By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
Clem’s father, Scott, pointed to three trees and said, “See that?”
I did. The angles made by the spaces between the trees made a triangle suitable for nailing two-by-fours together, and covering them with a homemade, roughly hewn toilet seat, which is exactly what somebody had done. Essentially, it was an outhouse without walls. I had seen it several times before, but did not know its history.
“That’s the Tull Shinglefurd Memorial Toilet,” Scott said. “It’s the best known historical landmark in Briar Circle. I don’t know why we, as a community, don’t take better care of it. Look how grown up it’s gotten around it!”
The brush around it was getting out of hand, obviously. “Did Tully enjoy going in the woods?” I asked.
“Probably not, but he didn’t have any other choice. He had a pretty rough time of it, I understand. He never built a house. He lived in tents, or old vans, and worked at odd jobs when he needed money. He made a mess of his land, too, with scrap metal and junk he was always ‘going to sell.’ He never did. I did not know him that well, myself, but he was well known by the sheriff’s deputies and game wardens. Tull’s been dead for years, though.” Scott paused. “He did have a tarp around it, at least. That didn’t quite make it an outhouse, but it did give it a little more class, I guess. And see those posts? He had a few hogs. I suspect some of them are responsible for the feral hog problems we’re having around here now.”
“Did you know Tull, Clem?” I asked his son.
“I saw him around when I was a kid,” Clem said. “I remember him being a little scary. He spent some time in prison, didn’t he, Dad?”
“He spent some time some where. But anyhow, that’s Tully’s toilet.”
We were walking around Briar Circle checking the impact from the recent bout of storms. The little community was fortunate, for the most part. Consequently, our walk turned into a hike, and Scott and Clem were showing me points of interest known only in oral tradition.
“The Indian spring, here,” Scott said, when we got to that area, “was certainly known and used by the indigenous peoples. In fact, if we keep our eyes open, we might find an arrowhead, after the rain we had.”
We were on a dirt trail, and sure enough, there were flint chips–evidence of worked stones. We searched for a few minutes, but did not find anything else. The spring was flowing heavily, due to runoff from the rain. “This is another area that needs to be commemorated, somehow,” Scott said. “There are plenty of people who could tell us the Native American history of the area in general; but anything that happened at this spot is lost to history forever. All that’s left are a few artifacts here and there.”
This was true, and we lamented the fact. “Is this trail one of the old logging roads?” I asked.
“This one isn’t,” Scott answered. “But the trail that runs across your property is. It borders the government land, and goes up the mountain a ways. Most of the trails are covered up, nowadays. You used to be able to drive on some of them. I guess you still can, with a bulldozer. But they’re historical sites, too, to me. Logging is still an industry in the state, but it’s been decades since any logs came from these forests. But to me, the trails are part of Briar Circle history.”
We walked to the logging trail on my land and followed it a few hundred yards. A stream was flowing briskly at one low point, and if crossed it, we would begin hiking in the Ouachita National Forest. We did not cross, but we stood at the spot a few minutes, just to take in the scenery.
“Let’s see,” I said when we started back, “we have old logging trails, a spring used by Indians, a homemade toilet seat in the woods, and a hog pen. What else is there?”
“Nothing that would impress anybody,” Scott admitted. “And I guess we’ll end up like the loggers and the Indians in this area–unknown. But in the future, maybe somebody will find an old photograph of us, or see something we built, or something we lost, and have the realization that we were here. And that’s all they’ll know about us. No names, no faces, no voices, but–we were here.”
“There’s something to be said for that,” Clem observed.
Certain friends post old stories and photographs on their websites all along, and I enjoy seeing them. You may have seen some of the pictures: The Heavener Blues from 1933; Chief Quanah Parker, horseback with a full head dress; drive-in theatres; shifted railroad tracks from the Wister Flood of 1927; the last Choctaw Council before Oklahoma statehood. Some of you may have seen the photographs of Civil War soldiers, oilfield and railroad workers, photographs of children, women and men whose names are unknown. Looking at these scenes, I sometimes wish I was there. However, it occurs to me, the places and events may have seemed mundane, at the time, to the people who were there. The persons in many of these old pictures may not have realized any significance to where they were, who was there or what was going on. For me, though, these images of the past seem to give more relevance to the present.
These thoughts ran through my mind while Scott, Clem and I were standing on the trail. Clem got a dime from his pocket and dropped it on the ground. “Who knows?” he said. “Maybe someday somebody will find it and wonder about us.”
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