Sunday, December 13, 2009

Finding Shirley’s Leg

Mt. Ida, Arkansas is a town of about 1200 old timers who really don’t like or trust “new “ people, to say the least. I like to say that families in my neck of the woods don’t just have skeletons in their closets, they have entire cemeteries! My husband, Mitch, is from Mt. Ida so I have some insight and leeway into the lives and family histories. To them I am actually a shiny city girl from a town of 36,000 know regionally as simply “Sin City”. It has taken me a full twenty years to have them look at me with only one raised eyebrow!The forty- five minute drive from my home to Mt. Ida might as well be time travel. Today, at the turn of a new decade in a relatively new century the people of Mt. Ida, Arkansas are happily living in the 1950’s. Don’t mistake it as Mayberry, this little town is in FULL Technicolor... It is hiding somewhere in the Ouachita Mountains of Western Arkansas .we aren’t hillbillies...Just a bit eccentric…

This time our eccentricities have paid off since I have now found Shirley’s leg! The hunt for the leg started when we were catching upon things with a relative and I told him that I was writing about cemeteries...Bill Ed is the kinda guy who has to know just one thing more than you do and THANK GOD  he is that way or I would have never have know about Shirley’s leg..He said that he saw the marker in a country cemetery, as if the main cemetery in a town of 1200 people is high traffic… We first thought that we were looking for Sarah’s leg and we were first told that it was off of a dirt road that winds along the Ouachita River (Wash a tah) so we looked down every dirt road we could find..Mitch would patiently sit in the Tahoe while I got out and talked to everyone I could find...which weren’t too many. In this part of the country you are as likely to run upon a white lightning still as you are a Copper headed rattle moccasin or a family cemetery. Only one of the above do I ever want to see and that would be the cemetery...My country cemetery days are limited to deer, turkey and squirrel season, cold weather sports so as to avoid the scary things...

This is also the part of the country where folks mine or just plain dig for crystals and let me tell you that the folks who dig for crystals are a froggy bunch...(see southern dictionary for definition) Since hearing that “the leg” existed I have been on a mission to find it. We spent days and days driving and asking cemetery questions...My favorite stop was at a deer camp close to one of the cemeteries. From the name painted on the back of a procured state highway sign, I could see that it was the was the Manley Camp and it was just about dark thirty...all was well at the camp to say the least...we stopped mainly because there was a truck parked right smack in the middle of the road. I rolled down the window and announced that we had come for dinner. In this part of the world they would have gladly fed and stories. But, they had beer! No one had ever heard of Shirley’s leg but, each one had a cemetery story of their own...You learn so much if you just ask a question and then shut up. I always let the other person shine and they never let me down...Side note, one of the Manley’s reached under the seat of his truck and pulled out something wrapped in newspaper..I just stood there and acted blonde.We were miles and miles from town and I remind you ..they did have guns. As he unwrapped the newspaper he was grinning like a fox...Then, of course, he had to hide it behind his back and make me ended up being the longest, most perfect crystal point that I have ever least eight inches long and only about a inch and half long..I didn’t get a photo but, I will…

So let’s find Shirley’s leg I had to: don a hunter orange vest and cap, Check...get mud from bumper to bumper, Check...Get to use four wheel drive, Check..Meet strangers with guns in the woods, Check and listen to a hundred unrelated stories, Check...It was a good month!

It was a no go on Shirley’s leg... No one knew anything about it although everyone made me promise that I would tell them the story when I found it! So, it was back to Bill Ed...Finally, he called his brother Steve and BINGO!!! Steve not only knew where Shirley’s leg was, he knew where Shirley was and she was related! To Mitch, not me. I had to put all animosity to Steve aside in order to find “the leg”. Steve and I aren’t exactly on each other’s Christmas card list... Once, in the 1990’s Steve wanted to argue about AIDS so I had to Lay Him Out In Lavender...he has wanted to be “right” and know more than I did about something for the past 20 years so here’s his chance!..Every question that I asked was silently answered with “ you stupid @$%#@” at the end of each sentence…I had looked too long to let this get in the way so we put Steve in the front seat and down the road we went.. Shirley’s leg was never down a dirt road and it was never even close to the river...finally after about thirty minutes we arrived at a very well kept cemetery cut out of the Ouachita National Forrest called Little Fir. There it was right on the south edge of the cemetery, a small grave circled with milk crystals and a concrete block with the name Shirley’s leg and the date painted on the top! I had finally found it and beside the leg was a grave set aside, waiting for the rest of Shirley….

When I was a small child my grandfather, Papa, had his leg removed and we also buried it in the family cemetery...I went with my mother to the hospital and picked up the leg...Papa gave us strict instructions on exactly how to bury it next to the grave where he would one day join it again. I can only imagine that the family of Shirley’s leg also did the same...My aunts and grandmother took turns digging the grave and then we had a do it yourself funeral for Papa's leg complete with scriptures and a hymn “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder I’ll Be There”  after that we left the cemetery having never been as smart as to put up a marker named Papa’s leg!

Now, I will have to find Shirley and ask her about the now famous marker simply called Shirley’s leg.

March 4, 2010
Montgomery County, Arkansas
Am I the luckiest Taphophile(Cemetery lover) in the world??? Two legs in one county..Shirley's is at the north Eastern part of the county and Sam's is t the far South Western part..50 miles apart and 7 decades..It would be VERY unlikely that they would have ever even have known of each other!

Look at this!!  In the southern part of this same county I found Sam's leg ..It must be a county wide thing!! Thanks, Cindy Gaston Wilkinson!
This is from Cindy..
"Birth: 1910  Death: 1973
At the age of twelve Sam's leg had osteomyelitis and was amputated with a saw on a kitchen table in 1922 by Dr Stueart and with Guy Fitzwater, a pharmacist from Womble, administering the anesthetic. The leg was buried in the Scott-Wehunt Cemetery, eight miles from the old Swindle farm. Later a gravestone was placed over this site. In gratitude for saving his life Sam bought the doctor a recliner. Sam carried on farm work using a crutch until his death in 1973. Mr Swindle was buried next to his leg.

Ruth, hope Beth sees this!... "


  1. Oh Ruth, I am going to have to come to Arkansas to have fun like you do! What is it about the South? It is just a whole different way of living I guess1 LOL

  2. Sheri, you are so cute! Come on down ANYTIME!!! I really do have dyslexia and syntax and punctuation just doesn't exist..they say to just write anyway..I need an

  3. That is hysterical. Is there a marker for Papa's leg? I know I've seen the cemetary, but I can't remember that crucial detail.

  4. You can bet that will be one very soon! Why didn't i think of that! was about 1966 when we buried Papa's leg.

  5. When you get all these questions answered, please write about them. I'll be watching! So fun to read your stories, Ruth!