We’ve reached the last part of my August travels. It’s been a wonderful journey that I’ve enjoyed reliving by sharing it with you here on the blog. I know most of you have probably caught up with me at this point, but just in case, here is how the adventure went down:
- Write Anywhere #66
- Write Anywhere #67
- Write Anywhere #68
- Write Anywhere #69
- Write Anywhere #70
- Write Anywhere #71
- Write Anywhere #72
- Write Anywhere #73
Driving down Interstate 44 towards Tulsa, I reflected upon all my experiences over the past week. No matter how much you want to shield your children from hurt in this world, it’s going to happen in one form or another. As devastating as their experience was, I was proud of how the kids were handling it. I knew they would be okay.
I also discovered that I truly can ‘write anywhere’. It takes some planning, looking deep into your emotions, and keeping your heart open to instances that may spark your creativity, but the ‘muse’ is everywhere, if you look for it.
My daughter called to check on me. She heard on the news that there was flooding in the direction I was headed. Everything was fine I insisted, I was on the way home. A straight shot on the interstate right into Tulsa. I spoke too soon. Ten minutes after hanging up with her the traffic came to a screeching halt.
At first I thought it might be an unfortunate accident. But as the traffic continued at less than a snail’s pace for twenty, then thirty minutes, I turned on the radio to search for news. Sure enough, not only was there flooding in the area, but severe flooding after nine inches of rain fell in just a few hours the night before. The gathering clouds signaled more to come.
The Gasconade River in nearby Rolla, Missouri had overflowed to record levels, so much so that people lost their lives, many lost their homes, and the authorities shut down the interstate. Thus thousands of cars and trucks trying to get across the area, across the state, and across the country idled at a standstill.
People began getting out of their cars and trucks and strolled up and down the traffic jam, just to have something to do, I suppose. One man got his laptop out of the trunk of his car. Probably thought he might as well get some work done. A thin older man stopped at my car on his stroll and asked if I knew anything. When he found out why we weren’t moving, he shook his head.
“Boy, Ruby is gonna be mad. I’m supposed to be at the Wal-Mart in Rolla to pick her up. Boy, is she gonna be mad.” He lit up a cigarette and walked back to his car.
He was trying to get to WalMart at the next exit, I needed to get another 289 miles to Tulsa. How?
Like everyone else sitting there, there was only one way. A detour over single-lane regional backroads to Springfield, which normally takes 1 hour and 45 minutes on the interstate. As cars and 18 wheelers inched their way along, the distance would instead take six hours.
Being completely unfamiliar with the backroads, and as thunderstorm clouds closed in, plodding along in 25 mph spurts tested my sanity. With no gas stations and restrooms save for two small towns, my nerves and my bladder were stretched to their limits. I knew I wouldn’t get home that night.
Like a caravan of lost gypsies the traffic slowly moved toward Springfield. Along the way we passed an Amish community. You know you’re driving slow when a horse and buggy move faster than you.
I made it to the outskirts of Springfield at 9 p.m. and waited until I passed the third hotel along the road before stopping. When I plunked down my credit card for a hotel room, there were only three rooms left in a five-floor Holiday Inn. I was never so happy to get a hot shower and plunk down in a bed as I was that night.
This sounds like a crazy adventure, doesn’t it? It was, but that’s not where I found my inspiration for writing creativity. That came the next day.
Write Anywhere #74: Civil War Battlefield
It rained again that night. When I woke up the rain continued to fall. The local news flashed scenes of flooding and blocked roads. The weatherman claimed it would clear momentarily so I decided to take my time leaving, hoping his predictions were correct.
Looking at the hotel room’s local attraction directory, I discovered that a place that piqued my interest each time I travelled the interstate was only twenty minutes from the hotel. I called their number, found it and the roads to get there open, so I packed up and went to check it out.
Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield is part of the U.S. National Parks system. It protects the land where the Battle of Wilson’s Creek was fought during the Civil War, on August 10, 1861. The 1,750 acres have remained in almost pristine condition as it was 150+ years ago, with the exceptions of a five mile single lane road for a self-guided auto tour and the visitor center. The center houses a Civil War research library, displays of Civil War artifacts, and a small theatre where a short film with an introduction by Ken Burns depicts the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
A lot of history intersects at Wilson’s Creek. The Old Wire Road was a military route that linked Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, with Ft. Smith in Arkansas and ran just a mile or two south of Wilson’s Creek. Following the original route of the Native Americans Great Osage Trail, it became known as the Wire Road when telegraph lines ran parallel with it. The road carried Cherokee forced along the Trail of Tears on their way to Ft. Smith in the winter of 1838. The Butterfield Overland Express ran delivery wagons on it, and took a short detour off the road to the farm of John Ray, the postmaster of the area.
The Battle itself, the second battle of the Civil War west of the Mississippi, opened the war in Missouri and the Union commander, General Nathaniel Lyon, was the first Union general to die in the war. The Confederates were victorious, but the battle brought attention to Missouri and though war raged across the state and in people’s heart’s, it stayed in the Union. No one came out a winner, with 2,539 killed, wounded, or missing scattered across John Ray’s cornfield, other farms, and what came to be known as ‘Bloody Hill’.
My interest in Wilson’s Creek is personal. During my genealogy research, I have been able to follow my German ancestors back to my great-great-great grandfather, Ferdinand Heckwolf, who came to America sometime during the 1840′s, and settled in St. Louis. He was a carpenter and fought, as many German immigrants did, for the Union side. I found that he was in one of the battalions that fought at Wilson’s Creek, but could never find actual evidence of his participation in the battle.
The librarians at the research library jumped into action when I asked if they could help me find my ancestor. They did, and showed me the places he served, but Wilson’s Creek wasn’t one of them. Just the same, it was interesting to follow his path as a member of the Missouri Reserve Corps. The librarians gave me copies from books of the records of his battalion, and the record that shows him mustering out of the reserve ten days after Wilson’s Creek. He went on to build a lucrative carpentry and wooden blinds business in St. Louis, while his sons became saloonkeepers.
I didn’t know about the self-guided auto tour before I visited, but since the sun peeked out from the clouds, I decided to take the almost 5-mile drive. Because of the abundance of rain, most of the walking trails were closed, so a leisurely drive sounded perfect. I kept my windows rolled down and the steamy air filled the car with the fresh smells of the landscape.
The land has been left as it was at the time of the Civil War, with lush forest and fields high with wildflowers lining much of the drive. There are nearly 400 identified species of flowers over the battlefield site.
Eerie is the only way to describe the drive. All that can be heard are birds, insects, and tree branches sighing in the breeze. No cars, or other city sounds.
Peaceful. I guess that’s the best ambiance for a graveyard. Because essentially that is what the battlefield site is, a commemoration and a cemetery. There are two or three mass grave sites on the battlefield. Since the battle occurred on a hot August day, burying the dead quickly was necessary. The Confederates used a natural sinkhole to bury about thirty dead together, but the other sites have never been found. Union and Confederate, North and South, Blue and Gray buried one on top of the other. I wondered if their ghosts stroll together beneath the cool shade of the trees now.
The battle waged across farmer and postmaster John Ray’s cornfields. He, his wife and eight children hid in their cellar during the battle, and when they emerged, they found their house filled with Confederate wounded. The house still stands today, and is normally only open on weekends, but since the anniversary of the battle was only a couple days away historical interpreters dressed in period clothes were giving tours. A very knowledgeable docent took me on a tour.
Though there were other farms and a mill in the area, the Ray house and their nearby springhouse, both built in 1852, are the only surviving structures from that time period.
I drove on through the park, by myself except for a lone bicyclist enjoying the bike trail that also follows the route. I passed fields where the fighting raged, the only proof left, the cannon from the Union battery.
Finally I reached ‘Bloody Hill’, the site of some of the worst fighting. I parked at a small lot and hiked up part of the trail to the top of the hill to see what the artillery battery might have seen on that day.
I wanted to photograph more close-ups of the cannon from the hill, but suddenly I realized I wasn’t alone. If you look on the right side of the cannon in the above photograph, you can see what I saw when standing next to the cannon.
After my heart started beating again, I wondered if the bicyclist heard my scream.
The black snake didn’t seem upset in the least, but as he stretched and started moving, I took that as a sign that I needed to get moving as well. I pretty much ran down the trail to my car, and didn’t get out again until four hours later when I pulled into my garage.
After some down time at home, I integrated some of my research at Wilson’s Creek into my historical fiction WIP, where my great-great-great grandfather serves as an inspiration for my protagonist’s father, who also fought at Wilson’s Creek, and was a carpenter.
What a strange week: past, present, and future generations intersecting in an oddball trip across two states and back.