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Stories and Song: "Along the Buffalo" by Belinda Gail

Updated on July 5, 2021
Belinda Gail onstage at Silver Dollar City
Belinda Gail onstage at Silver Dollar City | Source

Belinda Gail, a true Western Artist

I have written elsewhere about various festivals and artists, acts both entertaining and talented. Working at Silver Dollar City has offered me a look into a wonderful world rarely experienced by those who visit the city. To fully experience the nature of those acts one would have to visit almost constantly. Most people are not able to do this, thus those of us fortunate enough to work at the city may be the only ones who fully appreciate all of the acts which perform here.

Most recent in this amazing parade of talent to visit us is the wonderful Belinda Gail, a true American Western artist. Early on, she delineates the difference between Country and Western: in Country one sings of things like divorce, cheating, drinking, fighting, and such. In Western music, one sings about our country, of cowboys, of love and basically positive aspects of our life on this ol' planet. Her voice is soft yet powerful, and draws one in as a moth to a flame yet once within the circle of light one is comforted, not destroyed.

I listened to Belinda sing multiple times this past week and never was I disappointed. Her song choice, her delivery and the stories told about the songs made it feel as though she was singing directly to us, not at us. Believe me, there is a difference in those two aspects of performing.

Along The Buffalo

I will detail two of her songs in this article: Along The Buffalo and Granite Mountain. Both stirred the very souls of those listening with the deep, rich meaning contained within the words and music. She wrote both and her style is wonderful. Along The Buffalo was written in response to a friend, Fred Woehl, taking she and her husband Bob on a trail ride along the upper Buffalo River. For those of you who are not familiar with this river, it is the nation's first National Wild River. In the late 1960's, our Government arrived at a decision to protect portions of this magnificent river for future generations to discover and love. At the same time, a plan was underway to place a dam across it south of Harrison, Arkansas. Amid the uproar over both plans came a decision: protect, not destroy. In the early 1970's they began to put that decision into play. The Government began to purchase land for the area. Some people were happy to sell out; others not. Some of these families had homesteaded the land in the 1800's and did not desire to sell and leave. One of these was a woman whose name was simply Granny Henderson. She was born on this land and by golly, she was going to die on this land! No amount of demand nor persuasion could sway Granny. Finally, a consensus was reached: Granny was old, and would be allowed to remain on her property until her death. She was so old the Government felt it would be a short time until she passed.

Time went by and she stayed alive. More time and still she lived alone, caring for herself and her "critters", her garden and her home. So much time went by that the Government got antsy; they decreed that, as this was a wilderness area now she could not have her "critters". So she had to give up her milk cow, her chickens and such. Once self-sufficient she was coming to count on others. But she still had her garden, until it too was deemed not legal in the wilderness. Then came the final blow: she would not be allowed to burn wood in her wood stove. Her family decided the time had come for her to move away from her beloved home, and came to take her away.

She died mere weeks later.

Belinda captures the beauty and solace of the Buffalo perfectly. Fred's trail ride along the river brought to life the struggle of Granny and Belinda became the author of a truly wonderful song. Much in the style of a John Denver song, it praises the wilderness while showing what must happen for us to save that wilderness. Please listen to the song and hear with your heart as well as your ears.

So, what did you think? Were you riding along with Bob, Belinda and Fred? Could you feel Granny's struggle to remain? Do you now understand that some must sacrifice so that others can enjoy? I lived in the area during the late 1970's, floated the river any number of times. I was unaware of the behind the scenes struggle of those like Granny. I now feel for them and their kin for their loss even as I am glad for the protection the Government has given to these lands.

Thank you for the sacrifice, for the gift of the Buffalo River. And thank you to Belinda for making me aware of the two.

Granite Mountain

Another of her songs that struck a distinct chord with me was Granite Mountain. Belinda and Bob live at the base of the mountain near Prescott, Arizona. She felt this mountain, in its grandeur, needed a song about its majesty, its rugged country teeming with wildlife. Belinda began to write this song then found it difficult to finish; it needed something but what? She shelved it for a number of months.

One day while she was on tour her husband Bob called her. They touch base daily while she is touring and this was a normal conversation until Bob stated "There is smoke coming from the other side of the mountain. I think it is a control burn but I will find out and let you know".

The phone rang later and she answered, expecting Bob. Instead, it was their neighbor asking if they were home. Bob had gone into town and the neighbor was relieved. Granite Mountain was on fire and the fire had crossed over and was speeding down towards their ranch.

Bob did make it back in to save their horses, dog and some valuables before the fire could strike. As he was loading he snapped a few pictures of the fire, smoke and the planes dumping a slurry mixture over everything, including him. Fire fighters, known as hot shots, had arrived and were working feverishly to create a firebreak before the home. This he saw before he had to leave.

When he and Belinda were able to return home a few days later, they approached their home with a deputy. On the front porch sat the hot shots, relaxing for a moment. They jumped up quickly when they determined the owners had returned, only to immediately be put at ease by Belinda and Bob. They shook hands all around, thanked them for saving the home and property and gave them free reign to raid the icebox and relax. As they drove away, the hot shots waved to them from that porch.

Some ten days later, Bob made a call to Belinda who was back out on tour. She immediately knew something was wrong and both choked on their emotions as he relayed these fine boys, for boys most of them had appeared, had perished in the Yarnell Mountain fire, which has now become a film entitled Only The Brave and is due to be released shortly.

Belinda now knew why her finishing the song had been so difficult: she was to add a final verse, one intended to forever memorialize those brave boys who fought for their home and so many others.

There are some who feel, rightfully so, that Hollywood will do anything to make a buck on any subject, no matter how painful it may be to others. This film is one of those that these feelings are in evidence. However, in my case, I feel otherwise. Granted, I am not related to any of those brave men but having read John Maclean and his father Norman (A River Runs Through It) books regarding forest fires I can say that this is a story that needed to be told on the big screen.

Beginning with Norman's Young Men And Fire (of which I wrote about earlier that it needs to become a film) and continuing through John's assorted works (Fire on the Mountain, The Thirtymile Fire, The Esperanza Fire, Fire and Ashes) I have found that in every single case of where our firefighters die on a wildfire there is a government bureaucrat somewhere behind the scenes whose choices cost these men their lives. John's books scream this out and perhaps now Hollywood is listening, carrying the fight forward. Maybe someone will listen and halt the senseless deaths when wildfires erupt, making it safer for our firefighters to fight these fires.

These two songs represent some of the best writing and singing our nation has to offer. Belinda is a gifted artist who eases us into her world and brings it to life as few other songwriters/singers can do. Her storytelling sets up the song in a masterful manner and gives us the needed backstory to fully enjoy and understand every nuance of the song.

We are richer for having met she and her husband and wish them well.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Mr Archer


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