August 9, 2021
We are looking out from the top of Petit Jean Mountain in Arkansas Northwest of Little Rock. Petit is pronounced “Petty” it is French for little. Jean is French for John.
The mountain was named for a fair haired blue eyed girl whose real name was Adrienne. A girl who pretended to be a boy so she could travel with a group of French Explorers traveling to the New World that ended up on the mountain. She did it for love of course. To be with her fiancé who was leading the troupe. Her disguise was so good even he did not recognize her. You can see why she was called “Little John”. As with most legends it has a sad ending for on the way home Petit Jean grew ill and died. She loved the mountain and asked to be buried there. Her broken hearted fiancé name Chauvet tearfully honored her wishes and that is how the mountain became Petit Jean.
Arkansas is the name given to a tribe of Native Americans by French Explorers. Originally known as the Quapaw they hunted and even farmed these Ozark mountains into the 1800s when, like many other original Americans were moved to reservations in Oklahoma.
History records that even Cherokee families on the infamous ‘Trail of Tears’ from Georgia to Oklahoma camped on these mountains. The ‘Trail of Tears’ happened when President Andrew Jackson sent an army to kick the Cherokee off their farms and marched them over 1.200 miles to become Sooners. Five thousand of the more than 15,000 victims died on the trip. Makes you want to draw horns and a mustache on your $20 bill doesn’t it?
It was a relaxing peaceful drive to the top of the Petit Jean. The winding road was cut through the forest of pines and hardwoods. Tall straight soldiers, proudly naked three men high before branching out to shade the road below.
About halfway up this natural beauty stood an unexpected guest, the Petit Jean Antique Car Museum. Founded by former Governor Winthrop Rockefeller with his own car collection. Winthrop was the black sheep of the Rockefellers. He wasn’t poor, he just wanted to live in Arkansas instead of New York. Go figure.
The cars started from a 1904 Oldsmobile and traveled back to the future to a 1984 DeLorean. There was a Cadillac Convertible that had been owned by President JFK and a Ford Fairlane Ranchero driven by King Elvis. I was surprised to find a horseless carriage built by the Sears Company in 1908. If you were raised in the 60s you would have found the white 1964 ½ Ford Mustang that greeted you in front of the Museum groovy. Every car was impeccably restored and in perfect running condition. How we love our cars.
We ate dinner in the restaurant at the top of the mountain. It looked just like you would think a restaurant on top of a mountain should look. Tall log pillars holding up wood walls & wood ceilings on dark wood floors. A large stone fireplace greeted you and in the back you found a wall of windows feasting on the glorious tree studded view. The windows faced west so those with the privileged view squinted from the setting sun.
We fell in love with our server at first sight. She was petite young blue eyed blonde that connected like a niece or daughter, sincerely seeking to please. Her soft southern tones were comfortable and endearing. She said she worked here in the summers because she loved the mountain. She may be working her way through college, but she already had a degree in hospitality. I had the roast beef piled high on wheat bread smothered in brown gravy with green beans and a bake potato loaded with white gravy, salt and pepper. Yes, I put white gravy on baked potatoes instead of butter. If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m different! You could have had the chicken fried steak or fried catfish. There was a dull old chicken breast if you were watching calories.
We casually consumed the food and conversation with the new friends we were meeting. Stories of miniature goats and chickens gave a country spice to our talks. I had to pry the hometown secrets of the Clinton family and the locals gave me an earful. I won’t share that now as there may be children reading.
We bid our goodbyes and were pleased for the air had mellowed to a cozy embrace as dusk sat softly on the Petit Jean. Interesting as I think back, I believe our waitress said her name was Adrienne.