Land Schemes and Scoundrels

While researching Arkansas land purchases for Dangerous Deeds (the next in the Waterside Kennels mystery series), I came across some fascinating information. Although my initial intention was to simply research property deeds stretching back to the days of the Arkansas Territory, I soon became immersed in historical references to land surveys. As Robert Logan wrote in his article “Notes on the First Land Surveys of Arkansas” published in The Arkansas Historical Quarterly:

When the first settlements took place in the United States no one realized the vastness of the empire lying before the settlers nor saw reason for careful survey and description of wilderness land that was literally as free as air and seemingly as abundant. Out of this pioneer carelessness came descriptions that to this day puzzle and confuse alike surveyors and abstractors, lawyers and courts. Descriptions by “Metes and bounds”—that is by measures and courses or directions from a specified beginning point—start from “the forks of the branch,” or “from a stake set in the ice,” . . . . or “from the corners of a red barn.” . . . . Mrs. Jim Greer of the Greer Abstract Company, Fayetteville, remembers this description in an abstract that came through her hands: “Beginning at this rock on which I sit . . . .”  

The use of natural landmarks when creating land descriptions can be found in myriad old land surveys, deeds, and other property-related documents. One such example is the image at the top of this post, which shows part of an old survey in which the surveyor described “acres of Land” as being “situated near the River.” Imagine the confusion such language likely caused in the event of legal challenges and boundary disputes!

Decades after Logan’s work was published, professional surveyor T. Webb presented a historical overview of survey practices used in Arkansas through much of the 19th century and highlighted what he called “the wild and wooly land grabbing in territorial Arkansas.”

In the Arkansas Territory the singular interest of both the common citizen and the ruling elite was to shake the federal money tree and harvest the resulting shower of wealth that fell in the form of land warrants. A whole menagerie of frauds and schemes resulted. Land speculators hired straw men to file and witness bogus preemption certificates and questionable colonial land grants. . . .

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Fast-forward to present day, when you might reasonably conclude that modern methods used by credentialed surveyors put a stop to the illicit “land grabs” described in this post. Unfortunately, the criminally minded have found other ways to acquire property through fraudulent means. As one character in my own Dangerous Deeds explains:

Property fraud happens when somebody submits forged documents to the courthouse and claims they purchased the property. Here in Hogan County, the clerk would record the transfer of ownership, and it’s a done deal. Odds are the real owner won’t even know what’s happened until they try to sell the property themselves or there’s some other reason to check their land deeds.

While my own research focuses on Arkansas, it’s important to know that illegal acquisitions are not restricted to Arkansas. In fact, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, property fraud and mortgage fraud are among the fastest growing white-collar crimes in the United States.

From T. Webb’s description of Arkansas Territory land speculators to tales of present-day scoundrels, schemes to seize property by any means—fair or foul—leave a trail of corruption and greed. In Dangerous Deeds, that trail hits close to home and threatens to change the landscape of the Ozarks and the lives of all who live there.

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The images included in this post are from the Arkansas Commissioner of State Lands website (http://history.cosl.org) and have been used with express written permission.  

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Sources included in this post and available online in their entirety include:

Logan, R. R. (1960). Notes on the First Land Surveys in Arkansas. The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, 19(3), 260–270. https://doi.org/10.2307/40030646

Webb, T. (2020). History of 19th century surveys in Arkansas 1815-1883: A lively heritage.  https://www.missourisurveyor.org/images/1185/document/19th-century-surveys-in-arkansas_548.pdf

This Writing Life

For reasons that totally escape me now, I convinced myself it would be a good idea to plot my current work in progress (WIP) Dangerous Deeds by writing segments based on themes, characters, and key plot lines.

So what, you might wonder, was wrong with that approach? The short answer: everything. Imagine dumping dozens of jigsaw puzzle pieces onto the table and you’ll have a glimpse of the mayhem I’ve been sorting through for far too long.

On the bright side, I have an editor who’s intelligent, patient, and open to the back-and-forth that so often accompanies plot development, revision, and rewriting. Then there are all those who send a steady stream of support and encouragement, and my ever-present writing companions Sasha and Buddy The Wonder Cat.

With all this support, it’s time to be the green arrow and aim for the finish line!

 

Along Comes A Kitty

Eight years ago, a two-pound kitten named Buddy adopted us. He was on his own for the first 12 weeks of his life, and the memory of his feral days resurface whenever we go to the vet clinic. I suggested falconer’s gloves to our veterinarian, who laughed and said “This ain’t my first cat rodeo” before tackling my tiny wild beast. That vet deserves a medal or at least a lifetime supply of Betadine and Band-Aids.

In the past few years, Buddy’s real-life adventures have rivaled those of even the most daring fictional kitty. He’s been cornered by predators and captured by brambles and the resulting rescues inevitably required ladders, clippers, brave volunteers, and a whole lot of swearing. (By humans, that is. No idea what Buddy was saying, although it’s safe to assume it might have been “Get me out of here!”) He’s broken or dislocated more bones than I can name and now sports a non-retractable razor-sharp claw. And, despite being uncoordinated to the point of being unable to climb trees–not a bad thing, in my opinion–he’s managed nonetheless to scramble over a tall fence more than a few times, only to discover he couldn’t get back over the way he came. Once, he landed in a yard owned by a pit bull. (To be fair, their meeting was entirely Buddy’s fault and the dog wisely retreated before the interloper attacked.) Is it any wonder we call him Buddy The Wonder Cat?

He watches Westminster dog show every year, and he’s not shy about announcing his favorite (last year, it was the Great Pyrenees).  We no longer let him watch any shows with lions, though, after he imitated their habit of dragging off their kill. In Buddy’s world, he drags off whatever he decides to claim as his own, and good luck finding his booty once he stashes it. To date, that includes the electrician’s pliers, the plumber’s wrench, a house guest’s scarf, the dog’s leash, and every string he can find. The strings are the only things that routinely turn up–in his food dish and water bowls.

Since Sasha joined the household, he’s decided he likes having a dog of his own. He joins her for training sessions and scent games and is apt to “help” her when she loses the trail or overlooks something I’ve hidden. He watches over her while she eats and keeps her company whenever she’s crated. When she’s out of the house without him, he paces until she returns and he can see for himself that she’s okay.

You’ll meet Buddy The Wonder Cat’s fictional self in Dangerous Deeds (book #2 of the Waterside Kennels mystery series). While that’s making it way through the book pipeline, here’s a slideshow featuring the many faces of the kitty who came to stay.

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Breed and Behavior

Photo courtesy of PetPlace.com

In Dangerous Deeds, residents are divided by a proposed ordinance to ban what some consider “dangerous dogs” in the county. Those in favor of the ordinance believe some breeds can never be trusted, while others disagree and refuse to endorse the proposal. When asked her opinion, dog trainer and owner of Waterside Kennels Maggie Porter has this to say:

“Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s only breeds on somebody’s banned list that can be dangerous. Any dog that’s not properly trained or supervised or exercised regularly is capable of harming others. The answer isn’t a ban. The answer lies in better training for dogs and education for everyone in the community.”

Maggie’s stance on Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is similar to the positions held by the American Kennel Club and the American Veterinary Medical Association. The AVMA’s published position statement argues that “breed does not predict behavior” and offers a thoughtful and comprehensive review of BSL and offers cogent alternatives.

And while some people think bans are limited to what they consider dangerous breeds, research by groups such as the Responsible Dog Owners of The Western States suggests at least 75 breeds are listed as either banned or restricted. You might be surprised to learn that two of the most popular breeds—the Golden Retriever and the Labrador Retriever—are included on the list. Even more troubling, many bans extend beyond named breeds and instead rely on physical descriptions. Consider this excerpt from the article Why Breed Bans Affect You published by the AKC this year:

Does your dog have almond shaped eyes? A heavy and muscular neck? A tail medium in length that tapers to a point? A smooth and short coat? A broad chest? If you said yes to these questions, then congratulations, you own a “pit bull” …At least according to the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of Animal Care and Control.

The American Kennel Club takes exception to this generalization. In fact, AKC does not recognize the “pit bull” as a specific breed.  However, across the country, ownership of dogs that match these vague physical characteristics are being banned – regardless of their parentage. The City of Kearney, Missouri, for example, only requires a dog to meet five of the eight characteristics on their checklist before they are banned from the city. Would your pug with its broad chest and short coat be in danger of getting banned under these requirements?

Whether you support or oppose breed bans, I hope you’ll agree that responsible ownership can go a long way toward improving the quality of life for people and dogs alike.

Responsibilities evolve over the lifespan of your dog. Check out the AKC’s 75 Ways to Be a Responsible Dog Owner for a comprehensive overview. A great read for anyone new to sharing their life with a dog, and a great reminder for all of us!

Photo courtesy of AVMA.ORG

Scenes from the home front

In the post titled “A cat with a dog of his own” I shared a few memories of the challenges of convincing Buddy The Wonder Cat to share his home and his people with Sasha. There were a few early bumps in the road, but the two of them have happily settled down to life together. In fact, we’ve now reached the point where Buddy The Wonder Cat stands vigil whenever Sasha leaves the house without him:

It’s fair to say the cat takes a personal interest in anything the dog does. Training time? Buddy’s right there to supervise.  Yard patrol? They share sentry duty. If Sasha overlooks a treat during the Find It! game, Buddy finds it for her. Feeding time creates shared moments, too, although the cat doesn’t share the dog’s passion for cucumbers and Sasha seems puzzled by Buddy’s penchant for ice cubes in his water bowl.

You’ll see quite a bit of Buddy The Wonder Cat later this year–or at least his fictional counterpart. In Dangerous Deeds (Book #2 in the series), Maggie’s dog Sweet Pea finds an injured kitten and carries it to safety. Some of the injuries mirror the real-life accident suffered by Buddy The Wonder Cat a few years ago.  Confession: it was a traumatic experience for the cat, me, and the staff at the Crossover Veterinary Clinic.  On the other hand, our vet (Beth Stropes, DVM) was remarkably cheerful throughout, assuring me that this wasn’t her first cat rodeo. It was then that I decided that if we all lived through the experience, that scene was going in a book.  We all lived, and I kept my promise; Dangerous Deeds will be released this fall. In the meantime, here’s a slideshow of Buddy The Wonder Cat through the years. Enjoy!

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