By Barbara Daniel
A long walk through the woods on a warm winter day brings memories of another time. And, time stood still. Memories stored, mostly an assortment of places and times gone by, mostly history and folklore. The change time brings – fact or fiction.
I’ve lived to see a lot of change in a place of long ago when the country was wild with an assortment of people that came to Missouri before the Civil War and after. They were entrepreneurs and pioneers looking for land and its resources to establish a new life.
Ava, Missouri, a small settlement in Douglas County existed before 1876. The courthouse burned with all the old records in 1876. But I do know my great-grandfather Sisney came from the South and established the first trading post in Ava. The log structure survived many years across from the courthouse, and the courthouse is still standing.
Ava wasn’t molested by the Civil War, but became home to a few families after the war. Most settlers came from the south. The wild game was plentiful. There was fishing and fresh cold springs of water. The timber and grass grew tall. It was a new land.
Log homes were built from the great oak trees as saw mills sprang up and hauled the trees cut down. More homes turned from log homes to clapboard houses. Big families came along with time, and that put a strain on the natural resources, and the wildlife was depleted through overuse and overhunting.
I can remember when I was seven and eight-years-old and just starting school in a small one-room school in the White Creek community. I had to walk a long distance through the timber and I never saw deer or much of any kind of wildlife. It happened before my time, but by the pre-1930s a decline had hit and resources were squandered. This all occurred with the over hunting and harvesting done by the settlers.
My mother once told me about the abundance of different kinds of wildlife all though the Ozarks. Elk, deer, bear, buffalo, and more, roamed there, and almost became extinct. Many game birds and fish, too. All these wonderful, beautiful things had to be restored.
I’ve traveled the Lewis and Clarke Trail west and know from history what they saw. Their expedition opened a new chapter for Missouri after the Louisiana Purchase. Clarke wrote in his journal what he observed. He saw vast numbers of wildlife, clear lakes full of fish, ducks, and geese. He wrote a perfect description of the country to inspire new settlers. He didn’t write about the horrible heat during the summer, or the mosquitoes. He wrote about the abundance of game, of all kinds, and by the late 1800s, the demand for feathers, fur and meat for feed, had nearly emptied the land of its rich resources.
Recently it was reported someone killed an 800-pound elk from the herd established in the Ozarks. Whoever did this sawed the huge antlers off the big bull elk and left the animal to waste. There is a reward out for this terrible act.
As years pass, we see more and more of how man becomes hardened to life and its true wonder and beauty.
My memory takes me back to another time when I was a small child growing up in Douglas County. I remember some of the old original clapboard houses built on land settled by our ancestors.
Saltbox two-story styles and Dutch clapboard. The latter one was built up a valley in the White Creek School area. It was a beautiful old home surrounded by an orchard with all kinds of fruit trees. A fresh stream of water ran between the house and barn. There was a spring with the sweetest, coldest running water. It was built into a bank, and had a covered rock canopy. A gourd dipper hung from a peg. Across the stream the house had a large yard with a rock wall around it. A tall tree grew by the wall with a large limb hanging out over the high wall. From the limb hung a swing built of strong rope and a board seat.
I remember two families living there at different times, and they had little girls. My sister and I played there, too. The old home was like a storybook scene. The big cellar standing out from the kitchen door had hollyhock flowers of every color growing on top like a big bouquet. We loved visiting and playing there.
My sister is ten years younger than me, so there were a few years between us, but my little brothers, my sister and I all attended White Creek School. I can still hear the school bell ringing for class to start if I listen real close in my memory.
The laughter of children at play, the smell of the books, and the wood stove, smoke burning in the winter. In the long walks to and from White Creek School, the air was fresher and times seem to linger in the shadows of a past long forgotten.
My little sister was born on the old home place where we lived. I loved her dearly. Years have passed for both of us, and she lives a long way from Douglas County. I’ve moved closer. Most of the gentle, sweet folk I knew have moved to heaven. I am grateful for all of them. I’m what I am today because of their love and kindness. We can still find these qualities in the country where the people live and trust in God.
We never knew who built the clapboard house, or who lived there before. Makes me think of an old Stewart Hamblen song, “But I ain’t gonna need this house no longer…” Mine is falling in a little too as time has taken its toll, but it isn’t who we are but what we are that counts, so until we meet again, keep on singing dear Ruby Alcorn. And to all who read this, I will sing “Happy trails to you,” until we meet somewhere along the way.
Lift up our eyes unto the hills and dream of another time when we were all young and home was for living and loving neighbors to share our dream.