Cover Story: How James "Bull" Durham Became A Poster Boy for East Texas Meth

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He says it all started when he and Brad were six and eight. Early one hot summer, their father -- a 6-5, 300-plus-pound alcoholic bar-room brawler -- got called away on a shutdown for Brown and Root. He told the boys he would give them five bucks apiece on his return if they kept the family's flock of 60 silver Dominicker chickens watered. Since they had no running water, that would mean the two kids would have to water the chickens from the well, and the five-gallon buckets were very heavy. In spite of the financial inducement, the boys blew it off.

A few days later, Durham says he and his brother were watching Captain Caveman on Saturday cartoons when their mother asked them about the chickens. James told her Brad was supposed to have been doing it. Brad said no, it was James's job. Mom responded by chasing both boys out the door with a broom.

"Well, sure enough when we got to the chickenyard those chickens was dyin' o' thirst," Durham says. Still, getting that water out of the well was just too hard. "So Brad said 'Naw, wait a minute. Let's just give 'em some of that Kool-Aid out of daddy's barrel.' I said, 'That's a good ideal,' so we went and got it and poured it in their feed-trough, and man, those chickens just dove in there."

The thing is, their daddy didn't have any Kool-Aid. In fact, his barrel was full of what James calls "muskydime" wine, an East Texas libation made of muscadine grapes that grow wild in river bottoms and sloughs.

In their fragile, dehydrated state, the homemade wine was enough to finish them off. Mortified, the boys watched as every chicken in the yard staggered to early graves. Even now, Durham shudders at the memory. "Those big silver chickens was what we lived off of," Durham says. They had to find a way out of this jam, and for a little while, they thought they had found salvation.

"We thought it would be a good ideal to cut a hole in the fence and say they all ran away from home," he remembers. "They just didn't want to be there no more."

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax