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The Lone Sentinel - a Bill Holland Challenge

Updated on February 12, 2015
Homeplace Series profile image

Dr. Bill's first passion is family history. His second is a passion for creating family saga, historical fiction stories that share it.

The Lone Sentinel of Oak Creek

The lone sentinel image for the story
The lone sentinel image for the story | Source

If only that old fireplace and chimney could talk, what a tale it would tell…

Well, this article is a creative writing project in response to a Bill Holland Challenge and the note he got from my neighbor down the road in Joplin, Mike (who writes on Subpages as Mr. Archer)

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.

I could be seen from the road to the north

The road across the valley
The road across the valley | Source

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 land returned to nature
The land returned to nature | Source

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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    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Shyron, thank you very much. This series of (currently) 98 episodes all relate to the valley and the people in it. Hope you can stop by, from time to time, and learn more. Much appreciated!! ;-)

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      social thoughts, sorry to have missed you comment. Edmond was the first Civil War casualty in the Oak Creek valley, the Homeplace. Everyone was shocked, and it 'changed a lot of minds' about what to do. Hope you will read "American Centennial at the Homeplace" to get the whole story...

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      4 years ago from Texas

      Bill, this is very interesting and it may take me some time but I will be back to read more of your writings.

      Voted up, ABI and shared.

    • social thoughts profile image

      social thoughts 

      4 years ago from New Jersey


      This is a beautiful response to Bill's challenge! You write very well. I was so surprised when Edmond was shot! I look forward to reading more from you. :)

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you, so much! ;-)

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 

      4 years ago from Hawaii

      This was a great story you've written. You answered that challenge nicely, Homeplace!

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      MsDora, your appearance in my comments section always brings a smile to my face. I did identify with that fireplace and chimney... I felt very much at home speaking for it! ;-)

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      DDE, I enjoy each of your visits. Thank you, again, for being so kind! ;-)

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Debra, I've always enjoyed the Native American, Indian, way of planting. It fit well in the original story, and I wanted to include it here, as well. So happy you enjoyed it, as well! ;-)

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      V, thank you for visiting my blog, as well. I hope you stop back, regularly! ;-)

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Mary, thank you, so much. I love to be able to use my characters, again, to tell another story! ;-)

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Audrey, that chimney just spoke to me... and I wrote it down! ;-)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Bill, this challenge just helped you into another of the pioneer stories you tell so well. I like your creativity of taking on the voice of the sentinel. Well done!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      You shared an interesting story. Your writing style is brilliantly thought of.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      4 years ago from West By God

      Wow now that was a great story. That was interesting about putting a fish in the hole and then putting some seeds on the top of it. Now that is a good way to plant seeds. Loved the story.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      4 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Awesome story of the Lone Sentinel standing witness to all those decades and generations passed by. You have spun such an amazing story around a picture. Just visited your blog also by clicking your link above. It is very wonderful and interesting.

      Voted up and awesome.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      4 years ago from New York

      This hub fits you so well. I can see where it fits your home place series. It contains all the interesting characters and facts you give to all your wonderful stories. Bravo to your answer to Bill's challenge.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      4 years ago from California

      You write so well! I loved where people this prompt! I too think wallss and chimneys have stories to tell!

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      You are very kind, Chris. As Bill Holland said, this one is 'right in my wheel-house!' All my stories in this Homeplace Series set of Hubs (1 of my3) are in this same setting, all the same family and friends in the same southern Missouri Ozarks valley, Oak Creek Township, with the small town of Oak Springs at the heart of it. Stories run from 1833, first settlement, to 1996, to date. They all some from my family history interest and long life... ;-)

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      4 years ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

      Bill, that was a very enjoyable story. The chimney really did have a story to tell. It's good to meet such an accomplished story teller here today. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you for your visit and comment, Ann. It was fun building this story into the ongoing series of stories of the period. ;-)

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      4 years ago from SW England

      Lovely historical story with a focus. I enjoyed reading this. I know very little about US history so that makes it doubly interesting.

      This was a wonderful escape on a wet, windy and cold Somerset morning!


    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you. again, Bill, for the Challenge. And, I kept it true to the stories in The Founding... just used a little different point of view! What fun! I do enjoy writing in first person. ;-)

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Sha, you are so kind. I heard the chimney speak, and just wrote it down! ;-)

    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Mike, thank you for your great suggestion. I've wanting to do a Challenge, just hadn't caught the right muse, before... this one was a natural, of course. Thanks to both you and Bill for bringing into being. Love these first three comments! ;-)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love writing this in first person from the point of view of the chimney. Very creative response, Bill, and your history lesson is right on! Thank you for answering the call.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      I love that you've given the chimney a voice! When I first read Bill and Mike's challenge my thought was, "if only it could talk, what stories would it have to tell?"

      Now I know. Wonderful tale!

    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 

      4 years ago from Missouri

      Awesome Bill!! I love the way you work the area history into the saga, making them come alive for the reader. And giving a voice to the fireplace itself is great. Well done sir!


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