Old Bridge Over the Kings River

This old postcard depicts the US 62 highway bridge that once crossed the Kings River between the Arkansas cities of Eureka Springs and Berryville. It was sometimes dangerous because of its narrowness, but I still miss it. The new bridge is five lanes wide and undoubtedly safer but its also ugly. With its elegant arches, I thought the bridge on the postcard was a beautiful structure. I don’t know what year the old bridge was dedicated, but at the ribbon cutting, Jack McCall rode the first horse across it.

Kings River Bridge postcard

Eureka Springs Independent Column

Ray Freeman of Eureka Springs, Arkansas was known for his honesty and integrity. Toward the end of his life, he had O’Connor’s Texaco (now the location of Sparky’s) service his automobile. When the work was completed,  Doris O’Connor returned the car to Mr. Freeman. What she didn’t realize is that she had accidentally left the Texaco’s bank deposit on the front seat of Ray’s vehicle. Duane O’Connor said that if you had to leave a bag of your money in someone’s car, you couldn’t find a safer person to leave it with than Ray Freeman.

Ray Freeman and his wife Chloe moved to Eureka Springs in 1921 soon after the birth of their son Bob and while their other son Charles was a toddler. Though new residents to Eureka Springs, Ray was a member of a historic family that had long played a prominent role in the affairs of Berryville and Carroll County.

Quite successful, Ray Freeman stayed active in the business world. A sampling of his endeavors include the grocery business, partnering with Eagle Thomas in a variety of entrepreneurial pursuits (including Onyx Cave), and operating cabins on the White River. He later founded Camp Joy, which evolved into the Joy Motel. He was a mayor of Eureka Springs and a charter member of the local Rotary Club. He also leased Lake Leatherwood.

The infamous Dr. Norman Baker once started a feud with Ray Freeman over integrity. He lived to regret it. Apparently, the Freemans had warned visitors away from becoming patients at Baker’s cancer hospital. In a open letter published in the Daily Times-Echo newspaper on June 15, 1939, Dr. Baker retaliated by accusing Mr. and Mrs. Ray Freeman of damaging the economy of Eureka Springs. The long letter had “language tending to impeach the honesty, integrity, veracity and reputation” of the Freemans, according to the charges brought against Dr. Baker by the prosecuting attorney. Norman Baker fought the charges tooth and nail at every level, but, in the end, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that he was guilty of libel and upheld the fine of $2,500 (equal to roughly $42,000 today).

Eureka Springs Independent Column

Looking at an old 1963 Eureka Springs Times-Echo newspaper, I found a photograph of John Cross holding the heads of an antelope and a deer. He’d just returned from a hunting trip where he’d also hunted grouse and partridges and toured Yellowstone National Park. I looked at that picture several times before I realized why my eye kept being drawn to it. Behind Mr. Cross is the International Travelall that would later become our family vehicle.

Fast forward a decade to Athens, Greece and that same International Travelall is rumbling through a crowd of anti-American demonstrators who are banging on the windows and yelling for the Yankees to go home. There is shouting about Henry Kissinger. Interesting times.

I have the vague memory of travelling from Eureka Springs to New York City in the International so that it could be shipped to Europe. Donnie Weems served with the Greek Navy on the Island of Salamina for three years. He had graduated from the Defense Language Institute and spoke the language. Daily he would either drive the International to the ferry or ride with coworkers.

Similar in size to a Suburban, the International Travelall was a 1962 model with a unique four wheel drive system. It seemed capable of going places that many vehicles were unable to go. I remember that my father was proud of how it had once rescued a newborn calf from death in deep snow.

So much bigger than the typical Greek vehicle, the Travelall made an impression on the locals and earned the nickname, “The Tank.” After some men tried to steal it, my father employed his electronics know-how to install an ignition lock that could only be overridden by a number code. Mounted on the large front bumper was a mechanical winch that Dad once used to hang the vehicle (or at least the front half) from a limb in a tree. I’m not exactly sure why.

The old International plays a distinct role in our family lore and my father never did part with it. It remains where he parked it last.

Eureka Springs Independent Column

During his teenage years, my father worked at the Basin Park Hotel as a bellhop. The  Eureka Springs’ landmark was then owned by prominent banker and attorney Claude Fuller. My father had many stories about the hotel and the various characters who would hang around, including some about Mr. Fuller.

He told the story of mopping the hotel lobby before school one morning while Claude Fuller sat in a chair reading the newspaper. My father mopped around the chair and waited for Mr. Fuller to lift his feet so he could mop under them, as was their custom. When Claude didn’t lift his feet, my father dropped the mop and said, “If you won’t lift your feet, you can mop the floor yourself. I have to go to school,” and stormed out of the hotel. He said Claude looked up at him with wide eyes, but didn’t say a word. My father returned to work later and neither ever mentioned the incident.

Mr. Fuller must have liked my father, though, because he hired him to be his driver on certain occasions. For instance, my father chauffeured him to the 1960 Arkansas Democratic Convention in Little Rock. I take it for granted that Claude Fuller made an impression on my father. When my dad talked about Mr. Fuller, he could recall their conversations in detail.

I think about that long drive to Little Rock with just the two of them in the car and try to see it through my father’s eyes. He was a teenager at the time, so I can just imagine what it would be like for a kid to spend time with not only the boss, but a former Mayor and Congressman who many considered to be the richest and most powerful man in town.

I sometimes contribute photographs and information to the genealogy website www.findagrave.com. Claude Fuller is the only person that it rates as “famous” in the list of 3,292 internments in the Eureka Springs IOOF Cemetery.

Eureka Springs Independent Column

I’ve always thought that it isn’t the height of her hills that make the Ozarks unique, but rather the depth of her hollows. Twenty years ago, I had been to Seligman, Missouri via federally funded pavement when I decided to return home using the rough, scenic shortcut through Butler Hollow.

It must have recently rained, because when I drove down a dip in the road and crossed a creek branch, the engine of my little gray Chevy pickup stalled. Because that wasn’t my first dead engine after crossing water, I decided to give it some time to dry out. I waited and turned the key. No luck. I tinkered and waited and turned the key. Still no good. Finally, darkness came upon me. Because this happened during that primitive time before widespread cellular communication, I decided to knock on doors and beg assistance.

I walked down the road enjoying the night sounds. With no particular place to be, I was rather enjoying my little adventure. I heard the call of a whip-poor-will and when it came into view, the distinct squat bird was in the middle of the road in a pool of clear moonlight. I tried to skirt the bird the best I could so as not to disturb it, when suddenly it was up off the ground and I felt its body slam into the side of my head. Startled, I ducked down and trotted into the deep shadows of the trees ahead, when the bird slammed into the back of my head. I now ran full speed down the dark country road. The bird swooped in and landed on top of my head either pecking or clawing. I escaped alive. Ground nesting birds are either tough or dead, I suppose.

There are a handful of houses along the east side of the road in that Arkansas section of Butler Hollow, but no one seemed to be home, except maybe at the house with the pack of inhospitable canines. Five miles from where I broke down, I did find Smead Walden at home watching the ten o’clock news. After quizzing me about my family tree, he allowed me to use the telephone. Help arrived and we returned to my pickup. It started up without problem.