A Crothersville Legend & Ambassador Departs

by Curt Kovener Curt line

Those of us who grew up in and around Crothersville (and now enjoy those grey, wrinkled marks of maturity), knew the name Bayou Bill Scifres. After 84 seasons of hunting and fishing, the Almighty decided it was time for Bayou Bill to come home to rest. Native Americans would say he is in the happy hunting grounds, perhaps more appropriate for the man.
Bayou Bill was the most widely known ambassador for this community. Though he left Crothersville shortly after graduation in 1943 to join the Navy, his heart never did.
To the uninitiated. Billy Neal Scifres was an outdoorsman’s outdoorsman. He grew up tromping the woods, fields, creeks, rivers and bayous (hence his nickname) of Jackson County.
Perhaps he & I had some special kinship: growing up in the same small town (albeit a generation apart), a love of the outdoors and all things wild, a career in the newspaper business, and a knack for embellishing a story.
After military service and college at Hanover and IU, he eventually landed a job at the Indianapolis Star and became an outdoor writer offering experiences & tales afield, advice on how to improve one’s fishing, hunting, and gathering techniques, and then sharing recipes for cooking the gleanings of the wild. (I still use Bayou Bill’s recipe for Hickory Nut Pie at Thanksgiving.)
Bill told me on more than one occasion “Can you believe I have a job where they pay me to go hunting and fishing?”
And throughout his writing career he wrote about growing up and his outdoor exploits of “good ol’ Crothersville”.
While I had heard stories of Bayou Bill growing up—most of them from my Dad—I got to meet him for the first time at Jack Cain’s funeral. Jack Cain was another local outdoorsman who took a young Bill Scifres under his wing to teach him all things outdoors.
And Bayou Bill included memoirs of his mentor in his Indy Star column “Lines & Shots” and in both of his books “Indiana Outdoors, A Guide: Wildcrops, Fishing Hunting” and “Bayou Bill’s Best Stories (Most of Them True!)”
I talked with Bill before his second book came out and he told me that he was telling stories of some Crothersville personalities and their youthful exploits. When I mentioned this to those local personalities it caused considerable worry amongst some of today’s senior citizens that some embarassing tales of youthful indiscretion may become public knowledge. It was the reaction both Bill and I had sought.
When Bill’s “Best Stories” was published in 1990 the newspaper did something that up until then, was unheard of in Crothersville. There as a book signing at the Crothersville Times office. Bayou Bill was there and enjoyed his visit as if he were a kid in a candy store with a no limit credit card. There was a crowd in the room and a line out the door of people waiting to buy their copy & get it signed. It took all morning and half the afternoon because as Bill signed his new book for folks he’d want to know who they were and who they were kin to and after hearing Bayou Bill would offer a story or an experience he had with the relative.
Of course I got a copy of his “Best Stories” signed and pulled out my well used, torn cover copy of “Indiana Outdoors” for him to autograph.
“Well, you know this is out of print,” Bayou Bill told me of the 1976 book as he signed “To Curt! The best publicity man I ever had—and a great newspaperman!”
Shortly after that successful book event, I asked Bayou Bill to be my guest at a Muscatatuck Chapter Quail Unlimited banquet. Dinner was delayed that evening as outdoorsmen from throughout the county crowded around to meet him and tell Bill their own special stories of hunting and fishing and listen to those offered by the dean of Hoosier outdoorsmen.
Bayou Bill was as common and comfortable as an old shoe (maybe well seasoned hunting boot is a better analogy) but he pulled triggers, set hooks and swapped stories with some high profile personalities and did the same with the likes of other common folks from “good ol’ Crothersville”.
Bill Scifres tried to instill in us not just the taking—the joy of hunting and fishing and gathering wild crops—but the vital importance of conservation and preserving the outdoors so other generations could do the same.
With his passing there are some big hunting boots to fill.
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