Monday, May 30, 2011

A DAY AT THE SNAKE HOUSE

Last week we journeyed to Little Rock to read for Tales From the South, an NPR program broadcast in Arkansas and a few other places. Requirements for reading include that it be, of course, a story out of the south, it be a true story of the writer's experiences, and that the writer be a "southern writer."

I'm not sure if I'm a southern writer, but I managed to qualify. I was born in Arkansas, left when I was six and returned to live almost 40 years ago. I guess you can go home again, though it's been claimed you can't, and you can once again become a native. Though in the small town where we now live, we may forever be those people who moved in from New York. Even though we live a scant 15 miles from where I was born.

If you're of a mind, and want to see my reading, you can go here for a bit of entertainment.

At any rate, I experienced this particular tale in 1990 after I went to work for a small weekly newspaper here in Arkansas. And if you had any notion of how terrified I was of snakes prior to this experience, you would understand just how much courage it took for me to visit the snake man and his many slithery pets.

This video is hard for me to hear, though I had my volume cranked up, so hope you have better luck there. Otherwise, I'm afraid you won't enjoy it.

I returned several times to visit the snake man, taking with me our then 10 year old grandson Daniel. Unfortunately, he inherited a gigantic fear of all things crawly from his father who will stomp anything down to the size of a worm and often goes out of his way to slide the tires of his car over any snake crossing the same road on which he drives.

So, Daniel was not in luck when he asked if he could go with me. The snake man loved to tease with his snakes, and when he "accidentally" let a shoebox full of baby snakes loose in the house, our Daniel left out. I don't think his shoes touched the floor, the flew through the screen door and didn't land till he was out in the middle of the yard. To this day, and he's almost 32, he remembers Fred dumping several cobras out in the driveway and dancing around amidst them while they spread their hoods. "The man was crazy," he says with a shudder.

Fred told me later that it was so cool outside that the cobras couldn't strike. Being a showman, he loved his little tricks, and toured the countryside entertaining people with his feats of daring-do. I lost my fear of most snakes after a few visits, but never have been able stay in the same mile with a copperhead or rattler. They're both prevalent where we live, but we seldom see them.

Once I watched dozens of baby pythons cut their way out of their rubbery egg shells, and soon learned to walk among their 30-foot parents with no fear. This is only one of the many experiences I had while writing for the paper, and one I shall never forget. I hope one day to write a memoir of all those exciting, jaw dropping, and often terrifying experiences.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

INDIANS OF THE EARLY OZARKS


When the first Europeans journeyed into the Ozarks, they found the Osage Indians. Several ancient civilizations must have lived in the area, due to the fragments of their culture in the upper strata of earth, yet it was 90 established Osage villages that these first white men found. Prior to the coming of the horse, their principal villages were located geographically along the Ozark Plateau, which extended from the Missouri River on the north to the Arkansas River to the south, encompassing much of the Boston Mountains.
The tribe’s first treaty with the Federal Government was signed in November, 1808. It was made at Fort Osage on the Missouri River, and in it the Osage ceded all their land between the Missouri River and the Arkansas River lying east of a line running due south from Fort Osage to the Arkansas River. Nevertheless, they made frequent hunting expeditions in their old domain, contending that they might have given up their right of domain but not their hunting privileges. The Cherokee didn’t take kindly to this after they were ceded the land in the Boston Mountains, and fighting broke out constantly between the two tribes.
Between the years of 1817 and 1828 the Cherokee owned by right of title all of what is now Washington, Benton and Madison Counties in Arkansas, as well as that part of Carroll County west of the Kings River and a small portion of northern Crawford and Franklin Counties. What is now Eureka Springs, Beaver Lake and Holiday Island also belonged to the tribe. The area was known as Lovely County for about a year prior to 1828 when the Indians were removed West to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.
The great Sequoyah, who created the written language of his people, the Cherokee, lived for a long while in Arkansas, and some of that time in Northwest Arkansas. Mt. Sequoyah in Fayetteville carries his name. Sequoyah, also known as George Guest, created a syllabary — symbols for the sounds in the language — despite the tribe considering him “tetched.” Even his wife thought something must be wrong with him, or why would he spend every day for 12 years in almost total seclusion. They pointed at him and called him Sequoyah, which translates to “pig in hiding.”
Only one other Indian tribe, the Cree in Canada, have a written language.
Today the Cherokee are second only in size to the Navajo tribe. Members reside in the Indian Nations in Oklahoma and around Cherokee, North Carolina. Just outside Russellville, Arkansas are the Counsel Oaks where Chief Black Fox in 1820 signed away all the Cherokee land south of the Arkansas river.
My great grandparents on both sides of my father's lineage are Cherokee. Our names are listed on the rolls in both North Carolina and Tahlequah, OK. My great great grandmother was a Soap, a common name among the Cherokee. She later is also listed as Sammy Tippett. Goodgion is the name most commonly found in the North Carolina rolls, though it is also present on Tahlequah's.