Tuesday, September 30, 2008


A cool breeze blew in overnight and about 0300 hours Dillon gave me a punch. He flipped the covers up with his nose and jabbed me in the ribs, with his cold nose. I was snuggled up under the comforter with every window in the house open. Betty is over at her folks house taking care of them. Dillon's whine told me that there was something that needed my attention. As I slipped on my sandals I could hear Nada also. He was in the kennel in the living room. He has had surgery and is wearing a cone to keep him from pulling stitches. Nada is recovering well and was also vocalizing that something was going on outside. I could hear nothing, but the kennel dogs could, and they were also talking about it.
Picking up the million candle power rechargeable flashlight, I released the door and the dogs boiled out of the door, challenging what ever was out there. Within seconds Dillon gave his "catch sound", then yelped in pain. Pandemoneum broke out as the kennel dogs chimed in with Dillon and Nada who had began to bark up. Coming around the corner of the house, I could tell the dogs had treed something and I turned the light on.
Dillon was in his alert signal sit, and Nada had his feet up on a large white oak tree in the yard by the West pasture. They were challenging a marauding Raccoon to come down and fight like a man !
I figgured that the coon had been silently raiding the bird feeders when the breeze had shifted bringing his scent to the dogs.
The breeze had a cold bite to it, telling of a front that was arriving. With the light off and the goose bumps standing out on my bare legs, I slipped back into the warmth of the house, with the now empty bladdered dogs at my heels.
With Nada re kenneled, the fan in the window now turned off, I snuggled back under the covers. The last thing I remember before dozing off was Dillon curling up by the bed in his guard position.
The morning's coffee brought with it a list of things to do before the first hard freeze arrived. I remembered those goose bumps from the night before.
At the top of the list, winterize Harm's Weigh.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Confident, tanned and polite, the outdoors man answered my query in a quiet but firm voice. The question had been why would a Ouachita Mountain boy choose to go to sea and work so far from home ? His response was measured, when he said, good wages is a factor, but it is somehow more than that. If I am working at home I spend about half of my time away and on the job, so it is not much different, working off shore. I spend two weeks out on the drilling rig and am off for two weeks, spending that time with my family.Because our family's lifestyle is so heavily related to the out of doors, it was just a natural that I would want to also work outdoors.My work schedule will nearly always give me a full half of deer season to hunt.
My next question was how he started to work for an off shore drilling company. Grinning, he responded, "the internet, of course !" That is where the initial contact information came from, then there was about a three month process of physical, psychological and aptitude tests, along with a physical examination. After all of that, there is an intensive week of twelve hour days in Morgan City Louisiana. It is about half class room study and half practical exercises on a training drilling rig that is part of the international oil rig museum, on the banks of the Atchafalaya river. Passing the written exam and the practical exercises, at that drilling rig, named Mr. Charlie, qualifies you to go to the next phase, which is conducted at the U.S. Coastguard facility in Morgan City. "What does the Coastguard instruct you in at that site", I asked. The answer was direct and to the point, as is Richard Saddler's way. "Water Survival." "You have to demonstrate that you can swim ?", I asked. "For one thing, he replied, but it is again, about safety, learning the use and proper wearing of flotation and survival gear that is used at sea. It is more than learning how to tread water, it is also about quickly making emergency flotation devices and utilizing even the clothes that you are wearing. Since we fly by helicopter out to the drilling rig, one of the training exercises is how to exit a heilo that has to be ditched in open water". Really!, I said, how do they train you for that ? You are seat belted in a training aid and put in a swimming pool and have to successfully extricate your self from the training vehicle. There are scuba divers in the pool as you submerge, just incase there is a complication".
Wow, what happens next ?, I said. "That is actually the graduation training exercise, at that point you have already passed the written exam on that part".
Serving to help meet America's energy needs, Richard Saddler, Wickes, Arkansas.


This coming September it will have been thirty four years since the Texas International Airways flight number 655 disappeared in a violent thunder storm that it was trying to go around. As some may recall, the aircraft, a convair 600, was en route from Memphis Tennessee to Dallas Texas, with stops in Eldorado and Texarkana Arkansas. Aboard the aircraft was two pilots and nine passengers.
At the stop in Eldorado the air crew decided to continue on to Texarkana though there was a massive cold front approaching from the North West, that was pushing a violent thunderstorm across the State.
Did the aircrew know something that led them to believe they could beat the storm to Texarkana ?
We will likely never know, for the aircraft was forced North to try to find a way around the storm.
Thirty years later an Aviation Archeological Team, accompanied by a news crew from channel 3 KTBS, arrives in the Ouachitas to revisit the scene of the crash and to interview Mena locals that may have knowledge of the incident.
Long time Aircraft Technician Marty Caldwell, who has been involved in many air searches over the years, was one of those that were interviewed out at the airport.
The Ouachita Mountains are clearly marked on the Aviation map of Arkansas. There is a large purple rectangle on the map that defines our area as a "high Crash Incidence" area. The Ouachita Mountains jut up from the earth in a twenty five hundred feet high leap above the surrounding terrain, causing pilots that are used to flying in flatter Southern Regions to miscalculate clearance.
During the search for the missing airliner a Army National Guard Helicopter also crashed, losing all personnel aboard, amplifying the magnitude of the tragedy. Local pilots who are knowledgeable of the
Ouachitas are always sought out for some of these dangerous search missions, with the Mena Airport as the base of operations for such searches. The search for the Texas International flight lasted for three days before it was located many miles from the original search area.
During these days of unbridled media attention, you might think that these valiant and expensive, often volunteer, search and Rescue operations would garner much applause. Yet recognition seems to be sparse. How is it that so little attention has been given to the many massive search and rescue operations that are spearheaded by local pilots gets so little attention ? The budgets of local Law Enforcement agencies, Fire Departments and the Office of Emergency Management are devastated by these efforts. These local agency's always are the first to get the call for help, yet seem to be the last to get much recognition.
During the course of your daily activities, as you encounter these dedicated and professional public servants, let them know how you appreciate their efforts on behalf of the public.
Should you have missed the original airing of the broadcast, or would just like to revisit it, the article is chock full of details with a on site view of the crash scene, it is available on the internet at:


The weather forecast had been for a 20% possibility of measurable rain fall happening. The forecast had been that way for so long that no one seemed to believe it could even remotely happen. During the fourth week of August , the memory of the last rain fall was dim indeed. The leaves on the giant oak trees around the yard were turning browner by the day. Each step on the lawn gave a dry crisp crackling sound as it compressed the dead brown grass. Mowing the grass was not an issue this August ! The morning air was very still and dust rose slowly up to fill his nostrils with each step.
The trip to the end of the driveway had been postponed from the day before. The mailman had waved as he accelerated away from the rural route mail box and the heat waves shimmering up off of the driveway had made his image somewhat blurry. Retreating to the cool of the house, he thought, I'll hike to the mailbox when the sun is a little bit lower.
The telephone rang as he stepped into the deep shade and conditioned air of the house. It was good/bad news. A friend that was deployed to the middle East with the Army had been injured and was in the hospital at Fort Carson. The bad news was that a friend was suffering from his service to our country. The good news was that he had made it back and would likely recover well. More phone calls followed and the trip to the mailbox was never made.
While sipping on his second cup of coffee the next day, the forecast that he heard was a 20% chance of rain. He snorted as he sipped coffee from the cup, ha ! He thought, fat chance of that ! But, I will go get that mail, while it is cool !
The early light of day revealed, as he stepped outside for the first time, that a cloud bank was building to the North West. As he removed the letters from the mailbox he heard it for the first time. Deep low and almost ominous sounding , it was obvious that the distant rumble of thunder had traveled considerable distance.
Walking slowly as he sorted his way through the mail, he felt the first gust of wind. It was heavy and smelt of impending rain. The mail lost it's interest for him, as he peered into the gathering clouds. In the distance across the pasture he began to see the rain shower as it quickly approached.
He didn't hurry to the house, but instead continued to amble down the driveway at a leisurely pace. By the time he entered the house and announced, "honey, I went after the mail", his shirt was wet and his smile was broad. What a pleasant surprise in the last week of August.


As the orange glow of the sun receded in the West, stars began to appear in the East. The engine in the Jeep quietly purred as Rich Mountain was being smoothly scaled. Traveling upward from the North end of Mena Street, the ascent began steeply. Talking quietly we wondered, as we passed each turnout alongside the highway, if those that were parked there were on a similar mission. Finally on top of the spine of Rich Mountain, the Western sky was a golden glow, although no part of the Sun was longer visible.
In the distance the Rich Mountain Tower was haloed by the golden glow and clearly outlined. Thinking that there might be less light pollution at the tower, we turned in. As we reached the top, we could tell that there was way too many trees and the lights from Queen Wilhelmina Lodge would likely be a problem, and we needed a clear view of the constellation Perseus.
We continued on Westward, passing the lodge, continuing on towards Oklahoma, down the backbone of the mountain. One of the most scenic drives in North America was mostly obscured by the increasing darkness.
Occasional wildlife could be seen as we proceeded on our quest Westward. The night became cooler, causing a lowering of the air conditioning speed on this very warm August evening.
At each turnout we stopped briefly to check for visibility in the desired direction, and at some there were others already there, looking skyward, also. We hoped for a vacant turnout. Being conscious of how little we actually knew about our quest, we wanted to be able to talk about what we were about to witness. As nervous newbies we continued on Westward, until we actually began to see the phenomenon that we sought.
The next vista was just the right one for us. No light pollution for the bare eye viewing of the meteor shower. The Perseid meteor shower is so named because the meteors seem to come from the constellation Perseus in our night sky. Our goal was to spend a quiet evening viewing this event with the unaided eye.
Standing for a few minutes, our necks began to feel the strain of constant looking upward, it was time for the reclining lawn chairs to come out from the jeep.
A light, mild breeze came gently up the steep slope of the mountain, and there were no mosquito problems.
It was arm chair comfortable, tee shirt wearing, quiet and awesome, meteor viewing.
Soon the cold sodas in the ice chest came out as we marveled over each magnificent display across the sky.
Before we knew it, it was much later than our usual bedtime. The excitement of the brilliant streaks coming from outer space, across our Ouachita Mountain sky had totally captured our attention.
The Orionids will be visible on October the 21st. We may need a light jacket by then !
For more information about meteorite viewing you may go to: http://stardate.org/nightsky/meteors/ on the world wide web. Interested in photographing your experience ? Here is more internet information: http://www.saugus.net/Photos/meteor_photography_tips_night.shtml


He had considered going to work in Iraq as a contract truck driver for a couple of years. And, as his marriage had ended in divorce, the time just seemed right. After a call to a recruiter, he was sure, that was what he wanted to do. It was just time for a change in his life, he thought. After a whirlwind thirty days of psychological testing, physical examinations, applications, paperwork and things like passport photos, he found himself in Houston Texas. Then the orientation period started where he learned about the things related to his mission in Iraq.
Suddenly it was done. Then the wait began. During this time of waiting for "wheels up" and deployment over to Iraq, he had time to reflect. His life had indeed changed as he wanted, and he would be able to better provide for his family at home.
Then the call came, they would fly to Germany, then on to Dubai where they would spend the night. It was exciting to be off on such a grand international adventure. As the wheels came up and he was getting paid for his time, it made it all the better. Being proud of his skills as a truck driver and going on a mission for his country , in defense of freedom, and getting paid well for this grand adventure, made the frantic thirty day wait worth the effort !
The next day as they landed at Baghdad airport and he came off of the plane, the intense heat hit him like a sledge hammer. They were escorted from the plane to the terminal by armed military. It began to sink in, suddenly they had stepped from a civilian setting, into a combat zone.
The next stop was at Camp Anaconda where they began convoy operations. Each day as they waited for assignment to a convoy, they were in a concrete reinforced Tee area called "the boardwalk". Sometimes they would haul ice in refrigerated semi trailers and sometimes they would haul military equipment such as Humvees. At times there would be as many as twenty five semis escorted by five gun trucks. Once he was on a single truck mission with two gun trucks escorting.
The trucks were mostly Mercedes benz with a Volvo every now and then. The trucks had very good air conditioning and it was a good thing. His first day on the job temperatures went well over 100 degrees.
Then one day it happened, an ambush. And he was shot twice after his truck was disabled by a rocket propelled grenade, Two holes suddenly appeared in the windshield of his truck and his right arm was shattered.
Reinforcements in the form of a helicopter gunship arrived and Preston Wheeler was transported back to Camp Anaconda for the first of several surgerys. A convoy medic in a "bob" truck had helped Preston to staunch the flow of blood and he was able to get out of his truck mostly unaided. However the Ouachita Mountain boy had lost enough blood that he couldn't make it from the heilo all the way to the hospital without a near collapse.
Heavily medicated on his return trip to the United States, the trip was mostly a blur with a stop or two for fuel.
Home now and on the mend, Preston Wheeler relates the details of his civilian mission in Iraq with pride that he was able to serve, though some memories are yet painful.
Preston has met the requirements for the Department of Defense's prestigious Defense of Freedom Medal, the civilian equivalent of the Purple Heart.


In the late 30's when US Highway 71 was completed, Polk County was wet. Liquor could be sold by the drink, and there was a bar and dance hall that sat in the North West corner of forty acres located just South of what is now the junction of State Highways 71 & 84.
By the early 40's the county had gone dry and the property had sold. Enter the Robinson Family, LA, the present owner's Grandpa, saw the place and it's potential, bought it and began making improvements. The old dancehall/bar was cut in half . One half was moved a short distance away, later becoming a motel office. The other half remained where it was, becoming a restaurant in 1952. In 1960 the restaurant burned down. Overseas in the navy at the time, I was saddened by the news in a letter from home. Seven years later in 1967, the Lighthouse Drive Inn Restaurant was opened on that spot. A photo of the drive Inn taken in 1967 may be seen at: www.geocities.com/wickeslighthouse/ . The business quickly became a success, but after a number of years, family health became an issue and the drive inn was closed. Twelve years pass and family member Bob Robinson decided to reopen the restaurant in 1999. Bob relates that with no advertising other than putting up a open sign out front, the customers began to line up. Each one of those customers, it seems, had
Memories of the drive inn as a teenager and were bringing their children and in some cases their grand children.
Long remembered as a good place to get a cold drink, and an old fashioned burger and fries, the passing motorists enjoyed the picnic tables and the shade of large old oak trees. The slogan on the sign is “Hamburgers, fries and shakes, the way you remember”. To keep the flavor and atmosphere the same, family member LA Robinson related exact recipes and special ingredients to Bob and acted as consultant in many areas. Many South County adults received their first work a day world job experience during a summer at the lighthouse drive inn.
Owner Bob Robinson relates that it has been a most satisfying work of restoring the family business and listening to the customers stories and experiences relating to the drive inn.
This world is in constant change and flux. But the flavor of a lighthouse burger is always the same. They are exactly as you remember.


Standing beside what is now Arkansas highway 278, formerly Arkansas highway 4, the brick building with the graceful window arches seems to guard the Eastern approach to the town of Wickes. It is the tallest building within eyesight and is one of the most eye catching in the Southern part of Polk County. Quality design and architecture are timeless, and that is the case with this grand old structure.
Located near the center of Wickes for many generations this timeless part of history has served it’s community in a multitude of capacities.
It’s likeness has graced the cover of many School annuals and is the center of many fond memories of those that studied there. A recent conversation with former student Doyce Hedge,
who attended school in the building until her Senior year, yielded fond memories of school yard tussles and the move to the "new rock school up on the hill".
The building is and will always be “the old school house” to those that attended there.
Currently home of the City of Wickes and is often referred to as “city hall”. Daily operations of the city’s street, water and other departments are conducted from the location.
The red brick structure has been the center of community functions for many years and still continues to be used by Rich Mountain Community College and the Wickes School District during its growth and new construction process.
Built in nineteen hundred and ten, the building has served the community as the Home of a church, the Boy Scouts and the Masonic lodge and was sold by the lodge to the City of Wickes when the new Lodge building across the street was completed.
The interior has changed little and the exterior looks the same with the exception of energy efficient windows. During the restoration of the building Robert hedge returned the staircase to the center entry way, it's original location.
In today's rush to make progress, historical "Gem in the Rough", such as the Wickes City Hall, often fall to the wreckers ball. Thanks to several local groups this landmark is not only preserved, but is still serving the community.
Wickes residents are proud that their old school is still there and able to serve their community, it shows when you talk to them about it. Stop in to the Wickes City Hall, say hello to Mayor Leon McCleskey and City Clerk Sandra Wilcher. A handshake, a friendly smile and a cheery hello awaits you.


One of the most beautiful and dominant characteristics of our unique part of the world, are the various peaks along the skyline.
We see them daily and their presence is comforting to some, challenging to others. They do not go unnoticed very often.
Visitors invariably comment on them and their beauty, though they seldom know them by name. Fewer yet manage to learn of the history of such peaks, even the ones that catch their imagination. Many of these peaks had fire towers on them and a few of those towers remain. The remaining towers are no longer used as a vantage point for forestry fire watch purposes. Other
means of fire watch are used now. Most of the remaining towers are used as electronics sites for cellular telephone service providers and so forth.
One such peak and tower, located in the South part of our county, is Whiskey Peak Tower. Hatton Gap is where US Highway 71 passes over Cross Mountain. Whiskey peak is located to the West of Highway 71 on Cross Mountain and it still has it’s signature steel beam fire tower jutting skyward at the pinnacle. It catches they eye and sometimes the imagination of passers
by. A few of these hardy souls will be drawn toward the sight of the tower in the distance. Most will take a look at the rough, steep and narrow, single lane, mostly hacked out of stone, road that leads to the tower, and turn back towards the highway. Some will continue upward, cautiously. The global positioning System Coordinates of the tower are: N 34° 20.768 W 094° 25.058 . It is clearly visible on most topographic maps as the one of the most dominant terrain features in the South Part of Polk County. The foundation of the Ranger's residence is still visible, but the Ranger and his family are long gone.
Locals still tell stories about the way the peak got it's name and of desperate men and hard times in the shadow of Whiskey Peak. A visit to a local restaurant, store, station or fruit stand, and mentioning Whiskey Peak will prompt many memories and stories.
Should someone want to drive to the top of Whiskey Peak the road is open, but four wheel drive is the preferred mode of transport to the top. The view is absolutely breath
taking, the breeze cool and pleasant, and the glimpse back into Ouachita history is priceless.



Early settlers knew that they were well over into Oklahoma when they stopped at the deep shade of the giant old oak trees. The ground was packed down firmly from the generations of visitors to this special place. Located on the banks of the Robinson Fork River, nine miles West of the Arkansas State line, it was well known for its wonderful spring. The spring flowed clearly, tasted great, and was exceptionally cold.
Located nine miles West of Grannis Arkansas, almost to the Union Valley Road in Oklahoma, it was frequently a resting place for those traveling west into the Indian Nations.
Current visitors to the refreshing site no longer have to travel into Oklahoma to get there.
Before the turn of the century the state line was straightened out, which moved it nine miles to the west. This moving of the State line took in the spring which is currently located on the one hundred thirty acre Mountain Springs Christian Youth Camp.
Mountain Springs Christian Youth Camp was started in 1987 by Rodger and Pam Robbins, who felt the call to minister to the youth of the area.
Truly in the Arkansas Outback, the Youth Camp is not serviced by electric lines or telephone service. A generator is started daily to pump water to the water tank and to keep the freezers frozen. Though calls may be made by driving to a nearby mountain top, telephone service is a iffy thing and by cellular only.
Driving through the entrance gateway you may well see long horn cattle or buffalo grazing in nearby pastures.
Early years of the camp saw groups of eight to ten campers at each session, camping in tents. As facilities improved, attendance kept coming up, until there are about fifty in each group, that stay in four bunk house cabins.
Guests at the camp may learn about the art of flint knapping ( arrow head making ), or making their own bows and arrows from scratch. Visiting ministers instruct in various outdoors crafts to include horse whispering techniques.
The screened in kitchen and cafeteria do double duty as class rooms during rainy days, but most classes are taught in the outdoors to emphasize the woods craft skills.
Late in the year the Father and Son campout is a favorite for many. The three free camps each year are popular, but the Summer is filled with camps full of visitors that are discovering the beauty of the Ouachita Mountains.
Interested in the free camps, or just want to learn more ? Check out Mountain Springs Christian Youth Camp, look on the internet at: http://www.ourchurch.com/member/m/MountainSprings/, or:
PO Box 147
Grannis Arkansas 71944
United States


Grannis Soccer Field Construction
In the spring of nineteen hundred and seventy nine, a line of storms extend from about Dallas Texas, to the North East near Russelleville Arkansas. A fast moving cold front was over flowing warm moist gulf coast air that was being pumped up into the Ouachita Mountains by a slow moving low pressure system. Polk County was going to get some weather. The local radio station was talking about the approaching weather. Police officers on patrol were sending in regular reports as well. The Polk County Police communications dispatcher acted as a clearing house for the reports, for local emergency preparedness officials. Then a Deputy Sheriff in the South end of the County reported seeing a funnel cloud. You could hear the apprehension in his voice as he reported over the radio that he had ran his car up next to a cut bank for protection from the storm. Quiet followed, making the dispatcher nervously call to him over the radio. After a short time the Deputy Sheriff answered. The twister had turned his patrol unit around in the highway and put trees on the ground nearby.
His reports were the first to reach Mena about the tornado that did so much damage to the town of Grannis, totally destroying the Grannis School.
The Grannis School Principal had also been monitoring the weather. At some point in his observations he knew that the approaching storm was as bad as he had ever seen. It was then that he decided to hold a tornado drill at the school. The alarm was given and the children and teachers filed into the cafeteria and sat down against a heavy masonry wall. The wall and the actions of the staff saved lives that day. Within minutes the school was a pile of rubble, but miraculously no one was seriously hurt.
The school was never rebuilt though the site was cleared off and cleaned up.
Years pass and the property was now owned by the Wickes school district. It had became over grown and was used occasionally by the County road department to store raw road surface materials. Fast forward to today. The City of Grannis and the Wickes school district have agreed on a land transfer and construction of a new soccer field is well underway. As local residents drive by to check on the progress, you can see the smiles on their faces. It is good to know that youngsters will soon be playing on the old Grannis school ground again.


They had all heard the old classic description of the job. Hours and hours of routine broken up with a few seconds of terror or trauma. They had went to school and lived in the County all of their lives. They had seen public officials that had carefully done their best to serve the public intrest, fall from public favor, because of a decision or action, that was not popular. They realised that their lives both public and private would be examined closely and the slightest flaw would be the topic of coffee shop commentary. They knew their families would also be scrutinized, yet, they somehow had a desire to help their fellow man.
They had not taken this step into public service lightly, nor was it hastily considered.
They had went through a lenghty application process with many steps that were mostly mandated by state law. This vetting process had seemed endless and they had seen other applicants fall by the wayside as they continued through the process. There was the background investigation, where kinfolks, friends, neighbors, classmates and others were asked how they thought they might perform as a police officer. Where current and past employers were asked about dependability, trustworthyness, honesty, loyalty, and on and on.
There was the physical examination with all of those personal questions and answers coupled with an extensive medical history review.
There was the drivers history examination and the two part Psycological evaluation, and more, there seemed to be always more.
Hours and days away from family and friends began to pile up as they worked on achieving the goal of becoming prepared to serve their fellow man. If they hadn’t realized it before, they began to know that they were getting ready to participate in a calling of the highest order.
Finally, after the tuition, uniforms and all of that equipment was ready, they took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and realized that now the training began. To fail at that meant that all of the previous effort was for naught.
Evenings at Rich Mountain Community College, weekends consumed by weapons training and defensive tactics, followed by practical exercises made the weeks roll by fast.
Then it was, at long last, graduation day. The speeches, awards and the congratulations, handshakes and photographs were soon over. It was time to go to work.
But wait, they already have a full time job. You know, the one that they support their families with. So, there they are, all ready to serve the puiblic, holding down a full time job, and trying to balance time at home with the family, against their tremendous drive to serve their fellow man.
The City of Grannis was proud to sponsor four such well qualified and driven individuals to the recent RMCC Law Enforcement class. In the photo the Mayor and City Council members welcome the new Part time Police Officers.
Standing, left to right: Officer Chris Lee, Officer Randy Jewell, Officer Clint Bell and Officer Steve Fortner.
Seated, left to right: Council member Ricky Kesterson, Council member Donnie Apple, Mayor Elvin Harrison, Council member Debbie Melton, Council member Jimmy Hunter and Council member Varnell Frachiseur.


Many Ouachita Mountain Families have one or more. They sit unattended for years at a time. Though they are prized possessions, they gather dust in attics and other storage places. Normally they are stored in as dry of a place as is possible, because they are made from wood, steele and fabric. These priceless family heirlooms often contain items that were of value to the person that had passed it down to another family member. These items might be black and white photos of days gone by, or of family events from years past. Possibly a prized apron or a sunbonnet, but, many contain the simple artifacts accumilated during the course of daily events. A post card, a letter, a certificate, a poem or family bible.
Recently on a rainy day, I ventured into such a storage place. It didn’t take long to find it, though it had been covered with other storage items. Those items left their outline in the accumilated dust of years as I removed them for a look inside. The sight of it brought back many memories that were from the days of World War two. This old steamer trunk was one of several that went to Hawaii right after Pearl Harbor was bombed. It went over on the hospital ship Benevolence and came back on the Hospital Ship Hope. This had been a military deployment and the trunk was in general storage in the hold of the ship during transit. Another trunk that had been on top of it had worn a grove in the top, during the rough Pacific ocean crossing. Mother had lamented the damage to the trunk that had been borrowed from Gran’Ma. Now that damage was in it’s self, a family heirloom. That groove in the trunk top caused me to remember the rough crossing and my first bout with sea sickness. One post card, sent back home to the Ouachitas, talked about hearing the “Lum and Abner” radio show and how nice it was to be in a far away place and hear familiar names from back home.
Soon I was engrossed totally in the excavation of family history. The rain had ceased and the sun had popped out, and I had not noticed it at all. While examining a set of vehicle registration slips that were in sequence from 1938 to 1942, on a 1931 Chevrolet coupe, I heard her call me back to the present. “Honey do you still have plans to mow the yard ?”


During hard times, many of our Mountain families would travel to distant locations to make a living. Some would return every Fall, to winter up in the heart of the Ouachitas and participate in various hunting seasons. Ever nick and scrape on these old trunks that carried the families clothing and so forth is a point in time that is marked plainly for future generations to remember.
For many families the Month of May is the time to remember at Decoration day and Memorial day and Mother’s Day.
There is no “Dig into the trunk in your attic day” on the calendar. Maybe there should be.


( PCP )
The large wooden box on the wall started to ring. It wasn't our ring. And, it wasn't a party line ring. A party line ring that said to all that heard it, every body pick up and listen, that would be the ring that was used when there was trouble way out in the country. The kind of ring that said, the Potter farm has a fire out and the wind is pushing it to the North East, please come help if you can. Or it might say, any body seen the mail man ? He's an hour late and I am afraid he might be stuck in that large mud hole over by the state line again.
No, this was a ring that was meant for someone way at the end of the line, someone in Oklahoma.
The hard drawn and plated wires ran from pole to pole and even sometimes from tree to tree. Both wires were held to the pole by a glass insulator. Subject to the stresses of heat and cold, the wires would stretch and shrink, each situation, both heat and cold had their problems, for those communications wires.
The telephone in each home was in a large wooden box that hung on the wall, usually in the living room. Mounted prominently on the wooden box were large bells that rang loudly to announce when a call was coming in. Not just your calls, but the calls of everyone on that party line. Your ring might be two longs and a short ring and your neighbors ring might be one long and two shorts. These rings were accomplished by a handle on the side of the wooden box that hung on the wall.
How quickly the handle was cranked, determined the volume of the ring, so sometimes, it was possible to know before you got to the telephone, whether or not it might be an emergency call that was arriving. This ring was slow and deliberate, in it's sound.
Every one on a party line knew the ring for every one else on the line. If the person being called lived closer to town where the call originated from, it was louder, then if someone picked up the receiver, it didn't weaken the signal too badly. However if the call recipient lived at the end of the telephone line and others picked up the receiver, then the signal could be lost entirely.
On a party line ring, the signal could be lost quickly as more and more people picked up on the line. It was common practice for someone that was near half way to the end of the party line to give another long party line ring and relay the emergency message. That way as the signal was lost from so many on the line, the message could be heard all of the way to the end of the telephone line.
Within minutes, the ring for our telephone came over the line. It was the family at the end of the line calling. The signal was so weak they couldn't hear all of what was being said. They asked that we call the switchboard to see what the message was and relay it to them.
They had a telegram waiting for them at the train station. The telegram was not from the war department. That was important, for the National Guard unit in Mena was deployed to Korea. A telegram from the war department might mean the loss of a loved one. Their son was deployed with the Mena unit.
We could hear the old rattling car as it approached down the mountain road, long before we could see it's dim yellow headlights. We had walked out to the road to let the neighbors know that our hearts were with them as they journeyed to town to get the telegram. Lighting the lantern so they would know that we were there before the headlights found us, we waited. The driver didn't stop, just simply nodded his head, to acknowledge our presence. Their faces were long with concern. A telegram was often serious bad news in those times. The whole family was making the trip to town to get the telegram. You could read it on their faces, this just couldn't be good news.
An hour and a half had passed. We were sitting on the front porch of the old log cabin, quietly talking in the dark, concerned for the neighbor family. Then we heard it, and recognized the sound. They were returning from town. Walking out to the road we had the lantern lit and the car slowed to a stop. The good news just couldn't wait for the car to come to a full stop.
It was a Red Cross telegram. He's been wounded and is in the hospital. He might get to come home in a few weeks !
Those old telephone wires are long gone, but that mountaineer spirit that causes us to help and care for our neighbors lives on today. Wireless communication seems to be leading the way presently, and mountaineers are just loving it to death ! All of those cell phones are not clipped to the waist band of a pair of dockers, some are in the bib of denim overhauls. Recently, as I waved to my neighbor who was on his old ford tractor without a hood, mowing hay is his meadow, he was making a turn and I could see that, as he waved to me, he was also talking through his blue tooth ear bud, to someone on his cell phone ! Later in the day, I happened to meet the rural mail carrier who seemed to sit at the mail box a bit longer than usual. He was text messaging his lunch order in to the light house drive inn restaurant ! Multi tasking, Ouachita mountain style !


Narrow, crooked and dangerous. That is the way many locals remember U.S. Highway 71 as it passes through Polk County. Generations have passed and years of improvements have changed the complexion of Highway 71 considerably.
Essentially established in 1926, it ran from Krotz Springs Lousianna, in the South, to International Falls Minnesota, in the North. Spanning the Nation from North to South at the Mid section, it runs from Canada, almost to the gulf of Mexico. When looking at a map, it is easy to note that it’s route appears to be a straight line running from the gulf to Canada.

As the Highway passes through Polk county, it bisects the county seat at Mena street. When the railroad, because of a changing national economy, shifted it’s priority from passenger service to freight, Highway 71 became one of the main arteries that feeds commerce in our area.
Highway 71 has been a friend and foe for many generations of Polk Countians. Present day Highway 71 is often viewed by visitors as quite a challenge and they can’t fathom stories of changing a flat on a Model A ford automobile, in the middle of the road, because the twenty two foot wide highway had no shoulder to pull off onto. In many places there just simply wasn’t room for a shoulder. Often times a roadside business, kind of “hung precariously’ on the edge of the road.
Hatton Gap, at the 13 mile marker, is one such place. Locals can remember when there was no wide place to pull over in an emergency. There was the mountain going straight up on one side, and on the other, a sheer drop off down to the railroad tracks. Much of the material for the small pull out that is there now, came from rock slides and road way improvement by the State Highway department. Two of the main arteries of Polk County transportation pass within feet of each other in the gap it’s self. Likely because of a elevation change there, this “bottle neck” named Hatton Gap, is often shrouded in rain or fog during season changes. Though a beautiful place, Hatton Gap requires a elevated level of attention from every driver.
Crossing over a mountain pass one might drive up into low hanging clouds or drive through fog shrouded valleys. The beauty of traveling through the Ouachita Mountains on highway 71 must always be tempered with being on the alert for wildlife crossing the roadway as well as someone suddenly deciding to swerve in, to check out a yard sale.
I hear that our County’s State Highway department is the lowest funded in the State. Could that be possible ? Our County’s topography means that State Highway department road crews have to contend with problems that some other County’s don’t even have to consider. As I see the local crews contending with all manner of weather to make repairs to frost “heaves” and flood damage, it causes me to think. What a monumental task for such a small crew in the least funded County in the State.
These tireless workers for the State often make repairs to pot holes as traffic flows by, barely slowing at all. Most of us have seen a flagger, that is trying to slow down motorist while a repair is under way, drop their sign or flag and run for the safety of the shoulder. Comical, some might say, but a flagger just had to run for their life, because someone wasn’t paying attention.
Good roads and Highways are a critical element of our inter mountain lifestyle, let’s slow down and give a wave to those that work on our roads and highways, they are making life better in the heart of the Ouachita’s.


Large, loud behemoths, roaring through the mountains and clattering over steele trestles, leaving long black plumes of billowing black smoke hanging in the air that they had just shattered with their loud and piercing whistles.
The clatter of the large steel wheels as they passed over road crossings, absolutely shook the ground for a considerable distance. The deep resonant roar held the attention of everyone, to include livestock in fields or horses tied at a hitching post.
You could set your watch by them, being on time was a matter of pride and local merchants relied upon it. Whether it was mail for the post office, movies for the theater, or machinery for the sawmill, it arrived by rail. If you had a watch, or were good at telling the time by the sun, you could tell by the way the engineer blew the whistle for the various crossings, where the engine was and maybe who the engineer was.
With leathery bronzed skin, from peering down the tracks in all kinds of weather, the engineer commanded attention. Perched high in the engine, at the controls, striped cap shading his eyes, peering into the distance for the least sign of trouble ahead, he always had time to wave at those he passed.
To those onlookers that marveled at this spectacle, it was a thing of awe. To the business owners of the community’s it passed through, it was the very life’s blood of the economy. To the locals it was fresh bananas from exotic southern nations and fabrics from Eastern mills for school clothing, it was fencing supplies and hardware for farms, it brought college students and soldiers back home.
The arrival of the railroad elevated the quality of life in the Ouachitas. Towns and commerce followed the route of the rails. When because of engineering concerns the rails bypassed the county seat, the county seat moved to the rails.
Years pass and paved highways began to crisscross Polk County. Local economy is now more driven by highway transportation for many items, but most natural resources still travel the rails.
Railroad crews and contractors have been gradually working their way south along the tracks in the recent few weeks. The long lines of rail repair cars that travel up and down the tracks are replacing ties, repairing the roadway crossings and leveling the railbed. The first sign to locals that a different type of repair of the crossings was underway was when trucks delivered crushed rock and coarse asphalt to each crossing.
The railroad crossings have been modified in a new and different way this time. The railbed is leveled from the bottom up with a machine that claws down deep to level the tracks after the ties have been replaced. Asphalt base is then placed down in a temporary crossing. Finally large long rubber grooves are placed by the rails that facilitate a much smoother crossing for automobiles. A final asphalt layer is used for the finish layer, making these the smoothest crossings ever.
With the advent of electromotive diesel engines and ribbon rail without bolted together joints, the trains are not quite the same, they are quieter, smoother, and more environmentally friendly.
The railroad has once again improved the quality of life in the Ouachitas.
As you enjoy those new railroad crossings, take a minute to remember the colorful history and relationship between the county and the railroad.


( PCP )
The grounds were freshly manicured. The chapel in order. Cars were arriving. Families spilling out of them onto the grounds. At first the children would be boisterous, then gradually quieten down. Decoration day. Walking hand in hand through the monuments, talking briefly with friends, kinfolks and neighbors, carrying flowers in the other hand, we arrived. A tough time for some present, a good time of remembering for others. In the distance I could see it. A freshly rounded up, flower covered spot that had a millitary marker. I didn’t have to look, I knew. Later when I got a chance I would slip away from family to quietly pay my respects.
Nearing the traditional National Memorial Day Holiday weekend, cemeteries all over the county have “Decoration Day”. For days ahead pickup trucks with lawnmowers , weedeaters and other lawncare items will start to appear at these quiet, often rural resting places. Some families don’t decorate, some do, but, all remember.
Though many of these cemeteries have a paid grounds keeper, many folks do extra chores to the memorial sites of their loved ones. In some families the tradition goes back generations. This can mean that decorations will be placed at several different cemeteries. It also means that many families belong to and contribute to, several cemetery associations. Many of these resting places have a chapel on the grounds. Association business meetings are usually held there later in the day. At some point a memorial service is often times held in the chapel. Sometimes there is music and singing, sometimes formal and structured, sometimes impromptu, it is always from the heart.
One doesn’t have to walk among the monuments very long before it is evident that some folks are shedding tears, if one walks far enough, one might find a few tears of their own.
It is possible to see the marker of a classmate that didn’t make it to Viet Nam. One that did. That one has a military marker. They tell me that it was a “full military honors” funeral. I missed it, I was overseas at the time.
Each generation seems to have “their” military action that will define and hone character for the remainder of their days. It brings to mind the saying, “All gave some, Some gave all”.
I had thought that I had slipped carefully away, I hadn’t. As I stood at the foot of the flower covered mound, she quietly slipped up and placed her hand in mine, not saying a word.
Decoration day is not just a military thing. Decoration day is for the remembering of all loved ones. Seems like some family’s life places them all over South West Arkansas, we decorate in eight cemeteries in four countys. Memorial day and Mother’s Day fall in the same month. Visit or call Mom if you can. Send or bring flowers. It is time to remember in the Ouachita Mountains.


They came into Western Arkansas from many distant places. There were no roads, only the Native American trails and those made by wildlife. There were no signs to guide their way, and few maps available at all. Yet, the pioneer spirit prevailed, and our part of the state began to grow. At each meeting of a fellow traveler, information was passed about what might be expected up ahead on the dangerous journey. Landmarks were described, or a easy to remember name for a reference point or river crossing. A common travel route from Western Arkansas into the Oklahoma Territory was to cross the Cossatot River at the sandbar, travel the ridge trail west, crossing the old Military Road, to twin springs, then on westward to Bog Springs at the edge of the Indian Nations.
Many of our Seniors will readily recognise these names, but those new to our area will only have numbers to guide by. Those numbers will not impart the look, feel and safety level of the crossing on the Cossatot River. The numbers cannot speak of the heritage and history that is at those remote mountain places. The numbers do not reveal the hardships endured by those early settlers that were seeking the solitude and beauty of the Ouachita Mountains.
Those names that were so vital in the early days of Western Arkansas history are fading from memory.
Some agencies such the Forest service and the State Parks have found ways to preserve these important and historical markers. Others have not given any thought to the preservation of the names and have eliminated them. When looking at a topographical map of the area East of Hatfield, one will note locations such as Dog Hollow, Gilham Springs, Speck Hollow and Brushy Creek. Just take a look at the Corps of Engineers or the State Parks map of the Cossatot River area. There you find names such as Sheep’s Den, Cossatot Falls, flat creek and Ed Bank’s Crossing. Preserving those names and many others that describe the colorful history and heritage of our area is important to many.
To some, it just wasn’t worth the effort. They took the easy way out. Rather than list the ages old names for many of our county roads, they gave them a number that was assigned by a machine. A electronic device and laziness had robbed a important part of our heritage and history.
If some that cared, hadn’t taken the time to post a sign saying, “Welcome Home Road”, there would only be a number marking the road. That number marks the road all right, and it will assist in helping to navigate someone over into Brushy Ridge and Watson Oklahoma. It fulfills a basic requirement and function of local Government. That number however, does not reveal anything of the rich history of this old crossing into Oklahoma.
The Military Road that ran South from Fort Smith to Texarkana facilitated the surveying and establishing of the Western boundary when Arkansas became a State. In Fort Smith that road is called “Old Line Road”. History was preserved. In the South of our County, Old Line Road was thoughtlessly labeled 98. The machine did it. History was once again obscured by sloth and indifference. The number doesn’t relate that when the State line was re-surveyed and straightened out, the line was moved almost nine miles West. Thus, a part of our State has been in Oklahoma, then later a part of Arkansas. The “Laplanders” were born ! That was and is the name often times used by locals when talking about friends and neighbors that live in the area where Arkansas had “lapped” over into Oklahoma. It makes one wonder how that county road with only a number on it can help to reveal the history of “Lapland”.
Even relative newcomers to our wonderful part of the world have placed descriptive names on the places that they frequent, not numbers. The whitewater community has descriptive and informative names for places on the Cossatot River. Names such as, The Washing Machine, The Esses and The Skull Crusher ( a spin on the Native American name for the river it’s self).
The old timers had it figured out. The newcomers knew what to do. So, just what happened when our County developed our 911 addressing system ? That seems to be when so many of our historical names began to dissappear.
A Sunday afternoon drive around the county will reveal roads named “Coondog Lane” and “Dolphin Lane”. Many locals have heard the story about the naming of Coondog lane and the history behind it. I think that Dolphin lane is a good name, particularly if residents there choose it. But if it was randomly generated by a machine to fill a requirement, then it certainly doesn’t preserve our intermountain history. It makes one wonder just how outlandish it would be to see a Dolphin so far from salt water.
Living in South Polk County I travel County Road 33 often. Along this road that leads to Ed Banks Crossing on the Cossatot River, a few of the old trail markers still survive time. This oak tree dates back to the 1890’s.

Note the tree’s size compared to the logger that is marking the trees location for future refference, with a GPS.
If this was a “street sign” or road “marker” of the ancients, then why didn’t it have a number ?


Every small town seems to have one. It is the place where locals gather up early in the day to discuss events both local and national. It isn’t Starbucks with exotic and expensive double mocca latte’s being served. It is local down home atmosphere, smiles and handshakes, accented with percolated coffee. Often times, it isn’t served, in some places locals grab a cup and help themselves, on the way to their favorite seat. Mostly served black, but occasionally with cream and sugar to tame it down a bit. The patrons are not text messaging, networking, briefcase toting, harried executives enroute to a high rise executive business suite. They are instead, ball cap pushed back, sleeves rolled up, stomp yer’ boots off at the door, working people of South Polk County.
Wireless internet for their laptop is not a main component of their morning coffee. They may have broadband internet at home where they gather data and communicate on a regular basis, but this is different.
This morning coffee and information exchange is not all purely social in nature. Business will be injected at random intervals, interspersed with comments about how the crappie are biting down at Gillham lake.
Currently it is Spring and many are torn between fishing, getting the first cutting of hay on the ground and Squirrel season that opens in just a few short days.
These astute observers of all that goes on around them just don’t miss much. For example one local walked into his morning coffee spot to immediately hear. ” Is that a sixty thousand dollar ball cap you are wearing this morning ?” The ball cap was obviously new and it was bright green, with a John Deere logo prominently displayed at the front. The answer was, “Yeh, they delivered it yesterday.” Everyone there knew that the ball cap wearer had been talking about a new tractor because his thirty year old tractor was ready for replacement. The question had been asked by a neighbor that had seen the tractor being delivered the day before.
As questions were asked about how the new tractor performed, interest was high, because others would likely have to make a similar purchase in the future.
Now, computers and internet service are a important part of our everyday life here in South Polk County. But they come up short in the ability to impart intent and emotion. Is that the reason they have those little smiley thingeys for email ?
Every one that listened to the new tractor owner could hear it in his voice. It was the pride of ownership and the satisfaction in performance, that could be heard, as he talked about his new tractor.
The subtle knod of his head, a small hand gesture, the arching of an eyebrow or the smile on his face, all imparted much more to the intent listeners, than a laptop computer could ever convey.
Though brightly colored and usually animated, the screen of a computer is still mostly flat and featureless, imparting little in the way of emotion or compassion.
Hours spent on a tractor during haying season, in the woods squirrel hunting or on the lake fishing, build a desire to communicate with our fellow man. The computer can facilitate communications alright, and it sure is a handy thing, however it just isn’t the same as a morning visit with friends while waiting for the dew to burn off of the hay fields !



The last day at the lake was always called “Roundup day”. It was the day that the camp was broken down and rounded up, or packed up to go home. It was always a sad/happy day for the old friends. They had lived in the camping spot for the largest part of two weeks, enjoying every minute of it. It was always sad to break down the camp.
After the sunrise chair lineup, they lingered over cups of coffee. The talk was about grandkids and how they had grown or some outrageous joke that had been pulled off. They discussed plans for a summer camping trip with fish fry. Talked about scuba diving gear and dive sites to explore and spearfish. Plans were made to carry scuba diving tanks to have their annual dissassembly and visual inspection. There were plans made to do an equipment check out and skills refresher dive trip to Lake Ouachita.
After a late breakfast the camp was starting to look kind of “picked over” as it was gradually disassembled. The friend’s boat, “HAD-A-WEIGH”, was left in the water and “HARM’S WEIGH” was pulled out of the lake . They had plans to make one last tour around the lake before leaving.
The Roundup was progressing slowly to a conclusion when lunch time arrived. During the last couple of casts of the jugs they had placed a few of the jugs in a place where they had consistently caught oppelousas catfish or flathead catfish. They had kept the fillets in ice water for the occasion of the last lunch at the lake. They liked them a little well done and slightly crispy.
The last lunch was always very simple so that there wasn’t much to clean up after the meal.
Capn’ AL’s “extra crispy” order
After lunch the first order of business was to make the final tour of the lake. They always started off by going towards Kirby Landing, around through Bear creek Landing then up to Daisy State Park, Self Creek Marina and arrowhead point. Down past Rock Creek, by the Narrows Dam and by the SWAHA Marina. The last stop on the tour was chimney rock where they snapped a couple of photos.
Chimney Rock looking West
By the time they had circled the lake it was mid afternoon and time to haul the boat out until the next time.
A few sticks of firewood that were left over, were placed right by the fire ring for the next campers.
One last look at the campsite to make sure that it would be ready for the next visitor, then they were off to home.
Though they were sad to be leaving the lake, it was always good to be back home in the Heart of the Ouachitas.



As the last of the fish camp visitors began to trickle off back towards home, the campsite became quieter and quieter. Soon it was down to the two couples sitting by the campfire talking about what a grand success the fish fry had been. As the small talk began to wind down, his friend said “lets not cast the jugs tonight, we nearly have the freezer full. Let’s start a early domino game and visit with the neighbors.”
It had been gradually happening all week. Small supplies such as corn meal, cooking oil and so forth had been running in short supply. The last of the ice from the freezer had been used and replaced with catfish fillets frozen in water.
As the day of the fish fry had approached it was apparent that they would have more than enough fish to feed every body, even if several brought a friend. The warmer weather had every one looking for an excuse to get out side and enjoy it. And a invitation to a fish fry at the lake had brought out a good number.
The younger ones had braved the still too cool water, to swim and play, as the parents and grand parents visited over iced tea in the screen tent.
The guys had set up the fish cookers and prepared platters of golden fillets and hush puppies for the table. The ladies made slaw, tea, beans and all of the other fine lake cusine. The ladies were always trying out new recipes , some of which would be destined to become traditional lake standards. The aroma had drifted across the campsite and the swimmers would abandon the water long enough to check on the progress and to “snitch” a still hot hush puppy to hold them over until they heard the dinner call.
When the call of, “Let’s Eat” rang out everyone gathered close around the table, crowding in close for the “blessing.” A quick glance over the crowd showed that the families represented had much to be thankful for, as was mentioned in the brief prayer. Some had an arm around a loved one, some were holding hands, it was a great fellowship of friends and family.
The platters of fish, hush puppies and all of the trimmings soon disappeared.
Looking around for a trash can to put his paper plate in, he heard the first subtle call. It was a very quiet call at first, then more insistent. He knew exactly what it was when he first heard it. He had every intention of answering the call. It was the hammock that was being gently swayed by the lake breeze, that was calling to him.
Soon he settled deep into the hammock with his ball cap pulled low over his eyes. Closing his eyes he listened with pleasure at the kinfolks and friends chatting and playing nearby. The gentle sway soon put him to sleep.
The voice of the grandchild that had been sent to wake him called. “Grandpa’, wer’e fixin’ to go”.
He replied, “oh, I wasn’t asleep, I was just checkin’ my eyelids for leaks”. “Oh grandpa’, you always say that !”, the child replied.
Hugs, back pats, hand shakes and conversation about scuba diving trips and spearfishing later in the year, were interspaced with the slamming of car doors and good by’s.
As the couples joined forces to clear the table and prepare for the domino match the atmosphere was quiet after the rowdy afternoon. Every one in camp would sleep soundly that night after such a busy day at the lake. The week at the lake was nearly over.
The alarm wasn’t set, yet he got up just shortly before the scheduled time it would have went off. When his feet touched the floor in the dark, he knew. The place where Dillon should have been was empty. There wasnt even a warm place on the rug by the bed. He knew then that he might be late. He should have been awakend by the smell of the coffee, but he wasn’t. Every one was gone, but he knew where to find them. As he went to pour coffee into the mug, he realised that it was already full. Butcherknife had filled his mug then slipped silently outside. And he knew just where she had gone. Hurrying through the pre dawn chill he could see the line of lawn chairs in the distance. Dillon “woofed” a greeting to him as the others commented about his sleeping in.
They were lined up facing the East waiting for the sunrise of the last morning at the lake. He had just barely made it to his chair when the sun burst over the horizon and warmed his face.
No camera shutters clicked, no video cameras ran. They just sat quietly soaking up the beauty of this last Spring time sunrise at the lake.



The overcast sky had been filled with snow clouds all day. It was not a suprise to him when he heard it . Faintly at first, then slightly louder as it traveled towards him. Hominy snow. He had seen it once before when he was a child. Asking grandma what kind of strange snow that was, she replied, “hominy snow”. When he had examined the tiny granules closer, he could see why. The flakes closely resembled the cooked, bleached white, corn in home made hominy. Not as hard as sleet, yet not as flaky as snow. Not as large or heavy, as hominy, but similar in appearance.
Listening to the weather report that morning, he had made the decision. He had been thinking about a patch of “rich woods”, up on the side of West Hannah Mountain. Hard to get to, and harder yet to retreive a deer from, it always held large bucks in bad weather. The season had been slow for him. Work had seemed to “get in the way” at every oportunity. The main Modern gun season had passed, with him only filling one tag for a lesser deer. It was time for him to get serious about putting up a winter’s supply of venison in the freezer. It was near the end of the last three day season, right at the CHRISTmas season holidays.
The weather channel on the satellite dish, had been explicit about how this fast moving front would pass through the Ouachita Mountains, possibly dropping as much as a quarter of an inch of snow as it passed through. He had topped off his 4X4 pickup and purchased a few simple items at the country store, before turning the truck towards the Shady mountains. He drove up the Cossatott River water shed area as he needed to get as close as possible to the rich woods. He was hoping to bring out a nice buck and wanted as short of a pack trip out as possible.
The hominy snow should have been his first clue that the weather forecast was beginning to be somewhat suspect. Timber near the top of the mountain turned into “Dwarf Oak” forest and didn’t shield him from the wind very much. The layers of clothing that he had carefully removed and stored in his day pack to keep them dry, on the hard climb up the mountain, were retieved and donned. As he arrived at the point where he could look down into the rich woods, he knew then, that he was in trouble. The wind had shifted and the hominy snow had abruptly changed to large, heavy, wet, flakes of snow that was quickly covering everything. The snow wasn’t “rattling” down through the trees anymore, it was sticking to everything. Studying the clouds carefully he knew that something had changed.
“This hunt is over” he thought. Turning and retreating to a rock ledge about a quarter of a mile away, he pulled the weather radio from his day pack. The wind howled through the stunted trees nearby, causing him to increase the volume on the weather reciever. “Bad, he thought, real bad”. The front had stalled out and was now expected to deposit over one inch of snow before passing on. Though he had all of the clothes on, that he had with him, in this wind, he knew that it wasn’t going to be enough. He needed a quick exit from this lofty mountain, to more moderate weather below. A quick check of his GPS gave him the closest, most direct route to the pickup truck parked miles away, and well below. The GPS’s topo map feature told him that there was a very steep terrain structure in the way, but he had been through a “cut” in the cliff before, if it was the same one. “Geeze !”, he thought, ” I sure hope it’s the one I remember”. Slipping and sliding down the mountain towards the cliff, his rifle was more of a counter ballance than a weapon. The snow was accumilating faster now and was infact beginning to drift up in places. Emptying his rifle for safety, he tied a spare sock from his pack over the muzzle to keep the bore clear.
Locating the cut through the cliff was easier than he thought it would be. The snow made the game trail that had been created by the wildlife, seem to “stand out” in the reduced light. Deep snow had drifted into the cut, causing him to struggle through it. As snow trickled down his collar he began to think about finding shelter. Traveling along the cliff base, he searched for a place out of the wind. The dark depression in the cliff face looked ominous in the erie light of the swelling snow storm.
He peered into the dark recess of the shallow cave. It seemed darker inside from the smoke of many campfires that had smudged the cave ceiling. The small LED flashlight, weak though it was, reached to the back of the shallow cave. A skurrying sound caused him to turn his light to reveal a mound of sticks and small tree branches that made a pack rats den. “Yeh, he thought, I should have known it was there because of the smell”.
Even with the strange odors of the cave, it was clearly a place of refuge in the intense mountain storm. His GPS would not pick up well back in the small cave, so he moved out to the entrance to check the distance to his truck. Two and one half miles ! “I will have trouble making it in this blow”, he thought.
Mentally he went over a check list memorized many years ago in a military SEE school ( survival, escape and evasion ). His hunting knife and a flint fire starter made some of the pack rat’s nest into a cheery fire, warming and lighting the cave’s interior. Things were “starting to look up now !” he thought as he began to shed and dry his outer layers of clothing.
As soon as getting dry was complete, he began to continue down the SEE school check list and retrieved a old MRE from the now dry pack. The print on the mre had long ago been rubbed off by carrying in the back pack.
The mre’s contents was a suprise, and not one of his favorites, yet it was welcomed and needed energy. Retrieving a tincan from the rat’s nest he put water from his canteen in it. Then he added the mixed contents of the mre pouch to the can and water to warm over the fire. Food, shelter, warmth and fatigue soon caused him to doze off. The fire flickered and crackled, and occasionally sizzled when a gust of wind blew in snow.
A chill in the air awakened him. He was stiff , but rested. But most of all, he could hear that the worst of the storm had passed over. It was quiet outside. The dim light was amplified by the snow cover that blanketed everything. Tracks in the snow evidenced that the rats from the nest had came out while it was quiet, visited the remains of the mre, then returned to the warmth of the nest at the back of the cave. Peering from the entrance he could see that a early moonrise was giving ample light to travel to his pickup.
Gathering up all of his gear, preparing to travel, he placed the last of his mre contents out for the rats. Just before stepping out into the snow covered landscape, he said in a soft clear voice, “thanks for the firewood, Merry CHRISTmas”.


( MS )
It was like a step back in time. Except that it was a experience that blended newer technology with ancient survival/lifestyle skills.
He had been raised in a military family. Little Rock Air Force Base had been the hub of many of the family’s daily activities. As a middle aged family man now, he had been experiencing longing feelings for rural life as he had known it when a child. And although he had not been in a family that had a tradition of hunting, he felt the powerful draw of the outdoors and in particular, hunting.
Business associates had arranged for him to accompany them on a Phesant hunt in the upper midwest. That is when it happened to him. The trip was not only a success, but had struck such a powerful inner cord, that he knew for sure what he had to do.
He would just have to try deer hunting. Soon there after, he was invited to hunt in the Ouachita Mountians, at a traditional deer camp. A business trip nearly got in the way. He arrived home about eight P.M. after a lengthy road trip. Though he had been away from his family, he had already been day dreaming about the up coming deer hunt. He could sence his wife’s amazement when he set the alarm clock for 2:30 A.M. . It would be several hours of driving after very little sleep. A microwave burrito and very black coffee got him to the meeting place at the hunt club boundary. It was way before first light. When he drove up he saw a camo pickup truck. His friend got out of the truck looking very different from any way he had ever seen him before. Wearing camo, several days of beard and blaze orange, his friend met him with a broad smile, a loud greeting, and a handshake. Maybe, he thought, maybe, this will be ok.
A long drive down rough roads for his family sedan, to where he could see a campfire burning cheerily. When they parked and got out, introductions went around the campfire. Several of his new acquaintences commented, ” we don’t see many passenger cars out here !” They all seemed to be in camo and orange, except that theirs seemed frayed and hunt worn. Self consciously he wished he had at least wrinkled his shiny new blaze orange vest a bit.
Each hunter’s arrival caused the dogs in the kennel to vocalize into the dark. Firelight flickered over bearded faces as he tried to soak in the multitude of sounds and smells of this ancient lifestyle form. Hunting stories and coffee flowed freely.
Raised in a military family he just “fell right in” with this group of mostly public service officials. Many of whom were retired or ex military. Astonishingly, at 6 A.M. he heard Reville being played over the hunt club radios that each hunter carried.
The crowd around the fire was loud, friendly and clearly having a great time in the fellowship of their peers. He was so engrossed in the absorption of all that was unfolding around him, that it caught him by suprise when the group started to leave to “get on a stand”. Beagles were being loaded into dog boxes, rifles checked and trucks departing. Although it seemed somewhat organized, it was a bewildering experience.
That’s when he heard his buddy say, “you ready to get em’ ?”
Getting to their stand was a bit of an experience in it’s self. The camo 4X4 pickup scrambled at one point trying to get enough traction to carry them forward.
After an indeterminable amount of time they arrived to where they would leave the truck and walk the remainder of the way to the stand. Arriving at the stand his friend gave him a description of the terrain and what he may expect to happen.
Then it got quiet, very quiet, hear your own breath, listen to your heartbeat quiet. The more daylight it became, the more he began to listen to awakening birds and other wild life. A startlingly loud and clear crow call, seemed to make three deer appear on the mountainside. Coming downward at an angle towards him they closed the distance to him as he raised his scoped marlin 30-30.
His buddy, standing whisper close said ” wait a bit”, “wait”. “Ok, whenever you are ready”.
You would have thought that they had won the superbowl ! High fives and handshakes were in order after the report of the Marlin lever action faded.
The jubilation soon faded into the tedium of field dressing, dragging and loading. Right after affixing the game and fish harvest tag, the conversation changed over to dressing and skinning techniques and types of knives that work best.
Knowing that his friend was quite a distance from home, the host suggested a trip to the local processor to prepare the meat.
Knowing that his family and he had little experience with processing, he readily agreed.
Then as they drove back to the campfire, the flood of questions started. His friend had been expecting it and was replying with a grin.
Back at the campfire the members were planning another drive and his friend assigned him to go with a member that was a dog handler for the club. His new hunting partner was an outgoing hunter who readily gave explainations as to how hunts were started, progressed, and how he would sometimes terminate a hunt for various reasons.
Lunch was late, yet it seemed not to matter much, for he was so preoccupied with this new and somewhat mysterious mountain hunting culture.
The language was somewhat different and speech paterns were at times baffling, yet wonderful, all at the same time. When they passed on to another hunt club, ( there was a sign ), he said “will they mind ?” “No, we have a pursuit agreement with our surrounding clubs, we just radio them and they do the same.”
Soon it was fast turning dark, at the end of a long and tiring day. He had called his wife a number of times to tell her of the things he was seeing. The long drive home was filled with memories of the days events when his cell phone chimed that he had recieved a text message. It was his buddy, telling him that his photo that had been taken with a cellular telephone, had been posted on the internet already, at the hunt club website, and he would be able to show his family when he got home.
Wild, he thought, just absolutely wild ! What a blend of ancient mountain lifestyle and modern technology !



Gazing through the smoke across the campfire he thought about how the hunter he was sharing coffee and fire with, had earned his nickname. He had named himself by accident, and it had stuck, for years. He was a older more experienced hunter, as well as a accomplished dog handler. You might imagine that if he had picked his name himself it would be something like, “BUCK SLAYER” or maybe even “BUCKMASTER”.
Grinning over the rim of his coffee cup at his friend, he laughed outloud as he remembered how the handle had been earned.
The radios are a important part of hunting. They provide a safety margin for the truck that gets stuck in the mud, the hunter needing directions or even the occasional injury. A hunters nearest source of help for those chores that require man power is the two way radio. Many have switched from the C B radio to the FRS radio. The FRS radio is much smaller and can be used with a ear phone that will not disturb the wildlife.
A deer camp radio handle can be a powerful thing. It is used on the two way radio and around the campfire in casual and flippant ways, or even in reverence, when describing some woodscraft deed.
Nearly everyone picks a radio handle that they think is appropriate or one they think is descriptive of themselves. That “picked” name may never “stick”, or even take hold at all.
However, when someone “earns” a handle, it can be for years.
The friend across the campfire said “what” as he heard the laugh. “Oh, I was just thinking about how funny of a thing radio handles are”, he replied.
Then they both enjoyed a good laugh as they reminisced about how “whatever” had earned his handle. After a new radio was purchased, he had called to the campfire for a “radio check”, to see how it sounded as he drove towards the pre dawn campfire meeting. He was running a bit late that morning and there were many of his friends already there. Each noted how the new radio sounded and some commented about it.
As he arrived at the campfire most had commented that he had a new radio, but for some reason had never chosen a handle. That would be cleared up very soon.
As he walked up to the campfire, someone said, ” you got a new radio, did you get a new handle also ?” His response was ” no, I guess not”. The answer to that was, ” skunk” maybe ? Not particularly fond of that handle, he popped off, ” whatever” !
Yeh, you know it, it stuck. He has been “whatever” from then on.
It got quiet around the campfire for a bit, then whatever said, “what are we gona’ call “button” now ?”
Suddenly it was clear to the two old friends that a name change was in order.
“Button” hunted with his family and friends for years and had earned his name when he had taken a button buck thinking that it was a doe that he needed to fill a doe tag. He had to use his last buck tag that year to check the button buck. At the time button was a teen with a broad smile and a big hat. Everyone at the deer camp liked him and were always picking at him to get him to smile. Button always came to the campfire with a story and a smile that all enjoyed.
The evening before, button and his dad “Smokey”, ( now that’s another story ), had moved their tree stands to adjust to a travel route that a good buck was using. Hunters in the distance had heard the shot and asked on the radio, “that you smokey”? The answer came back, “no, it sounded like it may have been button”. Then smokey said , “you get him button ?” The answer came back, “Yeh”. It could be heard in his voice, he was in awe of the really good buck that he had taken. A good nine point buck had been harvested by button, and the radio had came alive with descriptions of the harvest and praise for button. The dragging and loading into the pickup was completed and handshakes passed around when it first came up.
“Well, Button, what are we going to call you now ?
Pouring a second cup of coffee the friends chatted with other hunters as they arrived at the fire. The renaming of button was the main topic of discussion as false dawn was beginning to arrive.
The metamorphisis of button had began. Many handles were tried out across the campfire that morning, yet, somehow none seemed to fit just right.
Soon it became apparent to all present that they had been overlooking the obvious handle, one that button had earned long ago. It was his cheery attitude, his enthusiasim for the outdoors and his broad smile that won out.
Button had became SMILEY !


( MS ) ( ORCC )
A full hunter’s moon shone brightly as the battered old pickup truck made it’s way through the mountain gap. It was a cold November night, there would be a heavy frost this night. Passing through the gap and starting down the other side of the mountain, the driver could see that the camp ahead was dark. Camping trailers and tents were scattered casually around a central campfire that had been ringed with stones. A coffee pot had been prepared for the next morning and was sitting by the fire that had been carefully “banked up” for the night. No lights were showing. After a long day of hunting, the hunters were all sleeping soundly in their sleeping bags. There was no electricity in the deer camp, it was just too far out in the forest, there was no night light.
The beagles in the kennel were footsore and sleeping soundly as the campfire made an occasional snapping sound. First one beagle then another, began to bark at the sound of the approaching pickup truck. As the truck pulled into the camp, the dogs in the kennel were in full uproar.
The truck stopped by the campfire, idling, with the headlights on, casting shadows into the night.
Getting out of the truck, the driver called loudly, “HELLO THE CAMP” ! The driver’s loud clear voice carried the accent and vernacular of Ouachita mountaineers.
The dogs in the kennel increased their volume in response to the intruder’s hailing call to the camp. A light came on in a camper and the answer came back, “be right out”.
Warming his hands over the fire, the driver appeared to be tired from a long day in the woods. He had several days growth of beard on his face and his cammoflage clothing, blaze orange vest and hat showed the abuse of days in the mountains. He was a large man with a booming voice that carried through the darkness of the camp.
Backing up to the campfire, the large hunter warmed his other side and gently stretched his tired muscles. He had taken the large buck late that afternoon, and had spent the remainder of the daylight hours skinning and dressing the buck.
When the beagles had arrived, coming up the deers scent trail, he had been hearing them for several minutes, and knew by their sound that they were not from his deer camp. As the lead dog arrived at the place where he had taken the buck, the hunter had checked the name on the collar. The owner was from a deer camp over on the other side of Cross mountain, through Bradley gap.
He knew then. He had a tradion to fulfill.
During hard times in the Ouachita mountains, having a good deer dog could make the difference between a hard winter or a comfortable one. Having a deer dog also meant having another mouth to feed.
The tradition was that the hunter kept half of the deer and the antlers. The dog owner got half of the deer. This tradition insured that two mountain familys were able to make the winter in better form.
It was well after dark when the hunter had finished cleaning the deer and prepared half for transport over the mountain, to the neighboring deer camp.
He was careful to bring the antlers, for he knew it would be important to those in the other deer camp. They would plan future hunts on where the big buck had been jumped, where he had ran, and the deers aproximate age.
As the camp’s hunter’s came out to greet the visitor, they “poked up” the campfire, and asked many questions about the deer that had been taken. Comments about the deer’s direction of travel, the distance, how much he weighed and the antler score, flew around the campfire.
Hand shakes, back slaps and congratulations were conferred upon the hunter.
The impromptu campfire ceremony didn’t take long that night, yet, it reinforced a bond of trust that between the camps that would be remembered and upheld for many years.
Driving back through Bradley gap toward his home camp, the hunter thought to himself, “long day, short night, tomorrow’s sunrise will soon be here with another great day of hunting the Ouachita’s” ! “It won’t be long before those Ol’ boys back there bring a half of a deer back over the mountain to our side”.



Somehow, he sensed, the old Beagle knew. Was it the shorter days ? The colder nights ? Or maybe the short Training hunts getting ready for the opening day ?
“Who knows ?”, he thought, “but he sure nuff’ knows !”. “I don’t know just how, but that old gray muzzled Beagle somehow knows”.
Raised from a litter of pups that had been born not too long after deer season, he had been carried on deer hunts by his mother, even before he was born. It was like he had been born into the job. Before his eyes were open he had made many trips from the kennel to the house where he recieved supplimentary nutrients. Content then,with his belly full, he would doze on his masters chest, learning the sound of his heartbeat. The sound of his breathing. The warm scent of his master became his “safe haven”.
During this “socialization” period where he learned the sounds of home, his master watched the evening news, stroking his head gently.
This bond that developed would never be forgotten by his master or him for the remainder of their lives.
Not too long after their first steps, the litter of pups was taken out to deer camp to learn of things like the smell of a campfire, and the sound of a shot being fired. This time of romping in the freedom of the outdoors was especially fun for the litter, it showed in their actions and vocalizations.
They learned the smell of coffee brewing and laughing around the campfire. It became a second home to them all. It was clear that the genetic code in them was strong when one day they had a giant tug of war with a squirrel hide. The fun game suddenly turned into a sibling feud over possesion of the hide.
As their final puppy shots were administered and their records updated the master began to think of getting ready for the next deer season.
Many hunts and deer seasons passed.
The old Beagle had helped train many pups, mostly his own. Gray around the muzzle now, he didn’t move as fast as he used to. His hearing was not as keen as it was in years past, and he didn’t see as well.
Time had made its permanent changes in his life.
His nose however was still as good as it had ever had been, and he was nearly always the first to strike a deer track. His master had made a habit of “starting” him down a buck’s track when he was a pup, and he had turned it into an art form.
The whole camp knew his broken bawl when he “opened” on a buck’s trail. Everyone could tell by his voice when the was “moving the track”, or just “cold trailing”.
Everyone knew that when he was on a track that it was likely a buck, and he seemed to prefer the older, “stinkier” bucks. If he was in a cast with younger less experienced dogs, and they opened up on a track that he didn’t, the standers knew that it was likely a lesser deer. The club elders would know that it was time to slip away from the stand and go to the campfire. There they would meet to drink coffee and listen to the race while commenting on the direction of travel and which grandson’s deer stand they might be heading for.
Soon the old Beagle would loose intrest in the track of the lesser deer, and he too would return to camp.
All the oldtimers would understand, pat him on the head and covertly slip him a treat. For they also had little intrest in a lesser deer.
Laying by the campfire listening to the stories, you could tell. You could tell, and there was no doubt about it. When he was in deer camp with his old buddies, he was in his element. It just simply was not ever going to get any better than this. Then he would doze off. In his dreams by the fire he could be seen to be moving his paws while dreaming about running an old buck, occasionaly making small sounds in his excitement.
Yes, it was time.
His last deer season. Note the graying muzzle.



We had been seeing him for several years and knew the approximate location of his “core” area.
His “ranging” area was wide, and we found his very distinctive scrapes and rubs over a large part of the hunting lease.
He was the buck that everyone in our club wanted to bag. He proved to be an opponent of great skill, for after all, we were hunting him in the area where he was the master.
The master taught some of us lessons that we will never forget. His core area was filled with deep ravines bounded with steep mountains. Those mountains caused swirling and fickle air currents that would give away the most skilled of our hunters.
Food plots, scent lures, rattling, feeders and stand placement all seemed futile. The master was truly the master of his core area.
Some of our hunters had went into the area specifically to hunt him.
Most never saw him. Some were even crowded out of the area by a black bear and her cubs.
The area was difficult to get in to and any kind of weather made it extremely hard to get to.
Our hunters would trade stories about their experiences of hunting him. These campfire stories would be told over and over. Suggestions of various strategies were the subject over many cups of coffee.
The extremely steep terrain even caused physical changes to the old buck, as evidenced by his tracks. When he walked on the steep mouintainsides, the outside half of his split hoof was constantly tapping against rocks. This caused wear on that hoof half, so his track was readily recognizable. The inside half actually curled around the end of the outside half when he left a track on level ground.
He preferred making scrapes on a certain “blue line” or hardwood filled streamside. His rubs were always on the same type of sappling. He preferred the softer more aromatic of trees to rub on, always of larger diameter than other bucks in the area.
His antler span was wide, as was visible when he was rubbing a tree where a nearby tree would have incidental marks on them.
For some reason, no one ever caught his image on a game camera, yet the few sightings by hunters kept the whole hunt club buzzing.
When one of the club elders stated that he was the largest deer he had ever seen in this area, it had meaning for many.
In the tale after tale around the campfires, he had became simply, “big boy”.
Some of our club members work for a local mining company that borders the hunting lease. These members always had sightings to report, adding to the mistique and legend of big boy.
It wasn’t a hunter, or any crafty ploy. Not a technique or a stand placement that did it.
It was the rut. Plain and simple, it was the old bucks inner urge that drove the old buck out into the haul road in the mine area. A 100 ton dump truck can’t stop on a dime, and the old buck didn’t either.
We are all talking about old big boy again. But mostly we are going to miss him, knowing that he is not there changes things somehow.
We had hunted him for six years . . . , say ! I wonder just how many sons and grandsons he has out there ?

In the photo the antlers, taped togather for measuring, are held by Tom Green. All of the antlers was not recovered. If the antlers were symetrical they would have scored 176 on the BTR system.



Easing down the old logging road with his trusty ol’ .22 in his hand, he thought, “another couple of years and this old log road will dissapear”.
It is squirrel season and “Patch” is making ever widening circles out ahead of him, casting about for a squirrel trail.
Even though there had not been a vehicle down the old road for years, it was obvious that it was still well traveled. The road traveled down a ridge towards a small stream. Wild life was using it even though man was not.
Nearly grown over with saplings of various species, it was difficult to walk, without stooping occasionaly, to pass through a more grown over area.
Coming out of one such area, he had found a recent Buck Scrape under an overhanging tree branch. Further along he found several Buck Rubs. This particular Buck seemed to prefer the small dogwood trees that grew in the edge of this old road. He thought, “seems as if the rut may be a little early coming on this year”.
About that time, Patch struck a trail that really “grabbed” her by the nose. She had turned sharply with her nose very close to the ground, following a sent trail for a short distance. Going just a few feet off of the road, Patch suddenly stopped and looked over her shoulder, waiting for him to walk up.
Patch had been scolded for “working” fresh deer sent before. Remembering the lesson, she had picked her nose up off of the ground and looked at him as if to say, ” nope, I ain’t a’ working that track” !
When he walked up to where she had stopped to wait for him, he could see a freshly “serviced” Buck scrape. Patting her gently on the head he told her, “good girl”, “ok, get ahead”.
As he stepped back out into the old road, he could see that Turkeys had been scratching for grubs and so forth in the tire ruts where leaves could accumilate.
A loose Turkey feather lay there on the ground. As he reached for it, he hears Patch giving that squeal that he had been waiting for.
She had found that Squirrel track she had been searching for.
Nearly as soon as Patch dissapeared into the streamside hardwoods, he could hear her giving her “treed” bark.
About the time he got to where he could see which tree Patch was on, it struck him just how beautiful this place was.
Early morning sun light was shining through slightly yellowing Hickory tree leaves, lighting the whole area up with a kind of a “glow”. The nearby stream gave off a gentle gurgling sound that added to the beauty of the place.
Pausing to take in the beauty for just a second before going to Patch’s tree, he was reminded of a line from the Wizard of Oz.. Dorothy had said, “there’s no place like home”.