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American History
Osage Highlanders - Chapter 12


“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 her.

"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 chastisement.

"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 agreeable.

Dawn had fixed a simple picnic lunch and they spread it out on the back of the tailgate on the pickup  truck.

"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 environmentalists?"

"You are correct." Pete responded.

"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.

The Ranch House

Historical Renovation Project - The BigEagle-Jones Ancestral Ranch Site, Osage County, Oklahoma


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