World's Greatest Dog Man
They told me I should go to Joplin and talk with O.L. Beckham, a legendary dog trader who wrote extensively about hounds. "He's the best storyteller in the Ozarks. The best anywhere," they said.
It took more than a decade for me to act on that tip. Luckily O.L., then in his early 80s, hadn't slowed down much. He particularly loved reminiscing about his father, the youngest of ten, an Ozark walking preacher and himself father of nine.
While moving the family back north from working a spell in Texas, his family's wagon got caught behind slow-moving cattle herds. That's when O.L. was born, on April 12, 1907, in brush alongside the Chisolm Trail in Oklahoma.
"My father moved every January first," O.L. recalled. "He would feel a calling to serve some community and load us all into the wagon, even if snow was flying. Anything that didn't fit, he left for the birds to peck over.
"Once he loaded us all up to go from Happy Hollow to an old abandoned cabin in the weeds near Rea Valley in Arkansas. That winter Daddy didn't have anything to feed the team but corn stalks. Them old horses were as weak as water. We had to ford a half-frozen river in the dark of night. This one little horse died right there. Our wagon swung around into a deep hole.
"Luckily it was a high-wheeled farm wagon. My 12-year-old brother had to wade out into icy water chest-deep to let the dead horse go. I still remember mother wrapping me in a coat-I was six-and setting me on her cast-iron cook stove while my brother led that lone blind mare to pull the wagon to shore.
"We got to the cabin at daybreak. Then we all had to go cut wood and pull tin off a barn to cover up the house's open windows. Never did get any glass in that place."
O.L.'s legacy as a storyteller and lover of the outdoors flourishes. As an author of three books, now all out-of-print collectors' items, O.L. joined one of the great traditions of Missouri literature: the solemnization of the dog. O.L. wrote nearly 3,000 stories, most of them about man's best friend. Much of his writing appeared exclusively for readers of Full Cry, which is described as "America's leading tree hound publication."
Since January 1951, O.L.'s column has appeared in every issue without fail. He wrote about eating nothing but turnips