The Old Arkansas Homestead
So, I'm A Hillbilly!
There were several of our family homesteads up in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. They weren’t actually home, but it’s as close a place any of us could call one. These were the homes of our great, great grandparents and beyond. Most are all gone now except for crumbling foundations to show they were ever there. It was a great place for a wild rambunctious bunch of kids to grow up…when we were there on vacations and what not.
We Moved A Lot
We moved around a lot since our step dad was a career Air Force man. But there came a time in the mid 1950’s when my mom became ill and we were sent off to live in the country at grandmother’s house for a few years. These are the years I remember best and being some of the happiest of my life.
My folks came to Crawford County, Arkansas about 1840 by covered wagon from Wayne County, Kentucky. Before that their ancestors came from Virginia all the back to Massachusetts around 1693.
And somewhere along the line my grandmother inherited 40 acres on top a mountain from her dad, and that’s where I, my two brothers and sister remember as being “home”.
Grandma didn’t grow up on that property. She was raised off about 6 miles from there in Mountainburg, where her parent’s homestead was. My mom also grew up there.
But eventually grandma moved off to her own property after her first husband passed away and another failed marriage. Then she married the man who was to become our step grandfather and the source of many of our happiest memories…James Leland Sharpe out of Calhoun MO. He didn’t know what he was getting himself into at the time.
It was actually his honeymoon when my mom and her 4 kids arrived on their doorstep for the first time about 1955. Her marriage had just failed and she had nowhere else to go. But it worked out fine since he didn’t have any grandkids and we didn’t have a grandfather. He was the only one we were to ever know. It was also where most of my earliest memories began.
Mom remarried to a serviceman stationed at Warner Robbins Air Force Base, GA, and it was then she became sick and we ended up on the farm around Alma, Arkansas.
A New Grandfather
At first our granddad, being inexperienced, didn't know what to do with 4 youngsters. But he eventually came around and that’s when we discovered what a practical jokester the man was. But our “homestead” on the farm was a perfect place for us to grow and learn. There were vegetable gardens, chickens, goats, ducks and a few geese there. We grew up on goat’s milk, fresh vegetables and organically grown chickens and eggs. Needless to say we were healthy.
However, before the new “homestead was built we lived in an authentic pioneer log cabin. It was already on my grandmother’s property and had been there for ages. The oldest people in the area had said it had been there as long as they or their parents could remember. Nobody knew who built it or how old it actually was. Grandmother had a lot of work to do on it before she could move into it. (See photos) The old log cabin burnt down in 1973 due to a passerby’s carelessly thrown cigarette.
There was no running water or electricity, even when we came along. But there were others up in the mountains in the same situation. It was a rural part of America that hadn’t as yet caught up with modern society.
The new “homestead” was built by Granddad across the yard out of cinderblocks. Old man John Parker, a friend of granddad's from down the road aways, helped out when he could.
There were lots of things to occupy us on the farm when we weren’t in school…especially me and my brothers. My sister was taken in by mom’s sister in California and got “citified”. Besides helping out on our grandmother’s brothers’ farm picking strawberries in the summer we also helped out other older relatives with their chores raising chickens and working in their gardens. We made a little spending money that way.
But when we weren’t otherwise engaged it was time to explore our mountain. There were remnants of a few of our ancestor’s homes down the dirt road a piece. Our Great Aunt Rosa’s place for instance. The house no longer stood, but the foundation was still there. She had made a rock wall fence around the place, most of which still stood. My older brother Tom, discovered something there no one else knew about. It was probably a storm shelter, the place being in the middle of “Tornado Alley”. We had never seen anything constructed like it before.
It was constructed of rocks only, no mortar, and they fit together perfectly forming a tight, strong wall in front of a space carved into the side of a hill. Or maybe it was a root cellar. Nobody knew for sure.
There were old garbage dumps all up and down the sides of that mountain. It was a treasure hunters’ paradise. We found old glass bottles, utensils and broken tool parts galore. Unfortunately, at that time we didn’t know the value some of these items could bring at a future date.
There was an old, small fishing pond further on back which hadn’t been fished in for at least 40 years and was well stocked with perch and bass. We took care of that!
Then there was old Mrs. Betterton’s place next door. Next door meant about ¼ mile down the road. Her folks had come to the area even before ours did. We used to help her pick her apples and play in the trees. She always had something nice for us to snack on.
Neighbors were scarce
In those days, neighbors were few and far between out in Lancaster Township. The only others within walking distance were the Parker’s about 3 miles away. They raised horses and Old man Parker was friends with our granddad. They used to do carpentry work together for folks around the countryside. I remember his old Ford panel van parked in our driveway from time to time.
We always thought his kids were “stuck up” because often they would ride their horses by our house with their noses in the air. They never stopped to talk or play with us. We wished they would have since we wanted to see their horses.
It was told me by grandmother that Lancaster Township came to be because down at the bottom of our mountain was “Clear Creek” and a large flat slab of rock that folks used as a dock. The dock was used to load rafts with goods to take down river. Clear Creek emptied into the Arkansas River at Van Buren about 15 miles west which was a major shipping and railroad hub during the Civil War. I used to go fish from that big flat table rock and imagine what it must have looked like back then.
Nowadays, many more people have moved into the area. My grandparents and most other relatives have long since passed on and the “homestead” is no longer there. The family has all but moved to different parts of the country, most in South Carolina.
The last time I went by the place back around 1996 the cinderblock house had been torn down and the only thing remaining was a mound where grandmothers’ storm cellar had been. It was sad looking over the property where we had grown up. It was as if a part of me had been ripped away.
So, whenever I remember the place now I always visualize it as it was and pretend it is all still there.