in the early 1970s, a tornado had come through Bentonville, Arkansas
and had ruined a good many trees. Many of them were Walnuts. At
that time, Walnuts were being stolen by "tree rustlers" who would
come onto property they didn't own (absentee owners) and cut down
the valuable trees with chainsaws equipped with mufflers. The trees
were then bucked into logs which were sold to middle men who shipped
them to Japan to be made into veneer. Since trees didn't have serial
numbers, it was a pretty lucrative business for shady characters
who were removing the shade - one tree at a time.
The veneer was then laminated and applied to console televisions
whereon, it provided a homey "All American" look. The televisions
would then be exported from Japan back to America. In theory, a
Walnut tree in Blytheville, Arkansas might've be able to look through
a window of a "manufactured home" and watch Hee-Haw on a television
encased in slices of a near-cousin.
I was in the tree business at the time and naturally, my phone was
ringing off the hook after the storm. An Arkansas State Trooper
and his wife lived two blocks from downtown Bentonville (which included
the original Walton Family Store). The couple's backyard had a line
of Walnut trees that towered sixty feet in the air. Walnuts are
"leggy" trees with extremely long branches. Since they are very
tolerant of pruning, I told the folks that the trees needn't be
cut completely down - but by cutting all the twisted limbs, they
would be very ugly until they could develop a new crown. The trees
seemed to mean a lot to the couple and they were relieved to hear
they didn't need to be removed.
A local fireman had told the two that he could cut them down after
his 24 hour shift and that he wouldn't charge for disposing of the
valuable logs (which the couple could've sold for close to $1000).
But two of the twisted limbs were blocking their garage and they
were without the use of their car. That made the job a priority
with me. Plus, unlike the fireman, I had insurance.
I had left my crew on a previous job and when asked when I could
get started, I replied I'd get started by myself. The State Trooper
seemed pleased (although he might not be pleased when he'd see the
long-haired members of my crew). They may have had long hair, but
they had excellent credentials. One of them was a Rice University
graduate with a BS in Physics (handy when dropping trees).
The next day we were all there and the trooper was pleased when
we were early. He looked at my crew out of the corner of his eyes,
but all was well when he left for work. About 11 o'clock his wife
brought out "a little something." Sandwiches, cookies, lemonade,
pie - and she paid us another visit about 3 p.m. I do believe I
smelled a pork roast wafting through her kitchen window.
(of a certain generation) prided themselves on their ability to
cook and more than once we were served such feasts that after some
lunches, and the resulting nap, it was difficult to get the groggy
men back to work. The British, famed for their understatement, couldn't
hold a candle to these women of Northwest Arkansas. Their idea of
"a little something" would put to shame a trough at Golden Corral.
the job was over and the last branches had been fed through the
chipper, I was invited into the living room. I was just expecting
to get a check and leave, but instead, I was asked by the husband
to "wash up." I had somehow (silently) been invited to dinner. Indeed,
it had been a pork roast I had smelled. From the dining room, I
could see many frames on the living room. They were black frames
like the kind people used to display insects in, but these covered
the walls. Each one contained arrow and spear points - the original
"collectables" for generations of settlers.
The walls were covered with them. So much so, that the wallpaper
was visible only in the small strips between the frames. It looked
as if this "elderly" couple (in their early fifties at the time)
had decided to camp out in the Native American Tool and Weapon section
of the Museum of Science and Natural History. All that was lacking
was a buffalo diorama.
After the plain,
but hearty dinner (with peach cobbler), the trooper walked me into
the living room. His wife joined us and they called my attention
to one small frame that contained a single broken "point" on a bed
of cotton batting. It was a chert arrowhead with a white streak
through it. Handsome, it was and one could see the workmanship was
exceptional. The edges were delecate and translucent. But it was
broken - split diagonally. That made it worthless to collectors
I learned that the couple had taken their honeymoon in Arizona back
in 1941. Their week was drawing to a close when they heard that
Pearl Harbor had been bombed. They spent the rest of the day half-heartedly
picking up points as they talked about how their lives would be
changed by the war. As they walked along the riverbed, the woman
absent mindedly picked up a broken piece of arrowhead and placed
it in her apron with other whole points. Because of the abundance
of whole points, they never bothered with pieces - yet there was
something about that piece of white-veined chert.
man enlisted in the Marines and served in the Pacific, earning a
purple heart at Tarawa through a leg wound. After he was discharged,
he returned to Bentonville, to the modest wallpapered "fort" that
his bride had been holding down during the conflict. They celebrated
his homecoming with plans for a second honeymoon. They decided on
the same spot in Arizona where their first honeymoon had been interrupted.
But their old hunting ground was now fenced off and to get on public
lands, they needed to go 30 miles downstream. The pickings were
thinner, but they spent a happy time rejoicing in the fact that
the husband had survived the war with only a flesh wound. Sometime
that afternoon, the woman saw a pointed rock that somehow seemed
familiar. She showed it to her husband and they both knew what the
other was thinking.
When they got off the train and got to their house, they dug out
the shoebox that held their culls, and matched the two pieces together.
They fit perfectly, without a single chip missing. Nearly five years
and 30 miles apart, the same woman found the two broken parts of
an ancient stone weapon.
"We're not sure what it means, and of course, the time doesn't mean
a thing" the wife said to me. The husband added: "we reckon we need
to add something to the story, like we took an oath we'd come back
and find the rest of it or something like that - but that would
He actually said "fibbing" which seemed out of place for a man wearing
a Sam Browne belt and a badge. They both agreed that it meant something
- they just didn't know what.
"We never had kids", the woman said, and "everybody that's heard
the story is dead now, but we wanted to tell you." I had nothing
to say except that it was a pretty amazing coincidence. But since
they were getting sort of teared-up over the story, I thought the
least I could do is remember it. They gave me a check and we said
goodbye, the man giving me a bone-crushing handshake.
It was just a coincidence to me, a twenty-six year old, hearing
a story of something that had happened twenty-six years before.
Thirty-five years later, I found myself driving through the neighboring
town of Springdale, Arkansas, aghast at the growth of the region.
The once-separate towns had grown into one continuous mass. I decided
to drive around Bentonville and see what had changed. Outside of
nearly everything, not much. The house where the "old" couple lived
had been replaced by a grander structure, although the walnut trees
were still there in the backyard - the only clue to recognizing
August 31, 2014 Column
© John Troesser
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