The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs was inspired by my grandmother’s stories of growing up in Lonedell, MO. I had been to Lonedell several times as a child, to put flowers on the graves and swim in Indian Creek, and once for my dear Great-Uncle Raymond Hinson’s funeral. But I’d never seen the house she grew up in.

After the book came out, and there was an article in the paper about me, a woman called one day and said “I’m Joyce Hinson Brown and I think we’re related.” Of course, we’re related. We’re third cousins and she and much of her family still live in the area, but my sister and I had never met them. In November, 2005, I made a trip to Lonedell where I met cousins Joyce, Jill, Dorothy, Dickie, Donnie, Morris and so many others … as well as the Huff family, whom my grandmother used to talk about. (There’s a third generation of friendship there!) It was no surprise that they are all great storytellers, just like Grandma!

We met at the church and they took us to the house. The reason we could never get there is that the creek flooded the road and you have to drive through the creek to get to the property. (And you have to have a key to the gate.) It was thrilling to see the house at last. I can’t believe it’s still standing, although no one has lived in it for many years.

My husband and I made a second trip in March, 2006, where we saw the log cabin my great-great-grandfather, Isham Hinson, built before the Civil War. It had just been uncovered when a relative was dismantling an old building which had been built around the log cabin. I’m glad we got to see it, because it burned to the ground a few weeks after we were there.

Lonedell, MO
Welcome to Lonedell, Missouri, 2006!

Yellow Dog Road
Yellow Dog Road is paved now and has a sign … but it’s still not well-traveled.

Prospect Baptist Church
Prospect Baptist Church, where my great-grandfather was once a lay preacher, hasn’t changed, except for the addition of that little window air-conditioner. I met my long-lost relatives here before our tour. This would have been where Eben heard Calvin Smiley play the saw. However, the church has been moved across the road from the cemetery. It used to be next door.

Eben sat under one of these big trees and heard Calvin Smiley’s saw. This is the actual cemetery where the ghostly table walked – a true story that none of the current Lonedell relatives knew. They did love it!

Grandma's house
The house where my grandmother grew up was the model for Eben’s house – but I never saw it until after the book was written.

Bolar Branch Indian Creek
Bolar Branch of Indian Creek (Liberty Creek) runs by the front yard.

Coogie Jackson’s little outhouse on the prairie

Back porch
I didn’t realize the house had a large back porch as well as a front porch.

The back of the house faces this beautiful meadow surrounded by hills.

Front porch
The porch where Eben would have sat. A lot of great stories were told here.

Front yard
The “front yard”

Upstairs bedroom
View from the upstairs bedroom window.

Family and friends
Back row: Melvin Huff, Clayton Huff, dad Ed Griesbaum, me, cousin Dorothy Hawkins. Front row: Joyce Hinson Brown, Mary Lou Huff, sister Janet Powell.

St. Clair, MO
This building on the main street of St. Clair (named in the book), is across from the railroad tracks and probably would have been there when Eben caught the train to Colorado

Lonedell School
I spoke at the Lonedell School, where a number of the students were related to me!

Isham Hinson cabin 1
A detail from the log cabin built by my great-great-grandfather, Isham Hinson.

Isham Hinson cabin 2
My sister, Janet Powell, and I examine the log cabin in March, 2006, shortly before it burned down.