Over the years I’ve learned that people aren’t as interested in facts and figures of history as they are about the people who lived the life during those days long past. So I’m trying to stick to that in these writings, but in order to tell their stories I have to put you where they lived. Let you see, feel, hear, taste, and smell their world.
The white haired gentleman, and I call him that for it fits so well, met me in a pickup, parked on a dirt road next to a bridge spanning Greasy Creek. The phone call he made to the newspaper informed me that to give directions might just result in my wandering the lovely Ozark wilderness all day. Or perhaps even lost forever. I wouldn’t so much mind that but after hearing some of his story, I wanted to go where he lived, see it for myself and get in touch with the ghosts of his past.
Thus the clandestine meeting. I followed him onto a narrow dirt road where weeds grew up in the center, slapping the undersides of my Thunderbird. I asked much more of this car than it was built for, but when I bought it I had no idea what was awaiting me just around the corner when I went to work for The Washington County Observer. So, here we were in the back woods of Washington County where other reporters had never gone.
We turned, then we turned some more, driving through virgin timber that canopied the roads and fording churning creeks, often the only sound in the wilderness. The last ford being past a barn of weathered boards and coming to a stop at the cabin. Ancient logs formed the house and it sat perhaps no more than fifty feet from the creek on a rise. The scattering of rocks that made up its bank almost touched the steps of his porch. Around to the side the meandering creek had cut a deep bank, perhaps from recent heavy rains that filled it to overflowing.
It was early spring, but the trees had all leafed out on trees so huge and tall they had to be a century or more in age. I opened the car door and stepped out into a silence filled only with bird song and the creek playing over the rocks. As I looked up through sycamore leaves the size of dinner plates, something cold touched my face and tickled the leaves as if whispering to me. Snowflakes floated down doing a butterfly dance through the leaves and tickling my skin.
I could say or do nothing but close my eyes and stand still, taking it all in. The feel, the sound the touch and smell. Air cleansed of auto exhaust and town living. He must have sensed my awe because he waited beside his truck, not closing the door. To do so would have broken the spiritual silence. It’s times like these I have a real desire to worship the beauty of our world.
Gene and Geneva Long have lived here off and on during their entire marriage. A stint in California brought them running home at last to settle in the home built by his grandfather. They would add rooms to the cabin using only aged logs from old structures so it would not lose its personality. I will soon go inside, but first a short history lesson.
It was 1827 before white men were allowed to move into and build homes in this part of our Ozarks. The four counties in the northwest corner plus a portion of Carroll County then belonged to the Cherokee who had obtained it from the Osage. I won’t go back further for the history becomes confusing when the American Indians fought over land and it passed back and forth. For the sake of our story, we’ll begin when his grandfather built this cabin.
His wife told me the date was 1815, but I was sure she must have said 1850 so she repeated it. Told me I could go to the courthouse and verify the date that the family snuck into Indian lands to settle on this piece of property. It has been in the family ever since. A daughter lives on the hill above the old cabin.
Gene was born there and he took me into the bedroom which had a raised floor for the canopy bed. He told me that design was common back then. Geneva has modernized her kitchen in that it has running water, but other than that all work done is in the style that fits the overall design of the house. He showed me the type of nails used in the original construction and said he had some problems acquiring the same for the addition. Geneva brought us lemonade which we drank sitting on the vast front porch.
I almost hated to bid the couple goodbye. A while later we passed into their lives again when a video was shot of my work. The Longs were included in the interviews that were filmed, but unfortunately there wasn’t room for their story in the final film which was entered in the Arkansas Film Festival held in Batesville that year. The producers gave that portion filmed to the Long family.
Gene called me one more time before he passed away. He was riding around in the wilderness on his four-wheeler when he found the remains of an old water mill which would have been used to grind wheat and other grains to produce flour and cornmeal. We followed him to see his find. He waved goodbye to us and drove away. This would be the last time I saw him this kind man who impressed me with his knowledge and keen wit. Geneva lived in the house until her death and her daughter remains on the property. But don’t go looking for this Eden, because you won’t find it. I probably couldn’t get there myself except in my mind where I visit often.