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A Tribute to Cecil Bonner by Otis Vaughn…

Posted by Pete | Posted in News | Posted on 12-08-2015


Special thanks to Otis Vaughn for his article on my cousin and friend, Cecil Bonner…Yesterday I left out a page and it should be included today. Thanks to Otis for a nice article on his adventures with Cecil…..Pete Hester


August 10, 2015

Tribute to Cecil Bonner

By: Otis Vaughn



I have a lot of good memories of my friend Cecil Bonner, and his cousin and my friend Pete Hester. In his writings, Pete has mentioned Coalfire, Pickens County, Alabama, and the fact that many good folks still live there and many more lived there in the past. My family moved to Pickens County in 1950, and I lived on a farm several miles from Coalfire while Cecil and Pete lived more or less in “downtown” Coalfire. We became best friends in high school, and spent many hours together.

My close friendship with Cecil was in 1958-59 after I was discharged from the Air Force. We were friends in school at Pickens County High School (PCHS), however as I already mentioned, our close friendship was later.   As I get older I do have certain regrets, and one regret is that I did not stay in touch with Cecil for over the years we drifted apart. As I recall, Cecil’s car was an early 1950’s model Chevrolet sedan, and there is a special a story involving his car that Cecil told and I will share in a moment.

One day Cecil and I decided to go fishing. Cecil told me a story about a night he and his dad (Woodrow Cecil (Dee)) Bonner spent fishing on the Sipsey River. The night was a very stormy night with much thunder and lighting. The catfish really took to their bait that night and they caught a number of large channel cats. Cecil was convinced that the stormy weather that night along with the spot on the river where they were fishing, caused the fish to really bite.

The following Saturday, we gathered our fishing gear together and headed for the same spot where Cecil and his dad had built a campfire and spent the night. Cecil noted that it was a clear and cloudless night and we might not catch many fish. We built a small campfire, and put a bucket of water on some rocks in the fire so we could make coffee. While the coffee was brewing, we cut a number of 6’-8’ fishing poles, and before dark we had the poles with lines and baited hooks tied to them placed at intervals along about a 100 yard stretch of the river. Every hour all night long we checked the poles to see if we had caught any fish.

We used flashlights for light to walk along the river bank as we checked the poles always thinking we would have a fish on the next pole. Sometime before midnight, I accidently dropped my flashlight into the river, and I can still see that light pointing straight up from among the tree roots about 6’ down. All night long that flashlight was still shining every time we checked that pole. I thought about getting in the river to try to retrieve the flashlight from among the roots, but I was well aware that the river was infested with snakes. I gave up the idea of retrieving the light. Cecil’s prediction about this not being a good night to fish proved to be correct for we only caught a few fish.

The rest of the night was story time. I told stories about how life had been in the U.S. Air Force, and Cecil told a number of stories. We talked about playing football at PCHS, and how remarkable it was that we had won 90 games over 10 years and we had been state champions in our division several times. Most of these years the coach was Henry Curtis Elmore, and a great deal of the credit for the winning years goes to Coach Elmore. We worked hard but Coach was always fair, calm and focused on teaching us how to win.

Pete, Cecil, and I had been team mates on several of these teams. Cecil played halfback and he was very fast, and he was a very smooth runner. Cecil ran so smoothly and with such ease that it was fun to watch him run. One might say his running was poetry in motion. One day Coach Elmore took Cecil aside at practice and told him that he wished the entire team could run as fast and as easily as he ran.

Cecil was very proud of his dad. Dee was a very good athlete, and Cecil undoubtedly inherited some of his skill. Cecil told stories about his dad playing baseball when he was in the U.S. Army. Dee was on some very good baseball teams, and he was one of the stars. As I recall, Dee had a batting average of over 400.

There is the special story that I have thought about many times over these 56 years since Cecil told me the story that night. A story that made Cecil a hero in my mind. A story about getting a man whose arm was cut off to the hospital.

Highway 82 angles slightly northwest out of Tuscaloosa, AL and heads on west into Mississippi. Originally, Highway 82 was built over cow trails, and probably some Native American trails as well, and curved in many directions but always headed NW from Tuscaloosa.   It was paved. By 1959, the highway had been slightly improved with a few of the curves straightened and a few hills had passing lanes. By today’s standards, Highway 82 was still an unimproved two lane highway.

On this fateful day, (at a site 40 or more miles from Tuscaloosa) some men were working, perhaps farming, and a man’s arm was cut off. They were able to stop the bleeding to some extent, but the man needed to be taken quickly to the hospital in Tuscaloosa. In those days cell phones had not been invented and to find a house that had a telephone would take a lot of time, and an ambulance would have to come from Tuscaloosa which would take more time. Realistically, they knew they had to move quickly.

The man with the cutoff arm was placed in Cecil’s car and Cecil hit the gas pedal and headed east on Highway 82 for Tuscaloosa. Another man was riding in the front seat with Cecil with the window down, and he was waving a handkerchief out the window as fast as he could to indicate the extreme emergency of the situation. Cecil drove up and down hills and around curves passing all traffic and the “siren” the handkerchief was waving rigorously as a way of pleading with everyone to get out of the way. I don’t remember for sure but I believe a policeman sensed the nature of the emergency and escorted them part of the way to the hospital once they arrived in Tuscaloosa.

Cecil told me the amount of time it took to drive to the hospital, but after all these years, I don’t remember the exact time. I do remember exclaiming “you had to be driving 90-100 miles per hour”. He said something like, “I was”. Cecil was a real hero that day risking his life to get an injured man help in an extreme emergency. Whenever I think of this story, figuratively speaking, I tip my hat to Cecil – a real hero.

If anyone remembers this story, I am very interested in knowing how the injured man fared once he reached the hospital.

I did not know how to clean catfish so Cecil took our catfish catch home. We drank a lot of coffee that night. We told a lot stories. My back was covered with mosquito bites, and I am sure Cecil’s back was covered as well. A night that I will always remember.

Comments (5)

Great story!!! love to read it!!!!

Yay thank you! This is very special to me

Yes, it was a very good story and thanks to Otis for sharing a story that none of the cousins had heard before….Well written…

I do not remember the actual incident of my brother’s fast trip to Tuscaloosa with an injured man, but I do remember him telling the story, and I do remember Otis Vaughn’s and Cecil’s exploits on the PCHS football field. I admired my brother, especially when he was elected President of the Student Body of PCHS for the 1954-1955 school year.

There is a similar incident that happened somewhat later. My Dad was operating his sawmill on a place near Liberty Community in Pickens County during the summer of 1959. Dad was at the saw lever. Cecil was setting blocks and Mr. Scott was off-bear man, that is, he caught the slabs and lumber from the carriage as it cleared the circle saw. One day that summer, Mr. Scott caught a piece of lumber a little too close to the saw, and all four fingers of one hand was severed. Cecil jumped off the carriage and caught him before he fainted and fell into the saw. It was Cecil who drove Mr. Scott on a very fast ride from Liberty Community to the nearest hospital in Reform. My brother was a hero in more incidences than the one that Otis wrote of. Mr. Scott survived, but I believe that accident ended his working career.

I remember very well Cecil’s early 1950’s model Chevrolet sedan. It was the used 1953 model sedan that he had purchased with his earnings from his job as a messenger at the FBI in Washington. He loved that car since it was the first that he could truly call his own, purchased with earnings from his very first job away from the farm in Coal Fire. You were lucky, Otis, because you probably got to ride in it more than I did.

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