Don’t Throw it Away, You Might Want It

Ever wonder what writers do when they’re not writing? Well, I can tell you. They dream about writing a big hit. Well, at least some of them do. Mostly we wonder what we can turn into another story.

The very first idea I had for a book was about a damaged Vietnam Veteran coming home to find a woman who actually loved him so much she stuck with him through all the problems involved. I was so interested in the subject I spent years researching, writing, writing, editing and rewriting that book. It was actually the first book I wrote. It was 1985 and the news was filled with the troubles of warriors and PTSD.

It is said the popularity of ideas comes and goes. No one wanted that book. What had come was gone.

I went on to other things. Wrote some historical western romances, sold same to big New York publishers. Guess what? That idea came and went, as did New York publishing and its interest in authors other than Stephen King, etc.

Writers are resilient though. We just don’t quit, or most of us don’t. This one didn’t. History. Hmm, now that’s something I was interested in. So Six published historical books later I tired of the heavy lifting of research for nonfiction books and went back to my love of historical romances. Wrote some more. Found publishers interested.

Wait a minute. Where had I put that manuscript for that Vietnam love story? This topic was enjoying a comeback. I didn’t even have a computer for that manuscript and I found it stowed away in a plastic storage container. Out it came. Maybe it was time to get serious about publication.

It was and I did and I found a fella attending our writer’s workshop who wanted to start a publishing house. Did I have any old manuscripts lying around he could publish? He rounded up a few more authors, published our books and we were all off and running. Turns out he’s pretty brilliant in a lot of ways that apply to book publishing. Thus came about Oghma Creative Media.

You know something. I really sort of enjoyed the love scenes in those romances, but had been reading mysteries. Not cozy or sweet, but dark, gritty, sexy stories. So I wrote a series called The Twist of Poe Series. He liked it.

Today he’s publishing all my books. But guess what the first one was? Remember that Vietnam vet’s love story? Yeah, that one I put away so long ago. Goes by the name of Beyond the Moon, it’s getting mostly five star reviews and I hear from vet’s wives a lot about how I wrote their story, or how much they enjoyed reading it. Sure taught me one thing. Never throw a manuscript away and never give up on the book of your heart, which Beyond the Moon was. Because readers asked for it, I’ve written a sequel called Immortal Hero, and if this virus lets up enough we can seriously begin putting books out there again, it will be published. You can read Beyond the Moon as an ebook though I understand there are some paper copies available at your favorite book store. Or get it at Amazon for Kindle or Barnes & Noble.

Sure am happy I didn’t throw that dusty old manuscript away.

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The No Kill Cat

Reading my friend Jan Morrill’s post about her cat Malika and her sad death gave me pause to sit and watch my cat, who has grown so dear to me in the fourteen years she has spent with us. In our laps, wrapped around one neck or another, perching atop my husband’s hip to sleep away the night. I never understood how he could sleep all night with an almost ten pound feline curled on one hip, but he did. Just never had the heart to push her off I guess. She missed him for a long while after he passed away.

Today I watched her through the screen door where she lay in the shade on our deck. It’s high above the ground on the side of the mountain where we live and she likes that her one sworn enemy, dogs, can’t get to her there. Except for lizards, squirrels, birds, and at night braver souls like coons and possums. Today a small lizard ventured calmly across the floor near her nose. She cracked open her eyes, just a bit, saw her visitor and as if she shrugged went back to sleep. I call her my “no kill” cat. I’ve seen her try to make friends of a visiting baby rat sitting in our dining room by touching it on the head with one paw, then walking calmly away.

She is smart, so it’s not that she doesn’t get it. It’s just that she never learned to kill. She came to me straight from a nest of feral babies, two of which had bobbed tails like their father, who was seen roaming through the pastures some time before their birth. My daughter found them in time to save two. The others had died. She brought me the female and kept the male. They looked exactly alike, butterscotch and white, except ours had a bobbed tail and hers had a long snake like tail.

Bobbi learned early on to open screen doors from inside or outside the house, and so all summer she can come and go as she pleases. Yet, in spite of that, she prefers the kitchen door which –yes, you guessed it — there is no screen so the door is closed and mommy has to open the door for her.

She will lie on the deck and watch birds in the tree tops and on the honeysuckle vine that crawls up the post and over the rail. Never does she try to catch one. Squirrels and red foxes who live nearby are her playmates. Only thing she does not like are dogs because they want to chase her and so up a tree she goes. Once so high she had to be rescued. That’s a scary story I’ll tell one day with pictures. But guess what? The fire department will not come and rescue a cat trapped in the top of a tree like they do in the movies.

The only time I saw her panic with another animal, though was when a black bear peered in our bedroom window while she was lying next to me in the bed. She swelled into a huge ball and began to growl and slap the closed window so hard I thought she would break it. The bear must’ve felt threatened, for it left.

So you can understand how I felt for my friend when I learned her cat had died.  Keep the memories close, for they will remain with you always.

I did my best to get a picture of Bobbi here but my life does not include understanding all the new crap on computers. I was lucky to get this published, or did I>?

To read Jan’s blog go here:

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How Romantic was the West?

First I apologize to those who subscribe to my blog. Entries have been scarce while I wrote three western novels last year. Talk about nose to the grindstone. Don’t get me wrong, writing and western history are two of my favorite interests. Now that those three books are done and in line for publication with Oghma Creative Media, I’ve been set the task of writing a creative non-fiction novel about the US Marshals who rode for the law in the Western Arkansas District.  Hundreds of deputies wore the badge when Judge Isaac Parker took over the task of enforcing the law on the borderline of Indian Territory. There outlaws by the droves sought safety. Something that didn’t last when the tough judge brought down his gavel while outside swung a noose ready for the final punishment of these tough men.

gallows Ft. Smith

He may have earned the title of the Hanging Judge, but he was once quoted as saying that his job was not nearly as important as that of the marshals and their deputies who kept the law in the 74,000 square mile Western Arkansas District. Many stories will be uncovered as I research for this formidable assignment.

Meanwhile, I’m running across stories of life in those days and I want to share some of them here with you. Stories of families and how they survived the harsh life of the western frontier. First, because I’ve met some folks who argue that Arkansas is not part of that early western frontier, that we are a southern state, you have to realize that Fort Smith Arkansas lay within shooting distance of some of the wildest country that existed when the westward movement began following the Civil War. Indian Territory was home to five civilized tribes plus a scattering of dozens of others. Those committing crimes in Indian Territory were supposed to answer to Indian Law. I use that term because in those days there was no such thing as “politically correct.”

The enormous amount of outlaws seeking asylum in Indian Territory overpowered all efforts to contain the killings, so US Marshals and their deputies were assigned the task. Indian Territory alone was 70,000 square miles. Add to that the western counties of Arkansas and 50 square miles of southern Kansas and these brave men were given a back breaking task.

But if you want to know more about this wait for my book to come out. Here I’d like to give you an example of how ordinary people went about life under such circumstances. One man wrote that living back then was impossible to imagine. Unlike the romantizing of movies, riding in a wagon over the impossibly rough roads often caused broken bones. He added that there were no cars, electricity or tv. Never mind the absence of the electronics of today. Another woman wrote that people took a bath once a year, that they did not have toothbrushes, toothpaste or pencils. She added that the girls helpt their moms do dishes.

Here’s an example of how doing the dishes was accomplished. First build a fire, either in the cookstove if it had a reservoir, or outside under a big cast iron pot. Go to the well and draw a few buckets of water, some for washing, the rest for rinsing. Pour half the water in one or the other container to heat. Grate some lye soap to make suds in which you wash the dishes. Place the soapy dishes in another pan, get more hot water from the reservoir or put more into the outdoor pot in which to rinse. Then do your best to talk your sister or brother into drying each rinsed dish and putting away in the cabinet.

Washing the laundry was much the same only harder work. Most families did the laundry on Monday, spent all day Tuesday ironing with two flat irons kept on top of the cookstove with a fire kept burning.

Pict rose dunn aka r c0001

A fashion accessory for many ladies on the Western frontier. This dress might get laundered twice a year, or just worn till it wore out and thrown away.

The Harrison family picked up and moved from Arkansas to Indian Territory. We can’t imagine what that move must’ve been like for them. They had originally moved to Washington County, Arkansas in 1839. It wasn’t mentioned why they went on to Indian Territory later, but it was after the end of the Civil War. Imagine if you can packing all your worldly belongings in a wagon, perhaps loading down a pack mule or horse with as much as possible and lighting out for the wilderness of the outlaw west. It was not exciting nor was it romantic. It was going without bathing or washing clothing. It was nights sleeping on the ground, hoping snakes didn’t join you in your lumpy bed. It was keeping a 24 hour watch for angry Indians who wanted you off their land. It can be supposed that this family might have gone west for the land run, I couldn’t find a date that they moved from Arkansas.

They would soon have to count on the protection of US deputy marshals who were paid 6 cents a mile whether tracking a killer or delivering court papers. They drew 2 dollars a mile for delivering a summons or delivering a killer to the courthouse. Other small duties might bring in a few more cents at the end of a month. Most of their work went unpaid. Yet there were 210 deputies who signed up to serve during Parker’s first term as judge.

As I research for the US Deputy Marshal’s book, if I run across some things readers might enjoy hearing about I’ll share them. But I’m hoping this will be just enough to whet your appetite for the book and I’ll keep you posted on its progress and publication schedule.

This is a sample of one of the deputy badges used in later years. More about how those badges came about next time. Just little snippets of the information and stories to be found in the book.

deputy badge

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Following the Butterfield Overland Mail Route

butterfield horses

September 16, 1858 — In the early mist of a warm Ozark morning, John Butterfield rose from the seat of the stage, lifted his whip over the backs of a team of six horses, and cracked open the late summer stillness. Tall and robust at 56 years of age, he was about to ride into his place in history.

After unloading packets of mail from the train from St. Louis to Tipton, Butterfield drove the coach on the first leg of its journey west. The brightly painted stage arrived in San Francisco a scant 24 days later, one day under the contracted agreement.

In 1857, after winning the government contract to deliver the United States Mail from St. Louis to San Francisco in the seemingly impossible time of 25 days, John Butterfield sent out agents who spent a year surveying existing roads which could be used to fulfill that contract. They built no roads, but sometimes constructed short cuts between established routes. In effect, Butterfield was overseeing  the creation of the first Interstate thruway. It had to be short and fast to meet the demands of the contract.

Butterfield trail

In the twelve months prior to opening the route, Butterfield had some 2,800 miles of route surveyed, purchased land for stations and mapped out river and mountain crossings. The firm purchased 1,200 horses and 600 mules, branded each with an OM (Overland Mail)and shod and distributed them to the 141 stations. Over 1,000 men were hired and trained to serve as conductors, superintendents, drivers, station masters, veterinarians, blacksmiths, and wranglers. Orders and specs were drawn for over 250 regular coaches, special mail wagons, freight wagons and water tank wagons. Coaches were painted either red or green and the running gear was bright yellow. The colorful coach, inscribed with the O.M.C. insignia on the doors, weighed 3,000 pounds and had a load capacity of 4,000 pounds. Though contracted to deliver the mail in the shortest time possible, the stages would carry six to nine passengers inside and an unlimited number on top. Celerity wagons, or mud wagons, were used on the rougher sections of the route, which included the rugged Boston Mountain crossing south of Fitzgerald’s Station near Shiloh (Springdale) Arkansas, and the hotel stop in the county seat of Fayetteville.

The difficulty of Butterfield’s accomplishment has been compared to that of sending a man to the moon in our lifetimes. For our growing nation, no other achievement may compare, for not only did he create a reliable line of communication by establishing the longest mail route in the world, he increased the rate of speed of overland travel. It was believed that no one could manage more than 25-30 miles in 24 hours. He proved them wrong by traveling 120 miles in that length of time. His mail deliveries often made faster time than ocean steamships. But most important to our country’s history, he cemented a bond of common interests between the East and the West that saved California to the Union when the Civil War broke out a few years later. Ironically, the war would shut down the southern route of the Butterfield Mail route. But in those three short years, one man’s ingenuity, fortitude and stubbornness earned him a permanent place in history.

Many people today confuse the Butterfield Stage Route with the Butterfield Overland Mail Route. When Washington County decided to mark the route from Shiloh to Van Buren, my husband and I were asked to locate, verify and map the miles from Strickler through the Boston Mountains into the Arkansas River Valley to the river crossing.

This endeavor was one of the more satisfying of my efforts while researching and writing about the history of the Boston Mountains. So many people held different ideas of that route because the Butterfield Stage had many routes through Missouri, Arkansas and on west. We were able to locate and order the books written by a couple who followed the route in an old Buick and mapped every mile. We also located a man who lived near Strickler whose father rode it often on horseback.

butterfield signing

One beautiful Ozark morning we and the board responsible for the mapping met and spent five hours with him. He pointed out every gap crossing, watering hole and actual existing road for us. It was truly a trip into the past, for many of us imagined we heard chains rattling, wheels creaking and animals chuffing on their way alongside us. Unfortunately, though the route was officially marked from Shiloh to the southern city limits of Fayetteville, it has never been marked along the rugged Boston Mountain Route where only mules were used to pull the wagon. But we spent hours walking many of those miles precisely where John Butterfield laid them out.

Each of us who assisted in this effort signed the large sign that marks the beginning of the route at the northern border of Arkansas.

















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Naked in the Bayou


Unidentified                                                   Health School

Wilderness Schools and Reminiscence

They’re almost invisible today, all grown up within trees, brambles and kudzu vines. But if you listen you can hear the children’s laughter, the squeal of a girl chased by a boy, the ringing of the bell that recess is over. Boys lined up at one door, girls at another, to go back inside and finish the school day. Then walk home, sometimes a mile or two. Or the lucky ones would ride home in a wagon brought by a parent.

They have names like Health and Bethlehem, Who’d Thought It, and Black Oak. Within their walls a few generations of Arkansas children learned their A,B,Cs, their ‘Rithmetic and their Writin’. They grew up to be teachers, farmers, loggers, engineers, and builders; mothers and fathers and preachers. And lawmen. Very few became gangsters, or killers. Boys carried guns to school, rifles they used on their way home to kill meat for supper.

It was definitely a different world. They never heard of heroin or crack. If they smoked it was out behind the barn and if they were caught it meant discipline.

I had no intention for this blog to turn out this way. It started to talk about one room schools and small towns and the lives once lived in the Ozarks. Guess I just kind of got off track.

In those days school and church were held in the same building. Now that I’ve mentioned all the nostalgic memories, there are others. My Dad came to Arkansas when he was sixteen to help build Highway 71 from Mountainburg through the fifteen miles of rugged hills to Winslow. It was a road, but a treacherous one. His Dad was a powder monkey, which to those who don’t know, is the man who made the holes in bluffs and boulders, stuck in sticks of dynamite and lit the fuses blowing the way for the highway.That was my Grandpa, a half Cherokee Indian from Tyler, Texas who had four rough boys for sons, my Dad being the oldest.

My grandmother, also half or more Cherokee, had died leaving two boys and two older girls from a previous marriage and Granddad’s boys. Now my Dad was a man who had more fun than most and just about everything he thought up was funny. The most hilarious being the Sunday afternoon when one of the churches in Mountainburg was having a picnic along the banks of Frog Bayou, now known as Clear Creek. He and a couple of his friends wearing boots and hats, ran shouting and naked down the middle of Frog Bayou during the picnic.

I doubt anyone is alive today who might remember that, but even so I won’t name the other two boys who were with him, but every time he told that story he laughed so hard he had tears in his eyes. Perhaps the tears were a bit from the nostalgia of a time when something like that was funny and no one was arrested or shot. He also remembered turning over outhouses during Halloween and the time he saw a man get his throat cut from ear to ear during an argument in downtown Fort Smith. Said the man was sitting at the wheel of his car when it happened and he bled to death right there. So bad things did happen back then.

My Dad met my Mom and never went back to Tyler, Texas. They married and lived on the mountain above Shepherd Springs in a small log cabin he built. He helped build a lot of the rock houses that still stand alongside Highway 71. So this is my home, where my roots are, my memories too. I’ve been in other places until about 45 years ago when I returned here to stay. I never attended a one room school because my mother insisted on moving to Mountainburg across from the school there when I turned five. The house we lived in was torn down several years ago to add property to a local church. The house I was born in is gone, and is now a picnic area above the shores of Lake Fort Smith. I suppose as I get older I reminisce more, so forgive me if I waxed sentimental a bit.


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They Came on Horseback


traveling preacherI never knew when I arrived at The Observer on Thursday morning what I would find. Of course there’d been the day I was invited to go slither and pet with snakes, the tiger episode and taking a flight with a barnstormer. This day my visitors were a couple of guys on horseback who looked like they had stepped out of the 19th century. They told me they were traveling preachers or ministers, whichever I preferred.

Yep, they were actually riding along highway 71 looking for people who wanted to attend a sermon right out there in the open. What better place to worship the Lord, they told me, than surrounded by the beauty of the Ozarks. We visited a while, I grabbed a picture or two and they went on their way.


traveling minister

So, what possessed these men to step back into another century to do their good work? Well, they liked the idea, first off. But they also had a love for riding horses. Said they could see a lot more of the country than if they were cooped up in a car. And there’s something about a horse as a companion. Those of us who have ridden know exactly what they mean. In those brown eyes lies a spiritual understanding of the bond between humans and beast. What better way to preach the gospel?

Back in the century they stepped from people spent a lot of time outdoors. Imagine an entire family living in a one- or two-room cabin. You’d be out in the open as much as you could too, under those circumstances. Of course, there was always wood to cut for the winter, a garden to tend for growing and storing vegetables. In the spring everyone went out to look for first signs of poke coming up, after a rain there were morels to gather, wild blackberries made delicious pies, later walnuts and hickory nuts covered the ground and could be gathered, cracked and used to make candy and add to cake at Christmas time. Then children were gathered and all the family trooped through the woods to find the perfect cedar tree to decorate for Christmas.

Much of the time was spent outdoors. There was, of course, running to the outhouse no matter the weather. Children walked for miles to school. On Sunday the wagon was hitched to a team that carried everyone out in the open to church even if it was snowing or raining.

Okay, so most of my readers, including myself, weren’t fortunate enough to grow up during those early days, but we can remember mothers or grandmothers relating fond memories.

My second picture was taken and shared with me by the family. These folks lived in West Fork and they are pictured with a traveling minister who had stopped by on this day to share the gospel with them. From their dress the date must be before the turn of the 20th century. By then someone in the family or a friend had a camera and could snap a photo. This traveling preacher had arrived on horseback. The family probably fed him before he went on his way. In those days visitors were always fed something, even if there wasn’t much in the larder.

Hope you enjoyed this little trip into the past with me.


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Arkansas’ Last Pony Express Rider

mounted mail carrier

Sometimes a story carries many surprises, and this one did just that. One never knew who would be on the other end when answering the telephone at the newspaper. And some stories were so surprising I’d actually go mute. An unusual situation for me.

Imogene Norton called one day to say that she had a story about the last mounted mail carrier in Arkansas. I jumped at that for history of the state from any source fascinated me. I was not to know how fascinating until I arrived at her door.

But let’s take that trip. Readers remember I drove a Ford Thunderbird in the early years making my way around the county in search of interviews. It had been a rainy winter and spring so when I took out for Black Oak Road, not the one just a mile away from my home in Winslow, but the one east of Fayetteville near Round Mountain, I was in for a wild ride. Puddles cut large holes in the unpaved road. The only way I could be sure of not falling into a lake was tracks went in and tracks went out on the other side.

I was at the very end of the mud soaked road when I approached a large mobile home surrounded by thick woods. This would be the Norton home unless I was totally lost. A petite graying woman greeted me at the door. I entered and settled with my pad, pen, and recorder, ready for a story from the previous century.

Imogene spoke right away about her husband Silas and his mare Topsy carrying the mail in the Fifties. Confused because this woman could not be that old, I stopped her, something I rarely did. I was sure I had misunderstood something. “The 1850s?”

She smiled in the sweet way she had. “Oh, no, dear. This was the 1950s. He was the last mail carrier in Arkansas to deliver from horseback. It was out of Limestone in Newton County. You know in those days carriers delivered all sort of things besides mail, and he serviced 40 families. He retired from that job in the early sixties and went to work in the log woods.”

Astounded, I launched into the interview, amazed at her story. She told of how he would ride out three days a week, leaving before daylight and not coming home till after dark.  Sometimes on winter days he would return with his boots frozen to the stirrups from crossing five or six creeks. She would have to help thaw him out, so to speak.

“No wheeled vehicle could cover the route so he rode his mare Topsy.” Though he had several different horses, Silas said she was the best he ever had. She would stop at every mail box automatically, whether there was mail or not. Silas didn’t stop with the three day route, the other days he delivered to the Fort Douglas Post Office. Both routes were in the heart of the Ozark National Forest in the Piney River area. There were still 18 families receiving mail there before the routes were abandoned along with several other remote routes in the state.

I’m thinking what a rough life that would have been for this man. Then Imogene tells her story. “I was only a girl when we married in 1946 and had our first child when I was 17. I rode the route with him once.” She stops and laughs. “That was the last time I ever did that.

This tiny lady with shining eyes leans back and studies me a moment, probably realizing how blown-away I am by her story. “I still miss those days. Oh my yes, I do. Even the early morning breakfasts and the late nights. I remember most of the time Silas carried a .30-.30 because there were too many varmints in the woods and snakes too. In the beginning he earned fifty dollars a month and we had five living at home then.”

I can’t speak for a while, but I think she understands. I’m trying to imagine living on fifty dollars a month, even in the early 1950s, even in the hills of Arkansas. I know there was a home garden, bartering with neighbors and a cow for milk. No such thing as electric or phone bills. Still it seems impossible.

A newspaper once referred to Silas Norton as Arkansas’ living link to the Pony Express, and indeed he was. You can read Silas and Imogene’s complete story and many others along with my own, in my book, Wandering In the Shadows of Time, to be re-released by Oghma Creative Medie, to be released soon.

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Really Messed up, go to earlier post for story, nothing I do will fix this

Logan France

Logan spins a yarn

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Stories From Wandering

Above: Logan spins a yarn while Chub reacts

Here’s a bite from a story included in the first book I had published. It was in April, 1994 and I carried the manuscript with me to an OWL meeting where W. C. Jameson asked to read it. He was in the process of opening a publishing company and he wanted stories set in the Ozarks. He read it that same day and approached me asking to publish it, pretty much as it was. To say I was elated is putting it mildly. After writing for nearly ten years, attending conferences, learning my craft with writers like Dusty Richards, Suzann Ledbetter, Lisa Wingate, Delores Cannon, and Cait London to name just a few, I was finally preparing myself for submissions to publishers.

I’d like to share with you a portion of this story about Logan and Chub France, whose family had owned property in the Arkansas Ozarks since the late 1820s, had survived imminent domain when Lake Ft. Smith was built and went on to settle on 500 acres in the Mountainburg Valley. This is only one of the stories which appear in that book published so long ago. Wandering In the Shadows of Time, some claim is my best work. Though I’m proud of it, I’d hate to make that claim, for we should improve over the years.

This book will be published again by Oghma Creative Media. Doing so today and including all the photos from the first edition, will be much easier, what with computers, scanners, etc. In those early days we had a much harder go of it. Each photo had to be taken to be copied and specially prepared, which meant many visits to a business equipped to do just that. Submitting meant mailing hard copy of the manuscript, the numbered copies of photos plus the spot for the placing of each one numbered in the manuscript.

Here’s an excerpt. If you’d like to see the video filmed as a result of the publication of this book, it’s online. It was presented at the Arkansas Film Festival in Batesville. I think you’ll enjoy traveling with me into the Ozarks to meet some of the wonderful settlers I had the privilege to interview.

Here’s a taste of Logan France’s folk stories:

Logan enjoys telling tales. His eyes fill with amusement even before the first words fall from his lips. He has an audience, and likes nothing better.

“I had four brothers and come Saturday night they’d all ride to Chester and get drunk. I’d take out for Bidville and listen to gospel music, or go to a spelling or ciphering match. I was a poor reader but no one could spell against me. At the Kinney and Winfrey match, they brought in outsiders just to whip me and Carl Hutchens. He and me, we could spell every word in the Blue Back Speller, and so we always won.

“There was a schoolhouse down south at Winslow on a rise there just across from Tip-Top, or what they called the Boston Mountain Lodge. The school was named ‘Who’d A Thought It.’ Yeah, that’s right. John L. Collins, John Ridenour, and old man Harrison was on the school board, and that school was going on when ours was out. Dad went to see if me and Carl could go to school there. They said yeah. There was seven or eight about my age, and they’d heard about my spelling, so the very first thing, they decided to have a spelling match. They had this teacher about thirty years old who weighed near 250 pounds. We had to spell gymnasium and gigantic and all the hard words they could find. That teacher, he couldn’t hardly pronounce most of them, but me and Carl, we could spell ‘em. That was the last time they did that with us.”

What was it like to give up the land? To start over again?

“Leaving the old land where you was raised, where your great-grandparents on both sides had lived, naturally it put a bitter taste in your mouth. But they was nothing you could do about it. Chub, now, she just worried it to death. But women ain’t supposed to know as much as a man. If they had a-been, He’d a-made ‘em first. They get excited, you know. I’ve done learned that if something is impossible, there’s no need in worrying it.

“She seen me and she chased me ‘til I finally give in to marry her. But I told her one thing she’d never make me do was live in town. That’s one place we weren’t ever goin’, was to town.”

And they never did. They lived out their colorful lives on that Mountainburg Farm. I can still see Chub standing in her front yard waving a white towel at the train as it passed. They were delightful people and it was an honor to have known them.

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Drums Beat a Challenge


Al HouserArkansas Film FestivalWorking for a small weekly newspaper meant I wore several hats. From one day to the next I never knew who I would meet where. We had a receptionist who also set type, our publisher covered most of the night meetings and I did the rest, whatever that might be.

This day was peaceful and calm, but how long would it remain that way? Inside the neat little house lived a Chiricahua Apache. Standing on the porch my Cherokee blood beat a challenge. Blood being blood I readied myself for a battle of words. What was he doing in Fayetteville, Arkansas? How would he relate to me and my questions?

All I knew going in was he was running a business wherein he would translate and tape all the dying Indian languages. I was there to interview him about that business, how it started, who might be assisting him. You know what? That interview, interesting as it was, lasted perhaps fifteen minutes. It was an important quest and one not many could accomplish.

A small man looked up at me when he opened the door. I’m six feet tall so I dwarfed him, something I was accustomed to but had not expected here. He knew I was coming and smiled warmly when I introduced myself.

We sat in the small room and it took a moment for me to begin. My curiosity was not so much about his work, though I thought it extremely important, as it was his history. For years history had been my main interest. I took all the information about his business, which took very little time, then asked him about his heritage.

I had asked the right question, for his demeanor changed and he became more a proud Apache who sat before me. Body language says so much about all of us. Our happiness, fears, desperations, the sadness we’ve experienced, the hurt of someone’s words. This made it very important what subjects I brought up and how.

For in our history lay a brutal war, the takeover of his country by us. We call it Imminent Domain and that’s okay cause everybody does it. Not only that Tribe versus tribe had their share of wars. But hey, other folks we’ve fought with are now our friends. That’s th way the world works.

Al Houser was the first baby born after the Apaches were released from imprisonment at Ft. Sill. They are known as the Fort Sill Apaches. Al has a brother, also known as Al, who is a famous sculptor whose work is exhibited around the world.

This small, soft spoken man with his Apache history behind him fought in WW II as only a warrior would. The same country that had imprisoned his people called and Houser answered. In the Air Force he learned to fly and became the pilot of a B-24 Liberator. He and his ten-man crew were soon singled out for an elite, top-secret strike force.

In the peacefulness of his Arkansas home I sense the echo of war drums behind his words, envision brilliant scrawls of battle paint across his sharp cheekbones and broad forehead. See a warrior mounted on his horse, riding hard and shouting into the night.
“They called us the Lone Wolf Raider. We were like the stealth bomber is now. They painted our plane gray all over, even the tires. No names or numbers showed anywhere..”

I’m pulled into his story as he speaks, gesturing with his hands. “We flew using radar and had only black and white photos taken during daylight hours to navigate by. Sometimes the missions would last ten to twelve hours, leaving us barely enough fuel to get home.”

This Chiricahua Apache did well by his ancestors during the big war receiving two Distinguished Service Crosses, three Air Medals and three Presidential Citations. After thirty-five missions over the skies of Germany, he came home.

The remainder of this exceptional man’s story is in my book, Wandering In The Shadows of Time which will be re-released soon by Oghma Creative Media. It chronicles my return to Arkansas, what I felt and some of the stories I found hiding in the wilderness of the beautiful Ozarks. The video shot in connection with that book is available in the link posted at the beginning of this story.

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