Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bodock Alley or Bois d'arc Alley, Monroe County, Mississippi

A Road From The Past

by Terry Thornton

The article, photographs and query about an old road in southwestern Monroe County posted on December 27, 2009, at Hill Country (click to read), has produced some additional information.

Monroe County resident, author, and historian Mary Anna Riggan of Lackey, send information about the old road which was posted in a comment and she followed it up with a letter and additional information.

According to Mary Anna, the road show in the photographs below is known locally as Bois de-arc Alley and was probably a connecting road between the large Lenoir Plantation and Prairie Road. Mary Anna remembers riding portions of the Bois de-arc Alley with her father and she also sent information about the plantation and the picturesque roadway from A History of Monroe County Mississippi.

Because the plantation road is near Prairie --- and because the Old Magnolia Highway is still a marked roadway on modern county maps running north and south from Prairie --- more research is needed to determine if the road photographed above was also a part of that old connecting highway in early Monroe County.

But the most fascinating part of Mary Anna's communication is the name --- Bois de-arc Alley. Bois d'arc trees are widespread throughout the prairie region of western Monroe County --- locals call the tree by a more Americanized name "bodock" whereas elsewhere in the United States the tree is probably called "bodark."

Early French settlers noted that native American Indians often used an excellent fine-grained tough wood for their bows and for other applications. The French called the tree which provided the wood for the excellent, durable, and strong bows, Bois d'arc, which translates roughly to "bow wood" or "wood of the bow."

Bodock, besides being an excellent source of very hard and rot resistant wood, is also noted for it hedge-like properties which, when combined with the long sharp thorns on its branches, makes for an excellent natural fence. With pruning, the small trees sprouts more and more ---- sprouts are sent up from the roots --- and within a few years, a well-tended hedge of bodock is virtually cattle proof.

When I was a child, almost all of the fields and pastures in the prairie land of Monroe County were surrounded by thick hedges of bodock. When allowed to grow unchecked, the bodock trees grow to 40 or 50 feet --- and if crowded, form inter-twined limbs.

The bodock hedges on either side of the old road shown in this article have also formed a canopy of interlocked limbs above the roadway. During the summer when the trees are covered with leaves, this road appears more as a dark green tunnel than shown in these December photographs.

Bois d'arc trees are known scientifically as Maclura pomifera. A member of the Mulberry Family, bodock trees produce a large inedible fruit in the fall called either an apple or an orange --- leading to other common names for this plant. When locals call the fruit apples, the plant is known as hedge apple --- but in most of the United States the fruit is called an orange --- and the tree is called Mock Orange or most commonly, Osage orange.

The Osage orange fruit is often the size of grapefruit --- and some years the "crop" of oranges makes for a beautiful show in the fall.

The Osage Indian group are associated with the Bois d'arc tree --- it may have been their bow-making from the wood of this tree which early French settlers observed. It is thought, however, that the name "Osage" is a corruption of the French "Ouchage" which was used as an early name for the tribe.

Unfortunately the large slightly aromatic fruits (faint odor of citrus) produced on Bois d'arc trees are not edible --- in fact, some of the sap from the plant is considered toxic. Several researchers have reported practical uses of the fruit as pest control and there are several reports of medicinal uses of other portions of the plants by Native Americans. Caution should be exercised, however, in handling any portion of the plant that has sap.

A few claims have been made that the wood of the ark (as in Noah) was from the Bois d'arc tree --- but I think those claims were made by individuals reading too much into the French spelling of Bois d'arc. The tree is thought by biologists to be native to eastern Texas and southeastern Oklahoma.

Widely cultivated as a hedge for fencing, the tree was touted for erosion control during WPA times when millions of the trees were planted across the mid-west and elsewhere. Bois d'arc trees grow well in most sections of the United States --- but it is in the rich prairie soils when it grows so well to form wonderful hedges.

The trees along Bodock Alley in Monroe County probably escaped from cultivation as hedge plants/natural fences --- and over time have grown into this marvelous canopy marking an ancient and historic road.

Wouldn't it be fun to walk or to drive slowly down Bodock Alley in mid-summer and in that cool and shady lane speculate about who and what might have traveled the same road in earlier times?

Sources and Additional Information:

Photographs of Bodock Alley, Terry Thornton, Fulton, Mississippi, December 19, 2009.

Information about Bois de-arc Alley and Lanier Plantation, Monroe County, Mississippi, Mary Anna Riggan, letter to Terry Thornton, December 31, 2009.

Lanier Plantation and Bois de-arc Alley, Monroe County Mississippi, from A History of Monroe County Mississippi attributed to John Rodabough and reprinted from the Aberdeen Examiner (undated), pages 286 - 87.

Bois d'arc, Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) medicinal properties from Steven Foster and James A. Duke's, A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants Eastern and Central North America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990, page 282).

Mulberry Family including information about Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) and speculation that many think Bois d'arc was the wood of the ark from Blanche Evans Deans' Trees and Shrubs in the Heart of Dixie (Birmingham, Alabama: Southern University Press, 1968, pages 79 - 82).

Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) from George A. Petrides' A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972, page 310).

For additional photographs of Maclura pomifera and information about the plant, there is an excellent short article at Wikipedia. Click to read.

For additional information about the Osage Nation the information at Wikipedia (click to read) is recommended.

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