In late September this year Willard Louden escorted me and a handful of artists down this road into the bottom of a canyon and showed us a bit of history. It seemed we had all been transported back in time. There were no power lines, no pavement and no cell phone signal and I felt I was as far from civilization as I’d ever been. The experience was one of awe and reverence. At times I thought I could hear in the wind and the rustling of the trees, voices, old and distant voices that told stories about this out of the way world and the lives that had passed through it. Willard Louden it turns out was our translator.
The tree in this photo (above) is the “Lone Oak”. It stands near the foundation of an old stone structure where now eighty three year old Willard Louden went to school.
This bit of a structure was started but never finished. The one room school house is just to the right but there is so little of the school left it’s hard to see. Willard (wearing the yellow shirt in the photo below) knows exactly where it is and showed us around the edges of the foundation then led us up into the side of the canyon wall to Lone Oak Post Office. Lone Oak Post Office served several families in the area in the early part of the last century. Eventually these settlers moved away and the Loudens built a ranch totally nearly 25,000 acres by paying back taxes and taking possession of the deserted land.
The P.O. isn’t easy to see. Over the years trees and bushes have grown up in front and if you don’t know where to look you could easily miss it. It is built into a recess in the canyon wall that was used as shelter by the Indians in the area before the homesteaders arrived. The latest tenant is a big gray spider taking up residence under the eve. Farther along the wall to the left of the P.O. is a small pen also made of stone. Willard said it most likely held sheep or goats.
We made our way through tree branches and under brush until we came to the sheep pen. Willard settled in here and told stories of his family. He told us about the old family that started Louden Ranch. He told how he and his brother had traveled the world, got an education and returned to spend their lives working and living here. And he told us about those who are inheriting the ranch as those who currently run it have been growing old. When asked about the legends told about buried gold and treasures hidden in the area he laughed. It wasn’t possible, he said, the time lines were all wrong. There was one fellow, though, who found several silver coins stashed in the dutch oven of an old stove someone had left behind.
And after a while we sort of drifted away from that spot and set up our easels and did what we came to do. We painted through the afternoon listening to the black birds and the wild burros in the distance. We fought the gnats and flies and painted as the shadows got longer and longer. We watched the afternoon sun light turn to gold and the evening came. And the world seemed to soften and become quiet as Mr. Louden told us more stories.