McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

April 28, 2014

The Louisiana bayous come to Enid

ENID, Okla. — “Gator Queen” Liz Choate and her daughter, “Gator Princess” Jessica Cavalier, were at this year’s Enid Home Show for just a few seconds before they started getting recognized.

The mother and daughter team star on the History Channel’s “Swamp People,” a show that depicts life in the bayous of Louisiana, and will be signing autographs and meeting with fans throughout this year’s show at Chisholm Trail Expo Center.

For Choate, gator hunting, as depicted in the show, is just a part of her life and the lives of her family. Raised in Louisiana, Choate said she was taken on alligator hunts with her mother and father as a baby.

“I was raised with my momma and daddy doing it,” she said. “She used to tell me stories. She said she’d keep the bottles in the ice chest and she’d set it on the bow and the sun would heat it up.”

Cavalier said she would get mad as a child because the one-month alligator hunting season, which is in September, conflicted with school.

“I was always at school during the season,” she said, admitted to pitching a few fits because of the situation. “You best believe she (Choate) would come and check me out. I wasn’t going to miss gator season.”

“Swamp People” is airing its fifth season. Choate has been on the show several seasons and now alligator hunts with her daughter. Both said the biggest impact the show has had on their lives is the recognition it has brought.

“I’m still not used to that. I’ll never get used to that,” Choate said, wearing her tan shirt and blue Frontier City hat. “Everywhere we go people recognize us. Whether I’m dressed like this or dressed down, bummed down to the max.”

But aside from the attention, Choate said her life pretty much remains the same.

“As far as my life changing, that didn’t change. I’m still enjoying what I always did do before all this happened. Except for the appearances. That’s the only thing that’s changed.”

Choate said she’s been recognized while shopping in Wal-Mart. Fans approach her wanting to know what she’s doing at the store.

“People actually see me at Wal-Mart and I’m getting my tissue paper and they ask me, ‘What are you doing Mrs. Liz?’” she said. “Well, I’m here to get our toilet paper like you.”

Choate said she thought “Swamp People” would catch people’s attention because of how different Louisiana was to the rest of the country.

“We’ve been to lots of states, and it’s totally different from what we have down there,” she said. “When people come down to Louisiana they’re in awe because of the all swamps, all the cypress trees.”

Cavalier said the show is far more than people hunting alligators.

“It’s actually like the history of Louisiana,” she said.

Both women agreed alligator hunting has long been a way of life for those in their state.

“So many old-timers like my dad and his dad did it before him,” Choate said. “We call them old-timers out there because they’ve been doing it all their lives. It’s a family tradition, coming down from generations.”

“And I’ll pass it down to my children and hopefully my children will pass it down to theirs,” Cavalier added.

Both woman said the alligator hunt, which lasts for about a month, helps keep an important balance in the swamps.

“There is not one part of an alligator that’s not used,” Choate said. “It’s used for food or anything you can think of.”

During the alligator season, the women work from sunup to sundown in an attempt to fill a strictly controlled number of tags.

“It’s from daylight to dark and it’s so hot,” Choate said. “You’ve still got to incorporate the other things you do in your life into parts of the show. When you are on the show, you gotta do what they want you to do. I really want to show people what we do.”

“It’s our real life,” Cavalier said.

However, the show is not without its critics.

“People actually think we kill alligators for fun. We’ve been called monsters, killers,” Choate said. “I get offended by it, but on the other hand there is a lot of people that don’t understand what is going on. It’s conservation.”

Both Choate and Cavalier said if there was no alligator season the animals would run amok, wandering into people’s yards eating pets or people.

“It’s not like we waste them. They’re used,” Cavalier said. “It’s not for fun.”

She said the hunting season was needed to control the population.

“They would be everywhere,” Cavalier said.

Choate said there is a “fine line” when it comes to hunting alligator.

“It’s respect, you know. When we alligator hunt, I respect the territory we’re in. It’s an animal you’re hunting, but you’ve got to respect them,” she said. “I’ve always respected hunting. You get what you need to get, but you don’t get greedy.

“If you don’t have respect for what you do, you don’t need to be out there.”

After less than an hour into the Enid Home Show, the “Swamp People” table already had a long line of fans wanting to meet Choate and Cavalier, as well as Justin, Choate’s husband and newest member of the alligator hunting team.

Choate said her favorite thing about meeting fans is the little kids.

“I love the little kids. They look at you like you’re just — I don’t know how to explain it,” she said. “It’s like when I was little with Superman or Wonder Woman.”

“They look at me and see I’m younger,” Cavalier said. “The little ones look up to me a lot.”

“They make it all worthwhile, coming out here and doing this,” Choate said. “I meet quite a few little ones that are actually shaking. Some of them will actually cry and that breaks my heart. My heart just melts.”

Fans can meet the Gator Queen and Gator Princess during the 39th annual Enid Homes Show. Along with T-shirts and souvenirs being sold, two alligator claw cellphone cases and two autographed 10-foot alligator skulls are on silent auction, with a part of the proceeds going to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Enid Homes Show continues 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $3, with children 12 and under admitted for free.

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