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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Arkansas Toothpick by Joyce Faulkner

Pat Avery evaluating the heft of a Bowie knife

Travel can teach you some pretty interesting things -- and some funny ones too.

While preparing for a trip to Gettysburg last spring, I was looking into the Third Arkansas which fought with the Texans and Alabamians trying to take Little Round Top on the second day of the battle. The unit is mostly known for the slaughter around Devil's Den. Now, being from Arkansas, this was something that I knew about -- vaguely. However, in my refresh, I found a reference to a weapon called the Arkansas Toothpick. I'm not a student of instruments of war so my ignorance of this item surprised no one -- not even me. I was intrigued and horrified. The very sound of it brought images of something long and thin and evil.

Bowie Knife
A few months later, my husband Johnny and I traveled with my writing partner Pat Avery and her husband Everett to Pope County. Arkansas on a research trip. While we were there we met with old friends, Evelyn and Paul. Now Paul is a collector and a knife maker. As he was showing us some of his treasures, we found a Bowie knife made by Art Wiman.

Neither Pat nor I had ever seen a real life example of one and we took turns pretend slicing and jabbing and getting our photos taken with it. It was heavy and long -- longer than any knife I'd ever held before. Clearly it was meant for the tasks of a world we'd never experienced. Sure it would be deadly in a knife fight -- although frankly, I've never attacked anyone with a blade and that made it hard to judge just how helpful that shape and heft would be in such a situation. However, I could see its uses for living in the wilderness. It would be great for slicing and hacking and digging and ... um...deboning.

On a whim, I asked Paul if he had ever heard of the Arkansas Toothpick. "Oh yes," he said. "I have one."

Wow! Paul had an Arkansas Toothpick?

"Would you like to see it?"

"Would I?"

Arkansas Toothpick
Handle by Art Wiman, blade by Paul
Miniatures by Paul
I glanced at my husband who rolled his eyes and laughed. I stuck out my lower lip. I turned to Pat who grinned. She at least understood my need to see and touch an Arkansas Toothpick at least once in my life.

Paul disappeared and a few minutes later came back with something wrapped in a cloth. There it was...shiny, treasured, and deadly. Wow! Double wow! If you put aside the issue that this was clearly designed to stab something -- probably a human being, it was really cool. A thing of beauty, it was obviously made by a talented person with an eye for art and history. I held it. Like the Bowie Knife it was heavy. I imagined the Third Arkansas marching to war with these things strapped onto their backs. I tried lifting it over my head as if to impale something on the floor. Whoa. Back pain. Clearly this toothpick wasn't meant for old ladies in stretch pants.

As we drove away, I was in awe of do you call those folks who make Arkansas Toothpicks?  Knifemakers? Blade smiths? I consulted that bastion of information, Google. Apparently there are many knife enthusiasts out there and the folks who fulfill their needs are called "cutlers." Whatever these artists are called, I was already crafting a story centered around this  polished treasure.

Hmmm. Do you think the ones used by the Third Arkansas at Devil's Den were as pretty as this one?

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