ES Independent Column – Panthers

For years, there has been accumulating evidence of mountain lions (or cougars or panthers) residing in Arkansas. The Fish and Game Commission officially denied it, apparently because it was a can of worms that they wanted to avoid opening. Then, last November, a hunter in a deer stand shot one, the first killed in the state since 1975. The cat was out of the bag, as they say.

It’s always a pleasure to hear from readers and I recently had a letter from Genevieve Bowman. In it, she told me of a panther scare in Eureka Springs in the 1940s. It all started with people hearing the trademark shrill scream of a panther. Soon there were reports of sightings of the big cat and men organizing to hunt it. Armed with a shotgun, one local man would walk his grandson home from the night shift at the Basin Movie Theater.

Cora Pinkley Call wrote of the panthers seen and heard by the pioneers of this area and the fear they caused. She wrote in Pioneer Tales that she only knew of one actual attack, though. It was by a female cat emaciated by hunger and  suckling young. A local man was returning home late one night and the panther leapt from a tree onto his back and nearly killed him.

The local panther scare of the 1940s, however, was not what it first appeared to be. Genevieve knows the true story behind the scare. It starts with John Bowman (her future husband) and Wayne Farwell. She wrote that they “got hold of a wooden contraption that slid in and out like a match box. When worked correctly it emitted a shrill yell. They thought how funny it would be to go over to East Mountain and try it out.” When the prank got out of hand and touched off widespread fear, they swore to keep it a secret. Years later, John told Genevieve and she said that “what they meant as a joke turned out to be not so funny.”

ES Independent Column – By Golly

Ernest Schilling (1878-1975) is buried in the Gracelawn Cemetery at Van Buren, Arkansas. On his tombstone is the likeness of a billy goat and the name by which he was most known: “By Golly”. He was a sign painter by trade, but also a talented artist. His trademark was the “By Golly” signature on all of his work.

Though he lived out the end of his days in the Van Buren area, he was a resident of Eureka Springs off and on for many years. He would set up at the side of the road with a sign that read “By Golly, The Sage of Pine Log.” I’m told that tourists would stop to have their likeness drawn or to take his photograph. Though an educated man of Swiss-German heritage, By Golly could look like a stereotypical Arkansas hillbilly with his long beard and floppy hat.

McKinley Weems remembers By Golly being in Eureka Springs in the middle 1930s working on the painting of the big Onyx Cave sign on the building downtown. In those days, By Golly worked out of a cart pulled by a jenny.

McKinley worked in the radio shop in the lower level of the building and outside were barrels full of junk. One cold day, bundled up in winter clothes to keep warm, By Golly was high up painting the Onyx Cave sign when he fell and landed on the barrels below. It is said that the only thing that saved him was the many layers of bulky clothes that he was wearing.

I’ve heard the story that he lived in Seligman, Missouri for awhile and a church hired him to paint a sign. He painted the name of the church and other  information as instructed and at the bottom he signed it “By Golly.” The church was unhappy with the signature and demanded that it be removed. Without a word, By Golly climbed the ladder and painted over the signature. The next time it rained, however, the paint that he used to cover the signature washed away and his “By Golly” signature reappeared.

ES Independent Column – September 1969

Time to dip into my boxes of old Eureka Springs Times-Echo newspapers and see what the past has to tell us. The news of September 25, 1969 was dominated by preparations for the upcoming Ozark Folk Festival. I’ve always heard that the scale of yesteryear’s Ozark Folk Festivals was much larger than that of those held currently, and the newspaper articles confirm this. For instance, the 140-member Razorback Marching Band was slated to lead the festival parade. Another example is that Louise Berry announced that TV Channel 27 out of Springfield, Missouri was going to broadcast a 30 minute program previewing the 1969 festival. Local Eureka Springs musicians and entertainers were to appear on the show.

This front page article caught my eye. The estate of the late Miss Beulah Edge, formerly of Eureka Springs, was left to the United Nations. The estate consisted of $125,000 in cash and 50 oil wells situated on 4,000 acres of land in Roberts County, Texas. The short item states that Miss Edge had a PhD and that her parents were natives of Eureka Springs.

The classifieds are always interesting in the snapshot of the past that they provide. In 1969, one could purchase Avon products from Judy McClelland or buy a 1954 Ford (with radio) for $250.

Prolific writer Virginia Tyler penned three separate columns for the Times-Echo back then. The first reported that 19 had attended the meeting of the Ukulele Club at the New Orleans Hotel. The second column told how seven car loads of folks hiked the old railway line for the meeting of the Alpine Hiking Club. She mentioned that “devil-may-care individuals such as Janie Reeder and Bob Kappen” had walked across the tall trestle. She was disappointed that the old train tunnel was blocked by fencing that they couldn’t scale. Virginia Tyler’s third column was the long running Around Town and it told about George and Ruth Pinkley’s business, the Wardrobe Cleaning Company. She reported that several Birchfields worked there and that “These Ozark hills are full of Birchfields – they are all related, and are the salt of the earth.”

ES Independent Column – Ned Shank

Sometimes I overindulge in the luxury of preconceived notions and it takes an outside force to nudge the trajectory of my thinking. In this case, it was my short association with Ned Shank in the Eureka Springs Rotary Club.

I was working as an accountant in town and my boss was the incoming president of the club. He said he’d put me up for membership (or however it worked) and as I do occasionally try new things, I hesitantly agreed. I didn’t know the first thing about civic clubs at the time and though I had agreed to join, I was a little skeptical about it all.

The Rotary Club met weekly downstairs at Myrtie Mae’s. I showed up at the appointed early hour bleary-eyed but curious. After an omelet made to order, the meeting got down to business and I was surprised at how closely the proceedings mirrored some church services, with music and singing led by Alan Epley and his horn, introduction of guests and a weekly speaker. It all ran smoothly despite some good-natured grumbling by those in the back seats.

I don’t remember if it was the first meeting I attended, or the second, but when things drew to a close, Ned Shank made a bee-line for me. We shook hands, and he loomed over me (he was quite tall) and he enthusiastically endorsed the work of the Rotary Club, both local and world-wide. That was 15 years ago and I don’t recall the exact words Ned spoke, but I’m thoroughly aware of the impact those words wrought. What struck me as interesting is that he seemed well aware of my skepticism, but used reason to make his case. We had a good conversation and I looked forward to more.

It wasn’t too long after I joined the Eureka Springs Rotary Club that Ned Shank was killed in a tragic bicycle accident just west of Eureka. The Ned Shank Wikipedia article states that he was posthumously made a Paul P. Harris Fellow, which is an award given by the Rotary Club.

ES Independent Column – Theo Jackson

In my novel, Murder in the Ozarks, Andy attends church one Sunday morning. “A tall man with a crew cut and black-framed glasses met Andy at the door, welcomed him by name, and handed him a photocopied program.” That line is my earliest recollection of Theo Jackson, handing out bulletins Sunday mornings before church when I attended with Granny. He knew everybody, and everybody knew him.

Theo was a direct descendant of the pioneer doctor Alvah Jackson, the man who many consider the founding father of Eureka Springs. Theo Jackson made a big impression on me. He had a large farm in the Rock Springs area east of Eureka Springs and he was a man of stature in the community and in his church. I was always impressed with how he carried himself with both humor and dignity. We once attended one of his mountain oyster parties and he was a gracious host.

Theo is someone whom I regret that I’ll not have another conversation with. In fact, I feel like he and I started some conversations that were still in play; conversations that we never finished. The last time we talked was in the barber shop and we continued a conversation we’d been having for twenty years about coyotes and wolves.

We lived on Rock Springs Road at one time and Theo was a neighbor. We had a half-grown Anatolian Shepherd pup named Frost and I was concerned about Frost getting along with Theo’s dog. Theo pulled in one day and his dog jumped out of the truck. Frost was probably 80 pounds then and put the dog back into the truck. I apologized, but Theo just said that Frost was doing his job. Over time, Theo grew to think a lot of Frost. He said that he liked to drive by and see Frost standing out with his cows in the pasture because that meant there were no predators around. After we moved to the hollow, Theo called a couple of times just to ask how Frost was doing.

Theo Ulysses Jackson died August 1, 2015 at the age of 88. He will be missed.

Eureka Springs Independent Column

And so another class graduates from Eureka Springs High School and passes into legend. The graduation ceremony was held Friday, May 22 at the new high school gymnasium. It was announced that the 45 members of the graduating class of 2015 have already been awarded over $700,000 in college scholarships.

Also over the weekend, the Eureka Springs High School Alumni Association held its 125th annual banquet and meeting at the Inn of the Ozarks Convention Center.Chairing the meeting was Alumni President Rusty Dycus (Class of 1992).

Diane O’Connor Weems (Class of 1986) welcomed the newly graduated Class of 2015 as members of the Alumni Association. Diane’s daughter Sarah Weems (Class of 2015) responded by accepting the invitation on behalf of the graduating class.

Bobby Pyatt (Class of 1955) was presented the Alumnus of the Year Award by Jeff Reynerson (Class of 1974). Mr. Pyatt is one of the all-time great basketball players from Eureka Springs High School. In the days before the establishment of the three-point shot, he once scored 49 points in a single game. It was also reported that he has a passing resemblance to Cary Grant and is a true gentleman.

Phyllis Albrecht McGuire (Class of 1962) presented Juan Luis Palacios Romero (Class of 2015) with this year’s $1500 Alumni Association Scholarship after reading his excellent essay to the group.

When Ben Rivett (Class of 1964) stepped forward to call the roll of the members present, someone shouted that he was the “best bus driver ever.” I tried to keep track of how many names were called, and the unofficial total I arrived at was an even 100 alumni members present (plus their guests). The oldest class represented was the Class of 1942.

David Stoppel (Class of 1978) read the names of the 14 alumni who had passed away in the previous year.

Association Treasurer Tammy Sherman Bullock (Class of 1991) presented the financial report and Association Secretary Gayla Goff Wolfinbarger (Class of 1981) read the minutes of the 2014 meeting.

The meeting was adjourned after Thalia Colvin-Ortega (Class of 2015) won the Apple iPad.