Martin presents way of life long gone
BY SARAH HOWERTON
The Daily Citizen
It could be a tale lifted out of Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" or "Tom Sawyer" the story of two boys surviving by their wits and their skill in the woods and along the river.
However, the wilderness story depicted in Norman R. Martin's book "Orphans on the River" is a true one.
Martin, an author who lives in Searcy, relates the story of two orphan half-brothers, Harry Churchill (son of Henry Churchill) and Flemon Bobbitt (son of John Wesley Bobbitt) , who lived along the Little Red, White and Mississippi Rivers from 1913 to 1911. In his descriptions of the boys' struggles and learning experiences along the rivers, Martin presents a way of life long gone in America, a time when rivers and the railroad were the lifelines of the country. He also offers an interesting piece of White County history to boot.
The death of their mother, Mary Churchill, to tuberculosis in 1910 left the two boys orphans when they were still quite young. Flemon was about 13, and Harry was 10-years-old. Martin traces the half-brothers' predicament simply, how to survive. After a working relationship on their uncle Kirkwood Reeves farm didn't work out, Harry and Flemon decided to make it on their own, staking their home in a shallow cave under Cochran's Bluff, near where Ten-Mile Creek runs into the Little Red River in White County, according to Martin. For protection and for hunting, they had their guns and two dogs; for money, they caught and sold catfish from the river. Through a trade, the boys obtained a boat and decided to explore the Little Red River, an odyssey which led them to explore the White River, also. Later, the boys purchased a houseboat for $150, which the boys added rigging to drag for mussel shells.
Martin describes Harry and Flemon's daily chores as they worked cooperatively on the boat, including setting for fur-bearing animals, dragging the river for shells or trot line fishing, preparing mussel shells to be sold and navigating the boat along rough waters.
Perhaps one of the most interesting sections of Martin's book are the ones focusing on the railroad. The boys ended up in Rosedale, Mississippi, where Flemon, nearly 18 years-old, landed a job in a lumber mill. However, homesickness for their home state led them back to Arkansas via the Yazoo and Mississippi Railroad. and the Missouri and Martin depicts the laborious, all-day North Arkansas Railroad. This was before the time of railroad bridges across the Mississippi River, so the train had to be put on a barge and pulled across the river. Martin depicts the laborious, all-day task as well as the engineering feat of transporting the train cars across a river and them reassembling them on the other side.
For those familiar with White County, "Orphans on the River" is sprinkled with names of towns and creeks which the boys encountered as they made their life on the rivers, such as Old Prospect Bluff, now known as Judsonia.
Orphans on the River" was published in 1997 by the Martain Press. Other
titles by the press include "Ole Dewey," "Up on the
Buffalo," and "Up on Dog Creek," by Norman Martin; "Cooking
with Katheryn and Friends," by Mary Katheryn Martin; and "Backyard
Gardening Handbook," by Norman and Katheryn Martin. Published by Martain Press