*This is the third of four writings exploring a cross-country trek spanning three generations. My grandfather, father, and I drove from Madison, Wisconsin to Dallas, Texas. It was a journey connecting old with new memories. The time reclaimed and recorded the history of our humanity…
Locals in Oklahoma were friendly and provided valuable information. The childhood home of my grandfather Tom Balisle had changed since his last visit over seventy years ago. He grew continually frustrated by the “misinformation” found in new maps and virtual navigation. Tom Balisle knew this country better than anyone through experience. No amount of data would change his mind.
The destination would be the Forest Heritage Center Museum located in Beavers Bend State Park north of Broken Bow, Oklahoma. My hope was that Tom Balisle could find memory validation and redemption. The road trip would most likely be his last and we wanted to deliver closure.
It was a miracle or fate that brought us to the Forest Heritage Center Museum. The current exhibit was “The People of the Forest” with over 150 photographs that documented the history of logging in Broken Bow and surrounding communities. As we entered, my grandfather perked up with shock and happiness. He recognized the faces in these photos. These were his people.
Gracious museum staff were genuinely delighted to meet Tom Balisle. The exhibit has an impressively researched companion book titled The Traveling Timber Towns. As my grandfather turned the pages- his father, sister, brothers, friends, coworkers, and himself stared back.
Tom Balisle was born in Alikchi and from The Traveling Timber Towns book: “As the Wright City mill needed more logs to maintain production, Choctaw Lumber Company officials established a “front,” or logging command post, nine miles west of Wright City. It was in the general area of a sulphur spring called Allikchi, named for the Choctaw word for ‘doctor.’ Alikchi had a post office from 1888 to 1931 and was the center of activity in the wilderness northwest of Wright City.”
The next day I received a message from the Forest Heritage Center and Museum. They wanted to record my grandfather’s history of the traveling timber towns. The interview was at the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and he was the star. Tom Balisle’s stories would be remembered for future generations including his dog Bob bringing a snake into church and working at the general store.
The traveling timber towns endured many hardships for everyday survival. Life was not easy and work could be dangerous. However, community was family and the history lives on in all of us.
Tom Balisle was “…happy as a town’s dog.”