Tall tales and long horizons

Eureka Springs’ population and economy declined after its 1880s and ’90s heyday, but its history didn’t get any less interesting.

That’s a good thing for my upcoming book, Welcome to Eureka Springs: The I-Sh*t-You-Not History of America’s Quirkiest Town.

Three of my contemporary sources for the first half of the 20th century, besides Cora Pinkley-Call whom I’ve talked about earlier, are Frank Beals, Bonnie Lela Crump, and Otto Ernest Rayburn.

Frank Beals wrote the definitive biography of Claude Fuller, one of the people who will be featured in my book. His Backwoods Baron chronicles Fuller’s rise from childhood poverty to national power as one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s most important Congressional allies.

Bonnie Lela Crump was a midcentury tour guide at Carry A. Nation’s Hatchet Hall – not to mention an author and artist with a Ph.D. from Columbia. Her Hatchet Hall in Eureka Springs and Unique Eureka Springs provide helpful glimpses into everyday life of that time.

Otto Ernest Rayburn wrote about the town’s history more generally in The Eureka Springs Story. Even by the standards of Eureka Springs historians, Rayburn was not one to let the facts get in the way of a good story. Some he tells just for fun, like the tall tales inspired by the city’s absurd geography, handed down from “old-timers.”

“There is the fellow, for instance, who doesn’t need a picture window in his house to observe the scenery,” he wrote. “He merely looks up the chimney and watches his neighbor drive the cows home from the pasture. And don’t forget the well digger who was digging a well on East Mountain. When down about forty feet, the bottom of the well fell out and he landed (on his feet) right in the middle of Main Street. They had to change their plans and dig the well up instead of down in order to strike water.”

My book will have a sense of humor as well, but I’ll be a lot more exacting about the details. Double-checking and cross-referencing every fact has taken longer than I originally expected. I’m pushing back my launch estimate yet again, looking at spring 2025. If the stars align, it could be sooner, but I think that’s realistic.

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