A tall mustached cowboy rode into my life a lot of years ago when I was involved with The Ozark Native Craft Shop south of Winslow. His name? Ivan Denton, a well-known sculptor of wood. But he is known for so much more than that talent.
In those days craft shows were the place to be on long hot summer weekends in the Ozarks. I worked part-time in this shop and so became a part of their semi-annual shows. Being surrounded by so many artists, it followed that I would try my hand at something, so I spent a lot of time in the midst of these wonderful crafts people discovering a hidden talent – well, semi-talent: drawing.
At that time Ivan Denton displayed his carvings in the shop and at the craft shows and we began to have long talks. As time went by we became more involved in his love of writing when I began what would become the long road to writing with a weekly column for three newspapers in the area. I interviewed crafts people, visited their workshops and wrote their stories. It didn’t take long to realize that Denton was more than a carver of cute little images. He was a true sculptor and people came from all over the world, not just from our small Ozark settlements, to admire and purchase his creations.
If I were to attempt a story about this talented, wonderful personality it would take a book. He was an historian who told marvelous stories, an adventurer who claimed to have discovered a mine of turquoise in our mountains, a musician who appeared on stages including the local Little O’ Oprey in West Fork. He and his wife Rose became friends who sat in our living room and told stories and entertained me and my husband more than once.
Ivan and his wife Rose lived on a ranch down around Schaberg, truly the wilderness. For years he had a wood carving shop near his home where he welcomed carvers. Sometimes I drove down there to find men sitting around on stumps, rocks and in chairs, knives busy making chips from hunks of wood that they would turn into faces, horses, or other images. And there sat Ivan in the center teaching and entertaining everyone with his guitar and marvelous voice.
Probably his accomplishment that stands out among all those talents is his ride from Arkansas to California on his beloved horse Lad. They left on a rainy morning, he and that horse, from Artist Point north of Mountainburg to follow the Cherokee Trail to Woodford Station near Lake Tahoe in California. His wife kept in touch from her truck packed with supplies, but far away on a busy Interstate. The day he left I was there to take pictures and wish him farewell.
Coincidentally I wrote a western novel that told the history of the Cherokee Trail prior to his ride. He often teased me on stage about the romances I wrote, but bragged when he learned I had dedicated one to him.
Ivan’s ride was followed in the Washington County Observer in the letters he wrote to the paper. After he returned he took the time out of his busy life to write a book about that ride and included in it the history of cattle drives and old brands of the west. I have a copy that I treasure. In it he wrote simply “For Velda, a good friend and fellow writer. Ivan Denton.” It’s title is Old Brands and Lost Trails – Arkansas and the Great Cattle Drives.
Ivan’s true character can be found in this final acknowledgement in his book regarding those who helped him along his infamous ride: After I saddled up and before I mounted my pony I would shake hands, look them in the eye, and say, “I will never forget your kindness.” And I never will.
I too will never forget the times I spent with this very special man who not only taught me much about the west, he taught me about being humble and thankful for all those I’ve met along my trail.
Ivan has gone on now to join so many other of my friends and acquaintances. I often picture him and Dusty exchanging stories for they could outdo each other with their knowledge of the old west and Arkansas’ characters and tales from the past.
Copies of the Observer are on file at the University of Arkansas and the Winslow Library has most of them which I donated.