LEIGHTON, Ala. — Some of the stories about Theron Christopher “T.C.” Dawson Sr. read like something out of an adventure novel or reality television show about men who live and make their living in the wild.
The elder Dawson, said retired Alabama game warden Larry Wilson, “would make them look like sissies.”
T.C. Dawson Sr., who lived in Colbert County, died in 1989 at the age of 65, but he was recently honored by being inducted into the National Trappers Association Hall of Fame. His son, T.C. Dawson Jr., accepted a plaque on behalf of his late father recently at the association’s national convention in Pecatonica, Illinois.
The elder Dawson was one of two people inducted into the prestigious hall of fame this year and is the first Alabama native to receive the honor.
“T.C. is about as strong a man as I’ve ever known,” Wilson said of the elder Dawson. “He was old school. If you made a deal, his handshake was as good as any contract you would make.”
Wilson was introduced to the elder Dawson in the early 1980s by some older game wardens who were already familiar with him.
“I would take vacations and run traplines with T.C. in south Alabama,” Wilson said. “He was a true sportsman and outdoorsman.”
The elder Dawson retired from Reynolds Metals after 42 years. During that time, he was also a trapper who caught a variety of animals, such as beavers, muskrat, raccoons, otters and mink.
Sometimes the animals were trapped for their pelts. In the case of beavers, they were removed from areas where their dams were causing flooding problems.
The younger Dawson served his country in Vietnam; worked 42 years at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant; helped raise five daughters; and continues to support his fellow veterans as the ride captain for the North Alabama Patriot Guard.
He gives all the credit for the man he is today to his father.
“We’re talking about a Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett type guy,” the son said of his father.
In addition to being a trapper, the elder Dawson kept a variety of exotic pets during his lifetime. One was a bobcat. Actually, he had numerous bobcats over the years.
The younger Dawson tells the story of riding in his dad’s pickup on Court Street in Florence when suddenly a bobcat came out from behind the seat and swatted at his ear. He took off his cap and used it to try and fend off the animal.
His father, he said, responded, “Don’t hurt my cat, boy.”
When the younger Dawson has a tan, three claw-mark scars are still visible on his forearm.
The elder Dawson also kept a pet raccoon that would ride on his four wheeler. Some trappers saved some baby beavers, and he raised one as a pet. He placed a kiddie swimming pool in the ground and filled it with water and rocks for “Bucky” the beaver.
Toby Hutcheson, of Spruce Pine, said he began trapping with the elder Dawson when he was in his late teens. He met the elder Dawson at a fur sale, and impressed him because he had caught some mink.
“Not everybody could catch mink,” Hutcheson said. “I was just a kid, 17 or 18, and he was in his 60s at this time. I used to think I was his workhorse. What I didn’t understand is it was like an apprenticeship program. He was the toughest man I ever knew.”
At one time, Hutcheson said, the elder Dawson kept three bobcats in his house. They were working some traplines in Greene and Sumter counties and when they returned home, the elder Dawson couldn’t find the cats.
“He was angry,” Hutcheson said.
After Hutcheson left, the elder Dawson called to tell him that when he climbed in bed and the bed collapsed, he discovered the bobcats had climbed underneath and hollowed out the mattress and made a den.
Hutcheson said when he was asked to serve on the board of the National Trappers Association, his first priority was getting the elder Dawson into the hall of fame.
Those efforts failed the first year, so Hutcheson sought additional information for a second try. There were 23 people nominated this year, and only two were accepted. The elder Dawson was one of them.
The organization has been around for 58 years and there are only 25 people in the hall of fame.
Hall of fame members, Hutcheson said, are not only well known and “legendary” in the trapping community, they also served as advocates for trappers’ rights and worked tirelessly to pass down their knowledge to the younger generation.
“It was normal for him to catch 500 beaver in the winter,” Hutcheson said of the elder Dawson. “He would trap 500 coons, 50 to 60 otter and bobcats. The money was really good in those days.”
His son is carrying on that tradition. He has invited young people to his farm to teach them the proper ways how to trap, fish and shoot.
The younger Dawson said he joined the U.S. Army and in 1969 and went to Vietnam in 1970.
He said the lessons his father taught him helped him survive in Vietnam. He said his father told him, “If you ever get into a bind and you need me, get word to me where you are if you can ’cause I’m coming.”
He didn’t doubt his father’s words.
“He taught me how to survive,” the younger Dawson said. “He taught me how to live a happy life by just getting out and getting in it and enjoying this country. He’d teach you how to love, not only people and family, but animals.”
The younger Dawson said his father didn’t like to stay still. His father would be dismissed from the hospital and return to work on his farm, or get back to checking traplines. The elder Dawson had seven heart bypass surgeries before he died.
The elder Dawson has been featured in various trapping, hunting and outdoor magazines over the years. He also earned the respect of Alabama game wardens like Wilson.
“We had no problem with him whatsoever,” Wilson said. “Ten percent of the people cause all the problems. The other 90 percent are good.”
At his home at the family farm in rural Colbert County, the younger Dawson still has hundreds of the old traps and slings of all shapes and sizes his father used for trapping different types of animals.
Some are in a barn that also houses several motorcycles, including one his father drove to Alaska on a solo camping trip. Inside the house the younger Dawson built with wood from trees he felled are photos and articles featuring his father.
There are also awards the younger Dawson received for his dedication to veterans and the Patriot Guard. Near a window is a framed photo of Ed Yielding, the Shoals resident who piloted the SR-17 Blackbird in its record breaking flight across the continental U.S. in just over one hour.
“We were in the Boy Scouts together,” the younger Dawson said. “I get a Christmas card from him every year.”
Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/