The night and the deep Ozarks woods may conceal many mysteries.
Discovery of some may inspire fear, or at a least vivid imagination, as did the “bear tree” we located one night with long, deep claw marks down its trunk.
Others may simply beget romantic images of times long past, when early settlers eked out a meager existence deep in the woods and counted all their labors simply the price of paradise.
Such was my imagining on another night when we discovered the remnants of a cabin deep in a parcel we knew as the Handley Woods.
I was in my early teens, I reckon, while coon hunting with my dad we came upon the old cabin, its roof falling in, but its notched log walls still standing. Old timers in the area around Green Mountain may have known the history of the cabin, but we didn’t, and there was little sign of anyone coming around in years. In the moonlight we could make out an area that had obviously been cleared for a garden or small field decades earlier, its history defined by the absence of any old oaks or other ancient trees.
In a ravine just uphill from the cabin we discovered a crudely rocked-in spring, clear water still bubbling from under the accumulation of leaves.
With that initial discovery my imagination ran wild. I wanted to know who had built it, when they lived there and when they abandoned it. It had obviously been more than a trapper or hunter’s retreat. I imagined at some point in history it had been home to a frontier family. I imagined much, but I never learned anything for sure. I was just a teenage boy, full of questions and romantic illusions, but uncertain where or how to find any answers.
In subsequent daylight trips to the woods I discovered an old trail down to the cabin — more a trace than an actual road. Some years later I walked that same trail and found the old spring had been freshly cleaned and rocked. I didn’t go on down to cabin site, as I saw a new house had been built nearby. On a later visit I found my progress stymied by a new barbed wire fence. I never went back.
Some years after becoming editor of the Reflex I became acquainted with the man who owned the property and built the house, but I never learned more about the old cabin. I never pursued the truth, either. My romantic teenage illusions were enough.
Much of the area knew as the Handley Woods is today owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Other parts are in private ownership and sport new houses. It’s not nearly the same as when I was a boy.
We didn’t know who owned the woods back then. We were among many who hunted it and learned its old roads as if it were unclaimed wilderness. With few landmarks or house lights to guide us, we could have easily become lost. We knew of some fences we couldn’t cross, but otherwise hunted areas greater than we wanted to walk in a single night.
Perhaps someday I’ll learn more about that old cabin we found in the early 1960s. Maybe it wasn’t the mystery I imagined. Maybe it wasn’t anything special at all.
But, in the mind of a teenage boy it was — a window to long lost era of Ozarks history — and I’d still like to know who first carried water from the hillside spring to his new cabin in the meadow.
Copyright 2022, James E. Hamilton; email firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of his works in Ozarks RFD 2010-2015, available online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or from the author.
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