Thursday, February 25, 2016
Spreading Wing by Pat Gillum - Buy on amazon.com - True Stories
Thirty five excerpts from throughout Spreading Wing. Read this for a good representative idea of what Spreading Wing is all about!
The first Gillum house at Wing, after they arrived in 1898, was built atop the first ridge as the Ouachita Mountains arise from the north side of the Fourche La Fave River Valley. Two miles of flat, fertile bottom land stretches out below, cut by the meanderings of Stowe creek, the primary watering source of the livestock. It is surrounded by hundreds, or thousands, of acres of hardwood forests and fertile fields. Many more fields appeared as more and more crops were planted, but much reverted back to timberland, again, as the overworked soil played out and row crops diminished and virtually disappeared. The river, two miles away, flows lazily along the base of the south mountains, Fourche mountain arising steeply from the river bank. The south mountains curve into a dip, not unlike the cleavage of a modest, beautiful woman, to allow Barnhart creek to rush from the south mountains to meet the river. This is the sight I awoke to every morning, for the first seventeen years of my life, out my bedroom window. One might think it would become routine. But it never did. My Dad arrived at that hill, a young boy of five. He was destined to live out his life, on and around that hill. From the look in his eyes as he gazed out over that valley, I don't think it ever became routine to him, either. Dad moved four more times in his life, but he was always within short hollering distance of that hill.
Dad was once engaged, but his future wife died. Dad had built a house in the meadow for her. Grandma, Hallie, and all loved her. When Dad and Mom, Cornelia Irene Lazenby, later married, they did not live in the house in the meadow at first, but on the hill with Grandma and Hallie, Dad's unmarried sister, a Peabody College trained teacher. There was no electricity in the meadow house. Even though Mom was very hard working, kind, gentle, and loving, Grandma, and even Hallie, on occasion, were harsh in judging her. Her life was miserable. Sarah Turner said, “The first woman, who died, is put up on a pedestal. No wrong can she ever do.” I think that was at work here. After three children - Harry, Harold, and Jonnie, Mom wanted out of that house. They moved to the house in the meadow, with no electricity. Jan was born there. Then they moved to a third house, the “other house.” (The Marion Turner house.) It was bought by Dad along with twenty seven acres after it was repossessed. It was larger than the meadow house, and the family was growing. Barbara was born there. After Hallie and Grandma died in 1941, the move back up on the hill closed out the moving triangle, all within “hollering” distance of each other.
Now that you have somewhat of an idea what Mom faced, moving in with all those dominant Gillums, I have a very fitting little story that I love. After Dad and Mom married, a picture of Dad's dead sweetheart continued to hang on the wall. After a time, a picture of Searce Pickens, Mom's old sweetheart, showed up on the wall also. Stirring up the situation somewhat was the fact that Searce Pickens was now working for Dad. After a time, both pictures came down. Mom had beaten the Gillums at their own game. A very rare occurrence.
I can find no other source that gives anything other than the highest praise to Hallie. She was obviously a wonderful influence in the lives of all her students, and was dearly loved by all others who speak of her. But my brother Harry related to me why life became so unbearable for my mother in that house. He was there, in that house, and he was old enough to see. And hear.
JR Turner was sweet on Ruby, Mom's younger sister. The romance dragged on. Grandpa Lazenby was not big on long romances without a wedding ring. His oldest daughter had gotten into trouble like that. He asked, “When are you getting married?” JR would reply, “I need to save just a little more money.” This went on and on. He probably did need more money, this was at least close to the time of The Great Depression. But JR also had a wanderlust. He could not settle down to one place easily, and I suspect responsibility for a wife at that time sat heavily on his shoulders. The California sisters sent money, and Ruby was headed for California. She entered into a romance with Homer Greear. Marriage was looming. But before that happened, she went back to Wing for a visit. The old romance started to heat up. Grandpa Lazenby met JR At the front door one night, to again discuss his intentions. JR still was not quite ready to settle down. Grandpa called Homer Greear and warned him. Homer jumped in his car, drove straight through to Wing, scooped up Ruby, fled to California, and married her.
JR continued his wandering ways. He would be here, then gone. Be here, then gone. For many years. I always loved talking to him. He would show me gold and other treasures, found in Mexico “a thousand miles off the blacktop.” Such stories fueled that wanderlust desire in me. But when my time came, and I had to make my decision after college to “scoop Barbara Sue up and marry her,” or see the world, I saw at least three other guys looming on the horizon who wanted to marry her, also. I wanted her more. We raised a great family, Corey and Kinley. They produced wonderful grandchildren for us, Caylie, Christian, Jordan, Jackson, Carson,and Jett, who was, sadly, stillborn. We retired. I was pleased to discover Barbara loved to roam the world every bit as much as I do. So, after our early retirement, we found ourselves spreading wing and seeing the world. Barbara has seen all fifty states, and we have seen every continent except Asia and Antarctica. By the way, you don't happen to know anybody who would like to lease our house for a year, do you? It's on the market. We have done this before, and if it happens again, we'll be outta here!
For many years, when JR saw a member of my family, he always asks about Ruby. At one hundred, he still did. He looks great. He gets around well. But his short term memory recycles very fast. When we have to tell him, again, that Ruby has been dead many decades, he begins the mourning process all over again. But it does not last long.
The last time I talked to JR, His memories were essentially gone. He made no mention of Ruby. He had, at last, been released from his lifelong agony of loving, and losing, Ruby. JR passed away in 2012 at the age of one hundred two.
When I went to town as a small boy, I always did all I could do to avoid people. I would normally cross the street to avoid meeting someone on the sidewalk. Once, however, I saw a crowd, very large, gathered around a store window. I just had to see what they were looking at. When I finally worked my way up to the front of the group, I saw a box with fuzzy, squiggly lines moving around on it. Every now and then I could see a figure of a person on it! Some of the other people called it a television. My world was changing, and fast.
At about ten years old, I was all into Indians. I decided to make myself an Indian costume. I had a belt around me, with a flap hanging down in front and back. That's all. Not another stitch. I threw in a feather in my hair for effect. I had a tomahawk. Once, the girls were all on the porch, so I decided to show off my costume. I ran the length of the porch, jumped off real high, and gave a war whoop. It changed into a scream when I realized my costume had a flaw. Both flaps flew up. It seemed like I was in the air forever, then when I hit the ground, I could not get gone quickly enough. The girls were rolling with laughter, and I still have to endure that story at every family reunion.
When I was five or so, I picked up a big piece of metal at the shop, and a big blacksnake ran out from under it toward me. I screamed loudly, and I saw Dad running across the pasture to me. I was so amazed to see Dad running, I forgot about the snake. I had never seen Dad run before. And never did again.
Snippy was a short haired, black, chunky feist. He was a dandy squirrel dog without a hunter. Harold, my older brother, his hunting partner, had gone off to college. Snippy spent his days, lying in the warm sun, dreaming of days gone by. On cold winter nights, he would jump up through the open crib door into the barn, work his way into the hayloft, and burrow in for the night. One very cold winter morning, with the temperature hovering near the single digits, I approached the barn. Then I saw him. Snippy lay, curled up in the snow, frozen solid. Above him was a closed, and latched, crib door.
I awoke with a start. The moon was up, and an ominous wind blew through the tree branches. An owl hooted in the distance. Although it seemed I had been asleep a long time, the moon told me it was not yet midnight. My major concern, however, was Tooter. I had never run onto anything in the woods that frightened Tooter. But here he was, whining, crying softly, pressing against me, staring into the darkness. A faint rustling in the leaves came from the direction of his attention. I picked up the .22, releasing the safety. The rustling, about a hundred yards out, slowly circled us. With Tooter following every move with his nose, whining, we strained to see through the darkness. The circling continued, at intervals, throughout the long night. Tooter and I pressed closer and closer together....
Early one warm summer night we headed for the corn patch. No sooner had we reached it than Tooter was on a hot trail. Mike and I ran down a corn middle. We could hear Tooter running toward us, knocking down corn stalks as he ran. A silent, furry shadow flashed in front of me, barely visible in the dim moonlight. Close behind came Tooter. Reason and common sense left me, and I joined the chase, momentarily not noticing that I was doing as much damage to the corn as the coons were, tearing and scattering stalks as I ran. Suddenly, the game changed. The big coon turned to fight. Tooter, having better control of his senses than anyone else at the moment, jumped aside. I don't think I really made a decision to do what I did next, for I like to think my decision making process is a little better than this display. And I knew about coons. A coon like this can be a bundle of screaming and biting fury. They often whip a dog, and can kill them if they get on them in the water. I dived at the coon. I like to think I reconsidered in mid air, but I don't really think I did. I sat on the coon, on my knees. I held the ringed tail tightly in both hands, while the masked face peered out from behind me. The coon was strangely quiet, giving me a moment to consider my situation. I asked myself, “How do I get off?”
Years later, a month or so after Dad's death, I drove to the farm. When the farm came into sight, I guess I was surprised to see that it looked just the way it always had. I realized I had really begun to buy into the idea that the farm would totally go to hell if Dad was not there to watch over it. The land was exactly the same, the house had not changed, the cows were all grazing contentedly – nothing, nothing at all, had changed. Dad was gone, but everything there was the same as it had always been. I just sat there and looked for a long time. And I cried.
Toward the end of my student teaching, I drove down to the Delta Dip, the local hamburger hotspot one night. And my life changed forever. Little did I know, as I drove to the Delta dip that night, that the love of my life awaited me there. And I had forgotten to bring my great white stallion.
I had this problem. In high school, I never dated much. Not totally my idea, but it just never really happened. I was totally insecure and silent around any girl I liked. So, I headed out to college, determined to start a new dating life with a clean slate. Well, I did get to where I could carry on a sensible conversation with a girl, and dated quite a bit, as long as I didn't really like her. If I did, I just froze up. If I REALLY wanted to date a girl, and after finally getting up the nerve, I would call her up and say something really good like, “Hey, you wouldn't want to go out with me, would you?” and then, if she hesitated, even for a moment, I would throw in the clincher. “That's OK. I don't blame you. I wouldn't either if I were you. Bye.”
I was nearly out of transportation, having problems with my old Chevy. The fuel pump shut down on me on University Avenue in Little Rock one day, and a cop showed up and helped me get it towed back to a station. Fortunately, my brother Harold, who I had bought the car from for several cows, had saved an old fuel pump in the trunk. Said it would work in a tight. Well, I was in a tight. I had it put on, and Harold was right. It did work in a tight. Long enough for me to get back to the spot where the first one quit, and it quit too.
Frank Broyles, the Arkansas Razorbacks head football coach, flung a major insult at me that year, though we had never met. After a particularly bad razorback practice, he was so mad he told the press, “We looked like St. Paul out there today.” Well, I was the only coach St. Paul had, and as I looked around to see if maybe he was insulting someone else, I didn't see anyone but me.
Such is the family I married into, in 1966. Though I was never a Dunnahoe, they all soon made me feel like one. At family reunions, I immediately had the uncanny ability to sit down in the very middle of that large gathering, and fall asleep instantly. This had the effect of Barbara constantly being asked, "Don't you feel just a little nervous, when he's driving?" When questioned about that ability, my reply was always the same. "I just feel so comfortable, so at ease around the Dunnahoes, that it just happens." And the strangest thing of all is, It is the total truth.
We were shooting a wedding in Little Rock. Our Hasselblad went down on us while finishing up the pre-wedding shots. That sort of trouble just never happened with that type camera, the most reliable of its day. That was the model taken to the moon, the one they knew they could count on. We had gotten a little too sure of it, and didn't take a really good backup. We never made that mistake again on any job we couldn't re-shoot. I ran to our bag for the backup camera, a 35MM I used for wildlife photos, covered with camo tape. I ripped the tape off, then discovered a small device needed to hook up the flash was missing. I told Barb, again with panic in my voice, “Get in place for the coming down the aisle shot. I'll go buy a part.” I drove madly to Camera Mart. Fortunately, It was open on Saturday morning. Fortunately again, they had it. When I got back to the wedding, the bride was about to start down the aisle. I walked briskly past her to Barbara, who was standing in position, smiling confidently with an unusable camera. I slipped her the part, she hooked it up, and got a great shot. Again, nobody ever knew.
I pushed with reckless abandon against that gate with every pound of my considerable weight, and every ounce of my inconsequential muscle, sweat running off me and fear running through me. My mind was a blur. This could just not be happening to me! This sort of thing does not happen any more, not since the 1800's! But then, I had not been in this remote corner of the world before. No telling how many angry Quechua Indians outside pushed back, screaming at me, trying to force their way in---
I arrived home with different feelings. Something unexplainable. We were headed out for a short vacation with Barbara's sister's family, upon my arrival home. As we toured around, I began to put my finger on it. I was feeling like I was a true chick magnet! I felt like every pretty woman we were around had eyes only for me. I even felt sorry for the young, muscular, handsome men they were with, because I knew their women was thinking only of me. This was a total and complete, one hundred eighty degree change in my thinking. Barbara was so lucky to have me, and I was sure all the other women around were green with envy. How could I ever go back to Arkadelphia, and work on my rental properties in shorts, as I did before? I knew the young women would just never leave me alone, and let me work
Anyway, I wound up riding in “wild child's” car. I went to sleep in the back seat, and woke up to the sound of our windshield breaking, "wild child" screaming, and screeching tires. When I opened my eyes, we were lodged under a sixteen wheeler, crossways, right in front of the back tires, and being dragged down the road at seventy MPH.
The dressing room, in the middle of the building, looked like the best place. Just as I started in, the wind really picked up. "Aw, man, my awning is blowing away." Then a house trailer, or what was left of it, mostly the frame, came through the front picture window. The back windows of the building were sucked in, the suspended ceiling around me was sucked down to the floor, and the two swinging doors behind me slammed with a loud bang. I went in the dressing room, lay the camera on the floor, and covered it with my body. My thought processes ran something like, "We've got to have something left to make a living with when this is all over." I heard the most awful groaning sound I have ever heard, as my front brick wall, three bricks thick, moved forward a few inches at the top.
The lights were on, cameras ready to roll, and Fredrica Whitfield was sitting there in our living room, smiling, her notebook in hand. Now, me, I'm not always a good spontaneous speaker. Never, I would guess, with a national audience. I could not think of a single intelligent thing to say, the best being a few "uhs" and maybe "duh." I just knew I was about to become a major fool, on national TV.
We checked in at the Villa Backpacker's Motel, billed as the nicest one in New Zealand. Hundreds of young people. Once again, no other old people. Many of the European women walked around with almost nothing on. So, I had to apply what one of my pastor's had told me years ago. “If you look at immodest women, you risk going blind. So, if you must look, cover one eye. Only risk one.”
We were in Ireland. We went to the poor house the next day. Now, don't be alarmed. Not to live, but for a visit. Dad had strongly instilled in all us Gillums a fear of the "pore' house," but I had never seen one. It looked like a prison, was established in the mid 1800's when people were starving in droves from the Great Potato Famine. It was designed to be so bad, that only starving people would go there. Hard work, no family contact, a bowl of thin soup daily. A lady at a B&B we stayed at told us about her father. He broke his leg, badly, but he refused to go to a doctor, fearing the poor house would be his next stop. He lived out his life with his leg broken instead.
As we walked through the red light district, prostitutes displayed themselves like merchandise in little windows. Barbara mentioned, "Did you see how pretty that last one was?" Naturally, I had to walk back for a second look. She smiled, started opening the door to welcome me in, and I quickly fled back to Barbara.
When he got to Iraq, he assumed his Arabic identity. Those same buddies arrested him one night, and he smiled and said, "It's me, guys." They wouldn't believe him, and he had to show them his US Air Force pants, on under his robe, before they would let him go.
Currently, he said, he makes regular trips to the eastern US near Washington, D.C. The CIA was never mentioned, but we understood..
The next morning, he walked us out to our car. He had a small lecture for Barbara. "You travel far too lightly about the world. People will entrap you. You should never have let me in your car yesterday." "We had you outnumbered." Barbara replied. He laughed. "I wasn't worried." He waved Barbara's camera away. No pictures, no address, no e-mail address. "But I will e-mail you." We're still waiting.
When we got to Pisa, we decided it didn't look so big. Surely we could just drive around and locate a big, leaning tower. But no, we finally had to board a bus to get there. Barbara has a problem with straight and crooked, something we worked hard with tripods and cropping to keep secret while we were in the photography business. She snapped her first photo of the leaning tower, and in the photo it was standing straight up! She quickly deleted it, knowing I would make a lot of mileage out of that jewel.
We caught our train back toward our house and our car, smooth as silk. We're world travelers now, and we know how to act the part. When it got to the border, it stopped. An announcement that we couldn't understand was made, and people were starting to get off. There was no train change on the way in, so we sat tight. After a few minutes, we began to realize we were the only people left. That's a bad sign, and just as that was sinking in, the train started back toward Monaco.
When we got there, we ran back to the ticket agent, who spoke a little English. "You should have changed trains at the border." "Any more trains out today?" "One is leaving right now. You might catch it if you run. That's the last one."
We ran. I quickly outdistanced Barbara. I was nearly there now. The train started to move. I was even with the engineer, and I waved frantically. The train slowed, and a door opened. Barbara was just now coming into sight, a long way back, huffing and puffing. I put one foot on the train, and kept one on the ground, and held my position. If they shut that door now, they would have to squeeze me in it. Once we got on, we found a British couple, who were going past our village, and stuck with them like glue. So much for being big world travelers.
As we realized we must be nearing our village, Barbara asked, "Now, what is the name of our village?" I didn't have a clue. It was beginning to get dark now. We moved close to the door, and strained to see something familiar. As the train slowed for a village, Barbara screamed, "There's our car!" She bolted for the door, ahead of me, and started pushing it open as soon as the train stopped. But she was on the wrong side, and she was about to step out onto a live track! Those trains run silently, are very fast, and are about a foot apart. Stepping out on the wrong side could mean instant, silent death. Several people tackled her, and pulled her back. We were sure glad to see our cute little red car. We almost hugged and kissed it.
Children screamed and ran when they saw us. We were the only white faces on the street and in the church. Mothers apologized as their children screamed and ran, saying, "My children have never seen a white person before.”
Barbara was determined to win over a particularly frightened little girl. The little girl screamed at the sight of Barbara, burying her face in her mother's shoulder. Barbara approached her, smiling, and finally the little girl accepted that without crying. Finally, Barbara was allowed to touch her hand. After awhile, Barbara was allowed to walk two fingers up her arm, softly saying, "Here's a little man, walking up your arm!" Finally, a sweet little smile appeared on her face, and she stretched her arms out to Barbara. The surrounding crowd laughed. When we got inside the all concrete church, (can't be burned) and they all started singing, "What a mighty God we serve," We knew we would be all right.
We drove up to the entrance. Yeen Lan told us to remove all jewelry, carry no camera. People had died for taking pictures inside Kibera.
She told the soldiers at the entrance what we were doing, when we should be out. We walked in. There were no toilets in sight. Flying toilets were the thing. Use a plastic bag, throw it up on the roof. Or out on the walkway.
A single, small, plastic water pipe led to the interior, where water was sold by the gallon. The store consisted of a couple of butchered goats hanging, and a couple of sacks containing beans and lentils, by the handful.
At intervals there were towering mountains of garbage, roamed by dogs and rats. We saw people high from sniffing glue. It was one way to escape one's surroundings, at least for a little while.
A sweet little girl, in rags, ran out into our path, a sweet smile on her beautiful face. "Hello," she called out to us. "How are you?" Her smile broke our hearts. Barbara and I both just wanted to take her hand, and take her home with us, away from this place.
Many large animals could be seen scattered throughout the plain. After we had gotten a good close up look at a lot of animals, and were miles from camp, a major storm blew up just before dark. Wesley got out rain gear for us all in that open jeep, but it did little good in this storm. The plain was flooded, and we got stuck, again and again, each time finally managing to get out. After dark, I kept my face covered to try to keep out some of the rain. I once looked out, just as a big lion jumped out from in front of the jeep, and stared at us hard. I covered my face back up. I really did not want to know what was waiting outside our jeep.
When we got to the border, things were just as congested as before. Barbara picked the visa line she wanted, because it was manned by a guy who seemed relatively friendly, and occasionally smiled. When we got up to his desk, Barbara poured it on. Smiling, laughing, telling all about us being missionaries, and on and on. She passed the visa over to him. He was totally won over, and stamped our old visa, not valid now, and smiling, said, "You have a great day." We thanked him, and got gone quickly. Barbara just has a gift for having her way with any man. But fortunately, she only uses it when I am at her side. At least, I think so - - -hmmmmm - -? (Just kidding, really.)
We came to Nairobi just after the President agreed to sign a power sharing agreement with the opposition. Thus the fighting tapered off. While we were preparing to leave, the opposition seemed to be beginning to think he didn't really mean it. Thoughts of more fighting returned. Perhaps we chose a wise time to come, and perhaps we are choosing an even wiser time to go home. Africa has a way of getting into one's heart, making one always want to return. Most likely, we will never see our wonderful kids again. Then again, maybe we will. Either way, they will be in our hearts forever.
As we flew out, we knew we would never see Europe again. We don't backtrack. There's far too much of this world left to see. When we got home, we found we were right on budget, thanks to so many creative stays, and eating out of so many grocery stores and peanut butter jars.
These wonderful people must be the most honest, trusting, truly civilized people in the world.
Goodbye, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. You have been good and kind to us in every possible way, except, maybe, at the cash register.
Not all my memorable experiences at Wargo were life threatening. Once Sport and I were asleep in our tent with only a very small hole in our almost-zipped-up doorway. The thing about small holes, though, is - it sorta negates being enclosed in a tent in the first place. In the middle of the night, Sport roused me from my dreams with an elbow to the ribs. "Pat," he said, " We are not alone." I switched on my light. The prettiest, most bushy tailed skunk I had ever seen was sitting on Sport's sleeping bag! We quietly enlarged that hole, and slid outside in our whitey-tighties, and waited, shivering. Fifteen minutes later, the skunk strolled out and off, never having left his calling card.
If you slide a fourteen foot flat bottom boat into the gentle waves of the river at daybreak, maybe a family of beaver will be swimming around, slapping their tails. Maybe an otter will be floating on his back, his food on his chest. You may see a pair of wood ducks take flight through the mist rising off the river. Perhaps a big cottonmouth will swim by, floating like a long balloon on top of the water. You might, hopefully, hear a big bullfrog roar, like his namesake, in the distance. Possibly, a doe and a newborn fawn will come down for a drink.
Paddle along quietly for awhile, then just drift. And look. And listen. Then, you will know why I love the river.
I returned home after that first trip, washed all my fine gravel out well, and lay them out in the greenhouse to dry. Son Corey happened to walk by that drying gravel that afternoon, and said, "What 's this piece of glass doing in here?" He started to pitch it out in the yard. Before he could throw it out, I grabbed his hand. A beautiful, yellow, one carat diamond. I had reached my goal, the rest was just gravy.
One day, hopefully in the far distant future, Barbara and I may one day find ourselves spreading wing, yet realizing: The air beneath our wing is no longer sufficient to carry us to distant lands, or finding out that my back can no longer carry "half of what we own" about the world. Yet our grand adventure will continue, as long as we have each other.
Saturday, February 20, 2016
This town was once located at the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers in Arkansas. De Soto, Marquet and Joliet, and LaSalle visited this site during their travels. Marquet, we know, was there in 1673. Prentiss, Mississippi was located right across the river. The ferry crossing between these two towns was the only one between Memphis and Vicksburg.
In Mark Twain’s ‘Life on the Mississippi’, he tells of learning of $10,000 being hidden behind a brick in a certain building in Napoleon. But when he went to search for it, he found the whole town had been washed away.
The founders hoped that it might become a major city at the confluence of two mighty rivers like St. Louis. But it was taken by the mighty river within ten years after the Civil war.
In King Edward’s 1875 account, nearing the end of the town’s life, it was a rough and rowdy town. Murder daily was the rule, not the exception. Brawls always produced burials. The Mosquitoes were persistent. They still are. Buffalo gnats were said to be so bad, they kill horses and mules by bleeding them to death. Currently, they’re still very bad early in the Spring. I have seen deer, running from one low spot to another, wagging their tails fiercely, rolling in a low spot, then on to the next, all day long during these times in an effort to get away from buffalo gnats. But I did not witness any deaths by being bled dry. I suspect an exaggeration here.
During the Civil war, there was a sharp curve north of Napoleon that went deep into Mississippi, called Beulah Bend, now lake Beulah. The peninsula created was so narrow, only a few hundred yards, that Confederate cannon could shoot at a ship coming into the bend, then move the cannon and shoot at it coming out of it. General Sherman then burned the town in Mississippi, then cut a canal across the narrow peninsula. The sand was soft digging, and it only took one day. This was referred to as the Napoleon Channel. This soon aided river travel, cutting off ten miles and destroying the ambush spot. Unfortunately, the new channel was now pointed directly at Napoleon, and both towns were flooded completely within a few years. The courthouse was already completely gone, burned by the Union for firewood, during a blizzard. When Napoleon was completely gone, the county seat was moved to Watson, only a few miles away, as the crow flies. But when dealing with mighty rivers, nothing can be measured “as the crow flies.”
My father-in-law, Sport Dunnahoe, lived near Watson until his death a few years ago. He hunted in a “Conservation League,” on which Napoleon once stood. Good hunting spots are now rare in the Delta, and it cost hundreds of dollars yearly. Once, while hunting, he met the owner of that vast tract of land, who asked, “Do you know where Napoleon is?” when he assured the man he did, he asked, “Will you take me to it?” Sport did, though all they found at that time was the cemetery. Interestingly, no tombstone revealed a life span of more than twenty six years, at least none visible that day. I’m not sure the cause, could have been the “murder a day” habit, Malaria, the fact that it was so infested with mosquitoes that nobody wished to dwell for long, or a combination of all three. Anyway, when the property owner returned Sport to his hunting spot, the grateful man thanked him. The owner’s companion observed, “A ‘thank you’ won’t buy him nothin’. Give the man something he can use.” The land owner then wrote Sport out a hunting permit, good for as long as he lived. Sport used that permit as long as he was able to hunt.
Want to see part of Napoleon? During very dry years, remains can be seen on sandbars in the river. The large church bell used in Napoleon now hangs in the Catholic church in McGehee, Arkansas. I hear the cemetery, present in Sport’s time, has now been swallowed by the river. I have a brand new metal detector that I had intended to explore that cemetery with. Oh, well.
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Forever A Hillbilly: True Diary of an 1858 Wagon Train: My two sets of great-great grandparents traveled from Georgia to Arkansas on a wagon train. The man who scouted for it, probably a distant k...
My two sets of great-great grandparents traveled from Georgia to Arkansas on a wagon train. The man who scouted for it, probably a distant kin, wrote a daily diary as they went. The Blackburns and Robinsons were my ancestors. I'm including a few of these true daily posts that I thought you might like. Thanks for Reading,
November 11, 1858.
November 11, 1858.
We had on our train a very entertaining couple. We came to a place where people were raising a log cabin, the very sickliest crowd I ever saw. Our man asked the crowd, “How long have you people been dead?” Right there we were almost in a fight; but our man apologized by begging pardon telling the cause of his mistake was they buried people where he came from long before they looked half as bad as that crowd did. Then we had to retreat, double time, and beg off.
November 23, 1858.
Four inches of snow on the ground this morning. We leave Thomasville, pass through very thinly settled hills and valleys, water very scarce. I must tell you that we had been living on Irish potatoes for several days and still doing so. These we had to dig out of the snow; no bread stuff to be had. They would all tell us, “Our folks are all gone into Ar-can-saw, about fifty miles away, to mill with wheat. Looking back tonight, I found some flour for sale in Thomasville. But it being in the night, we had to chase the chickens out of their roost in the flour bin. I concluded to wait until morning, then stick to our potato digging which was not so bad with fat quail, squirrel and pigeon. Meeting nothing of note, we camp in Howells' Valley after a day's travel of twenty miles.
November 24, 1858.
I must state here that I was sort of a handy boy to look up something to eat, and tramped ahead with my gun. Frequently, I would be requested to look out for various things to eat, this time it was butter. I soon found a place I could get all I wanted if I could wait for the housewife to churn, which I agreed to do. I heard the lady chasing the pigs back of the house. I looked around there and saw her chasing the pigs out of a large wooden churn. Had it been a stone one I think I could have stomached it, but not a wooden one. I told her I was in a hurry, and if she got it ready maybe she could sell it to the train when it came by, and I would move on knowing well that my folks would not buy as they left that to me. In camp that night one of our ladies bawled out that if anyone wanted butter she would divide out her stock. She described the place to me and I knew at once she bought the butter where the pigs were chased out of the churn. But I would take none of it which they all thought strange, because I was fond of butter. I gave no reason that I would not take any of it, only that there would not be enough to go around if I did. After the butter had all disappeared, I let out my secret. If you have ever saw a mad crowd of women, that was the maddest. One of my aunts said she would never forgive me. We go into camp having traveled eighteen miles.
December 15, 1858.
Four of us, viz. John H. Blackburn, Alfred S. Robinson, John Coon and the writer started for White county, but changed our course and headed for the Arkansas River Valley. Our object to look out for a satisfactory location. We traveled on horseback, leaving the balance of our troops in camp near Huntsville. Our trip led us over rough lofty mountains. We came to the white river, and traced it to its source. We passed over other high mountains, struck branches of the Mulberry river, then descending the mountains into Johnson county, took up lodging with one, Mr. Jones, a good distance from Huntsville.(This foursome traveled on to the Arkansas River Valley to Galley Rock, in Pope County. The Blackburns and the Robinsons, my ancestors, found their promised land, and settled there.)
Mr. Darr tells of seeing a three hundred pound catfish on the ferry while crossing the Mississippi River. Members of the wagon train were advised to shave their heads before the trip, to make themselves less attractive to Indians. He tells a cute little story about a mess he found himself in, before the trip even got started.
"Must tell how I got in a tight place at our first camp. Many of the neighbors came to our camp and amongst them was a pretty and attractive young lady with the good name of Prudence, who made many remarks of regret because she could not accompany us as she had kinfolks amongst us. The writer, not looking for anything more serious than a joke remarked, “Why not go with me?” Oh Jerusalem! But she answered, “This is so sudden, but I will answer you in the morning before you leave camp.” Now, what was I to do? No trouble if her answer was “no,” but if “yes” the devil I would have to pay as I could not even care for myself, of course I would have to back down if yes, and treat it as a joke. But I done better. I hit the road and was several miles on my way at sunup. This taught me never to joke with a young lady on this subject unless prepared to foot the bill."
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
During the violence, Yeen Lan had 100 mouths to feed, and they were running out of food. In addition to the children, the national workers who were of the wrong tribe stayed there also. Leaving would have meant death.
Yeen Lan worried about the situation, one morning at her desk. Looking out the window, the Mango tree nearby was loaded with ripe fruit, a couple of month's early. She sensed God was saying to her, "Oh you crazy woman of little faith! I will provide." That spurred her to action. She called the UN across town. Yes, they had food. No, they could not bring it. The town was torn by violence. Sending the national workers for it would have meant sure death. So far, they were not yet killing whites. Doug and another White missionary Built a hidden compartment in a station wagon. They had to cross town multiple times, passing through roadblocks for both sides, to get the food back to Rafiki. The food, in the hidden compartment, was not found.
Doug told me that during the violence, once a group of hundreds of warriors walked past the gate, all making their war sounds. Not a fun time.
A great fear during that time was that a large group of tribesmen would come in and try to kill all the children that belonged to the other tribe. The child's name often gave away the tribe name. Remember Kip Keno, the great Kenyan distance runner? Many children from his tribe were in our village. They all carried the name "Kip."
That weekend, Yeen Lan had arranged a trip for us to the Tanzania Rafiki, which lies at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. This was a six hour trip by fast bus, which had only about three stops. The slow bus, which most of the natives rode, took two days, stopping at every village. At 6:30 AM we loaded on the bus. Emily went with us.
Rafiki Tanzania had been completed for only a short time, and only had high school age walk-ins currently. They were preparing for the babies. The first group would all be babies, and the next year, as they grew, another group of babies would enter.
The bus pulled up at the border, stopping on the Kenya side. It was a hectic, confusing place. People of every nationality, color, and tongue crowded into those small offices. We stood in very long lines to show our visa. Mostly, they just let everybody figure it out themselves. Barbara and I got help from a very tall, blonde German woman, who spoke very good English. Somehow, in the lines Emily got separated from us. We finished first, and headed back to the bus. The driver said he had to drive the bus to the other side, and the remaining passengers would walk across. Emily finished, walked back to the bus, and It was gone. She was in panic, momentarily, then thought, "Barbara and Pat would never let that bus leave me in this awful place." She was right. She finally located the bus.
We arrived at Moshe, and were picked up by the village director, Deb, a very nice lady from Texas. Rafiki, a few miles out, was shiny new, Surrounded by a tall wire fence. It was not as secure as our rock wall, but each house was a fortress in its own right. They were brick, with heavy metal grates over all the windows and doors. A beautiful mansion stood on a hill nearby. I asked who lived there. "Oh, thats the African Mafia," Deb said.
The majesty of Kilimanjaro did not appear until later in the day. When the top did begin to show, we had to raise our eyes up higher to see it than we would have ever thought. Far above the cloud layer. Words can't describe it, so I won't even try. Kilimanjaro is 19,000 feet high, the tallest free standing mountain in the world. It is snow capped, standing on the Equator. Deb had hiked it years before, a four day climb, the last day being through hellish arctic conditions. A guide service was a requirement, and it was very expensive. We were far too old, and way too poor, and not enough time.
Deb took us to Moshe, to show us around. The stores were very inexpensive, selling unbelievable things, but carrying them home is another matter. For lunch, we ate Somosas, a triangular shaped meat pie. Very good.
Native women, hair cut to the scalp, huge earrings hanging far down, in brightly colored wraps walked the streets. They carried large round platters filled with a very large load of bananas. Barbara longed to photograph them, but felt that would be impolite. Kilimanjaro produces a moist micro climate in Moshe, in this dry, arid bushland that is East Africa.
An old house beside the village housed 15 teenagers who go to school there. They make fantastic crafts to pay the rent. Barbara bought note cards, made from Banana leaves. We can look at them, but never figure out how they did that.
We went to church on Sunday with Deb. It was different, but we have the same God. A man and three women walked around, singing different parts of Christ's resurrection. It was very powerful.
We all drank from the large silver cup for communion. That part of the service was identical to that of St. Andrews church in Little Rock. The Little Rock church is a plant of the African church.
The Tall blonde German woman who befriended us at the border was there, and she turned out to be a friend of Deb's. She was a missionary, and spoke 8-10 languages.
Driving out of town, we saw a hospital that was named after Rosemary Jensen's husband, Dr. Bob. Rosemary Jensen is an angel-like lady who founded Rafiki. In a group photo, she once honored me by suggesting that she sit on my lap in the photo. But when I readily agreed, I learned that even a Saint can blush.
Yeen Lan called us the last day. We were able to tell her we had seen the top of Kilimanjaro every day, a rare event She told us she had prayed for us to see the mountain in all its glory. She said some people stay there for weeks without ever seeing the top. Don't doubt that Yeen Lan has those connections. I personally believe Yeen Lan is an African legend in the making. If we live long enough, many people will be enthralled to find we actually know her.
We got bad news just before heading back to Kenya. Deb told us our visa was a one way thing, and we would have to buy another to cross the border back into Kenya, at $100 each. No way around it, that's just how it's done. We didn't have that much on us, and only cash could be used.
Deb insisted on cashing a personal check of ours before we left. Barb seemed confident we would never need that money, I wasn't so sure, and I took Deb up on her offer. But, as I well knew, its very easy to underestimate Barbara's abilities, when it comes to public relations.
On the bus headed out, we saw many small, circular compounds in the bush. Mud and cow manure huts were surrounded by a high fence of thorns. Most were unoccupied. The Masai, with their herds of cattle, mules and goats, just went wherever the grazing was in this dry, arid land. The donkeys were used to haul containers of muddy water from sources that might be many miles away.
Drinking water was a real problem there. The Masai often had to drink from the same source the cattle had been in, a very bad thing in Africa. Many people die because of the water. Modern water wells and filtering systems could save many lives there.
Young boys herded the goats. "Isn't that dangerous?" I had asked. "Yes, we do lose boys often." Those who survive and become a man are a very formidable force, with only a spear, in protecting their herds.
Traditionally, a young Masai man has to draw first blood in the killing of a lion to become a man. One young warrior showed me how this was done.
When a lion stalks their animals, four or five warriors track it down. They surround it, each with a spear and a cowhide shield. The young warrior seeking to become a man confronts it. When the lion charges, he braces the back of the spear with his foot, points the spear at the charging lion. If things go well, the lion will be impaled, and the warrior crouches behind the cowhide shield. Other warriors then move in and help. This is technically not legal now, but many older men show many scars from the day they became a man.
Masai often open up a vein in a cow's neck, drink the blood, and close it back up.
When dry times hit, and the grazing dries up, They move the cattle into downtown Moshe, in the moist micro climate. They have been doing this for eons, long before Moshe, and besides, who is going to stand up and tell these warriors no? Since they strongly believe that all the cattle, and the grazing in the world belong to them, they go where they wish.
Before we reached the border, a large truck had wrecked, totally blocking the road. A large crowd of very scary people had gathered. The bus driver just hit the ditch, spun, backed up, over and over again, before getting around this. It looked like an impossible thing to do, but even I knew this would not be a good place to stop. When we hit the pavement, I yelled, "Let's hear it for THE MAN!" He got a big hand.
An older man and woman were on that bus. They looked like they had been out in the bush for a very long time. I sat down beside them, and started a conversation. I just had to know their story.
They were missionaries from Oregon. They came to Moshe regularly, and stay a few months at a time. They daily travel in a 4 wheel drive to remote Masai village, and minister to them. Their last trip to Africa, they went to a village where the children of the chief were sick. The witch doctor was not able to help them.
The chief called on the missionaries to heal them. They doctored them, to the best of their ability, and prayed for them. When they returned to that village on this trip, the children were well. The chief gave them, and God, all the credit. Along with that, he gave them a large plot of land. They were returning to America to start raising funds to build a hospital and a church on that land.
He said they had gotten malaria a few times, but they take a shot and go on. Their African guide and interpreter is also their African connection, and travels with them.
We have all heard stories of brave and dedicated African missionaries. The African bush is full of many more we have not heard of. Many self sacrificing men and women, from many countries, are fulfilling the Great Commission. These people, the seven missionaries at Rafiki, and Deb, are just a few. They are bypassing the comforts of home, family, and security, and giving their lives to this work. It is an honor for a pretend missionary, such as myself, to be able to know and work alongside these people, if only for a short time.