Kessler Mountain History: Hijinx, Tragedy and Wonder

What if we could travel back in time on Kessler Mountain?

1915 Ben F. Johnson III with mules Bird, Pete, and Belle

Not only would we observe with wonder the geologic formation of Rock City, we’d also be present on Halloween nights to witness pranks played by settlers on their neighbors (such as rearranging the furniture and messing up the home!). We could hide in the tall grass and watch indigenous hunters stalk bison at the mountain’s base, and years later, gather around a Christmas tree bearing its annual crop of presents in a tiny farmhouse. While riding atop a mule, we would follow school children to their one-room schoolhouse, and walk in the mud – yes, walk – with Fayetteville High School and University of Arkansas students from Kessler to campus, laughing with them (or maybe screaming) when someone puts a lizard in the classroom at old FHS. We’d pick apples, peaches, and pears from orchards bordered by rock walls with an incredible story and journey through the Earth. April Fools jokes (like fake mail) would make us giggle, while the suffering of slaves building rock chimneys, dying and being buried in unmarked graves would make us cry. Every species of wildlife here live in their own micro city with individuals leading often adventurous lives, carrying out nature’s saga. And we’d get to see some mammoth tales!

1911 Christmas letter to Eva Johnson from father Ben F. Johnson II

Kessler’s history doesn’t just stay on Kessler. We could hitch rides on the railroad and steal sweet potatoes with the mountain’s teenage boys, tour Europe to learn landscape architecture and build similar structures on Kessler, or travel to South America to fight guerrilla wars, become a gaucho and later return to this mountain to write books. We could try to comfort a mountain mother who just lost her son in WWI, but also see her joy as her other children cuddle kittens.

Every day (like today) has millions of past lives in previous reels around the sun, and “on this day in history,” those past lives of today witnessed some astounding and hilarious events.

Like strong tea, Kessler Mountain is steeped in its rich history.

We’re able to taste that history thanks to the families who squirreled away every letter, theatre ticket, and piece of furniture for five or more generations. Events in the past are possible to revisit like time travelers might do, thanks to the authors, archivists, historians and patrons who refurbish, restore, and preserve these farms, barns and houses, and organize fading photographs and inky papers. The National Register of Historic Places shines the limelight on some structures, such as the Johnson Barn. All of these efforts make today’s time travel possible. And still, there are lifetimes of future work needed to discover and record the past.

History is bitter tea. The wars, racism, sexism, lack of education, environmental destruction and poverty present in Kessler Mountain’s past is impossible to ignore. Yet these difficult to digest subjects make nuggets of wisdom shine even more in the dark times in which the words were formed. I like to think that history has antioxidants just like tea, to protect us from the cancer that is humanity’s past mistakes.

1938 October, Ben F. Johnson III with son Ben F. Johnson IV front of Johnson Barn

The Natural History of Kessler Mountain Project

Through research and documentation, and by scanning and digitally preserving as much as I can, I hope to create a section of Ripples online educational center dedicated to Kessler Mountain’s natural history, from its geological formation through the age of indigenous tribes and settlers to the current conservation efforts of today. I’ll be frequently adding new materials here on this solar-hosted website.

I’m ok with this project being a lifelong pursuit! I’m a certified Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalist, and that makes me super curious about natural history – everything from rocks, to early humans, to plants and wildlife, pioneers and how they used the land. As a naturalist, I love the chipmunk I saw on the historic rock wall today, and I wonder about that chipmunk as much as who built the wall and why.

circa 1915, Johnson Orchard produced pears, apples, peaches, and more.

Exciting Discoveries

Every Thursday on Facebook, I’ll be posting old photographs, letters and actual quotes from the people who lived at the Historic Johnson Farm as well as other places on Kessler Mountain for #ThrowbackThursdays, a Facebook phenomenon in which people share old photos. “Like” our Ripples Facebook Page to follow along and see updates!

Please comment here or email me if you would like to help enlighten me in the methods of research or if you have Kessler Mountain history to share! Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy time traveling with me! -Amanda



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