In one of my Zoom readings, I read the prologue of my novel, Diamond City. This prologue was cut out of the final copy of the book. My cousin, Scott, has been passing my book along to others to read and wanted to give them the opportunity to read the Prologue. This prologue is told in the first person by the character Rita. It gives the history of Diamond City and the surrounding area.
They call this place Lake Paradise. And that mountain over there, they call it Hog Mountain. But that ain’t the way it always was.
You see, once Lake Paradise was called Lake Hotchatonk. It got its name from the damming of the Hotchatonk River that flows right down off that mountain through the Hotchatonk Pass. A man named Hog Martin dammed it up to run his mills and such sometime in the early 1800s. It ain’t clear how the land came into Martin’s possession, if you get my drift, but it appears Martin arrived here like Moses arriving in the promised land with his wife and a passel of children. It weren’t nothing but dense forest and that river when he got here. They say he was the kind of man who grabbed opportunity when he saw it. But I don’t know much about that ‘cause he was long dead before I arrived in this world.
I seen a picture of him in the local library. Every once in a while, they hang up all the local history pictures they got in the archive. Put ‘em on display for people to take a look at. I know how he got his name. He was this short, little, stocky man shaped like a barrel. His flesh flowed from his chin to his upper chest like lava. He had no real neck, least way, none I could see. He had a flat nose and these tremendous round eyes that stuck out like a bull dog’s. His head was completely bald and his two ears—well, that is how he got his name, I’m sure—they were triangle shaped and, stuck out from the sides of his head. I don’t believe in making fun of people based on their appearance but ain’t is no doubt ‘bout how he got his name.
Like I said, he dammed up the Hotchatonk River for use in his mill. It made him rich. At first it was just a little mill pond but he kept expanding and eventually it became a really long lake. It extends up five miles, they say, through the valley. The only way you can get up there is in a canoe or a kayak. I ain’t been up there myself but they say it sure is pretty. It flooded the north Hotchatonk Pass. That damn closed off all that prime wood land. It also closed in the Diamonds but he didn’t know he was doing that at the time.
Hog Martin built a huge farm house on the shores of his lake. He named the place Martindale. They say it was eventually inhabited by about 50 families, most who worked directly for Martin in the forest or later tended his beef cattle that he bred by his own secret methods. But don’t you know it, just when Hog Martin was at his richest, he died. They say it was a massive heart attack while he was pitching hay. At least that’s the official version. Mrs. Martin knew he died in hay alright, but it was with the wife of one of the newest farm hands. But who knows, like I said, that was before my time. Mrs. Martin was glad to get the hell out of there. It is pretty but it sure is isolated. Here’s the kicker, no one know where they went. All them children and the missus just, bam, gone and no one ever found out where they went. I’m sure with a name like Martin it would be hard to trace. Unfortunately, with no big farm to keep up the people started to leave Martindale. Like I said, it was real isolated. Unless you lived off the land there was no point in staying out there no matter how pretty it was. All those farm buildings just fell into disrepair. The fields got overgrown. It started to grow wild again.
Sometime in the early 1900s, this son of a railroad millionaire, Elliot Campbell, stumbled on this place. Old Lester Cummings—not the son but the father—was a farmer turned hunting guide for the rich. He was the one that brung Campbell out here. You know, old Lester made more money leading those rich boys all around the mountain so they could shoot a deer or look at birds than he ever did farming. I never quite understood it myself. This Campbell was a lot like Hog Martin. He took one look at all that beauty and thought he’d like to make his own little village, too. I guess that is the rich for you.
But Campbell didn’t have the business sense like Martin. He saw this area as a playground for him and his friends. He was a bit on the wild side, if you know what I mean, especially during prohibition. Things got a little crazy up there. His little kingdom on the lake.
Like Martin, it ain’t clear how Campbell got his hands on the land. But he had money—or at least his father did. One look at that bowl shaped valley with that beautiful lake and they say Campbell pictured himself greeting guests up from the city in their motor cars. “He created a utopia of nature lovers, artists, musicians and those that loved the good life,” or so he said. I didn’t make that up. I read that in the town history book. But what I hear it was really all about decadence. They say that Campbell would sport women’s clothing. I hear that once, he greeted his guests all done up like one of them geisha girls. They say that picture is in the library, too, but I notice no one hangs that one up. Campbell’s the one that named this place Lake Paradise and it stuck. You can go down and see the farmhouse. He added onto it, made it a full scale mansion. They say it’s got 10 bedrooms, each with its own bathroom but I’ve never been in it. Someone from the city bought it and now it’s a bed and breakfast called The Lake Paradise Inn.
Campbell built his own little village like he was in the city. He made blocks. Ain’t that hilarious. He made a grid. It’s just two roads long and six wide. The blocks aren’t big, nothing like a real city. Then he had all these cottages built for all his guests. He painted them every color you could imagine, not real house colors. They were all lime green, pink, purple, lavender, no two the exact same. Of course the pictures from that time are all black and white but I imagine it looked pretty silly. Here’s the kicker, the people who came up here designed their own outhouses. Of course, there was no electricity or indoor plumbing until well after the Depression. You couldn’t get power lines through the South Hotchatonk Pass. Not only were the outhouses painted in those crazy colors but they painted designs on them, too—flowers, mountains, portraits—you name it, they painted those things on the outhouses. They still have them that way. You can go out and see them. They say the inside of the outhouses are just as elaborate as the outsides. Some had wood burning stoves, powder rooms or waiting rooms. Several were two or three-seaters. I seen some pictures in some magazines down in the library. I don’t know if they use them anymore but they’re still there.
Lake Paradise was only open for June, July and August. They was all summer people. Things got so busy up here he built a little store, a theater and a community center. They say that in it’s prime over 1000 people came up here in the summer. I find that hard to believe because all of Lincoln County only has about 7000 people being isolated in these mountains and all. The locals were never invited to any of the parties. Oh, they were good enough to be maids and grounds keepers and things like that. You can’t really fault them, though. It gave the locals some jobs in the summer. My mother was a prep cook in the mansion when she was a teenager. If you want to hear some wild stories about goings on you should talk to her.
But it all ended when Campbell stepped in front of one of his father’s trains. They say the family financial manager stole all their money and left ‘em broke. This was before the big stock market crash that probably would have finished ‘em off if they made it that far. Campbell went from a prince to a pauper overnight. The family sold the place to an arms dealer, Herbert Deller. Made a fortune in World War I. He came and bought the whole place up. He probably had been one of the party boys. He fixed the whole place up to the resort it is now for city people. He don’t own it anymore, they sort of have parceled it off but it was because of Deller they found them people up there in the mountain.
They say that Campbell knew about those people but there ain’t no record of it. It wasn’t until the 1930s they found them. Deller hired two surveyors. He wasn’t like Martin and Campbell, he wanted a clear deed to the land, so he was having the whole place surveyed. Those surveyors, came upon these mountain people way up there. It seems that when Martin clogged up the north pass to the Hotchatonk, he also blocked off their only clear way out of there. They lived up there, God knows how long, all by themselves. Now, I knew a few of them in the later years but I can’t tell you too much about them. They kept to themselves mostly. They were the oddest looking people you ever saw. Their skin was a sandy color, though some of them could be quite dark, particularly in the summer. They say they were descendants of slaves, and just by looking at them, I think that ain’t too hard to figure out. But they had some white in them, too. They say they had Indian in them and that seemed clear because they wore moccasins and leather pants. I’ve been told they were a jumble of run-away slaves, Indians, escaped Irish convicts from a big prison break in Clayton County 1852 and anyone else that stumbled upon them up there. A man come from the State University once to give a talk in the library. He said because they was so isolated up there that they actually created their own ethnic group. I’m not exactly sure what he means by that except you can sure tell one ‘em if you see ‘em. They all had this red hair—every shade you can imagine—brown skin with these huge freckles and of course, those eyes. Their eyes were green or blue and, so light, sometimes you wondered if their eyes had color at all. A few had really bright colors as if they weren’t real.
They had this leader, Father Abraham, but that wasn’t his real name. I can’t remember his real name except the last name. Everyone knows that name. It was Diamond. They say Father Abraham was a preacher but I heard he was really a snake-oil salesman, if you know what I mean. They say he was running from a farmer whose daughter mysteriously became pregnant after several private healing sessions with the preacher. Just like everyone else in this part of the country, Diamond grabbed an opportunity when he saw it. Those mountain people were hard-working, simple people; maybe a little slow from too much inbreeding. But the ones I met weren’t slow, they just couldn’t read or write. That preacher imagined himself having a kingdom on a hill. Guess everyone is a bit like that, wanting their own slice of the pie. He went and evangelized them but not with regular religion but with his own kind of Christianity which no one ever heard of—not that it has a name or anything. The problem was that after too many years, Diamond started to believe his own message. It really wasn’t bad for them in the long run. He sort of organized them. The community continued to get on pretty well. He put himself in charge of the marrying and after that fewer of them were born slow or with six fingers.
Once the surveyors came back with the story about these red-headed people who spoke their own language and had webbed hands and feet, they sent some forest rangers up there. Once they figured out the stories were true the only thing the town elders over in Fosterdale seemed to be worried about is that these people had no schooling for their children. Can you imagine? No one could read or write except Father Abraham. They agreed to send their kids to school if the town left them alone to live their lives in peace. For a while that deal worked of course until it didn’t. And we know how that ended up.
The first group of Diamond children, 27 in all, was delivered to an awaiting school bus on the first day of school in 1930. They had to put a road in just to get ‘em down off the hill. It wasn’t a real road, just a dirt sort of path at the end of Lake Paradise up the mountain. Harold Billings took his tractor up there and made enough of a path to get a truck up there if they had to. Later, the Diamonds bought a farm truck to get up and down the hill. They used to come into town every once in a while. They’d sell fruit, vegetables and hand crafts, stuff like that. Anyway, when the kids got to school, they didn’t know how old any of them was ‘cause they didn’t keep birth records. The kids they sent on to school were somewhere between 5 or so, for the smallest ones; with the oldest about 16. Here’s the kicker, when the woman in the office went to register them, they all had different mothers but they said Father Abraham was their father. Can you imagine? You know what the townspeople thought about a claim like that.
All the girls wore the same long prairie dress. Same style, every one. Now they were well constructed, someone up there could really sew, but they were all faded and made from scraps or flour sacks. The girls wore beaded moccasins with no socks at all. The boys’ clothes were pretty much in the same state. Their pants were patched all over. Some of them were leather or denim. They didn’t wear belts just tied them at the waist with rope. They wore these shirts without collars and they were made like a patch work quilt, no two the same. They wore moccasins like the girls. Every single one of them had red hair, every shade you could imagine. The little girls wore two braids; the older girls wore one braid. The boys had real long hair, like it was never cut. They combed it back and tied it at the nape of their neck with rawhide.
Here’s another thing hard to believe; when they arrived at school they had their own language. Some people claimed it was part Indian, part King James Bible English. I just think it sounded “hill-billy” to me, if you know what I mean. You had to listen really close to understand them, not that they spoke much. Those poor little kids were just terrified when they first arrived at school. Everything just confounded them; pencils, papers, flush toilets, electric lights, forks. At first the children wouldn’t even sit on the chairs. You’d offer them one and they would politely refuse. They’d rather squat in the aisle between the desk then sit in a chair. They were very obedient children. They never gave the teacher any trouble but they always seemed so confused. They smelled, too, a little bit of body odor and wood smoke. Their attendance was spotty at best. Seems their mamas always needed them home for chores. Most learned some reading and writing, a little math, before disappearing for good. However, because of inbreeding a few were never able to get even the basics. It was sad in a way but they seemed like happy kids. Shy but happy.
There are no more of them. Things like that never end well. But, of course, you know that.
If you enjoyed reading this you might like reading the novel Diamond City. It is available on Amazon both as a hard copy and a kindle. You can ask your local bookstore or library to order you a copy. If you have any trouble getting your hands on a copy, please reach out to me.