Rites of Passage
By Larry Wilcox
The Russett community practiced a few of the formal rites of passage normally practiced in many cultures, i.e. rituals that mark a major change in a person's social or religious status, for example, baptisms, school graduation ceremonies, weddings and funerals. In most cultures the rites of passage for a boy into manhood often involved pain in order to increase the importance of the transition to manhood. The Russett boys often engaged themselves in games that were one form of the ritual of passage intended to be painful.
The Washita River overflowed its banks and left behind a slough in the bottom below the Louis Chapman place. Willow trees grew around these new bodies of water and because of the soil fertility grew to be quite tall, maybe more than 30 feet tall. In the top of these trees paper wasps built their nests. Some of these nests were “as big as your hat”.
Now the game was to throw clods of dirt at these wasp nests. When hit, the wasps would fly out and begin to hunt down their disturber. Clouds of these angry red wasps would fly at anyone standing or running and of course sting them handily. The test of bravery was to lie down on the ground and remain motionless while the wasps circled over your body. If you moved, wham! They stung you. So, the test was how good you could throw those clods and how brave you were to hit the ground and lie perfectly still while the wasps buzzed around you or chased some less brave poor soul.
Another game we had that I believe falls into this category of boys transiting to manhood was the “Corncob Fight”. Near the Roundhouse (Chapman’s Cowboy Bunkhouse) was a barn and horse corral. The barn had a loft in it. We invented our own brand of “King of the Mountain”. Half of the group would take the loft and the other half would try to take over the loft. Weapons? Corncobs. Because the horses were fed ears of field corn, the weapons were plentiful. The game would seesaw back and forth as the group on the ground tried to take over the loft by overwhelming the loft defenders by hitting them with corncobs. As the day wore on, someone would throw a few cobs into the horse trough. The cobs would soak up water and become quite a formidable weapon. This usually wound up injuring someone enough as to stop the game.
Postscript. Sometimes the location and weapons were different. Sometimes the group would be in one of the many erosion caused ravines and a clod fight would breakout.