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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Bass Reeves, US Marshal

Bass Reeves statue

Bass Reeves was born a slave in 1848. He grew up in Arkansas but fled to Indian Territory during the Civil War. He lived with the Indians and learned to speak several languages.

In 1875, Isaac Parker became the federal judge responsible for the Indian Territory. Based in Ft. Smith, he immediately built a contingent of US Marshals to protect the peace and ensure justice. Its 75,000-square-mile territory made it the largest court district in the nation.

Bass Reeves became the first African-American marshal west of the Mississippi River. Over his lifetime, he developed a reputation as an extraordinary and well-respected lawman.

Ross Pendergraft Park leading to
the FS Historic Site
For 32 years, Reeves served as a deputy marshal. He is credited with arresting more than 3,000 criminals during this period. Although he killed more than a dozen outlaws in self-defense, he was never wounded.

Sadly, he also had the responsibility to arrest his own son who was accused of murdering his wife. Bennie was tried, convicted and served out his sentence at Ft Leavenworth, Kansas.

After Oklahoma became a state, Reeves, at age 68, joined the Muskogee Police Department. He served two years before bad health led to his retirement.

Ft Smith has erected a statue in his honor which stands at Ross Pendergraft Park near the Ft. Smith National Historic Site and the Arkansas River.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

He Promised Me Africa - Part 11 - Ngorogoro Crater, Tanzania

Ngorogoro Crater, 1999, Tanzania, Africa. This mountain blew its top a long, long time ago. The first three pix are at a rest stop as we climbed the mountain on the most atrocious road ever...winding, narrow, rocky...filled with holes. We hit a big bump and one of the taller women in our van was thrown up from her seat and banged her head on the roof. This same woman had already hit her head a couple of times getting in the the van so she was done with Africa after this day. She wasn't enthusiastic to begin with so she refused to go on any of the game runs after that. Too bad.

Ngororgoro Crater was fabulous. It contained just about every species in Africa except giraffes. Apparently, the slopes were too steep for our long-necked friends. In our two days there we saw the Big Five -- lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo, and leopard...although, you could have fooled me about the leopard. They said it was so and everyone bought Big Five TShirts but I guess it was so.
Our hotel was on the rim of the crater and we could look out over it from our porch. This was the first place we could hear animals roaming outside our rooms. By this time, I was seriously looking for snakes...but as you know, no snakes ever made an appearance for me. However, hyenas were very were elephants and lions...hard to miss their night time coughing roars.

We had seen the Masai village and we had been traveling all day...I was hot and tired and very I go into the bathroom to take a shower and the water was dark brown...yuck...time for baby wipes.

The next morning, this beauty (see last pic) was nesting on our roof.😊 We enjoyed him/her for a while until we remembered all the sounds we'd heard throughout the we hustled up the path to breakfast in the main pavilion.

Breakfast was almost always a spread of fruits, bangers, scrambled eggs, and cold baked beans. Remembering the dirty water in the shower, I was suspicious of the coffee ... but they assured me that shower water and drinking water were different. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am exceedingly picky about my coffee...and I just couldn't get past the shower water I stuck with bottled water...even though Johnny pointed out that I didn't know where that came from either.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Fort Smith AR is a city on the move

Possum mural, part of
The Unexpected Project

Although Fort Smith is old and loves its history of frontier days, today it is a city brimming with life and progress.

Let me start by saying I love the old and the history. The National Historic Site tells us much about the early days on the frontier. From the destination point of the Trail of Tears to Judge Parker and his infamous courtroom, the area makes visitors pause and study our past. It's not always pretty.

Another mural
Belle Point, at the site of the original fort, is a beautiful spot where two rivers join - the Poteau and the Arkansas. However, I'm sure its natural beauty was lost on the tired, displaced Cherokee at the end of their torturous trip.

Evening view from
the River Walk
Across the river, Oklahoma provided wide open territory and a new home, not only to the Indians, but in many cases, to those escaping the law. For years, US Marshals tracked criminals and brought them back to Judge Parker's court. A visit to the jail and courtroom produces plenty of evidence of the "wanted" people who traversed the area. "Hanging Judge Parker" sentenced 160 men and women to death by hanging. The jail became known as "the most horrible prison" in the country in its time.

Although you can revisit history, today's Fort Smith is filled with art, culture, great food and a beautiful trail along the Arkansas River.

 In July this year, the third annual "The Unexpected: Festival of Murals" will bring in world-renown artists to create public art masterpieces. The diversity of murals delighted me - from black-and-white larger than life human figures to bright abstract pieces, I loved them all. Since I'm an animal lover, I have to mention the possum mural that I had to drive by multiple times! Part of the fun is driving around town and discovering each one.

Clayton House
Take time to enjoy the new river walk area. It's a great place to combine exercise with nature. Sunsets on the river provide a great opportunity for camera enthusiasts. Heat is an issue this time of year, so early morning or evenings are ideal times to explore the trail.

Museums provide diverse histories ranging from the art museum and trolley museum to the fort, the Clayton House and Miss Laura's (now the Visitors Center) which tells differing

Luke poses at the Elvis Presley
Barbershop Museum
sides of the area's history. Fort Chaffee (now Chaffee Crossing) is home to the Elvis Presley Barbershop Museum and the WWII Museum.

After a day discovering the city, thoughts of food take over. Fort Smith has some outstanding restaurants.

Neumeier's Rib Room
I've enjoyed Doe's Eat Place, R Landry's Cajun Restaurant, La Huerta and Joe's Grill and Cantina. On a prior visit, I ate lunch at the Bricktown Brewery and this year a group of us enjoyed Neumeier's Rib Room. I can easily recommend all of them. And I only tried a few of the city's offerings.
Bread pudding at R Landry's

Bricktown Brewery

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Even tigers may need to be rescued

Big cats that are brought to the US as pets often end up in refuges. I recently re-visited Cedar Cove Tiger Sanctuary located near Louisburg, Kansas, about 20 miles south of the Kansas City area on US Hwy 69.

Cedar Cove is a non-profit facility and is currently raising money to acquire much-needed additional land. Check out their videos at

We visited late in the day when it was hot and most of the animals were resting. I especially enjoyed watching the white Bengal tigers as they twitched their paws, got up, stretched and settled back down again.

We watched them until the park closed for the day. I wanted to share some of my photos with you.

If you're near Kansas City, plan a visit to Cedar Cove. The staff loves spending time with visitors and talking about their big cats.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Not an easy life in the 1840s US Army

At the 175th anniversary event at Ft Scott (KS), I met a group of re-enactors who filled in the blanks on some basic questions about a soldier's life in the 1840s.

The base pay for an enlisted man was $7 per month and a sergeant made $10. I didn't realize how low that was until I researched According to the site, agricultural laborers, carpenter, hat makers, printers and others earned around $150 per month, which makes it easy to see why our government had difficulty recruiting enlistees. Because of this, the regular army consisted mostly of foreign-born immigrants.

When the Mexican-American War broke out, Congress approved President Polk's request to generate 50,000 volunteer troops. These men maintained strong ties to their home states. Also, because they were citizen-soldiers, discipline was more relaxed.
Heather, a laundress

The re-enactors I met represented both regular and volunteer units. The infantry units operated the fort while the dragoons patrolled the area. With the original mission of safeguarding the "permanent Indian frontier," they settled disputes and protected the Indians until the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846.

In my conversation with Heather, a "laundress" re-enactor, she explained that each unit had four laundresses to care for the soldier's clothing. The number of soldiers averaged 70-80, and each one paid 50 cents a month for laundry services. The four laundresses divided the wages, each earning around $10 per month.

One of the re-enactors jokingly said, "That's why the 1st Sergeants wanted to court a laundress. If they married, he doubled his income."

Heather explained that when the men wanted clothing mended, they would pay additional money.

Since the laundresses were civilians, they were responsible for most of their own expenses. The army provided them with a tent. We agreed that it was a hard life. I'm sorry I didn't ask her how the women applied for their positions.

The volunteer units could be a rag-tag bunch. Many didn't have uniforms and even when uniforms were available, there was little consistency to style. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

He Promised Me Africa Part 9 - Nosy Be 2

Nosy Be is an unusual tourist environment. At the time that we waded in from our catamaran, it was hot -- so hot that the parts of us not in the water were already sweating as we reached the beach. There were all kinds of merchants with their wares spread out on the sand as we emerged from the ocean like lumbering sea creatures. The first person to catch my eye started a sales pitch but I was more interested in ice water and rushed past her to where our guide was handing out bottles from a cooler. Apparently, her approaching me was improper and the man on the mat next to her castigated her loudly. We gulped down water and watched them argue with mild amusement, remembering other inexplicable arguments in Japan that we'd witnessed.

A boat on the beach and some of the islanders beautiful lace clothes.

The folks who had waded in from the catamaran with us were in a foul mood. The gift shops were rustic for their tastes, their sandals were soggy, their purses were heavy, there were no air-conditioned buses...and it was bloody hot. We stayed back a ways as we followed the guide through the village.

Our first stop was the village school. What lovely kids. Poor things have to stop what they are doing and make nice with the tourists. They were terribly sweet though.

Nosy Be version of Chez Joseph Boutique on Nosy Komba.

Beautiful young woman and her baby. The face paint surely has a culture base to it, but we were told that it helps protect from the bright sun. As I was totally burned by this time, I really wanted to get my face painted but the team wanted to move on.

Villagers grinding up something.

Another villager separating something.

Our guide leading us into the jungle.

The jungle has spiders and other creepy crawlers that drop down out of the trees on you or crawl up your bare legs if you are wearing short shorts and cork sandals. 

When we finally got to see the lemurs, they were tired. Every group who had passed before us had fed the same little troop of these pretty little critters tiny red bananas and they lay on the branches like this, their tummies round and hard. 

"But I wanted to feed them, " I cried.

None of them responded to my banana. The guide tried and tried. Finally one of them stretched, sighed deeply as if to say, "Oh okay, I'll eat your crumby banana." Then he reached down and accepted the offering. 

I didn't actually see him eat it, mind you. I'm guessing he had a secret hiding place somewhere in that tree. It's a tough life.

Not sure if we are looking back at the village from the jungle or seeing the village as we come out of the jungle. You see, the jungle turned out to be the last straw for the fellow who wanted to be first. The whole thing was a disappointment to him once it was clear we would be last and he was ready to go back to the ship immediately. His wife scolded him and they went with the tour for a while...but then she turned her ankle. As soon as she wanted to go back, so did everyone else. No fort on top of the mountain for us that day.

Johnny sitting on the front porch of the "hotel." As you can see, he's flushed and overheated. If the truth be told, for all my funny asides about our fellow tourists caught unprepared for this particular island, even with boots and long pants (me), the jungle was tough going and I was ready to wade back to the boats and return to ship.

When we got into our cabin, the air condition was heavenly and we slept until up for dinner...and then went back to sleep...which is why Nosy Be is the only island in Madagascar that we visited.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ft Scott National Historic Site celebrated its 175th birthday

On May 30, 1842, the US Army established a new post on the frontier - Ft. Scott (KS) named for General Winfield Scott. As settlers rode west, they encroached more and more upon Indian lands. The US had promised a "permanent Indian frontier" and forts were opened from Minnesota to Louisiana to protect this right. Ft. Scott was one of those forts.

Soldiers did their best to keep peace between the white settlers, the native Indians and the relocated tribes from the East. It couldn't have been an easy assignment.

Officers' quarters
Life was neither exciting or easy for the infantry soldiers and dragoons (soldiers who fought both on horseback and on foot). The infantry soldiers built the fort while the dragoons patrolled the surrounding area.

By 1842, Texas had declared its independence from Mexico and was recognized as the Republic of Texas. Traffic was increasing along the new Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. As conflicts arose, the dragoons were sent to keep peace. They rode escort on the trail in 1843. In 1844, they marched into Pawnee country to settle issues with the Sioux. In 1845, they patrolled the Oregon Trail.

Then in 1845, Texas became a state. President Polk, in his expansionist mode, wanted the lands that are currently California, Arizona and New Mexico. He instigated the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) by occupying disputed border lands.

Ft Scott sent troops to fight in the war. Some dragoons marched with Stephen Kearney into New Mexico and California and other served with Zachary Taylor at the Battle of Buena Vista (where the US defeated Santa Ana's troops). Infantry soldiers also took part in General Scott's march to Mexico City.

Meanwhile, westward expansion continued. The war ended with Mexico ceding California, Arizona and New Mexico to the US. By this time, all thoughts of a permanent Indian territory had gone by the wayside and Ft Scott was abandoned in 1853. I wonder if there are Indian re-enactors who portray what their ancestors experienced during those years.

Just a few short years later, the developing war between the pro-slavery folks of Missouri and the abolitionists descending into the Kansas Territory created a renewed need for the fort.

At the 175th anniversary celebration on June 3, re-enactors arrived from across the country to portray life in the fort in the 1840s. We watched artillery and cannon demonstrations, learned about the uniforms of the period and the various units, and watched dragoons conducting sword practice.

One of the speakers portrayed a soldier from the 1st Regiment of Mounted Volunteers from Missouri, which served under Colonel Alexander Doniphan. He explained that at the time, the regular army consisted of around 5,500 men eligible for battle. To build our forces, President Polk authorized Congress to raise 50,000 volunteers. Missouri sent five regiments of volunteers.

If you've never attended a living history event, you're missing out on an opportunity to learn about our past. Although I have very little knowledge of weapons and the various military units, I enjoy the presentations.

The noise and the smoke are two realities of battle that I never suspected until I attended a re-enactment. At this event, just a few muskets created both. It makes it a little easier to understand the deafening noise and eye-watering smoke that filled the air. Multiplying the number by thousands stretches the imagination. Add cannon fire and human voices and I suspect a soldier's ears rang and his nose burned for days after a battle.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Fort Smith (AR), a fascinating city to visit

Belle Point, Arkansas River

Southern charm and the wild, wild west come together to make Ft Smith, Arkansas, a fun place to visit. Okay, so the wild, wild west is historical but you can revisit the days of Judge Parker's infamous courtroom at the Ft Smith National Historic Site.

If you visit the site, take the time to walk down to the river and see the original Belle Point, where the first fort was built in 1817. Today you can see the foundations of the original structures and the Trail of Tears Overlook.

The Clayton House
Or visit Miss Laura's, the only remaining red light district building on the riverfront. Today it's a museum and home to the Ft Smith Visitors Center. It's also the only former bordello on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Clayton House in the historic Belle Grove District showcases the lifestyles of affluent residents in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It's well worth a visit.

Downtown street art
Fort Chaffee, built by the US Army in 1941, has its own claim to fame. You can visit the barbershop where Elvis Presley received his first army haircut. Later, in the 1970s and 1980s, the fort served as a processing center for more than 50,000 Southeast Asians and 25,000 Cubans.

Love street art? Ft. Smith's "The Unexpected" art project has brought world-famous artists to create public pieces that enhance the city.

R Landry's
I love the restaurants I visited on my last visit. Doe's Eat Place, Bricktown Brewery and R Landry's top my list of favorites. When I visit this year, I hope to re-visit them and try some new places.

I'll be back there in a couple of weeks and I can't wait to explore more!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Going back to Pulaski County MO

Downtown Waynesville

Last year I had the good fortune to visit Pulaski County several times. The last time - in the fall - we conducted a "history crawl" for writers to learn and write about the places and stories they saw.

I'm headed back there on June 11-12 to launch an anthology created out of the event. But that's not all. Every time I go, I fall more in love with the area and its people. If you've never stopped there, you're missing some of the most fun-loving folks you'll ever meet.

Elbow Inn
The famous Elbow Inn on the original Route 66 suffered damage in the recent flood, but true to small-town camaraderie, many are helping to get it back up and running. The same is true for other businesses in the area.

Trail of Tears Memorial
What are some of my favorite spots? I always visit Roubidoux Trail of Tears National Historic Site and say a prayer for those relocated from their homes all those years ago. I also spend some time pondering the effects of the Civil War in Missouri.

Old Stagecoach Stop Museum
The rest of the history is fun stuff. I love taking a trip on Route 66 and revisiting a time when America was growing and fast cars enabled average citizens to see their country. Thirty-three miles of the route crosses Pulaski County. It's still my goal to drive the entire route but the last few years I've been traveling pieces in Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.

Digging even deeper into history, I like to visit the Old Stagecoach Stop and learn about pioneer days. Check out my previous article on the museum at History lovers will also want to visit the museum complex at Ft. Leonard Wood.

The eras of transportation determined the welfare of the cities and the residents. Pulaski County has a history from Indian trails, the old "wire" road in the days of the telegraph, a stagecoach route and more.

Cellar 66 wine
Do you love old books? In the courtroom on the second floor of the 1903 Pulaski County Courthouse, rows of ledgers record the lives and property of those who lived in the county. They are the type of find that those interested in genealogy would love to get their hands on, Also, a highlight has been my visits to the rare books section of the library at Ft Leonard Wood.

Of course I love to eat and the county offers plenty of options from down-home country cookin' and a Route 66 Diner to a variety of ethnic foods. Thirsty? Stop for a beer at Hoppers or have a glass of wine at Cellar 66, both on the Waynesville Square. With a steady stream of visitors to Ft. Leonard Wood, the area has stepped up to the plate with restaurants and hotels.

But maybe best of all is the God-given gift of nature. Smack dab in the middle of the Ozarks, the country offers some of the clearest water you'll find. It's a camping, canoeing and fishing haven - or is that heaven?  Check out for more information.

Next time you're traveling through Missouri, put Pulaski County on your "gotta visit" list. Stop at the tourism bureau in St Robert (just off I-44) and introduce yourself. They'll be happy to meet you.