The West Fork Valley: Its environs and settlement before 1900

Conrad Yoes, pictured here, was among the earliest settlers along the West Fork valley, arriving around 1822. The extended Yoes family, recent immigrants from Germany, sent down strong roots and became an influential part of county history. Conrad became nicknamed as “Coon Rod” because of his willingness to cross high water creeks on a log in order to carry out his preaching mission. According to a descendant,

“He started on his circuit one day, came to the creek, the ford could not be crossed, so he found where someone had felled a tree across the stream so he “cooned” it and so got that nickname.

In another of Bert Yoes recollections about his grandfather, he said that Conrad was a “small man” who could “conjure warts and stop blood flow.”

Conrad Yoes’ son, Jacob “Black Jake” Yoes served in Union forces during the Civil War then as sheriff of Washington County. With the timber boom that came with the opening of the railroad in 1882, Jacob turned his energy to building a business empire with mercantiles at multiple stops between Fayetteville and Van Buren. The two-story brick store he built at West Fork remains standing today. In 1889, Jacob became a legendary U. S. Marshal working for Hanging’ Judge Parker at Fort Smith, allegedly the inspiration for John Wayne’s famous role in the movie “Big Jake.”

The story of the Yoes family is just one of many documented in these pages, all of them building lives and rich histories along the river valley, all of it fascinating to anyone interested in the 19th century settlement of Washington County.

The West Fork of White River created the West Fork valley and continues to shape it today. Streams, creeks, and springs drain down the steep hillsides to form the river and carve this particular place on Earth. This book is about that valley, how it formed over millions of years, how Nature filled it with plants and animals, how Native people found sustenance and shelter here. And then the immigrants came, arriving from the eastern seaboard of the early colonies, from Europe and beyond. Within these pages are the stories of the first settlers here, the roads and towns they made, the war they fought, and their paths to survival through the end of the 19th century.

Subsequent chapters describe the mills, churches, and early roads as well as the neighbor-to-neighbor conflict of the Civil War. Stagecoaches hurtled down the valley roads, later supplanted by the iron horse with the completion of the railroad tunnel at Winslow. A chapter on crime reveals shootouts, knife fights, and barn burning. Histories of Winslow, Brentwood, Woolsey, West Fork, and Greenland outline their origins and heydays.

One of several 5 star reviews: “The research involved to create such a great history is very obvious. I wanted to know more about my home which was built in 1840 and the family behind many of the objects found on the property. Ms. Campbell’s book answered many of those questions and helped me develop a treasured sense of place. We seem to have lost our appreciation for where we came from and how we created communities. So great to see Campbell’s thorough research and ability to bring the past alive.”

Get your copy today at Amazon.com or at the Headquarters House offices of the Washington County Historical Society.

Take Note While You Can!

Make good use of that chaotic holiday family gathering! Record family history told by Aunt Tilley and Grandmother Joan while they’re still around or forever regret the history you’ve lost. Interview Granddad Hiram, racy jokes and all. These stories never go out of style! And your grandchildren will thank you.


Wait no longer! Take some time today to write down something, even a few words. Fifteen minutes. An hour. What you write doesn’t have to be a 400-page novel—it can be a list of things you remember about your grandmother. Put her full name at the top of the sheet of paper and then the date and place she was born, if you know it. Who did she marry and when, where? What places did they live? What were the names and birth dates of their children? Did she keep a garden? Crochet? Play tennis every week? Every detail you record will color in the lines of a story prized by your descendants.

Whatever direction your road leads, never doubt that your efforts will be greatly appreciated not only by other family members now but also by those who come after you. Knowing the names, activities, whereabouts, and personalities of our forefathers and foremothers offers each of us a comforting sense of place, a mirror to reflect our greater selves, and reassurance that life for your kind goes on no matter what. Personal and family histories are a critical tool for your descendants to more fully understand what has led to who they are.

Or maybe you’ve been thinking about telling your personal story, those life-changing moments you’ll never forget. This easy-to-follow guide walks you through the steps of making it real: gathering and organizing information, changing a bare-bones family tree or personal memoir into a fascinating narrative, and putting it into print – at no cost!

This book covers the fundamental stages of writing family history or an autobiography with pointers on fleshing out details into compelling narratives, how to organize your materials, and building a story.

The book also provides clear guidelines on how to self-publish: what software to use and how to use it, step-by-step guidance for working with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, and understanding important elements like genre. You’ll find discussion about getting reviews and marketing as well as useful hints about maintaining those tender creative sensibilities in the face of seemingly overwhelming obstacles.

Don’t miss your holiday opportunities to gather your family history and turn it into a record to be prized by generations to come. Grab your copy today at Amazon.com

Thinking of investing in real estate? A cautionary tale

Dragging a building back from the brink–rotted roof, sagging floor joists, and years of sheltering homeless people were just a few of the tasks waiting this new owner.

What began as a quest for a larger yet affordable shop space for a small-town repair business turned into a thirty-year adventure in the ups and downs of real estate ownership with detours into such unexpected crises as adverse possession, lawsuits, evictions, city ordinance violations, easements, and endless tenant drama.

The author of this blow-by-blow account offers helpful hints based on hard-earned lessons about ownership of commercial property in a rapidly growing part of the country, Northwest Arkansas. Perhaps even more helpful to anyone interested in dabbling in this particular type of investment opportunity is the entertaining narrative tracking one person’s struggle to learn, adapt, and survive in the onslaught of unexpected legal, construction, and tenant challenges while raising three children and surviving a failed marriage.

Will the story end in despair and bankruptcy? Or will the investment pay off with retirement income sufficient to keep body and soul together into the twilight years?

Author of “how-to” books and over a dozen studies of local history, Campbell’s incisive observations about her adventures in the local real estate market offers a treasure-trove of advice to anyone contemplating investing in commercial real estate. This richly-told story is a profile of how to get in cheap and make it work for anyone looking to provide a decent return on almost zero dollars and a lot of sweat equity.

Grab your copy today! Amazon.com

Rex Perkins, Fayetteville’s celebrated old school attorney

Of all the stories still told about Rex Perkins, none has enjoyed such ongoing and avid public interest as the murder trial of Virginia “Queenie” Rand. Mrs. Rand, an attractive brunette and wife of J. O. Rand, a prominent Rogers businessman, was charged with the crime of second degree murder for the killing of Harry V. “Buddy” Clark on August 9, 1959. Clark, married and father of two, was shot in Virginia Rand’s bedroom.

The Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision in the Rand v. State appeal was delivered December 12, 1960. Their summary of the offense follows:

“It appears from the record that on the evening of August 8, 1959, the deceased, Clark, and his wife entertained Mr. and Mrs. Sam Davis in their home. At about 1:15 a.m. on August 9, Mr. and Mrs. Davis left the Clark home and at the same time Clark left in his car to check the receipts at the Horseshoe Grill, a café which he owned located some 8 blocks from the Clark home in Rogers. Although the evidence is somewhat uncertain, it is clear that Clark finished his work at the café and at 1:30 a.m. the night police radio operator received a call from a woman identifying herself as appellant, who said: “Send someone out here, I have had some trouble.” After the radio operator sent a patrolman to the Rand home, the appellant called again and said: “I have shot a man. I shot Buddy Clark.” Upon arrival at the Rand home, the patrolman was told by appellant that she shot Clark in her bedroom. The patrolman immediately went to the hospital where he found Clark on the floor in the hall. Nurses at the hospital testified that Clark came in the front door and fell to the floor. The records show he was admitted at 1:45 a.m. He expired at 4:17 a.m. that same morning.

“The patrolman testified he found tracks in the heavy dew going in and out of the Rand house and found a gun about 4 to 6 feet from these tracks. There were two bullet holes in the bedroom walls and 5 empty cartridges were found in the bedroom. The deceased was shot 4 times—3 times in the chest and one time in the right arm. No trace of blood was found in or around the Rand house but there was blood on the steering wheel and door of Clark’s automobile.”

The case transcript runs 796 pages leading some to observe that everybody in town must have testified. The question before the jury in the second trial, ordered after the appeal was: Is she guilty of murder? Can Rex get her off?

Rex Perkins was the man of the hour in this case, just as he had been in just about every other case he ever faced from the start of his legal career in 1932. But the law wasn’t his only passion. He loved his hunting dogs almost as much as he loved his wife and daughters, but none of that stood in the way of his pursuit of a strong drink and other women. Most of all he loved to play his fiddle. Truly a man with powerful passions and incisive intellect, even sixty years after his death, his memory remains strong within Washington County’s legal community.

Read his fascinating life story from a time when courtroom hijinks ranked high in the arsenal of criminal defense attorneys like Perkins. Available at Amazon.com

Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West

The execution site perched on a low hill lying just east of the National Cemetery in south Fayetteville, about one mile from the county jail at the town square. Its position served well in accommodating large crowds of observers anxious to watch the hanging. The place later became known as Gallows Hill and remained in use for executions until the Civil War. After the war, in 1867, the site was taken over by the federal government and became part of the National Cemetery.

On a cold clear November day, the couple was brought by wagon to the wooden platform, a hood placed over their heads and then the noose, and last prayers uttered. It seemed the entire county’s population had turned out to witness the macabre event as the drop doors opened and Crawford and Lavinia fell into the arms of death.

Soon after the execution of his parents, John Burnett was arrested in southeast Missouri and brought back to Fayetteville. The testimony of Sharp quoted previously in this story was given by Sharp at John Burnett’s trial. On December 4, 1845, John Burnett was indicted and quickly sentenced to his fate. The same gallows awaited him. Despite his attorneys’ protestations of his innocence, of which they were fully convinced, thirty-four-year-old John Burnett was hung on the day after Christmas, December 26, 1845.

What unspeakable crime could have sent the Burnett family to their deaths?

Murder, it was alleged, planned by the aging parents and facilitated by their son John. Murder of an old man named Jonathan Selby, a recluse rumored to hoard wealth in his remote cabin, not an uncommon thread of gossip about someone who didn’t make himself known within social circles. His cash payment for his eighty acres contributed to this idea. He may have exhibited a degree of wealth by purchasing livestock or building materials for his home, outbuildings, or fences. Later court testimony revealed that he had made the mistake of allowing someone to see him place a quantity of money into his wallet.

Did the murderers find a money hoard? Did the Burnett’s daughter Minerva regret her role in her family’s execution? These are a few of the questions that linger after a crime like this, a crime that led to the first execution of a woman in the State of Arkansas.

~~~

Contrary to popular notion, Arkansas was part of the Old West along with Texas and the rest of those more familiar dusty southwestern places. Its western border joined up with the Indian Nations where many a weary marshal rode out with his bedroll and pistol carrying writs from the U. S. District Court at Fort Smith in a search for a steady stream of men rustling livestock, stealing horses, selling whiskey, or running from the law.

From its earliest days, Washington County, Arkansas, experienced some of the worst the Old West had to offer. At unexpected moments, county settlers faced their fellow man in acts of fatal violence. These murderous events not only ended hopeful lives but also forever changed those who survived them. Not to say that the murders in the county all stemmed from conflict along its western border—plenty of blood spilled within its communities and homesteads.

The fifty chapters of Murder in the County each focus on one violent incident. Through family histories, legal records, and newspaper accounts, the long-dead actors tell their shocking stories of rage, grief, retaliation, and despair. Now, for the first time, readers can discover the horrors and mysteries of those long lost days.

Available at Amazon.com

More Adventures of Denny Luke: City-Boy Plowing and other blasphemies

Following the success of his first book, South County: Bunyard Road and the Personal Adventures of Denny Luke, Denny Luke found himself remembering even more moments in his life that seemed worthy of recording.  Brief moments, some of them. Others spurred by a photograph here and there.

Always accommodating to his friends and family, Denny divulges various secrets and outrages that occurred at various points in his eighty years – so far.

Take what you will from his stories, he gives it all in good humor and humility. 

Here’s a taste:

Runaway

Age 12 or 13, I knew everything! Parents disagreed of course, so I plotted to run away. Living in Beloit, Wisconsin, where should I go? Having the entire world to choose from, decided on California, endless beaches, hot rods and beautiful weather and I could get there on my thumb.

Headed west, must change my name, I thought, to disguise myself, picked ‘Conrad Davis.’ Sounded right in case I hit Hollywood.

Somewhere in Iowa a fella picked me up in Chevy station wagon. Stated he’d just installed an anti-sway bar and watch this! He flew around curves, in the days before seat belts, had me white knuckling for my life.

Next, picked up by a guy attending an all-night meeting. He liked me, said I could sleep in the back of his car. Lit out at first light, back on the road.

Next evening was pondering what to do for the night…

Read all of it and much more in this slim but rich treasure trove of ‘Dennyspeak’! Available at Amazon

Immigration Problems Will Only Get Worse

Americans should not fail to recognize the inevitable: the immigration problem will only get worse. The current crisis with Haitians flooding the Texas border isn’t an isolated event. Haitians (and Hondurans and Salvadorans and Guatemalans, Vietnamese and Jews, etc.) have been seeking asylum in the United States for decades. The irony is that Europeans invaded a populated continent in the 15th and 16th centuries in order to gain shelter from abuses and to gain better livelihood. We are those Europeans…and all who have come since.

“Of the roughly 1.8 million Haitians living outside their homeland, the United States is home to the most, about 705,000. Significant numbers of people from the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country also have settled in Latin American countries like Chile, where an estimated 69,000 Haitian immigrants reside, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

“Nearly all Haitians reach the U.S. on a well-worn route: Fly to Brazil, Chile or elsewhere in South America. If jobs dry up, slowly move through Central America and Mexico by bus and on foot to wait — perhaps years — in northern border cities like Tijuana for the right time to enter the United States and claim asylum…

“Many Haitians began attempting to enter the U.S. in the 1980s by sea. Most of them were cut off by the Coast Guard and perhaps given a cursory screening for asylum eligibility, said David FitzGerald, a sociology professor at the University of California, San Diego and an asylum expert. In 1994, U.S. authorities reached an agreement with Jamaica to anchor ships off its coast to hold shipboard hearings for Haitians intercepted on boats. Attempts by sea waned after a Supreme Court decision allowing forced repatriations without refugee protections.”[1]

Illegal immigration from Haiti has plagued multiple presidencies. After the devastating earthquake in 2010, Haitians first flocked to Brazil to jobs in support of the 2016 Olympics. When those jobs dried up, President Obama at first allowed some to enter the U.S. on humanitarian grounds, but soon began flying them back to Haiti. Trump’s solution was widely panned for its inhumanity, and now Biden faces even bigger numbers of determined illegal immigrants due to the recent assassination of the Haitian president and ensuing political chaos, exacerbated by yet another massive earthquake.

Under Biden, the United States has pledged more than $32 million in aid to Haiti in addition to the disbursement of more than 160,000 pounds of food aid, construction of field hospitals and temporary shelters, and has flown more than 400 injured Haitians to medical attention in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere. But U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Stephanie Power remarked that the United Nations estimates a total need of over $187 million. All this follows a similar aid effort after the 2010 earthquake of over two billion which still reverberates through USAID and the Red Cross, among others.

2015 report by the Government Accountability Office found the USAID efforts were hampered by ”lack of staff with relevant expertise, unrealistic initial plans, challenges encountered with some implementing partners, and delayed or revised decisions from the Haitian government.”[2]

“The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people, but the number of permanent homes the charity has built is six. NPR and ProPublica went in search of the nearly $500 million [donated for this cause] and found a string of poorly managed projects, questionable spending and dubious claims of success, according to a review of hundreds of pages of the charity’s internal documents and emails, as well as interviews with a dozen current and former officials.”[3]

Haiti is not the only neighboring nation subject to earthquake and devastating hurricanes. In the coming decades as sea levels rise and incidence of violent weather increases, human populations will suffer more such hardships. All the Caribbean islands as well as coastal cities including our own will face the destruction of storm surges, hurricanes, and other flooding.

Of course our first reaction to news reports showing border patrol officers on horseback charging at desperate refugees is sympathy for the refugee and disgust with the officers’ tactics. But we need to ask ourselves, honestly, what are the options?

Already we have spent billions of taxpayer dollars in an effort to rebuild Haiti so that its people can remain and thrive in their homeland. But isn’t this a repeat of similarly futile efforts in areas of the United States where massive flooding occurs yet when the water recedes, we provide money to rebuild in the same flood-prone locations?

Current crisis at Del Rio, Texas.

We have just witnessed influx of over 70,000 refugees from Afghanistan as the extremist Taliban takes charge of that country.  The need to accommodate refugees on our lands is not limited to neighboring countries like Haiti. We’ve seen the steady push of Syrian refugees into Europe, of Palestinians, of Colombians… As of 2020, 82.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order. Of these, nearly 26.4 million are refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18.[4]

Lest we in the United States shed a tear for all our sacrifices, readers should be aware that the U.S. falls far short of addressing the global refugee crisis compared to other nations. The following report by the Norwegian Refugee Council reveals the big picture. In order of the most refugees per a nation’s population, here are the heavy lifters:

1. Lebanon – 19.5 per cent of the total population

Lebanon, with a population of 6.8 million, is currently hosting an estimated 1.5 million refugees from Syria. The real number is probably even higher because the national authorities demanded that the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) stop the registration of new refugees in 2015. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees live in the country.

Lebanon itself has been ravaged by a civil war that lasted from 1975 until 1990. It is a densely populated country with a fragile political balance between different ethnic and religious groups.

In 2019 and 2020, the situation has gone from bad to worse, with large-scale popular protests eventually leading to the Prime Minister’s resignation. Unemployment is sky-high and the country’s currency has dropped in value by 85 per cent, meaning much of the population is no longer able to afford the necessities of survival. Recent surveys put more than 50 per cent of the population below the poverty line. For Syrian refugees, the figure is even higher, with 83 per cent living below the extreme poverty line.

On top of an already difficult situation came the Covid-19 pandemic and the Beirut explosion, which killed more than 200 people, wounded more than 6,000 and displaced around 300,000. Lebanon now has an urgent need for the rest of the world to step up and help the country that has taken the greatest responsibility for helping displaced people.

2. Jordan – 10.5 per cent

Jordan has received over one million refugees in the last ten years. The vast majority were fleeing neighbouring Syria. While a comparatively small number have since decided to return to Syria or have been able to resettle in other countries, there are still more than 660,000 Syrian refugees registered with the UN refugee agency living in Jordan today.

Over 80 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in urban centers where they face the challenge of finding sustainable work and affordable housing. Competition for limited employment opportunities can lead to tensions with the local population. The remaining 20 per cent of Syrian refugees live in one of two refugee camps, established by the Jordanian authorities for Syrian refugees and managed by the UN refugee agency.

Jordan also houses 2.3 million Palestinian refugees. These are people who fled or were expelled from their country during the 1947-49 Palestine war and the Six Day War in 1967, and their descendants.

3. Nauru – 5.9 per cent

This small island state has received boat refugees who were trying to get to Australia when Australian authorities refused to accept them. The UN refugee agency has been highly critical of the agreement Australia has made with Nauru and other countries and is concerned about the reprehensible conditions the refugees live under. Australia has now agreed to stop sending refugees to Nauru.

4. Turkey – 5.0 per cent

Turkey has received more refugees than any other country since 2011 – as many as 4.3 million. Turkey is a large and populous country and is better equipped to handle the challenge than, for example, Lebanon. Nevertheless, it is challenging to provide protection to such a large number of people within a few short years. Turkey signed an agreement with the European Union (EU) in 2016 that prevents refugees from moving on to Europe. This has had serious consequences for both the refugees who have made it to Greece and those who remain in Turkey.

5. Liberia – 4.1 per cent

Liberia is another country that has shown great hospitality to displaced people. It has received 212,000 refugees, even while the country itself was in a difficult situation. Liberia went through a long and bloody civil war just a few years before it opened its doors to refugees from the Ivory Coast. It was also hit hard by Ebola, which meant that refugees from the neighbouring country could not return home as quickly as the UN refugee agency had planned.

6. Uganda – 3.7 per cent

Uganda has received 1.7 million refugees over the last ten years and is one of the largest recipients of refugees in the world. In recent years, Uganda has provided protection to people from DR Congo and South Sudan in particular, but the country has also received refugees from Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda and several other countries. Uganda is a pioneer in integrating refugees and giving them full rights.

7. Malta – 2.7 per cent

Malta is the Western country that has received the most refugees relative to its population. The country is located near the coast of North Africa and receives many refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe from Libya. The pressure has become even greater since Italy has made it almost impossible for rescue vessels to dock at its own ports.

8. Sudan – 2.6 per cent

With over one million refugees since 2010, Sudan is the fifth largest recipient country in absolute numbers. Most have fled the conflict in neighboring South Sudan. Sudan is also a key transit country for refugees from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, among others, who are trying to flee to Europe.

9. Sweden – 2.6 per cent

Sweden has long had the most generous refugee policy in Europe and, unlike many other countries, has actively welcomed refugees. But the large influx of refugees to Europe in 2015, where many European countries were unwilling to share the responsibility, led the government to introduce a temporary law that limited the rights of refugees to a minimum of what the country has committed itself to through international conventions. Despite this, Sweden still received far more refugees than most European countries.

10. South Sudan – 2.5 per cent

Although South Sudan is better known for its own displaced population, it is also home to more than 300,000 refugees from neighbouring countries. Most are refugees from Sudan who fled conflict in the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile in the years after South Sudan gained its independence in 2011.

In addition to these ten countries that have received the most refugees relative to their population, there are certain populous countries that have received a large number of refugees during this period and have contributed positively to giving many people a secure future.

The most important of these countries are:

Germany – 1,265,000 refugees (1.5% of the total population)

Ethiopia – 943,000 (0.8%)

United States – 773,000 (0.23%)

Bangladesh – 675,000 (0.4%)

Kenya – 394,000 (0.7%)

Russia – 453,000 (0.3%)

Cameroon – 416,000 (1.5%)[5]

~~~

Clearly these various concentrations of refugees result from the recipient nations’ proximity to those in crisis. Just as Haitians find the United States near enough to gain access to our borders, so do populations in the Middle East seek safety in nearby places. Yet the numbers alone should help us in the U.S. consider the big picture of what likely lies ahead not only for us, but for the rest of the world.

Nations in political crisis have no leadership or organizational capability to handle emergencies like floods, earthquakes, or war. Just as wars in the Middle East will likely not end anytime soon, and thus refugees in that region will continue to seek safety and the means of livelihood, so will environmental and political crises continue to send waves of refugees to American borders.

Americans need to unify behind some clear-cut policy.

  • Do we allow refugees to enter the country illegally? If not, what is the answer to situations like the current influx of Haitians? Aside from a fence, which has already been considered, tried, and seen to fail, what possible barrier can we construct to force refugees to abide by our policies?
  • Border patrol agents are duty bound to stop people from swarming into the U.S. illegally. Is it unreasonable for them to chase down people trying to evade our laws? It seems clear that anyone trying to enter the country illegally already knows they are breaking the law. That does not bode well for their actions and attitude once in our communities.
  • We have rules, specific steps a person must take to apply for asylum before entering the U.S. Are we to ignore those rules?  
  • How much money should we spend to improve conditions in places like Haiti?
  • How much should the U.S. or the UN interfere in places like Haiti where the government has more or less collapsed following the assassination of their president? Do we or the UN force a government model and de facto leaders in such situations? The U.S. has a dark history of interfering in the governments of other countries, most notably in efforts to displace so-called socialist or communist regimes, which in turn has contributed to their political instability. How would our interference now be any different?
  • What is the alternative?

Each of us needs to consider these questions and understand our responsibilities to communicate with our elected representatives as they grapple with this problem.

TOPSHOT – Newly sworn in US citizens celebrate and wave US flags during a naturalization ceremony at the Lowell Auditorium, where 633 immigrants became US citizens on January 22, 2019 in Lowell, Massachusetts. (Photo by Joseph PREZIOSO / AFP)JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty Images

[1] https://apnews.com/article/technology-mexico-texas-caribbean-united-states-ac7f598bafd44b3f95b786d2d800f3ce

[2] https://www.npr.org/2021/08/26/1031496730/the-u-s-is-pledging-aid-to-haiti-but-the-success-of-past-efforts-has-been-mixed

[3] https://www.npr.org/2015/06/03/411524156/in-search-of-the-red-cross-500-million-in-haiti-relief

[4] https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html

[5] https://www.nrc.no/perspectives/2020/the-10-countries-that-receive-the-most-refugees/

Email to my Christian Siblings

Recently in discussing the role of religion in wars over the centuries, my sister wrote:

“The Jewish people conquered and obtained land,  because God told them to. He kept his word to Abraham, telling him he would give his descendants that land, though it took hundreds of years. He said plainly in his word that it wasn’t due to the goodness of the Hebrews, but as a punishment to the nations there, due to their unacceptable practices…”

I wrote back:

Surely you realize that the claim that ‘God told us to do it’ is an entirely self-serving justification for whatever the Jews wanted to do. The Old Testament, written by Jews, is full of their violent behavior, not only by conquering tribes in order to seize the lands, but in admonitions like ‘an eye for an eye’ and other aspects of their primitive early laws. 

By the way, if you ever want to know how the Israelis got a lot of their Old Testament stories–especially the creation stories–check out Sumerian history recorded on clay tablets. The Sumerian civilization predates the rise of Jewish tribes by at least a thousand years. Tribal people who would become Israel lived in the hills around early Sumerian cities and adopted much of the Sumerian mythology. Here are a few of the Biblical stories that are copied from earlier Sumerian beliefs:

  • In the beginning, there was chaos (Enuma Elish–Sumerian story of creation)
  • Chaos was transformed to order (Enuma Elish)
  • God/gods created all things (Enuma Elish)
  • Light existed before the creation of the sun and moon (Enuma Elish)
  • God/gods were displeased with humanity and decided to destroy humanity via the flood (Epic of Gilgamesh, Eridu Genesis, and the Epic of Atrahasis)
  • The flood (Sumerian kings list)
  • One man and his family survived the flood (Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld)
  • Those on the Ark opened a window near the end of the journey sending birds as scouts
  • Food and drink can give eternal life (Adapa)
  • After the flood, this one man gave thanks to his God
  • The early settlers in Mesopotamia were of one speech (Enmerkar and the Lord Aratta)
  • The language was confused (Enmerkar and the Lord Aratta)
  • Migration originated from those who survived the flood
  • The Sumerians knew the concept of eternal life in paradise and were seeking it (Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld)
Part of the preserved clay tablet record of Sumeria

But I’m off topic. I deviated into that to explain why I have zero faith in the Jewish idea that they were God’s chosen people. They were just a scrappy little fringe tribe that came together around an adopted mythology and used violence to take what they wanted.

Warmongering and violence inflicted by the Jews is part and parcel of their history. Consider when God instructs King Saul to attack the Amalekites: “And utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them,” God says through the prophet Samuel. “But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. When Saul failed to do that, God took away his kingdom. In modern terms, God was demanding genocide of an entire people.

But then, the Old Testament idea of God included wiping out all of humanity because God was offended by sin. According to the Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods who set up the great flood were offended by the NOISE.

Similar edicts by God urged the ‘utter destruction’ of the Canaanites when the actual motivation for Jews was to take over Canaan instead of continuing to live in the mountainous regions where few crops could thrive. i.e.–the Jews wanted the land and they’d do whatever it took to get it including slaughtering as many Canaanites as necessary including women and children.

Part of a new print ad for Henry guns; a new TV commercial plays up the brand’s origins as made in the United States. From The New York Times, “My Rifle, My Bible and Me” by Stuart Elliott, Sept 17, 2009

Yes, the New Testament claims certain teachings of Christ were meant to limit or eradicate the old ‘eye for an eye’ mindset of the Old Testament. “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing,” for example. But I’m pretty sure that while this idea sounds good in church, in reality many Christians today are among the first to hoard guns and exert deadly force when they feel they are threatened. It is Christians who pray over a campfire then turn around and start killing Afghans, or Syrians, or whoever else they decide to improve or challenge in their native lands! 

Or, on a lesser more pathetic scale, pray in a huddle to win a football game before trotting onto the field to physically assault one another.

To me, even going into places to evangelize — teaching the ‘pitiful heathens’ about God — is a form of violence. There are tribes who existed for thousands of years in peace, living off the land and worshiping in their own way, now told that their beliefs are all wrong and they must adopt this new religion in order to be ‘saved.’ Suddenly they become caught up in a war of dogmas–Islam vs Christianity, mostly, although in India and Myanmar for example, the conflict is between Buddhism and Islam. Africa right now is an absolute nightmare of warring tribes operating under the flag of Islam or Christianity, a situation I blame entirely on Christian missionaries who were so arrogant to believe that undermining tribal traditions with this new religion could ever turn out well.

While we can agree that Islam is often the birthplace of radical sects pursuing jihad in the name of their religion, we can’t escape the long history of equally abhorrent behavior by Jews and Christians. I mean, all you have to do is read through the Old Testament to see the countless times that the Jews use “God said” to justify their aggression against other people who possessed lands or other resources the Jews wanted. According to the pope, God said Christian crusaders should invade the Middle East and exterminate the ‘infidels’ (Muslims) who had occupied Israeli (Canaanite) lands for 500 years. The latest version of this mindset is before us today–Israel has not only taken most of the land away from Palestinians, but continues to attack and kill those who protest and move forward with taking more land–bulldozing homes, orchards, and gardens to drive out Palestinians. The situation in Israel is infuriating to any neutral observer. 

I think this kind of attitude of ‘God said’ and its subsequent use to justify aggression both in personal dealings and in national ones, is an underlying cause of the hatred directed toward Jews over the centuries. At the end of WWII, sympathy for the Jews after Hitler’s holocaust led Western powers to grant Jews a place of their own by taking a SMALL PART of Palestine to create Israel. Jews had not ‘owned’ a homeland since around 600 AD, so it’s hardly a matter of giving back what had been theirs any time recently. What other place on earth takes land away from its current occupants and gives it to people who lived there 1,400 years ago? This came about due partly to a strong Zionist movement among the Jews living in places like the U.S. as well as Christian fundamentalists eager to facilitate the predictions of Revelations. *sigh*

Here’s what the Jews have done with that:

image.png

Finally — here’s a hilarious take on the situation with the land now mostly called Israel.
https://vimeo.com/199418954

Sibling response to this email? Silence.

And that’s fine, because a) there is no reasonable response, b) we’ve argued about this for decades, and c) they do not have interest in challenging the belief system in which they’ve been brainwashed since birth. They’re comfortable with what they believe. How I escaped is beyond my comprehension, but I am thankful for it. I’m especially encouraged that nearly one out of three people in the U.S. today share my disgust with religion and the evil it often perpetrates.

I Met a Goat on the Road and other stories of life on this hill

Rain

Let the rains come. Let it seal me inside my house, all gray and dark. I will turn on lamps, pools of yellow light that warm me, bring me to my favored place at the end of the couch. Books and magazines and yesterday’s newspaper beckon me with tidbits from the obituaries and the editorial columns. I will clean my nails and stare at the wall that needs painting.

The rain overcomes my senses, filling my nostrils with its unmistakable scent.

Let the rain pour. Sheets of rain, pounding on the roof, obscuring the profile of houses down the hill. Taking away my worries of the bills that are due, the tires that need replacing. Thankful I am home. The noise of the rain on the roof takes away the noise of the world.

Soup for dinner. Quiet, hot food, soft in my mouth, accompaniment to the cacophony of thoughts that clamor for my time, my attention. When the repairs to the bathroom tile? When the vet for the cat’s injured ear? When the time to wander in the yard, staring at moths and yellow-flowering weeds and the lighted distance through low tree limbs? To contemplate the sky, radiant blue, outlined in the mid-summer green of oak leaves?

Pour, rain. Let me sit in my robe on the side of my bed, cooled, moistened, lulled by the steady drone on the roof. Let me ignore the phone that rings shrilly in the far room, its third ring aborted by my pre-recorded voice, apologizing, placating. Go away, all of you. Can’t you see it’s raining?

I need to be alone. Time to consider the meaning of it all. Why the frantic awakenings and driving and worrying, this and that, meetings, advising, bank deposits, expectant friends. I need to step aside, look at the curve of the neck of my child, where the hair meets the skin of her neck and small new hair curls in the heat of the July afternoon, in the heat of her temper.

I need to contemplate the reasons I exist.

Thank you, rain. Thanks for the time you drowned out the world. Poured water across the ground in streams, in newfound passages of water across red clay dirt, across rocky, pebbly ground. Across pavement, steaming in the sun.

Let it rain.

~~~

This series of lyrical essays express the author’s love of nature and the wonders of life on an Ozark hilltop. Throw in a few neighbors who shoot copperheads or remodel the dirt road. Ask what is the role of human privilege over the fate of raccoon, opossum, reckless chickens, and random cats? Ponder the passage of time through a philosophical lens of wonder and delight. The seasons bring summer heat, winter snow, pouring rain, the power of fire. Lessons learned, questions posed–who has lived and died on this land? What is our responsibility to this place, its creatures, each other?

Come meet the goat on the road. Available at Amazon.com

The Jeff Bezos Problem

By Daniel Spils – originally posted to Flickr as Jeff visits the Robots, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11253016

This morning I received a query from a friend of mine asking where he could buy one of my books. He didn’t want to buy from Amazon and further line the pockets of Jeff Bezos.

This widespread reaction to Bezos’ fortune and his choices of how to spend his money has reached the point where I feel obligated to fully explain why my books are marketed at Amazon and why we might need to take deep breath and cut Bezos a tiny bit of slack.

In 1994 at the age of 32, Bezos decided to establish an online bookselling enterprise. Within the next twenty years, his company Amazon had expanded to offer an enormous range of products. But his original idea was about books. By the early 2000s, Bezos had expanded his concept to allow authors to publish their own books.

Before this, authors faced two options. Traditionally, a printed submission letter with an outline of the proposed book would be submitted to a publishing house for consideration. If interested, the publisher would request the manuscript for review. With a slim chance of acceptance, the book could easily languish in these dead end processes for years before a) a publisher somewhere accepted the book or b) the author gave up in despair.

By the end of the 20th century, publishing houses increasingly refused this first layer of submission from authors. Instead, authors were directed to find an agent who, after screening the manuscript, might deign to take the book under his wing and offer various revisions and plot recommendations before then trying to market the book to a publishing house. The publishing house still could refuse the book, but if they saw any promise in the project, their editors would pick through the manuscript for yet more revisions. Again, months turned into years while authors held onto hope, usually to ultimately meet with rejection.

Literary Criticism, caricature of literary critics removing passages from books that displease them, c.1830 Charles Joseph Travis de Villiers

Or worse. Two books of mine submitted in the late 1990s through this Sisyphean process ended up published by other people. I’ve described these infuriating experiences of intellectual property theft in previous blog posts here, here, and here.

The other option for authors was to self-publish. This path was taken by my mother who paid nearly $2,000 for her family history to appear in print. A friend of mine also took this route when she paid a vanity press to print a few thousand copies of her book, which she had to store in her garage and distribute herself. But along with the internet and the engineering genius of Bezos, Amazon formed a branch known as Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) where an author had total control over the publication of her/his book.

Print on demand simply means that when someone purchases a certain book, it is then printed and shipped. An author using KDP must prepare the manuscript by certain layout guidelines, but is then free to choose page size, white or cream paper, and certain other formatting options. The manuscript is uploaded at the KDP website and after proofing, the book is ready to purchase. The author can either use KDP’s cover templates to create the book’s cover or upload a cover file created entirely by the author. (I use Photoshop and thoroughly enjoy the use of color, imagery, and font choices.)

The freedom this provides an author is absolutely stunning.

A few print-on-demand enterprises co-exist with KDP, but KDP’s software is supremely user friendly and allows for maximum author flexibility. KDP also offers swift interaction with staff via email, chat, or phone if/when questions arise. KDP pricing, at least for paperbacks, means that authors gain a higher share of the sale price than is available through any other publishing outlet. Ebook pricing is not quite as competitive as a few other entities such as Smashwords, but promotional options are much wider.

My first book, Notes of a Piano Tuner, published in 1996 by a traditional small regional press, sold for $16.95. My royalty was one dollar. Through KDP, a recent book that retails for $26.95 pays me $8.70. KDP retains $7.47 for printing costs, and the rest is KDP profit. While that is a sizeable profit for KDP and its parent Amazon, I am still ahead of the 5.8% profit I received through traditional publishing. At $8.70, that’s over 32% profit.

Book market in India

Perhaps even more important for most authors is that self-pub books at KDP remain on their virtual bookshelves forever and essentially worldwide. These services are available to authors in India, China, Japan, and many other far flung locations and in their own language. KDP provides the services needed to register my ISBN number with the Library of Congress. They provide marketing tools I can use to promote my books. I don’t have to do anything for my books to be found in online searches for my subject matter.

While all this is wonderful and amazing and possibly would have occurred sooner or later without Jeff Bezos, the fact is that he was the one who made it happen.

Not to say there hasn’t been a downside to the avalanche of author-published books his brain child has created. Key to the bookselling industry have been the various filters through which a manuscript would pass—agents, editors, and ultimately reviewers who offer insight into the nature and quality of any particular book, thereby providing a prospective reader a guideline of sorts to measure whether plopping down the requisite dollars is a wise decision. But as this Indie avalanche hit mainstream reviewers like Book Review DigestBooklistBook World, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal or other traditional book review sources including Saturday Review, Observer, New York Times Book Review, and The New Yorker, the welcome mat quickly rolled up.

Self-publishing authors, known as Indies (independent), suffer no such critiques either before or after publishing. Some are able to pay a few of these review entities to gain a review, but the price is steep. Kirkus, for example, wants $500 per review for the onerous task. Most turn up their noses entirely.

The reason for this bottleneck in the literary pipeline is painfully clear to anyone who reads Indie books at random. The writing can be abysmally awful, everything from misspelled words to dangling modifiers and other grammatical abominations to outright absurdity in balanced presentation or research authenticity or, in fiction, plot line or character development. Furthermore, the Indie risk of showing one’s bare behind, i.e. complete lack of literary talent, is compounded at the review stand by the sheer quantity of self-published books flooding the marketplace.  

For a few genres, most notably romance fiction, a review option of sorts has sprung up to fill the gap. Facebook pages, groups, and multiple websites have proliferated where authors can submit a romance book for review. For a modest fee, usually $50 to $100, a promoter will set up review ‘tours’ that take a book through several such entities and can, in theory, rack up a nice quantity of reviews for that particular book which are then posted to the Amazon book listing page as well as to other book promotion sites like Goodreads. A rating of 5 stars is a sure path to reader interest, and most of these reviewers won’t post a review of less than 3 stars.

The Caxton Celebration – William Caxton showing specimens of his printing to King Edward IV and his Queen By The Graphic, June 30, 1877, p617. Retrieved from old-print.com. Printing up through the end of the 18th century was largely a product of wealthy patrons who paid for the books they wanted in print.

No such wondrous option exists for most other types of books. A few exist for science fiction, a few for historical fiction, but virtually none for nonfiction. Authors must find creative ways to let the public know about their books, which up to a few years ago could include setting up an author page on Facebook alongside a personal page. One author I know had gained nearly one thousand ‘followers’ on her Facebook author page, and each time she published a new book or wanted to promote an existing book, she simply posted an enticing bit on her author page and the majority of her followers would receive the notice on their newsfeed.

Sadly, those days ended with Facebook’s corporate rush for money. Now my friend’s author page posts are seen only by a half dozen or less of her followers. The only way she can make a bigger splash is to pay Facebook to promote her posts. Depending on her choice of audience, the number of days the post should run, and her spending limit, Facebook will promote the product. It has reached the point, however, where Facebook newsfeeds are so spammed with similar “sponsored” ads that people usually just scroll past.

Ironically, even traditional publishing has stopped most expenditures on book promotion. Publishing is less about literary accomplishment and more about profits, and the trimming has proceeded at pace. Authors whether Indie or not are expected to pay their way through book signing tours and public appearances.  

Despite these stumbling blocks in Indie publishing, the old publishing world has crumbled. Few corporate-owned publishers are willing to risk possible low returns on an investment of manpower, ink, warehousing, and distribution unless the odds are good that an adequate return is more or less guaranteed. That’s why books by celebrities and known authors crowd the shelves and why libraries, which depend on mainstream reviews to determine acquisitions, will rarely if ever shelve Indie books.

In my case, where the majority of my books are focused on local history, I can promote my books through networks of friends and in local outlets. In the case of the book my friend wants to purchase, Good Times: A History of Night Spots and Live Music in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the demand has been great enough that I have partnered with the Washington County Historical Society to serve as an outlet through which they gain a decent percentage of the sale price and which offers the interested public a local source for the book.

However, the book is still published by KDP. As the author, I pay only the printing cost and receive no royalty from the sale. Whatever margin I wish to receive is gained in the wholesale price I charge the historical society. But, simply put, that and the rest of my books likely would not exist without Bezos.