Nine miles west of Passaic on Highway F, at the intersection of Elkhart and West Point townships, sits an ordinary, one-story blue farmhouse. Nothing to get excited about. Nothing special. Just a house, like all the others up and down the rural routes of back-road Missouri.
Do not be deceived. Here there be treasure.
This sign goes with that house. My mother’s father and uncle, Aubrey and Marvin, inherited this land from their father, a man I know as “Mr. Durst,” and established the Durst Bros. Farm in 1935. But the land’s been in the family for over a century, and it now swells the ranks of Missouri’s Century Farms, the 84th of its kind in Bates County.
But the story doesn’t begin there. In Bates County terms, my family is OG. We go back, all the way to Balthasar (pronounced Ball-thay-zer), who arrived in the area in the very late 1850s. At first glance, this may not seem so significant. And it wouldn’t be, were it not for General Order No. 11.
After William Quantrill’s sacking of Lawrence, Kansas, on August 21, 1863, in an attempt to root out Quantrill’s raiders and their Jayhawker rivals, Brigadier General Thomas Ewing ordered the burning of Bates, Cass, Jackson, and parts of Vernon Counties, and the evacuation of all inhabitants. Until 1866, Bates County stood a wasteland, and even when people began trickling back in, few of the original settlers returned.
The Dursts came back. 111 years later, when I was born, they were still there, and going strong. This is my legacy, and this is but part of the story of that apparently inconsequential farmhouse on the south side of Highway F, at the meeting of two townships.
As I wander the back roads of our nation, where the forgotten history lives, this thought persists in the recesses of my mind, the driving force behind my journey:
Nothing is inconsequential.
Every place has its story: every home, every outbuilding, every bend in the road itself. History unfolds (has unfolded) around us, through us, in us, every day, with every step we take.
And so, I wander. And I wonder. I pass anonymous dwellings filled with meaningful lives, and I wonder what those stories might contain. None of the big stuff matters–the wars, the treaties, the shifting of the global balance of power–none of this matters unless we feel these smaller stories deep in our bones. Unless we realize that these stories, unknown to us as they may be, are inseparable from our own.
So, as you wander your roads, don’t dismiss as incidental the strangers in your path. Embrace them. You are traveling through a maze of stories waiting to be told–the lives of others, the key to your own.
Happy travels, my friends!!