at the confluence between the Little Missouri River and the Ouachita River, in the remote south Arkansas countryside. My great-great grandfather is buried there. He was a soldier, and then a rural farmer, as many of my relatives have been.
His name was Thomas Jefferson Doggett, and he lies buried in the Missouri church cemetary. He and some friends started the Missouri Methodist Church just after the Civil War ended. He had fought for the Confederate side, receiving a number of wounds during the gory Tennessee campaign, while serving in an Alabama regiment.
His mother-in-law, my great-great-great grandmother, is buried beside him. She was an Adams, a descendant of John Quincy Adams. You can't read her gravestone anymore. We just know that it is hers.
We drove to the new bridge over the Little Missouri at Tate's Bluff. Tate's Bluff is as old as 1820 or so. It was a stopping point for the riverboat traffic. When the riverboat stopped coming, Tate's Bluff stopped growing. A couple of families have lived there for generations beyond memory. One was a family of farmers, but each boy was educated as a mechanical engineer. The family father felt that he could teach agriculture, but he could not teach machines. The girls tended to become schoolteachers, in the unequal way that places like this worked then. I have a distant cousin who lives out there. He is an agriculture professor at a school forty miles away, but he and his wife live out in distant Tate's Bluff because that's home for him.
I do not know the last time, if ever, I went to Tate's Bluff. Unless one lives there, it is out of the way even if one is already in an out of the way place in Ouachita County. The old bridge is gone. A new bridge is still only partially built, all tall steel girders like a giant red skeleton. People have to go around the river a different way. My father fished that spot when he was a kid. I will fish it when I next get a chance.
On the drive back, we saw a coyote, out in a field that used to be a farm. My parents, who both grew up locally, said that they did not have so many deer and coyote when they were kids. The countryside was instead tiny contiguous farms. My father remembers when a coyote was caught by a trapper. It became something people came for miles to see. The coyote was small but well-fed. He ran when my wife rolled a window down.
Today my father and I drove to Murfreesboro, seventy miles away,to the Crater of Diamonds State Park. It was 37 degrees when we arrived, but it warmed later. The plowed fields were particularly muddy. My father said "good morning" to the three "regulars", locals who hunt for diamonds "professionally". They did not say "hi" back--civilty can inevitably lead to shared confidences, I guess, and this must be avoided at all costs. Diamond hunters are secretive, as if they have the knowledge to find precious jewels. They dig deep holes, and they drive metal rods into the ground, apparently trying to drill for a vein. In the early 20th Century, commercial operations trying to mine would mysteriously burn in the middle of the night. "DeBoers", some whisper, but I have no knowledge of the truth. Gems and intrigue--Judith Krantz would approve.
I looked for diamonds, but mostly I picked up jasper, quartz, calcite and a greenish rock whose name I cannot recall. I may have to get a new rock tumbler to smooth my finds. I walked on the new nature trail, the "Prospector's Trail". I saw two white-tailed deer, or at least their torsos, and huge, white, tails, hopping from here to there, all springy and active. We hunted the plowed fields for diamonds for hours. Then we went into town, 1700 people, and looked at the little variety store.
We arrived home so exhausted. My wife and I go to Texas again tomorrow. It's been a grand visit. I did not find a diamond. I also have not seen a bald eagle, though they over-winter nearby. That's okay--I need goals. Last night I watched "It's a Wonderful Life", in some new version in which President GHW Bush, the first one, reads stage directions to assist visually impaired folks. I cried, as usual, at the ending, little tears that welled up, but no sobs.