Mountain View, Arkansas: The Mayberry of the Ozarks

Mountain View ArkansasLike a lot of people, I have a soft spot in my heart for “The Andy Griffith Show.” There’s just something so comforting about the idea of a small town where neighbors not only know each other, but they actually enjoy spending time together. It’s Americana at its finest. When I’m introduced to a new town, I mentally rate it on the “Mayberry Scale” of one to ten. Maybe you’ve never heard of Mountain View, Arkansas. Well, probably you’ve never heard of Mountain View, Arkansas. But I’m here to tell you that Mountain View, Arkansas comes as close to scoring a perfect ten on my Mayberry Scale as any town I’ve ever seen!

Play Me Some Mountain Music

Mountain ViewWhat makes Mountain View so special that it has attained the highest mark on my Mayberry Scale? It’s the music! Mountain View is known as the “Folk Music Capitol of the World,” but that’s only part of the story. The town is filled with music of the folk, country, bluegrass and gospel varieties. It’s sort of like the entire town is the stage at the Grand Ole Opry!

This isn’t just a gimmick to draw in tourists (although tourists do visit). The music of Mountain View has been passed down from generation to generation like crown jewels or your grandma’s peach cobbler recipe! And, that my friend is the real secret of this Mayberry-esque town.

Train up a Child in the Way He Should Fiddle…

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In a day and age when many parents can barely understand a word their kids say (Hint: There’s a BIG difference between M&Ms, the candy coated treat and Eminem, the rapper), the parents and children of Mountain View seem to speak the same language musically. That’s largely thanks to the “Music Roots” program through the Mountain View Public School System and the Ozark Folk Music Center State Park.

Mountain ViewThrough the Music Roots program, any student in 4th through 8th grade can receive a free musical instrument and music instruction. And children who are home-schooled are also eligible to participate in the Music Roots program. Banjos, mandolins, fiddles and autoharps are among the instruments of choice. The program is partially supported through a grant and whole-heartedly supported by long-time residents. Local musicians provide the music lessons, free of charge. Their enthusiasm is as contagious as the toe-tapping rhythms they teach.

MtnView5Why is the program geared for 4th-8th graders? I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s because those are the years when the average child is able quickly grasp musical concepts. Or, maybe it’s because the people of Mountain View are trying to connect with the children before their teenage cynicism and eye rolling muscles are fully developed. Whatever the reason, it seems to work!

MtnView6True confession time: I’ve never been someone who believes it takes a village to raise a child. I’ve always considered that to be the job of the parents. But I will say that I believe the right village can greatly enrich a child’s upbringing. Mountain View is such a village.

Music Roots is so innovative that people have actually relocated to Mountain View just so their children can have this musical advantage. When you stop and think about it, it makes a lot of sense. The benefits of learning how to play an instrument last a lifetime.

MtnView7Former school superintendent, Danny Thomas, started the Music Roots program in the 1990s. (I must point out that the pilot of “The Andy Griffith Show” was a spinoff of “The Danny Thomas Show”. Coincidence or creepy gameshow trivia? You be the judge!) When NBC Nightly News featured Mountain View and its unique approach to music education, Thomas was quoted as saying, “Our forefathers who lived in this isolated, remote area of the mountains made a lot of sacrifices to make life better for their children. A lot of stories that took place here are told in the songs and the music.” How wonderful that those stories are being kept alive!

They’re a Pickin’ and They’re a Grinnin’!

MtnView8You don’t have to visit a school to hear the music of Mountain View. You can find more live music than coffee shops on the street corners of downtown Mountain View during any hour when good, honest folks are likely to be awake! In the evenings, people are invited to bring their own lawn chairs and “set a spell” while listening to some fabulous local performers. Moving lawn chairs from group to group, listeners can enjoy an almost nightly game of Mountain View’s version of musical chairs! I like to think of it as listening to jam sessions by people who likely know how to make jam!

Hill music fans can also escape the Ozark mosquitoes and venture indoors for some music. There are indoor shows and “pickin’ barns” that offer a variety of music and comedy shows. It’s sort of like a mini Branson, Missouri without all of the traffic!

Th-th-th-That’s Not All, Folks!

Do you remember when I mentioned that the Ozark Folk Center State Park helps support the school’s Music Roots program? Well, that’s not all the folk center does. It is a destination in its own right. Visitors can enjoy pre WWII mountain music and learn about the crafts and heritage of the Ozarks.

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The craft village has around two-dozen local artisans who demonstrate the crafts you might expect to see at a place call the Ozark Folk Center. Visitors can watch artisans weave baskets, make dolls, make lye soap, dip candles, make knives, throw pottery and so much more. The craft village is open between April and November.

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About that Mayberry Scale of mine… Perhaps I need to rethink that. Maybe Mountain View, Arkansas deserves its very own scale for quaint, small town life. Shoot, if Mayberry had had some of the things Mountain View has to offer, Andy and Barney wouldn’t have had to drive Helen and Thelma Lou into Mount Pilot so often! And, Opie might still be living there today.

Enjoy this little video about Mountain View, created during the “off season”!

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

OH, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam…

Buffalo“OH, give me a home where the buffalo roam…” I don’t know about you, but those words take me back to evenings spent around the campfire, roasting marshmallows on wire coat hangers. But, when I really stop to think about it, the ideas in that song take me back much further than that.

It’s practically impossible to think about the development of the Old West and the lives of the Native American tribes of the plains without thinking about the majestic bison. (Note: the terms bison and American buffalo are used interchangeably.) As lovers of all things Western, we at Stargazer Mercantile are excited to introduce a new line of products created from buffalo leather and buffalo hide. This seems like the perfect opportunity to explore the importance of the great American buffalo throughout history.

It’s Plains to See

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To the Plains Indians, the buffalo meant life. It provided them with food, shelter, tools and clothing. It’s no wonder that the lives of many Native American tribes who relied on the buffalo followed the migration of buffalo herds. Before the introduction of horses to these tribes, that meant a lot of traveling by foot. But, killing a buffalo was like one-stop shopping at a warehouse club. Since the buffalo can weigh in at 2000 pounds, and is the largest land animal in North America, a buffalo was like buying in bulk!

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Check out the handy-dandy bullet points for some of the ways tribes of Plains Indians utilized the parts of the buffalo:

  • Bones – used to make arrowheads, jewelry, spear handles, shovels, knives, toys, winter sleds, paintbrushes and awls
  • Hide – used for clothing, blankets and bedding, tipi covers, drums, headdresses and knife cases
  • Skulls – used in religious ceremonies
  • Horns – made into cups, tools, ladles and, following the introduction of guns to the Native Americans, they were used for powder horns
  • Intestines – made into buckets and cooking utensils
  • Sinew – utilized as thread, glue and bowstrings
  • Brains – used as a hide tanner
  • Buffalo chips – fuel for fire
  • Bladder – made into pouches
  • Stomach – made into cups, dishes, buckets
  • Hair – used for headdresses, ropes, pillows, bedding and decoration
  • Hooves – made into glue
  • Hump – made shields
  • Fat – used in the making of soap
  • Meat – The tongue, ribs, organs and rump were eaten quickly. The rest was used for jerky and pemmican.

Many Native American myths told about buffalos who willingly gave themselves up as food to man. In other myths, the buffalo conveyed knowledge of medicine to man. There were tales that warned of death when man failed to respect the buffalo. It’s easy to see why Native Americans were more than a little distraught by the mass killing of the buffalo when the white settlers entered the picture!

Settle Down

Western SetllersAh, but settlers did enter the picture and the landscape of the West changed. It is estimated that more than 30 million buffalo roamed the United States, in the early 1800s. By the end of the 1800s, it is believed there were fewer than 1000 American buffalo! Yeah, I had to read that a few times, myself. I mean, how did that happen? I keep thinking about Chief Iron Eyes Cody, the Native American with the single tear rolling down his face from the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign of the 1970s. Do you remember him? My land, I don’t know how he wasn’t shedding buckets just over what had happened to the buffalo!

So what had happened? Anglo settlers didn’t view the buffalo in the same way the Native Americans did. Land was cultivated and crops were grown. While the buffalo was an essential natural resource to Native Americans, they weren’t as crucial to the settlers. That’s not to say that Anglo settlers didn’t enjoy their share of buffalo meat. In fact, buffalos were quite important to Westward expansion. Hunters were hired to supply buffalo meat for the railroad crews working their way across the landscape. If only that had been where the connection between settlers and buffalos ended.

Manifest Casualty

Manifest DestinyAs the human population grew, the buffalo population declined in astounding numbers. The idea of Manifest Destiny came alarmingly close to wiping out the species that once covered the countryside. Towns sprouted up from the wilderness. Farming and cattle ranching cleared even more land. Railroads replaced trees with tracks and cut a long and winding path across the nation. Gold and silver mining brought out the adventurers in droves. And, there were the hunters…

Unlike the Native Americans who followed the buffalo herds on foot or horseback, Anglo sportsmen were able to arrive to the plains by the train carload full. And they did arrive. Amateurs who were out for a thrill and professional hide hunters killed buffalos indiscriminately. One skilled hunter could shoot one hundred buffalos a day.

Do you remember that bullet point list of ways Indians used the buffalo? Here are the bullet points for some of the ways professional hide hunters utilized the parts of the buffalo:

  • Hide—sold it for ready cash while leaving the rest of the animal

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You may have noticed that the above is a very short list. Okay, so one thing isn’t technically a list at all. But it does sum up what happened. I can understand not being all that excited to use buffalo stomach dishes, but… Come on, people! What were they thinking? Buffalos don’t grow on trees! In fact, the Buffalo almost didn’t grow anywhere, ever again.

Buffalo Pals

President Theodore RooseveltThanks to conservation efforts of the American Bison society of supporters such as Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, the American buffalo is no longer endangered. Today, there are around 200,000 American buffalo on private ranches, across the U.S. It is a $300,000,000 business and bison meat continues to grow in popularity! When you consider how close it came to extinction that is nothing short of miraculous!

buffalo-coinPerhaps, more than any other animal, the American buffalo is the symbol of our nation. That’s why the National Bison Legacy Act seeks to have the bison officially become our national mammal. It is with great respect for the history of this beautiful animal that we present our line of buffalo products. I’ve always said that each of our products tells a story. The story of the American buffalo is too important to be forgotten.

Buffalo Hide Pillows

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Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

A National Treasure: The Mitchell Corn Palace

Corn PalaceI am often asked how I find so many interesting stories for my blog.  Well, sometimes a sweet little story just whispers itself into my ear and sometimes… sometimes a story comes dancing into the room wearing tap shoes, twirling a fire baton and singing patriotic songs at the top of its lungs! This is definitely a tap shoes and fire baton sort of story. (And, if you listen closely, I’m pretty sure you’ll hear Woody Guthrie singing, “This Land is Your Land” in the background.) Today, I’m going to tell you all about The Mitchell Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota!

They’re All Ears

Mitchell Corn PalaceThe Mitchell Corn Palace has a long, proud history. Originally known as The Corn Belt Exposition, the first Corn Palace was built in 1892. Why, you ask? It was built to showcase the crops in South Dakota and encourage people to settle there. People displayed their crops on the outside of the building as sort of a way of saying, “Come for the Corn Palace; stay for the fertile soil!” At that point, it was a wooden palace located smack dab on Mitchell’s Main Street. The palace was rebuilt in 1905 when Mitchell was attempting to overtake Pierre to become the capital of South Dakota. I, for one, don’t know how they lost that challenge, what with having a palace and all! Surely, it would have made a suitable governor’s mansion.

In 1921, the structure was again rebuilt, into the glorious Corn Palace we know today.  The new design wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill South Dakota palace style. We’re talkin’ Moorish domes and minarets folks! God Bless the good people of Mitchell, South Dakota! They seem to live by the mantra that anything worth doing is worth overdoing and they understand that if you’re going to make a shrine to corn, there’s no reason to be shy about it!

At the Risk of Sounding Corny

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The exterior decorations of the Corn Palace change each year. The old is completely stripped off and the new installed. And, although it is hard to imagine if you have never seen the Corn Palace, that decoration is created entirely from corn. Yes. Corn cobs and corn kernels, in all twelve natural colors. And a few natural grasses and grains, just for the heck of it. I am not making this up.

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After a committee selects a theme, a local artist designs multiple murals. This year’s theme is “We Celebrate”. On June 4, twelve decorators began removing the old murals. The new murals will consist of a dozen scenes of holiday celebrations. What does it cost to decorate the Corn Palace? I’m glad you asked! It costs around $130,000 annually to keep the Corn Palace the showcase for agricultural art that it has become.

The murals will remain intact until the Corn Palace Festival, in August. But, whenever you can make it to Mitchell, have no fear; the Mitchell Corn Palace exterior is never stripped completely bare. There is always something to see!

Oh, and about that Corn Palace Festival… deal me in! It sounds like it will be a whole bushel full of fun! The festival will run from August 21st through the 25th. Entertainers will include Dwight Yoakam and, one of my favorite funnymen, Terry Fator. How “a-maize-ing” is that?

Well, Shucks!

Interior - Corn PalaceAdmission to the Mitchell Corn Palace is free, and you can even rent out portions of the facility for your events. Can you imagine how meeting at the Corn Palace could liven up your next corporate event? And I sort of envy the students of Mitchell High School for getting to hold their prom at the Corn Palace. There’s a story to pass down to future generations! (“When I was a young ‘un, we had our prom in the world’s largest birdfeeder!”) In all seriousness, I find it all so delightfully quirky that I can scarcely stand it!

A Kernel of Truth

John Stewart - Daily ShowOccasionally, the Corn Palace has attracted national attention. In 2004, gums were a flappin’ when the Corn Palace received Homeland Security funding. At the time, “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart offered up some humor about the Corn Palace being the next terrorist target. I don’t care what anyone says; palaces must be protected!

Stephen ColbertIn 2012, the Corn Palace was even featured on “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central. The folks of Mitchell, South Dakota had to know they had arrived when the great Stephen Colbert spent more than six minutes focusing on the Corn Palace. Mitchellites (Mitchellonians?) understood it was all in good fun when Colbert ran a story about the drought threatening the color varieties of corn used in Corn Palace murals.

If you find yourself wanting to throw the kiddos in the car and travel across country to the Mitchell Corn Palace, you are not alone. Each year around half a million folks make the pilgrimage to the great corn Mecca of South Dakota. In 2008, even President Obama made a trek to visit the great Corn Palace. Take that, Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota! Isn’t America great? This land really was made for you and me!

Happy Trails!

Anita Lequoia

 

Our Design Inspiration: Cowboy Boots!

Cowboy BootsCowboy boots. Just the words alone make my heart skip a beat! Jeff Foxworthy may know a thing or two about rednecks, but I know a thing or two about Westerners. And I’m here to tell you that you might well be a Westerner if you think Dorothy would have made it back to Kansas a whole heckuva lot sooner if she had been given cowboy boots instead of those impractical ruby slippers. Or, how about this one? You might be a Westerner if you think cowboy boots are perfectly appropriate footwear for everything from a pair of jeans to a wedding dress. Yep, Westerners have had a long love affair with cowboy boots and, today, I want to explore that a bit.

These Boots are Made for Walking (and So Much More!)

Cowboy BootsEarly cowboy boots were plain, simple and utilitarian. They were made for working, and working hard. But in 1866, when the idea of driving cattle to developing markets along the Loving-Goodnight Trail between Texas and Colorado was developed, all that changed.

CowboysA new era in social opportunities arose for range cowboys. Imagine working the range for months, seeing only the same men and the same cattle . . . and then finally arriving in a large urban city like Denver, with several days off and a paycheck in hand! YEEHAW! The cowboys who drove the cattle suddenly wanted more than just a working boot; they also wanted a fancier pair of boots for going to the big city and painting the town red!

Cowboy boots with spursWestern boot makers responded to this need by adding embellishments, some so fancy that they occasionally defied description. There were cutouts, overlays, underlays, appliqués, buck stitching, flame stitching, embroidery, bright colors, silver adornments . . . there was simply no limit! You might say that cowboy boots really were the first designer footwear. Take that Jimmy Choo!

You Bet Your Boots!

Horse and CowboyI have often wondered if the embellishment of a cowboy’s boots mirrored the embellishment of his stories. Storytelling was one of the most treasured of the cowboy arts, right along with hitching horsehair, braiding rawhide, carving leather, singing songs and composing poetry. A cowboy’s life – – out working cattle on the range for weeks at a time – – was a life of boredom, punctuated by moments of extreme excitement if not downright terror. It would seem that the long periods of boredom would be a likely opportunity for the embellishment of those more exciting moments, in a cowboy’s mind. . .spinning out into some of the most wonderful stories in our American heritage.

CowboysWith few people around to tell those stories to, it’s likely that the trips to town for socializing at the saloon after the cattle drive would be times that were greatly anticipated by every cowboy. And, certainly, they were occasions for dressing up—not just the stories, but the man. Yep, it was a time to bathe in the creek, slick down those cowlicks and mosey on into town. So a cowboy’s town boots began to take on a life all their own, to convey to the world the power of the man, just as a cowboy’s stories did.

William S. Hart, 1930; Hoot Gibson, 1938; Buck Jones, 1920
William S. Hart, 1930; Hoot Gibson, 1938; Buck Jones, 1920

In the ’20s and ‘30’s, cowboy boots rose to a fashion high as a by-product of the entertainment industry’s success with cowboy heroes like William S. Hart, Hoot Gibson, Buck Jones and Tom Mix. In fact, these Hollywood idols were the springboard for the fashion vs. function “anything goes” cowboy boot styles of the next three decades. Boot designs at this time were derived from these popular Western icons as well as from natural themes: florals, vines and leaves, tulips, scrolls, roses, stars, and curlicue patterns were incorporated in ever-increasing colors, materials and variations. The more exotic, the more they were loved!

8-9-10And for sure, it was the toes of those boots that offered the best opportunity to make a statement. Toes tell folks a little about who you are, where you have been, and where you are going. Toes can suggest what artistic masterwork resides above the ankle. Some toes simply point . . . some pout or shout . . . others are boisterous, braggy, and boastful. But no matter what they say, or who they are saying it about, toes are the most treasured part of a cowboy’s boot.

11-12-13But let’s not forget the shaft, or the heel! Tall or short, angled and sharp, low and rounded . . . there’s something for everyone. Classic boots have a fairly tall shaft (The better to avoid rattlesnakes, my Dear!) and a standard 1½-inch heel. The heels were wide enough to be practical. Lower shafts and lower heels were designed to meet the needs of calf ropers. Those boots are made for running! Higher heel boots have long been available for people who want a little height enhancement, or to make a more fashionable statement.

Why We Give Em’ the Boot

Cowboy BootsMore than anything, I love that a good pair of boots never goes out of style. Nope, never. They’re classics, just like the people who love them! No matter how many pairs of boots someone owns, they don’t just toss the old ones. In a day and age where precious little is repaired, there are still boot repair shops aplenty. It’s always nice to hear men bragging about how many times they’ve had to have the heels replaced on their favorite pair of boots.

Stargazer MercantileHere at Stargazer Mercantile, we look to many of the treasures of Western boot craftsmanship for design inspiration. We honor the legacy of the great historic craftsmen: Charles Hyer, H.J. “Big Daddy Joe” Justin, Rios Boots, Jesse’s Boots, the Blucher Boot Company. . .and to those great craftsmen of today: Chava Guevara, Lisa Sorrell, Ray Pojha, Liberty Boot, Rocketbuster, Falconhead, Tres Outlaws, Lucchese, and Old Gringo. It is a matter of respect, respect for history.

Blog15And we strive, to the best of our ability, to follow the traditions of Western leather crafting, and to build a connection to the history of the West in the objects that we make . . . to give us all a sense that we were there, and are joined to history forever . . . to confirm our American identity, and our commitment to it . . . and to define who we are as individuals.

Have a little look-see at some of our Western pillows. . .our inspirations (below, on the left) and our interpretation of their ideals (to the right!)

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We hope that you’ll stop by our website to see the other items we create, stargazermercantile.com! And, as always, we’d love to hear from you, so drop us a line to let us know what kind of items you’d like to see us produce . . . more accessories, dining and tabletop, bedroom. . .or something completely new? And what colors, shapes sizes, textures, leathers, furs? Some of our best-loved items have come about because of customer requests, and we aim to please!

Happy Trails, y’all!

Anita Lequoia