Farmington author William Shelton is excited about the publication of his first book, “Where the Acorns Fall.”
He explained that while the book is focused on the lives of three girls he learned of by chance about 45 years ago, it also includes a lot about his life growing up on a southeast Missouri farm.
“The idea for the book started in 1974,” he said. “That’s when my wife and I first got married and lived out on the west side of town. We rented a place. I like to hunt a lot and back then it was all open country and you could just wander through the woods.
"To get to the park area you kinda had to go through another farmer’s field. I met that farmer back there who was struggling with a cow that he had. I was raised on a farm and knew how to help.
"I ended up helping him and got to know the family and become real good friends. While I was helping him, we was in the log cabin that this family was living in. As I was getting ready to leave, the daughter said, ‘There was a family with three girls that lived in this cabin.
“They showed me where the girls’ names were written on their bunks and the daughter said, ‘They’re buried underneath the oak tree in the back field. That’s where I came through and saw that. All this is in the prologue of the book — how I came to ‘meet’ the girls. Then it gets into the story about. This becomes the fiction part."
Shelton said that, while he didn’t know anything about the actual lives of the girls, he performed research on life during the Civil War to know what life was like back then.
“I know who owned the log cabin. It was John Highley and his brother who were sheep farmers. They came here from Kentucky and built the cabin and then they moved into town because they started a livery service. The livery stable is still standing up here on Jefferson and Liberty. After they moved into town, they let people stay and run the farm — and that was this family with the girls that are buried under the tree.”
Sixteen years later, Shelton and his wife moved out to that same piece of land and built their house where they’ve lived for about 30 years.
“When we moved out there, I knew the girls was buried there and I had this feeling like, ‘I need to know their story," he said. "It’s a shame that they’re buried out here where nobody knew them, and nobody has seen them. So, I started doing research and found out when they were possibly living there and what went on. The story is a year in the life of the girls in and around Farmington during the end of the Civil War.
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Asked what kind of reader he thought would most enjoy reading the book, Shelton said, “I’ve been asked several times what the book is. Is it a mystery? Is it an adventure? I have to go with an adventure, but it’s also a love story because there is a love story in it. It’s a tragedy. It’s definitely a drama.
"So, it would definitely appeal to a lot of people — not just because it was done here in Farmington. I know people who have read it before say, ‘Oh, there’s a lot of references to the Plank Road, to the Woodland Mine, to the Civil War, to the forming of the area and about the growing of this town.
"But the story is about the girls. The personality of the girls living on the edge of town on a farm, coming into town and the experiences they had with the county fair, with growing up, with things that were going on. I don’t want to give it all away, but their father goes off to the Civil War. One of the girls’ boyfriend goes off.
"There’s a lot of drama and some action. There’s references to the Hildebrands, the Renegades of the South. You can’t tell by the way I wrote the book whether I’m for one side or the other. There is references in the book to the Underground Railroad and the places that served the Underground Railroad."
Shelton said that, while he doesn’t know for certain that these incidences actually occurred to the girls, it’s his conjecture of what their lives might have been like.
“We had several farms that my dad and I ran," he said. "So, I put these personalities into the girls and then it just went from there. There is an end to the story. People have asked if there’s going to be a second book. No, there could not be a second book about that story.
"Because I lived there, and that tree is in my backyard — I jogged under the tree. Every time I went out and jogged around the field and through the woods I would go under the tree and I would think of stories that these girls would do.
"I would see their home and know that they are buried there. I had always wanted to write a book, but I never come up with the right story. For some reason, I did not search for this story — but this story found me.”