Sage of the Nescatunga (feat. Gypsy Twang)

03:39
Sarah Barker
2014
Sarah Barker

Story

My paternal grandfather, Elisha McKinley Barker, died when I was only two years old.  I don’t really remember him at all, but I’ve heard many stories and feel a connection to him all the same.  This photo has great sentimental value to my family.  It was taken by my Uncle Pete Ray at my grandfather’s favorite fishing hole.  It was a place called ‘Sullivan’s Cutoff’, and was situated about 8 miles downstream from Alva, Oklahoma on the salt fork of the Arkansas River, also known by its Osage Indian name as the Nescatunga (meaning ‘big salt water’). 

Grandpa Barker had 8 brothers and sisters.  His father was a Baptist minister who relocated his family to Oklahoma from the Clinch Mountain area in Virginia when he took a position as a Baptist minister in Oklahoma Territory.  During World War One, E.M. Barker served in the 142nd Infantry Regiment, 36th Division, U.S. Army.  On May 18th, 1929, he married my grandmother Ruby Louisa Branch.

Bark and Ruby had six kids, and raised them all on his pay as a sports writer for the Alva Review Courier.  He had a column called Sports Spasms, and in it he covered not only local sports but also fishing stories, wildlife conservation, and commentaries on local happenings and people.  He wrote with a great sense of humor, and the column was very popular.  My father Jim Barker revived Sports Spasms when he retired from teaching and moved back to Alva.  He took a similar approach and also had a large fan base.

In order to feed his family, my grandfather became a very proficient fisherman.  As a result, he was quite an expert on the natural life along the Nescatunga.  For this reason, he became known as the Sage of the Nescatunga.  On the occasions when I’ve visited these areas with my father, I’ve felt my grandfather’s presence all around me.

Lyrics

There’s a spirit on the Nescatunga wind

In the tall grass down along the river’s bend

If I close my eyes and listen and pretend

I can feel his love surrounding me again

The Sage of the Nescatunga

He knew rain and distant thunder

The river runs like passing years

With the salt of fallen tears

There’s a place down on the corner of the square

With dominos and cigar smoke in the air

Over bowls of Ruby’s chili and a beer

You could learn the whole town’s history in there

But there were kids and work and family and war

Times were hard and they were always poor

A lifetime’s worth of love and loss and scars

But the Sage is living up among the stars

The Sage of the Nescatunga

He knew rain and distant thunder

The river runs like passing years

With the salt of fallen tears

There’s a photo taken by the riverside

Fishing from the bank where the water’s wide

I never understood all the reasons why

But that picture sure could make my daddy cry

For the Sage of the Nescatunga

He knew rain and distant thunder

The river runs like passing years

With the salt of fallen tears

The river runs like passing years

With the salt of fallen tears

There’s a place down on

The corner of the square