Monday, June 22, 2009

Finding a Lost Gold Mine

Saturday, we packed a small cooler with water and Cans of Pepsi and set out to meet a man who had arranged to guide us to a gold mine. You may be aware that there is an honest-to-goodness diamond mine in Arkansas, but did you know about gold mines here? This one we were headed for is not the only one in our part of the country, but it has the most interesting story. And that's what my books are all about, the stories involved. Facts and figures, you can find in Encyclopedias or school books. I search out the stories about people. How they lived, how they dealt with hardships and joy, where they found happiness.

A close writer friend had come into possession of a handwritten record of this gold mine written by a man who had lived during its heyday. Twenty pages of penciled words giving information about who was involved, when, why it happened and how. All we needed to find was where, and it didn't take long for my friend to use his connections to get the answer to that question as well.

By Saturday, all arrangements had been made with the current owner of the land where the mine is located, as well as a descendant of a man involved in the early mining and a fellow who had once owned the land and was descended from the writer of the short piece.

We followed the Pig Trail south from Elkins, one of the most scenic drives in the Boston Mountains. Recent rains produced heavy foliage and in many places the trees canopied the narrow highway to blot out the bright sunlight. It took us about 40 minutes to drive the final 20 miles into the Arkansas River Valley. The narrow road is crooked and steep and calls for rapt attention while driving. It was a breathtaking drive. Yellow sunflowers and white daisies blanketed the ditches on both sides of the road. The temperature had reached 96 by the time we arrived at the small town located on the Arkansas River where we were to meet and take our caravan up into the remote hills to the mine.

We met at a railroad depot that is today a museum because the fast moving freights no longer stop there. I was able to get a book about the history of the county for later research and listened to some romantic stories from a retired school teacher in charge of the museum. We found her and her friends set up in the center of the room putting together a jigsaw puzzle. They were eager to share some tales with us.

Soon everyone had gathered and we took off in three vehicles. Following the winding road up out of the valley into the Boston Mountains, we climbed and coiled for perhaps 20 minutes before turning off and heading into the woods and to the pleasant farm home of our host, who turned out to be related to our son-in-law. Thus are the ways of these Ozarks.

He shared his abstract with us, the first land settlement dated 1842. There, in what appeared to be his back yard, a solid rock face soared perhaps 200 feet high. Several tunnels were cut into the stone. We were told that originally this bluff was hidden by a heavy growth of timber, but he had cleared it all out so that the entrance to the mine was literally in his mowed yard. One could only enter by crawling, so needless to say we remained at the entrance.

I'll share a bit of the story here, but the rest will be in my upcoming book, The Boston Mountains: Lost In the Ozarks. It seems a long ago farmer was plowing his fields and began to find small stone tablets with strange writings on them. A search for their origin eventually led to the belief that the writings were telling a tale of buried treasure. Gold. Probably buried centuries earlier. The men finally surmised that it was of Spanish or Mexican origin.

Rather than see the place overrun with prospectors, several of them got together and formed the Mountain Creek Gold Mine Company, sold shares and began to blast and dig for the treasure. For the rest of the story, as they say, and the amazing secret unearthed about some of the writings found on the stones, you'll have to read my book. If you want to have some fun, become a writer of history.

Later that afternoon we drove north in search of a town that is on the map, but has disappeared. We saw an old, hand-painted sign alongside a side road that led us to the community building and cemetery. As we turned, I spotted on the other side of the highway, an old building so overgrown it was only barely visible. When we came back out we parked nearby and as I was taking pictures and my husband investigating, a car stopped and a lady hollered out her window at us.

I went to talk to her and she told me that it was the old general store for the small town which we'd been searching for. A town by the name of Boston. This is where three rivers, the King, War Eagle and White, have their head and flow north into the mountains. They become important rivers that feed lakes and drive mills, and that was originally why I went in search of the lost town.

By the time we started home, we were weary but happy. We'd found everything we searched for that day, including the wonderful Ozark Restaurant in Ozark, Arkansas, that served some of the best homemade mountain cooking we'd laid a tooth to outside Grandma's kitchen. All in all, it was a satisfying day.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Getting Out and About

A friend of mine, Dusty Richards, who is a well-known western writer, preaches to writers that we must not sit at home writing all the time because we will lose what motivates us to write. Getting out and meeting people and observing what they do, how they do it, their lingo, etc., will refresh our minds. And so Saturday, though it was hot hot and I was tired tired I attended the reunion of the Stouts, one of the founding families of our county, by special invitation. They gathered at one of the older settlements known as White House.

Because of the many years I've written for newspapers and followed up stories, I know a lot of these folks, but hadn't seen some of them in quite a while, since I stopped running down stories when I got too old to chase ambulances. Now I write my historical columns and books and no longer am a news hound.

Dusty is right. I sat amid all these folks, from the young to the old, 95 years to be exact, and I listened to them talk among themselves, making myself very small so they'd forget I might quote them later. Sneaky of me, I know, but I do keep confidences. And I renewed my knowledge of country living a long while ago as they looked at pictures and told stories of how each one came to be. And listened when they spoke of all those who were not with them this year because they had passed on. And I remembered them as well, people I'd interviewed and spent time with in the past were recalled to me.

Nearby a group of family members made beautiful music, playing guitars and singing old hymns in voices that rang out over the surrounding Ozarks. Below us, the cemetery where some of those we talked about lay at rest. I imagined them listening in too, and enjoying the songs and the laughter of youngsters chasing each other about in the sun as if it weren't hot at all. And how we were remembering them with love.

I sat for a while with 95-year-old Velma Lewis, who smiled and told me she remembered me from the time I came knocking on her door asking if we could visit a hidden cemetery on her land. Not only did she say yes, she climbed in our car and guided us to the best spot to wiggle through the fence and hike out over the pasture to the overgrown, rock wall-enclosed resting place of some early settlers. I recalled that day with clarity, the creaking of the old gate as we fought our way through saplings and briars and wild roses to reach the old moss-covered stones. I remembered how I'd sat on the grave of an eleven-year-old boy and thought about his short life and the sadness his parents had faced in losing him and an infant buried nearby. And the hospitality of the tiny lady who must have been in her eighties by then.

Later I gathered the older generation into a group photo for our newspaper and for me to keep. I knew a lot of these folks and wanted to remember this day as I vividly recall the first day I met each of them.

Dusty is right. It's not wise to stay at home writing all the time, or we'll run out of things to write about.

This week I'm headed south to research some of the places for my upcoming book. We now have a title: The Boston Mountains: Lost In The Ozarks has been approved by the publisher and I'm on the last lap gathering stories, traveling to each place and getting photos. We'll be in Crawford and Franklin Counties for a couple of weeks, then everything will be wound up.

There we'll visit Shores Lake, which covered up the community of Hurricane, near where my grandparents first settled when they came here from Montana in 1921. We'll go up to White Rock Park, one of the best kept secrets in the Ozarks, and visit towns like Fern, Locke, Health and Mountainburg; Chester, Armada and Schaberg before we're finished.

In my blog about writing, I'm writing about a visit to Combs Chapel Cemetery in the rain. Check it out as well.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Gold mine in Arkansas

Back when I wrote western historical romances, I learned about a gold mine in Kansas, and eventually included it in a book called Angel's Gold. It was amazing what I learned about this gold mine located in Circleville, Kansas, because when I thought of gold strikes, I naturally thought of California or Nevada, Virginia City, Montana or Colorado.

As writers we put ourselves in a position to learn new and exciting things. And it wasn't long after I began writing my latest nonfiction book about the lost communities of the Boston Mountains that someone told me about this gold mine in Arkansas. Another friend ran across more information and brought that to me. Soon I knew that I was going to have to take a journey to see this so-called gold mine. There's a secret why this mine was designated as a gold mine. Stocks were sold and officers appointed for the business. And it was all done to protect this secret. Believe it or not, the secret was kept from the 1850s into the 1950s, and some still search for the real solution. The secret which I will reveal in the book.

I will say, though, that I will tour the location of this gold mine in a couple of weeks and will tell you about it here. You certainly won't read about it anywhere else. I was privileged to be loaned a 20-page explanation by a gentleman who knew the whole story. He sat down one evening in 1987 and recorded everything he knew with pencil and pad. It was passed down to family members who loaned it to me when they learned about my book.

This is the type of occurrence---call it serendipity---that happens when we open our minds and hearts to an idea, any idea. And as a writer, those ideas whirl around in my mind until I'm dizzy.

I was recently asked to take part in a radio show about writers block, but I'm not sure I can do that because it's an affliction from which I've never suffered. Just look out the window, watch squirrels at play, or birds at the feeder; or drive down the road and observe something strange and unusual.

Out our road someone has put together several unique skeletons made up of spare car parts and other pieces of "junk." They are so unusual and eye-catching I came to a halt in the middle of the road to study one particular gigantic, bony body that seemed to be calling out to me. Mouth wide, eyes staring, long limbs hanging almost to the ground. I began to imagine what this peculiar graveyard might represent to the artist and why he chose to create such personages. Do they remind him of someone he's met? Perhaps a dream he's had, or a childhood story. I know there's a short story there as soon as I get the time to work on it.

Driving the backroads of Arkansas, one never knows what will turn up. During the past couple of years when the price of steel and other metals soared, there was an enormous clean-up of old cars and other junkyards, so the countryside is not nearly so filled with what most consider eyesores. Me? I enjoy seeing how old the cars and trucks are, figuring how long they've been there by the growth up through their floorboards and around the rusty fenders. Many questions immediately occur to me. Who might have owned that dilapidated 1937 truck? How many children rode in the back shouting in delight as Papa tooled down the dusty road to town? Where did they live and how? An old one-room log house, a clapboard structure with a loft where the kids could sleep, or maybe a lean-to put up hastily until a house could be built? And best of all, where are those children now? Did they grow up to be politicians, heroes, teachers or criminals? I'll probably never know, but I can surely dream up something that would make a fine short story or book.

So if you do suffer from writers block, take a drive through your neighborhood or out in the countryside with an open mind and heart. You'll be writing before you can return to your computer. Well, perhaps I'd better get on that show after all.