“Would you look how these
wild plum bushes have just grown all over everything? I simply cannot
believe it!” Dawn shook her head as she was busy trying to make some sense
out of the whole scene around the old ranch house.
"Gramma Bell made jelly with
wild plums and Dad said the bunch growing behind the house came up from her
throwing the seeds out. These bushes going to brush are not desirable in
the roughest of circumstances, except maybe beside a river where they can
hold the soil. However, they were wonderful for jelly. We enjoyed it so
much. Hot... biscuits, home made butter and jelly. Yum!" Dawn could not
forget Gramma Bell's sand plum jelly.
"I believe if we look around
and about this area we will find the floor for the old garage. It was big
and I remember it being a sort of activity center where car and farm
equipment was maintained. The cabinets for tools hung on the east wall.
They reached almost to the ceiling.” She remembered the doors to be always
locked. “Uncle Dennis was such a stickler about his tools. He was such a
grouch everyone would get them back to him rather than be nagged eternally
as to whether the tool had been returned to its rightful place. Seems like
it was almost a ritual of some sort for him.” “Did you put those pliers
back? Where are they?” Dawn could still hear and see him in her mind. Of
course, a little girl didn't know how valuable tools were, especially this
far out when it would not be smart to be running back and forth to town for
this or that tool.
“We didn't have any
designated place for parking during the smoke off. What do you think about
using that cement floor, if we can find it, for parking? Parking would be
to one side of the house and not just scattered all over the prairie.”
"Well, I can't see anything
wrong with that," Pete agreed with her. "It is a matter of getting through
all of this jungle of undergrowth."
They began the chore and,
without too much difficulty, found the cement slab of the old garage.
The nails were all thick on the floor under the grass.
"Look! I guess these nails
fell out from the garage when it burned." Dawn could see she must not let
these things bother her if she was going to make progress. "It will make a
good area for the cars to park." What destruction happened, happened. The
woman remembered back to her own childhood when they lived in a disappearing
town. As children they were warned repeatedly not to intrude, destroy, or in
any way tamper with anyone else's property in the way of the old building
left deserted. Respect was not taught in this case. Here was the evidence
of that and it had a name. It was called vandalism.
She let her mind drift back
to her childhood and she could hear her father, Lee Otis, sweeping the floor
of the garage. "Daddy?" the little girl asked, "Where did you get that
funny looking broom?"
"It is just a bunch of that
old broom weed. I've tied it to a stick. It was what your Gramma Bell used
out on those dirt floors in our half-dugout in the Oklahoma Panhandle when I
was a kid about your size.
"What's a half dugout?" She
had loved these discussions with her father. He never talked down to her and
if there were words she didn't understand he would carefully explain them to
"Well girl," he would begin.
"A half dugout was what our home was called. They dug down into the ground
like we would if we were building a cellar these days. Instead of covering
it over with earth there was a half house built on top of the place they had
dug out, and that is where we lived." Lee never went into a complete
discussion of his feeling about the house. As she became older he would
leave a situation at a place where she would have to think the thing
through. In fact, she was around thirty-eight years old before she had
completely mastered the technique herself. She had seen her father picturing
things in his mind as to what he was going to do. His formulating each step
and discussing it with her gave the child the same ability. The first time
she was slowly beginning to learn the habit it was a great feeling to know,
beforehand, exactly where she was going with a project, be it a dress to sew
or a canvas to paint.
“Today,” she told Pete, "I
feel like a varmint myself, digging around in all this rich soil. Maybe
like a badger or something. You and I have had to try to turn our clay soil
into something and after all these years it is still a pain. But this! Just
look! Maybe it is from the years of sitting here that made it like a rich
mix of potting soil or compost. How wonderful it would be if the whole earth
was like this.
"I think this is the reason I
want to keep the parking on this cement slab. It would beat the soil down to
drive on it." The German neighbor we had next door absolutely frightened his
and my nephew completely because the boy drove the pick up on the edge of
the pond's dam. “The boy,” Dawn remembered, “had been big eyed and wary
of his Uncle. He was just about all over me, and I didn't know I was not
supposed to drive up there."
"Guess you know it now!"
The boy's mother smiled rather than being upset about the boy's
"Yeah but, gosh, did he have
to get so loud?" The boy was at that moment still a little nervous as he had
been made completely aware of his error. Dawn laughed to herself as she told
Pete about the incident. "The Germans, they were the masters of caring for
land. Well maybe except for Dad."
She and Pete had worked
together all these years and they were comfortable with each other. Now as
Dawn began to notice the sun high in the sky she told him, "My stomach says
it is time for lunch, what do you think?"
"Okay by me," he was
Dawn had fixed a simple
picnic lunch and they spread it out on the back of the tailgate on the
"The end results will have to
be the reward," Dawn told Pete. Although, as she looked about her at the
old overgrown yard she began to wonder if her thinking was straight. It
wasn't for gain, she didn't want to own the old place. Who could pay the
taxes? Speaking of taxes, right now, this is trust land but as time goes,
along with the need for money the government has, these lands will, no
doubt, be taxed. This is when the family will have to kiss the place
good-bye, for sure.
"Don't think about it. Just
go on and do the right thing," she told herself. “It is the exercise and
fresh air I need to keep healthy." With this she dismissed anything more
than one step at a time.
As the dark of evening
approached, Dawn was satisfied with their labors. She was tired but there
was no aching in her body. The exercise had left her free of stress. "Let's
wind this little ball of yarn up." Dawn remarked to Pete. "We can just leave
that brush in a pile and take care of it later. I'm sure it will still be
here. I'm going to get into the truck so I don't have to smell that spray we
brought for the poison ivy." Pete was used to her bossy ways and wasn't
even put off by them.
One more time they made the
drive up through the prairie to come up on the old place. Dawn never went
that way without feeling at one with her ancestors. Some of the folks who
made the trip for the first time were reluctant to drive into the back
country of Oklahoma. They were actually afraid of what might confront them.
This is what fed and regenerated prejudices and some called it a collusion
to keep down the unity of up building, positive, forward movement. This
could not be acceptable even if the wanton destruction of her family's
property and life was not involved. One must think about the lives of
those yet to be born--of grand nieces, and nephews. There seemed to be a
race to get in and out before the arrival of someone or other to interfere
with her documenting necessary material; and the hurrying to work while
there was still light.
"Too bad Dad's old wind
generator can't be rigged up. I guess that has been gone for so many years
no one remembers it but me. It sat to the northeast of the house where the
well house covered the well. He hand carved those blades out of boards and
they worked just fine."
Dawn knew her husband, who
was a master electrician and an electronics engineer, could have rebuilt the
thing but he wasn't making any volunteering for the job. So, she excepted
the way things were, maybe for the first time. There was just such a sadness
about it for her. Evidently, no pulling of the family back together was
possible. What awful pride held each person with such strength they did not
even have the desire to reunite-- not one of them other than herself.
Her cousins who owned the
place were in another state totally removed from here and, although this was
more land than they held any place else, their home had always been away
from here. They felt there was no reason for them to return. She could not
know what was involved to keep them away from their own holdings. What
fears, what sorrows, did they still have? Or was it their need to protect
their own from the tragedies they knew had happened here? They did not
think about what was without question eventually coming down as to taxes,
even though this had happened to the great estates of Europe. Only with
humble revamping of buildings and opening them to the public for monetary
income were the owners able to hold on to their ancestor's lands.
"Why must the earth and its
beauty pay for our imperfections." This is such a really rare jewel. This
location is free of pollution. It is clean and quiet with breathtaking
vistas. The sunrises and sunsets, clean water, everything young people need
to grow and prosper. I guess we will just have to record the memory of the
good things to have gone on here. There were so many. I don't want to
believe it is a lost cause as far as saving the old place, but maybe it is.
"Let's get these photographs
done. The documentation is a valuable record for historical purposes. How do
you wipe the most beautiful part of your life out of your mind?” Dawn wanted
to know. "I know Dad had to make the decision he did to leave this place,
breaking up his and Uncle Dennis's partnership. I still have great respect
for him and no matter how his work has been destroyed the record will always
be here if only in writings and my mind. He loved the land and his saying,
'Inch by inch, everything is a cinch" will always make sense.
"Let's see, let me get this
down," Dawn was completing her notes. "Between the well house and the main
house set two tenant houses. Their cement foundations are still here. To the
north and east was another tenant house. There was also a good size chicken
house setting to the back of the main house out in back of the cellar. I
don't know if the foundation would be there for that or not. The dairy barn
was more to the north and east of the well house. It has a very large
foundation I'm sure. The cement was poured so it has a trough down the
middle in order for them to keep the floors clean, which was necessary for a
dairy. This reminded her, there was plumbing to each building under the
ground. When Pete and she lived here she had water running out to the
barnyard area where they had at one time watered the stock. At that time
the barnyard for her garden. The fresh vegetables were a necessary provision
for there diet.
"Speaking of underground
things, what about the gasoline tank buried at the east side of the old
front gate? I wonder if it still has gasoline in it? I remember your Dad
telling me about its location," Pete commented. There should be some sort of
cement base there still where the pump stood." He wanted her to make a
note of this.
“I do remember the pump
there. We used to fill our cars with gasoline before we left for whatever
trip. Aren't those things supposed to be dug up, according to the
"You are correct." Pete
"At the end of the rock wall
to the east was the hay barn. It was metal and I don't know about the
foundation for it. A tornado destroyed it around 1953 or 54, we were told.
That barn was as big as the dairy barn, but was built more like a big shed
with a peaked roof. The dairy barn was the classic old barn with a loft. You
see pictures of some still existing. It had a hay loft on top with two doors
on the side on the bottom and a hoist out of the loft to lift bales of hay.
They parked a fire engine in
the back part of it for years. It was that big. For some reason I was
always afraid of that old fire engine. Maybe Mother had frightened us of it
in order to keep us away and out of it because of the chance to get hurt."
All these things Dawn was carefully recording so she could lay out a
painting she was planning to complete of the old place. This painting was
completed in the year 2000.
Historical Renovation Project
- The BigEagle-Jones Ancestral Ranch Site, Osage County, Oklahoma