The happy land of Caannan may be a Biblical story, but for some of us, it truly was fact.
Growing up on the land my ancestors settled in the 1850s was a true blessing. It gave me common ground, a heritage, a place and, most importantly, a history. My people were among the first white settlers in the 1850s in the place now known as Newton County, Arkansas. My 5th Great Grandfather and his sons took residence here, although both he and most of his sons would move on South to other locations. My direct ancestor stayed here and fought through the war, survived an assassination attempt, and raised his children here that became my direct line.
The thought of ‘dying for one’s country’ is a truly noble ideal. Many a young Southron boy has had that thought in his head, in his misguided belief that that was what was right.
But this story is about neighbor of mine whom I never got the privilege to meet, who embodied that ideal.
My cousin grew up in the same valley I did, though our paths are many years apart, we still trod the same road. Her father, Samie, served in the US Army, along with his brother, Eldon.
Eldon was born on August 23rd, 1912, on Big Creek, Newton County, Arkansas.
His brother, Samie, was born in the same place on December 14th, 1918.
Growing up for these two was the usual Ozark lifestyle. They helped their folks and did what they could to help the growing family scratch by. Samie was to marry into my family, and he was well thought of and often spoke highly of for his high character, which, I am sure, his brother Eldon shared.
When the war came, both Eldon and Samie were pulled into the vortex.
Samie was a TEC5 in the Army. He survived the war, but spoke very little about it, according to his children. He was a man to fix things and teach both his children how to do so themselves, as to not leave them ‘unarmed’ as things would unfold.
Eldon, however, was not so fortunate.
Eldon served with a different unit and was killed in action.
His death date was listed as November 4th, 1944. His family never knew where he was.
Eldon was buried far from his home. He was to remain there some years.
Truth is, the family still to this day doesn’t know exactly where Eldon was killed, or who he was with, or any of the details surrounding his death.
All they know is that the common country boy that they all knew and loved went off to fight for ‘democracy’ or whatever nebulous reason they assigned, and never returned.
My cousin said ‘They said he was serving down on one of them big planes and fooled around and got shot somehow.’ But that was the extent of our knowledge.
Samie came back home.
As a child, I well remember walking through Smith Cemetery with my Grandparents and Great Grandparents. My Great Grandmother, Edna, would gently guide me and tell me little anecdotes about the folks who laid there. Her son, my Great Uncle Stanley, lies there in an early grave. Not due to war service or any such thing, but due to a vehicle accident deserving of it’s own article. But, I remember my Grandma Edna rolling out green carpet and heaping sand upon the graves there in Smith Cemetery. She was repeating a long passed down tradition. My Great Grandmother knew and loved tradition and all that it entailed. I well remember walking around Smith Cemetery and listening to her talk of the people she had known that rested there.
One of Edna’s sons was married into the Ewing family, and they were closely tied together.
As we trod Smith Cemetery, I never realized the grave that stood so closely to my own family, nor the gravity of what it meant.
Years after the war, the government (mostly mothers of those lost) began a movement to reinter those killed in their native lands.
Eldon was brought back home to rest in the cemetery in Vendor, Arkansas, so near where he was born.
Samie’s daughter remembers that when they finally brought Eldon home, that they told her father that the funeral would be held at a certain date.
Samie refused to attend. He told his family ‘That ain’t him, it’s just a bag of sand.’
Samie lived out his life, dying in Vendor, Arkansas, while out checking his traps.
As I strolled the rows in Smith Cemetery, as a young child, I had no idea of the things that I would later realize.
There are people there that exemplify what I should be: men who were men, who died for a cause WORTH dying for.
There are men who were forced into things that they would later regret, and never recover from.
There are men who lived their lives out and never thought a whit about conflict or such things.
But, as I stroll the graves here at Smith Cemetery, I still see my Great Grandmother Edna.
I can’t help but think if her pouring sand is a strange compliment to a boy who fell so far from home.
Eldon was brought back to Newton County, Arkansas.
A monument to those who think about serving the Yankee war machine for a living, and who always come up short, he lies there.
He gave his all, as did his brother. The difference is, one survived and one didn’t.
We will never know, this side of the river, if Eldon saw what was coming or if he was killed outright. What I do know is this: He grew up in the hills of Newton County, a place that protected and nurtured him as he grew to manhood, hunting and fishing and running barefoot with all his cousins and other family.
He died far from the hills where he should’ve been.
He died far from the hills that were his home.
I wonder, sitting here, if he, in his last moments, lifted his eyes back across the massive, endless ocean, and saw those hills and valleys once more as he died. Maybe he had a beautiful recollection as he went.
Or maybe it was never that poetic or dignified.
He would never see those hills again in this life.
On a bright, sunny day, in Vendor, I struggle along behind my great Grandmother as she tends to the graves there. She rolls out green ‘boat carpet’ and tends to the weeding and care of the stones.
I had no ideal about the nearby stone for Eldon Farmer; nor his brother Samie, save for he was our kinfolk and he should be remembered and revered.
Eldon’s stone has one of the greatest epitaphs I’ve ever read, one I spent years walking around.
SGT. ELDON FARMER
AUG 23 1912
NOV 4 1944
I WILL LIFT MINE EYES UP UNTO THE HILLS
We in the hills shall always remember you, sir.