I always loved being at the bottom of Gaddis Hollow when it came time for the breaking of the dawn. For one could actually watch the first rays of the sun charge over the eastern ridge and drive the lingering darkness from the previous night down the steep hillside before them, with having to be up so awfully early (or late) to see the battle notwithstanding, of course.
This morning was no exception. For a heavy frost was still falling when the dawn finally broke at the bottom, and the early morning light illuminated huge flakes floating in the air that looked more like snow than just frost. Needlessly to say, the sight was simply breathtaking.
There was another reason for me to be somewhat out of breath at the time. For I was down there to round up and haul off three young Simmental bulls, and since where the bulls were being pastured had an abundance of trees, herding them with horses was more trouble than it was worth. So, there I was huffing and puffing on foot.
Thankfully, I had some help from Jackie, whose father had sold the bulls to a large ranch just over the Oklahoma line from Fort Smith, Arkansas. I usually had more than enough help along in the form of my two beloved Australian shepherds (Bo and Luke) but they were still layed up with broken ribs from two swift kicks from one of Austin Sturgill’s mules that had obviously not wanted to be hauled off to the Wheaton Sale Barn three weeks before.
In or out of the saddle (with or without good cattle dogs) the trick to herding cattle is to keep them as calm as possible, but this is no guarantee of an uneventful experience. For it is in accordance to Natural Law Statute Number 146883, Subsection 4F, Paragraph 3, Line 7: All livestock are required to head in the wrong direction at least once while being herded in a specific direction. No, I am not kidding about this. If you do not believe me, go look it up for yourself!
Much to my relief, none of the bulls were plumb serious about being law-abiding citizens of nature yet. For each of them only made half-hearted attempts to go their own way, and I was soon on my way to around ten miles south of Roland, Oklahoma.
Ah, but before getting on down the line too far, a sacred pilgrimage had to be made to the Spudnut Shop on Main Street in Cassville, Missouri. For no day could be as good as one started out with a bellyful of Mr. Black’s glazed spudnuts.
Please accept that I do not mean to sound so sacrilegious. In fact, I honestly believe that Mr. Black’s sweet concoctions were Divinely-inspired—if not actually made by angels. For no chewing was required as they literally started melting on my tongue as soon as I took a bite when I could catch a fresh tray coming out of his kitchen. Considering the fact that it was a very rare occasion when a fresh tray actually made it into the front display case before it was emptied by the crowd impatiently waiting for Mr. Black or Mrs. Billson to bring them out, a very great many could also testify to that glorious sensation.
Another thing that makes me think that Mr. Black’s spudnuts were at least Divinely-inspired is that he was using potato starch as the main ingredient long before a peep about the virtues of a gluten-free diet was ever heard around those parts. Not that I have ever given such talk all that much of a listen, but some might think it is fairly significant.
Since I had some time to kill before the Spudnut Shop would be open for business that particular morning, I decided to take a more scenic route down the hollow instead of climbing up over the ridge past the Twin Valley Southern Baptist Church and the Lohmar (forest fire watch) Tower to the blacktop of Missouri Highway 76. Granted, the quicker route had its share of splendid scenery to behold, heading down the hollow took me through Mineral Springs and past Rockhouse Cave before hitting the blacktop of Missouri Highway 248 on the eastern outskirts of Cassville.
Unless one had been told, they would be hard-pressed to tell that Mineral Springs once rivaled the likes of Hot Springs, Arkansas and Warm Springs, Georgia as the place to go for healing hot baths. For all signs of its glory days had been swallowed up by the brush long ago, and if it was not for there being a few houses in very close proximity to each other in an area where it was fairly unusual to have a neighboring house closer than a quarter-mile away (with most residences being much farther apart) a wandering stranger might not notice that there had been an actual town there at all.
In stark contrast, Rockhouse Cave was hard to miss. For aside from there being a large opening at the bottom of a good-sized rock bluff less than fifty yards to the south of the road, there was a fairly distinctive rock building sticking out of the left side of that large opening, which gave the cave its name. It was said that the building was used to store foodstuffs year-round. Therefore, a picky person might balk at calling it a house, but I considered it to be a really cool name for the cave.
Years before, I went as far as I could go into Rockhouse Cave. What I mostly found was some loose rocks and a lot of rather slimy muck, but there was also an old discarded bra (woman’s brassiere). Hey, that was quite a discovery for a 12 year-old boy! Although, I did not know what it was until an older Boy Scout told me later on.
Be assured that I started grinning like a possum when I heard the front door to the Spudnut Shop being unlocked as I turned the corner from where I had parked my one-ton GMC pickup and Gooseneck livestock trailer. Adding all the more to my merriment was the feigned look of disgust on Mrs. Billson’s face when she saw me walking up to the door.
Okay, maybe her look was not all that feigned. For instead of just opening the front door and walking in, I started pawing at the glass like a dog. Oh, and after I finally actually entered the establishment, I quipped, “You would not have to put up with the likes of me if Tex was better at selling used cars.”
You see, Tex was Mrs. Billson’s son, who had acquired quite a reputation for being the epitome of the stereotypical used car salesman, but I could swear her eyes sparkled a little brighter when I said what I did. On the other hand, she did let out a loud grunt and flipped her dust cloth at me before stomping off toward the kitchen.
A couple of seconds later, Mr. Brock came out of the kitchen with a fresh tray of my favorite clear-glazed spudnuts. He had a scowl on his face. I quickly turned away in an attempt to hide the broad grin on my face, and as I handed him the money for two dozen, I mumbled under my breath, “Sorry.”
“You don’t have to work with her,” was all he said in reply. Then he gave me a big wink, and I cracked up in laughter a little too loudly. For another loud grunt could be heard coming out of the kitchen, and a wet dishrag came awfully close to knocking my prized smoke-grey Stetson off of my head as I opened the front door to leave.
Oh yeah, it was going to be a great day, and as I headed south out of Cassville on Missouri Highway 37, I started to look out on the passing countryside and wonder how much had changed over the years. This was nothing unusual. For I had been a history nut for as long as I can I remember, but what was different was how much more personal local history had become to me the past couple of months. For I felt like I could now genuinely think of the surrounding area as actually being mine.
Well, at least I could now think of it as belonging to my dad’s people years ago. For a drunken slip of the tongue by one of my dad’s brothers lead me to find out that my dad had a great deal of Osage (Indian/native-American) in him, and that there have been direct relatives living in and around the southwestern part of Missouri for the past 300 years, which is at least 100 years before any European explorers paid a visit.
All of this came as quite a shock to me. For my dad had always ducked my questions about his family history, as did his four brothers and three sisters before Uncle Walt spilled the beans.
To be quite honest about it, I was kinda scared of my dad. For he always seemed so angry. Granted, he was never abusive toward me, but I had heard some talk about him coming back from the Korean War with some issues, which I took to mean that he could go off in a rampage at any second.
It took some digging in several libraries to unearth some traces of my roots. For all Uncle Walt had said was that it was a shame not to receive any rent money from the inhabitants of the land a good hundred miles on either side of a line drawn from St. Joseph (Missouri) to Fayetteville (Arkansas). I then kept prodding until he explained that the family was of Osage descent. A very angry look from my dad put a sudden end to any more information coming from his brother, but I had enough to start my digging.
As it turned out, my dad’s great-grandfather was Oronatha, who fought against Kansas redlegs during and after the Civil War as a Missouri guerilla, and here I was following the same route he took with Missouri Governor Jackson as Federal troops sought to take him into custody after he had moved to secede Missouri from the Union in 1861. For Missouri Highway 37 followed the route of the Old Wire Road, which is the route Gov. Jackson’s Missouri State Guard troops took in an attempt to join up with regular Confederate troops out of Arkansas and Texas.
Since Oronatha was never a member of any official military unit, there was no official record of his service to be found, but bits and pieces gathered from here and there told a tale of a brave on the warpath for most of the last thirty years of his life on earth. One of those bits of information had it that he was killed near the north rim of Palo Dura Canyon while helping to chase down and eradicate a band of Comancheros wreaking havoc in the area, as a part of a sheriff’s posse out of Tascosa, Texas. I failed to find how he managed to drift out to the Texas panhandle, but it filled me with a sense of satisfaction that he finally found himself on a winning side of an issue before his death.
Quite obviously, Oronatha did not spend all of his last thirty years on the warpath. For he had managed to find time to father four sons with a white woman along the way. I only found her given name, which was Mary, but I did find where all four of their boys had been mostly raised down in a hollow near Powell, Missouri, which is located around 30 miles to the southwest of Cassville.
Alfred was the given name of Oronatha’s youngest son, and sometime between the time of his birth and 1886, he assumed the full name of Alfred Erstwhile Newman. Well, at least that was the name he signed on the birth certificate of my grandfather, Sterling Price Newman.
Yeah, old Alfred evidently had quite a sense of humor in consideration of him taking the middle name of Erstwhile, and my eyes bugged out a little bit when I first saw his full name. For the contents of Mad Magazine have caused me to dissolve into a puddle of hysterical laughter on many an occasion, and the content of those magazines supposedly came from the mind of Alfred E. Newman.
A glint of sunshine off of a gleaming brass barrel high upon a ridge to the north helped to bring my focus back to the time at hand. No, I was not about to be fired upon, but the artillery battery was quite effective at drawing the attention of westbound travelers on U.S. 62 just before arriving at the entrance to the visitor’s center of the Pea Ride National Battlefield.
I wondered if that artillery battery had fired on Oronatha’s position during the civil war battle fought there. No, there would not be any official record of him being there, but I could imagine that he was.
Speaking of battlefields, U.S. 71 between Rogers and Fayetteville could have been considered one at the time. For highway engineers had squeezed five lanes (two southbound, two northbound and a center turn-lane) where four lanes would not have been any too wide, with the total width of the road being merely forty feet.
The drive was especially hair-raising when several big trucks hauling 102 inch-wide trailers were on the road, which happened a lot. For most of the poultry processing plants that the big rigs were headed to and from were located on (or just off of) U.S. 71.
Come on now, let us do the math. For five lanes on a forty foot-wide roadway leaves just eight feet of width for each lane. Eight feet breaks down to 96 inches. Therefore, a 102 inch-wide semi-trailer would stick out over into the next lane six inches, and that would be if the driver could always keep the truck itself within the limits of one lane.
Of course, the most challenging part of the drive lay ahead, which was made quite clear by several signs put up by the Arkansas State Highway Department warning of how many had died in traffic accidents the last six months or so from underestimating just how steep the grade was going down the Boston Mountain. There were also two hair-pin curves that made one question why the suggested speed limit was a high as fifteen miles-per-hour, but a bellyful of Mr. Black’s spudnuts had me feeling quite good about everything that day.
So, I headed down the mountain at a reasonable pace while depending upon the Jacob’s Engine Braking System (jake-brake) that I had modified to work on the fuel-injected 454 under the hood of my pickup to save my over-sized brakes for when I needed to come to a complete stop. Since I considered myself to be an extraordinary driver, I was really not worrying about a thing, but I had spent enough time on the road to know that most did not possess the same level of driving skills that I did, which meant that I may need those over-sized brakes before entering the city limits of Mountainburg at the bottom.
It was while coming up to the first hair-pin curve that I started stomping on my brake pedal. For there was a northbound school bus lying on its side, with the trailer of a southbound big rig sitting on top of it.
No, I really was not in a panic, but I did want to come to a complete stop as quickly as possible in order to avoid giving the kids milling around the wreck anymore to worry about. I did start to panic some when my brakes did not engage after stomping on the pedal, though.
Three or four more stomps on my brake pedal yielding the same result, and with less than fifteen yards separating me from the wreck ahead I knew that there was only one thing to honorably do. For slamming my rig into the side of the mountain next to the road would not have stopped it in time to avoid hitting the school bus and possibly killing some of the kids in the road.
To say that it was one of the strangest feelings I have ever had would be quite an understatement. For there I was freefalling through the air after driving off of the side of the mountain, and all I was thinking about was how beautiful the view was.
No, I really was not afraid to die. For I had been raised to be a good Southern Baptist, and I had accepted Jesus Christ as my own personal Lord and Savior, along with being fully immersed in a baptismal ceremony for the remission of sins, at the tender age of seven. Once saved/always saved—right?
Nonetheless, just sitting there behind the wheel and appreciating the spectacular view was rather strange, I must admit. For I would think that there should have been all sorts of things racing through my mind at time.
The next thing to happen was equally strange to me. For the image of broken branches piled high around a house I had seen near Cassville a few weeks back after the last great ice storm hit the area popped into my mind just as I was starting to hear my rig crashing through the tops of trees at the bottom.
Then everything went dark and quiet. Oh so very dark and quiet.
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