Incident on a summer river

It was mid-June, and the Pomme de Terre River, near where I live, was about normal. I promised to help a family enjoy a float trip; a man and his wife with three kids between five and 12 years of age. I loaned them two kayaks and my big 19-foot Grumman and told them they would have about six hours of floating, with some shoals too shallow for the canoe to float with a load. There would be some pulling through shallow water at times.

When I left them just before noon, they were swimming and having a gravel bar lunch. Apparently they were in no hurry. Eight hours later I had been waiting for two hours at the take-out point and there was no sign of them, so I headed upriver in another canoe to find them. I paddled upstream a mile or so, fished a little, and built a fire on a gravel bar, expecting them to show up any time. At 10:30, a good two hours after dark, they still weren’t there, so I got worried.

I went back to my pickup and called the sheriff’s office. Within 30 minutes, there were four deputies and a highway patrolman there to began a search. About 11:30 we heard them banging through a shoal upstream and soon they pulled in.

All five were in the Grumman, with the empty kayaks trailing behind from ropes.

The kids were all wet and cold and their mother, crying and sobbing, seemed to be in the early stages of hypothermia. Those deputies brought blankets for the kids from patrol cars and one of them gave his coat to the woman. They sat them in their cars with heaters running to help them get warm. You could smell the alcohol on the two adults, and I found out later that during the afternoon the two of them had emptied a vodka bottle, and drank a cooler full of beer.

As their kids swam and played, the two of them had a big hollering and yelling fight and who knows what happened. It lasted for hours, until they began to sober up. I do not know why so many people get hooked on alcohol, or marijuana, but it happens. The river, and the outdoors where God’s creation is so outstanding, is no place for it. To me it seems sacrilegious to head down a wild river with a cooler full of beer.

If alcohol or drugs is your master, stay home with it and watch sports on television, where you and others are not endangered by it. Keep it away from your kids. Your weakness will surely become theirs and it may destroy their lives.

The reason I am writing this is, those law enforcement people could have taken the adults in and made it rough on them, maybe causing child welfare people to step in. That night could have cost them their children, and the way the two of them were acting, they either didn’t care or didn’t know it.

But the whole time, instead of yelling at the adults as I would have liked to do, those deputies were courteous and caring, and when they were sure the man and his wife were no longer inebriated, and the kids no longer miserable, they turned them over to me and I got them back to their hotel room. I have no idea who those Polk County deputies were, but I would certainly vote for the sheriff who hired them, though I don’t know him either.

Today, with so many people criticizing our law enforcement, it was great to see the example they set, and to see a sincere group of powerful men who really were concerned about doing the job right. It is not the only time deputies have shown me they are something special when it comes to working with people, actually living up to that old adage, “to protect and to serve.” I can tell you of a half dozen times I have seen it first hand.

Maybe it is because it is an elected office that makes a sheriff department find those types of deputies, but if it is that, then we need to elect the small town police chiefs found across the Ozarks in small towns. I have seen so much corruption and incompetence and dereliction of duty in those police forces, and have written about it before.

While I am at it, I want to tell the Missouri State Highway Patrol how great it was to hear a radio commercial at Thanksgiving, with one of their spokesmen who never mentioned speeding. He said something like, “Our patrolmen are out there to help with any problem which develops on our highways during this time of heavy traffic. If you have difficulty of any kind, we have patrolmen close by, just call star-55 on your cell phone, and be careful on the highway throughout the holidays.”

We all know what happens if we are observed driving recklessly or too fast. But this message belied a willingness to help motorists who were not doing anything wrong, an offer to be there for anyone, ready to help with anything – and that impressed the heck out of me. It makes a difference in the way we all look at those patrolmen.

Radio ads like that are worth a great deal. It brings to mind a radio ad of the opposite tact which a Missouri conservation agent ran on a Lebanon radio station concerning hunting and fishing laws in the Ozarks.

“Remember,” he said, with all the arrogance he could muster, “if we don’t say you can, YOU CAN’T!”

Wiser people in the MDC’s headquarters didn’t allow the ad to run long after it was pointed out to them. To the men in law enforcement who treat people with respect, who have the soul and the heart to stand up for what is right as well as what is legal, I salute you. There are too many examples out there of people with police powers who have no problem being bullies, to the point where they themselves break the law and violate constitutional rights. Those people should never be given a badge!

The weak and the innocent often have no way to defend themselves because they just do not have the money, nor the faith in a justice system that leaves them out. And to some extent, rogue law enforcement personnel in small towns are exempt from punishment.

I have also seen first hand, late in the night last summer, what fine people some of these enforcement folks can be. And I have seen it often, far more often that the abuses we all know about. Deputies in my county and others throughout our state have made me wish I could be one of them. Who has more ability to make life better for average, common people, than they?

This might be a good time to let readers know that there is a small video camera which can be purchased at a reasonable price which sits behind a driver’s shoulder, mounted to the roof of a car or pick-up, which shows and records your speed. It also films any accident before you, and records the words you speak and words spoken to you by a policeman who stops you for any reason. This little camera can produce a segment of film you can use in court, and it would make the greatest of Christmas gifts for anyone who drives often. I suppose you can different kinds of those on the Internet.

We have been getting calls about my new book and other books readers have purchased for Christmas gifts. We plan to take a whole day, Dec. 15, to sign and inscribe and mail them, so they should arrive well before Christmas. Call Ms. Wiggins if you have any questions about your order. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613, or email me at

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