The Lone Sentinel - a Bill Holland Challenge
The Lone Sentinel of Oak Creek
If only that old fireplace and chimney could talk, what a tale it would tell…
Since each of my articles here relate to “The Homeplace Saga” series of family saga, historical fiction stories… this will become one, as well.
So, if animals can talk, so can an “old fireplace and chimney” tell a tale…
The Lone Sentinel near Oak Creek
I was built by Edmond Gifford in the late spring of 1855 in what became Oak Creek Township just south of what was then the eastward extension from Oak Springs of the Houston Road. I was built just west of Oak Creek, where the Edmond Gifford family got their water in those early pioneer years before they were able to dig a well. In that summer of 1855, Edmond and his wife, Josephine, were aged 33, and just beginning their new life here on virgin land in this beautiful valley along this spring-fed creek. Off to the northwest, about a mile and a half, across the land owned by the McDonald family, from the top of my chimney, I can just barely see the creek as it goes over the falls into a pond, before making its way east, and then south past my location. What a clear, beautiful creek it is.
When Edmond and Josephine arrived here in their covered wagon, from up around St. Louis, they had two children. Young Franklin was then about 11 and his younger sister, Stefanie, was 6. What a pair those children were, full of life, vim and vigor, for sure. They were most helpful to their parents, but also spent many hours in play and fun around their new homestead. They enjoyed the willow trees along the creek as well as the pussy willows in the marches in some of the recesses of the creek. Young Franklin carried lots of buckets of fresh, cool water from the fast moving stream, along the rocks, up the rise of about 6 feet to the cabin from the creek below.
Edmond made me with his own hands from rocks and mortar. He was not an expert, but he had obviously constructed a fireplace and chimney before, because he used the proper techniques even if his skills were not well developed. He also built the log cabin for the family home along with the fireplace and chimney. A handful of neighbors from the area helped ‘raise the roof’ of the cabin, but the family did most of the work themselves. They were very proud on their new home.
The soil surrounding the cabin was good, so Edmond had no trouble raising good crops of corn, and Josephine had a fine garden. Their life was full, they were happy, and I looked down on them with pleasure that I could be of service to them here in their fine little cabin on this farm.
For the rest of the story of this valley...
I could be seen from the road to the north
Life changed in 1861 in the Oak Creek Valley
As I watched Edmond put in his crops with his mules and help his wife, Josephine, prepare her garden, during that spring of 1861, neither they nor I had any way of knowing that their idyllic life was about to change, forever.
It was a Friday, April 22nd, and Edmond had just returned from a trip into Oak Springs on his fine mare, Sunshine. He was holding the reins of Sunshine in one hand and giving his wife a hug with the other. The children were standing on the stoop of the cabin, awaiting their turn to welcome their father back from his short journey as well.
Suddenly, from around the stand of trees along the creek to the south and east of the cabin, rode up eight rough looking men on horseback, pistols and rifles in hand. They shot Edmond where he stood, snatching the reins of the horse from the dying man’s hand. They moved quickly to the corral, where they took the mules and the other horse there, as well. A torch appeared in the hands of two of the men; one was tossed into the hay in the barn, the other went through a window of the cabin. In what seemed just moments, they were gone, as quickly as they had arrived.
Over the next few days as I listened in on conversations of the neighbors, they talked about this being a region right in the middle between the North and South that seemed to be fighting a war. Mr. Gifford was the first fatality in the valley, but he would likely not be the last, they said. Wanting no more of it, as soon as Mr. Gifford was properly buried in the nearby McDonald Cemetery, Mrs. Gifford and the children left the area and returned to live with her family near St. Louis. I heard Franklin, between sobs, vow to return one day.
In the coming months, more raiders came through, and by fall, it seemed that everyone had left the valley, and every structure built by them over nearly thirty years had been burned to the ground. I felt like the Lone Sentinel of life in the valley.
The was no other man-made object in sight
The valley returned to nature
Over the next four years, while there were occasional groups of horsemen crossing through the valley, north to south and east to west, they rarely stopped as there was nothing man-made left that would draw their attention. There was one exception that perhaps I was the only one to know about.
There was one old gentleman and one young man that had stayed in the valley. I learned later they were old Henry McDonald and his young grandson, Alex. They apparently were living in the caves along the ridge. They came out to hunt and to plant when no one else was around. I saw them a few times, but they planted their plants in ways that they would not be detected. They dropped seeds and a fish in a hole. Then they would disappear. A few months later, they would appear, in their buckskins, harvest some corn, pick some berries, and disappear, again.
In the spring of 1865, two by two, young men arrived from the north, and reunited with the old man and boy. First in July, then in August, bands of raiders came into the valley from the south. The young men responded promptly, to send them away. Considerable gunfire from the hills to the west, in the August encounter, seemed enough that no more raiding parties emerged. By fall, more people could be seem, from time to time, out harvesting crops the first young men to return had planted.
Most of the people arriving seemed to be settling across the valley to the north and west of my location. However, in the spring of 1867, a covered wagon appeared one afternoon and made camp along the creek right next to my location. The young man driving the wagon was 23-year-old Franklin Gifford, and his bride, Josephine - the same given name as his mother. I heard him say that he was so happy to see me standing there, a monument to his father and their family. They built a new frame house a little further away from the creek, dug a well, and began to reclaim the family homestead. The following summer, they were joined by their first child, a little girl they named Nettie. She was joined, four years later, by a boy, named Moses.
The years went by. They made one improvement after another to the road going by, up to the north, and they eventually named it State Highway 24. While I could be seen from the road to the north, I also got occasional visitors from those kayaking and canoeing down Oak Creek. Some of them would see my chimney, stop along the shore, and walk up to visit this old Lone Sentinel on Oak Creek, being reminded of days gone by.
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The home blog for "The Homeplace Saga" series of historical fiction family saga stories set in the southern Missouri Ozarks. All updates of the series are mentioned here, regardless of platform.