By Junior Johnson
I seem to find adventure by accident when I am riding around looking for old historic sites in our area. A couple of months ago while looking for an old Civil War battle site called Henderson’s Hill in the area of Boyce and Cotile Lake, I found myself lost on a narrow sand and gravel road leading deeper and deeper in to the woods.
I finally decided to turn around and hope to find my way back to civilization. As I was driving back I saw a pickup truck coming in my direction and was immediately relieved. I slowed to a stop, and when the vehicle arrived a wonderful elderly man smiled and asked if I was lost. It was obvious to him it seemed, and I told him that I was in search of Henderson’s Hill. He laughed and said that I was nowhere near the place, but if I would pull over he would turn around and I could follow him to the location.
When we arrived at an old cemetery where the remains of several Confederate Veterans were buried, he got out of his truck and walked to my car and said that this was the place that I was looking for. He introduced himself as Jim Willis. He said that he was an 89-year-old retired school teacher. When he noticed the Northwestern State shirt I was wearing, he said that he graduated from there in 1948. I laughed and said that I was born in 1948.
He began a story that had me spell bound. He said that he played basketball for the Demons and was on the 1948 NAIA Final Four team. He was also a pitcher on the Demon Baseball team and his number 28 had been retired and was on the centerfield wall in Brown-Stroud Field. As I listened to this remarkable man tell this story I could not believe what I was experiencing.
When I thought he was finished, I saw a spark in his eyes, and he said, “I was also a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs in 1953 and 1954 after I served my Country in the military.” He said he appeared in 27 games and had a record of 2-2. I was totally blown away at this point. He said that he lived in the area and loved the solitude of long rides in the woods.
I related this story to my friend Doug Ireland at Northwestern State and he said Willis was a remarkable man who was honored at a football game several years ago.
If getting lost in the forest in the future brings me this much joy and excitement, perhaps I should throw away the maps, fill the tank with gas and head to the nearest wooded area……and of course be sure to wear a Northwestern State jersey.