South of Tulsa, our back road quickly left the suburbs and entered forest land, acres of mixed hardwood and softwood trees which stretched over Rattan School AT6 memorial rolling hills as far as we could see. Much of the time we were on a ridge, with hills above us and farmland below. The scenic drive we'd made through dense fog just a few days before was not far away; we were, in fact, in the woods we would have seen from above if the fog had lifted. There were definite mountains, or at least big hills, making our road twist up down and sideways past the occasional isolated farmhouse until we began our descent to the Red River Valley, the border between Oklahoma and Texas.
Just north of Antlers, Oklahoma we spotted a small blue sign: WWII AT6 MONUMENT with an arrow pointing to a side road. This road took us back up into the hills, turning right and left, with the occasional sign to lead us on. After a couple of miles we began to wonder whether we had missed our target, but the road was too narrow to turn around, so we kept ascending. Finally we found the Kiamichi Wilderness Community, a small Paris' Eiffel Tower collection of houses and mobile homes tucked into the forest. The road turned to dirt and the property was marked private, although the "security station" was unmanned. We drove a little way on the dirt roads, but saw no more blue signs, so we headed back. Just then a pickup truck driver reassured us that we simply hadn't gone far enough. "Just keep on straight," he ordered, and so we did.
In 1943, young British aviators were training in Terrell, Texas, just across the Red River. One February day, they took off on a cross-country flight and encountered bad weather. Although most of the planes returned safely to base, three trainers (AT6) crashed, and four airmen -- Babcock's monument ... pilot and navigator from two of the planes -- were killed. One plane plowed into a boulder, turning it up into what locals call a "natural tombstone".
Fifty-some years later, a history class at Rattan Elementary School in Antlers, began doing research into the incident. The monument is the result of their work. The students were determined to remember the sacrifices made by the U. S. and Britain, the importance of maintaining friendly ties between the two countries, and the fact that we have had to fight for freedom. We salute the teacher and the community for their efforts.
Across the border, our first Texas stop this year is in Paris, a town which is well aware of its name. We especially enjoyed seeing the Eiffel Tower, reproduced in a uniquely Texan style. Unlike many small towns, Paris has managed to keep its downtown alive. Banks and clothing stores line the central square, the old courthouse is being restored as a Historical building, and the alabaster town fountain, created in 1927 and ... with a cowboy boot restored as a bicentennial project, simply gleams. We stopped for tourist literature at the local art gallery where we learned that there is an artists' cooperative -- each one contributes art works and one day or so of work at the gallery each month. The Chamber of Commerce has produced a thick book and several maps for tourists.
With map and book in hand we crisscrossed the town, finding the home of a Civil War general, Maxey, and several attractive Victorian houses nearby. Paris was a wild place in the 1800s. Several railroads ran through the town. Cotton was transported, by barge and wagon, for sale, and cattle were herded through. Paris remembers its own cattle baron John S. Chisum (not to be confused with Jesse Chisolm), who later moved his spread west and built his herd to over 100,000 head. John Wayne played the lead in the movie Chisum.
Our final expedition in Paris was to the Evergreen Cemetery, where another local sight is to be found. The residents of Paris took a fancy to having pretty big statues on top of the gravestones. On top of Willet Babcock's grave is a lifesize statue of Christ, robed and carrying His Nancy's Cafe, Paris, Texas cross, but if you look carefully at His feet, you'll see He is wearing cowboy boots. The locals call the statue "Jesus in Cowboy Boots," but the tour books won't write that. They do not acknowledge that the figure represents Jesus, but we're sure that was what was intended in 1893, and further, that no sacrilege was meant, either.
One of the bright spots of today's Paris, Texas, is Nancy's South Main Street Cafe, where the special was chicken fried steak or meatloaf and three sides, coffee and dessert for under $6. Clearly it's the place to eat in town -- we waited by the door while the first shift of diners received and enjoyed their strawberry shortcake.