Monday, December 01, 2008
How They Lived
A typical Ozark home and family of the early 1800s
The deeper I get into the new book, the more I search for stories to use, the more amazed I am at how settlers to these rugged Boston Mountains of the Ozarks survived. They were so innovative in making do with what was available. The huge trees were used to build their homes, their barns and schools and businesses. Flowing waters powered mills to grind the grain they grew into flour and meal. Wild berries and roots and plants fed them and doctored them.
When the first white men arrived in the Bostons he came as the Osage then the Cherokee were forcibly removed into Indian Territory to the west. Imagine arriving in this rugged mountain wilderness by wagon train, on foot or horseback, to find no voices of man, woman or child. Only the mournful calls of whippoorwill and solemn owls, the chatter of the crow and playful squirrel, the scree of soaring red hawks whose flight darts shadows across the empty land. Alone with black bears, cougars and wolves; asleep at night in the company of the nocturnal beasts of the forest and sky; the bats, the ‘possum and the odorous skunk. Into just such a frontier ventured the heroic Ozark pioneer. During the nineteenth century westward bound families crossed the Mississippi headed for the great plains in huge covered wagons, some the giant Conestoga, but most the smaller versions neither so heavy nor so bunglesome. Even others with farm wagons and carts pulled by oxen.
This is an excerpt from the forward of the book, but the stories it tells begin with the individuals, those brave pioneers looking for a new life, land of their own. People who had sharecropped on land they could never own, nor could they live off the fruits of their own labor. Then they heard that Arkansas Territory had land they could call their own.
As I wander these Ozarks locating these long gone settlements, taking pictures, talking to those whose grand and great-grand parents homesteaded this land, I can't help but stand in awe of their courage.
By 1828 they were pouring into the Boston's, following old Indian trails and military trails, then hacking their way with axe and handsaw through thick growths of oak and maple, chinquapin so huge it took two or three men linking hands to span their trunks. Brambles so thick they tangled around the hooves of the oxen and mules and horses.
I will live with these people for the next few months as I put this book together, and I look forward to doing so. Perhaps it will teach me that possessions are not nearly so important as are family, friends and neighbors. For these people had so little, yet they stood against tribulations we cannot imagine, and they did it together. They did it with humor and strength and vision and faith. So that is what the book is really about.
As soon as I have a title, I'll post it, and keep everyone up to date on how it's going. Right now I'm calling it Lost In The Bostons, for want of a better working title.
PS Take a look at these sites. They are newspaper articles of interviews with my protagonist in Fly With The Mourning Dove, Edna Hiller. She's a great gal and, at the age of 94, has some terrific insights.