By Norris Chambers 

            It may sound a little strange, but when today’s old timers were kids there were old timers around. One of these old guys, Mr. Purly, must have been at least 90 years of age. He lived with his daughter, Emma Braxton, and her son not far from Cross Cut. The daughter’s husband was dead and her youngest son lived with her and her father. The son had a good job pumping an oil lease nearby.

            Clifton and I considered Mr. Purly a special friend and we visited with him often. He always entertained us by telling us how things were when he was a kid and a young man in the Wild West. I don’t know how true his tales were but Clifton and I accepted them as pure gospel.

It never occurred to us to question whether he veered from the truth when reciting his experiences.

            The Braxton place had one of the finest crawdad tanks in the country and most of the sportsmen in the area stopped by and seined for a bucket of crawdads when on their way to fish. Crawdads make excellent bait for trotlines. On one particular day we had made plans for an overnight fishing trip and journeyed to the Braxton place to get a supply of bait. Mr. Purly was seated on the front porch reclining in his old rocking chair. When we stepped out of the truck and walked toward the porch the old fellow greeted us cordially.

            “I’ll bet you’re going fishing,” he commented. “There’s something I want you to do for me. I want you to find me a lather fish. I haven’t seen one in years and I could use one now.”

            “What’s a lather fish?” Clifton asked. I was also a little curious.

            “You mean you’ve never heard of lather fish! I have heard them called beard busters, hair harvesters or a number of other names. Most of the old timers and Indians kept them handy and used them in the old days.”

            He then explained to us the usefulness of that particular type of fish. He described the creature as similar to a catfish in appearance but much darker. The fins were larger and the mouth was smaller. He said he had never seen one over eight or ten inches in length. He explained that you scratch the fish under either fin and the whole body emits a liquid. The liquid is almost invisible but you can easily wipe it off.

            The liquid serves as an excellent shaving lather. It acts as a lotion and gives a very comfortable shave. Not only is it a great shaving aid and lotion but it retards the growth of hair and after a few weeks of use it is only necessary to shave occasionally. Many of the Indian tribes used the lather fish and they shaved so seldom that many of the early settlers thought they just didn’t grow whiskers.

            Mr. Purly said that if we would catch him a lather fish he would build a trough and keep it for shaving purposes.

            Clifton told him that we had not caught any fish like he described on the trotlines. He surmised that maybe they liked a different type of bait. Perhaps they preferred minnows or worms. Of course we had fished with just about every kind of bait. After a little discussion we decided that we would do some seining and see what we could find. Mr. Purly said he didn’t know about the bait but he thought the seine might work. We promised to do our best to find him a fish for his shaving.

            Our usual group arrived at the creek for the night of fun and fishing. We set the trot lines and pursued our usual fun activities. The midnight line check provided several fish and a turtle or two, but no lather fish. We baited the lines again and went back to the camp fire. The morning run provided the same results. A few drags of the seine provided frogs, snakes, several kinds of minnows and creatures but no lather fish. We were disappointed that we could not provide Mr. Purly with his fish but we agreed to leave the family an ample supply of catfish for the table.

            The old man appeared to be very disappointed but said that he was looking forward to a big mess of catfish for dinner!  Did we have fun looking for that special fish? Fishing trips are always fun. Perhaps you should plan a trip, even if you have no better reason than searching for a lather fish. You might even find one!