Go West, Young Man! (Uh, make that South…)

When many in this nation headed West, my characters headed South. So we did too. Missouri was then called “the crossroads.” I think “the crossfire” would summarize the nineteenth century experience even better.

Day three of my journey found my bodyguard (my youngest son, for those who didn’t read the first few days’ journaling) in a bright mood. The hotel served an excellent breakfast, and he was adequately rested. Those two requirements met, he was ready to hit the road.

They say that Nevada, MO has one of the best bushwhackers museums around. I wouldn’t know. Along with every other building in the historic part of town, they were closed on Sunday. Do you know that old John Denver song, “Saturday night in Toledo, Ohio?”(listen here) That’s what it felt like driving through town.

We did get to attend worship with a local Baptist congregation. Their church was built in 1900, so would not have been there during my story’s time, however it retained a beauty and care that is often not put into modern structures. Wood beams hold the ceiling secure above our heads, a pipe organ fills the front, and sunlight filtered through the multiple stained glass windows lining each side. The church was nearly full, and we were able to praise God with fellow believers.

May I make one side remark for random readers? Don’t be afraid to sing, even if you don’t sing well. One of the parts that makes it difficult when a guest at another church, is feeling like if I sing, I’m soloing it. If no one sings, the place feels dead. I think God loves to hear us raise our voices. If you don’t think you sing well enough–sing anyway. I’m sure when compared to a choir of angels, even the best of us sounds like a frog.

That was what impressed my son: Hardly anyone sang. And no one said hi. I’m sure they are wonderful people, they probably just didn’t notice us, and we didn’t stay long when the service was over.

After church we wandered around searching for a few historic sites. I think they were tucked away for the day as well, because wherever my GPS took me sure didn’t look like somewhere I wanted to be! So we drove on to Carthage, MO.

My GPS took me to the Battle of Carthage Civil War State Park. I passed it the first time, barely glancing a sign next to a small clearing. I had to turn around and find my way back. We parked, noticed a small clearing off to the left, bluffs in front, and a single picnic table to the right. I was totally confused. I’m used to battlefields at State Parks that encompass large portions of the actual battle site. This field would be crowded if one hundred people were there. No way this could hold the six thousand or so men that participated in the battle.

I noticed a footpath headed up the bluff.

Aha! The battlefield must be up there! My bodyguard eyed the path warily and tried to persuade me to stay away, but dutifully followed when I wouldn’t be deterred. It proved to be a delightful little trail. If walked at a leisure pace, it would take an entire five minutes to complete.

We did find the foundation to an old home, with stairs leading up to it. We also got the excitement of crossing a small stream by stepping from stone to stone. I love hikes. This doesn’t qualify.

Maybe I’ll get one in the near future.

Coming back around I noticed a small pool at the base of the bluffs. The water was too clear to be just an accumulation of rain water. That’s when I noticed the watercress in the water. A spring! I love springs! The one was bubbling up from the ground right at the base of the rocks. Beautiful.

Ends up this was the place the Union army camped just before the battle. Perfect location with shade and water, and a bluff on which to place the cannon so it was overlooking the town. The battle itself  spread out not just over this small clearing, but the whole of the town center. It was one of the earliest Civil War battles, an attempt to force Missouri to remain in the Union, preceding Bull run by eleven days. The confederate victory helped recruit more men to join the Southern cause.

The museum in Carthage is small, but well supplied with relics from that era. Photographs and letters, clothes, guns, knives, and medical supplies.

Paintings depict the suffering of the time. They also have to large table with the landscape and town in diminutive scale, and tiny soldiers with puffs of cotton glued to the end of their rifles lined up to show how the battle played out. I’m very visual, so love when museums have these displays. Also, gives me the urge to get a bunch of play dough and toy soldiers at home, along with my Christmas village, and see what I can do with our dining table. (Don’t worry, honey. It’s a passing urge.)

While driving south from Kansas City to Carthage, I took note of the landscape. Upon first impression the terrain appears quite easy for a horse or ox pulled wagon to navigate. The  incline or decline of the hills is so gradual as to give the impression of being mostly flat. Then I started noticing the water. Creeks and rivers crisscross the region in ways too numerous for me to count. The banks range from pebbly slopes to sharp muddy drops. The earth here is a dark rich soil, which likely means that those rivers often rise above the confines of their banks and leave black topsoil when the waters retreat. Most of the area is farmland, with acres and acres of–you guessed it. Corn! Some areas are swampy, even when there hasn’t been undue rain recently.

From Carthage, we followed the trail on southbound and into Arkansas. Getting close to the state border, the terrain became steeper, more dramatic, more picturesque. I imagine if I was in a wagon or on foot, I would not have thought it so beautiful at the time. But then, maybe they did since the first town we encountered over the border is called Bella Vista. Beautiful View.

Here is one local’s version of a modern-day covered wagon. With wagons on my mind, this really struck my funny bone!

I completed my research voyage with our final night at a Drury Inn. I LOVE Drury Inns, especially when traveling with a teenage boy. Not only are they fairly competitive in price, but they serve supper as well as breakfast!

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