Nation citizens Larry, left, and Dustin Shade hunt for crawdads
at night in Fourteen Mile Creek in Cherokee County. The father-son
duo used homemade gigs to catch the crustaceans.
and son Larry, left, and Dustin Shade clean crawdads after
gigging them in Fourteen Mile Creek.
cooking crawdads, Larry Shade and his family soaks the cleaned
crustaceans in hot water with salt. After draining them, the
Shades add salt and pepper, cornmeal and then fry them in
Nation citizen Larry Shade, the son of the late Deputy Chief
Hastings Shade, cooks crawdads and fried potatoes near the
bank of Fourteen Mile Creek in Lost City, Oklahoma.
Shade holds a cleaned crawdad just after being caught out
of Fourteen Mile Creek in Cherokee County.
LOST CITY, OK Cherokee Nation citizen Larry Shade has
lived his life in this northern Cherokee County community learning
the ways of the Cherokee culture from his grandparents and father,
the late Deputy Chief Hastings Shade. Among the cultural aspects
he's learned, one he truly enjoys is crawdad gigging.
Larry gigs crawdads in a section of Fourteen Mile Creek that
his family owns.
"It's just something that my dad always did when we were growing
up. He worked, and when he came home that was the first thing we
were going to do. We'd go out in the daytime, but a lot of times
we'd go out at night, which is a lot easier," he said. "It's just
a time-honored tradition that we hold true to our culture."
He said many people who catch crawdads use traps, but he and
his family use homemade gigs, something he also learned to do from
"The gigs we are using tonight are all hand-forged by my dad.
I'm in my 50s and the gigs that we're going to use, I was 18 when
dad made them," he said.
Hastings died in 2010 at age 67. He was known as a Cherokee
traditionalist and was widely recognized for his work in cultural
preservation and as a skilled traditional artisan. He was designated
a Cherokee National Treasure in 1991 for his craftsmanship, which
included making gigs.
When gigging, Larry said they never catch more crawdads than
they can eat. He said he and his family will determine how many
crawdads they need to feed everyone and then they'll go out and
catch that amount.
"We always leave some either for the next family or next year's
crop, but we never take more than what we need," he said. "It's
part of the Cherokee way."
He said most of the time when he and his family "get together"
they go gigging the night before.
"My son, some of his friends and my daughter, we all go out
and they know how," he said. "We go through whether the water is
cold or it's warm, whether it's leaches or snakes. They understand
there's a few dangers out there, but it's something that we've done
all our lives."
The method the Shades use to catch crawdads is not the easiest,
Larry said, but it's their tradition and it's how he honors the
Cherokee traditions and culture.
"There a lot of easier way to get crawdads, but this is a time-honored
tradition for us," he said. "I'm skilled in what I've done and it's
hard for me to do something else."
Larry said he's been gigging as long as he can remember.
"Ever since dad trusted us and we were old enough to understand
what 'no' meant and 'don't do that,'" he said. "I'm going to say,
5 or 6 years old
at least 46 years."
He said years ago catching crawdads was a way to feed one's
family. It's not like that so much now, but the experience of providing
for his family is something he said he would always honor and cherish.
"My grandparents did it and passed it on to my dad. And you
know my grandfather, he forged his gigs, which he passed on to my
dad," Larry said. "Dustin's (one of Larry's son) with me most the
time and I'm glad that he's with me and I hope that he carries it
on. We all won't be here
too much longer and we hope the traditions
that we have
we carry on to our children and even the friends
of my sons and daughters. I hope that they carry on."
Larry said if no one has ever tried gigging they are welcome
to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I more than welcome you to look me up. Give me a holler. I
will definitely take you. We'll go out one night and I'll show you
the cultural way," he said. "I invite all Cherokees or any tribal
member. If they want to come experience a little history and a little
Larry Shade and his family slowly walk through creek
waters at night carrying a lamplight, a bucket and a gig. Crawdads
feed at night.
The Shades catch both in shallow and deep waters. "So it just
depends on where you find the crawdads. You have to go to them.
They don't come to you," he said.
Larry said many people "bait" a hole the night before by throwing
out "chum" or something for the crawdads to feed on and draw them
with. "If I clean fish, sometimes I'll throw that in the water and
that's just so the crawdad have food. I don't go back and bait the
hole. What we do is we do it the sportsman way. I don't cheat nature,"
Larry said when gigging, get close enough to the crawdad without
scaring it, stab the crawdad with the gig in the upper portion of
the body because you eat the tail and you don't want to damage it.
He said it's also important to make sure when hunting at night that
one's light is bright enough to shine through the water and always
be aware of your surroundings.
Cleaning and Cooking
After a good catch, Larry and his family clean the
crawdads, usually at the creek because it's just easier.
"The way we clean ours is we take the back part of the crawdad
and pull the back part up and we clean the guts and intestines (out).
And then we turn the crawdad around and we'll find the middle fin
and we'll pull the middle fin. That way the intestinal track will
come out. Most the time we'll tear the legs off because the edible
part is the front section that we cook and we'll break up the tail
part and just eat the meat in the shell."
After cleaning, he said they soak the crawdads in hot water
with about one tablespoon of salt to ensure the crustaceans are
clean and preserved until they're cooked.
If the Shades don't cook them that night, Larry said sometimes
he'll place them in just enough water to cover each crawdad with
a half teaspoon of salt in a gallon plastic bag and put them into
When they're ready to cook, Larry said he doesn't add a whole
lot to them, just a little season and cornmeal.
He said to lightly salt and pepper and add just enough cornmeal
to coat each crawdad.
"Little salt and little pepper and then a little cornmeal and
then we'll fry it," he said. "I know it's kind of the unhealthy
way, but it's something that we've done our whole lives."
Nation citizen Dustin Shade shows a large crawdad he caught.
Nation citizen Larry Shade, the son of the late Deputy Chief
Hastings Shade, holds a gig made by his father more than 30
years ago. Larry continues to use the gig to hunt crawdads.