“There are no deer in Laurens County.” Believe it or not, that statement can
be found on page 134 of The Official History of Laurens County, Georgia, 1807-1941. In the latter years of the 1930s the State of Georgia began a program in counties around the state to promote the conservation of wildlife. While fish, turkeys, squirrels, and rabbits were fairly plentiful, the deer, one of the sportsman’s favorite game animals, was rarely found. During the last ten thousand years that the county had been occupied by man, deer were hunted to near extinction in Laurens County.
The Wildlife Department of Georgia had a policy of sending in game protectors, who had no connection to the locale where they were stationed, to enforce game and fish laws. In late August of 1939, the State of Georgia assigned a twenty-three year-old young man from Savannah to serve Laurens and Johnson Counties. The young man had recently graduated from a wildlife protection school held at Georgia Tech. Not long after coming to Dublin, the young man met and fell in love with Dorothy Hicks, a local girl from several of Laurens County’s oldest families. So much for the lack of a local connection. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Force in England. After the war, he returned to college and obtained degrees from the University of Florida, Mercer University, and the University of Georgia. He served as a teacher and as a principal of Dublin Junior High and Moore Street School for thirty four years. After he retired, he became a full time director of the Dublin-Laurens Museum. During his thirty-two years of service to the museum and the Laurens County Historical Society, this man has preserved the history and heritage of our county for generations to come. In fact, the museum would not be the successful operation it is today without his countless hours of dedication. He is, of course, John N. Ross.
John Ross immediately went to work upon his arrival in Dublin just after Labor Day in September of 1939. He contacted the publishers of The Courier Herald, who gladly became an advocate for his cause. He contacted persons who were interested in fishing and game hunting. His main goal was the education of the public on the benefits of wildlife conservation. Ross contacted W.W. “Buck” Brinson, Ed Hall, and A.C. Scarborough, who agreed to serve as a nominating committee to select a slate of officers for the as the yet unnamed organization. Earl Hilburn agreed to serve as a temporary secretary.
Only twenty citizens showed up for the initial meeting at the courthouse on September 14, 1939. Those present elected the officers for the organization, which was then named the Laurens County Game and Fish Club. The initial slate of officers were Bob Hightower, President; Ed Hall, Vice President; and Emory Baldwin, Secretary and Treasurer. They heard from Fred Brewer, Ross’s counterpart in Plains, and John W. Beall, the game protector assigned to Emanuel and Treutlen Counties. Both men joined Ross in expounding the benefits of game preservation in the area. The initial goal of the organization was to seek out protective leases of ten thousand acres of Oconee River swampland. Ross told the organization “that as a club, they could get as many deer as we want.” Ross added, “As individuals, you would not be able to do that.” The club members were also informed on the latest rules and regulations of the State regarding the dove season, which would open in a few months. Those who came to the first meeting agreed to send out invitations to more than two hundred persons to attend the second meeting, which was held in the courthouse on September 26, 1939.
The second meeting, attended by forty five persons, was much more productive. Ross went over plans for the restocking of deer in the county. Deer, who were over abundant along Coastal Georgia, could be trapped and brought to the vast swamp lands along the Oconee River. Ross also reported that he had begun the seining of the sloughs of Turkey Creek from the U.S. Highway 80 bridge near Dudley. Convict crews worked the sloughs in both directions from the bridge and once they had gathered a mess of fish, they placed them back in the main run of the creek.
The biggest announcement of the meeting was the proposal to establish a fifty thousand acre game preserve in the county. During the years of the “Great Depression,” many Laurens Countians had lost their farm, timber, and swamp lands to foreclosures. These vast lands were quickly bought by loan and insurance companies. Club organizers thought of an ingenious plan to preserve wildlife on these lands. The land owners would agree to sign a protective game lease. In exchange for their agreement to restrict hunting and fishing on the land, club members promised to erect fire breaks around the timber and to keep an eye of the lands to prevent damage from forest fires and other causes. Members would have the exclusive rights to hunt and fish on the preserve lands once the animal population had been firmly established. Ross told the group that large quantities of deer, quail, doves, fish, and other game could be acquired from the government in exchange for the promise of ample protective measures for the animals. Dues were set at a dollar per year. They would pay twenty five cents in cash and work on placing posters around the county and erecting fire breaks until each man had accumulated seventy five cents worth of work. Rev. William A. Kelley stood up and encouraged each man to bring a friend to the next meeting.
Stanley Reese, the State Solicitor in charge of game and fish violations, promised the crowd the support of his office in prosecuting any violations of hunting laws. He urged the men “ to create a desire in every citizens to be sportsmanlike and let the Judge of the court know you are behind him in prosecuting violators.” Jack Hart, former Farm Agent, challenged the men to work together to realize the potential of making the reserve one of the best in the state. He rattled off figure after figure on the potential wildlife population which could be established on the nearly one hundred forty one thousand acres of wild land in the county.
The following men were appointed to committee positions at the second meeting: A.T. Coleman, Jr. and D.T. Cowart (Publicity); A.C. Scarborough, J.R. Laney, W.H. Proctor, W.A. Kelley and J.R. Smalley (Membership); J. Felton Pierce, George Foster, George T. Morris and Spec Hall (Finance); Stanley Reese and Carl K. Nelson (Constitution and By-laws); J.F. Hart, C.H. Kittrell, Robert Bennett and Paul Wood (Education); and Dee Sessions and J. B. Bedingfield (Game Restocking).
The movement to establish the Game and Fish Club ran out of steam when the country went to war. Twenty years later Calhoun Hogan, Earl Wilkes, Bob Holmes, Fisher Barfoot, Clyde Barbee, E.B. Claxton, Jr., Gene Mercer, Harold Neal,Ray Kitchens, Brigham Scarborough and others established the Laurens County Sportsman Club for the same purposes that Ross and the original club had advocated. Today Laurens County is blessed with several wild life management areas containing thousands of acres of land which help to preserve our precious wildlife. Thanks, John!