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The Frakes, Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks & Gin

It's Saturday morning - 10:49 - and I'm already feeling ready for a big gin and tonic, extra lime, please. It's going to be another hot one today. Yesterday was 102 they say. Dog days. Days that are so hot, a person could come down with a bad case of the frakes.

It was in Donald Harington's wonderful novel "Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks" where I first heard about the frakes. It's been years since I read the book, but I do recall that frakes almost always strike during the hottest days of summer. And they can strike a grown man down where he sits, rendering him nearly motionless for hours at a time. Some kind of nervous system shut down, I'm guessing. I've found gin and tonics helpful.

Back to the book. Architecture covers the growth of human habitation of the Ozarks region from the very first Indian dwellings to, well, rusted out mobile homes. The setting is near the town of Stay More, Arkansas.

Here's a snippet from the book. In this exchange, Fanshaw, a native Indian whose people have lived in the area for generations, meets up with settler Jacob Ingledew (an occasional victim of the frakes). I can't recall how Fanshaw came to speak perfect English, but it adds to the colorful dialogue.

From Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks, The Toby Press

"It don't matter to me whether the earth is round or flat," Jacob said to Fanshaw one evening in the late winter. "I aint gonna git to the other side nohow."

"Where are you going to get to, old chap?"

"Huh? I've done got there."

"The time has come, now, when we must at last cultivate a topic of discussion which, hitherto, we have avoided: why did you come here and build upon this land?"

"Hit was gittin jist too durn crowded back in Tennessee," Jacob said. "I purt nigh couldn't lift my elbow 'thout hittin somebody and the preachers was so thick a feller couldn't say 'heck' without gittin a sermon fer it."

"But you have never even asked for permission to build here. Stay More is the land of my grandfathers."

" 'Stay More'?"

Fanshaw chuckled. "Yo. That is what I have come to call it."

Jacob Ingledew repeated the name a couple of times, and him-self chuckled. "I reckon that'll do as well as ary other name."

"But you cannot," Fanshaw said.

"Cannot what?"

"Stay more."

"Says who?" Jacob demanded. "You fixin to try to run me off?"

"My grandfathers are buried here."

"My grandchildren will be buried here."

"Ho. Where is their grandmother?"

"I'll find one, by and by."


Then Fanshaw told him the story of the origin of his people. Once upon a time a snail was washed far down the river by floods. He was a good snail but he was alone. Wahkontah, in appreciation of his goodness and in pity for his loneliness, caused the snail to sleep for a long, long time. During the sleep, the snail's entire body was changed. When he awoke he started back into his shell, but it was far too small. Then he looked at himself, and, seeing that he had long legs, he stood up and walked about. As he walked he kept growing. Hair grew on his head, and from his shoulders long, powerful arms grew.

This new creature remembered his former home, and walked far back up the river to the home of the snails, but he could not live with them, and he went in search of some place he could call home. When he grew hungry, Wahkontah gave him a bow and arrow and taught him how to get food. Day by day he went out in search of a home. At last the man, for such he had become, came to the hut of a beaver. The old beaver came out, and said, "Who are you and what do you want?" The man told his story and said he was seeking a home.

The young man and the beaver were about to fight, when the beaver's daughter came out and said she would teach the man to build a house, so that he would not have to trespass on others. To this arrangement the old beaver finally agreed. So the beaver's daughter and the young man went away together, and she taught him how to build a house of bent bois d'arc poles and to thatch it. Because of her kindness, Wahkontah changed the beaver's daughter into a maiden, and she became the squaw wife of the man. These two were the first of the people, and that is why they wear the beaver skin ornament.

"What is the origin of your people?" Fanshaw then asked him. Jacob, although an ungodly man, knew the story of Adam and Eve. He told this to Fanshaw, who listened attentively. When he had finished, Fanshaw said, "I now propose the topic for our next debate: Which is greater, the story of the snail and the beaver or the story of Adam and Eve?"

The two men debated this topic at length. Fanshaw pointed out that while there is a distinct reference to the paraboloid house of the man and woman who were snail and beaver, there is no reference to any sort of house for Adam and Eve, neither before nor after their Fall. What did they live in? Jacob went and fetched his brother Noah's Bible, and read second and third Genesis, but couldn't find any mention of a house, so he had to concede that point to Fanshaw.
His own chief point was that God created Adam in his own image, whereas snails are pretty slow and slimy, and beavers are fat and bucktoothed. They argued that point back and forth until Fanshaw conceded.

So went their debate, and both men realized that what they were actually debating was the beginning of their Great Debate: Who has the right to Stay More, the Indian or the white man? although they did not ever say so in other than metaphorical terms. When it came the usual time for Fanshaw to go back to his lady, and Jacob uttered his ritual "Stay more," Fanshaw replied, "Thank you, I believe I shall," and he stayed a long time.


Jud Williford ( said…
I just finished reading TAOTAO. I disagree with your speculation that the frakes are a nervous disorder. I think I know exactly what they are, having spent my life working outside in a lattitude and longitude not far off of Stay More. I think they are the extreme chapping of the crotch area that occurs when you sweat and just keep working. Of course, in the book, these are described as if they were an infestation of some microbe (with pustules, etc.) but I think this is just dramatization on Harington's part.

Thanks for bringing this up on your blog! This is an important topic that needs to be hashed out by all interested parties.
RSmith said…
This is valuable information to have as we enter the summer season. It is important that we avoid over-heating the crotch area for lengthy periods of time. I, for one, have long subscribed to the Ozarks tradition of spending as much time as possible skinny dipping and being naked during the hot months.
Bekkah said…
Re the "frakes" discussion of 4 years ago. If it were extreme chapping of the crotch area as Jud expressed, why, in the final chapter, did Vernon come down with the "last case" of the frakes when he was not doing any actual physical work but merely planning his house?

Thoughts? I'm still considering the nervous disorder explanation.
John said…
But then... Vernon had the last case of "the frakes" in Newton county! No one would ever work hard enough to get them ever again. (circa 1975-at which time the author also presumed that small-pox were obsolete) Perhaps after all these years of lying dormant a new more virulent strain of the "frakes" has evolved outside of Newton county. Or maybe, those afflicted need to follow the dao of Vernon and just ignore them!
tam said…
I am currently reading the book now. I am confused by the FRAKES and mostly the aftermath. I am a nurse... Just....hmmm?? I get jock itch, rot whatever, but how would this drive you to jump off of a cliff?( early on in book ) I have had yeast infections etc that are female problems....but we just power through. Thoughts?

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