Easy Gift Shopping!

Books are gifts that last forever, endlessly entertaining for the recipient you have in mind. For the old codger in your family, give him (or her) a rush back to their prime with any of these four affordable treasures!

Gas, Grass & Ass

Seeking a self-sustaining life outside the city and a new start for her marriage, this twenty-five-year old woman boldly embarked on proprietorship of a full-service gas station along a busy highway in rural Arkansas. Her hope to live and work at her own place of business soon encountered not only the end of her marriage but also the entrenched conservatism of the rural South. Joyful in recounting her experiences in an endlessly astonishing parade of human nature, Campbell’s stories portray a unique slice of American life at a pivotal time with the fall of Richard Nixon’s presidency and the end of the Vietnam War. Buoyed by a wellspring of support and companionship, Campbell struggles to hang on to her dream of independence. Get your copy now!

5 star review: “I enjoyed this true story about a determined young woman in the early 70’s owning and operating a small gas station on her own. Interesting “characters” who frequent the station and the dynamics of small town life. Takes you back in time !”

Aquarian Revolution

They were the hippies, the drop-outs, the radicals. They came from New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and bought cheap Arkansas land where they could build lives with meaning. Often the topic of heated rhetoric and armchair analysis, those who went ‘back to the land’ rarely speak in their own voice. Now documented in these personal interviews, their stories reveal the guts, glory, and grief of the 1960s social revolution. Buy it today!

“Denele Campbell’s informative ‘Aquarian Revolution: Back to the Land’ fills a much-needed niche in the history of the Counter-Culture movement. Unlike in more crowded Europe, America’s rural expanse offered an escape, a new beginning in the 1960s, from a social cancer spreading through the dominant culture. The dream of finding land to till and an alternative life style had been an American dream since its founding. America’s cities, mired in racism, sexism, poverty, and riots, seemed doomed. The ‘baby boomers’ sought escape by going to the land, many for the first time. Denele Campbell has carefully chronicled the personal stories of thirty-two pioneers who opted to create their utopian vision in the Ozarks. As such, their quest is at times fascinating, amusing, and often painful. Yet, it is a good read for those who lived through this era as well as today’s young.” —-T. Zane Reeves, Regents’ Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico and author of Shoes along the Danube.

Ray: One Man’s Life

“I’ve had my jaw broke three times, my nose broke five times to the point that the VA had to do the operation they do to boxers. My hand’s been broke and on fire once, enough that the skin was gone clear back to my wrist. I’ve fell off buildings, ladders, and mountains. Somehow I survived all that craziness.”

How Ray Mooney survived the incredible journey of his life is indeed a question for the ages. Polio, combat assault jumps from helicopters in Vietnam, and three children by three different wives didn’t kill him. Neither did the flagrant murder of his father by his father’s latest wife. But the traumas changed him, as they would change any man.

Told in his own words, Ray’s life story rushes from one shocking experience to the next and brings him to the last days as he faces end stage lung disease. Turkey killer, outlaw, entrepreneur, and disabled vet, this boy from the horse farms and tobacco fields of Kentucky relates his adventures with wry wit and breathtaking honesty. Buy Ray’s story

South County: Bunyard Road and the Personal Adventures of Denny Luke

1972. A Yankee learns the Ozarks way and lives to tell his tales. Now almost a native, Denny fondly reminisces about the people and places of his adopted home.

Denny Luke is an adventurer. During his years as a Navy man, he built hot rods with money he made with shipboard loansharking. He returned to his native Ohio where he soon tired of the mechanic’s life. Computers had just started to break the surface in 1966, the perfect attraction to a young man with a sharp mind and plenty of ambition.

Hot cars and Enduro racing occupied Denny’s next few years as he helped usher in the computer age in Minneapolis. But another adventure awaited when in 1970 he fell in with a bunch of hippies. By 1972, he had found his way to the Ozarks.

An avid photographer and storyteller, Denny shares the adventures of his life as he recalls the outrageous backwoods tales and colorful characters who populate the southern fringe of Washington County in Northwest Arkansas.

Buy South County!

Shop Denele Campbell’s author page for all her books. You don’t have to be a geezer to find something you can’t live without! Amazon.com

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

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

The Violent End of the Gilliland Boys

On Friday, Christmas Day 1874, and after more than two years of near-death tension, Calvin “Bud” Gilliland joined an energetic crowd at the Lewis Mills, a thriving Northwest Arkansas community along the Middle Fork of White River. In celebration of the season, proud horse owners lined up their snorting high-tempered steeds to compete in a favored recreation of those times, horse racing. The dusty race track stretched down the long valley. More than few friendly bets changed hands among the crowd as people craned their necks to see the red flag at the far end flapping in the stiff breeze.

Bud walked among the gathered horses, greeting people he’d known all his growing up years. He kept looking around, anxious to spot a particular face. If he saw Newton Jones, he knew what he’d do. He clapped his hand against the Colts pistol holstered at his hip. Hidden under his overcoat, the weapon wouldn’t provoke any outcry. At the right time, he’d put it to good use.

As it happened, lands around the Middle Fork of White River wasn’t a great place for someone feuding with a Jones. The valley was the heart of Jones family lands. All the more reason for Bud to attend—he was sure to encounter Newton here. He paced a distance from the crowd, squinting under the overcast sky as he searched, finally satisfied the younger man wasn’t here yet. Bud squared his shoulders and lifted his chin. He’d waited long enough for this lily liver.

Newton had already saddled up when he got wind of Bud’s presence at the races. He’d been lying low, afraid of what Bud might do next. But as the season of holiday gathering approached, he’d decided he had to confront Bud, knowing the likelihood of his appearance at the races and infuriated over the near miss he’d suffered in Bud’s sights two years earlier. Bud’s brief time in jail hadn’t subdued him any. Those damn Gillilands thought they could get away with anything. And they damn near had.

Newton knew what it would take. He had a wife now and a baby on the way. The time for dangerous tomfoolery had ended.

A cold breeze ripped through the crowd as a man on a horse galloped in from the roadway. Bystanders had no time to react as Newton pulled up in a cloud of dust, whipped his Spencer rifle from its saddle scabbard, and quickly centered Bud in his sights. He took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger.

In a mere second, the leaden ball found its target. Shocked, Bud looked up into the eyes of his foe. A few men shouted amid the collective gasp as the gunshot echoed up the hillside.

The event would set off a chain reaction that would forever resonate through the region and the Gilliland and Jones families. Not only Bud but his two brothers Jeff and Fine would face other men at the point of a gun, and the killing didn’t stop there.

What was it about the Gillilands?

This recounting of the family tracks their ancestry, their pioneer years on untamed land, and the hard work that made them one of the wealthiest families in Washington County, Arkansas. A fascinating tale of brash ego, brave gallantry, and bad luck. Grab your copy today and ENJOY!

Ardent Spirits in Washington County: An examination of laws governing intoxicating drink

Pioneers who settled Washington County and other areas of the state in the early 1800s would have been shocked and highly annoyed with laws passed before the end of the century which regulated and ultimately prohibited the production and use of alcoholic drink. Personal freedoms taken for granted by men who forged the frontier slowly eroded as reform elements in society attempted to change the nation’s drinking habits. Instead of men guiding their own ‘manifest destiny,’ those who considered themselves “God’s defenders” presumed to know what was best for every man. Along with such moral regulations, however, came an onerous cost to the young nation as commonly accepted behavior became criminalized. Inevitably, the rule of morality would be replaced by the rule of outlaws.

…Washington County’s county seat Fayetteville hosted a well-established temperance movement by 1841, at which time the local chapter was humiliated by the discovery that its vice president had fled to Texas after embezzling over $20,000 through his job at the bank. Stirred to greater vigilance by this event, the society publicly excoriated a member who confessed to drinking wine. In another “outing,” the society issued a summons against such noteworthy local citizens as Joseph J. Wood, John J. Stirman, and H. J. Sanderson for “the violation of their pledge to said Society.” According to an account of the Fayetteville Temperance Society 1841-1844, published in the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, “Sanderson arose and publicly confessed that he frequently drank Ardent spirits and sometimes to excess.”  The Society approved a motion to report him as a person unworthy of membership.

Reflecting the increasing regulation and growing public hysteria about alcohol use under the incitement of temperance activists, the issuance of licenses in Washington County dropped off dramatically by the mid-1850s. In 1855, the Arkansas legislature passed a law allowing local townships to vote whether to allow alcohol sales within their boundaries. Fayetteville’s newspaper the South-West Independent carried frequent comment on this state of affairs, the tenor of which insinuates the editor’s low regard for such efforts, such as this February 10, 1855, piece:

“Bear it in mind, that the law now in force, in regard to retailing ardent spirits, requires the individual wishing to set up a dram shop to present to the county court a petition signed by a majority of the voters of the township in which the grocery is to be located, before he can obtain license to retail drams!

“Some of these petitions are already before the people, and it will soon be tested whether a majority of voters of Washington county are in favor of retail liquor shops or not. We believe, however, that there is, at present, only one licensed grocery in the county, and it may be that the hundred dollar tax will prevent the test from being applied to all but Prairie township; if so, the present law will affect only the people in and about Fayetteville. Practically, the passage of this law can affect Washington county but little. Still, for its moral effect, the public mind ought to be wide awake upon the subject, and act from principle.

“How would it do to hold public meetings and have a little free discussion upon the subject? We make the suggestion and hope to see it acted upon; in this way both sides of the question may be freely and fairly presented to the public. We want the test to be a fair one.”

A local establishment selling alcohol had its own ideas about the call for stricter regulation, as noted in this advertisement published in the Fayetteville newspaper.

Don’t miss these fascinating stories of early Fayetteville available in Glimpses of Fayetteville’s Past. Available at Amazon.com

From 1835 to the present day, the City of Fayetteville in Washington County, Arkansas, has enjoyed a vibrant and colorful history. Its reputation as a regional center for arts, culture, and education began early in its history. Frequently named one of the nation’s Top 10 cities, Fayetteville hosts the University of Arkansas and its famous Razorback athletic teams.

The five articles contained in “Glimpses of Fayetteville’s Past” focus on under-reported aspects of that history. Published initially by the county’s historical society, these intensively-researched works have been revised and expanded with illustrations, photographs, and maps.

“The History of Fayette Junction and Washington County’s Timber Boom” now include not only an in-depth review of its first major industry but also three appendices which examine wagon production in Fayetteville, the name and tradition of Sligo, and the Fulbright mill.

“Quicktown” delves into the story behind this quirky short-lived suburb in south Fayetteville.

“546 West Center” tracks the development of a landmark Fayetteville property from its earliest use as a site for an ice factory in the 1880s.

“The Rise and Fall of Alcohol Prohibition” documents the use, production, and regulation of alcoholic drink in Washington County from before statehood through the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, and features indictment and other crime data.

“175 Years of Groceries” follows the transition from country store to supermarkets to big box stores and includes newspaper advertisements showing price changes over those decades.

Ooh, the 70s!

As chronicled in the massive history of Fayetteville’s music scene, the 1970s overflowed with great music that echoed down the length of Dickson Street. The Charles Tuberville Band was among them.


Back: Singleton, Smith, Billy Osteen
Front: Ellis, Tuberville, Womack
Photo courtesy Joe Phelps

Charles Tuberville Band

Charles Tuberville became hooked on the guitar after watching an older cousin plug his “machine” into an amp and began playing a song by The Ventures. Then when The Beatles took rock n’ roll by storm, that changed everything. Charles got his first guitar, an electric Harmony Bobcat, for Christmas in the 7th grade. “‘At the time, I was playing trumpet in the school band. The day I got my electric guitar, that trumpet never again came out of the case,’’ he recalled in an interview for Blues News.[1]

His Fayetteville band formed in the early 1970s and played popular clubs like Notchy’s and The Library. In 1976 when the Brass Monkey took over the former Gaslight space in the basement of the Mountain Inn Annex, the Charles Tuberville Band served as the house band. Members of this powerhouse group were Charles Tuberville and Billy Osteen (Cal Jackson still in Memphis) on guitar; Albert Singleton then later Cherry Brooks, vocals; Lance Womack, drums; Jimmy Smith, keyboards; Jim Sweeney (Tulsa), Joe Ellis, bass. Members of this band later appeared in other groups. Charles Tuberville moved to Tulsa in 1979 and went on to ply his guitar craft in multiple formats, performing on an album with Tulsa musician Jimmy Markham including Get Ya’ Head Right (2018) and producing his own album, Somethin’ in the Water in 2019.

Don’t miss these great stories of creativity, ambition, and craziness that permeates the 550+ pages of GOOD TIMES: A History of Nightspots and Live Music in Fayetteville, Arkansas — available at Amazon.com and the local Washington County Historical Society offices.


[1] Bill Martin, “Charles Tuberville,” Blues News, Sept/Oct 2019, p. 3

Gas, Grass & Ass

Seeking a self-sustaining life outside the city and a new start for her marriage, this twenty-five-year old woman boldly embarks on proprietorship of a full-service gas station along a highway in rural Arkansas. Her hope to live and work at her own place of business soon encounters not only the end of her marriage but also the entrenched conservatism of the rural South. Joyful in recounting her experiences with an endlessly astonishing parade of human nature, Campbell portrays a unique slice of American life at a pivotal time with the fall of Richard Nixon’s presidency and the end of the Vietnam War. Buoyed by a wellspring of support and companionship, Campbell struggles to hang on to her dream of independence.

Excerpt:

At that time, the University of Arkansas split its football season between the Fayetteville campus and War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, a concession to the Little Rock elite who considered it their prerogative to host ‘home’ games. So on the three weekends that Fayetteville hosted the games, traffic from Central Arkansas and elsewhere backed up for miles along Highway 71 as game time approached. After the game, the Conoco could count on plenty of sales as the out-of-town football fans headed home.

We stayed open late on those nights, bugs flying into the lights shining down from their high perch over the gas pumps, the steady hum of traffic on the road. If the Razorbacks had lost the game, the line of taillights carried with them a somber quiet acceptance that not every game in life is a win. If the team won, the nighttime traffic diminished as rowdy fans lingered in town to celebrate in the raucous bars along Dickson Street, guitar licks and drum beats echoing into the night. George’s, the Swingin’ Door, The Library and more were standing room only, their floors sticky with spilled drink.

I recruited helpers from Cousin Dave’s gang although Dave himself wasn’t having any of it. He’d worked enough for his folks when they owned the Conoco, he said. One of the friends I hired for a late night of football traffic was Mark Y. His lanky frame stood well over six feet tall, his twenty-year-old body filled out with field work on his family’s farm. Despite a thicket of light blond hair and a handsome face, he was miserably shy, but he needed money, and so that night and several other times, he forced himself into the public eye. Dave, JR, and the rest of the gang encouraged him to do the work—none of the rest of them wanted to pump gas until ten p.m.

One of those nights, the guys were watching television with me in the apartment when Mark suddenly appeared at the door, a red flush on his cheeks.

“There’s a woman out there,” he gasped. “Big fancy Continental. She’s… she…”

We all sprang up and crowded around Mark, trying to guess the crisis.

“What? Is she sick? Hurt?” I said.

“No, she…” He glanced around at the guys standing there, waiting to hear then his gaze came back to me. His head dropped forward as he looked down. “Lordie,” he muttered.

“What?!”

He stammered more then finally got a few words out. “I…I walked up to the window and the window was down, and… Well, first, she smiled at me.”

“She smiled at you?” Dave bent over laughing. “What the hell?”

“No, she, uh, she… her skirt was pulled up and I could see…Lord help me.”

“What?” JR demanded. “Could you see her panties?”

Another uproarious surge of laughter poured out the open door into the night. Mark’s face had turned beet red.

“No, damn it,” he said, jaw twitching. “There weren’t no panties.” …

~~~

Available in paperback at Amazon

Beating the Train

This photo reminds me of my dad Floyd Pitts who would sometimes reminisce about his younger days when he was still in high school at Morrow, Arkansas. He’d tell part of this tale then slap his leg and start laughing.

During that period of his life – early 1930s – his parents and younger sister had to move to West Memphis where his dad found work. Floyd stayed at Morrow to finish high school. He slept on a cot at the Morrow Mercantile with duties to keep the fires going at night so the stock didn’t freeze. Alongside his work duties and high school classes, he and three friends performed around the Northwest Arkansas region as a quartet.

“By 1933, I was the leader of the Morrow Quartet (I played fiddle and sang bass) and we were the best in the whole area. We sang at anything. We’d put on a show at places like the Savoy Community Building, we sang on the radio all the time, KUOA, Voice of the Ozarks [then located in the Washington Hotel on the southwest corner of the Fayetteville square, Mountain and Block], any old breakdown tunes.

Floyd Pitts circa late 1930s

“It was a novelty for a boy to play the piano. People would take us home for dinner if we’d perform.  Jim Latta was the father of one of the singers—the lead, Vernon Latta. He’d help us out buying gas. Vernon played guitar and mandolin. Or the Morrow Mercantile would help us because of Dennis Carmack, the tenor of our group. There were four main guys who owned the Mercantile: Ernest Ball, Lowrey Carmack, __ Reed, and [can’t remember].  Ty Reed sang alto (high tenor). I played fiddle and Dennis Carmack played guitar.

“Dennis had an old Chevrolet and that’s how we got to Fayetteville for our weekly radio show. One time we were running late. There was a railroad crossing at the turn off from the Cane Hill Road to the main highway just east of Lincoln. We heard the whistle and as we roared up to the crossing, we could see the train coming. Trains were long in those days, usually pulling an endless string of freight cars. We knew we’d miss our broadcast time if we waited for the train.

“The train was barreling down, close, too close, to the crossing. There wasn’t time to discuss it. Dennis floored that old Chevy. The engineer laid on his whistle as we hurtled ahead throwing up a huge dust cloud behind us. We could see the engineer’s mouth moving as we approached. He was shaking his fist at us.

“We flew over those tracks without a second to spare. The force of that train as it passed behind us shook the car. As we made the sharp turn just after crossing the tracks, that old car went up on two wheels. We all leaned to the right, laughing at our near miss as the car slammed back onto all four tires. We made it to the Fayetteville Square in time for our show.”

Floyd Pitts went on to gain his bachelor’s degree in music at Northeastern State University at Tahlequah, Oklahoma, then taught music at Rogers AR public schools until his service as an officer in the U. S. Navy in World War II. After the war, he gained a master’s degree in music at Iowa before returning to Rogers to teach. He took over the band man post for the Grizzly band at Fort Smith’s high school in 1953. During his time at Fort Smith, he moonlighted in vocals and piano with a dance band that played local venues like the Elks Club. In January 1957, he proudly led his band in the Washington D.C. parade for Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration.

In 1958 in search of better income, he moved his family to Miami, Oklahoma to lead the music programs for the public schools and direct the junior high and high school bands. During those years, he pursued after-hours income by tuning and repairing pianos, something he’d done since his high school days when he’d teach shape note singing at schools and church houses around the area and inevitably encountered out-of-tune pianos. His father, a sometimes blacksmith, forged Floyd’s first tuning hammer from an old Model A tie-rod.

Floyd remained the Wardog band director at Miami until 1967, when the family once again relocated to Fayetteville, Arkansas. (His wife, Carmyn Morrow Pitts, was relieved to be back in “God’s country.”) From there, Floyd taught band a couple of years at Westville, OK and for many more years at Lincoln AR, more or less a return to his roots at the end of his long career in teaching music to multiple generations. He retired in 1979 but continued his new career as a full time piano tuner/technician alongside his daughter Denele until a couple of years before his death in 2004. Even in his last days, a good old fiddle tune would bring on a flurry of foot tapping.

~~~

Floyd’s first tuning hammer from Model T tie-rod, late 1920s

Side note: KUOA began as a project of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, using these call letters starting in 1926. With the deepening of the Great Depression, in 1931 the University decided to lease operations to out of town interests. “Members of the Fulbright family then formed KUOA, Incorporated, to purchase the station, and on April 1, 1933, they took control, with Roberta Waugh Fulbright as president, John Clark as secretary-treasurer, and daughters Roberta Fulbright as station manager and Helen Fulbright as vice president.”[1] Ownership of the station shifted to John Brown University in 1936.


[1] https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/kuoa-radio-station-3678/

It’s Baack!

Looking for some perspective on today’s viral crisis? Considering humanity’s infinitely long track record with similar outbreaks, we surely aren’t surprised that it’s here again. In case you’re not up to speed on the history of mankind’s virus background, check out my last blog post.

There is evidently an ingrained memory of this threat to our lives. Instinctively, we know there are invisible killers lurking out there, and entertainment takes advantage of our interest. Not only have scientists made regular warnings to prepare for such eruptions, our literature and movies regularly focus on outbreak what-ifs.

Outbreak, 1995

Consider the list of 79 – yes, 79 – movies on the topic of epidemic/pandemic outbreaks. In fact, as long as movies have been made, viral contagions have been a favored subject. Here’s a great list.

If you prefer to curl up with a book, writers and historians have been exploring the desolate landscapes of plague-riddled civilizations since Greek and Roman times. Daniel Defoe was one of the first English writers to producing a book about devastating disease with his 1722 A Journal of the Plague Year, which chronicles the 1665 bubonic plague in London. Here are more books to consider.

1950

One might wonder why anyone would want to read about horrific diseases when we’re in the middle of our current crisis, but art reflects life in many important ways. Movies and literature about pandemics not only explore the physical effects of the disease but also the human response to collateral damage like quarantine, isolation, and economic hits. We can gain a greater understanding through this informing exploration, and that in itself is somehow comforting. It’s like, ok, we’ve been through this before and survived. We can do it again.

But most of all, such deep history about our relationship with diseases like SARS-CoV-2 (COVID 19) provides critical information for those entrusted with leadership over us all whether elected officials, agencies, teachers, or scientists.  In our tragic case, our president failed to read history or listen to experts – or even his predecessor, President Obama, who had learned from Ebola and Zika that preparations must be made BEFORE an outbreak ever occurs. The sad result is the enormous death rate for a nation purportedly the most advanced.

The most malevolent viruses are fast and silent killers, moving through populations before we have time to prepare. There is no excuse for the current situation in the United States where we’re still not in possession of enough face masks or testing apparatus to get in front of this tidal wave of death.

1950

Perhaps most instructive about such movies and books, both fiction and non-fiction, is the inevitable reactions of people. There’s denial – it can’t happen here, it’s not that bad, it’s still safe to go shopping, I won’t wear a mask – that has become one of the most virulent aspects of SARS-CoV-2. It probably wouldn’t matter what the books and movies might say to the folks clogging state capitol steps with their guns and angry, unmasked faces. Their denial derives from lack of understanding of the science involved and a refusal to admit they might be lacking. It doesn’t help that their presidential hero praises their ignorance – because he too is lacking.

Mother Nature will keep throwing these things in our path. I predict another new viral crisis within the next two years. Meanwhile, we don’t yet know if a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 will work – after all, vaccines depend on the idea that our bodies create effective antibodies once the vaccine is administered, and those antibodies will protect us from a new infection. But increasingly, reports filter in that persons are becoming sick for the second time, which means antibodies aren’t working. And we already know that to date, our best flu vaccines are only 50%-60% effective.

SARS-CoV-2 is here to stay, folks. More of us will die. Grab the popcorn and watch a movie! And next time you vote, make sure your chosen candidate is going to protect you and your loved ones by preparing well in advance for the next outbreak.