Monday, June 30, 2008


by Dr. Henry E. Outlaw

The first time I saw Tice Dowd was on a cool crisp sunlit morning in the autumn of 1949 - at recess- on the playground of Baldwyn High School. I was in the fourth grade; a skinny and frail sort of boy and he was a towering black man, gray but not old; ageless, with deep set eyes that commanded respect — even from white folks.

Even young children called him Mr. Tice, but not because he expected it and not because he earned his own way — selling fish — carp and shad — on Saturday to those less fortunate ones that could not afford to buy frozen ocean perch over the counter at "Red" Cunningham's Grocery; or that he was a cooner and trained and sold fine coon dogs even to those people in the North. No, none of these, for respect can only be founded on those principles of faith and hope and courage and honor and a haughty pride that comes by going beyond doing a good job.

Tice Dowd's source of honor and pride and glory was contained within his free spirit which was released from its bond when he was proclaimed the World's champion tree climber, not by himself but by his peers, and the same proclaimed by the symbol thereon attached to his jacket for all that would see.

The tree climbing exhibitions usually embraced '"Coon on the Log" festivities held at Ratliff's Lake, east of Baldwyn beyond the Fish Lake near Palestine Church. It always happened in late summer, or at least that's when I remember it happening, I guess, because it was so hot. I know it had to be in August when the crops were laid by because most of the men folk were not working — though some never worked anyway save selling cotton and making “First Monday Trade Day” in Ripley with no intentions of trading anything of value except guns and dogs and mainly talk of the old ways.

For some reason now it seems that everything had to be just right for it to happen — the event to take place. The days had to be hot but not too hot and the corn was cracking in the shuck with nights just a little cool, and a heavy dew on the ground in the early morning and the old folks talking about the things that were left in the gardens wondering would they make until the first frost. The moon was high in the sky by early evening and the old coon searched the dry creeks for clams and crawfish. And time was marked only by the interval between the hammer of the blacksmith striking the anvil molding steel and the church bell tolling for those lost ones committed to sin and freedom from hypocrisy.

But the real dead give away was the dogs — the hounds — blue tick, red bone, black and tan and grey hounds and everything else in between female and father — all sensing the time of year when man, dog, coon and lake would all blend together, kindled with excitement and emotion, and freeze in that fleeting moment of time when one would rise up victorious and claim glory over the others and more often than not it was the night bandit of the forest that would celebrate the glory of triumph.

Now, it was in the framework of this environment and setting that Tice Dowd performed his feat of climbing trees. His act usually followed the last '"Coon on the Log" contest and the crowd would have to move from their perennial places at the south edge of the lake to a slight mound on the levee that supported one of the largest tulip trees in the county — 50 feet to the first limb — and big around too, with slick bark.

Tice would appear out of the crowd overalled, barefoot and shirtless, and inspect the tree with the crowd standing back circumferential around it and silent. And from across the lake in the pine forest came the call of the rain crow. And whip-poor-will reverberating and resonant an hour before sundown — an interface of primordial sound in that late primordial season.

He would approach the tree and place both hands on the ground right at the base and kick up his feet so that he would be upside down with his back resting against the trunk of the tree — legs pointing upward, feet and toes turned inward exerting pressure, and ankles perpendicular to the bark. With hands and arms attached firmly to the lower trunk — elbows outward with the his neck arched and his head cocked while the jugular vein bulged with blood and the aorta pounded as if a pump itself, pumping sweat from the black skin to water the tree.

So, with tree and man in correct harmony and conformation the climb began upward. As bone and muscle and tendon contracted in concert — arms and legs and body ascended at first only inches and Then a few feet and finally to the first limb and then the top — and beyond. As his soul would merge with heaven and glory and he would scream as though his lungs would burst.

"I is the tree climber! I is the tree climber! The best d--n tree climber in de whole world!
I is de world's champion tree climber! AMEN"

Henry E. Outlaw, Ph.D., was born in Tennessee and grew up in Baldwyn, Mississippi where, other than school, much of his time was spent in Palmer’s poolroom, Outlaw’s cotton gin, Bishop's Mule Barn, Davis' Sawmill, Lampkin's Barber Shop, Cunningham’s Grocery, Abe Garrett’s blacksmith shop, and Jack Jr. and Mort's Sinclair Service Station where stories were constantly spinning.”Tice Dowd” is a reflection of this background. Dr. Outlaw received his undergraduate degree from Delta State University. His Master’s and Doctorate were taken at the University of Mississippi Medical School.


  1. Memories like these are priceless and remain the ones we go back to time and time again searching for our childhood once more. Thank you so much Henry, for such a vivid description of a man I never had the privlege of meeting but had heard of all my life. Through your depiction, I felt as if I was right there on that moonlit night watching Mr. Tice climb the tree. My only regret now is that I missed that event. What a cool memory!

  2. Great story, Henry. Tice used to work with my uncle, Oscar Arnold, in training dogs. The only time I was around him was when they were working with the hounds. Uncle Oscar had several acres and a training field at his home where the Sonic is now located at US45 and Ripley Road. He and I guess, Tice, trained some champion hunters, several for Mr. Prather, the auto dealer, and Gideon Chism and others.

  3. need some help on the senior play photo.
    Is Jeanette Devaughn behind Bud Reynolds and who are the two between Henry and Nancy?


  4. With a resume like that at the end of the story, no wonder Henry can detail things so perfectly.

    Great story, Old Man!

  5. Who would have thought that pesky little kid would grow up to be so eloquent?

  6. Finally, Tice comes home. He was first introduced in the late '70's to Delta readers in a slick magazine called THE DELTA REVIEW. Henry put honor in a major happening that so few folks have ever envisioned, yet we believe it happened. Some of our family saw this particuliar event, and others reported on Tice's frequent performaces. Yeah! Henry put this story in our hands at a good time, and Carl's BBB did it justice. Simon provided a great picture that seals the deal---look close and pick out men we know.