New book profiles Dan Whittle's hometown
BY MONTE HALE, firstname.lastname@example.org
Call it a seven-year itch.
Actually, it goes was back longer than that for Murfreesboro Post columnist/contributor Dan Whittle,a long time journalist who has penned a unique and entertaining book entitled, "Canalou, People, Culture, Bootheel Town."
Whittle's hometown, Canalou, was initially constructed on poles and plank board walks to be up out of the swamp water that ranged from 3-10 feet in depth.
Whittle pays tribute to the brave Bootheel people of Southeast Missouri who, he says, have never been given credit for carving a culture and livelihood out of the former swamp that was partially formed by the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-12.
"My respect for these brave souls and the following farmers who put the drained land to the plow really soared the more I researched the project," Whittle said. "Our Bootheel educators helped prepare my generation for the employment around the globe, including world famous Spain magic realist artist/sculptor Michael Parks."
"I have always loved words," he said. "As a small boy, I tried to make up my own ABCs. I partially learned to read in the shack out back by looking at words and associating pictures in Sears-Roebuck catalogues.
"So, in first grade my teacher went to church one night and was complimenting my mother, but wondering how her first grade-age son knew how to spell 'brassieres.' Momma tanned my hide when we got home from church for 'embarrassing the family.'"
Whittle also was encouraged by others as a young person, and many gave him the inspiration that would eventually lead to him becoming an author.
"Late neighbor farmer A.J. Neel, a learned gent, noticed early my love for words, Whittle noted. "So he would go to the farm town's little library and check out books for me to read, and that was before I went to first grade. I owe a lot to A.J. Neel, who prophesied one day as we were chopping cotton, that words, 'One day, Little Danny Whittle, words will take you around the world.' I thought of that prophesy back in the 1990s when I was in the Bosnian war zone and later while I was in Romania on another assignment. Words have literally taken me around the globe, not once, but twice, and I got paid to go."
Today, the six counties that comprise the Bootheel produce more than 30 percent of that state's total agricultural product annually. The dredging operation to drain the massive swamp, equivalent to the Reelfoot Lake on the Tennessee side of the Mississippi River, started in 1914 andturned out to be larger than the Panama Canal project.
The original settlers who entered the swamp in 1902, largely came out of Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Illinois. They had to survive wolves, bears, panthers, swamp rats and disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Excerpts from the foreword in the book paint a vivid picture of what it's all about.
"This book is about the region's people. They live in six counties that were part of the Louisiana Purchase. Explorer Lewis noted in his annals that his now fam Canalou native Dan Whittle is a retired newspaperman, a reporter who always had the knack for listening for more than just the bare facts. His book of Bootheel stories is both funny and touching.
"Having known 'Danny' Whittle since venerable old Grayridge High School days in the 1960s, I can testify that he knows the back-breaking pain of picking cotton under the boiling hot sun of the Bootheel's tortuous dog days of summer.
- Gary Lewis.