Around Butler (Release Date: March 4, 2013)

To all those who followed my adventures in local history over the last year or so, thank you so much. The journey is over, and the finish line is fast approaching. My new book, Around Butler, will be available to purchase on March 4, 2013.

9866AROUcvr.indd

By Vance Woods and Brian Phillips. Images Of America. Arcadia Publishing. $21.99.

Meet the Electric City! From cattle to coal mines, border ruffians to businessmen, and rockets to railroad schemes, the air around Butler, Missouri, has crackled with energy since the settlement’s establishment in 1856. Ravaged by Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers and consumed in 1863 by the flames of General Order No. 11, the settlement rose from the ashes in the late 1860s and 1870s to become a hub of culture and commerce at the western edge of the “Show Me State.” In 1881, the capital of Bates County went electric, becoming one of the first municipalities west of the Mississippi to generate its own power, outstripping Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street Station in Manhattan by almost a year. A quiet little community with a loud and vibrant history, Butler is the quintessential example of the American small-town experience.

If you find it difficult to leave the back road behind; if you love nothing more than an excellent piece of homemade pie to go with your homespun tales; if you believe, deep inside, that there’s a wide-eyed, small-town kid inside us all–take a trip through the story of Butler with me. Then, if you are touched as much as I have been, perhaps even take a trip through the streets of Butler, and meet the people who call it home. Go to South Side Cafe and ask Randy about his pint-sized ghosts; check out the Suzie-Qs (curly fries, for those who don’t know) at The Flaming Lantern; take a walk around the brick-cobbled square; and stop by Sam’s for one of the best burgers in the world today. Finally, pop your head in at the Bates County Museum and ask Peggy about a man named Eddie and his amazing collection of Butler stuff. You will not regret it.

Past Prologue

The old barn.

The blue gate. In the foreground, there used to be a red hay barn in which we grandkids used to play. Climbing on piles of hay bales may not be wise, but it sure was fun. Sadly, the barn was torn down several years back to keep it from collapsing under its own weight…

Cows and trees.

V and Francie’s old place (or what’s left of it).

The road less traveled…

The LaCygne power plant. One of my favorite sights from the farm. On a still, cold day the plumes go on forever…

Hay bales. Sometimes they take up so much space that they look like herds of buffalo…

The government tried to assign street numbers to the rural roads several years back. Didn’t go so well. The farm’s still sitting right where it used to, on Rural Route 3…

We all have places that awaken in us stirrings of memory, where every detail holds for us immense significance (even if the source of that significance be insignificant on a global scale). The Durst family farm does this for me. No matter where I am in the world (and I have been many places), this plot of earth calls me back and reminds me of who I am and where I (and those before me) came from. It speaks to me–I heard its voice as a child, and I hear it still, the insistent tones of something both fundamentally human and fundamentally natural, the fulcrum in the connection between humankind and the earth we call home. I am not a farmer, but I come from farmer’s stock–I do not feed the world, but I belong to the line of those who have. Whether or not I ever lay hand to plow, the hands that did are an integral part of who I am, and I cannot understand myself without first understanding them…

***********************************************************************************

Southeast of the old house lies a field I have traversed dozens of times, from childhood through the present. At the moment it is planted, but since I can remember it has been used as pasture, and venturing across was for neither the faint of heart nor the fancy of footwear. One eye to the horizon, one eye to the ground–those of you who have spent any amount of time on a cattle farm will know what I mean by that. To the left runs Miami Creek, winding its way toward the southeast and the Marais des Cygne, and beyond that, the Osage. To the right, an old, crumbling barbed-wire fence (three strands against straying stock) divides the Durst land from their neighbors to the south. When I was very, very young, it belonged to a couple named V and Francie, at whose house I spent many an hour, staring through the grating in the living room floor into the basement (which hole for some reason I found extremely fascinating). The old house burned in 1998 or ‘9; now all that remains are a few lonesome outbuildings and a water tower or two.

If I had a dime–as the saying goes–for every time I’ve wandered off down one of the gravel roads surrounding the farm, the good old “mile roads,” I’d be a rich man. Financially, at least. In some ways, the mere fact that I have had access to these out of the way avenues fills me with feelings of a different kind of wealth. Everything around me moves so fast: weekday becomes weekend becomes weekday again, clouds fly overhead like some sort of time-lapse film, and it’s hard even to keep up with myself. Which is why walking these lanes bears such an attraction to an overburdened soul supercharged with an overactive mind. Here time almost ceases to lapse, at least for me. I’m transmogrified, alchemized, into my childhood self, waiting impatiently beside the cattle chute for Grandpa and a chance to “steer” the tractor across a pasture or two. I’m young again, ready for a mad dash through pig-puddles in search of the “peepers” called forth by a night of gentle rain, or for a channel-cat hunt at one of the myriad watering holes/stock-ponds scattered around the property. I’m ME again, washed clean of the intervening years of experience, heartache, and “knowing better.” And for an instant–just a brief fleeting instant before I remember who I am–I feel the grip of immortality, given force by my own tarrying ghost which will, I hope, haunt these backroads long, long after I am no more…

Will It Float?

When last we left our intrepid wanderer, he had managed to corner himself in a ridiculously tight deadline. Would he escape? Would he ever be seen again? More importantly, why did he pick today to send Robin for coffee and donuts? Stupid Batman…

Well, the deadline has come and gone, and all (so far) is well. Full proposal submitted, hopefully a confirmation from the Bates County Museum soon to follow. And then, sit back and wait for the shoe to drop. In the meantime, socks it is…

                                                                                                                                                                  **********************************************************

So, back to my travels…

If you’re interested, a link to my route on my way north: http://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Woodway,+TX&daddr=Denton,+TX+to:Whitesboro,+TX+to:Ada,+OK+to:Henryetta,+OK+to:Caney,+KS+to:Yates+Center,+KS+to:Kincaid,+KS+to:Mound+City,+KS+to:LaCygne,+KS+to:Amsterdam,+MO&hl=en&sll=37.020098,-95.899658&sspn=3.784605,8.453979&geocode=FVC-4AEd8sQ0-ik_9VsoZIZPhjEkbyIiFltTVg%3BFXnR-gEd9N01-inRsYjAoExMhjEb-xRIy3REcg%3BFZqNAQIdPFE5-ilj6PTYS_BMhjEJqJLvayE6RQ%3BFQOeEgIdN848-ilNOl9lfmqzhzHGcchQ0Ju-tQ%3BFdLEHAIdiW5H-ilbfjEwFzi0hzHmIELcrWl9-Q%3BFQXANAId5iRI-iklUt6zAGW3hzFmQL9mLAhnnA%3BFTsFQgIdujlL-ikbjfmwLQC5hzGdHkqDreX0DA%3BFWQeRQIdThJU-ilHkACUnJu4hzGAqwg1LY0NBw%3BFVcDRgIde0JZ-imtonWLT2nHhzGg50yGt2VMRg%3BFcUsSQIdfA5a-ilv6ryQqUfHhzFRw4CNgfdt7A%3BFa4rSQIdPq9c-inJdFAWHDvHhzGtIu_0_IOaDA&mra=ls&t=m&z=7

**********************************************************

There’s something about old farmhouses that warms my heart. Solid and square, two-story boxes with a door and windows, the only asymmetry the result of the ubiquitous front porch jutting from the house’s facade, roofed, double-pillared, inviting guests to sit and take a load off, perhaps to sip some cool beverage or other while chatting and watching the sun sink below the horizon on a fresh, spring day, or the burnished leaves drift lazily to the ground with the crisp autumn breeze. Through the screen door, left open for hospitality’s sake, the aroma of dinner in preparation and the concomitant kitchen chatter may float into awareness, bearing with them the ghosts of thousands of foregone meals and conversations that go hand in hand with a well-storied home. These houses promise secrets of small proportions, but of tremendous import to one seeking the remnants of the past as expressed in the everyday lives of the present. Do I romanticize? Definitely. Doesn’t mean it’s not true…

**********************************************************

Someone asked me: What do you do to pass the time when you’re in the car for that long? My answer: That’s why cars have windows (of course, besides the whole matter of “not running into things”). Who needs music or books on tape when one has all the lyrics, all the plot- and storylines, one needs rolled up in the towns, homes, and people flashing past outside. There is more art in a single hand-painted store window, more drama–comedy, tragedy, farce, romance–in the tilt of a weathervane or the sag of a barn roof, than is found in hundreds of pages of novel-writing and hours of minutes of recording time (or rather, those pages and minutes could not exist, and would not make sense, without that spinning rooster or that roofline).

**********************************************************

Anyone who says there is nothing interesting or attractive about Kansas has either spent too much or too little time there. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and lack of the same fosters ignorance. The thing about Kansas is that it is unpredictable. Many times I’ve been headed down a long, flat stretch of highway, convinced that’s all I will see, when a sudden cleft in the ground has plunged me several yards down, through a briefly winding maze, into a surprise ravine or valley, just enough difference to pleasantly punctuate the journey. Or, to my infinite delight, I will happen upon some random piece of fascinating architecture, a church steeple or an old windmill peeking through a canopy of trees in the middle of an otherwise bare landscape. The trick is to let the landscape happen to you, instead of forcing your own preferences upon it. Only then can beauty be appreciated for what it is, and not overshadowed by what we think it should be…

**********************************************************

This just in…

Initial pitch has gone well. Museum endorsement is in. On with the show…