Jack Bruce & The Crown Prince

I don’t know why I’ve always been fascinated by squirrels. After all, they are basically rats with bushy tails. They may look cute in a country setting perched atop a fence post gnawing on acorns, but they can be major pests in the city as they take residence in your attic. I have experienced the charm and frustration of both scenarios. I suppose I don’t care much for them anymore, with one exception…the occasional fox squirrel.

I admit to pausing whatever I’m doing to watch the graceful, and beautiful, fox squirrel at work or play. You just don’t see many of them anymore. Growing up in the hardwood countryside of Vicksburg there were squirrels everywhere, and fox squirrels were numerous. This is not the case here in South Mississippi.

Jack Bruce & The Crown Prince - Fox Squirrel tail

Now you know why they call them “fox” squirrels

Last week, my wife pointed out we had a new visitor to the office. She said he had been coming around for a few days to visit the nearby water oak. It was a big ol’ fox squirrel, the first I have ever seen here. I grabbed my camera and, for the next couple days, followed him around three times to take some photos. He was surprisingly tame for a fox squirrel, known to be the shyest of the species. When I would get close he would instantly freeze in whatever position he was in. I suppose as I walked away he thought he was very clever in “fooling” this stupid human.

I gave him the name, Jack Bruce, because I first saw him on the day Cream bassist, Jack Bruce, passed away. Before I was even a teen, Cream was one of my two favorite bands. The Beatles was the other. You would think I would name him after Cream drummer, Ginger Baker, due to his red hair…but Jack Bruce it is!

We have a lot of grey squirrels in the neighborhood, but as his namesake stood out as a bassist, this Bruce sticks out with his fiery red-haired tail. Fox squirrels have several colorations, but his black and white face is out of the ordinary for this area.

This is the first year the water oak has produced acorns. When I bought this place 16 years ago, it was a young 5-6 year old tree. Water oaks take over 20 years to mature to the fruiting age, but once they do it’s acorns-aplenty. I suppose we will see a lot more of ol’ Jack as he makes his slow trek across the pasture from his home somewhere uphill.

It All Began in Vicksburg

As mentioned, Vicksburg and the surrounding area is squirrel central. My paternal grandfather, Kenneth Henry Cripps a.k.a. Papaw, was an avid hunter and used to take me squirrel hunting when I was a wee lad. He wasn’t a wealthy man and owned only two firearms, a Mossberg 12 Gauge shotgun and a Marlin Crown Prince .22 caliber rifle. The latter was his squirrel rifle. It is also the same rifle I learned to shoot with. It was damaged during Hurricane Camille in 1969, and never worked correctly afterward. When my grandpaw died, I was given both guns. I still have their rusted remains, and both are missing their bolts. After Camille, my grandfather purchased a Remington Nylon 66, which he regarded as the “best squirrel rifle ever made.” 23 years to the month after he passed away, the rifle came into the hands of its rightful owner…me!

Long before he took me on my first squirrel hunt, there was a time I would have protested going. As a child I used to love watching the squirrels and I hated the notion of them being killed and eaten. Whenever my grandmother fried up granddad’s “bag,” I would refuse to eat them. One day while visiting, the table was set with some good smelling grub. I asked what it was and Papaw said it was fried chicken. Yep, I ate it…and loved it. I had seconds and thirds. Then he fessed up and told me I’d been eating squirrel. I’m told my only reply was “yummy, yummy squirrel.” I always ate squirrel afterward and, til the day, he died he always called it “yummy, yummy squirrel.”

If you can have a pet rock, I can have a pet squirrel!

John Cripps and pet squirrel

John Cripps & his pet squirrel

When I was 10 years old, my family lived in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Like Vicksburg, it was an area with an abundance of squirrels. One day I was chasing a squirrel, like every Mississippi boy was known to do. As it jumped to scale up the nearest pine tree, the squirrel dropped something. I ran over to see what it was and, to my surprise, it was a baby.

I took it home and told my parents I wanted to keep it. My dad got upset, and told me to take it back where I found it. He said I had to let it go, and gave me a good verbal spanking. He said the mother would probably now reject it, leaving it to die. Now, I was normally a very obedient child, but I didn’t want that squirrel to die because of me. So, I disobeyed my dad, and hid it in a makeshift “cage” out behind the apartment complex. I don’t recall the circumstances, but later that day there was a discussion about the squirrel which led to me fessing up that I still had it tucked away.

For some reason, my dad then allowed me to keep it, and we had that squirrel for quite some time. We got him a bird cage to live in, but he spent most of his time on my shoulder or in my lap. My mother got a little plastic bottle, made for a baby doll, and used it to feed him milk and ground up food. As he grew, he would eat out of a dish. He was quite the pet. On night, I was lying in bed with him and fell asleep without returning him to his cage. Somehow during the night I rolled over on him and suffocated him. I guess I still feel guilty about that.

Lorraine - Mother of John Cripps and pet squirrel

My mother, Lorraine, also enjoyed my little pet

In the 90s, I caught a baby squirrel in the attic of my Biloxi home. I hoped my son, J.T., could enjoy raising him, as I had enjoyed raising mine. I built a really nice cage with real branches in it, but he didn’t survive long. Squirrel were meant to be left alone to roam free.

I hope my new friend, Jack Bruce, will be around for quite some time. He has the entire oak tree to himself and enough acorns to last a hundred lifetimes. There are no longer any dogs here to chase him and he pretty much has the run of the place. I even promised him I wouldn’t shoot him and eat him even though I have a fondness for “yummy, yummy squirrel.”

Postscript on the Marlin Rifle

Writing this article was a bit nostalgic for me. My grandfather’s rusty rifle is sitting on my desk staring at me. My grandfather loved that rifle and so did I. After all, he taught me to shoot with this very gun! Thoughts run through my head about restoring it. I did an extensive search online and do not believe a replacement bolt can be found. However, the rifle does pop up for sale occasionally and I did see where one, in so-so condition, sold for $48. So, you buy a poor condition rifle with a working bolt and voila – restoration is now possible. Stay-tuned for a possible future article.

Model 101, Crown Prince, Single-Shot, Bolt Action, Caliber .22 Rifle (1959).
The Crown Prince rifle was a special deluxe version of the Model 101. It had all the same features, and it was boxed in a carrying-case like cardboard box. It came equipped with a Marlin Micro-vue 4-power telescope. Packed with the rifle were a wildlife game map, a tube of Marlin Ruststopper, a Marlin target and game record book, a “Marlin Sighting-In Guide and Manual”, and 50 assorted targets. The telescope was mounted and zeroed-in at the factory. In 1959, the only year of its manufacture, the price of the Crown Prince rifle was $39.95. A total of 7,166 Crown Prince rifles were manufactured.

All color photos ©2014 John Cripps…B & W photos by Ken Cripps