Rex Warren Perkins left his mark in the courtrooms of Arkansas and on the lives of all who knew him. Bold, articulate, and full of himself, he arrived at the University of Arkansas in 1928 with his fiddle, five dollars, and a blue serge suit. Within five years, he graduated law school, was elected to public office, and ran headlong into a federal grand jury. The biography of Rex Perkins documents his rise to fame as the preeminent trial attorney of the state and recounts the scandals, losses, and most famous cases of his thirty-year career.
“Of all the stories still told about Rex Perkins, none has enjoyed such ongoing and avid public interest as the murder trial of Virginia “Queenie” Rand. Mrs. Rand, an attractive brunette and wife of J. O. Rand, a prominent Rogers businessman, was charged with the crime of second degree murder for the killing of Harry V. “Buddy” Clark on August 9, 1959. Clark, married and father of two, was shot late at night in Virginia Rand’s bedroom.
“…In Mrs. Rand’s first trial, held in Benton County before the case involved Rex Perkins, Prosecutor Coxsey had faced defense attorneys Jeff Duty and his uncle Claude Duty. The jury for the Benton County trial found Mrs. Rand guilty, and her attorneys appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
“The Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision in Rand v. State was delivered December 12, 1960. Their summary of the offense follows: It appears from the record that on the evening of August 8, 1959, the deceased, Clark, and his wife entertained Mr. and Mrs. Sam Davis in their home. At about 1:15 a.m. on August 9, Mr. and Mrs. Davis left the Clark home and at the same time Clark left in his car to check the receipts at the Horseshoe Grill, a café which he owned located some 8 blocks from the Clark home in Rogers. Although the evidence is somewhat uncertain, it is clear that Clark finished his work at the café and at 1:30 a.m. the night police radio operator received a call from a woman identifying herself as appellant, who said: “Send someone out here, I have had some trouble.” After the radio operator sent a patrolman to the Rand home, the appellant called again and said: “I have shot a man. I shot Buddy Clark.” Upon arrival at the Rand home, the patrolman was told by appellant that she shot Clark in her bedroom. The patrolman immediately went to the hospital where he found Clark on the floor in the hall. Nurses at the hospital testified that Clark came in the front door and fell to the floor. The records show he was admitted at 1:45 a.m. He expired at 4:17 a.m. that same morning.
“The patrolman testified he found tracks in the heavy dew going in and out of the Rand house and found a gun about 4 to 6 feet from these tracks. There were two bullet holes in the bedroom walls and 5 empty cartridges were found in the bedroom. The deceased was shot 4 times—3 times in the chest and one time in the right arm. No trace of blood was found in or around the Rand house but there was blood on the steering wheel and door of Clark’s automobile.
“Preserved in the Special Collections section of the library of the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the transcript of this trial runs 796 pages. After a review of the transcript index, librarian Kathryn Fitzhugh wryly observed that “everyone in town must have testified.” Such a massive body of information presented an enormous task to Justices Jim Johnson, J. McFaddin, and Ed. F. McFaddin in their work to review the case.”
The case was remanded back for retrial, at which point Rex Perkins managed to gain a change of venue. The rest of the story would take place at the Washington County courthouse where Perkins wielded all his legal maneuvering in support of Mrs. Rand. The outcome would shock the entire region.
Fascinating anecdotes, riveting legal challenges, and a personal story of this man, still a storied figure even in today’s legal community.
Some of my blog followers may remember my report on the State of Perversion a few years back. At the time, the tip of an iceberg had been uncovered, but there was no justice because the statute of limitations had run on Duggar’s child molestation (and incest) crimes before it came to light.
We all know a leopard can’t change his spots, and likewise–apparently–neither can a pedophile. In the interim, Duggar has fathered several more children on his hapless wife, but at least now his children as well as perhaps other children can rest easy while he serves his time.
Here’s the report:
Federal Jury Convicts Former Reality Television Personality for Downloading and Possessing Child Sexual Abuse Material
A federal jury convicted an Arkansas man today for receiving and possessing material depicting minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Joshua James Duggar, 33, of Springdale, repeatedly downloaded and viewed images and videos depicting the sexual abuse of children, including images of prepubescent children and depictions of sadistic abuse. Duggar, a former reality television personality who appeared with his family on the TLC series “19 Kids and Counting,” installed a password-protected partition on the hard drive of his desktop computer at his used car lot in Springdale to avoid pornography-detecting software on the device. He then accessed the partition to download child sexual abuse material from the internet multiple times over the course of three days in May 2019. The password for the partition was the same one he used for other personal and family accounts. Duggar downloaded the material using the dark web and online file-sharing software, viewed it, and then removed it from his computer.
“Today’s verdict sends a message that we will track down and prosecute people who download and view child sexual abuse material, regardless of the lengths they go to conceal their conduct,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “I am grateful for the efforts of the prosecution team and our law enforcement partners who helped ensure the defendant would be held accountable for his crimes. I hope today’s conviction serves as a reminder of the department’s steadfast commitment to bringing to justice those who callously contribute to the online sexual exploitation of young children.”
“Over 7% of the cases sentenced in the year 2020 in the Western District of Arkansas were child pornography and sexual abuse cases,” said the U.S. Attorney Clay Fowlkes for Western Arkansas. “Our office is focused on expending all the resources necessary to the very important work of protecting children in Arkansas and elsewhere. This verdict sends the message that these cases are a top priority for our office. This verdict also demonstrates that no person is above the law. Regardless of wealth, social status, or fame, our office will continue to seek out all individuals who seek to abuse children and victimize them through the downloading, possession, and sharing of child pornography.”
“Because of the exceptional efforts by HSI special agents and our law enforcement partners, a child predator has been brought to justice,” said Special Agent in Charge Jack Staton of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New Orleans, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Every time child exploitation imagery is shared, it re-victimizes innocent and vulnerable children. The verdict demonstrates that regardless of an individual’s notoriety or influence, they are not above the law. HSI agents make it a priority to protect children by investigating these offenders and ensuring they pay for their incomprehensible actions.”
Law enforcement in Arkansas detected Duggar’s activity during an undercover investigation involving the online file-sharing program, subsequently searched his car lot in November 2019, and seized Duggar’s desktop computer as well as other evidence. Significant evidence was found that pointed to Duggar’s presence at the times of the offenses, including pictures that Duggar took on his phone that geolocated at or near the car lot. Duggar also sent multiple timestamped text messages to various individuals that indicated he was at the car lot at the relevant times; the messages were sent, and the iPhone pictures were created, at times within minutes of when the child sexual abuse material was downloaded or displayed on the desktop computer. Additionally, he was the only paid employee on the lot at those times.
Duggar was convicted of receipt and possession of child pornography. His sentencing date has not been scheduled yet. Receipt of child pornography is punishable by a term of imprisonment of five to 20 years. Possession of child pornography depicting prepubescent children has a maximum penalty of 20 years of imprisonment as well. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
HSI in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the Little Rock Police Department, and the High Technology Investigative Unit of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) investigated the case.
Trial Attorney William G. Clayman of CEOS and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dustin Roberts and Carly Marshall of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Arkansas are prosecuting the case.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse, launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and CEOS, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.
The longest lived of Fayetteville’s mills—although not located at Fayette Junction nor as far as can be determined was it originally dedicated to producing wagon parts—was that of J. H. Phipps, who had established his milling operations in 1898. Phipps Lumber Company occupied a prominent location on the west side of old Fayetteville on the original Prairie Grove Road, now the site of a Chick-fil-A, Sonic fast-food drive-in, and Arby’s at the southeast corner of 6th Street and Razorback Road.
By 1915, Mr. Phipps saw the coming decline of timber harvest along the established railways. Thirty-five years of frenzied sawing had cleared the hillsides within reasonable distance from the rail lines. Not willing to stand by and watch the decline of his profitable enterprise, he began developing a plan to reach the vast forests southeast into Franklin County. He bought thousands of acres of forest land in Madison and Franklin counties. He brought together Ed. E. Jeter of Combs, Jesse Phipps of St. Paul, and J. M. Williams and W. J. Reynolds of Fayetteville as partners in the formation of the Black Mountain and Eastern Railroad. They built a line that joined the St. Paul track at Combs and plunged south into the mountains.
According to Clifton Hull’s Shortline Railways of Arkansas, “There were trestles which spanned gulches 125 feet deep. At the Cass end of the line, the grade was so steep the locomotive couldn’t pull a car of logs up the mountain, so the cars were snaked to the summit one at a time by a team of oxen. In May 1916, the name was changed from the Black Mountain and Eastern to the Combs, Cass, and Eastern. It was abandoned in 1924.”
Another short-term tangent for hauling logs sprang from the Pettigrew terminus, a tram line called the “spoke plant tram.” Railroad historian Tom Duggan notes that this line ran from the Little Mulberry River to a point several miles south of Pettigrew called Campground.
Phipps sold out to Jay Fulbright in 1920, and by the time of the plant’s demolition in the 1980s, it was commonly known as the Fulbright mill. As late as the 1970s, local residents could visit the mill where an accommodating workman in overalls would deftly replace the hardwood handle of the hoe, shovel, rake, or other metal implement in question.
In 1928, the plant was reportedly the “biggest plant of its kind west of the Mississippi.” During World War II, Phipps Lumber Company under the guidance of Bill Fulbright bought out Springfield Wagon Company and brought with it to Fayetteville “over a dozen new families…a sizeable payroll and…a market for more Arkansas timber.”
Timber remains an important industry in Arkansas. Evidence of individual logging operations on private and public lands can be found in Pettigrew, where stacks of logs awaiting transport accumulate in the same place where the old railroad roundhouse was located. The hardwood forests of the Arkansas Ozarks have been the focus of nearly fifty years of conflict between forest industry participants and conservationists who want public forests protected from indiscriminate and harmful harvesting techniques such as clear cutting. Wildlife habitat, watershed protection, and recreational uses have become equally as important as the benefits of timber harvest.
In other parts of the state, timber production is largely a corporate enterprise involving pine “plantations” where mature pine crops are mechanically harvested, hybrid seedlings are planted, and native vegetation is “suppressed” by use of herbicides.
In 1997 the Arkansas Educational Television Network produced “Out of the Woods,” a documentary that “takes an in-depth look at Arkansas’ timber industry.”
“The program shows that farming, the railroad industry, and a boom in logging have forever changed Arkansas’ forests. Through forestry research, careful land management and restoration efforts, however, new forests in the Natural State are thriving. In a study of forested land in the state from 1988 to 1995, each region showed an increase in the number of acres reforested.”
Conservationists would argue the term “reforested,” pointing out that a monoculture of fast-growing pine has been established where mixed hardwood forest had grown.
The thirty-minute AETN video “demonstrates that harvesting timber is the state’s biggest industry. Giant paper mills, plywood plants and saw mills pump $1.4 billion dollars into Arkansas’ economy ever year. Fifteen percent of the entire Arkansas work force is employed in the timber industry. The industry provides 40,000 jobs and an annual payroll of $938 million. In southern Arkansas, the business of harvesting trees has given birth – and continues to sustain – small towns throughout the pine belt.”
As a result of the massive clear cuts and the environmental degradation wrought by the timber boom period and/or the extreme topography of some areas, the government ended up owner of thousands of acres of cut-over, nonproductive land. This is particularly true in the rugged landscape of south and southeastern Washington County, southern Madison County, and northern Franklin County, which became the western part of the Ozark National Forest.
A poem preserved at Shiloh Museum provides a slice of life from the Phipps Lumber Mill operation:
The heart of Dickson Street runs six blocks east from the southeast corner of Fayetteville’s University of Arkansas campus. After one hundred years of industrial and commercial development that came with the railroad, entertainment took over. By the 1970s, bars and nightclubs thrived in the run-down buildings alongside old school barber shops, pawn shops, artist studios, restaurants, and head shops. The sound of live music filled the night air. Patrons from all over the region flocked to the street to mingle with co-eds, quaff a few beers and cheer on the rock ‘n’ roll. The alternative community centered at the street; walking down the sidewalk meant seeing and greeting old friends and meeting new ones.
The 80s saw further decline and the emergence of tawdriness and then with the arrival of the Walton Arts Center in the 1990s and concurrent rising rent, the magic started to drip away like water through fingers. Depending on the point of view, Dickson Street is now either a thriving commercial mecca or a faint shadow of its former glory. In 2004, an article in the bi-monthly tabloid All About Town addressed the issue of Dickson Street and the decline of the music scene. And not for the first time. The first such complaints appeared in an earlier tabloid, The Grapevine, in the 1980s and periodically become the focus of community consternation. Some of it has to do with changing demographics. The people who packed the live music venues in the 1970s were staying at home to raise families in the 1980s. Each generation enjoys its high points on the street then subsides into other activities as years pass.
Nevertheless, the article does a good job of peeling back the layers to discover some basic issues. From that, city leaders, musicians, club owners, and other interested fans of the street might derive some workable ideas of how to ensure that the Dickson Street scene never dies.
Five reasons were cited, which have been added to for this piece.
1. Club owners have to pay the bills. That includes ever increasing costs for rent, utilities, wages for employees, advertising, insurance, supplies like glassware and napkins, and inventory of alcohol and any other items served. Back in the day, rent on Dickson Street reflected the run-down nature of the real estate. Now with gentrification all around, rent has skyrocketed. Also, there’s increasing pressure to pay higher wages, utilities keep going up, and … well, it’s all about the money. The clubs count on alcohol sales to generate the profits they need to keep their heads above water. Some bands don’t attract people who like to drink. And people who like to drink have increasingly begun to patronize stand-up bars.
“Stand-up bars are easier to operate,” said Dave Bass, formerly of Dave’s on Dickson and later yielding to the inevitable by opening two stand-up bars, The Blue Parrot and 414. “It’s impossible to make live music work during the week, and you can’t be open two days a week and make a living.” He admitted losing money with his live music at Dave’s.
2. People don’t want to pay a cover charge. Many people don’t realize that a cover charge is the only way to pay a band to play. As veteran performer Jed Clampit pointed out, “You don’t get free drinks, but you want free music. Think about going to your job and working for free.” Owner/operator of George’s, Brian Crowne said “People will think nothing of paying $7 or $8 for a two-hour movie but gripe about paying $5 for live, professional entertainment for four hours.”
Another problem for club owners and bands is that many young people today prefer to float from place to place depending on where their friends might be. A friend might text and want to meet them at a specific location. A half hour later, the two friends might decide to go to a third location. Cover charges don’t work for that kind of activity where the objective is socializing, not watching a particular band perform.
3. There are too many clubs and too many bands. Bringing live music to a particular venue requires a lot of upfront investment in securing the band, promoting the event, and doing as much as possible to bring in a crowd. If multiple venues compete for the club-going public, there’s less to go around. That’s the basic math. But there’s no shortage of aspiring bands whose goal of wealth and fame requires building a local following first. Also, painful as it is to recognize, there’s a big disconnect between the many musicians who want to write original songs and audiences who want to hear familiar music. This particular problem is exacerbated by the fact that record deals and other important steps on the road to wealth and fame depend on original music. Nobody wants to record the 38th cover of “Proud Mary.”
Wade Ogle, veteran of the Fayetteville music scene, says the quality of new bands isn’t what it used to be. “With today’s technology, practically everyone can record a CD cheaply. While I think it’s a good thing, the downside is that way too many new bands are looking to play live before they’re really ready.”
So bands thread a narrow line, forced to invest in decent equipment and hours/months of practice until they can get booked to play and then play covers of popular music in their chosen genre while at the same time working on original songs that might be worthy of record label or promoter interest. If they manage to get booked into a club and they’re not ready, people who bother to show up are turned off to live music in general.
4. There aren’t enough fans. This wasn’t so much a problem in the ‘70s when the Baby Boomers came through en masse, the right age and right mindset to thrive on live music. You could almost say that live music was part of their religion. Alas, those days have passed. Somewhat smaller subsequent generations don’t necessarily take song lyrics as their personal anthems. Some might even allege that popular music today can’t hold a candle to the music being created in the ‘60s and ‘70s. With the rise of digital media, music suited to personal taste is available any day, any time, and any place. Free. Why go to a club and pay a cover charge when you can listen to what you like at home? One benefit of live music will never change, however, and that is the attraction of mingling in a crowd of enthusiastic fans, dancing to the same beat and being part of the ‘family.’
5. The town and Dickson Street itself have changed. Yes, this is a big factor. Fayetteville’s population has tripled since the 1970s, and University enrollment has increased from around 15,000 in 1980 to over 50,000 in 2019. More cars and the infill of properties near Dickson means much less parking plus much of the available parking is now metered. Clubs with occasional live music have sprung up along North College Avenue and near the Northwest Arkansas Mall, meaning competition for Dickson Street. Also, until recent years, Dickson Street was the place to party for the entire region. Now that Benton County allows alcohol to be served, clubs have sprung up there like dandelions in early spring. In particular, the Arkansas Music Pavilion (AMP) at Rogers has created a major performance venue for big name performers that in the past would have appeared only in Fayetteville.
Slogans like “Keep Fayetteville Funky” notwithstanding, times change. We change. It’s inconceivable to think that a day might come when Dickson Street would no longer vibrate with the heartbeat of live music and of people streaming through the doors to hear it, commune with each other, and let their hair down. But the world is, after all, what we individually and collectively make it, and it behooves us to not let such a good thing slip unnoticed into the shadows of the past. Dickson Street has been an institution as well as a collective of our entertainment experiences. We have to pay attention and do what we must to keep it that way.
I am pleased to announce that I have been awarded the 2018 Walter J. Lemke prize by the Washington County Historical Society for my article on Jesse Gilstrap. The article will appear in the Fall edition of Flashback, the Society’s quarterly journal.
In 1852, Jesse Mumford Gilstrap settled in Washington County, Arkansas, with his wife and three children. He had ventured to the county earlier; his first child was born here in 1848. An adventurous and passionate young man, in 1850 Gilstrap had trekked westward to join the gold rush while his wife awaited him at her family home near Carthage, Missouri. Back from his adventure and a few dollars richer, he returned to Washington County where he immediately invested some of his earnings in a partnership in one of the county’s earliest mills. In 1856, took full ownership. Then as the winds of war heightened, Jesse spoke out on behalf the Union cause. In 1862, he gathered a company of fellow patriots to form the first company of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry. Jesse went on to serve in the state senate before his untimely death in 1869.
Jesse’s story tumbled out of my research for my new release, The West Fork Valley: Environs and Settlement Before 1900. As I studied early settlers, then the first mills, then the Civil War, Jesse’s name kept popping up. It was a pleasure to connect with a descendant who provided photographs and more details about this man and his family.
I consider Jesse the real winner of this award. I am only the messenger.
Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West
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 this collection 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.
Two hundred years ago, in 1819, the first white man known to explore this area, Frank Pierce, traveled up the White River from the Mississippi and across the northern part of the state before arriving at the west fork of the river and stumbling into this valley. Frank had long since run through his supplies and on this day had worked up a powerful hunger. Thinking of fresh meat over an open fire, he had a buffalo in his gun sights when he noticed a band of Natives also stalking the herd. Although the Osage and Quapaw had historically occupied these lands, right after the Louisiana Purchase, the U. S. government had begun moving Cherokee and other eastern tribes into the region. The Natives ole Frank saw that day were probably Cherokee. He gently released the hammer of his gun and slipped back into the dense undergrowth to spend the night hungry in the shelter of a large tree.
But he lived to tell the tale.
Nine years later in 1828, Frank was among the first settlers to arrive with the official opening of Arkansas Territory. Whether receiving bounty land for service in the Indians Wars or the War of 1812, settlers rushing to stake their claim on a forty acre parcel found springs and lush vegetation in these flat hilltops and river valleys. Wildlife including buffalo, cougar, elk, bear and wolf all roamed this valley. Alongside the forest with trees as big as four feet in diameter, there were wide stretches of tall prairie grass in a thriving ecosystem.
Throughout the first fifty years of county history, ‘West Fork’ wasn’t West Fork the town as we know it. The term ‘west fork’ referred to the west fork of White River and West Fork Township. Persons living along this long river valley from Winslow to Greenland were said to be from ‘West Fork,’ so this confuses some of the history. Any records before 1885 that refer to West Fork are not about the current town of West Fork.
As early as 1831, settlers organized a church in the valley, considered to be the oldest organization of a Christian church in Washington County. Church records from 1837 describe meeting under and elm tree with charter members Stephen Strickland and wife, Richard “Dick” Dye, Eli Bloyed and wife, C. G. Gilbreath and wife, Greene W. Sherry and wife, and fifteen more couples. By 1855, followers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church were meeting at Dye School House on land owned by Richard Dye. Local residents are probably familiar with his name because of the creek named after him—it crosses Highway 71 beside Dye Creek Road.
Mills served a critical function for early residents who needed their corn and wheat ground into meal and flour and their logs sawn for lumber. Census records suggest a mill serving the south county was first located just north of Brentwood on the properties of William “Billie” Knott and Eleazer Pelphrey, the two men occupied as of the 1850 census as millwright and miller, respectively. Their properties at the SE ¼ of the SW ¼ of Section 23, Township 14, Range 30 West (Knott) and the West ½ of the SE ¼ of the same section (Pelphrey) span a small creek where it feeds into the west fork of White River. This location is four miles south of present-day West Fork, fitting a historical description of the township’s first mill.
Another operation known as Gilstrap’s Mill is named in historical records as located at the place later known as Woolsey. One account states this was established in 1838 run by a large water wheel.
In the dry season when the water was too low to turn the wheel, a tramp wheel was put into operation to furnish power. Oxen were unhitched from the wagon bringing the corn or timber and placed on a slat-bottomed structure which moved under them continuously, making it necessary for the oxen to walk in order to stay on their feet. Thus they furnished the power for grinding corn or sawing logs.
The first ‘West Fork’ post office operated from the home of William “Billie” Knott in 1838, a logical location since their mill served as one of the only public places in the area. The post office changed location in 1848 to Gilstrap’s Mill at the place later known as Woolsey, named after William Woolsey who bought the property from Gilstrap in the late 1850s. After 1848, this was known as the West Fork post office. By 1860, Woolsey operated a general store alongside the mill.
The 1840 census for West Fork Township counted 68 households with 394 residents and two slaves. Ten years later, the 1850 census counted 96 households with 605 whites and no slaves. Trades listed in 1850 included blacksmith, teacher, clergy, miller, tanner, and wagon maker. By 1860, population had grown to 262 households with 707 whites and fifteen slaves. Tradesmen included a shoemaker, five blacksmiths, two wagon makers, a saddler, a trader, and a carpenter. William Woolsey named his occupation as merchant.
With tensions mounting prior to the Civil War, a convention assembled at West Fork on April 25, 1861. The men in attendance agreed that they were opposed to secession. They called for a statewide vote of the people to decide, stating their wish to cooperate with other border states. The choice was made within weeks by the Arkansas state convention who voted to secede once the attack on Fort Sumter occurred.
Northwest Arkansas saw military action early in the war with the conflict at Pea Ridge and then Prairie Grove. Musket and cannon fire from the battle at Prairie Grove could be heard down here—someone remarked that it sounded like corn popping. Military forces moved along the Old Wire Road which ran down Cato Springs Road to Strickler before the nightmare of crossing the Boston Mountains.
With the success of Union forces in overtaking Northwest Arkansas, the rough terrain of south county became a perfect setting for guerilla warfare. Troops skirmished throughout this area during those years and commandeered livestock, grain, and anything else they could find. People had to hide their food and valuables in caves or holes in the ground. Salt became impossible to find and folks had to boil the soil from their smokehouses to gather what salt could be retrieved.
The flavor of those days is captured in this excerpt of the Karnes history:
A number of Union soldiers stationed at Fayetteville came out to West Fork one night to attend a dance at the Dick Dye home. All were having a gay time swinging their partners right and left and calling “Balance All” when a Southern captain, Jim Ferguson, thrust his head in at the door and yelled “Surrender All!”
The Union officer gave the command “Fight ‘em, boys!” but soon changed to “Everybody on his own!” when he saw the number of Southern soldiers. Mr. Rutherford said he was sitting on a plank across from the fireplace when suddenly he began to choke with soot, but not until all was over did he know that Lieutenant Huttenour had gone up the chimney.
Some sought shelter in the kitchen, others in the cellar and under the floor. The Southern regiment had been informed of the dance as they were passing through Woolsey and had sent thirty men ahead to investigate. The Union men had been warned to put out a picket but they felt secure without it.
Whether men died or were taken prisoner during this dance-gone-wrong is never stated in Ms. Karnes’ account. But both military and civilian killings occurred frequently during those years. With the normal systems of government shut down and county courthouse records hidden in a cave, few of such cases appear fully documented in official records.
The first murder involving a West Fork area resident occurred nine years after the end of the war in 1874. This is a complicated story that involved two families, the Jones who lived near Carter’s Store (approximately at Hicks, south of Sulphur City on State Highway 74) and the Gilliland family who lived near Owl Hollow Road at the north end of modern day West Fork.
A feud developed between two members of these families, William Newton Jones and Bud Gilliland. Things came to a violent point on Christmas Day 1874. At a popular horse racing track near Carter’s Store, 23-year-old Jones rode up, pulled a Spencer rifle from his saddle scabbard and before any of the surrounding crowd could stop him, he shot 28-year-old Bud Gilliland through the chest, killing him instantly.
It was later said that most everyone present knew Jones would try to kill Gilliland but no one could move fast enough to stop him. Jones didn’t wait around to be arrested. With his target dead on the ground, he took wheeled his horse around and took off at a gallop. He then became the subject of a manhunt that lasted until the next murder in this feud nearly two years later.
Speculation suggest the conflict may have had something to do with Bud’s dad’s marriage in 1863 to the much younger Mary Amanda Jones, first cousin to Newton. Or it may have had something to do with the rough nature of the Gilliland boys.
For example, Bud’s older brother, Jeff Gilliland, served as a county deputy and court clerk. He owned several lots on the Fayetteville square and operated a dram shop there—otherwise known as a bar. Evidently Jeff wasn’t exactly careful about his official county duties. An 1871 newspaper report stated that he was required to turn over the county tax books “to which the late difficulties in that county are attributable.”
Along the same lines, an 1872 newspaper account about Bud stated that:
On memorial day, ‘Bud’ Gilliland who has at times acted as deputy marshal, procured the keys of the jail from the jailor and deliberately locked himself in the jail, where he remained until 9 o’clock when he came out, ordered the guard who had been placed there to arrest him when he came out to stand aside, which he did, and Bud walked off. While he was locked in the jail with the doors securely locked, two prisoners who were out on bail for a few hours returned at the expiration of their time and failing to be admitted, made their escape. Gilliland was at the time under charge of the constable in default of bail for shooting at a man. He left town but will probably return soon as he is one of those men who are permitted to do pretty much as they please, whether it be shooting within the town limits for the sake of noise, or shooting at a man with intent to kill.
Did this “shooting at a man with intent to kill” involve Newton Jones? We don’t know, but that would certainly explain the hell-bent manner of Jones as he arrived at the horse races.
Later records state that the reason Newton Jones fled after shooting Bud wasn’t that he meant to escape justice but rather that he knew Bud’s older brother Jeff Gilliland would try to kill him.
As it turned out, he was exactly right.
Newton had a lovely young wife and an extended family that needed him. He dodged in and out of the area for nearly two years before his whereabouts could be anticipated and a posse went out to find him. Bud’s big brother Jeff Gilliland wrangled his way into the posse in his role as deputy despite concerns he would carry out his personal vendetta.
The posse waited in ambush for the Jones boys for several hours. Finally, the party approached. Newton’s nephew David Jones had been the wagon driver and gave his testimony in court about what happened:
We started from Lewis & Johnson’s Mill … and we got about a half mile from Johnson’s mill on the road toward Carter’s Store. I was driving the wagon and Matilda was riding in the wagon. The others were riding behind. Newton and [David’s brother] William were riding side by side. [Newton’s brother] Enoch was riding behind them.
The first thing I heard was the report of a gun or pistol. Immediately after several guns were fired, my mules ran off, ran about seventy-five yards. After my mules stopped, I raised up in the wagon and heard someone say “Halt! Halt! Shoot them boys, the last damned son of a bitch of them.” I could see a glimpse of men running up the hill in the woods. I heard horses running on the other side of the road.
I unhitched my mules and went back and found my brother [William] dead, lying close by the side of the road, rather under his horse which was down. Two shots in the head, and in the temple, several in [his] side and leg. Deceased was armed, had his revolver under him, not drawn…
Enoch was wounded in the side of the head and a shot glanced his neck. The voice I heard I thought was Jeff Gilliland’s. Heard but one voice; ‘Halt,’ was given but one time that I heard. If it had been given before, I would have heard it.
Then the shoe was on the other foot. The entire posse was indicted for murder of the innocent young William Jones, and things got even more complicated after that.
Three years later, in 1880, Jeff Gilliland remained at large at his home near West Fork. In 1882, a U. S. marshal out of Fort Smith brought a posse to arrest him. He fired on them, wounding two. Over the next two years, Gilliland evidently carried out a war of revenge against the posse members, who reported being shot at on random occasions. He never served time for the William Jones killing, nor did Newton Jones stand trial for killing Bud Gilliland.
This has been one of the more fascinating stories I’ve uncovered in my research for a book I’ve been working on, Murder in the County. It contains 50 murder stories from the 1800s in Washington County. I won’t tell you what happens next to Newton Jones or Jeff Gilliland except to say the story takes a couple more intriguing twists and turns.
During these early years, as I mentioned earlier, West Fork the town did not exist where it’s now located. But the area was known as a peaceful and fruitful location. Local farms produced everything from apples to wheat. A main road south passed through the valley and stagecoaches traveled through Campbell Community north of West Fork and stopped at the home of John Karnes and later his son Daniel Karnes where travelers could have a meal, stay in overnight lodging, and fresh horses or mules teams could be hitched.
However, for particular travelers, another stop a few miles down at the Woolsey store offered a jot of whiskey. As noted by local historian Robert Winn,
It was not unusual for the stage to stop long enough [at Woolsey] that travelers imbibed enough to become tipsy and occasional excitement resulted in the form of fisticuffs or gun play.
Fifty years after the first white people arrived in the west fork valley, the modern day location of West Fork began to formalize. In 1875 or ’76, the old water-mill plant at the head of the creek at Woolsey was moved north to what would become the town of West Fork. The new steam mill at West Fork provided reliable power for grinding grain, sawing lumber, and even operating a carding-machine which straightened and cleaned fibers for weaving into cloth. A spoke factory opened and the place attracted other industries including blacksmith shops.
In 1882, the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad punched through this area headed south. A flood of newcomers followed, eager to make money off the harvest of virgin forest. This hard work involved teams of mules, men on either end of big crosscut saws, and plenty of hacking by ax to clear limbs off the main trunk. Then there was the matter of getting the logs down to the train depot. Many of those logging roads became the roads we drive today.
Things in the south county changed a lot then. Entrepreneurs of all stripes rushed into the area to make money. One example was a man named Erastus Pitkin. He bought out much of Woolsey’s land and with the formalizing of West Fork at its current location in 1885, the place at Woolsey became known as Pitkin. Pitkin partnered with another man to open a hardwood lumber operation at West Fork. They ordered ‘log wagons’ from the Springfield Wagon Company. These wagons were essential for moving cut logs down to the railroad and featured a specialized heavy-duty construction with independent axles.
In May 1885, another early settler named Thomas McKnight finalized plans to incorporate the modern day town of West Fork. Since before the railroad’s completion, McKnight had been buying up land in the area that would become the town of West Fork. He platted town lots and sold to men eager to open for business. Within four years, the town included not only the thriving mill, but two general stores, a drug store, a grocery, a meat market, a hardware store, furniture store, the Hardin Hotel, and a food production company that employed 37 workers in canning tomatoes and drying local apples produced on farms up and down the valley.
An amusing note – Robert Winn reported that the West Fork canning factory had an interesting side effect on the local population.
“Juice from the apples ran in shallow trenches from the building out into the warm sunshine. Peelings were also dumped near the factory; these also fermented. All livestock ran on open range and wandered about the factory. Cows, pigs, poultry, and any other livestock drank the juice and ate the peelings. Soon after the factory opened each fall, every cow, pig, and chicken that was permitted on the open range staggered home at night in a drunken condition.”
During this boom period another local feud came to a boil. A man named Jim Graham brought up on charges of arson. Among those testifying against him at trial was Calvin Rutherford. Once Graham had served his two year sentence, he came back to West Fork with a serious grudge against Rutherford. In February 1892, the lid blew off.
Here’s the account published in the Fayetteville paper:
On Friday evening last, [Rutherford and Graham] got into a fight in Yoes’ store and when the smoke cleared away, Graham was found to be mortally wounded by a pistol ball that entered his body near the hip and ranged upward coming out on the opposite side near the collar bone.
Cal Rutherford and his brother Bob were both cut in several places, the latter not seriously. It is hard to get the exact facts in the case but we learn that the Rutherford boys were drinking and that Cal was taking in the town. Before the fight occurred, he rode into a store and smashed the store window and was pretty badly cut by the glass. He then rode his mule into Yoes’ store and as he was coming out, Jim Graham and a stranger whose name we did not learn went into the store.
When Rutherford saw Graham, he is said to have made some remark about whipping him and went back into the store when the fight commenced. Graham cut Cal four times and while he was doing so, Bob Rutherford came in. Graham then started to run upstairs and was shot by Bob. The latter was also cut but whether by Graham or someone else we have not learned.
Graham died Saturday afternoon and a warrant was sworn out before Squire Lusk of this city for the arrest of the Rutherfords charging them with murder. Constable Burkitt took charge of and was guarding them but on Sunday while he was at dinner, Bob Rutherford escaped and has not yet been apprehended.
A bit more info is found in the Little Rock paper’s article on the matter:
News has reached here of a bloody affray between the Rutherfords and Grahams, of West Fork, two families who have made themselves notorious as desperadoes … Cal Rutherford, Deputy United States Marshal of this District, was drunk and was running the town, and after riding his horse through two or three stores, and shooting at everything in sight, rode in the store owned by Jacob Yoes, United States Marshal Western District of Arkansas, and there found Jim Graham. He began cursing and abusing him and threatened to kill him. He then jumped from his horse and rushed at Graham, who drew his knife and stabbed Rutherford five times in the breast and bowels when Bob Rutherford intervened and Graham stabbed him twice. Bob Rutherford rushed for a pistol, securing one in the store, with which he did lively work, shooting Graham several times, only one shot taking effect which will prove fatal. A bystander, Mack Matthews, made an effort to quell the row and Bob Rutherford crushed his skull with a pistol. Cal Rutherford will probably die from the wounds and Bob may recover. The Sheriff and Constable took charge of the parties and have them under heavy guard.
Yee haw, boys!
So what happened to West Fork? Obviously, times changed. The big tree harvest and easy money from the crowds of timbermen came to an end. Once the tree is cut, it’s gone. Fruit crops and local canneries suffered from growing competition and new food purity laws. Farmers discovered that the soil was easily depleted and crops didn’t flourish. Also, south county water supplies couldn’t meet the growing demand.
West Fork prospered fairly well until 1919 when an entire block of downtown burned to the ground. The bank lasted until 1929 and closed with the stock market crash. As roads improved and more people made use of motor vehicles, travel became much easier and people began commuting to Fayetteville for jobs, taking even more money away from local businesses. It’s the story of thousands of small rural communities in our country.
(Adapted from a talk I gave May 6, 2017, sponsored by the Friends of West Fork Library and the Washington County Historical Society. Additional photographs will uploaded soon.)
 After notice of my talk came out, I was contacted by a man who descended from Richard Dye. We chatted about the location of the school and church. He thought it was on the east side of the highway and a little south, roughly in the area where McKnight’s wrecker service is at this time, perhaps upslope south of the creek bottom. Another source confirms that “Dye’s Shed” was located just south of the business location. (We Call It Home by Harold G. Hutcheson and Bernice Karnes. Observer Press circa 1985.)
 “Early Days at West Fork,” Bernice Karnes. Flashback November 1956. 13-18. Fayetteville: Washington County Historical Society.
High-profile courtroom cases like the 1937 “Cabin Orgy” suit gained public attention for Rex Perkins. His fame as an outstanding trial lawyer spread. His name increasingly appeared in conjunction with front page headlines announcing the most recent sensational case. For example, in June 1943, he successfully defended Tuck Bishop, an admitted murderer of four people. In Bishop’s defense, Rex harped on Bishop’s status as a wounded veteran and filed a nolle prosequi declaration resulting in a precedent-setting life sentence for Mr. Bishop rather than the expected death penalty.
Rex’s success in gaining cases rose not only from his frequent mentions in local media, but also from his enthusiastic and tenacious pursuit of legal options for his clients. In addition to his sharp mind and voracious study of the law, Rex didn’t hesitate to skirt the edges of accepted practice. One anecdote recalls a time when Rex and his client faced a formidable team of well-heeled Little Rock attorneys who traveled to the Madison county courthouse to press their case. In those days, visual aids required to instruct jurors on logistics or scene layout usually depended on the use of a chalkboard. As the Little Rock legal team left the courtroom for a brief recess, Rex strolled past the chalkboard and palmed the chalk. Alas, no further use of the chalkboard could be made.
In 1944, Perkins and his partner Tom Sullins took up the case of Elwin A. Budd, founder of Budd Post and Hardwood Company and a longtime prominent businessman in the region. An Illinois native of impoverished background, Budd had built a fortune buying and selling hardwood fence posts during the peak years of Washington County’s timber boom, becoming known as “the man who fenced the West.” He married Nettie Huey in 1903, settled on a place near Brentwood (south Washington County), and in 1908, the couple gained a son. A young woman named Rose Shackelford came to help with the baby and E. A. fell in love with her.
By this time, Budd had built his fence post fortunes into thriving mercantile operations along the railroad at Winslow and Chester, Arkansas, as the route cut south into virgin forest between Fayetteville to Fort Smith. He divorced Nettie and married Rose in 1909 when he was thirty-two and she was fifteen. His relationship with Rose ended tragically just six years later after the couple took an automobile trip to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Pregnant during the arduous journey, Rose gave birth to a stillborn child in October and died four days later.
It was said that the loss of Rose changed E. A. forever. He threw himself into his business. In the 1920s as the timber trade died down, he along with his brother Arthur invested in expansive commercial enterprises in Fayetteville. Their Royal Movie Theater, Royal Barber Shop, Royal Café, and Budd’s Department Store occupied virtually all of the south side of the Fayetteville Square. Budd’s fence post business continued in Fayetteville with warehouses stretching from South Hill Avenue east to South Government Avenue and filling a half block north of the railroad tracks toward Sixth Street (now Martin Luther King Boulevard). Another warehouse, ‘Budd’s Woodcraft and Spokes,’ fronted 808 South Government, a structure recently housing the ‘The Village Sculptor’ ironworks of the modern-day Fayetteville artist Hank Kaminsky and demolished in 2013.
Budd remarried several times, becoming increasingly more depressed and drinking heavily. Beloved by employees as a “likeable, hard-working, and shrewd man with a knack for making money” and credited with creating jobs during the Depression, his work habit was remembered that he “left home in a three-piece suit to sell posts up and down the river, then later in the day changed to a pair of overalls to do the manual labor.”
Misfortune continued to find him, however. Fire swept through his Fayetteville mercantile, theater, barber shop and café on January 15, 1940, resulting in total loss to the contents, as well as destruction of several rented upstairs offices and apartments.
Four years later, on March 27, 1944, Budd allegedly inflicted fatal wounds to Miss Norma Smith, a Zion schoolteacher of long acquaintance with Budd. The trial opened July 11, 1944. The defense team included Perkins, Tom Sullins, and John Mayes. Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Duty was joined by Assistant Prosecutor Glen Wing and Van Buren attorney Dave Partain in Judge J. W. Trimble’s court. Opening testimony for the prosecution came from Pvt. Dale Fields, 26, who recounted his previous Saturday evening at Mitche’s Place with a crowd from Springdale. Upon exiting the building, he said Miss Smith “hollered” at him to come over to the car where she was sitting.
He went over and talked to her for a while, then got in the car and went to Springdale. She drove him home. He made a date with her to see her the next morning. They drove to Noel, Mo., in her car and visited his uncle, Fields said, returning to Fayetteville about 4:30, and that evening she again took him home to Springdale. ‘She asked me to come back and see her any time I wanted to,’ he said.
He didn’t see her any more until March 27, about 8 or 9 o’clock, Fields testified. ‘We were laying on the bed when Mr. Budd came in there…He walked up on the porch, came in the house, turned on the lights, came in the bedroom and told me “‘Time to leave.’”
When questioned by the defense, Fields said Budd did not say that in an angry tone. Fields got up and began to dress, but Miss Smith said that he wasn’t leaving. She went into the living room and argued with Budd. As Fields got the living room, he saw Budd slap her. She fell into a chair and Budd left.
Fields asked her who Budd was but she wouldn’t tell him…she just said he was a business man up town. Budd returned, threw eggs at the house and Norma ran out and stared hollering at him. One egg came through the door was she went out, and splattered on the wall…Fields said he next heard fighting in the yard. He said he had been sitting near the door and could hear the blows, and ‘it sounded like he was hitting her hard.’ Then she yelled for help. Fields went out and when he first saw them they were fighting in the corner of the yard near a tree. He saw Budd hit her in the face one lick with his fist, and…she hit the ground. “Then the law came down there…Budd started to his car.”
After about an hour at the police station, Fields returned to Miss Smith’s house where he found her lying on the bed. “There was a place on her chin and blood was running down the back of her neck coming from under her hair,” he said. He washed her and convinced her to go to a doctor, but when they got to the car, it wouldn’t start. The wires had been cut. Fields tried to find a doctor who would go to the house, but no one came. He stayed with her all night during which time Budd drove up and down the street blowing his horn…
From Chapter 4 of Rex Perkins: A Biography. Available in Fayetteville and West Fork local bookstores. Or at Amazon.
 Bassett, Marynm. Interview with author May 23, 2014. Author’s notes.
 Brotherton, Velda. “Rose Budd the one true love of legendary businessman,” “Wandering the Ozarks with Velda Brotherton.” White River Valley News, June 23, 2005. Page 9
A visiting guinea? A ‘possum in the dining room? What strange and wondrous occurrences can one expect while living on an Ozark mountaintop for thirty-five 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?
“I enjoyed all these stories and especially admired the author’s ability to describe the creatures she encounters with a naturalist’s eye and a pet lover’s emotions. My favorite story was ‘Summer,’ a languorous description of a 102-degree day on the mountain where the smallest movement seems difficult and time slows down. The author’s prose is lyrical and yet unsentimental. You can feel the heat and the sense of relief when the day draws to a close. A beautifully-written series of stories…” Reviewed by Annamaria Farbizio for Readers’ Favorite
How could so much change in only six years? I had flown before, many times. Between 1968 and 2008, I lost count of the times I swallowed down excitement as the plane lifted me toward the sky. Airports were the threshold of adventure, the place where infinite possibilities scrolled down the flight departures screen.
But in the intervening years since my last sojourn, I settled firmly at my desk. My adventures became mental journeys into the pages of my writing. I’m comfortable here with my dogs, the woods, my bed.
Okay, I’m getting old.
So when my friend Ginny extended her invitation, my immediate response was anxiety. Could I sleep well on an unfamiliar bed? What about air travel in these days of crazy passenger outbursts and terror threats? Did I really want to go?
My two older children live on the West Coast. I hadn’t seen Ginny for years, and her invitation made me contemplate not only spending time with her and seeing my kids, but also absorbing myself in that uniquely California environment of salty, kelp-flavored air and laid back attitudes. Of course I wanted to go, but couldn’t I please just instantly appear in Santa Cruz instead of going through the journey?
After weeks of increasing anxiety, I hardly slept the night before my departure. What if I didn’t arrive at the airport in time for my flight? What if I forgot to pack something important? What if there were problems with the flight? By the time I parked in the economy lot and hurried across the vast expanse of asphalt, my pulse hammered in my neck. Breathless, I scanned my ticket barcode to print out the boarding pass then mounted the escalator.
Swallowing over a dry throat, I handed the attendant my ticket and identification, moved forward to the screening line, and took refuge in the actions of those ahead of me. At least I could follow their lead. Carry-on luggage on the conveyor belt. Backpack with my purse inside. Take off shoes. No, attendant said. I didn’t have to take off my shoes, courtesy of the first attendant’s notation on my boarding pass which, I assume, had to do with my age. What are the characteristics one must exhibit at the Northwest Arkansas airport to qualify for remaining shod through security? That and another hundred questions and worries flooded my mind as I accompanied my baggage along the conveyor.
“What liquids…(blah)?” The uniformed guard’s words rolled over me as I tried to remember what I had packed. At the last minute, I had abandoned all hope of forcing my thick crème rinse into the tiny travel container. It globbed up at the rim and cascaded down the outside of the container. So I had stuck the entire bottle in my case. Hadn’t I read somewhere that larger containers were okay?
At this point, my voice had become husky and I shook. It wasn’t like they were going to take me outside and shoot me for packing an oversized container of crème rinse. But it was expensive. Other travelers piled up behind me while I tried to make an intelligent decision. The options for keeping it meant paying $25 to check my bag or walking back across the north forty to my car. No, I’d have to give it up. I watched my nearly full bottle of organic hair product land in their disposal bin.
That was only the first of a day of indignities. Maybe growing older and even more rigidly set in my ways preordained that travel by public conveyance would unfold as a series of rude shocks. Jostling in line to board. Wading to the next to last row of seats. Cramming myself into a tiny seat by a window—which I would have chosen if I had been willing to pay the extra money—but facing out over the wing, which I would not have chosen. Enduring the mind-boggling cacophony of human voices shouting over the engine noise as we made the short trip to Dallas-Fort Worth.
By the time we arrived at DFW, my back had spasmed in my effort not to rub against the passenger in the adjacent seat. Clearly comfortable with air travel and close association with whomever, she spent the trip jawing with the man across the aisle, her conversation frequently punctuated with loud laughter. That her leg touched mine or her elbow periodically brushed my arm seemed never to appear on her personal radar.
I live in near total isolation on an Ozark hilltop. I see more deer than people. Coyotes routinely howl at my back fence before disappearing back into the oak and hickory forest. Driving into town for groceries and random errands usually results in a hasty revision of my ambitious to-do list so that my time amid busy streets and crowded store aisles is reduced to only the most urgent items. I return home annoyed and clogged with Other People’s Energy.
Now, barely started on my journey, my back aching with don’t-touch-me tension, I hurry along the wide corridors of DFW’s Terminal C to find the trolley that will whisk me to Terminal A. I dodge businessmen and women wheeling fine leather cases, families straggling with children, retirees looking faintly lost and grumpy. After a fast jerky trolley ride clinging to a grab rail, I descend into Terminal A. Even greater throngs greet me there.
I’m hungry and wander along the crowded corridor. McDonalds swarms with customers, deterrent enough even if I could choke down the food. Starbucks isn’t lunch. I don’t want seafood. Taking a tentative space in the line at TGI Friday’s, I’m soon seated facing out over the hive activity in the corridors and presented a menu. After a heart-stopping moment of sticker shock, I order a cup of broccoli-cheddar soup for $7. It comes with four saltines.
Okay. I can do this. Refreshed from my cheesy lunch, I soon board the jet bound for San Jose. Blessedly, I am not seated in the back or over a wing. Cursedly, I am the first aisle seat in the three-seat side of economy class, meaning the aisle jogs right there as passengers move through from first class. Each passage jostles or brushes me in some way. Plenty of leg room, but since there are no seats in front of me, the tray table folds up from the chair arm. Which would be fine in a perfect world. However, I admit to a less than trim waistline and so the table fits snugly across my midsection. Embarrassing and uncomfortable. I drag out my book and try to concentrate on the lovely biography of Doc Holliday.
An hour into this three and a half hour flight, my back is killing me. The friendly lady on my right enjoys a gin and tonic while reading her Kindle. She’s relaxed and her arm touches mine. Her knee touches mine. My need not to touch someone else is so ingrained that I can’t relax even when I tell myself to get over it. Even when she’s asleep.
With perhaps an hour left in the flight, I lurch to the bathroom at the back of the cabin. Here, for a brief blissful moment, I am alone. But these hours of being crammed into a metal box with a hundred other people is taking its toll. My back muscles have seized. My head aches. My nose has become stuffy with breathing recycled air. The thoughts and emotions of a hundred other human beings have invaded my consciousness. Let me out!
Finally the jet screams down the runway and slams to a halt at Gate 18 of SJC. The blessing aspect of my seating reasserts itself as I follow first class passengers on an early disembarkation. I hurry down the terminal’s long passageways to emerge blinking into the bright San Jose afternoon. The air smells of ocean. Moments later, my daughter calls and then appears to pick me up in a borrowed car.
Strange how children always look the same and yet, at least initially after a long absence, appear as strangers. We plunge into happy conversation as if it was yesterday instead of 28 months since our last meeting. I luxuriate in the absence of strangers and the comfort of a well-padded car seat.
The drive over the mountains along Highway 17 is curvy and steep, plagued with heavy traffic. Soon she turns onto a side route that leads into Soquel over the old San Jose Road. Her smile and the sound of her voice are beautiful.
The rich odor of pine sap and eucalyptus starts to clear my clogged nose. The narrow lane winds along sharp inclines cut into the face of newly minted earth—slabs of granite bedrock under hulking chunks of sandstone pushed up from the ocean floor as recently as the last three million years. Even after two years of drought, native vegetation maintains a stubborn gray-green grip on the land, all subordinated to the towering redwoods.
We talk about her flight from Oregon, her plans. The eight days we’ll have together. This is more like it. I have survived. I am here.