Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Decision: The Gillums are moving to Wing. Pontoon, Ar. 1898

     The John Wesley Gillums, my grandparents, have made a decision. They are moving to Wing. They currently live in Pontoon, Arkansas, in the Petit Jean River bottoms. Malaria in Pontoon is a major problem. Wing, 40 miles away, is higher ground, fewer mosquitoes, less sickness.
     In the early days of Arkansas, malaria, now known to be spread by mosquitoes, was a very demoralizing force in Arkansas life. It had almost certainly killed more Arkansas people than any other illness, and it would continue killing them by the thousands until midway through the twentieth century.  It stole the vitality of many it did not kill, sapping the strength and energy for long periods of time, again and again, year in and year out, until they had been damaged in their souls as badly as in their blood cells. Since doctors did not understand the disease, treatments were often worse than the disease itself.
     Here is one man's account:
     Violent shaking, and a congealed feeling as though the blood was  
      suddenly iced. I was smothered in blankets, hot water bottles all
      around. After two hours, a hot fit followed, then delirium for twelve
       hours, then exhausting perspiration. This was repeated three times
       a month, year in and year out.
     This was the mildest and most common type. At least 22% got the killer variety.
      Quinine helped, no one knew why, but it was not readily available or affordable to Arkansas farmers. Finally, 500,000 homes in Arkansas were doused with DDT between 1947 and 1953. It has since been banned, but the spray from the Great Mosquito War a generation ago remains in the bones of us who experienced it, and it continues to do no telling what to our genes and our future. But it did one thing: it drove malaria from Arkansas. In 1951, the case count was zero.
      The move to Wing was made in 1898. I remember Dad showing me where they crossed the Petit Jean River near Ola. There were five children between the ages of four and ten on that trip, but knowing what I've learned about Grandma Gillum, I know they were still and didn't make much racket. "A child is to be seen and not heard " was still a golden rule in our family, half a century later.  The trip was made by Ox cart. Problems arose with the land swap, and they had to move back to Pontoon, then move back later. Problems, Problems!
     The Wing house was built on the hill overlooking Fourche Valley with the gap of Barnhart creek in the mountains behind. It was, and is, an inspiring sight.
     My Dad was 5 when he arrived at Wing. He was destined to move four other times in his life, all within hollering distance of that hill, and he lived out his life there, farming, raising cattle, and raising six kids. I was the last, the tail end of the Wing generation of Gillums.

Please note: I am 67 years old today. As with many others of my generation, I am virtually a computer illiterate. Please be patient with me! This is my first experience with blogging. At this point, I have no clue what to do next. Give me a couple of days, and I will figure out the next move. Thanks! Pat Gillum

Some information about Malaria was from Bob Lancaster, 1988.