(reprinted from the Arkansas Gazette, 1969, by Shirley Curtis)
Turner Bend, near Cass up in the Ozarks, got its name for a couple of obvious reasons:
It is named for a family named Turner and it is situated on a bend in the Mulberry River.
Here Champ and Flora Turner daily ply their trade – the operation of a grocery store-service station combination. Seven days a week one or both of them help the numerous people who stop, lending credit to old customers, making friends with the new ones.
The Turner family has lived in this valley for 120 years. It was in 1849 that Elias Turner and his wife Sarah made their way from Tennessee to Arkansas and fell in love with this promising area. The fertile land, majestic mountains, the swift-moving clear creek that cut its way down the center of the valley could hardly be overlooked, and they probably arrived in the springtime when the woods were blossoming with greenery that deepened as the months progressed to summer and later turned to brilliant hues of red, gold, and brown in the autumn. Here they were to work the land, rear eight children, and live for the rest of their lives.
Elias Turner was born in 1821 in Perry County, Tennessee; Sarah (Durning) in 1815. Little is known about them until they reached Arkansas in the mid-19th Century. At this time Elias contracted to buy 500 acres between Cass and Ozark for $2 per acre. He and his wife settled on the land, and it wasn’t long until they acquired many new friends, one of them a neighborhood school teacher. Elias confided in his new friend that he had $1,000 with which he was going to purchase the 500 acres. And before too much time had elapsed, the teacher stopped by the Turner house when he knew Elias was away for the day and Sarah was down at the creek washing clothes. Although he had not been told where the money was hidden, it didn’t take him long to find it tucked away in a walnut chest the Turners had brought with them from Tennessee. He took the money and skipped the country, never to be found. The $1,000 was lost forever, but the Turners were still obligated to buy the land because they had signed a contract. Somehow, over the years, Elias managed to pay his debt and the land became his, later to be handed down to his heirs.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Turners were true to the Confederacy. As Union troops eventually edged through Arkansas, Elias preserved food for his family by storing corn in the logs of the cabin where pilfering soldiers and renegades could not find it. (These same logs are still intact today, covered with siding but nevertheless comprising one room of the house near Cass.) As the war progressed and soldiers were desperately needed, Elias joined the Southern army, fighting in both Arkansas and Texas and rising to the rank of captain.
Samuel Turner, Elias’ son, also served with the Confederacy, in the 23rd Texas Calvary. In 1862, at the age of 20, he married Phoebe Marsh, a midwife who was to deliver most of the babies born in the area during her lifetime. (ed: Samuel Turner was brother to Mariah Tennessee Turner who was Doyle J. Russell’s beloved grandmother.)
Clearing land for a homesite proved to be almost more than Samuel could handle, but as the sky grew dark and the air became heavy one day, he continued to work. By the time he realized a tornado was descending upon him, it was too late to find safe cover.
Throwing himself to the ground, he locked his arms as tightly as possible around the tree, but the lashing wind was so strong that it literally bounced him and the tree up and down. Incredible as it may sound, he escaped unhurt – and built a home.
In 1892 Samuel built another house, a handsome two-story log structure that still stands today. (It is now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Berterotti.) The hand-hewn logs have since been painted red, as striking contrast to the white mortar which holds them together. The tall, natural stone fireplace he pieced together with rocks gathered from his hillside.
It was this same year that Samuel and Phoebe entertained the James Brothers – Jesse, Frank, Bob, and Cole Younger made up the party that spent the night with the Turners. As the adults settled down to talk, one of the gang poured out a sack of money on the floor so the children could play with it.
(Incidentally, whether the family actually wanted to entertain the notorious outlaws is what the lawyers would call a moot point. Quite possibly they had no choice in the matter.)
Phoebe Turner, as well as her family, was unique person. She smoked a clay pipe (which the Turners still have), using a small piece of cane for the stem. Whenever she was ready for a smoke, or a chew, up went the long skirt as her hand reached for the pouch of tobacco and the pipe carried in a handy pocket in her petticoat. Usually she chewed awhile before smoking.
Phoebe’s mother was a fearless woman. Like most people in the 1800s, she raised hogs, and inasmuch as this was a time when animal predators roamed widely through the Ozark hills, she trained the hogs to run to the house when wolves got after them. Upon hearing the hogs squealing one day, she quickly let them into the house and barred the door, but not before she had caught a glimpse of the large black bear in hot pursuit. Determined to make a meal on the swine – if not her - it lunged against the door again and again. Growling and clawing, it angrily even tried to dig under it. The bear was making progress when Phoebe’s mother grabbed an axe and with one blow severed a paw from its body. But it was not until after the animal had climbed onto the roof and torn off several boards that it gave up and lumbered off into the woods to nurse its wounds.
Phoebe’s brother, Jim Marsh, risked his life during the Civil War to protect his neighbors. As bushwhackers began to straggle through the community, stealing and plundering as they went, Jim built himself a fort of rock near the road. Darkness one night found him hidden behind his shield with plenty of ammunition but only one gun. The bushwhackers came, a few at a time, only to meet their deaths. Before the night was over, Jim had killed nine.
Phoebe and other neighbor women buried soldiers whenever it was necessary, once putting away a dozen or more Confederates who had been ambushed in their camp. No one knows who they were or where they came from, but the stone markers the women placed on their graves are still visible on a hillside overlooking the Ozark Frontier Trail.
The next descendant in the line of Turners was William Eli, Champ’s father, who not only farmed and ran the store for awhile, but also made coffins for people who could not buy one. Eli had a total of 24 children, an even dozen by each of his two wives. Eighteen of them are still living (1969), and it is no small wonder that they now keep in touch with each other through their own newspaper, The Turner Tattler, published by members of the family living in Texas.
Six of Eli’s sons were in World War II at the same time and all came back alive. Champ, stationed with the 84th Infantry, was engaged in the action of the Battle of the Bulge in addition to other major battles, but safely returned to his wife, Flora, whom he had married in 1939, and his business. Home at last, Champ was in the familiar surroundings he had known all his life.
Champ remembers his early days at Turner Bend when toys were scarce and the whole outdoors was his playground. With his friends he spent many memorable hours swimming, hunting, fishing, and exploring the intriguing caves scattered around the hills. When he wanted to visit someone, and the distance was too far to walk, he rode an ox. In fact, he road an ox to call on his first girl friend.
But the time for play and adventure was little, for there were chores to be done, land to be farmed, and livestock to feed. Leisure time was so precious that not one minute could be lost. Perhaps this is why children found so much to do during their free moments.
As a boy Champ learned that a turtle’s shell becomes a dandy soap dish after it is scrubbed, and a limb from a sweet gum tree makes an excellent toothbrush. You simply cut the limb at the notch, peel back the bark, and chew the fibers until they bush out.
Today Champ and Flora are two of the few Turners left around Cass. Only one of their sons, Paul, remains at home. Gary is assistant manager of a restaurant in Fort Smith, and Lonnie is a law student at the University of Arkansas.
Champ’s Uncle Gilbert, the oldest living member of the Turner family, lives in Fort Smith, but returns whenever possible for a visit. A spry man of 89, he just recently sold a three-wheeled motor scooter which he bought four years ago. When the purchaser couldn’t pick it up, he promptly hopped on the scooter and delivered it from Fort Smith to Van Buren.
Gilbert remembers the days when his mother, Phoebe, and his grandmother Sarah labored from dawn to dusk canning fruits and vegetables, spinning cloth and making clothes for the entire family, and curing meat for the long winter ahead. Gilbert recalls the night the James Brothers came to his father’s house, but the thing that impressed him most was, “They didn’t think any more about us kids playing with that sack of money than anything.”
Except for modern conveniences and a paved highway, Turner Bend looks much as it did in the old days. Champ and Flora have retained many of the family heirlooms, such as a powder horn that belonged to Elias, cotton cards to make bats for quilts, a shoe last for mending shoes, and a tooth extractor used in the days when the man of house was also the dentist. Their large mantle clock, dating back to 1825, came from Belgium and was made by a soldier serving under Napoleon when Belgium was reunited with France.
While wild animals are rather rare in the area, they are by no means nonexistent. Occasionally someone still tells about seeing a panther or a mountain lion, and armadillos and roadrunners, which have started migrating up from Texas, are seen frequently.
Tourists traveling the Ozarks on Highway 23 find Turner Bend a natural stopping place, and the Turners readily give them any information needed to make their journey more pleasant. However, they do lose a potential customer once in a while before he ever enters the store. Some people take offense at being greeted by a long, loud wolf whistle, and this is exactly what happens to every one who stops. The explanation is simple. The Turners have a Mynah bird who never misses an opportunity to pull this mischievous antic. But it is a little unnerving to the unsuspecting tourist who opens his car door and thinks someone inside is whistling at him or his wife, as the case may be. Some merely close the door and drive away.
The Turner family has found peace and tranquility in this beautiful valley since 1849. No one can venture a guess as to how long Turners will live in it, but undoubtedly the love first felt by Elias Turner for the land has endured in the hearts of each generation.