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Grand-dad Will's Stories -- Part III

Margrett McCorkle (+1 509.924.3482, Margrett42 at comcast dot net)

In my previous articles ([1],[2]) I introduced my great-grandfather, William Marion Ewing who I have always called Grand-dad Will, and provided some of his life-illuminating stories which had an incredible influence on my childhood and beliefs. Memories are wonderful things, and during Grand-dad Will's and my life together, he greatly relished both recalling his memories and sharing them with me. At the time he was in the autumn of his years, and I was very fortunate to be there and able now to pass on his stories. This article continues to deliver on my promise to pass Grand-dad Will's stories on to you and my children. Additional stories will appear in future articles.

Petit Jean Mountain

William Marion Ewing was buried on the top of Petit Jean Mountain, Arkansas, in the Petit Jean Cemetery. His grave, along with those of two sons, are unmarked.

I do not know when Grand-dad Will first saw his mountain Petit Jean Mountain. Nor do I know when he fell in love with the area of the Petit Jean. But after his discovery he remained close by her the rest of his life.

I have been told that it was not long after his wife, Ellie, died in 1921 that Grand-dad Will obtained his homestead and began building his home. The best estimate is it was around 1925-35 when he started building his home in the shadow of Petit Jean Mountain.

The beauty of this area of Arkansas is well-known. The three mountains Mt. Magazine, Mt. Nebo and Petit Jean Mountain in this region are spectacular. It is no wonder this Ewing, a descendant of James 'Pioneer' Ewing, would love the mountains for their beauty and their ruggedness.

Grand-dad Will and I spent many hours hiking through this wondrous wilderness, with me hearing many stories of the secrets of the Petit Jean. One of these stories was how this mountain got its name.[3] According to Grand-dad Will: A beautiful young girl, not wanting to be left in France as her future husband sailed to America, disguised herself as a boy and became the cabin-boy aboard his ship. She called herself Jean, and no one knew she was a girl. After a while the other sailors called her Petit Jean which in French means Little John because she was not all that tall. Everything went well, and not even her future husband knew who she was.

They arrived in America and spent the summer on the mountain. When it was starting to become fall, they prepared to leave and go back to France, but Petit Jean became ill and soon died. Before she died it was discovered she was a girl. She had requested that she be buried on the mountain. Her wish was granted, and legend tells it that her beauty and enchanting ways gave the mountain all the qualities that draw people to it today.

Grand-dad Will had a dog that I remember from my youngest years. His name was Bonze. He was a mixed breed of some kind of Sheppard, quite unlike the common dogs of the area which were usually a breed of hound. Bonze was constantly by Grand-dad Will's side. He would do anything Grand-dad Will told him to do. If Grand-dad Will told Bonze to stay by me, the dog would not leave my side. As a young child I loved this. Bonze would attack snakes and push me aside if I got too close to the river bank. He was a small, black-and-tan dog with perky ears. He sparked my love for the Sheppard type dogs that I have owned most of my life. I was about seven-or-eight years old when Bonze failed to be there one summer on our visit to Grand-dad Will's. But he is not forgotten. He was a constant companion of Grand-dad Will and I as we traipsed through the woods of Petit Jean Mountain.

Petit Jean Mountain is full of magnificent wonders. The wondrous Bluff Shelters were once the home of Native Americans hundreds of years ago. They are a beautiful State Park today. But in the time of my life with Grand-dad Will (the late 1940s and early 1950s), it was a fantastic place to hike and picnic on our days of adventure together. As we paused along beside the Petit Jean River, or in other great hiking sites, for our picnic lunch and a bit of rest from the mid-day sun, Grand-dad Will would tell a story, most often about the Native Americans who lived there so many years ago.

Indian Lore

I have, from my earliest memory, been fascinated with Native Americans, their beliefs, their stories and their culture. Perhaps it is because I was told that I was part Choctaw Indian on my mother's side. Perhaps it is because Grand-dad Will told me many stories about the Choctaws.

My favorite if I can pick a favorite was the one about the 'little people.' Remember that Grand-dad Will was every bit 110% Scot-Irish, and enjoyed telling tales of 'wee people' Leprechauns as much as I enjoyed hearing them.

This little-people story goes like this: Back in Mississippi where the Choctaws lived long, long ago there were strange little people living in the Forest. They lived in caves and under large rocks. They were quite short, only a couple of feet tall. And they hid well in the forest so as not to let 'grown-up' people see them.

The young children of the grown-ups loved to play and hunt in the forest and would often slip away from their mothers and fathers. The little people would capture them, taking them far, far away from their homes. When they reached the caves where the little people lived, the little people would take each child into the cave to meet three wise little men. The little men were very old and had long white beards. They offered the child three things, requiring the child to choose just one.

The first would be a knife. If the child chose the knife, the child would grow to be a 'bad' person. The second was a selection of poisonous herbs. If the child chose these, the child would never be able to help his/her people. The third was a selection of 'good-medicine' herbs. If the child chose these, the child was destined to be a healing person and would become very important to his/her family as well as the family's tribe. The little men would teach a child who chose the good-medicine herbs many things and share many secret, mystical things, only for the child to know. After three days of teaching, the child would be returned to his/her tribe and would grow up. The child would never tell where he/she became so wise. The child would become an important member of his/her tribe, held in the highest regard by other tribal members. However, very few children chose the good-medicine herbs and that is why there are so very few great leaders and healers.

The one thing I remember most about Grand-dad Will's stories of little people was these stories teaching me that a willingness to accept what we do not understand and the differences among people is a great gift. He would always say that if I ever happened to see little people, I should be happy rather than afraid, and that I would surely be rewarded.

This is one of many stories, told by Grand-dad Will and others, about the beliefs of Native Americans Choctaws and others that use mysticism to expose the extreme value of a healthy respect for and commitment to the innate goodness of others and the environment. Rather than recount other of this sort, however, I want to turn to stories about the interactions between Native Americans and settlers.

Some of these stories were entertaining. For example, one story about 'Swago Bill' Ewing the one where he outran the Indians was one of my favorites. Grand-dad Will had a way of making the running down through the gully, and Swago Bill's escaping the Indians hot on his heels, seem more fun then fearful. I am sure that it was not at all amusing to Swago Bill, but Grand-dad Will's telling of it would create an image in my mind that was very entertaining.

Other stories were decidedly more serious. For example, there were stories about the Trail of Tears, the Choctaw Road and the difficulties of travelling the many trails that went through parts of Arkansas. Many people perished, and the land still echoes their moans and cries. I learned these were wrongful actions and the overage message was that history was just that, and we should learn from it and not repeat it.

As another example, there were Grand-dad Will's stories about the Clendennin Massacre. Most of us know the story in one of its numerous variations. This story was told to me many times during my childhood. When Grand-dad Will told it, he managed to keep it in the perspective of the times and reflect his respect for the Native American. I never, in any of the tellings, heard the Clendennin name. Rather, the focus was upon the capture of 'Indian John' Ewing, his sister and her children. Other than that, the story changed often in the telling. It has been close to 250 years since the Clendennin Massacre, and it is amazing to me how such a story continues to be told and hold (in its essence) over time. I have told my children the Clendennin Massacre story, and hopefully they will tell their children. It is a part of history as well as a critical part of who they are.

Grand-dad would make each story a learning experience. For example, he told me how Native Americans used all the meat they hunted down; they would not let anything go to waste. The overall sense was that everything is put this earth for a reason, and it is always up to us to figure out that reason. There are the pests: the rodents in the corn crib, the beetles and bugs in the flower beds, and the pesky rabbits that eat the greens in the garden. Rabbits are quite cute, but they can do much harm at times. So we often set traps for them. And then we skin the rabbits, tack their furs on the shed door to dry, and with a little help from Auntie we make Rabbit Fur Mittens. In this way, the Rabbits turn out to be very useful rather than merely harmful.


 

[1] McCorkle, Margrett. Grand-dad Will's Stories, J. Clan Ewing, Vol. 14, No. 2 (May 2008), pp. 27-29.

[2] McCorkle, Margrett. Grand-dad Will's Stories Part II, J. Clan Ewing, Vol. 14, No. 4 (November 2008), pp. 13-18.

[3] Grand-dad Will's story varies somewhat from what you hear from others about how the mountain was named but, in essence, the sense is the same.