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 Short Story

Red Oak Hollow

By Bernard Howe

It was early fall of 1958, when Cubby, Jay, and I decided to go camping over a long weekend from school. We got a ride to the beginning of the long gravel road that led passed Red Oak Hollow, which was our favorite spot to camp. We were in scouts together as we grew up and this was our most favorite place on earth. It was a 5-mile hike to the beginning of Red Oak Hollow.

Once we arrived there we climbed over the 3 strand barbed wire fence and started our hike to the camping spot about 2 miles in. As we walked along the winding creek through the large trees and small rolling hills we watched the wild life and started to make our plans on who was going to do what once we reach camp. Soon we came to a widening of the creek where there is this nice grassy spot where the large trees form a canopy over the area. We pitched our tent and made the fire pit and hung the food from a tree branch. Soon we were ready to go on our adventure hike deep into the dense woods that were just to the west of Red Oak Hollow. We grabbed our small daypacks and some snacks for lunch and then we were on our way.

Cubby being the oldest of the three took the lead. We chopped our way through, trying to find the easiest route. It was so thick it was as if it was many years ago, virgin timberland. No one lived very close by and no one had ever farmed this area so it must have been as it was when the Black Hawk Indians lived in the part of the country many years before. Soon, in what seemed like hours to us, we decided to have a little lunch and take a break. Jay heard a noise like water running in a creek over some rocks, so he said "Hey, let's go find the water source and take our lunch there".

We cut our way along towards the sound when suddenly there was this large opening in the woods that was clear and the grass was about 2 to 3 feet high, and a small creek ran beside it. We all agreed this was a great spot and we could not figure why there was this big empty area here in the middle of the woods. As we was sitting down and eating Cubby found an arrowhead in perfect condition just lying on the ground beside him. We all started looking around trying to see if we could find one too. As we pawed through the tall grass we found a couple more but not nearly as good as the one Cubby found. We decided that this must be a spot where the Indians had camped a long time ago. We tried to picture in our heads just how it may have looked and where everything was. We decided to go exploring some more so we followed the little creek to see where it went. We kept on going and going until we finally came to Red Oak Hollow about 3/4 of a mile further back where it gets real narrow and the hollow starts to fade out. Together here they joined and ran down towards where our campsite was.

We headed back towards camp as it was getting late and we wanted to eat and have a nice camp fire going to keep warm as it gets cold at night this time of year. Cubby got the fire going while Jay and I prepared the food. We heated water and made some hot cocoa. After we finished eating we roasted marshmallows over the fire. We enjoyed trying to pick out the stars and constellations in the sky. It was harder out here as the Milky Way was so thick and covered the sky in a large dense band that stretched from horizon to horizon. The Moon was not up yet so it was very dark. As we were a long way out of town no light was around to obscure the view. The stars looked so bright and close it seemed as if we could almost hit them with a rock.

After a good nights sleep we all awoke early the next morning, and made our breakfast. After eating we filled our daypacks again and took off towards the area we found yesterday and this time we brought Jay's shovel so we could dig and see if we could find more. Soon we were in the clearing and digging away. Jay dug first as it was his shovel; he found a couple of broken arrowheads but none was in very good shape. Cub dug next and he didn't find anything. I got my chance and I tried digging toward the creek and on the edge of the clearing. I didn't find anything either but it looked like there was some old bones there from some kind of animal. After a few hours we decided to head back and do some other things. As we were gathering up our packs and all, I noticed that the one of the bones that I had dug up looked like a long jawbone with teeth. The teeth were loose so I pulled a couple out and stuck them in my pocket. When we returned to camp we started getting ready to eat, as we were all hungry from the long day we had. After lunch we decided to walk the creek and see if we could see any fish or animals in the water. All afternoon our conversations kept coming back to the clearing. We all thought it must have been an Indian camp long ago and that is the reason there is no trees there now. How else could an arrowhead get there?

After our evening meal we just sat around looking and talking, when Jay came up with the idea that the bones and all might be from a grave of an Indian and by digging there we disturbed the spirits and they may haunt us. We all had an uneasy sleep that night.

We woke early the next morning. After we made breakfast and packed up all our gear we took our time hiking out, looking at the birds and little animals. The trees were turning colors and they were falling, covering the ground. This is a pretty time of year, and the three of us always enjoy it here, so it was hard to leave. We even talked about building our homes out here so we could be here every day, as we get older.

After the long weekend we had to go back to school. I went to talk to the old janitor who has lived in this old town forever. I told him about the clearing and Cubby finding the great arrowhead and I showed him one I had found. Old Mr. Zimmer told me that a long time ago the Black Hawk Indians used to hunt this land and they used to love this area, as it was the beginning of the spoon river. Many Indian tribes came to this area but the Black Hawks controlled it. He said I should go to the science teacher at the High School, as he was an expert on Indian history in this area. And that he could tell me more about the arrowhead and about the area around Red Oak Hollow.

At lunchtime I told Cubby and Jay about what Old Mr. Zimmer had said about going to the High School and seeing the science teacher there, as he is a local historian on the Black Hawk Indians. They said they didn't want to go and talk to him and if I wanted to I could take Cubby's good arrowhead so the teacher there could give it a good look. I took the arrow and headed off to the High School that evening, as I wanted to know more about what we had found.

At the school I went up to the front desk and asked to see the science teacher. They directed me to the science room. On the door was the name Mr. Oatman. I knocked on the door and went in, he was at his desk and he looked up and told me to come on in. I approached his desk and said, "I was told by Mr. Zimmer at the Junior High School to come and see you. He said you are the local expert on the Black Hawk Indians." He perked up and said yes, and what would you like to know? I started telling him the story about our recent camping trip and the arrowheads we found in the fire pit. I then showed him a few of the arrowheads we found. Mr. Oatman listened and looked the arrowheads over. He then said this might have been a temporary camp where they set up to go hunting - that's why we found the arrowheads in the fire pit. But as he was looking at the arrow that cubby found he said that is not a Black Hawk arrow, it looks more like the ones the Sioux had. Could it be that the Sioux came all the way here in a hunting party? Mr. Oatman asked if we could take him to this campsite come spring. I told him we would love to, and that we would keep in contact with him.

As the year went on we did other things and forgot about the trip to Red Oak. Then, one day in February, Mr. Oatman came to our Jr. High and asked for us to meet him at the office after school. We all went to the office where Mr. Oatman and the principle had a meeting with us. It was decided that we would go in April right after Easter while we were still on break. It seems that Mr. Oatman and Mr. Neil, our Jr. High Principal, both were going to go with us back to the camp area. Mr. Neil called our parents to tell them what we had planned and asked if it would be ok with them.

As Easter was approaching we became nervous, going camping with 2 schoolteachers was not the normal thing for us. Cub was getting kind of scared and wanted to back out, but we wouldn't let him, it was all of us or none. My mother was excited and proud that I was going on an exploration trip with the principle and the High School Science Teacher. We started getting all our gear together. It had been stored all winter long and we needed to get it aired out.

On the 4th day of Easter break, Mr. Oatman and Mr. Neil came and picked up each of us boys in a VW bus, and we were off to find the campsite. It was about 9 AM when we reached the entrance to where we hike into Red Oak Hallow. Mr. Oatman parked the bus and we got the Packs out and started our long hike back in along the creek. It was still kind of cool in the mornings and evenings this time of year so we packed to cover any kind of weather. After about an hour and a half we got to where we usually camp, but this time we were going to go to the clearing in the woods.

When we arrived at the clearing we all set up our tents and got ready to go exploring. Mr. Oatman told us that this area was a natural break in the trees and that it had not been cleared. That was most likely the reason the Indian's used this for there camp site. We all looked in many places but the only thing we found was a few old arrowheads and one spear tip. As we all started growing hungry we decided to stop and go make dinner. After dinner we all sat around and Mr. Oatman told us some stories about how the Indians used to live and travel in these parts.

Indians first occupied the Black Hawk area as long as 12,000 years ago, and it was continuously inhabited through the Hopewell period, ca. 100 BC to AD 250. For nearly a century beginning about 1730 the Sauk and Mesquakie Indians made their home here. Saukenak, the capital of the Sauk nation and one of the largest Indian centers in North America, which is now Rock Island Illinois. The Sauk and the Mesquakie farmed the land along the river and relied upon the fur trade for their livelihood. At the height of their power they controlled parts of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri and all of Iowa.

Saukenak was the site of the westernmost battle of the Revolutionary War. Americans destroyed the village in 1780 because some of the Sauk had given military support to the British. In 1804 several chiefs of the tribe ceded the village land to the United States government. The Sauk warrior Black Hawk (he was not a chief) headed the pro-British faction that refused to recognize the cession as legal. During the War of 1812, the pro-British Indians remained at Saukenak, defeating the Americans in two Mississippi River battles- Campbell's Island and Credit Island.

WOW we were having our own history lesson and all three of us were on the edge of our seats. He explained how they lived and what their main camps looked like and where they traveled. It was pretty dark now and we decided to go to sleep and get an early start in the morning before we head back. I think we all had dreams of what it must have been like here those many, many years ago.

As it turned out it was a stop off point that the Indians used many times, in their travels from the Mississippi to the Spoon and Green River area. This camp area is now a development and many of the old tree's are now gone. Modern day development is spreading along with all the stories from the past. It is sad to find this out as it held so many fun filled memories from my youth.

Bernard Howe
Copyright 2002

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