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

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.

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

Dumping Dogs

They lounged at the rim of the pond across the road from my mail box, three of them in a small friendly pack that had made that place their own. In the first few days they were here, I only saw them at the pond or alongside the dirt road. They were half grown, headed toward big dog adulthood, one with a whitish face and the markings of a German Shepherd, the other two some combination of hound, maybe some shepherd.

They watched me drive by with the hopeful curiosity of dogs who recently knew a home. There had been people, regular food, a few words now and then. Now there was nothing and they didn’t know what to do about it.

One morning a week or so later, agitated barking by my dogs brought me outside to discover the strays had moved further up in the woods. They sat about sixty feet from my house, watching the deer that always move through that section of forest at that time of day. Maybe they recognized the scent of deer from some primal instinct that spelled out ‘food.’ Maybe they were attracted to the smells and sounds of my fenced yard, where scraps might be thrown out, where my well-fed animals come and go in comfort.  I didn’t see them chasing deer, but I didn’t try to watch.

Better to not see, not know, I’ve learned from experience, what animals go through once they’ve been dumped.

Don Miller called a few days later, early in the morning like he does on the rare occasions when he needs to talk to me about something. Stray dogs had been chasing his cattle in the pasture he leases next to my land. He had asked around. Nobody claimed them.

“We could try to catch them,” I said. “Take them down to the animal shelter.”

“Tried that. They won’t come to me.”

He was planning to shoot them. I said I wouldn’t want to try, since I only had my .22 with bullets so small that even a perfect shot might leave an animal alive for hours, bleeding, suffering. He said he knew his aim and his shotgun would bring them down quick. He planned to do it the next morning.

I never heard the gunshots, but then, I tried not to. The dogs weren’t there on the lip of the pond or at the edge of the road when I left for town. I felt relief that I didn’t have to worry about them anymore, didn’t have to think about how hungry they were or whether they had been hit by a passing car.

But several days later, I saw one of them pacing along the perimeter of my yard fence. It was the one with German Shepherd markings, his whitish face staring at me through the wire. I had put a pan of leftovers for my dogs out in the yard and he had picked up the smell. He ran at the sight of me. At the far end, he came to a weedy rise and then I saw his companion, another one of the original trio. When the companion tried to join with his white-faced friend, both of them skinny and tantalized by the smell of the leftovers, he hobbled along, unable to move one of his back legs. They disappeared into the woods.

What had happened to Don Miller’s dead eye aim with a shotgun? It wasn’t hard to guess the scene: managed to kill one, shot at the second one and injured it, and missed the third altogether. It had been days. The two survivors had been hiding out, maybe stealing food from the neighbors’ dogs.

Then I didn’t see them anymore. More days passed. One morning as I pulled out of the driveway, there was white face, sitting at the edge of the road. There was no sign of his crippled companion. He watched me pass by.

How could he forget the people who had once been his family? This must have been the spot where they had left him and his friends. How long would he come back here, waiting, hoping?

Last night, I heard the wild dogs in the canyon. I’ve heard their long piercing howls before, some years more than others. Some say they’ve mingled with the native Red Wolf that used to hunt this land during the time of the Native Americans. I never see the wild dogs but I hear them. They come close in the winter. On some long cold nights their howls seem just outside my fence.

Last night, there was one howl and it was close. There was something about it, something that held meaning. It caught my attention and I went out to stand on the porch. I didn’t hear it again after that. But I think White Face found them. I think they welcomed him, as long as he behaved respectfully, took his place in their established hierarchy. After all, they’ve known for a long time where to find water, when to kill deer, how to find rabbit nests and eggs on the ground.

He’s proven himself, I guess, after all these weeks since his human family threw him out, left him and his brothers to die on some back road far enough out of town that they didn’t have to worry about looking up one day to see that their Lassies had ‘come home.’

Maybe they thought that out here, dog food grows on every stalk of blackberry vine and somehow the seeds ticks of July won’t stick to their pet. Maybe they didn’t wonder about the cold of winter, when ice covers the ground for days and even the ponds are frozen. Maybe they assumed that country people like me don’t have enough dogs of our own and are just sitting out here waiting for more dogs to appear on our roads so we can take them in, pet them, feed them, and let them sleep on the floor by our beds when the wind blows at five degrees.

Or maybe they didn’t think at all. In all the years, all the dogs and cats that have been left at the roadside on this mountain, I’ve never been able to understand, to assign any rational process to the phenomena of dumping animals. I’ve made a few wishes, though, like the morning when Don Miller planned to load his shotgun, when I stayed in the shower a little longer than usual so I would miss the sound of the blasts, the dying howls.

I wish that the minds and the hides of the people who leave them were unavoidably linked to the minds and hides of the dogs, so that every pellet of buckshot, every hot burning injury bleeding out life, crippling to a long lingering death in the bitter cold of winter, that every moment of hunger and terror and longing known by those dogs would be known by the people, felt in every moment, every waking hour, every dream, until they could no longer bear the pain and they too would have to track half-starved down to the canyon, seek out the wild ones, and beg for a home.

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.” …

~~~

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Rules for Newbies

Just moved to the country? Never lived in the country before? Here’s a word of advice: don’t piss off the country people.

In a trend beginning with the pandemic and continuing today, people are moving to rural areas and away from big cities. The options of working from home make such a move increasingly attractive. With this influx, those of us who already live out in the sticks have a few words of advice. Pay attention.

There are unwritten rules out here along these winding back roads. One of the first you need to always remember is about driving. Do not tailgate.

Nothing pisses off an old timer like somebody crawling up our tailpipes. Makes us want to slam on the brakes, then jump out and storm back to your car where we’d tell you that you won’t get where you’re going any faster by driving twenty feet from my bumper than you would at fifty feet. Even fifty feet is pushing the boundaries of politeness. If it’s after dark and your headlights are torching my eyeballs through the rearview mirror, a hundred feet isn’t far enough. Just ease off and give it some room. You moved out here to relax, remember?

I once had a short-lived neighbor who drove without any consideration whatsoever for these rules of the road. If they zoomed up behind you on the road, they’d hover within a few yards of the rear of your car and flash their lights. Like that’s going to make us go faster? Or pull over? Buddy, that just guaranteed that we’ll ease off the accelerator to creep along at ten miles per hour, knowing these roads offer zero room to pass. They were too stupid to know that when someone in front of you taps their brakes, it means back off.

Those folks lasted about two, maybe three years. I’m not exactly sure if they moved or if someone just killed them and dropped their bodies down a gully. They deserved to die, not only for their rude roadsmanship, but also for the fact that they took a perfectly fine old rock house, knocked out all the interior walls then couldn’t understand why the roof sagged. Crow food.

Another rule about driving in the country is the nod you give to an oncoming car. If it’s someone you know well, you exchange the full hand wave. If it’s an acquaintance or a neighbor, you lift one or two fingers from the steering wheel. You could nod, but nods are hard to read in a moving vehicle, so the hand motion up by the windshield is the best way to show that you’re not armed and you wish them well.

By the way, if you’re a gun nut and get off on shooting, try to aim so your bullets don’t go near my house. Also, don’t fire off rounds late in the evening unless you want someone to call the sheriff, thinking somebody is getting killed. Got a block of tannerite you can’t wait to set free? Keep that damn stuff away from my property unless you want to buy me a bunch of new windows.

Also, do not burn your trash. Even under the cover of darkness, we can smell it and we will call the law on your sorry ass.

Keep in mind that nobody lives in the country to be snuggly close to other people. There’s a good reason we’re parked out here on a piece of land without neighbors ten feet away from our bedroom window. We like our privacy. We like the quiet. We like nature. So if you’re moving out here thinking it’s okay to visit your new neighbor with a bunch of chatter about nonsensical bullshit just to be flapping your gums, stop right there. Do not come out here thinking we’ll welcome any of that.

In Washington County, Arkansas, where I live, there are unwritten rules about noise. If your dog stands outside and bays at the moon for five minutes, nobody’s going to come knocking. But if that sucker is out there barking barking barking for an hour or more, you’d better do something and fast. I’ve been known to call a neighbor and tell them if they don’t shut up that damn dog, I’m going to call the sheriff. Now the sheriff would laugh if I actually called him, and there’s no chance he’d actually do anything about my complaint, but this move serves the purpose of letting the neighbor know the situation has become dire.

By the way, it’s never okay to shoot somebody’s dog. If it gets that bad, just start calling your neighbor when the barking wakes you up—two a.m., three a.m. Like that. Pretty soon they get the idea.

On the other hand, if your dog runs up by my house and kills my cat, your dog will die.

The only time it’s okay to visit a neighbor you don’t know, especially if you’re new to those parts (defined as living here less than ten years), is if somebody died. Then you can fry up a pan of chicken or whip up a batch of fine beef chili, or bake a cake, then go in nice clothes to their door and offer your condolences. If they invite you inside, it’s up to you whether you want to walk into a house full of grieving relatives who don’t know you from Adam and don’t care to know you now. My advice is to hand over the vittles and go on your way.

Remember, nobody moves to the country to socialize.

Out here, we appreciate the beauty and bounty of Nature. So when a newbie buys up a piece of, say, twenty or forty acres and sets the bulldozer to it, our curses will summon dark forces that will haunt you forever. We’ll drive by wondering why you didn’t just stay in town if you didn’t want to see Nature. That land you ‘cleared’ is now stripped of topsoil and these hills erode quick. Next thing is you’ll have gullies carved down to the clay or nothing but a jumble of rocks, and you won’t get anything to grow on it including grass.

Some folks do that thinking they’ll get a horse or two, that old gentleman farmer fantasy. They spread fertilizer and wait. Nothing grows. Or they think they’ll have a lawn. We have a guy on our road who spent the first three years up here trying to grow a lawn. He lay in sod. It died. He lay in sod again. Finally, his third season he bought himself a  fancy little tractor rig that he drove hour after hour, lifting the soil, raking the soil, smoothing it and probably praying over it until finally his last batch of sod survived. I see him out there, nursing it along with fertilizer, weed killer, and so forth, and I have to admit he’s got himself a nice smooth patch of Bermuda out there. I think he might crawl around with scissors to trim the edges.

I’m sure he froths at the mouth about the land on both sides of him where fescue, wild flowers, and all other sorts of unruly plant life thrives. But then, he built his house about forty feet from the road, so even before he started his lawn quest, we all knew he was an idiot.

What we respect and admire are new property owners who respect and admire what came before them. There’s a new house going up on a hill on the north side of the road. He left all the trees except where the house is located. Down by the road just before his driveway cuts up toward the new house, there’s an old rock structure built in the 1800s. It’s been there through thick and thin, its impressive stonework still proudly exhibiting the expertise of its builder with smooth long stone lintels over the windows and doors and a fireplace that would draw even now in that roofless stone cabin. It’s a landmark we enjoy seeing every time we fly up and down that road. When we saw that property up for sale, we lived in mortal terror that some citified person would snap it up and send the bulldozer out after that sweet little relic.

We take care of our road, at least, we’re supposed to. As I once wrote about Roy who lived up here in a little Airstream with his dog Cindy, he took it on himself to patrol our half mile of dirt road. He’d walk that road just about every day with that German Shepherd and pick up any refuse that had blown out of somebody’s truck or had been tossed out by some hoodlum from town—beer cans, plastic bags, fast food wrappers, bottles of all kinds, an endless stream of trash that, since Roy died, has slowly collected in the ditches to be churned into the ground whenever a road grader makes its way up here.

I do what I can along my road frontage, on occasion finding beer cans tossed onto the first twenty feet of my long driveway, enough to let me know some jackass from town parked there to drink and have sex. When I’m picking up that mess, I’m angry enough to think I’ll put up a gate or at least set a game cam down there, but then it’s easier to just pick up their trash and glare at the next stranger who drives down this way.

You can always tell when they’re not from around here. You give your wave or lift a couple of fingers in greeting. If they give you a dumb stare, you know.

They’re moving in fast these days. New houses going up here and there, for sale signs on big stretches of pasture that have been cut up into pieces. There’s cleared hillsides that look like an aluminum recycling facility for all the trailers parked up there, one after another, some of them neatly landscaped but most of them surrounded by trash and clutter that tells you exactly what kind of people live there. They’re so ignorant they don’t even realize that their trash wouldn’t be such an eyesore if they’d left a single damn tree standing. I mean, if you want to hang it all out, move to west Texas where the land is already flat and treeless.

We’d be glad to see you gone.