EMPIRE - There’s a rock by the side of Coon Creek Road in Empire that is as big as a riding lawnmower. Painted on the rock is an image of a Native American chief wearing a war bonnet. One would …
EMPIRE - There’s a rock by the side of Coon Creek Road in Empire that is as big as a riding lawnmower.
Painted on the rock is an image of a Native American chief wearing a war bonnet. One would think the property owner is a fan of the Atlanta Braves or the Cleveland Indians, but that’s not the case.
Drennen Baggett owns the property, and his people on his mother’s side of his family were of Native American decent.
Baggett is 91 years old and has lived in Empire most of his life. He’s done a lot of interesting things in his long life and credits his Native American heritage for his longevity.
His grandmother married a full-blooded Native American named William August Lolley when she was 13 years old. They had a couple of children. His mother, Lilly Augusta Lolley, lived to be 84 years old.
“I started working young,” Baggett said. His dad owned a bus line, and he hauled people from Birmingham to Jasper and on to Jackson, Mississippi during World War II. “When I turned 15, my dad took me to Birmingham and lied about my age so that I could get a license to drive a bus.
“Every weekend when other boys were out playing ball and having a big time, I was driving people to Jackson, Atlanta, and all over.”
Baggett learned to fly when he was young, too. He got his private pilot license at the age of 16 in December 1944.
The following year, one of his friends who lived in Corner got a draft notice. Fearing that Germany was in his future, his friend decided to join the Air Force. The recruiter told his friend about the Air Force’s Buddy System. It was to entice more young men to join. Baggett, having his pilot license, made him a natural for the Air Force.
With dreams of becoming an Air Force pilot, Baggett joined at the age of 17. Before he finished basic training, the war was winding down, and the Air Force stopped accepting new pilots. He turned down offers to go to cryptography and meteorology training and opted instead for training on maintaining weapons systems on the B29 aircraft. The war ended not long afterward.
He loved flying. He’s built several airplanes in his life. One of the biplanes he built is parked at Campbell’s Field, which is a dirt airstrip near the Walker, Blount, and Jefferson County lines.
“I flew aerobatics for years in that old biplane,” Baggett said. He flew for over 70 years and only stopped flying last year when his health deteriorated.
Ever since Baggett was a little boy, he’s been good at painting, carving, and working with his hands. He carved figurines from wood with his pocket knife. “I’ve carved Alabama Elephants, Auburn Tigers, hoot owls, and eagles” he said.
Baggett loves dogs and owns several. Pogo, one of his favorite dogs, rode on the seat of his dozer while he worked. “Pogo was a great little dog, I had him for 10 years,” he said. When the dog died, Baggett carved a small figurine in memory of his beloved dog. “Pogo used to ride on my dozer, now he rides on the dashboard of my old truck,” Baggett said.
A few years ago, he moved some rocks to the edge of the yard by the side of the road. One day while sitting in his shady resting place, he looked at the rock from a distance and thought, “I could paint me an Indian chief with his war bonnet on that rock,” Baggett remembered. He went to Walmart and bought enough paint to do the job. It took a few hours, but people driving by often slow down to get a look at the rock.
Baggett is proud of his Native American heritage and painting the rock was one way of showing it.