Lone Oak

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.


10 Responses to “Lone Oak”

  1. Dear Eldon,
    Great Stories – wish i could have beEN wit h you to hear them firsthand, alas,
    i got a few nice paintings in monttana when i was there with y class last week, and hope someday you migh t join us there – i may take off next year – it woud be our 7th there – to finish a book on Proess over PRODUT – WHICH MY HUSBAND SAYS I’VE BEEN WORKING ON THE PAST 15 Years Not true – but needs to be fisished, SOON.


  2. Cassandra, it was truely a day to remember.
    The book sounds good. When you finish please let me know. And send me some info on what you do in Montana. It sounds like you have a wonderful time there.

  3. What an amazing adventure Eldon!! I just love places like that where you can feel the history as if it were unfolding before you. Looks like a great place for some plein air work also. I really enjoyed this post and the pictures are great! Thanks for posting, Theresa

  4. Dear Eldon,
    I, too, wish I could have been there with you for the day. I would have loved the countryside, the stories and to watch you (and all the artists) discover so much. Thanks to the generosity of Mr. Louden for allowing you to come and learn from him those little things history and families are made of. I love it.


  5. Hi Theresa, Thanks, I’m glad you like the site. That week end was truely one to remember. I really want to go back and paint some more one of these days. Willard said he is OK with that.

  6. Hey Peggy!! Good to hear from you. I know you would have loved it down there. No doubt Willard would have given you plenty to write about. Something tells me we only experienced the tip of the ice burg.

  7. Hi Eldon,

    You write so well, I could almost hear the voices you described, and definitely
    understand your reverence for the place. The photos are exceptional too. The last one of all of you settling down to paint, would make a beautiful painting. I see it in watercolour — it just has a magical feeling — the light is beautiful. Thanks for your great blog.


  8. Hi barbara! Thanks. I know you would have loved to see this area in person. It’s rough, it’s delicate and being in the wrong place at the wrong time can get ya into a pack of trouble. I come fron LaJunta which is in the area but about 50 miles north so I’ve seen a lot of it and I know a lot of the ranchers. I’d rather paint there than any where else.

  9. I bet you didn’t think I would take you up on looking at your blog but I did an am surprised to fine that you are a WRITER in addition to being a painter, I’m impressed and particularly with this little story. I got carried right along with your group to this place. Like your style. I’d love to go painting at these ranches with you sometime. Lets see if we can grab Doug and go!

  10. […] mill. It’s one of the first things you see when you drive into the bottom of the canyon where Lone Oak Post Office is. If you were to walk up to the windmill from this view and hooked a hard left […]

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