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Delta's duck call makers due much respect

Son Jordan felt that Speedy Tharpe made the best wood call of the Greenwood, Miss., duck call makers and could tune one just about as good as anyone. Mr. Mac (R.R. McPherson) was the one who influenced Son, and Mr. Mac got Speedy involved, too. Soon Speedy was making his own calls around 1956.

Speedy died five years ago at age 73, after spending a lifetime of repairing lawnmowers and making duck calls. He made calls right up to his death.

His son, Johnny, said that he loved nothing more than to be out in his workshop making some friend a call.

Like Son, he sold his calls by word of mouth, although he did sell a few at Delta Sporting Goods, and like Son, he sold more than a thousand calls during his lifetime. Unlike Son, he labeled his calls and named them the “Cherokee.”

I visited L.L. Walker in 1983 at his Highlandale Plantation near Slater, Miss., when I first began researching Mississippi call makers.

He took me to his inactive cotton gin where he had his workshop and his wood-working tools.

He opened a box and there were seven or eight old calls. All were made by Mississippi call makers (Son Jordan, R.R. McPherson and Speedy Tharpe) except one. Jake Gartner of Stuttgart, Ark., was the exception. Jake won world titles at Stuttgart in 1947, 1948, and 1949.

Walker got into the call making business when Son, a plumber and electrician, was doing some work for Walker at his plantation. As it was near the opening day of duck season, Son had a duck call strapped around his neck and was blowing it out in the gin when Walker heard him.

Walker, an expert waterfowler himself, knew that was the call for him, so he asked if he could call a few notes. The call never left the gin that day. Walker bought the call from Son. That was one of the calls that I bought from Walker when I visited in 1982 or so.

From that day forward, Walker began making calls patterned after Son's call. That was in 1957 or 1958, and he never stopped making calls until a stroke incapacitated him in 2001. He was born in 1909 and died January 2006.

Everyday, he worked on calls, and like Son and Speedy he sold his calls by word of mouth.

He loved to work with exotic woods and just before he went into the nursing home after his stroke, he had ordered a big supply of exotic woods.

Fritz Hartley was from Leland, Miss. As far as I know after talking to family members, he didn't know the Greenwood boys except that he had heard of them and vice versa. When I visit him in 1982, he talked through a device held to his vocal cords, because he had had a laryngectomy due to throat cancer.

He started making calls in 1953, according to his son, Glynn Hartley of Lake Village, Ark. His calls were named the “Southland.” Like Son and Cross, he also competed in the world championship contest at Stuttgart. He stopped making calls in 1886.

Hartley was a combat veteran of World War II, having served under Gen. George Patton. He received the Purple Heart for wounds received in France. He was active in conservation work and was presented with the State Conservationist of the Year Award in 1968. He wrote “The Delta Outdoors” column for the Delta Democrat Times (Greenville) for many years.

All the authors who have written books about duck call makers, including Harlan and Anderson, have overlooked the call makers of Greenwood and Fritz Hartley of Leland. It is high time they receive some respect.

I venture to say that their calls will only go up in value as their reputation spreads.

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