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.