Recently Rod Cameron, of Raytown, messaged us on Facebook after reading Damming the Osage. Rod lived along the Osage River in the 1970s. He shared with us a poem he had written as he watched Truman Dam being built. It is a poignant and moving meditation, so evocative of the river we knew. Wish we had known about this poem when we were working on the book. We would have asked permission to include it. He has given us permission to publish it here on our blog. We asked Rod too if he would write some of his memories of life in Benton County. He recalls “County Road KK: the recluse and the river.”
Dam Site (Kaysinger)
From the white summit of the bluff,
I look down on backs of vultures
Sliding along the trees like
Time-lapse movies of cloud shadows,
Working against the green
Of soybean fields and rising hills.
Sweeps across the valley floor
And swallowing sorrow
Thrown its way in glances.
Yet, someone decides:
Stop this river here.
So, lazily it will wallow and get fat,
Roll slowly in the breeze; it will eat old
Boat docks and rub softly the hills,
It will be as great as a padded room.
Rod is a 65-year-old, recently retired, high school English teacher. A native of Missouri, he grew up in Kansas City but spent a great deal of time on the Osage River near Warsaw, Missouri. He holds degrees in English from Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri, and the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. After teaching for five years in Marshall, Rod moved to Iowa for the remainder of his 37-year career. Currently, Rod and his wife Sally live in Raytown, Missouri, along with their two rescue dogs, Lucky and Lady.
County Road KK: the recluse and the river
At the end of County Road KK in Benton County, Missouri, the road turns to gravel. Another mile, and there once was a place called Sundown Acres. In the early 1960’s, my parents built a small lake cabin on eight acres next to a house owned by a man named Kraft. My teen years were spent wandering up and down that gravel road, fishing in nearby ponds, and throwing rocks off nearby bluffs into the Osage River. I would hunt squirrels and deer, and our family spent many days on the sandbar that reached out from an island that split the river nearby. Our real home was in Kansas City, but it is the memories of living by the Osage that remain from my youth.
We thought about getting horses to ride during our weekend visits to Sundown. But we needed a place to board them. I went with Dad to the fenced property of a mysterious recluse a mile or so back up the paved portion of KK. I stayed in the car, parked just off the pavement, while dad entered the wire gate and walked through knee-high grass and weeds to a small log structure sitting far back on the property. Because of a rise in the ground, the structure was hidden partly because it sat on a slight downward slope near the back, the part overlooking the river. I could see a wooden split log fence and some kind of ramp I thought may have been for loading cattle. Dad came back to the car and shook his head “no.” That was the end of our horse venture.
But the experience had captured my imagination. Every time we passed by the “hermit’s cabin,” as we had come to call the place, I strained to see if he was visible. He never was. When I was 16 or so, news of “Kaysinger Dam” swept through all the conversations in Warsaw and the surrounding area. My father was excited by the prospect of witnessing such a structure being built, especially since he had worked in construction his entire life. Soon he had other reasons for excitement. Word came that the Corps of Engineers would be buying up land in the basin, which included several hundred feet back from full reservoir. The effect was to take thousands of acres of flat or gradually sloping land and preventing private ownership and development near the lake once it came in. The buy included our eight acres, our fishing ponds, our island and its sandbar. It also included the little log house in which the recluse lived.
As chance would have it, 75 acres came up for sale about the same time. Along the east side, the property was lined for a half a mile by a high rock bluff overlooking the Osage and the farm fields on the other side. It was and is one of the very few places that offers a close view of Truman Lake because the buffer footage is almost straight up rather than gradually sloping back. The line came to the top of the bluff, providing possibly the best of view north, south, east, and west, of the Osage Valley near Warsaw. We moved there in 1968, and my parents lived there until their deaths. Just to the south, on an adjoining property, just a few feet lower in elevation, sits the rock foundation and deteriorating livestock ramp of the recluse. Today Shenandoah Valley subdivision sits on the north end of a bluff, providing spectacular sunrises to all who have built their houses along it. To the south, across a small inlet, sits a silent and empty homestead of a harmless recluse who was forced from his property.
These are before-and-after photos of the Osage River-become-reservoir taken by Rod Cameron in the late 1970s from Cobb’s Bluff: