all these folks hailed from Laurel [sic], Mississippi. Rounding out the lodgers we have Ruby A. Nunelly, a 19 year old from Hattiesburg who was the Asst. Book Keeper at the mill, and 45-year-old Gaston Heywith from Jacksonville, FL. Mr. Heywith was the Night Watchman at the mill. All of this may have been too much information for some, but my initial research into this lumber camp came up empty. Perhaps one of our readers can shed some light on the location of the lumber mill or boarding house, since the former was large enough to employ an assistant bookkeeper, while the latter was close enough to the fishing camp to be considered a part of Fixico.
More Honkytonk Tales Back to Little Joe’s and the honkytonk that was associated with the fishing camp, let me start off by saying it is understood that drinking alcoholic beverages is not to everyone’s liking. Some don’t indulge for religious reasons, cost, or the taste, while for others alcoholism may run in their family and they don’t want to tempt fate. My wife and I, having a few years on us, have both been advised by our respective physicians to take it easy with the booze, so now we’ve cut back and only drink when we’re alone or with someone. Seriously though, often when alcoholic beverages and people get together, interesting things sometimes do happen. Our Chan Aldridge (HOBO Area 1) solicited and received a few responses from some of his friends about Little Joe’s in general, and Joe’s wife, Mildred, in particular. Roxanne Martin (Area 10) remembers going to Little Joe’s with her dad, “a very long time ago.” Jim Esdale had heard stories about Mildred, and how she would fire her gun “into the floor to calm down the rowdies.” Jim said he actually saw some of the holes when he was a kid. Ed Clapp III (Area 5) says he might of met Mildred several times in the past, starting in the early 60’s. He recalls his first purchase at Little Joe’s was a 6-pack of PBR. That’s Pabst Blue Ribbon for you craft beer drinkers that don’t dabble in the less-than-crafty stuff. At first Ed thought the $3.00 cost for the six beers was a rip off, until sometime later when he made a similar purchase at a Lake Martin retailer and paid twice as much. All of Chan’s respondents must have been well behaved at Little Joe’s, since they didn’t mention hearing any gunshots while there.
The 1st Quarter story mentioned a particular patron of Little Joe’s, though not by name, a formidable defense attorney that helped Little Joe with any legal troubles that might come along. That lawyer has since been identified by his daughter, Ms. Julie Love, an attorney herself. The gentleman’s name was Huel M. Love, and he practiced law out of Talladega. (Shown in Talladega Daily Home News photo lighting cigarette.) Julie related what her brother Kenny told her about Little Joe’s. “Yes, he was Little Joe's attorney and apparently well-known and well respected by the patrons. I remember going through a trap door in the floor and down some stairs to get to our fishing boat, which was tied under the main building (bar). It was a rough place unless you were the 8 year old son of the owner's lawyer." Julie said she is writing a book of some of her father’s best trial stories. To reinforce what brother Kenny said about the bar being a rough place, one of the stories includes the night her dad’s car was blown up as he was leaving Little Joe's after interviewing a witness for an upcoming murder trial. Julie continued with another story of how her dad got his nickname, with a somewhat comical if not sacrilegious punchline. Early in his career Mr. Love was defending a moonshiner. Apparently when they were dropping the proofer in the gallon jugs for the jury, the last gallon, which was necessary to convict the accused of the crime (apparently you had to be transporting a certain amount), turned out to be water. The District Attorney shouted something to the effect of “Well, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine and I guess Huel Love's is turning wine into water.” From that trial forward Mr. Love, or “Little Jesus”, as he was known in some circles, had a thriving practice. Yet another tale that will be in Julie’s book begins with a 1960’s lawsuit Huel Love filed against a prosthetics manufacturer in Baldwin County, Alabama. It was during this time that funding was just being released for the completion of Interstate 65, which would eventually provide a faster and safer route to the beach. Newspapers all over the state were reporting the project was months behind schedule. Mr. Love had borrowed a brand new Oldsmobile and he and his associate Don Lang were headed south to Baldwin County. As they approached the barricaded entry ramp leading to Interstate 65 in Montgomery, Mr. Lang assumed they would continue on the usual two-lane route. But Mr. Love, a man who was adept at thinking outside the box, had another idea. He had Don drive around the barricades and hopped out to talk with the road construction crew. In short order he had them convinced he was the highway inspector and wanted to know why they were 6 months behind. Much to Don’s amazement, the work crew moved the barrier and allowed him to maneuver the Oldsmobile onto the empty stretch of road headed toward Mobile. After a short distance they encountered a second road crew. Because of his success at the first roadblock, Huel was a little more confident in his lie. All the way down to Mobile more road crews were given basically the same story, only after a while it was the governor himself that had personally sent Huel Love the highway inspector to see what was going on! Julie admits her dad was attracted to pretty ladies and fine, fast automobiles. By the age of 33 Mr. Love was on his fourth marriage, and no telling how many cars. Whether these characteristics appealed to Mr. Joseph Caudle, proprietor of an out-of-the-way Coosa County fishing camp and honkytonk, is not known. But I imagine he was drawn to Mr. Love’s larger-than-life personality, and his ability to improvise and think on his feet, or from the seat of an Oldsmobile, as the case may be.
Lake Mitchell HOBO, P.O. Box 1324, Clanton, AL 35046