Hepsidam, where the lion roareth and the whang-doodle mourneth

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It has come to my attention that few among the current generation of zoologists are as knowledgeable about critters as they should be.

I asked several graduate students if they knew what bird or birds were called Indian hens by some. None knew that pileated woodpeckers were called by that name, as were American bitterns, by some old timers. And none had ever heard ‘whang-doodle’ used in reference to any bird. I hadn’t either until 1944 when I acquired my first bird book, Birds of America, by T. Gilbert Pearson. In it was a description of water turkeys, a.k.a. anhingas, and their preferred habitats. “They are silent birds and live mainly in the silent places of the wilderness. Their whole life seems to be pervaded with a haunting mystery. It is undoubtedly the bird to which the rural preacher referred when he said, ‘where the whang-doodle mourneth for its first-born’.”

Ten years later, on a visit with Dr. Dan Speake, a.k.a. Buzzard Man, to Bankhead National Forest, I saw another reference to the whang-doodle. There was a sign in front of a country store, “Welcome to Hepsidam, Where the Whang-doodle Mourneth for its First Born.”

The last time I visited Bankhead N.F. the store and a ramshackle cabin that once existed were gone, as was the sign. Over the years, Dan and I searched the literature and interviewed learned scholars attempting to learn more about whang-doodles and Hepsidam, without success. Finally, the effort came to fruition. Husky Kirkwood’s sister, Miriam Ann Syler, learned of our interest in the subjects and discovered the origin of the terms. They appeared in a sermon preached by William Brannon and printed in a 1930 Alfred Knopf publication, “Tall Tales of the Southwest, an Anthology of Southwestern and Southern Humor.”

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