NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Alligators share our rivers and lakes with us here in East Texas. The often large reptile is noted for its large size. Record breakers quickly receive the attention of a Nacogdoches County man from Melrose.
Stories about record breaking alligators bring Melvin L. Chastain forward to go to bat for his dad.
"My father was, his name was Melvin B., but everybody called him ' Dutch.'" Chastain said.
Chastain doesn't know the story behind the nickname, but he has plenty more about why his dad was also known as "Gator Man."
"He's going in after one here. This is a den he's going into," Chastain said. "He would crawl down in front of their den, take that pole, stick it down in there, bump that alligator. That alligator would grab hold of that hook and then he would pull them out and take this little ax that he had and kill 'em."
This all happened where the Guadalupe River meets the Gulf around Victoria and Port Lavaca. During the 1930s Dutch lived in a palmetto shack with his 16-year-old bride.
"That's my dad, my mom, and a fella they call one-arm Bill," Chastain said.
Chastain's father broke up log jams and patrolled marshes for two large ranches. One day a gator ate his dog.
"It kinda upset him and he went to hunting them, and he liked to wiped them out," Chastain said.
The river man killed more than 2,000 gators. Many of them were bigger than current-day record holders. A lot of Texans caught sight of one.
"It was 14-foot-6," Chastain said. "He give it to the San Antonio Zoo."
Others were skinned and sold for their hides and meat, except for the 15-footer that got away.
"They caught it, tied it up to a tree, my dad did, and they were going to kill it the next morning, but when they got up the tree, the alligator, everything was gone and they never could find it no more," Chastain said.
By 1957, when Dutch Chastain was featured in the "Corpus Christi Caller," the river man's revenge for the alligator had come to an end.
"He more or less slaughtered them. And he come to realize that he had made a mistake, he was sorry and then he studied to get the seasons closed," Chastain said. "He didn't work for the state, but he worked with the state."
Dutch Chastain's efforts helped pave the way to statewide laws that protect alligators.
"I'm very proud of him," Chastain said.
It's a story that began in South Texas, but is gladly shared in East Texas.
The 21-day fall gator season ended Sept. 30 in 22 coastal and East Texas counties. Today, the alligator population remains at a healthy number, although co-habitation with humans remains difficult.