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As a young confederate soldier from Georgia, John Hinkle heard of golden opportunities in Arkansas. There were promises of free land for those who were willing to inhabit and improve it. He got wind of the plentiful jobs involving the timber industry and railroad construction.
The roads, even those considered main routes, were little more than trails through the forests; folks struggled to get their horse drawn wagons through the rutted quagmires. This rugged way of travel would be considered all but impossible by modern standards, yet around 1890 John and his family packed up their gear and set out to stake their claim. They took root in North Central Arkansas in what is now Van Buren County and claimed 160 acres as their homestead.
John felled trees to build his family’s new log cabin home. With a broad-ax, he hand hewed each and every one of them. He skillfully notched each log so that the corners fit snug and tight. John’s finished product — a cabin, that for over a century has proved to have the same strength, form and longevity as he, himself exuded. The small cabin consisted of one main room, and a lean-to that may have been used as a kitchen or sleeping area. Above the main room, John built a loft. A crude homemade ladder of white oak branches nailed to the wall led to the sleeping quarters overhead. This primitive cabin, without a bathroom or running water, must have seemed lavish when compared to life in a covered wagon.
Local legend holds that John Hinkle’s craftsmanship was proven when a tornado descended — reaching in like a cookie jar thief — lifting the roof right off the very rooms that it faithfully and gallantly protected. The raging storm contemplated relocating the roof to another nearby county. Upon observing the cabin’s interior integrity, the swirling tunnel of wind reconsidered. It instantly returned the weather guard — though a tad mangled and about a half a bubble off plumb — to its previously mounted sentry duty atop the cabin.
The Hinkles went on to raise eight children in this cabin. Eight of them! To remember the names and hierarchy of their offspring, they composed a little ditty that went something like this, “William, Lize—Jane and Than—Simm and Nome—Ike and Dan.” That rhyme, to this day is the family’s memory-stroking method of ancestral recollection.
The character laden cabin in the woods, served four generations, being lived in continuously until the 1940s. It was then abandoned for human habitation, and was subjugated to service as a barn for storing hay until the late ‘60s. One Hinkle descendant, Roy Hinesly, cleaned and made it livable again.
‘Uncle Roy,’ as he was referred to by the local population, could be seen daily walking or hitching a ride six miles down Highway 9 into the town of Shirley, where he would sit on the porch at the general store and visit with folks all day long. During the twenty-odd years he lived here, there were some renovations made. He added electricity and running water. He built a less archaic stairway leading to the loft which is now a finished room.
Neither signs or travel booklet write-ups point to this little structure's existence, yet an astounding number of people are drawn to stop, marvel at and, photograph it. John Hinkle would be proud to know that the wonderful little homestead that he built, would be a landmark in time. He would be pleased to know that when caught by the public eye, this time capsule of his would set into motion, the imaginations and emotions of those who appreciate what it must have been like to have lived in his era.
Roy’s’ nephew, Wendell Hinesley, who was born in this cabin, currently owns and takes care of the upkeep. Wendell has plans to refurbish it and maybe add a bedroom and a bathroom. Would this be progress or a travesty? You be the Judge. I myself, can only answer this question with another. After one hundred years, a bathroom? Who needs it!!!
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Note: Dana Leason <email@example.com> is a freelance journalist and photographer. She resides near Shirley, Arkansas, and is the owner of Countryside Photography. Visit her and view some of her award-winning work at World Photo Gallery http://www.worldphotogallery.com/cats/l/djdjl.htm
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