Friday, December 19, 2008

An unforgetable Christmas

A Time to Remember
An Unforgettable Christmas
By Ronnie Powell
World War Two had begun taking an even more dreadful toll in human lives by autumn of 1944 and Father in anticipation of being called to arms decided the family should move to the farm they had recently purchased from Grandmother Carrie Powell. The 120 acre farm located on the south bank of the Dousinberry Creek near Long Lane, Missouri, and my birthplace would become home to me for many years to come. Father would remain in Kansas City to await the outcome of draft or not and continue working in the defense plant where he was employed at the time.
The journey to the farm began at day break on a cold November morning a couple of weeks later with Father, my twin brother Donnie and me in the cab of a snub nosed Chevy truck van. Mother, Grandmother Carrie Powell and baby Richard followed in the family car. The exit from the city to the farm nearly two hundred miles would become a grueling twelve hour drive through the one of the worst blizzards I have encountered.
Nightfall had prevailed by the time we reached the old homestead house sitting on the north face of Brushy Ridge. The two story dwelling had been left vacant since the passing of Grandfather Powell and in a state of disrepair and cloaked in a heavy blanket of snow. The front door stood opening and a covering of snow lay across the parlor floor. The structure stood without heat, lights and water. A huge potbellied stove inside was quickly loaded with dry wood from a shed out back and soon the cold began retreating from the house. It was as if the old structure awakened and began creaking and groaning from within. We all pitched in and unloaded our possessions. Extra sheets and blankets were hung over the doors and windows to keep out the wind and blowing snow.
It was imperative that Father return to the city and began the journey back alone around midnight, leaving us to fend for ourselves. I alone, at age nine considered it all a wonderful adventure, but for Mother it must have been a frightful and trying experience.
Eight days later Father returned in a borrowed automobile with much needed food supplies and a four day furlough and set about chopping stove wood, making minor repairs and installing a rope and bucket over the well. A jersey cow, named Peggy joined the family along with a few hens and a rooster. But all too soon it was again time for him to return to the city with no assurance when he would return, not even for Christmas.
The winter that year was very harsh with more snow and subzero temperatures. Money was extremely scarce added to the sparse living condition and if not for Peggy the cow we would have had to do without milk. Thanksgiving came and went a rather dismal affair. Grandmother Carrie sacrificed one of the hens for Thanksgiving dinner and the results were chicken and dumplings, biscuits and gravy.
Life went on of course and each day Donnie and I trekked off to Brushy Ridge School, with shoes wrapped in burlap wearing two heavy sweaters and socks for gloves. The old one room building stood in the center of a clearing with rather large windows down each side. A huge wood burning stove kept the room quite comfortable. I was assigned a desk near the south wall at one of the windows. Shelves on each side of the window contained the school’s entire library of about forty books. It was there I discovered Penrod and Sam, Robin Hood, Call of the Wild and a few more of the classic.
With Christmas looming closer we began wondering whether Father would come home or not. A small cedar tree was cut and erected in the parlor and decorated with tinsel and a few ornaments. Grandmother Carrie assured us there would be gifts under the tree when Christmas Morning arrived.
The view from the house to Dousinberry Creek extended to well over a mile and I sat by a window on Christmas Eve watching the road in anticipation of seeing Father cross the bridge. Time wore on and by late afternoon I had all but given up on him returning for the event and then I caught the sun glinting off the windshield of an automobile as it approached the bridge and I yelled for in my heart I knew it was Father. A few moments later the vehicle pulled into the driveway and he stepped out, a returning hero to me.
I rushed outside well ahead of everyone. He began handing us wonderful things. A ham for Christmas dinner, store bought bread and a huge bag of candy were among the items. I managed a quick look inside the car, saw no wrapped gifts, but wasn’t too disappointed, for after all Father was there at last to share the holiday with us.
The aroma of Ham baking in the oven awakened my brothers and me the next morning. I was certain there would at least be few gifts under the tree and I hurried down stairs. To my surprise I saw three distinct separate piles of gifts lying under the tree and upon closer scrutiny found one pile bearing my name.
I waited impatiently while the family gathered around, sitting beside the pile of gifts. When the word was given to open the packages I began with up most urgency. First to be opened was a bundle of assorted colors of construction paper. The next package a gift from Grandmother consisted of a brightly colored toy celluloid car. The last gift a very large one wrapped in heavy brown paper intrigued me the most. What I saw when the last of the wrapping was tore away took my breath, for lying there on the floor was a red mackinaw coat, matching stocking cap, mittens and rubber galoshes.
I quickly donned the garments and went out on the front porch and sat down. It was very cold but I sat there truly warm inside and out on that wonderful Christmas morning. Adios.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

An Endangered Bug

A Time to Remember
An Endangered Bug
By Ronnie Powell
The bug I am referring to is not a rhinoceros beetle, a doodle bug, a cockroach or any of the many natural bug species inhabiting the Earth. This Bug has however, infested nearly every corner of the Earth, been subjected to just about every form of abuse imaginable. Swarms of them spread rapidly into society capturing the imagination of millions of people. As they began to evolve in many variations and sizes and quite rapidly I must say, these bugs began appearing in every color of the rainbow and adapting to just about every climate and land condition.
They could not be stopped, or so it seemed. In the late 1970’s new Volkswagen Bugs began dwindling in numbers across the world, however, Mexico became an ideal haven for this phenomenon but less than fifty years later the last breeding ground of this unusual bug has been eliminated.
The Kdf-Wagon or “Strength- Through Joy Car, would later become known as The Volkswagen Beetle and much later the Volkswagen Bug. It was not until the Nazi regime lay in ruins and the reconstruction of Germany began that watchful mass production of the legendary Volkswagen began under the close supervision of the U.S. and British occupation that ultimately would create a most remarkable invasion of little cars around the world.
Adolph Hitler’s return to the Nazis party in January of 1933 marks the conception of o the Volkswagen Beetle, although yet in it’s true form. The kubelwagen, (bucket car): and the Schwimmwagen, war time versions of the VW were manufactured for a power bent on the destruction of the world.
Fast forward and the Volkswagen Beetle eventually became an icon of efficiency on the road, although a bit small for most families. Quite agile in the mountains, deserts and a general all around vehicle, however, the early models were noisy, the suspension bad and the life of the engine relatively short. By the 1950’s Volkswagen Beetles were performing much better, a distinctive and strangely beautiful car and in the ensuing years Volkswagen became a part of a diverse U.S. culture.
It is general knowledge that America embraced the little sedan; willing consumers from every walk of life drove the Volkswagen Bug. The Hippie’s of the 1960’s adopted the car creating many unusual versions of it. Surfers and racing people created the Baja VW. The little care was customized in many ways, for example, the tires widened, the hood replaced with replica hoods of famous cars. In some instances front engines appeared. These VWs were fast and more often dangerous to drive. But for the most part this simple little car designed to satisfy a basic consumer’s need and desire to express oneself became an unforgettable unpretentious machine.
Most memorable of all are the memories attached to individual Volkswagens. One particular 1966 Volkswagen of which I owned for a time was unceremoniously shoved into the Niangua River one evening by its previous owner expecting it to float. It was widely rumored that the Volkswagen bug would float a considerable distance and I suppose a few would, but this one did not and sank like a rock. Later after being dried out and the motor rebuilt, it again was ready for the road, serving me faithfully for a number of years through snow packed roads, wooded trails and the open highway.
A much newer yellow 1972, Super Beetle came into my possession equipped with an automatic transmission. It was a beautiful car as sleek as any on the road, a real eye catcher. I drove it to Lamar, Missouri to attend a craft fair show to try and sell my woodcarvings. Heavy rain dogged me the entire trip and when night came the rain continued. Sometime along toward morning I awakened and went to the door of my motel room. The parking lot and all around lay under at least a foot of water. The Volkswagen sat near the door, water slapping at the running boards. I hurriedly dressed and with suitcase in hand went out the door to find the car floating about eight feet away. I wasted no time, and foolishly got in the car and drove onto the street. The gallant little bug spun its tires spewing water from beneath the rear end as we headed to higher ground. The engine sputtered several times during our precarious escape up a hill and came to halt on safe ground. The flooding in Lamar was devastating and it took nearly ten hours for me to get out on the road home, thanks to the Volkswagen.
The Volkswagen may have started out with sinister intent, but when reaching America it became a wonderful conveyance with soul. Herbie will attest to that.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Secrets of McKee Ridge

A Time to Remember
Secrets of McKee Ridge
By Ronnie Powell
There is a portion of the Niangua River basin where mysteries of the past abound in the many deep hollows, canyons and lofty bluffs. This intriguing aspect of the river is but a small area of the basin that guides the reckless river to its submission into the Lake of the Ozarks of Missouri.
The journey down McKee Ridge and adjoining land would take more than ten years for me to complete across centuries, along forgotten trails leading to the remnants of an ancient people who once inhabited the Missouri Ozarks along the Niangua River. Lying beneath the dust of overhangs and caves, in the tangle of vines and roots and hidden in thick underbrush are artifacts and burials of distant cultures including those of white settlers. The journey was not an easy one, often fraught with danger, grueling climbs and cold nights in secluded caves and deep hollow retreats.
The Cowan Ridge abruptly ends at or a short distance below the Windyville Bridge and McKee Ridge begins its majestic rise above the river. Barren faces of limestone bluffs tower above the river. Weathered by millenniums of time, creased and broken by nature’s relentless forces, these bluffs are timeless sentries and keepers of many secrets of the dead. Some are forbidden places and will remain so as far as I’m concerned. They are thresholds, sacred reminders of man’s obsession to preserve the dead or for illicit reasons to destroy all presence of a life.
In many of the caves and overhangs situated along McKee Ridge and I will not reveal the location of these caves. I discovered quite easily artifact from the earliest civilization to the present. Earthen pottery shards possibly dating back ten thousand years, chert arrow points, knives, hammer stones and many other tools representing Prehistory Indians. Bone beads, awls, needles, mussel shell ornaments and effigy creations were relative common in most of the old shelter sites. Human burials were also evident representing a wide range of life ways from the very earliest to the declining years of the 1800s.
Remnants of whiskey stills were noted and in one small overhang where I discovered a seven shot revolver frozen in rust along with an assortment of stoneware shards, representing bowls, cups and a jug. Two metal straps were noted, a Santa Fe Railroad key and a portion of a bridle rein. A metal ring protrudes from the east wall of the shelter and below a horseshoe was noted along with several horseshoe nails. One can only imagine what transpired there in that secluded part of the bluff.
Near a steep slope below a small cave that has suffered a major collapse and extensive erosion over the years I explored a long trail of eroded gravel and stone, locating Indian artifact and an assortment of skeletal remains. The debris field also contained evidence of later occupation and or perhaps a burial. The brass trim from a rifle was located about half way down the slope along with the rusted remains of a flintlock weapon.
I found when entering the cave small pools of water fed by surface runoff from the ceiling. Red clay mud covered most of the floor area except for a high point near the south wall and it contained several small to medium stones. The lower end of this area had also been inundated by the erosion and revealed about four inches of a gun barrel. I removed most of the stones and exposed the rest of the barrel. The barrel measured roughly thirty inches in length and I believe it to be a smooth bore. Two lead balls were also excavated of a about sixty or seventy caliber each.
At the upper side of the excavation several pieces of badly decomposed bones were noted, one distinct piece belonging to the lower jaw of a human. Two brass buttons were recognized but due to extreme decomposition were little more than blobs of green. The fate of this individual will remain a secret of McKee Ridge. One can only speculate or wonder. Was he a Spanish Conquistador or an early trapper living among the Indians?
Many other small caves and rock shelters were visited and all contained evidence of occupation whether by Indians or white immigrants. Some of these sites had been dug out leaving them barren. McKee Cave has long since been ravaged by pot hunters and bears little resemblance to the time of the Indians.
In a deep hollow or more correct a small canyon that flows into the Niangua River I located a spring of sweet water, where ferns grew in abundance. A small cave is situated above the spring and is completely dry, an ideal shelter. Inside this compact enclosure were obvious signs of human habitation, flint or chert flakes were noted along the walls and earthen potshards were abundant. Near the center of the enclosure, close to the small entrance I probed the soft dry earth and found charred turkey and deer bones and an incomplete arrow point. I did not intrude further into this pristine treasure.
The journey to distant horizons was not without danger. A fall while climbing up a bluff sent me tumbling down a rocky slope and if not for an oak tree, I might not have survived. The fall was not with out consequences, resulting in cuts, bruises and a minor injury to my lower back.
One day while climbing a bluff to get a better view of an opening high above me, I arrived at a ledge and proceeded to pull myself up and came face to face with one of the largest black snakes I have encountered. Eye to eye we were and with out warning the reptile struck, hitting me in the left cheek with tremendous force. I lost my handhold and fell a few feet down the slope with the black snake tumbling down with me. Neither of us was seriously injured except for our pride. I have faced swarms of red wasps, a very large buzzard that had been wing shot and in no mood to face another human drove me from its cave refuge. A female bobcat with young forced me to retreat rather quickly from a cave and skunks were often a reason to abandon a rock shelter. I have encountered Copperhead snakes usually timid, but also can be quite unforgiving, striking with deadly intent.
I did not reach a point of origin in that distant horizon I sought, for to have done so no longer would I dream. The trails lead back into the shroud of time and will always hold insurmountable secrets. I began my journey in 1945 after unearthing a stone knife and little did I realize I would someday stand where no man of my kind has stood before to stir the ashes of forgotten fires that once held back the dangers of a wilderness night.
My journey to distant horizons ended many years later when I climbed to the summit of a Mayan Pyramid of the Sun in old Mexico. I stood gazing at the far mountains from where the Spanish came, listening to an old man playing a clay flute, perhaps reminiscent of an earlier time and glimpsed the reflection of Spanish armor in the distant hills. Adios

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Intruder

A Time to Remember
The intruder
By Ronnie Powell
During the summer of 1967, Father, stricken with Parkinson disease had become bedfast, totally dependent on Mother. Nearly every evening my wife, the children and I arrived at the old farmhouse to help in any way we could. Mother distraught by the added burden of caring for Father, and him despondent by the terrible affliction welcomed our presence, especially the children.
The farm or so it appeared to me huddled without purpose around the old house. The pastures and fields deserted; the milk barn dark and dusty. The flowers Mother had taken great pride in drooped as if resigned to an untimely end. The farm had become a lonely place and even the Whippoorwill that came each night to sit in a high branch of the oak tree outside the kitchen window calling, sounded especially forlorn. A dreadful reality had befallen this place of memories. It was not a good time for any of us.
Mother informed me a few weeks earlier that someone was sneaking around at night pilfering through the outbuildings including the cellar taking things, tools, jars of canned goods and perhaps even other items she was not aware of. She of course was angry, but worse frightened that the intruder or intruders might break into the house. She did not inform Father of the situation, but he knew, I could sense it, but no longer able to communicate clearly he said nothing. There was little the law could do, short of remaining at the farm every night.
One evening near midsummer as usual the family and I arrived and took up our watch, helping Mother and sitting around visiting. I went to the bedroom where Father, lay propped up on pillows, talking to him and trying to understand his replies. The evening had faded into night. The mercury vapor light mounted on a pole above the garage below the house awakened with a soft glow pushing aside a bit of the darkness.
Sometime later, Joyce quietly informed me that she and mother had heard what sounded like a car door shutting somewhere near the house. Each of us cautiously peered out a window trying to locate the sound, but to no avail.
Mother was understandably upset and since my parents had no phone, I decided to have a look outside. I left the house under protest from Mother and walked as nonchalantly as I could down a short path to the garage where our Chevy sat near the yard light. I saw nothing amiss, but entertained a feeling that I was being watched and decided to go to the Chevy where on the front seat I had left a revolver. It lay where I had placed it, glinting dully in the shadowed light. I quickly took possession of the firearm, carrying it loosely, dangling from my right hand. Reasonably certain there was nothing to be concerned about I started back up the path toward the house.
I was wrong.
I cannot say what prompted me to look into the garage where my parents Ford set; perhaps it was instinct, a detached primeval force inherent in all creatures. Standing there half in shadow and light I saw a man, staring intently at me. I will never forget the eyes, wide with fear, in a face pale and drawn. He suddenly moved out into the light, bringing up his right hand rather quickly appearing to be holding a long barrel, nickel plated handgun. Mere seconds passed and I don’t remember bringing up the revolver I held in my hand, firing it once, but I heard the loud report and the bullet’s impact hitting the fellow. He screamed like no other person I have ever heard before, clutching his left side, dropping the object he’d held in his hand, ( a long, nickel plated screw driver) and ran, still screaming, hitting a barbed wire fence, catapulting over it.
Mother and Joyce had stepped out of the house onto the porch. Mother screamed, a piercing sound reverberating against the night. I stood in stunned silence listening to the rapid footsteps of the intruder and then heard the sound of an automobile speeding away.
The Sheriff at the time said only that I had been justified in firing my weapon and the incident ended there. The intruder remained unknown along with the severity of the man’s wound.
It was not that I lay awake during the following nights, guilt ridden by what I had down, but the memory of the man’s eyes and face and sound of him screaming haunt me even today. I concluded he wanted only to escape and did not intend to hurt me, but the price he paid for being a thief, surely haunts him as well, if indeed he is still alive. Adios

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I heard an old man ask another one day. “Why is everyone going to California? They never write to let me know what’s going on. The farm is growing up in weeds, the fences are down and I don’t see so good no more. Tell me if you can, what’s out there?
Why is everyone going to California?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Auburn Rubber legacy

A Time to Remember
Auburn Rubber Toys
By Ronnie Powell
I often, when shopping at Wal-Mart or any other store that has a toy section wander through it amazed at the abundance of toys, especially automobiles and trucks. Most are made of cast metal or plastic and make all kinds of noises and movements, leaving little to the imagination. Yard sales are full of discarded toy cars and trucks that can be bought for a quarter and in some instances a box full marked free. I do realize there are certain kinds of these toys that are collected, but even so the vast number of them is staggering which leads to another time.
Rubber toy vehicles came on the scene in 1935 flourishing quite well until World War Two that a brought a halt to most toy production. It was not until the end of the war that Auburn and Sun Rubber Companies resumed production of rubber toys. Many were prewar models along with a few new representations. The rubber toy vehicle would be relatively short lived and by the mid-fifties the market declined due to competition from foreign plastic toy companies.
One of the great American institutions’s that is all but forgotten are the five and dime stores and was located in just about every town and city. I remember most vividly when entering the Ben Franklin Five and Dime in Buffalo, Missouri, the tables and counters stretching from the front to the rear of the building displaying a wonderful variety of items from oil cloth, candies, phonograph records and toiletries and much more, but most important to me at least was the toy section displaying an unimaginable array of playthings. Rubber vehicles of every make and model were my favorites and second were the assortment of cap pistols. Nothing was sealed in plastic and could be picked up and held or rolled along the counter.
My first purchase at the Ben Franklin Store was a Lash Lure cap pistol for twenty cents. Four Royal Crown bottles retrieved from a road ditch and sold for two cents each and pennies saved were proudly laid down on the counter for the gun.
After World War Two, iron, tin and rubber toys were again manufactured but it did not matter, for we were too poor to buy such luxuries. My twin brother and I while living in Kansas City before the war were provided with a few toy cars, one being a blue Auburn Rubber pickup truck. I was very small at the time and my memory of the toy is a bit vague. I have a photograph of my brother and me with two toys and the Auburn Rubber pickup is one of them.
During those lean years on the farm any toys that came our way were usually hand-me-downs from a city cousin and most were in poor condition. I remember receiving two celluloid automobiles as gifts, but they were very fragile and did not hold together well beneath the shade of an oak tree above the house.
In 1946 I received a green rubber Desoto convertible as a gift from an aunt. It bore the name Auburn Rubber Company. It became a prized possession, guarding it selfishly for a number of years, until when absent for a time from the house it mysteriously disappeared. I never saw it again.
Several years later while looking through a flea market I came up on an Auburn Rubber convertible exactly like the one from years before. I do believe the lady at the counter thought me a bit strange for carrying on so about the toy.
After acquiring a computer I began looking through the Auburn Rubber section on E-Bay and behold, I found a blue Auburn Rubber pickup truck identical to the one I had played with in 1940. I of course posted a rather hefty bid and won the auction. Both toys are now proudly displayed and even though not the originals from that long ago time, they are reminders of my childhood and deep appreciation of such precious items. Adios

Friday, October 10, 2008

An Ozark Path

A Time to Remember
The Path
By Ronnie Powell
It is apparent to me at least, in life’s journey whether it be short or long there is a moment, a place, a mortal being, dog, cat or fellow human that is etched forever in memory. The very young often react positively or negatively to a seemingly unimportant gesture or occurrence that may remain in a dim memory throughout life. They are shadowed reflections, a dusty mirror in the mind and at first glance revealing no specific time or place.
My Grandfather Charley Powell passed away when I was nearing two years of age and I have no memory of the man, except for photographs or so I thought. One day many years later I mentioned to Mother that I occasionally recalled sitting on the lap of a man while holding in his hand a large acorn.
Mother looked at me rather questionably and replied. “Son you couldn’t possibly remember that, for you were only two years old. It was in the autumn of 1936 and you were sitting on Grandpa Charley’s lap. The Chinquapin acorns were abundant that year and you were quite fascinated by them. He sacked up a few and we took them back to Kansas City for you to play with. I was afraid you might swallow one and threw them away. How strange you remember that day to be as young as you were.”
There is another memory I visit now and again that begins with a path leading through a forest and at the time I first set foot on that obscure trace I found it to be a mysterious place fraught with wondrous uncertainties, fears and beauties.
During the first few weeks after our arrival at the farm and while Father was still in Kansas City, there was little money to buy even the essentials, such as fresh milk.
Approximately a half a mile or so east of our place, the Miller Farm lay along the Dousinberry Creek. A day or so after our arrival, Mister Miller stopped by to welcome us and said. “Minnie the boys need milk; send one of the twins or both a couple of times a week with a gallon lard bucket to fetch milk. There’s a path through the woods at the bottom of the hill. They won’t get lost.”
“Thank you Mister Miller,” Mother replied. “I appreciate your offer and expect to pay you for each gallon.”
Mister Miller shook his head. “No Minnie, if you don’t mind I’d rather not take pay for the milk. It is a gift to the boys.”
The next morning, bundled up in about all the clothing we had, Donnie and I set out down the hill, accompanied by Grandmother Carrie to the road ditch where we would begin the short journey to the Miller Farm.
“Stay on the path boys,” Grandmother said. “Do not wander off it.”
I scampered up the bank, holding tight to the bucket, then turned and helped Donnie up. We stood at the edge of a forest deep in winter shade. A pale sun shown between the branches of huge oak trees and birds flittered about on the ground beneath the trees, feeding noisily. Shadows darted to and fro further on in the timber. Frost lingered along a narrow path leading into the woods. The barren trees, swayed in a cold north wind.
Too young I suppose to fear the unknown I turned and yelled. “See you later Grandma.”
“Be careful,” she laughed.
A bend in the trail took us beyond sight of the road. A wisp of cloud covered the sun momentarily and suddenly we were alone in the dark woods. The trees seem to move closer to the path and beneath our feet the crunch of autumn leaves prompted a faster pace along the path.
“Hurry up Donnie,” I shouted, taking long strides, but came to an abrupt halt. A large horse on boney legs stood in the path.
Look at that,” I said to my brother, “a beautiful horse.”
“It ain’t beautiful,” he replied. “It looks old and might be grumpy.”
The horse ambled slowly along the lane and stopped an arms length from me. A very tall animal, a ragged brown, very skinny and I sensed no danger and reached out to stroke the long nose.
“I bet it belongs to Mister Miller,” I said. “Help me up, I’m gonna ride it the rest of the way.”
“No you ain’t.”
“Yes I am and if you don’t help me I’ll find a way to get on.”
Mister Miller appeared surprised upon seeing the three of us coming down the hill. The old gelding carrying me nonchalantly passed a chicken house, an outhouse and came to halt at the back gate.”
“Good morning boys,” he greeted us smiling. “That horse is at least twenty eight years old and nary a tooth in his head. “I don’t mind you riding him, but treat him kindly, he’s like family.”
“I will Mister Miller,” I replied.
From that day on, until the gelding died a couple of years later, it took but a call from me to bring him down the path to the road ditch where upon his arrival I held out a lump of brown sugar.
The forest became a playground especially for me, after discovering Robin Hood and his Merry Men along with a few Indians.
The forest was a quite place of immense beauty with mossy knolls, a Red Tail Hawk that usually sat on a high limb of a sycamore tree. It was a secret place where lived the shrews, field mice and crickets. Squirrels chattered from the big trees in the spring and feasted on acorns in the autumn. It was a place of solitude in the cool shadows near a spring where ferns grew in abundance and old toads sat warming in the sun. It is a place of memories where the bones of an old horse lie beneath the leaves.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Glimpise into Indian Prehistory Along Niangua River

A Time to Remember
Journey into the Underworld
By Ronnie Powell
High on a bluff near the North edge of Moon Valley overlooking the Niangua River there is cave that has harbored a legend for many years. A stone coffin it is said bearing the remains of a man and his wealth of gold lies hidden, sealed behind a false wall of natural stones so elaborately constructed as to make it undetectable. The story has been fragmented, sketchy and makes little sense. But of course over the years many have tried to find the coffin, destroying much in the cave. The spacious floor has been excavated repeatedly and taken out were priceless artifacts left behind by Prehistory Indians.
Much like other caves in the area a spring flows from deep within the cavern, reduced at the present to near nonexistent. Large stones lay around the entrance and I suspect were once a part of a huge overhang protecting the entrance from inclement weather, shielding it from view of the river. The entrance is approximately thirty feet across and perhaps the same distance in height. The main cavern is quite large twenty feet in width and about forty feet from front to rear. The spring channel is about ten feet wide cut well below the habitation area. The stream’s past descent is visible the entire hundred feet or so down a steep slope to the base of the bluff. It would have been an ideal shelter for the Indians of long ago: a virtual fortress against the most aggressive of enemy.
The breath of the cave was cool at the time of my first visit in 1963 suggesting perhaps another entrance deep within the dark twisting tunnels. The spring flow was impressionable at the time flowing out of the cave tumbling down the slope. I found remnants of Indian artifact which consisted of potshard, flint or chert arrow points, most were incomplete A massive ash bed had been excavated and screened near the entrance where lay hundreds of charred turkey, deer and other unidentified bones. Near the wall of the dry area I noted several exposed bones; most were animal remains with the exception of one a small frontal fragment of a human child’s skull. The destruction and removal of the cavern floor was at least ninety percent and the stream bed was clogged with discarded stones and other debris including beer and cola cans. The wanton devastation of this natural treasure was a dreadful sight one of many voids left by pothunters and other thoughtless people with no concern for the great knowledge cast aside.
I returned to the cave again in 1969 to explore the upper level of the cave but upon finding too many narrow passages decided to try and penetrate the stream bed. It is not wise and perhaps even more foolish to go alone on such a quest, nevertheless, I began the journey along the damp gravel trace. It wasn’t long and I was forced to walk bent over and soon began crawling on all fours through shallow pools of still water. The carbide light mounted on my cap kept banging against the ceiling and ultimately blinked out. One of two backup flashlights was brought into service. The water deepened after passing through a shallow riffle and soon I discovered I could again move along on my feet although in a crouched position.
I cannot say with exactness how far I had traveled when moving into a long body of water nearly chest deep. I bobbed along striking the ceiling with my head from time to time. The channel had narrowed to a width of no more than thirty six inches and the water was very cold and crystal clear. I kept moving selecting points ahead to stop and search the water for life and or to undertake an attempt to turn back.
The first observation of life was in the form of a small blind crayfish lying on the bottom next to a large stone. The creature appeared to be nearly transparent. A tiny fish darted from the bottom ahead of me and quickly disappeared from view.
After passing through the deep water I came to a short waterfall and crawled over it into shallow water that came up to my waist. The ceiling was very low at this point providing little room to raise my head. I began crawling on my belly again moving rather quickly a hundred foot or so up an incline, digging my feet in the sand and gravel and forced to lower part of my face into the water. The channel width had become alarmingly narrower making it nearly impossible to hold the flashlight out of the water or to move with ease. I could no longer see more than five or six feet ahead and then I arrived at a wall or so it appeared. Water flowed down the wall at intervals as if sloshing over the edge somewhere above me.
I decided it was time to go back and began turning around, bringing my knees about, flashing the light upward, surprised at what I saw. I was lying under an opening of such great expanse the light could not penetrate the distance. I slowly stood up and then reached up as far as I could and felt the top edge of the wall. Numbed by the cold water and barely able to stand, I managed to secure a hold on the top edge of the wall and painstakingly found footholds, slipping back again and again.
When at last I stood peering over the top, bringing both arms up I swept the beam of the flashlight across the top once again and saw a wide basin of water before me, perhaps ten feet across and nearly as deep. I could see a small cavern on the other side and the continuance of the cave ascending into the darkness beyond. Water dripped steadily from the ceiling hidden in the dark abyss above me. It was truly an incredible sight, but considerably beyond my reach.
I had been in the cave close to three hours, weary and extremely cold I turned back, moving as rapidly as I could, losing the second backup flashlight in the process.
Upon arriving at the entrance I quickly stripped off my shirt shivering uncontrollably, managed to light a fire in some dry tinder and sat for awhile soaking up the blessed heat. I even entertained the thought of returning sometime and attempt another excursion deeper into the cave but it would not happen for the property changed owners and entering the cave is strictly forbidden and has once again become a secret place of legendary lore.
I am often reminded when thinking back; the underworld to some Indians is the origin of all life on earth, emerging into the sun never to return again. The underworld is beyond a doubt a unique and wonderful space, yet as fragile as the summer flowers or a snow crested mountain. It is a sacred dwelling, not only to the descendants of Native Americans but to all who cherish this planet we live on. Adios

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Queen

My Beloved Christmas

She was a Queen

Pale Moon is Shinning on the Valley

A Time to Remember
“Pale moon is shinning on the Valley”

During my years of searching back through time I have often taken the opportunity to sit and visit a man or woman many years my elder. I came away with bits and pieces of facts, fiction and folklore and of course had to sort through the information to find the obvious truths. Memories are often clouded with hearsay, flavoring a story or an account shared with me. History of course is also salted and peppered to make it more palatable. I have discovered many aspects of the Ozarks that have lain hidden in the minds for many years of older people. Treasures are not always something you can hold in your hand but rather stories and folklore of bygone days. It does not matter, or at least to me many of these old renderings of the past are completely true or not, for they represent a part of America’s heritage.
There are undoubtedly physical treasures secreted away in attics, barns and out building gathering dust at the mercy of dirtdobbers, mice and rats. They are forgotten relics of bygone days or perhaps their original owners have passed on. Much of it is beloved mementoes of families that time has scattered to the four winds. They are mute reminders of people’s lives.
I have observed many treasures of the past piled high on makeshift tables to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Old camelback trunks containing vintage lace, a Stetson hat creased and worn, Depression glass that once added a bit of color to an otherwise drab world of poverty are but few of the items often found in tired old trunks. Many of these items were once prevalent in cabins that stood on the threshold of an ever widening frontier America. The inventory of treasures left behind are fragile from tiny silver thimbles, intricately carved picture frames to diaries revealing intimate details of life and death along the trails of yesterday.
Left behind are vintage guitars, fiddles and banjos and it is not unusual to find one handmade by its owner. The Mountain banjo is a good example of such an instrument and although I’m sure only a few remain they too have crossed the auction block. They vary in flavor and constructions, for some are quite primitive. These old banjos are priceless reminders of our heritage when music was about the only meaningful pastime.
Long before Sears, Roebuck and Company came out with a mass produced fretted banjo, the Mountain banjo rang from the deep southland to the sod houses of Kansas and on westward. The Mountain Banjo was a product of the early settlers of America and unlike the Sears model was fretless and its sound varied from family to family.
Like many other aspects of Americana, the Mountain banjo was born from the innovative spirit of the Irish, Scottish, English and African. The instrument was carried westward on the backs of buck skinners, accompanied families in search of new land and eased the loneliness in the many forts and camp sites scattered across the wilderness. Most folks had time to play whether or not they had time for anything else. The songs they sang reflected hardships, joys and family values.
The Mountain banjo complimented the fiddle, whether in a waltz, a gospel song or a breakdown. Not only was the Mountain banjo an important part of our heritage, but so were the songs often composed on site and sang to the distinct sound of the unusual instrument.
Black Americans while held in bondage contributed much to the gospel sound and the instrument commonly accompanying the words was a Mountain banjo, constructed of what ever material at hand.
Old ballads brought to America from the homeland of immigrants, whether free or enslaved gradually took on a new sound and words and again accompanied by a Mountain banjo ringing out its distinctive clatter.
The roots of country music are deeply entrenched in America’s heart and soul, but time has changed the taste somewhat. Today the sound is amplified and the words frequently reflect broken homes, bar stools and neon lights. There are a few enduring souls, however, who have not lost track of the early sounds of country music and you can find them on the dusty roads through the Deep South or westward though Arkansas to Missouri and beyond. They are still picking the Mountain banjo and singing the prettiest songs you ever heard. Songs like Sally Gooden, Devils’ Dream, Waltz of the Indian and Leather Britches and many others most people have never heard. Some of our music heritage has been misplaced, but it’s still remains, scattered across the country, once the heartbeat and hope of an infant nation and whether from the southland or prairies of the west, they are undoubtedly National treasures to remind us of days long since passed.
“Pale moon is shinning on the valley
That old wagon leans against a stack of hay
Two Graves on the hill side.”
(Author unknown)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Windyville Sunset
Crossroads of the World

Knocking on Heaven's Door

Beautiful Lela, an unpaid model
A Time to Remember
Knocking on Heaven’s Door
By Ronnie Powell
Hay cutting time for me ranks in the top ten of favorite events while growing up along the Dousinberry Creek. The fragrance of new mown hay and later, shocking it in preparation of stacking was second only to threshing. Neighbors came together helping with the cutting, stacking and or hauling the hay to the barn. Mother and friends provided a large noon meal consisting of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, beans and a wide assortment of pies and cakes.
The first hay harvest after moving from Kansas City to the farm took place in late May of 1946. Uncle Clifford Powell, fresh out of the Navy, came early a little after sunup with his team of black mares to start the cutting. I was told to accompany him to the field to help if needed. I led one of the mares to a stump and climb upon the broad back. There was nothing more I needed or wanted as I sat there, reins in hand following Uncle Clifford to the field.
It wasn’t long until four swaths had been cut around the ten acre field, providing safe distance for me to roam about chasing rabbits, for there was little to do except to provide drinking water for Uncle Clifford. Even so I kept a watchful eye in case I was needed and stopped each time he passed so as not to scare the team.
The morning became hot and wearied of chasing rabbits I sat down on a thick swath of fragrant hay near the edge of the field. Propped up on the hay I sat lazily gazing about watching a lone buzzard circling against a broad expanse of blue sky. The rows were noticeably becoming shorter with each turn around the field. I ate a biscuit I had wisely taken from the table and drank a little water, becoming increasingly bored.
When at last I began dozing I decided to get up, considering running rabbits again, but I spied movement in the hay. Thinking it might be a field mouse I moved quietly on my hands and knees with intentions of capturing the little fellow. I bent down peering closely into the dark recesses of the hay where the movement had occurred ready to pounce. After a moment or so becoming discouraged I was about to discontinue the hunt when I came face to face so to speak with the largest spider I had ever seen before. It stood inches away like some great prehistoric beast watching me, flicking one of its many legs. The spider continued its close scrutiny, the dark body and legs nearly the size of my hand, a beautiful creature with unfathomable eyes.
I glanced up to check on Uncle Clifford and then back down at the spider. I wanted a closer look at the creature and slowly got to my knees and sat back on my heels. I looked about for something to prod the spider and picked up a portion of a milk weed plant and slowly extended it toward the now crouching spider. It sprang straight up, retreating to make a stand on a small mound of hay. I waddled forward and once again extended the stalk, closely watching the spider. The spider reacted quickly, too quickly resulting in a blur of movement and felt a sharp prick on the big toe of my right foot. I came apart at the seam falling backwards, yelling, quite certain the spider was clinging to the toe. But the spider had vanished in the hay.
I stared down at the toe fearing the worst, but saw only a small red whelp on the first joint. This was little consolation, for I was certain that deadly venom was now coursing through my veins. My fate would be to die in the hayfield.
The sun now high in the sky bore down very hot and I sank back on the hay, sweating profusely. Calm settled over me. I lay for a time with eyes closed thinking about my impending death and what it would do to the family and my friends.
I wanted water but had not the strength to set up.
The Liberty Church house would be packed, standing room only, I thought. Folks would come from miles around to my funeral.
The sun grew hotter and I began to wonder if there would be anything left of my body by the time Uncle Clifford found me.
It was during this time of peaceful submission I became aware of a shadow passing over me and fearing a buzzard had decided I was dead and had come to feast I looked up into the face of Uncle Clifford.
“What are you doing Ronnie?” he asked, lighting a Lucky Strike cigarette. “Were you a sleep?”
“No Uncle.” Clifford I said. “I think I may be dieing.”
“Why would you do that?” he asked, grinning.
“I was poking at a big spider and it jumped on my toe and bit it,” I replied.
Hunkering down, Uncle Clifford laughed. “I doubt very much if you’re dying. It was probably a field spider like that one standing over there.”
“Where is it?” I asked sitting up.
“Right there, pretty close to your feet,” he answered laughing again. “Some folks call them Wolf spiders or tarantulas, but they won’t kill you.”
I stared at the spider; slowly drawing my feet in. “It sure didn’t like being messed with and came at me faster than you could bat an eye.”
“Of course, she was protecting her young,” Uncle Clifford said. “She’s carrying them on her back. Come on it’s time for lunch. You do have an imagination young man. Are you strong enough to ride or do you want me to carry you?”
“No I can ride,” I replied sheepishly.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Once Home to the fabled Little People

Foxtroting Sunrise Suprise

A Time to Remember
Sunrise Surprise
By Ronnie Powell
Sunrise Surprise, a registered gelded, chestnut fox trotter was two years, three month old when first we met and not under the best circumstances. He stood alone in a pen next to another enclosure of other horses in a sale barn in Buffalo, Missouri. He had been saddled, standing with his head down paying little attention to his surroundings.
I wanted to buy a horse and stopped at the pen and looked at Sunrise, scrutinizing the fine lines and breeding of the gelding. He looked up at me and for a few moments we quietly observed each other. I carefully opened the gate and stepped inside and gently stroked his neck, running a hand along his belly, rump and back. He didn’t seem to mind and I stepped to his head and gently patted his face.
“Ronnie you don’t want that horse,” a fellow said, an employee at the sale barn. “He’s a handful and green broke. He doesn’t like anyone on his back and if I were you I’d not be in there with him.”
After the man left and the family came looking for me still standing with Sunrise, I informed them I was going to bid on the horse. I quietly left the pen and started to walk away when the gelding threw up his head and whinnied. That much pretty cinched it for me, I wanted Sunrise.
Later after many horses had passed through the auction, some bought for the processing of their flesh, a man lead Sunrise into the auction circle. Another man stepped forward, a large gent wearing a wide brim western hat and mean looking spurs on his dirty boots. He took the reins and gruffly spoke to Sunrise and swung up in the saddle.
I swear, (not really) that Sunrise looked toward me and grinned and up he went throwing the man high and wide.
The gavel came down with the last bid and Sunrise belonged to me for three hundred dollars and as I would soon learn it wasn’t going to be an easy task convincing that young upstart of a horse to let me ride him. He wasn’t mean by a long shot; just head strong, stubborn and full of life. On the other hand I too, was stubborn and convinced that beautiful thoroughbred would make a fine mount and companion.
Two other horses joined the family in the days to come. Comanche, a tall palomino fox trotter tand became my wife’s horse. He was the oldest of the trio, a gentle soul and the boss. Lady came next, a quarter horse mare, a beautiful animal, also gentle and became my youngest daughter’s steed.
One evening while riding Sunrise into Windyville, trying to work the kinks out of him and pleased with the progress we had made, I sat tall in the saddle. As we passed along the front of the old Scott Store, Sunrise caught his reflection in one of the big windows and it startled him and he began bucking. Unable to stop the gelding we went out onto the middle of Highway K and he threw me. I hit the pavement on both feet, and broke my left foot in two places.
Sunrise left the scene running over the hill to the north. I started after him fearing he might get struck by an automobile. It wasn’t easy limping along and I didn’t get far when Sunrise came back at a dead run and stopped in front of me as gentle as a lamb.
The situation didn’t get much better for awhile, especially after he ran into the woods one day while I was riding him and bruised a knee pretty bad. Limping on two legs is difficult.
The final ordeal came one morning when the family and I were heading east toward Moon Valley astride the three horses. Sunrise was in the lead and decided he didn’t want to go on. He reared and fell into a ditch. I managed to dismount and whacked him with the reins and then jumped into the saddle and off we went up and down the road. He was pretty tired by the time we stopped and from that day on he and I were as one, riding the hills and old roads. He delighted in taking the lead fording streams, up hills and chasing deer across a field. He often struck out at full trot and it was like riding on a cloud. The stamina of the horse was amazing, faltering only when age began to take its toll on him.
“I never met a horse I couldn’t ride,” said a young man to me while riding Sunrise east out of Windyville one Sunday morning in the month of May.
I dismounted and handed him the reins, an act I would later regret.
The fellow did not hesitate and mounted Sunrise. Sunrise didn’t move, standing very quietly for a moment and then exploded straight up, twisting in midair and came down on all fours. The young man hit the ground on his back. Sunrise ran a wide circle around me snorting loudly and came to where I stood. He nickered shrilly, tossing his head angrily from side to side. He was truly upset with me. I never again subjected Sunrise to another situation as that. No one other than I ever rode the gelding again.
Sunrise Surprise lived for twenty six years and on a cold rainy winter night he stood beside me, the beloved head resting on my shoulder for the last time in agony from a twisted gut. A veterinarian stood nearby waiting for Sunrise to settle down a bit, holding a syringe.
“Ronnie, don’t let him lean too heavily on you,” the man said. “When I put this stuff in him he’ll fall and be dead before he hits the ground.”
The end came very quickly and Sunrise lay at my feet in death.
Memories remain of Sunrise, long rides along forgotten trails and quite moments together while grooming him. My left foot is also a reminder of that feisty horse and a hat band I once made from a portion of his beautiful tail. The old saddle sits gathering dust, a stately thing of the 1890’s.
I like to think that Sunrise Surprise is waiting for me somewhere out there in the heavens and together we’ll wander among the stars a few hundred years or so and then perhaps join the fabled ghost riders. Adios

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Battle of Womack Mill

A Time to Remember
The Battle of Womack Mill
By Ronnie Powell

Dear Ma
There were fifteen of us this morning when we crossed a shallow creek below Fair Grove Town, all members of the 8th Missouri Home Guard. We’d been ordered to try and locate a large band of Confederates said to be bivouacked somewhere south of the town. We were also told not to engage the enemy and to return to camp as quickly as we could upon locating the Rebs. Rain fell most of the night, food is scarce and fearing ambush I dared not sleep a wink. But not to worry Ma, the Captain is a good man and knows what he is doing. I don’t rightly know when I’ll get this letter off to you. Each time we take a rest I’ll try and write a little more.
The creek was swollen a bit from the runoff and a bit murky and before reaching the other side I stumbled and dropped my musket. The Captain yelled at me to come on and leave the dang rifle in the creek and we would find it later. Luckily I’m carrying two pistols and can defend myself if necessary.
Night fog stills hangs over the creek and part of the field lying beyond us, so the Captain called a halt to hunker down in the grass to wait a spell and let it clear up a bit. I’m sure tired Ma and won’t write much this time. I’m gonna lay back in the grass and rest. It has been about an hour since we took cover and the fog is breaking up and I can see the sun breaking through. I reckon we’ll be moving out soon. Above us to the north the old mill is partially visible, grey and ghost like appearing abandoned and that ain’t a good sign.
The call to advance across the field came about fifteen minutes ago and we are near the base of a wooded hill. The hill is still shrouded in fog playing havoc with our imagination. The Captain motioned for us to get down for there seems to be movement up there, can’t tell for sure though, probably fog drifting over the hill. I tell you Ma if it was me in charge I’d go back to the creek where we have a bit more cover. I reckon its all clear though because the Captain is standing up and waving us on.
We’ve covered about two hundred yards and the sun is bright above us, a worrying thought since we’re like sitting ducks for any Johnny Reb up on the hill. The Captain doesn’t seem too worried and says we’re going up to the rail fence about a hundred yards further on. I got to give him credit; he’s a brave lad walking ahead of us like that along side the sergeant. I just hope….”
Ma we didn’t make it to the fence, a cannon above us opened up sending shot screaming down into the field. Two rounds exploded about fifty yards from where I stood, killing three men outright and another lays in the grass hollering something awful. The Captain shouted for us to charge them Rebels, but we didn’t get far when musket fire rattled above us cutting down four more men. A round from their cannon exploded in front of me and I took a hit in both legs and went down. A young Reb, not more than fourteen years of age jumped over the fence shouting and laughing. I took careful aim with Pa’s old pistol and shot the feller dead in his tracks and fired a couple more times into the deep shadows on the hill and heard a man scream. Gun smoke hangs heavy around us, but one by one I see my friends shot dead and then only the Captain and the sergeant are left standing firing bravely at the enemy. Several muskets fire in unison cutting the pair down and the battlefield is suddenly very quite, deathly quite. I’m watching a tall lanky Reb step over the fence and walk sort of cocky like down the hill to where the Captain and Sergeant lay. My revolver has one round left, but I ain’t gonna fire on the man. He kicks them and pulls the Sergeant’s shoes off and continues on to the next fallen man and laughs shooting the feller point blank. One by one he visits the fallen all the while getting closer to me. Hatred boils in me like I’ve never known before. I’ve pulled the hammer back on Pa’s gun and lay there waiting. Ma he’s almost here now, I can see the scuffed toes of his boots and Ma I’m gonna shoot him when he bends over to look at me. Adios

The story of the Battle of Womack Mill is not what it appears to be, but a scripted event of a small reenactment at Heritage Days in Fair Grove, Missouri a few years ago. I have added a bit of flavor for more detail. The only part not scripted was in the final scene when I rose up and shot the Reb as he was about to take my life. The feelings I experienced during the last moments of the event were real, raw emotions lashing out I suppose to the darkness of man’s cruelness to one another, justifying my act of cruelty. The sound of cannon was real; the explosions around us were real set off by remote control. The sound of muskets was real echoing against the hills. Real bullets and cannon balls were not present only a make believe battle for the crowd of onlookers to cheer or jeer to. It was a reminder of past events that nearly destroyed America. Living history is important to provide an intimate view of war, but I wonder, for on the hill that day there were those cheering for the Confederates and others were cheering for the Union, much like a football game. There were no victors, only friends who would later gather and rehash the adventure. Adios

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Loose Connection

A Time To Remember
A Loose Connection

One day several years ago, a couple of friends and I watched a 57 Ford come alive. It sat at the side of the road, no ignition keys in it and the doors were locked. The owner had apparently left it behind for some reason. The first inkling that something was amiss became evident when the horn began tooting and within a moment or two blaring loudly. The windshield wipers began working about the same time the headlights came on, along with the hazard lights blinking wildly. Smoke could be seen rising from under the hood and then the motor started.
To make a long story short we managed to raise the hood and disconnect a battery cable, silencing the Ford. The smoke slowly diminished and soon quit altogether. Closer examination revealed a short or loose connection in the ragged wiring harness.
Loose connections of course are not uncommon and can occur in every aspect of life relying on electricity to make them function and often catastrophic results occur. Perhaps a loose connection is incorrect when it pertains to a human, but I like the term especially since it involves me.
A long time ago when I was but a small lad I soon discovered we were dirt poor. This doesn’t mean we were destitute, just dirt poor. Summer meant no shoes except for attending church on Sundays and going to town on Saturdays. To face each day on the farm, I and my brothers were clothed in overalls, often patched at the knees and seat. The shirts were usually hand made by Mother from cotton feed sacks. I have to admit some of those sacks were quite colorful, but faded quickly when washed a few times. This is not to say we did not have better clothing when appearing in public. New overalls or jeans and store bought shirts hung in the closet.
As the years past we prospered some and by the time I started highschool, my twin brother and I sported two pair of Levis and two flannel store bought shirts each, but the shoes were not right for me and I decided I wanted a pair of black western Justin boots. I hired out one evening to help dismantle a carnival and the next morning purchased the boots and walked eighteen miles home. I was proud.
The years past, I married, raised a family, retired after nearly thirty years with the Missouri Department of Conservation at age 59 and still not aware of a loose connection.
During those years leading up to my retirement and with my wife and I working I began buying western boots, Stetson hats and shirts and beloved jeans. I never gave much thought to my desire to obtain those things until a short time ago when walking out of a mall with two newly purchased shirts.
I looked at my wife and said, “I am a sick man.”
“What do you mean?’ she asked.
“I now own seventy shirts for going places and about thirty for wearing around the house. I have fifteen Stetsons, eighteen pairs of boots, not counting the every day boots and more coats than I care to admit to. I have a loose connection. Let it be known from this day forward, I will not buy another shirt for a year!”
I could just as easily said that since I didn’t have much growing up, or I admire beautiful shirts, or they were on sale and justified the excess of things that I have, but I decided not to and faced my excessive behavior. I have a loose connection. I shudder to think that perhaps it could be genetic and I may have passed it on to my children or grandchildren. I wonder are some of them buying boxes of shoes, armloads of shirts, blouses or jeans. I decided to share some of my clothing with others. Nevertheless I am at peace now enjoying my shirts and all the rest and have come to terms with my loose connection. It is really quite humane this condition, especially since I have become aware of the defect and a year from now, who knows I may be out there again, buying more shirts, Stetsons and boots and loving every minute of it. adios

Truly a Flower of the Sun

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Stranger in London Smoke

A Time to Remember
A Stranger in London Smoke
By Ronnie Powell

There was a time when I could hang out in front of most country stores and inevitably hear a tale or two. Some of these stories were hand me down renderings passed on perhaps from other generation and were usually inflated a bit to hold the attention of a listener. They undoubtedly began at one time as true life accounts. Sadly, however, the country mercantile stores are becoming extinct and are being replaced with convenient businesses designed to run in and go. Two old stores standing in Windyville are unoccupied. They both date back to the turn of the century. One of the buildings is crumbling badly and will soon fall to the ages. The other building a very large structure stands in good repair, but I doubt it will ever house a country store again. They are passing icons of another time.
One story that is a favorite of mine, told to me by Ralph, begins in London Smoke, Missouri in 1882, once situated about three miles southwest of Windyville. Ralph a boy at the time sat on the front steps of the mercantile store waiting for his Pa to finish a transaction inside.
“I was getting a little impatient waiting for Pa,” Ralph said, “for he’d promised to bring me a stick of candy. I knew better than to go to the door and ask for the candy and continued sitting on the step in the hot August sun.”
During the time while waiting for his father to come out of the store, Ralph noticed a man entering the town from the east astride a tall chestnut gelding. The man a stranger, rare in those days in the secluded settlements along the Niangua River and looked upon with suspicion captured Ralph’s complete attention. The Civil War still remained a volatile memory among the adults of the time and children were strongly advised to be wary of them.
“The gelding the man rode, high stepped to the porch and came to halt not more than ten feet from where I sat,” Ralph said. “The feller sat straight in the saddle, dressed in a dark suit and tie and on a finger of his right hand a large silver ring glinted in the sun. He wore a wide brim leather hat, sweat stained and dusty. About the only thing in particular I recall about the man’s face were the blue eyes a looking down at me. He didn’t say anything for a moment or two and cut a chew from a plug of tobacco and carefully placed it in his mouth and then glanced up toward the doorway of the store.”
“Hello Mister,” the stranger said to Pa, now standing on the porch. “I’m looking to buy the acreage where the Wilson Spring is located. “Id be oblige if you would give me direction to the place.”
Ralph paused as if trying to recall the story more clearly. He was uncertain of his father’s answer, but did recall the man being sent on his way with vague instructions on how to find the place. Ralph’s father and the store owner agreed the place was not for sale and the matter although suspicious was dropped from the morning conversation.
The next day Ralph still a bit curious struck out for the Wilson Spring, a little more than two miles from his parents home. The spring according to Ralph was situated on a north slope among a number of larges stones and lay hidden beneath several old growth cedars trees.
“The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the spring was deep horse hoof prints at the edge of the pool.” Ralph recalled. “A huge flat stone had been moved exposing the rotted remains of a saddle bag and a rusted Colt, cap lock revolver lying nearby. Excited by the discovery I began rummaging through the brittle remains of the saddle bag and dang if I didn’t find in the dirt a gold twenty dollar gold coin. I went a little crazy then and tore up the ground where the rock had lain, but didn’t find anything else of value.”
The twenty dollar gold piece according to Ralph went into the family coffer and the old Colt put away and never seen again. The stranger as far as Ralph knew did not return, a mysterious fellow who some said had recovered stolen gold, (booty), taken during the Civil War from folks in the country.
Ralph has long passed on but the stranger that came to London Smoke one hot August day lives on soon to be resurrected in a book I am working on, titled, “A Stranger in London Smoke.”
The book is fiction, loosely based on the elusive man that arrived in London Smoke. Each chapter is chronicled in detail by a different character drawn unwittingly into the hunt for Baldnobbers. It is a tale of entwining love and hate to at last reveal the haunting secrets of Keith Bradshaw, A Stranger in London Smoke.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Welcome to Bare Foot Pass

Welcome to Barefoot Pass from wherever you call home on Mother Earth or perhaps beyond into a far distant galaxy. This blog is not particularly about me, but pertains to many people and creatures, events, places and things that were and are important aspects of life.
Bare Foot Pass may not be an easy place to find, for it emerges from a deep hollow south at a bend in the Niangua River. It has been a rendezvous place many times over the years and will continue to be. Often at dawn river mist rising into rolling clouds shrouds this remote beautiful place where solitude can be found beneath spreading sycamore trees. In August during the Dog Days of summer not far below the bend, gar fish can be seen floating near the surface, images of prehistory. Deer, turkey, beaver and muskrats abound. In the shadowed canopies of the trees, Bald Eagles and hawks of many kinds sit in wait for prey. In the first light of dawn Buzzards can be seen in the barren limbs of trees, their damp wings outstretched a ritual as old as time and soon the birds will rise into the sky to drift lazily in the winds.
South through Bare Pass is a virtual destination on these pages and can be found quite easily. Stories are many of the river, its people and history, but sadly much of today’s stories are endless lines of canoes, broken bottles and disregard for the river. Yet there are place that remain pristine and offer a view into the past.
The Niangua River Legacy embraces many aspects of time and of course will continue into the future. It is a journey across the Ozarks and yes beyond. Come often to this place of solitude to look and listen.