Bombs and Killer Bees – Flight From Danville

          My brother Ray Ricketts was a lifetime printer and newspaperman.  His “Danville of Yesterday” feature in the local papers were a long time favorite.  Ray loved and wrote about local history before he moved to Richmond many years ago.  Steve Clark of the Richmond News Leader wrote of a conversation with Ray in 1988:

     

 

 Killer Bees Are Nothing New!
 
          “I’ll read about the killer bees and I’ll think, wait a minute, we’ve already had an invasion of killer bees in America.” Ray Ricketts said.  In Pittsylvania County, Virginia, no less!
          The story goes back to before World War II in 1938, when Ray was 13 years old.  His father, Reuben Ricketts, moved the family from Danville to a 117-acre farm in Blairs, a farming community a few miles north of Danville.

Part of the Ricketts/Jones clan at the three-room cabin where Reuben and family moved in January 1939.  From left: Mary and uncle Carl Jones, sister Marion Ricketts Lewis Cook, Janie Jones (wife of uncle Austin Jones), grandmother Annie Pruett Jones, sister Idella Ricketts Lynch, Aunt Florence “Tiny” Jones Hutcherson Reynolds, grandfather Dan Jones and brother Ray Ricketts.  At right of the cabin is the beginning of a two room addition (In preparation for baby Danny maybe).   
          

 “Before the war started, my dad moved us to a farm in Blairs because he was sure they were going to bomb the cotton mills in Danville,” Ricketts said.  The main crop on the farm was tobacco, but Reuben Ricketts left the tobacco farming to someone else while he commuted to his job in Danville.
          “Dad didn’t have time to do the farming,” the younger Ricketts said.  “But he did plant a large vegetable garden, and he kept some hives of honeybees.”

          “My father read about some African black bees in a mail-order catalog,” Ricketts said.  “They were advertised as busy, aggressive bees, so he thought they would produce more honey than the regular honeybees.”
          The main selling point, however was that the African black bees were a few dollars cheaper.
          “In those days, saving a few bucks was important,” Ricketts said.  So Reuben Ricketts bought a hive of the black honeybees from Africa.
          “I can’t remember whether he ordered them through the mail or bought them at a hardware store in Danville,” Ricketts said, “but somehow he bought a hive.”

           He also bought plenty of trouble.
          “Dad’s bees were very aggressive.”
          But were they the same kind of Africanized honeybees that have become widely known as “killer bees” over the past 25 years?  Ricketts has convinced himself that his father’s bees were the “killer bees.”
         

          “Everything I have read about the killer bees sound just like the bees we had on the farm,” he said.  “If you left them alone, they didn’t bother you.  But if you ventured within 25 feet or so of their hive, many of them would attack you.”  Talk about mean!.
          “Those bees didn’t buzz around your head to give you a warning that you might get stung,” Ricketts said.
         

           “They got straight to the point. 
They would make a beeline toward your neck or your arms, which were not by clothing.  If their aim was true, they zapped you good.”
           Fortunately, their aim was not true most of the time.
          “They either had poor eyesight or poor maneuverability, because they miss a lot,” Ricketts said.
          The black bees didn’t attack humans away from the hive, but Ricketts said they didn’t hesitate to chase the animals on the farm.
          “Without hesitation they attacked dogs, cats, cows and the mules,” he recalled.
          The mules were not so much bothered by the pests.
          “You know, a mule doesn’t panic,” Ricketts said.  “A horse will panic, do something crazy and get itself hurt.  But our mules just shook the bees off and went on about their business.  Mules are cool, calm and collected.  They won’t do anything to get themselves hurt.”
          However, Ricketts’ father was worried about what problems the aggressive bees might cause the other animals, not to mention the neighbors animals.
          “I remember hearing the neighbors talk about how mean those bees were,” Ricketts said.
 

          After one season with the African black bees, Reuben Ricketts had seen enough.
          “Dad decided they were too much of a threat,” Ricketts said.  “Besides, they were not so good at producing honey.  They were so hyper that they must have consumed a greater amount of their own honey than the regular bees.”
          In late winter, before the bees picked a new queen and swarmed out to establish a new colony, Reuben Ricketts went on the attack.
          “Dad stuffed rags into all the openings of the hive and gave them a dose of sulfur smoke.  That finished them off and solved the problem.
         

 The youngest child, Robert “Danny” Ricketts was born at the old Ricketts log cabin in January of 1941 and missed the scourge of the killer bees.

See blog index at:   http://rdricketts.com/blog/

Take a look at our websites:

http://rdricketts.com or http://beaversmill.ieasysite.com/

          “My father read about some African black bees in a mail-order catalog,” Ricketts said.  “They were advertised as busy, aggressive bees, so he thought they would produce more honey than the regular honeybees.”
          The main selling point, however was that the African black bees were a few dollars cheaper.
          “In those days, saving a few bucks was important,” Ricketts said.  So Reuben Ricketts bought a hive of the black honeybees from Africa.
          “I can’t remember whether he ordered them through the mail or bought them at a hardware store in Danville,” Ricketts said, “but somehow he bought a hive.”

           He also bought plenty of trouble.
          “Dad’s bees were very aggressive.”
          But were they the same kind of Africanized honeybees that have become widely known as “killer bees” over the past 25 years?  Ricketts has convinced himself that his father’s bees were the “killer bees.”
         

          “Everything I have read about the killer bees sound just like the bees we had on the farm,” he said.  “If you left them alone, they didn’t bother you.  But if you ventured within 25 feet or so of their hive, many of them would attack you.”  Talk about mean!.
          “Those bees didn’t buzz around your head to give you a warning that you might get stung,” Ricketts said.
         

           “They got straight to the point. 
They would make a beeline toward your neck or your arms, which were not by clothing.  If their aim was true, they zapped you good.”
           Fortunately, their aim was not true most of the time.
          “They either had poor eyesight or poor maneuverability, because they miss a lot,” Ricketts said.
          The black bees didn’t attack humans away from the hive, but Ricketts said they didn’t hesitate to chase the animals on the farm.
          “Without hesitation they attacked dogs, cats, cows and the mules,” he recalled.
          The mules were not so much bothered by the pests.
          “You know, a mule doesn’t panic,” Ricketts said.  “A horse will panic, do something crazy and get itself hurt.  But our mules just shook the bees off and went on about their business.  Mules are cool, calm and collected.  They won’t do anything to get themselves hurt.”
          However, Ricketts’ father was worried about what problems the aggressive bees might cause the other animals, not to mention the neighbors animals.
          “I remember hearing the neighbors talk about how mean those bees were,” Ricketts said.
 

          After one season with the African black bees, Reuben Ricketts had seen enough.
          “Dad decided they were too much of a threat,” Ricketts said.  “Besides, they were not so good at producing honey.  They were so hyper that they must have consumed a greater amount of their own honey than the regular bees.”
          In late winter, before the bees picked a new queen and swarmed out to establish a new colony, Reuben Ricketts went on the attack.
          “Dad stuffed rags into all the openings of the hive and gave them a dose of sulfur smoke.  That finished them off and solved the problem.
         

 The youngest child, Robert “Danny” Ricketts was born at the old Ricketts log cabin in January of 1941 and missed the scourge of the killer bees.

See blog index at:   http://rdricketts.com/blog/

Take a look at our websites:

http://rdricketts.com or http://beaversmill.ieasysite.com/

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