The air is gentle and warm as our van glides up steep hills, around snaking curves and dips into valleys with rivulets of blue water. It is the last week of summer 2012 when we drive through the beautiful and breathtaking Ozark mountains in northwest Arkansas in search of 'art.'
The artistic and historic Eureka Springs is our home base. We travel out to experience art and meet artists each day. At Crystal Bridges, Alice Walton's newly opened art gallery in Bentonville, we explore its unique architecture and extensive galleries. On the last day of summer we visit (and delight in) Terra Studios, home of the glass art, Bluebirds of Happiness, in Fayetteville. Then, passing nearby to Springdale, stop at Shiloh Museum of the Ozarks.
Some of our favorite trips included cemeteries, battlefields and war museums. We are American history nuts. One cannot help but notice people of the Civil War era lived hard and difficult lives yet spoke and wrote with gentle sophistication. I was sure the Civil War battle of Shiloh was in Tennessee. Who would expect Shiloh to be in Arkansas? Yet, here it is. We parked next to the Cooper Barn with its fresh hay stack and old wagon just inside the open doors. Shiloh grounds included three other outbuildings and two homes: the Searcy House, with updates and additions, remains livable, as does an 1850s log cabin. Original house and cabin furnishings are on display in the museum. The Shiloh Museum appears quite new and well organized with information and items from prehistoric to pre-Civil War, to present times.
A battle took place in this little part of the country - then called Shiloh - later renamed Springdale. Hardscrabble people tried to make a living on hardscrabble land before and after the great war. Jane Page lived in Shiloh. She wrote a letter to her son John Page and family which is a prime example of the tough determination and gentle humanity these people possessed. "Dear Son and Daughter: I embrace the present opportunity of writing you a letter to let you know that I am still in the land of the living and enjoying very good health and I do hope these few lines may reach you and find you all enjoying the same great blessing ... your father fell victim in time of the great war ... killed by Federal forces on the 4th day of March 1865 ... He had nine or ten balls passed through his body. So scared and disturbed was everybody that I had to stay with him in the woods all day by myself with my apron spread over his face ..." A large painting depicts Jane in this death scene. The letter relates news of family and neighbors, descriptions of events and current status. "If you want to come back to this country to live you can buy land very cheap here now. It is very low in consequence of the scarcity of money ... everything is very scarce here and times is hard, hard, very hard ... I remain your affectionate mother until death." There is sadness in the facts but no meanness; no hate. "The war has entirely ruined our country, but I think it will build up again in the course of time. The people seems to be in good spirits and are trying to rebuilt ..." 14 November 1866.
People of this era expressed themselves without hubris. They made their point without being scurrilous, foul-mouthed or vulgar. Although poorly educated, they were conscious of using their very best language skills while being honest, forthright and persuasive. Not only is this true of Jane Page but also of Mary Boykin Chesnut, A Diary from Dixie, repub. 1976 and other Civil war letters quoted by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Coor in They Fought Like Demons, pub.2002. I shall always appreciate the articulation revealed in original letters, publications and transcripts of our early American history - Bless them! I fear the current general public has no pride in education and communication. I, for one, hope the pendulum will begin to swing back from the current low educational standards to a 'step up and stand tall' expectation of personal pride and national academic achievements....
What do you think? I'd like to know... Nancy yTe \