And Now You Know: Stories about the Cow Bayou Hermit

Published 1:07 pm Monday, January 14, 2019

By Mike Louviere

There was once a small heavily bearded man named Justin Baker that lived in the woods on Cow Bayou and came to be called “The Cow Bayou Hermit.”

Baker was interviewed by Joe Parsley, a reporter for the Orange Leader in 1959. At the time of the interview, he had been living in the woods for about 10 years. He told Parsley that he was originally from Lansing, Michigan and had been a house and sign painter before he decided to “Just start walking the roads.”

He was often seen walking the highway that is now Interstate 10 with a burlap sack on his back looking for whatever he could salvage or sell to buy the few things he could not find in the woods.

There were numerous stories about seeing “the Hermit.” Some  Orange residents had personal experiences with him.

Randy Hazlewood told of an encounter: “The summer I graduated from high school (1966) I got a summer job working for Florida Gas Transmission Company. I worked with a three-man crew that tractor mowed the pipeline right of way, cleaned the mile markers, and painted the fence posts. I cannot remember the name of the dirt road that went south from I-10 to the Orange County trash dump. I was standing alone in the grass painting a fence post when suddenly I smelled a foul odor. I turned my head to see if I could tell where the terrible odor was coming from. When I turned around, I was standing face to face with the hermit. I was scared to death! I had seen him many times from a far distance……I just knew he was going to stab me or shoot me. He said, “Hello.” I said, “Hello”. He just turned and walked away. I watched him disappear down the road. So, I became a person to survive a close encounter with the hermit.”

Terry Manuel tells of interacting with the Hermit. “At the age of 12, my parents bought the old Webb house about a mile north of Mrs. Sikes farm. Money was tight, and I learned she would hire some young men from time to time to help her on her farm. After riding Old Buster to get to her place she hired me after school and on weekends for 50 cents an hour. That was enough money for me to buy 410 shells at a store off of 16th Street in Orange. I used the ammunition to kill ducks on Cow Bayou and squirrels in the area.

I remember the first time I met the man called “the Hermit Man.”

I was hunting on Cow Bayou and he was sitting on the bank fishing. At first, I was frightened; he said, “Don’t shoot. I don’t bite.” He said he was catching catfish and asked me what I had killed. I told him a couple of squirrels and a couple of wood ducks. He said. “I’ll trade you a couple of fish for those squirrels.”

He asked me how I “ended up to this place.” I told him I had been hunting Cow Bayou for a while but had never been this far away from the house. I told him my name and he said, “Call me David.”

After that day I made several trades with the man called “the Hermit Man.”

Sometimes I would sit there and watch him fish. He would sometimes not say anything for an hour. He would never take anything unless he had something to trade. He was alright.”

August 23, 2017, the subject of this column was “The Cow Bayou Hermit.” Recently I was asked about the Hermit by a friend. I sent him a draft of the story. He posted it on his Facebook page and there were several comments made about the Hermit. These two stories are a result of the post on Facebook. We appreciate those who commented. It was very nice of them to share these stories. Any input from our readers is always appreciated.

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“And now you know.”