On Might 10, 2022, Misty Breedlove Langdon — a seventh-generation resident of Metal Creek — floated the Buffalo. This isn’t a unprecedented assertion, however what set that exact float aside had been the ladies who joined her: Langdon’s 75-year-old mom and three of her cousins, aged 73 to 83. 

All of them — Charlene, Linda, Jane and Lora — had been raised on the river and its environs. They knew it earlier than it grew to become the primary Nationwide River, when the hilltops had been manicured pastures, when their moms plowed the fields whereas their dads and brother “loafed” alongside its banks, when their households’ homesteads weren’t simply damaged shadows of their former selves. To be rather less poetic about it, they’ve deep roots right here, roots that go all the way in which again to Abraham Villines, who moved to and settled what’s now the Ponca Wilderness 186 years in the past. This facet — the direct line to the previous — is essentially what made the journey so particular. What made it much more particular, nevertheless, is the video. 

Though Langdon hadn’t particularly got down to make a documentary for most of the people, the moments she captured on that seven-hour float journey translated exceedingly nicely to the display screen. (Effectively sufficient, in actual fact, that the ensuing 19-minute movie, “Massive Buffalo Golden Gals,” was named “Finest Documentary” on the 2023 Rogers Quick Movie Competition.) Partially, it is because it looks like some other float. Shot on a GoPro and Langdon’s iPhone, the documentary takes within the blue skies and hovering bluffs, the stomach laughs and I-remember-it-as-if-it-were-yesterday moments. But it surely’s not only a soft-edged postcard, not only a lazy glide by means of the picturesque and idyllic. As a result of, for a few of them, the river shouldn’t be really easy to return to.

That is notably the case after they strategy the previous homesite of Jane’s grandmother. Though Jane is “the hardest one in all us,” as Langdon describes her, she’s nonetheless on the point of tears when she sees what occurred to the cabin that had stood sturdy for nicely over a century. Even supposing her grandmother, Eva “Granny” Henderson, is among the many greatest recognized figures to have lived alongside the river — her picture and phrases immortalized in nationwide media protection in the course of the ’70s — the spot the place she used to stay has fallen into disrepair. 

In Langston’s work, there’s a reminder that the Buffalo is greater than the sum of its pure historical past — that there’s human historical past there, too. We referred to as Langdon for some additional perception on how she captured this historical past, the notions of preservation and stewardship and the way tales are unlocked on the river.

How did this journey come about? What was the inspiration for it?

We had been simply going to do a float journey. Jane Kilgore, who is without doubt one of the women that went on the journey, her grandmother is Granny Henderson. And her mom’s identify was Arbie. They used to load Arbie in a raft yearly and take her down the river to see her personal place as a result of that was the one strategy to entry it as soon as the Park Service, you understand, put their restrictions in place. And as she aged and bought worse, they’d even put a beanbag within the center within the stomach of the raft [to keep her dry and warm while also providing comfort for her arthritis and pain]. I’m being gracious if I say she was 4’10.” She was a really brief, very petite little girl. And they might load her within the raft and Jane and her sisters and typically their women would all go down the river collectively and go to the house place. And that was form of my thought: to let mother and her cousins see locations that they’d not seen in many years.

What was the important thing to unlocking these tales? Did being on the river have one thing to do with it? 

So that you’ve bought 4 ladies who couldn’t sit nonetheless in the event that they had been tied up, and so they’re trapped collectively for seven hours, they bought numerous time to reminisce. After which one would feed off the opposite. , anyone would point out one thing, “Oh, yeah, nicely, I keep in mind,” after which that will simply begin one other catalyst for an additional story. We realized issues about them that they’d haven’t shared, in all probability, if we had been sitting of their front room; they’d have been busy doing one thing else, or one thing else would have had their consideration. And on this means, they’re floating by landmarks that they grew up with. We would simply see a fairly rock with a sure tree on this spot, however for them that was the place the place grandpa all the time caught catfish, and they’d let you know how he caught that catfish. Seeing that spurred their reminiscence and tales that I don’t suppose I’d have gotten some other means. If you would like tales in regards to the river, go to the river.

How do you suppose their relationships with the river modified — notably after the Buffalo River was designated as the primary Nationwide River?

I believe the restrictions actually broke lots of people’s hearts. I believe transferring broke lots of people’s hearts. There’s many, many instances of people that both misplaced their minds or misplaced their lives in that very brief timeframe of after they had been moved. So, I believe having one thing that you simply relied on for generations — not simply your self, however your dad and mom, your grandparents — and to be informed, “You may’t drive right here anymore, you may’t hunt right here anymore, you may’t do that, you may’t do this,” I believe that that left a bitterness for lots of people. It was like, “If I can’t do that on this method, I’m simply gonna should stroll away.” And I believe it was self-preservation techniques, myself. I believe that it was simpler for lots of them to stroll away and by no means look again than it was to attempt to hold a foot in each worlds.

What was it like, seeing them return to the river when there was nonetheless a sense of heartbreak? 

For Jane, I do know that after we bought to Eva’s home, she broke down and cried, and oh, God, Jane’s robust. She’s in all probability the hardest one in all us. And she or he broke down and bought tears in her eyes. And she or he mentioned, “, they” — and he or she’s speaking in regards to the Park Service — ”they needed this so dangerous. And now take a look at it.” , it’s overgrown, the doorways are busted in, the home windows are busted out. Rats have simply taken over. And it’s a large number. And for her, that was the heartbreak. In the event that they needed it, why didn’t they care for it? In the event that they’re going to take our houses, why are they letting them fall in? And in order that was a giant supply of ache and irritation for her. The park ranger that was with us, Lauren, was capable of inform Jane that trimming and the whole lot was within the works to attempt to do a restoration or stabilization on the dwelling. That made it slightly higher. As a result of she’s glad to know that that’s occurring. However I believe that, to know the way specific all of them had been about their locations and issues like that, I believe it was slightly little bit of a slap within the face. 

Misty Breedlove Langdon
Jane Villines-Kilgore standing on Eva “Granny” Henderson’s porch on the day of the float journey.

How would you describe the distinction between the tales that they’re telling and the tales that, say, anyone of their 20s would possibly inform in regards to the river?

I’m 46. And I realized methods to swim within the river and I’ve spent most of my life both within the river or within the creek — what we name the little creek. However I all the time grew up right here. And I don’t really feel like I take it without any consideration. I don’t suppose they take it without any consideration. I believe the distinction is now we use it and see it as enjoyment. And for them, it’s what saved them alive. I imply, each facet of it: the fish that had been in it, the deer that had been within the woods, all of that, it’s what sustains them. These households wouldn’t have made it. There are different areas which might be round right here and people communities didn’t thrive as nicely, as a result of they didn’t have the assets that the river offered. And after we discuss Eva Henderson, you understand, she was somebody who carried water, she had no electrical energy, she had no plumbing, she had no trendy conveniences of any sort. And in an effort to survive that, day after day — this isn’t a weekend tenting journey, you understand, that is on daily basis of her life.

How would you describe the message of the documentary?

That’s straightforward for me. And, and I believe not too way back, it could have been slightly bit more durable for me. However I believe with the work that I’m doing now, it’s to let folks know the human facet of this river. I’m seeing these dwelling locations and stuff vanish proper earlier than our eyes. And there’s no documentation that’s made public of who lived right here, and who labored this land. And so I believe that human connection of the folks of the Buffalo River — that’s what made this place a group. And the pure historical past of the Buffalo, simply itself, is unparalleled, and it’s magnificent. However if you add the human facet of it, that’s if you get the gold. That’s the treasure. 

, I hike quite a bit within the park, and the place we stay, you understand, I can go away from our place and stroll down the creek and hit the Park Service and hit the path. I don’t put on a giant hat that claims, “Hey, I’m an area, ask me a query,” however I really like to assist folks. I imply, that’s completely, due to our cabins and stuff. That’s, that’s what I do, I similar to to be of assist. And, you understand, I ran throughout a bunch right here some time again, and so they requested how a lot additional they had been from the Bud Home. And I mentioned, “Effectively, you understand, that home was the very first dwelling place of my first ancestor that moved right here in 1837. We’ve been on the river for 185 years.” And you understand, folks go bananas over that human connection. It’s a proven fact that in the event that they get there, and there’s this actually cool outdated home, and this homestead, and you may form of think about what folks’s lives had been like dwelling there. However then some loopy girl walks up and goes, “Hey, my fourth great-grandpa constructed this home and lived on this home.” Regardless that it’s not Abraham Villines — it’s me — and so they can put a face with it. 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *