Pickens family bags gator at Grandview in 1982
Once upon a time (believe it or not), Grandview Lake was the lair of a toothy lizard, what you might even call an alligator. Tommy Lindsey, of Jasper, recounted the tale Thursday, August 9.
The gator showed up 30 years ago in 1982, while Lindsey and his brother-in-law/business partner, Larry Pauley, both enjoyed lake places on Grandview Lake.
"Our place was [my wife] Susan's dad's place," Lindsey said. "Larry lived up there at that time, four doors upstream, and we would gather at his house or at the cabin, usually on a Sunday afternoon with the kids."
The two men collected their children for a late afternoon boat ride one summer Sunday. Riding were David and Daniel, Lindsey's sons, and Beth and Joanna, Pauley's two daughters. Pauley was at the wheel.
"At that time in the early '80s, we still used gasoline engines on the lake," Lindsey said. "He [Pauley] had an old Evinrude motor that would just barely putt around."
Their vessel was a 14-foot, V-hull aluminum boat, Lindsey remembers.
"We were down in the Salvation Army cove, had just started out of that cove coming back out, and I looked over there on the right, and I saw what I thought was a pine cone floating in the water. But something brought my eye back to it, and I saw that it seemed it was moving along with us, parallel to the boat."
When Lindsey made mention of the object, Pauley sighted it too, noting the thing was indeed traveling along in tandem with the boat. Pauley steered in that direction.
"He moved over," Lindsey said, "and, sure enough, it was an alligator. Of course, it looked six feet long, swimming in the water. It looked real large and dangerous enough that we figured we'd better get rid of the kids [before dealing with it]."
The men landed the children back at Pauley's dock. "We put them out, got a .22 rifle and went back to the cove."
"It's getting late afternoon, kind of dusk," Lindsey said, recounting the hunt. "The water was real still, of course, which was good. We drove into the cove, and Larry spotted it on the other side. It was on the other side against this dock.
"It didn't seem to be at all afraid of us. We were more afraid of it than it was of us. It seemed a little lethargic, I guess 'cause the water was cold. Larry rolled over to it, cut the engine and shot it."
The bullet penetrated the creature's head through an eye, Lindsey said. Annie Oakley could have done no better.
"Picked it up with a fishing net. We were still afraid of it," Lindsey smiled. "Once we got it out of the water, we could tell it wasn't six feet long. It was probably about two feet long. And we discovered it was a caiman."
Caimans are native to Central and South America. Unfortunately, importation of caimans to the United States as pets some time ago resulted in so many being released into the wild that a breeding population of the toothy imports is now well established in Florida.
Confident the Grandview jaw gentleman needed to be removed from waters where swimmers frolic, Lindsey and Pauley did the duty, never thinking until afterward they might have broken the law by killing an alligator.
"We called [DNR Game Warden] Mitch Yeargin, and he actually came over there," Lindsey recalled. They had the lizard laid out at Larry's lake house. "He [Yeargin] said we weren't in trouble," Lindsey remembers. "As long as it was deemed a potential danger to the public, it wasn't a problem."
Yet the Grandview gator unpleasantness was not quite over.
"The next weekend, my wife and I were out riding about the same time of evening," Lindsey recalled. "In the next cove up––a cove I call Allison Cove, because Mr. Allison lived in the cabin at the head of the cove––my wife spotted another gator. This one was much smaller." He and his wife saw the animal with just its head at the water surface, cutting a wedge of ripples as it moved along.
"We got close enough to see it was an alligator," Lindsey said. "And to my surprise, she got the fishing net and dipped it up into the boat alive."
"The question became what to do with this one," he said. "Larry and I decided to bring it into town." The two men relocated the lizard to Jasper's duck pond before a park existed there.
"We released it there hoping somebody would see it and think they'd had as much to drink as we had," Lindsey laughed. "To our knowledge, nobody ever saw it again. We figured it probably died in the cold that fall."
Either that or was goose-got maybe.
After bagging the first gator, urbanizing the second, "we turned our attention to how they got there," Lindsey said. How had the toothy tropical intruders found their way into a mountain lake to start with?
"No one's ever admitted it, but we figured some of the older kids probably brought them back from a Florida fishing trip and thought it would be cool to put 'em in the lake," Lindsey said.
Obviously the harvested gator required preservation, something to prove the outlandish lake lizard a material fact, not a myth.
"We took it to my friend, Tony Tripp," Lindsey recalled. "He said he'd never taxidermied any kind of lizard before, but he would try it. Couldn't guarantee anything."
Tripp stashed the Grandview gator in a freezer. "Every so often, I'd ask him [about it], and he'd say he hadn't figured how to do it yet," Lindsey recalled. "About two years later, he brought it to the office, and it looked really cool. We kept it over there on the hearth for years." This was at the log cabin location of Lindsey & Pauley Realty near highways 515 and 53.
"Kids would come in and love to feel of its teeth," Lindsey smiled. "Now it's back home on Grandview at Mary and Larry's house."
Until he retired from real estate work a few years ago, whenever he showed properties in the neighborhood of Grandview Lake, Lindsey made a point of motoring prospects along the road that tops the dam. The place is such a scenic spot, he explained.
“If it was somebody from Florida, they'd always ask, 'Are there alligators in this lake?' I'd answer, 'Well, yes and no. Yes, at one time, there was one in here, but no, there's none in here now.'”