Monday, September 28, 2009

A Sad Tale

A Sad Tale
One day as I waited at a local feed store for two sacks of grain to be brought out, I looked down. I saw a kernel of corn lying on the ground and it was weeping.

“Why are you weeping, why are you so sad?’ I asked the kernel of corn.

“Here I will lay until I rot,” it answered. I will never grow into a fine stalk of corn or feel the morning mist upon my leaves, nor give up my fruit to those who need it.”

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Journey To Moon Valley

One Of Many Burial Sites across the Valley

A Place Of Secrets

Bluffs viewedFrom The Valley

From Moon Valley, a Distant Indian Site

A Time to remember
Moon Valley
By Ronnie Powell
The Niangua River rises from its cradle in northern Webster County, in southern Missouri and flows northward into Dallas County and meanders several miles until it buries itself in the Lake of the Ozarks. It is truly a serpentine stream doubling back in places with less than a mile separating the channels at times.
The Niangua enters the southern edge of Moon Valley between timeless ragged limestone bluffs and flows rather lazily for awhile through this beautiful place. It is best to begin a float at the Windyville Bridge in order to capture the full majestic view leading into the valley. The journey should begin at sunrise, or prior to it and makes no differences whether the morning is bright and clear or grey and misty. The autumn is a good time to float, for the bluffs are more visible including the legendry McKee cave looking out high above the river from the south bank. Often in the winter when passing, steam can be seen leaving the entrance of this cave, vague images drawn into the wind. One bluff in particular, its face barren, weathered by time, crested with an ancient cedar, harbors a dark secret in one of its many small openings.
Square Rock Eddy a beautiful aspect of the Niangua contains a huge square bolder that broke away from the bluff perhaps hundreds of years ago now embedded in the middle of the stream. Catfish and Goggle Eye perch were once abundant in the eddy. Rainbow and Brown trout can be found around the Square Rock in the winter months.
Not far below, the Salt Peter cave can be viewed from the south bank of the river. It once contained an abundance of artifact and burials of the Prehistory Indians and further in presented a beautiful array of Stalactites and Stalagmites along a channel flowing with crystal clear water harboring many forms of life. The once pristine stream is no longer there and much damage has been done to the formations and the great entrance has been despoiled with indiscriminant digging along with rubbish and graffiti. The present owner I am told will restrict visitations into the cave, too late perhaps, but nature has a way of healing if given the chance.
Moon Valley presents a wide panoramic view of the surrounding hills and bluffs and to the distant west, Hildebrand cave can be seen near the crest of a bluff. It too has suffered from thoughtless people over the years; destroying much of the natural beauty inside. It was a safe haven for Prehistory Indians, where a cool stream of water flowed from the entrance, providing water for the early inhabitants. I was allowed to view a collection of Indian artifact taken from the cave by one individual and it included earthen bowls and cooking pots. Several complete skeletons were also present. The collection was massive and I have no knowledge of what happened to it after the death of the man several years ago.
On a high bluff barely visible from the river are several Indian burials, lined with stone and hidden beneath old growth brush and perhaps will remain safe for a time. A rocky glade not far away contains an area where chert flakes are abundant along with many incomplete and broken arrow points, knives and scrapers.
In the hot muggy dog days of summer especially in the deep eddies along the river, Gar fish can be seen lying near the surface, images that have survived and once quite common in another time when the river was free. In the mysterious shadows of this wondrous stream, beaver, muskrat and otter abound and in the trees, Red Tail hawks and Bald eagles thrive. It is not uncommon to see in the first light of dawn buzzards sitting on the limbs of old tree snags, wings outstretched in a ritual as old as time. These silent sentinels are drying their wings soon to ride the winds over the river and Moon Valley.
Many people pass along the river in canoes and kayaks. I doubt if they comprehend the remaining ageless wonders and beauty of Moon Valley, evident by the trash they leave behind and noise they make.
There are times when I am walking along one of those forgotten trails on a quite misty morning I can still glimpse a bit of the pristine wilderness once prevalent in the Valley of the Moon. I have found it easy to become lost in time spanning thousands of years, visiting the sites of ancient people all but erased from this beautiful part of the Niangua River. Adios

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Harbor of Memories

The center of farm life in my day

A Time to Remember
By Ronnie Powell
I remember dusty cornfields, green meadows and fresh mown hay.
I remember threshing time and shocks of wheat and oats standing at attention across the fields and a cool watermelon waiting in the spring below the house.
I remember a Model T Ford, a grand old Nash and a green Forty Eight Plymouth.
I fondly remember a dog named Brownie who always brought in the cows.
I remember a treasure box I buried long ago, filled with coins, beads, two old pocket knives and a photo of Lash Lurue.
I remember vividly cold winter mornings, a bowl of hot oatmeal and blackstrap molasses and then a nap in the wood box behind the cook stove.
I remember the Sundays I spent at Aunt May’s and the mysteries of her attic.
I remember steaming hot cornbread, fried chicken and apple pie.
I remember corn picking time, frosty mornings and huge yellow pumpkins.
I remember Stella Dallas, Terry and the Pirates and the Grand Ol Oprey.
I remember the dreadful sound of the Atom Bomb on the radio that changed the world and its people.
I remember an old suitcase and a country road that lead me away from my childhood.
I remember a phone call one early morning and the voice on the line informing me of my twin brother’s untimely death.
I remember a basketball game at Windyville and a lovely young woman who captured my heart.
I remember the birth of each child and the years that followed.
I remember the secrets revealed to me of the ages found along the Niangua River.
I remember villages of long ago, their images fading and then reappearing in the morning mist.
I remember miles and miles of a lifetime and yet the burden is light as I continue toward a distant horizon. Adios

Saturday, September 19, 2009

BrushyRidge School Of Long Ago

Back when I was about age nine

Brushy Ridge School House

(The building is no longer standing)

A Time to Remember
By Ronnie Powell
Prelude to Brushy Ridge School
In late autumn of 1944, my parents, twin brother Donnie and I and younger brother Richard accompanied by Grandmother Carrie Powell returned to the family farm located near Long Lane, Missouri. The old homestead house had stood vacant since the passing of Grandfather Charley Powell.
In 1938, hard times forced my parents to leave the country and to seek employment in Kansas City, Missouri. With only four dollars from the sale of a pregnant sow they traveled in a Model A. Ford sedan to the metropolis where Father quickly found a job, rented a house and the family settled into city life.
Donnie and I were three years of age linked to the old homestead only by birth. Richard had yet to be born. It was not a difficult transition for us, for there was little or no memory of the country.
At age six, Donnie and I attended school during or about the time World War Two began its assault on America. Father joined a volunteer auxiliary police group to help maintain complete blackout over the city. He often spent late hours walking a beat and recalled infractions of the law during blackout events. I distinctly remember two occasions when U.S. Bombers flew over the city at night. The rumble of their engines could be heard long before they were sighted, ghostly images of destruction intent on detecting pin points of light in the city below.
Word came to Grandmother Carrie who now resided in Kansas City that her oldest son Buell had been killed in the invasion of Tarawa. The war took on a dreadful reality for the family.
In 1944, Father began working in a defense plant with the draft looming closer. Grandmother Carrie sold the farm to Father and the family began preparing to move back to the country, for it appeared he would soon be called to military duty.
Early one grey November morning in 1944, Father, Donnie and I sat inside the cab of a stub nose Chevy moving truck loaded with all our possessions and began a two hundred mile journey to the farm. Behind us in the family’s 1937 Chevy sedan were Mother, Grandmother Carrie and young Richard. It would be an unforgettable journey through one of the most severe blizzards I have ever known.
Twelve hours later we arrived at the farm where the old house sat on the north face of Brushy Ridge, a desolate two story dwelling cloaked in snow. The front door stood open and snow covered most of the parlor floor. The house contained no heat, electric lights, (electricity had yet to be established in most rural areas) or running water. The bare windows were exposed to the driving wind and dust lay everywhere. A huge potbellied stove stood in the parlor and in the kitchen a cast iron cook stove occupied the room with a sagging chimney pipe riddled with rust holes.
Taking possession of the house was not an easy task and required all the family, including Richard. It wasn’t long and new pipes were attached to the stoves and loaded with wood found in a shed out back. Fires were lit and soon the cold although reluctantly began retreating from the house. It was as if the old structure awakened, creaking and groaning from the wonderful warmth that filled each room. Sheets and blankets were hung over the doors and windows to keep the biting cold outside.
When at last all of our possessions were inside the house, Father prepared to return to the city alone, to leave us to fend for ourselves. There was no choice in the matter, for he was required to report to work the next morning. The following weeks and months were difficult for all of us until the war ended and Father came home to stay.
A few days after our arrival at the farm, Mother informed Donnie and I that we would be going to the Brushy Ridge School located about a mile west of the house. She told us it was the same school Father had attended as a boy.

Brushy Ridge School
We left early for the short drive to the schoolhouse. I stared in speechless astonishment at the building, for it was nothing like I imagined it would be. The structure sat in the center of a clearing completely surrounded by forest. A small building in comparison to the one I had attended in Kansas City. The front end faced the road and revealed two doors and a small attached shed, housing a long handle water pump. Each side of the white clapboard structure contained four large windows. A belfry sat on the roof near the rear of the schoolhouse. Behind the building I could see two dilapidated privies setting near the edge of the woods and I knew the transition would not be easy for me, but I loved the beautiful country of my beginning.
The Chevy rolled to a stop near the front of the schoolhouse as I continued to stare in disbelief at what would be in the years to come a place of enduring memories. The teacher, Miss Ina stepped out one of the doors and greeted Mother, Donnie and I warmly and invited us in. I immediately took a liking to the young woman and at her beckoning strode inside the building. Once again I stared in disbelief at what I saw. A huge slate blackboard covered most of the back wall and directly in front of it sat the teacher’s desk. The students’ desks were assembled in four rows and faced the teacher’s desk. A huge wood burning stove occupied the center of the room and glowed red from the heat within. The north wall contained a library of assorted books. The first to catch my attention was the Call of the Wild and later I discovered Penrod and Sam, Robin Hood, Susannah the Pioneer Cow and many other favorites to be. A pantry was located near one of the front doors with a sink and cabinets for lunch pails or sacks. Between the two doors were wall mounted hooks for coats and caps and a poster of the Constitution.
After introductions Donnie and I were told to choose a desk from those that stood vacant. A desk of my choice stood near the north wall in front of a window and within arms length of the modest library. The window offered an exceptional view of the forest.
Completely fascinated by the surroundings, I sat at the desk unaware that other students had arrived. I looked up into nine curious faces, the entire student body, not including Donnie and me.
During the next five years three other teachers came and went. Miss Ruby followed Miss Ina and then Miss Little and finally Miss Mae who boarded with us during the week and helped make it possible for four eighth graders to graduate from the eighth grade.
Many of the rural one room schools were consolidating and a couple of years after I left, Brushy Ridge district closed its doors and the land and building were sold.
Annie Over was my favorite game, but there were others of which I have forgotten and of course there was soft ball. The forest around the building was also a play ground for hide and seek and Robin Hood and his merry men.
A Thanksgiving and Christmas play brought the parents in for a festive event with food laid out on a table. About three weeks before Christmas the teacher accompanied us into the woods to cut a cedar tree and nearly always it was too big and had to be trimmed back before setting it up, but still exceeded six feet. Most of the decoration was made by the students along with posters from crepe and construction paper.
An annual pie supper brought folks in from miles around and usually the building was packed. A local girl was selected as the prettiest from the most money donated in her name. The name Sally Ax Handle was nearly always placed on the board as a joke, but rarely won the title. All proceeds were used to purchase incidentals for the school.
Each autumn about a week before school commenced the parents of the students and neighbors gathered at the school building to clean the interior or make repairs. The privies were cleaned, but not before all wasps and spiders were evicted. The assaults on the building were met with stiff resistance by angry wasps. I delighted in the forays, showing off a bit swatting wasps inside the privies until they were driven away or perished on site. On occasion a Copperhead snake was found in a privy or on the play ground and if possible I would carry it into the woods and turn it loose.
I loved snowy days watching snow flakes gather on the window panes, enjoying the warmth of the room and dreaming, sometimes unintentionally ignoring a question from the teacher. I treasured the walk to and from school along a winding gravel road savoring the smells of the forest, unlike the city streets where noise was constant and the air stank of automobile exhausts.

In Memory of Brushy Ridge School
There stands among the briar bush and tall black oaks an old schoolhouse.
Its windows are dark and empty where within dwells the spider and mouse.
Time has rendered it irreparable since the children went away.
Its dress of white is now tattered and gray.
Inside its dreary realm are remnants of the past and they hold you there.
An old damp book once held by teacher with loving care.
On the slate cracked and stained are the words cat and four.
An empty ink bottle lies upon the floor.
There is melancholy about the place and it’s best to turn away.
I think it wise to remember Brushy Ridge from a childhood day. Adios

Fragments of Time


A Time to Remember
Fragments of Time
By Ronnie Powell
Home, it is a window where a lamp beckons you.
It is the hand of a love one, precious and true.
It is a haven at the end of a day.
It is a castle I’ve heard men say.
Home, it is a flower that grows about
It is the shade from a tree tall and stout.
It is a child playing on the lawn.
It is a whisper that awakens you at dawn.
Home, it is the noise children make.
It is the fragrance of oven fresh cake.
It is a book and an old easy chair.
It is a reason to love and to share.
Home, it is a blessing from the Almighty One
It is a promise beyond the sun.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On The Road With Heidi

Heidi relaxing after our walk

Heidi and me on the road

Heidi wreck my smily lamp

Looking out the door of Heidi's cabin

Looking out the front two windows of Heidi's cabin

On the Road with Heidi

Heidi is doing very good, slowly losing her anxieties and fear of people. She is accepting petting, although it still makes her a bit nervous at times. She loves to play in the yard as long as no one is watching and has a variety of playthings, including socks she stole from me. She buries bones and we can’t find them. I bought two stick up battery lights and put on in her house to light it up when needed, way out of her reach, or so I thought. The next morning I looked in and she picked up the light to proudly show me. It was chewed and mangled beyond repair. I did not scold her and sat down with her and laughed. She loves to walk with my wife and me each morning and evening, but is on a long leash. She stops now when I ask her to and sits. She still won’t come directly to me, but I am patient. She still does not bark and is very reserved with her affection. But each day brings her forward and soon she will be alright. Adios.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Come On In And Have A Cup Of Red Rose Tea

Cup made by Great Granddaughter of Davey Crocket

Red coffee pot and 31 cal. revolver

Come on in and have a cup of Red Rose Tea

Long before coffee became a popular brew in this country, there was another brew, tea. Now don’t misunderstand me, a cup of Joe or Java and other names referring to coffee is an excellent drink, hot steaming and black as I like it. Camp coffee is probably the best, for it is brewed in a large pot over an open fire. No precise measurement is needed, just simply pour the grounds into a pot of boiling water and wait. When the coffee is gone, dump in another handful of grounds, never wash the pot or remove the old grounds and I guarantee you will soon have a cup of coffee that will take second to no other cup of Joe.
There is an old red granitite coffee pot a sitting on a shelf in my house that has accompanied me on several occasions when camping on the Niangua River and the many rendezvous I participated in. Many a time when I crawled out of my lodge into a stiff legged cold morning, I wanted only to fire up the pot for a cup of coffee. That old pot traveled with me to Williams Ford, Corky, Granny Hollow, Osage Fork and Buffalo Head to mention a few places. The old pot was found by my Son in an old dump back in the woods in near pristine condition.
Back to Tea. Now there are some of the fellows I know that frown on a cup of tea, but it doesn’t matter. I know a gent as raw as a bone and tough as a horseshoe nail that will drink a cup of Red Rose Tea any time, and I, many times have sat watching the sun come up, shrouded in river fog, sipping a steaming cup of Red Rose Tea, while munching a fresh baked biscuit. There ain’t nothing finer on a cold morning hunched near a campfire. There is another man of whom I have great respect and fondness for that appreciates a cup of Red Rose Tea. He is and Englishman of great repute. His name is Sir Albern Weedon and stands no taller than two feet in height.
Red Rose Tea is black and gives off a distinctive pleasant aroma. It is fit for a king of high breeding and softens the eyes of anyone drinking the brew. The tea should be at all gathering of men and women who are trying to work out conflicts around the world. Is this a Commercial, heck no.
I am of English Irish descent, with a little Indian blood trickling through my veins and perhaps the English Irish part of me is this reason I like the tea, but I wonder if way back when the Indians and white folks were warring if they had sat down and drank a cup or two of Red Rose Tea they might have settled the conflict in favor of both sides.
So come on in, throw your hat or bonnet in a corner and sit down and have a cup of Red Rose Tea with me. Adios.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rainbow at Dawn

Rainbow at Dawn

Many times over the years I have stood watching a storm gathering overhead, rumbling deep within and below at its base lightening flashed to slowly descend on the land. Nealy always fear of the unknown stirs within in me. It is a fear that is as nessary as the breath of life. I have stood at the threshold of death and felt the coldness of it around me. Yet each time I became aware of an intense disire to live on and with fear at my side I fought to survive and won for a time. I would rather walk through a field of flowers, not to leave a trail or pick one bloom for fear that I would change a wonderful creation. I would rather sit on the back steps with my hound drinking a cup of coffee than be in a crowd drinking wine, for fear of missing something as beautiful as a rainbow at dawn.Adios

Germs and More Germs

Could This Critter be an Adult Seven Year Itch Bug?

A Time to Remember
Germs and More Germs
By Ronnie Powell
It seems these days there is an enormous battle waging against germs and rightly so I suppose. I wonder however, what would happen if all the germs were slain, would humankind also perish? We are advised to wash our hands repeatedly during the day; to spray and wipe everything down with disinfectant, to boil water, overcook food and the list goes on. Personal hygiene is of course important, but are we dirtier today than we were back in the old days, say from the 1930”s to the beginning of the great industrial revolution after World War Two?
I was born and reared on a farm that lays along the South bank of the Dousinberry Creek about three miles from Long Lane, Missouri. We were in my opinion a typical farm family of those golden years, poor, innovative, honest and hard working folks. Shoes for the children were a luxury, worn exclusively in the winter and on Sundays. It was not unusual to strike out barefoot on a cold frosty morning to bring in the milk cows. Calloused toes and feet are tough, but are no match for Jack Frost and once behind the cattle I took advantage of warm cow piles which were usually abundant. I of course later washed my feet, but I doubt if that would be an accepted alternative to warming ones feet at the present.
Fried chicken a staple in those days and occasionally, especially on Sundays chicken and dumplings. Whether fried, baked or boiled anything left over was covered with an oil cloth and remained on the table most of the day. (No refrigeration) We never considered bacteria or other forms of germs, but happily in passing grabbed a left over biscuit and a chicken neck or wing for a snack.
Milk and butter were usually abundant straight from the cow’s udder, cooled in a spring, rich in butterfat and I suppose loaded with germs. Other meat sources were pork, rabbit, squirrel and a rare treat young groundhog and fish from the creek. All of these meat sources were handled freely and yes we washed our hands in a granite pan at the well and dried off with a feed sack towel.
Hog butchering nearly always took place at the end of summer, early autumn and was a bit messy to say the least but later when fresh liver was frying in a cast iron skillet the aroma of that indulgence made it all worth while. Most of the meat was preserved with a mixture of brown sugar and salt and left to cure in the back of the well house. The meat generally lasted until late June of the following year. I must say by late spring the remaining meat did not look to appetizing for much of it had turned green on the surface, but once sliced open and the green removed the remaining meat although a bit sharp to the taste was quite delicious. There had to be some germs in there somewhere.
It was not unusual to drink from the creek in those days, closely watching a big fat crawdad with a pincher up and ready to strike. Many times during the summer we bathed in the creek, adding our germs to the water and acquiring others I suppose.
Canned goods were plentiful in Mason fruit jars and on occasion one was found that had spoiled. I’ve often wondered how many were borderline and consumed by the family, loaded with germs. Fresh garden produce was for the taking and many times while passing by or performing the duty of dreaded weeding I’d pull a fat carrot from the ground, brush it against a pant leg and go on my way eating it. The ground had been fortified with chicken and cow manure and probably a haven for many species of germs.
Times have changed and much of the land, air and water are undoubtedly more polluted in the rural areas than it was in my youth and diligent care should be taken and perhaps those of us who were reared in the country before electricity should have been more careful, but there was little sickness among us. An occasional cold and a rare bout of pneumonia were present at times. For the most part healthy people thrived in the country environment in those days coexisting among the dreaded germs.
I realize the term germ is a broad statement in this writing and not exactly correct, but I see no valid reason to get into details of what is and what is not, just grin and go on. Adios

Monday, September 7, 2009

Heidi's Journey Continues

Miss Heidi, The Last Rose of Summer is Blooming

Heidi's Bed

Heidi's completed House

Heidi's Cage soon to be moved away

Miss Heidi’s Journey Continued

I will never know if Miss Heidi’s first few months of life were intolerable for her, but I strongly believe they were. She is extremely fearful of humans, but has begun to trust me and my wife and youngest daughter, but that trust is still very fragile. She did not know how to play when she first arrived and wanted only to be in a secure place by herself. We set up a huge wire cage for her and when the door was closed did she seem at ease. She did not appear to know what dog treats were and for the most part refused them. Cheese was her preference and with it I slowly began to control her panic attacks. But even now she won’t come when called, but will meet me halfway by going to her cage. In the mean time I began building her a home, actually a small cabin. After finishing it I left small pieces of cheese in the cabin and behold she began going inside and appeared to be very much at ease in the building. A few days ago a heavy rain with lightening came and I assumed she would go inside her new house, but she didn’t and remained outside cowering and looking for me to come outside to put her up. I cannot express how I felt watching her out in the rain, but wanted her to make the decision herself. She finally went inside but would dash out and set in the rain watching the back door. I had enough and told her to go inside the cage which was very wet. I then led her to her house and dried her off with towels. Perhaps this experience changed her mind set and now she has moved in the cabin and soon I will remove the wire cage. She is learning, trusting me more each day, but the journey is not completed for she can for seemingly no reason become very frightened. But at least she has a big yard and secure warm place to live and spends each night there with the door closed. She is truly a beautiful, gentle creature and those pretty brown eyes of hers have captured my heart and soul. Adios

Farewell Winona

Taking a Bath at Rendezvous in Granny Hollow

View From Cave McKee in Summer

Barefoot Pass in Summer

Butcher's Forty Four

Butcher at Osage Fork Camp

Butcher at Fort Albert Camp

A Time to Remember
Farewell Winona
By Ronnie Powell

This saga began midday December Eighth, in Eighty Four on Ridge McKee overlooking the River Niangua. Butcher Redoak, Twinkles John and Banjo Boats bid a fond Farewell to Winona. They headed out on an outlaw trace, carrying everything they needed on their backs. The evening shadows were waiting in the timber, soon to be close on their heels. Their destination, Barefoot Pass.
Twinkles John carried a bad thirty six, six shot of powder and round ball lead. On Butcher’s right hip, hung a Forty Four revolver, the last of the Colt Dragoons. Banjo fondly carried a Fifty One Colt, the brass frame fashioned from a Macon County church bell.
They talked a lot, chawed tobacco and smoked a cigarette or two as they slowly made their way toward Barefoot Pass. Butcher held up a hand and pointed north and then beckoned them on. He led them through tangled vines and scrub brush along a trail barely visible.
Hours past and they came to the edge of an ancient limestone bluff; the North face of Ridge McKee. It was a place where only an eagle should be. Below they could see the River Niangua, a dark ribbon of water, three hundred feet down a treacherous slope.
A cold wind tugged at their packs and tried to chill their bones. But these hearty Ozark men laughed at the wind and hitched up their packs and started down the bluff.
“No armchair mountain man got the steel to be here, I reckon!” Twinkles John shouted and cussed a bit.
A devilish grin spread across Banjo’s face and he nodded, sat down and slid a ways down the perilous incline.
Butcher foraged ahead though a mighty vine and came at last to a rock outcrop and motioned for the other two to join him there. They dropped their packs and cut a chew, a figuring on resting a bit.
Suddenly Butcher squalled loud and clear. “Oh no.”
“What is it Butcher you’re fretting about?” You sound like a flatlander in a rain storm.
“My canteen came loose and is falling to the river,” Butcher answered. “Look below and you will se it among those rocks at river’s edge.”
“Yeah reckon I see it,” Twinkles replied. “We can do without it and besides it was better it than you, Yankee.”
“I ain’t leaving it behind, you mangy Reb and soon we’ll go down to where it lies. “But for now we rest a bit at Cave McKee around that ledge.
Several minutes later they stood at the entrance of the legendary cave a gawking at the dark wide expanse of its mouth. They could see sprits there a moving back into the darkness of the cave. Sprits of old they were, Indians, white men and a few they could not identify. Twinkles shivered, as did Banjo, but Butcher just grinned and dropped his pack.
“Settle down friends,” he said, and rest a bit. I got a tale or two to tell.”
They all sat down by a large stone near the entrance and drank cold coffee, chewed tobacco and smoked. Butcher recalled tales of pilgrims who had fallen to their death and of men who had been shot and buried on a lonely hilltop above them. He swore the tales were true.
It was time to go, for evening shadows were very close by and they hefted their packs and again headed down toward the River Niangua. They stumbled and slid along the steep slope and turned up river a looking for a place to spend the night. They would not make Barefoot Pass.
Twinkles stopped and growled like a bear. “Butcher,” he said. “Look up the slope to the south, a fine place to spend the night.”
“On the North face of Ridge McKee I ask? It will be blue cold up there my friend.”
Twinkles grunted and headed up the slope. “They ain’t no other place.”
When at last they reached the barren point, Twinkles dropped his pack and looked out over the land and grinned. It was a place where only God could have made such a view and all agreed it was home for the night.
Twinkles with flint and steel, struck a fire and soon it rose into the cold night air. Butcher, gathered wood and Banjo piled up bedding leaves. The aroma of biscuits, stew and coffee beckoned to the man and they sat down to feast and watched clouds race the moon.
It wasn’t long and night crept around them held back by the light of the camp fire. Higher and higher the flames rose and danced a rhythm as old as time, when other men of old rested as they would. To the south, near Ridge Liga, a hound bawled on trail of a fox or raccoon. Far below at river’s edge, coyotes sang and the night inched closer to the dwindling flames and sleeping men.
The first light of dawn was but a faint hue on the horizon when Butcher Redoak, Twinkles John and Banjo Boats cast aside their covers of fleece and goose down and they stood shivering for a time next to a kindling fire. A cold wind blew the flames higher until at last it warmed the hearty men. Soon bacon, taters and biscuits lay heaped on their plates warming both body and soul.
The travelers tarred not on that cold, barren hill and shouldered their packs and quickly passed from view into river fog toward Barefoot Pass. They came at last to a crossing at River Niangua, where fast moving water flowed around a bend. They stood for a spell, each to their own thoughts looking across the mighty stream to Barefoot Pass, a narrow trail between two sentries of stone.
Twinkles John hefted his pack and without a word strode into the icy waters of the river. He grunted and groaned a couple of times, tripped and stumbled, but with head held high and the water lapping around his thighs, Twinkles headed straight for shore. When at last he reached the bar, he stomped about, turned and grinned.
“Pilgrims, I say to you, cause you ain’t over here yet,” he shouted, “watch your step. That river will try and take you down. It will numb your legs and chill your bones. Now come on gents, don’t stand there like flatlanders.”
Banjo grimaced and picked up his pack and pushed the Fifty One deeper into its holster. He glanced at Butcher, and then walked into the cold water of River Niangua. He howled and hollered, but kept moving and soon staggered ashore and ran to where Twinkles sat before a fire.
The last to cross the swift water, Butcher grumbled, a bit ashamed to be the last one across and with an audience that would watch every step he took. He smiled real peaceful like and strode boldly into the water. He clenched his teeth, moaned a mournful sound and tipped his hat to Twinkles a looking at him. The Forty Four was now only an inch above the water, but he carefully moved on a shivering from head to toe. He found the bar and waded to shore and hurried to the fire.
“Well you ain’t no pilgrim or flatlander, Butcher,” Twinkles laughed. “That river is mean and mighty cold today.”
Put on the Pot and let’s warm a bit,” Butcher replied. I reckon then we’ll head through Bare Foot Pass and turn East to the Valley of the Moon, where I here there is Rendezvous and a shooting match. It will take most of the day to get there.”
How long did it take some have asked for Butcher Redoak, Twinkles John and Banjo Boats to trek to the Valley of the Moon, Corkry, Osage Fork and beyond and at last back to Barefoot Pass? Well I have heard it told a time or two, I guess it’s the truth, about two hundred years, give or take a day or two. Adios