Glimpse of the Past: Possum Feast a Social Success in Hillsboro, 1916
The Reporter... Hillsboro Texas... Thursday, January 21, 2016
Possum Feast a Social Success in Hillsboro 1916
In January 1916 over 200 guests packed the George L. Porter Building on East Franklin Street in Hillsboro to share in Captain Tom Epting's annual Possum Feast. Tom Epting (1845-1930) was a native of South Carolina who settled in Hill County in 1869. He lived on a half-section of land on Cobb Creek where he farmed and operated a cotton gin. He was a Confederate veteran and hosted the annual possum feasts as a social highlight of the year for Hillsboro and Hill County from 1910-1929.
Possum feasts were common across the South and the menu included baked possum, sweet potatoes, turnips and turnip greens, and sweet potato and pumpkin pie. The January 5, 1916 issue of the Hillsboro Mirror confirms this menu, as does Patrick Dunnahoo in his 1988 publication of "Putting the Big Pot in the Little One." Ernie Deane records in "Ozark Country" that "annual feasts held by the club attracted national attention and were attended by captains and kings of industry, politicians, as well as ordinary folks. For weeks before the banquet, hunters caught possums in the wooded hills. But rather than killing them right off, they put the critters in cages and fed 'em well on sweet potatoes and persimmons."
In Hillsboro, local cafes like Andrews (now incorporated into Frenke's on Elm and South Waco) and White Swan Cafe (current office site for Martin, Showers, Smith & McDonald) would bake the possums and prepare the sweet potatoes and turnips, etc. In the early days of the Possum Feast in Hillsboro, Captain Epting would cook the sweet potatoes in large washpots brought on the Courthouse lawn. For the 1916 event Charlie Gebhardt of Gebhardt Bakery (HISD Development Office on East Franklin) was recognized as primary chef for the event.
For the 1916 event, Judge W. L. McKee welcomed guests at the reception table and Captain J. T. Bobbitt, Commander of Hill County UCV, let the large group of Confederate vetarans to the banquet table, and all veterans were recognized as special guests. Guests were treated to music on records with Victrola provided by Rhodes Brothers.
For Hill County, hosting events for BBQ or fish fried have long replaced possum feasts as the menu to attract guests in the 21st century, but for sure the annual Possum Feast is a big part of our local history and Southern Culture.
CAPTION: Local hunters in Hill County would trap and cage possums in preparation for the annual Possum Feast in Hillsboro hosted by Captain Tom Epting. Pictured is a Mr. McCreight with his coon dog, possum, and sweet potatoes. Trappers would feed the caged possums on sweet potatoes and persimmons for several weeks in preparation for the annual event.