Book Review: Coronado’s Children

J Frank Dobie

I finished my first read-through of storyteller and folklorist J. Frank Dobie’s Coronado’s Children around mid-February and enjoyed it. I posted a review on another site but began a re-read of the first fourteen stories covering the Lost San Saba Mine to facilitate an on-going discussion relating to the historical James ‘Jim’ Bowie, his search for the San Saba, and the subsequent, and some say same find that came to also be known as the Bowie treasure mine.

Bowie, it seems, was quite the character and consummate adventurer.

Of Bowie, Dobie writes, “Flaming above all the other searchers {for treasure} is the figure of James Bowie. It is a great pity that we have no biography of him such as we have of Davy Crockett. This biography would tell—often with only legend for authority—how he rode alligators in Louisiana; how, like Plains Indians chasing buffalo, he speared wild cattle; how, with the deadly bowie knife, he fought fearful duels in dark rooms; how he trafficked for black ivory with the pirate Laffite on Galveston Island; and then how he came to San Antonio and married the lovely Ursula de Veramendi, daughter of the vice-governor of Texas. Bowie was a master of men and slave to fortune. He was willing to pawn his life for a chance at a chimerical mine, and he asked no odds. Out on the Nueces and Frio rivers, far beyond the last outpost of settlement, he prospected for gold and silver. In his burning quest for the fabled Spanish mines on the San Saba he engaged in one of the most sanguinary and brilliant fights of frontier history.”

The book, published in 1930, does a wonderful job of capturing old tales and legends of lost mines and undiscovered treasures in a style and voice of those who lived and died in and before Dobie’s time. Many, it seems, perished in vain searches for wealth in the deserts, mountains, and vast terrain of the American Southwest. Many more of these reputed treasures, legend and folklore claim, are guarded by spirits and ghosts. The book includes some treasure maps and extensive, colorful, and sometimes humorous narrative relating stories of treasure hunters, suspected lost mine locations and clues to other valuable, lost treasure. I have no doubt it is a must-have reference for anyone interested in writing historical fiction related to Texas history, treasure hunting in Texas, and the legends and stories of treasure and treasure hunting in the American Southwest.

Hiking An Arkansas Ghost Town

Jim Warnock and his dog, Hiker, trek the mountain trails of Arkansas exploring hills, hollows, and ghost towns such as Rush, Arkansas. Read about all his adventures and enjoy beautiful photos at ozarkmountainhiker.com. While you’re there be sure to read about how Jim and Hiker came to be trail buddies. Inspiring story.

Small communities like Rush are scattered throughout the Ozarks, Ouachita Mountains, and all across the state. Many of the sites Jim and Hiker explore are reminiscent of the locales featured in my short story collection. My thanks to Jim for sharing his post!

HIKING RUSH, AN ARKANSAS GHOST TOWN

Taylor-Medley Store on the left. Home of Lee Medley on the right.

I was pleased to find the old town of Rush to be a great day hike location! I was afraid the trail would be too short and tame, but it’s just right.

I could have spent the entire day exploring and ended up pushing the limits of remaining daylight. A van full of college kids offered me a ride while I was walking along the creek after my hike. It was nice of them to offer, but I said “no thanks” since the Jeep wasn’t far away. College kids who hike and camp tend to be pretty good folks.

Rush was a mining community that began in the 1880s and thrived in the 1920s when zinc was in high demand during World War I. Rush declined along with the demand for zinc and was finally abandoned in the late 1960s. According to Neil Compton, “by 1969 Rush was bereft of inhabitants except for Gus Setzer and Fred Dirst, an old miner who conducted tours into the mines for wandering visitors…”

Rush eventually came under the ownership of an industrialist who planned to make a tourist trap of the place, but he sold it to the National Park Service. I hate to think of what this place might have been if a developer had gotten hold of it.

Today, interpretive signs are placed along a short trail that loops through the center of Rush. A longer trail follows the mining level up above downtown. If you have several hours to spend, you can hike the 1.7 mile long mine route to the National Park boundary as an out-and-back.

Trailhead

A prominent structure is the blacksmith shop, an essential business for a mining community. This is the “new” shop built in the 1920s during the height of the commercial activity in Rush. Ore was transported down Ore Wagon Road to the White River and loaded onto barges. When trucks became dependable enough to transport zinc and replaced wagons, the blacksmith shut down his business and went back to farming.

Blacksmith shop

Blacksmith shop

ore smelter

This ore smelter is the oldest structure in Rush, built in 1886 by the claim-holders of the Morning Star Mine. They hoped the smelter would reveal silver in the ore. No silver was to be found.

Ore wagon

This cart was next to the trail. I was impressed with its heavy construction and how it had stood up to the elements.

Ore wagon

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This large machine was next to the trail at the Clabber Creek end on Ore Wagon Road. I’m not sure what it was used for, but I was impressed with the large wheels and chain sprockets.

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Mine entrance

You’ll pass many mine entrances as you hike the trail. The grills keep visitors out of dangerous mines, but allow bats to come and go freely.

Spring flowing into the creek.

Finding “Boiling Springs” was a treat. The water was clear and cold. A grist mill was once located close by in Rush Creek.

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What follows are several historic structures along the road in Rush. Many of these houses were built around 1890. I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into the historic town of Rush. If you’ve been there before, maybe my pictures will bring back good memories. If you’ve not visited, I hope I’ve inspired you to grab your hiking shoes and explore it for yourself soon. It’s a special place!

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I was running low on light at the end of the day, but had to stop and photograph these daffodils that caught my eye. The inhabitants who planted these bulbs many years ago would be surprised to learn that their landscaping would be appreciated by a weary hiker on an early spring evening in 2015.

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Thanks to Jim and Hiker for sharing their adventures with us.  And speaking of Hiker, here’s one of my favorites photos of the dog who loves the trail!

Hiker

 

 

 

Do not speak ill of the dead

In a new work in progress (WIP), a character of some many years—feisty and notorious for speaking his mind—becomes disenchanted, disappointed, and bitter.

He is asked to write a eulogy on the passing of a longtime friend. The friend was an active, loved church member, associate, and—unbeknownst to the small community where they retired to escape their less-than-virtuous lives—an arch criminal.

The result is a shocking, less-than-glowing list of evil deeds to be revealed at the funeral. He is urged to rewrite the scathing expose. He refuses, believing honesty more important than conventional good manners.

The following poem recorded in his personal diary captures his new belief.

 

Do not speak ill of the dead!

That having said, I shall

flap my lips, wag candid tongue,

hoist the verbiage black and read,

speak truth about the dead.

Outline all the right and wrong,

unblemished reputation splattered.

Far better now to say instead,

it’s only truth that matters, go ahead.

If it’s not lies, speak unpleasantness,

illuminated veracity,

impolite accuracy.

Thus having said, I shall

speak ill of the dead.

“Who’s He Talking To?”

I come from a long line of storytellers.

Long before the printing press, and long before literacy became commonplace,  generations used oral tales to preserve cultural folklore and pass along family stories. Now, we celebrate World Storytelling Day on the Spring Equinox  here in the northern hemisphere. In addition to exchanging stories in our own communities, the Internet helps us share stories across cultures. This year I’m sharing a true tale told by my father when I was young.

 “Who’s He Talking To?”

Church is a big deal for most folks in my hometown as it is in practically every part of Arkansas. True to form, there are many stories of my line of Cotners and their interaction with ministers, preachers of the gospel, and the corporate social body known as church.

My grandfather and grandmother were Methodists and attended the United Methodist church in Booneville.

The first ever story about church that sticks in my mind was told to me by my dad relating a story concerning the first time, as a very young boy, he attended Methodist services with his mother.

Seated there with the rest of his family on the pew among the faithful that Sunday for dutiful worship, dad—ever the fact-based skeptic—listened intently for some time to the sermon. The minister  was playing his part, delivering the message with vigor, waving hands and arms and often looking up to the ceiling imploring the Almighty for one thing or the other as if God were some cheap vending machine that—if  enough selfish prayers were plopped into it—would dispense a little treat out and down to the aluminum tray at the bottom for its users to enjoy.

Finally, curiosity got the best of my dad and, in a lull in the preaching he turned to my grandmother and loudly asked, “Who in the world is he talking to?”

With the kindness, compassion, understanding, and motherly love only my grandmother could have shown, she whirled around on the pew and slapped my dad hard on the head and said, “Shut up!”

As the story goes, about half the congregation laughed and the other half seemed angry at my dad’s questioning. No one ever redressed my grandmother and no one ever gave my dad an intelligent, rational, thoughtful, answer to his question.

So, needless to say the blow and the incident left quite the impression on my dad; and I’m not just talking about the big red welt that came up on the side of his head.

This story, along with the fictional tale inspired by my dad’s experience, is included in my short story collection Storytellin: True and Fictional Short Stories of Arkansas.

Upcoming National Poetry Month

I am pleased to announce that one of my poems, Do The Dead Call? from my novel, Mystery Of The Death Hearth, has been included in a special series organized by the University of Arkansas Press in celebration of National Poetry Month in April.

The selected poems will be read on KUAF Public Radio, part of the National Public Radio (NPR) digital network.

I’ll post the schedule for the reading when it’s released.

Learn more about KUAF radio, Fayetteville, Arkansas at http://kuaf.com/.