The West Fork Valley: Environs and Settlement before 1900

Rushing down the northern slopes of the Boston Mountains, for millions of years the West Fork of White River has carved its sinuous path northward. Caves, hollers, steep bluffs, and rich bottomland followed in its wake. Native people made their homes here, hunting buffalo and deer. Within a few years after the Louisiana Purchase, white settlers arrived to set up homesteads.

This book briefly describes how this valley formed over millions of years, how Native tribes lived and hunted here, and what the first white men saw when they arrived. Short biographies of the earliest pioneers portray a fascinating assortment of men and women determined to carve out a livelihood from this rugged land.

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 in 1882 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.

A must read for any resident of the valley, but a fascinating chronicle of human endeavor for any reader.

Paperback $23.95, Amazon or $20 at Headquarters House, Washington County Historical Society, 118 West Dickson, Fayetteville AR

Durward’s Cart

My uncle Durward seemed to be older than his years, a result of his bashful traits which I now, belatedly, attribute to the overbearing nature of his mother Sylvia Clark Morrow. Always ready with the harsh critique, she sought perfection and never found it, either in herself, her spouse, or her nine children of which Durward was the oldest. He learned at an early age there was no pleasing her. As far as I could tell, she was never pleased about anything.

So he fretted and obsessed and squirmed through life, marrying a spinster neighbor when he was forty and producing one child. They adopted a second one. He devoted his energy to his job, working in a newspaper printing operation, and to his flourishing garden. He also kept chickens. Gardening and chickens were necessity for the family, dirt poor hill folk in the Arkansas Ozarks.

He was sixty or so when I married a wild man and set up housekeeping on a wooded hilltop in a half finished house. We—husband, baby, and I—pursued the hillfolk life with a passion. Among other things like firewood and a garden, we needed chickens. That was about the same time that Durward decided he no longer wanted to mess with chickens, and so a project was born, to dismantle his chicken house and bring the walls, roof, and other bits up to our place. We had a pickup, but it alone wasn’t enough to perform the task, and so Durward also gave us his cart.

The cart—and the chicken house—were handcrafted by Durward himself, pulled together from scraps and, in the case of the cart, an old rear axle of some early vehicle. Our load of dismantled walls and roof of the approximately 10’ x 10’ coop were laboriously positioned into the lovingly-framed bed and the modest sideboards of his trailer, and the long journey from his farm near Johnson to our farm near West Fork began.

The distance of about twenty miles progressed slowly, red flags whipping in the breeze as the conveyances edged toward forty miles per hour. In due time, the roof became a wall to our fledgling barn while Durward’s chicken house walls were reborn as our chicken house walls with a new metal roof. The trailer was parked in the expectation there might be future use.

There wasn’t. It sits today, forty-six years later, where we parked it in 1976. The bed has rotted away as has the chicken house and the barn. One of the trailer’s sidewalls lingers. The rear axle and attached tires also remain, I suspect because they are solid rubber and probably the original tires that came with the vehicle. A phantasm of welds connect the original drive shaft to various pieces of metal to accommodate hauling.

Durward died in 2005 at the age of 89, but his cart lives on. I see it and think of him, remember his anxious ways, wringing his hands at family gatherings when the daylight started to fade. He’d mutter, “Gotta get home, it’s late.” He’d pace and entertain a few exhortations from his attending siblings to relax, hang around, but he’d shake his head and repeat “Gotta go” under his breath until he escaped the chaos to find his way home.

I Met a Goat on the Road

A visiting guinea? A ‘possum in the dining room? What strange and wondrous occurrences can one expect while living on an Ozark mountaintop for forty years?

These lyrical adventure stories feature chickens, raccoons, bugs, dogs, cats, and natural critters of this woodland home. Throw in a few neighbors who shoot copperheads or remodel the dirt road. 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.

Three of these stories gained the Rosa Zagnoni Marinoni Writer’s Grant 2002 Award from the Northwest Arkansas branch of the National League of American Pen Women.

Paperback, $11.95, Amazon

The Campbells, Part VI – The Children of William and Melinda Campbell

This is the final chapter of the Campbell Family History to be presented here. Subsequent family tree information can be found in my book, A Crime Unfit To Be Named: The Prosecution of John William Campbell. The ‘crime’ involved consensual sexual activity and sent a 72-year-old man to state prison.

John Randolph Campbell

John Randolph Campbell, holding a Bible, believed in his late 20s circa 1875-1880

Records of John Randolph’s birth name a birth year of 1853, although various other records show conflicting dates. A church record states that he was born December 24, 1853, in Independence County, Arkansas. In 1873 at age 19, he married Sarah “Sally” Elizabeth Prince at Sulphur Rock, Independence County, Arkansas. She was his second cousin once removed.

Miss Prince was born September 1849 in Tennessee, daughter of William Prince and Martha Lamberson.  This Lamberson is related to John’s mother’s family: Melinda was her first cousin once removed. William J. Prince was born 1813 in Georgia, and died during the Civil War in Independence County, Arkansas, as did his wife Martha Lamberson Prince, born 1825 in North Carolina. Sarah Sally’s siblings were William H., b 1842 TN (CSA AR 8th Inf. Co. E, enrolled August 6, 1862 at Sulphur Rock, AR, between Newark and Batesville); Mary A., born 1847 TN (married James Scott); Virginia b 1850 MS; James Ferdinand b 1852 AR; Martha Jane b 1857 AR (married George Hill 1872; David Bruton 1879);  John T. b 1858 AR; Tennessee “Babe” b 1860 (raised by Mary, married Riley Whaley).

Birth records for the couple’s sixth child, Benjamin, dated 1888, states that John age 38 was a farmer and preacher, born at Newark Arkansas, and that Sarah age 40 was born in Mississippi.

John Randolph Campbell and his new wife Sally produced the following children:

i. Emma Campbell b. 1874, Newton Co., AR, d. 1888 of rheumatic fever at age fourteen

ii. Mary Molly Campbell b 1876, m. Frank Pratt(s). Children were Mabel m. Fred Albert; Lizzie m. John Hilburn; Beulah; Pierce; Lennox; Urcil “Huck”; Margie; Nettie (died).

iii. John William Campbell, b 1878, m. Mary Jane Ellis. John William is the great-great grandfather of my three Campbell children.

iv. Jack O’Neil, b. Dec 25, 1882 at Newark, Indep. Co, AR, d. Apr 14, 1960, Newport, married July 19, 1903 to Emma Bell Hicks and produced Lennie Mae, Bertha, Commie O’Neal, Rutha Lee, and Opal Christine.  Jack then married Donnie Inness and produced another eight children: Edna Irene, Burl Nathaniel, Aubrey Evereett, Almeta Beatrice, Leeaun Utah, J. C., Alvin Newton, and Thelma Joyce.

v.  James Campbell b 1880, m. Mary Willis. Children were Dallas, Nanny, and another daughter.

vi. Clu Campbell, died at age 9 – not found in family birth records

vii. Benjamin Harvey Campbell, b June 14, 1888, Pleasant Plains, Indep. Co AR, d. Nov 19, 1966, Newport, Jackson Co, AR. married Willie Hicks, married Ocra Ellen Tibbs, and their children were Eva Jewell and Clemins Alvin. He then married Helen Carmen “Nell” Yancy, and produced Vesta Lola, Virginia Vivian, Mather Carnell, Veda Lee, Milous Harvey, and Benjamin Morris.

The 1880 Newton County Arkansas census for Jackson Township lists John Campbell age 26 with wife Sarah age 25, with children Emma age 6, Mary age 4, John age 2, and James six months. John’s occupation was farming.

John Randolph and Sarah Prince Campbell, circa 1900

The 1900 census for Fairview Township, Newton County (?) lists John R. Campbell age 46 as a mail carrier, land owner with a mortgage, married 27 years to Sarah, age 50, with seven children of which five were living.  Jackson, age 17, was a hack driver, and Harvey age 13 was a farm laborer. They housed a lodger named William Hicks. The 1920 census for Jackson County Arkansas, Richwoods Township, finds John R. Campbell age 67 and Sarah A. age 72 living in a rented home, with his occupation described as clergyman and evangelist.  The 1930 census for Amagon (Richwoods Twp) lists John R. age 80 and Sarah age 84 living in a rented home without occupation.

John Randolph was about five-nine at 185 pounds, although in older age he became “heavy set.” He worked as an itinerant preacher, following the Church of Christ denomination. “On September 29, 1895, John R. Campbell was authorized to work as an evangelist by the “Disciples of Christ, worshiping at Surrounded Hill Arkansas.” In 1889, he was ordained as a preacher by E. M Kilpatrick, and J. L. Kitridge, Clerk for Tex-Ark & Indian Territory: Credentials, page 32.

This poor quality image shows John Randolph in the process of baptizing a convert, date unknown.

According to one descendant, “John Randolph used to preach near Bradford [Arkansas] at least once a month; Aunt Nell [wife of Benjamin Harvey] remembers hearing him preach in 1914 near Swifton … said his name was Campbell and he was a Campbellite preacher. In 1917 he lived in the Pennington community and preached at different places. He received very little money as payment, mostly fresh vegetables, canned food, and some meats. Aunt Nell said she overheard some older women talking about the time he received a large handkerchief and two week’s board for holding a meeting. He preached some at Amagon and went to church barefoot … services were held in the schoolhouse.”

John Randolph and Sally, date and location unknown

He also rented farms to grow cotton and he traded horses and any other item of value. When his third child John William and family settled in Fayetteville after 1918, John Randolph and Sarah joined them, living first at John William’s store at the corner of Rock and Mill, then on Frisco Street and finally on the south side of Spring Street in the four hundred block before moving back to east Arkansas. His grandson John Carl later recollected that he drove an old Overland Blue Bird.

Overland Blue Bird

One descendant stated that “John R. Campbell was a preacher. He was really a corker. Pulled some pretty good stunts. Think he drank a lot.”  It was said by his grandson Zack that there were only two places that John Randolph would drink home brew, and that was “on this side of the Bible and on the other side.” His wife Sally dipped snuff, and sometimes smoked a cob pipe. Sally’s daughter-in-law (Mary Jane Ellis) stated that the Prince women were known to have “woods colts,” a euphemism for illegitimate children. In old age, Sally suffered a “dowager’s hump,” now known as osteoporosis. Sally and John Randolph both died in the Newport Arkansas area.

Mary Molly Campbell

Little is known about William and Melinda Campbell’s second child, Mary Molly. She is not listed in the 1860 census of Howell County Missouri. Later records show her spouse as John Willis Payne. Willis was born in 1854 in Kentucky, with both parents also born in Kentucky.

Willis and Mary Payne are found in the 1880 Newton County, Arkansas census, Jackson Township, at ages 25 and 26, respectively, evidence she was born in 1855 two years after John Randolph. Also in the household is her younger brother James, listed a ‘boarder.’

In a letter dated 1971 from Elizabeth Campbell Farmer, daughter of James “Jim” William Campbell, Elizabeth states: “Mary Payne is my papa’s (Jim Campbell) only sister. We called her Aunt Molly and she was married to Willis Payne.”

After 1880, Willis and Mary vanish from public records.

James William Campbell

James William Campbell with his first wife Nancy Jane Bell on his right and her half-sister and his second wife Eliza Lawson on his left, circa 1888. James holds a pistol in his hand.

At age 24, James married Nancy Jane Bell (age 19), daughter of William Levi and Nancy Busby Bell, September 18, 1882, in Newton County, Arkansas. This was two years after he was named as ‘boarder’ in the household of his sister Mary and brother-in-law Willis Payne. James and Nancy moved to Harrison (Boone County) Arkansas but in 1886 they moved back to Newton County where they settled in the Mt. Judea area (pronounced “Judy” by locals). There James dug wells and cisterns and built chimneys, as well as farming his land with cotton, corn, and small grains. He was a “great hand with a scythe and cradle and would get $1.00 per day for cutting wheat, a good wage for that time and more than most men were paid.” His son, Wesley A. Monroe, said they had “biscuits one to three times each day during the wheat harvest then cornbread three times a day for the rest of the year.”

He was elected Justice of the Peace in 1892 and remained in office for years. About the same time the family moved into a “box” house on land they homesteaded, a cause for celebration since most families lived in rough log cabins. In his capacity as JP, he married many couples and was said to shed tears during the ceremonies. He only went to school two days in his life, according to his descendants, but was a self-educated man. He taught school two summers – “Script” or conscript school. Each family paid one dollar for each child attending.

James and Nancy Jane Bell Campbell 1905, with children Dewey Floyd (between them) and Rosa on right

In the fall of the year, James would go away to pick cotton (probably in the river bottoms) and would take his wife’s handicapped half-sister Eliza Lawson as well as his older children. His wife Nancy Jane stayed home to care for the younger children and the homestead. It is said that James and Eliza lived as husband and wife during the cotton-picking trips.  Nancy spun thread and wove most the cloth used for their clothes, including coats. The pants and coats were made of half wool and half cotton, called “linsey-woolsey.” 

James also served in some capacity with the Spear Mining Company for their lead and zinc mine near Pendle. He was a school trustee for the board of education and helped to hire teachers. He was a “jack of all trades,” doctoring animals and people by setting broken limbs on splits that he whittled. He farmed and grew everything his family ate, including the livestock.

The eleven children of James and Nancy, as well as his child by Eliza Lawson and children by  Nancy Walls, his third wife, are not listed for sake of privacy.

Sarah E. Campbell

The 1860 census, taken July 19, gives Sarah’s age as one month. Thereafter, no record of her is found. Assumed she died in infancy.

~~~

And — as they say — so it goes.

Kinfolk!

Combining four generations of family history and up-to-date genealogical information, this collection of ancestry information tracks a group of families which settled in Greene County, Arkansas in the first two decades of statehood. Family trees, deed records, census records, and other official records create a factual framework for personal narratives and vintage photographs, creating a fascinating archive of information for any descendant of these families as well as any fan of local history.

Each marriage between these pioneer families brought certain talents and backgrounds to the next generation. They farmed the rich land of Crowley’s Ridge and other Greene County areas, weathered the storms of poverty and loss, and suffered the ravages of sickness and war. Yet they survived, and their great-grandchildren entered the twentieth century determined to continue as they had begun.

Now the 21st century brings us the internet with its vast collection of historical documents, making it finally possible to reflect on their adventures and aspirations. The story of these families is the story of thousands of us descended from them.

Nab your copy, only $14.95

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

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.

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.

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/