“Knock Us Out, John!”

Volume 7, Number 1, Spring 2001

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“Knock Us Out, John!”

by James C. Cobb
Southern Cultures, Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 2001

"The object of John's climb is what is presumed to be a coon nestled among the giant sweet gum's topmost branches."

When it comes to milking an anecdote, John Reed has no equal and few competitors. It seems appropriate, therefore, to begin an essay about his work with a story. In one of his best-known yarns, comedian Jerry Clower told of a famous coon hunt that culminates in the miraculous ascent of one John Eubanks, “a professional tree climber,” up one of the biggest trees in the Amite River Swamp. The object of John’s climb is what is presumed to be a coon nestled among the giant sweet gum’s topmost branches. As he nears his prey, Eubanks is repeatedly admonished to “Knock ’em out, John!” Upon his arrival in the upper branches of the tree, however, the unfortunate John encounters not a coon, but a lynx. The cat proceeds to attack him, resulting in a cacophony of screams from John, screeches from the lynx, and continued encouragement from the ground in the form of “Knock ’em out, John!” John’s plight is finally understood by his colleagues, and he begs them to “Shoot this thing.” They reply that they are afraid to, lest they should hit John. In response, a desperate John can only plead, “Just shoot up here amongst us, one of us has got to have some relief!”