Dyess, Arkansas

I figure I’ll take a little detour from telling about the Memphis to tell you a little about Dyess. It’s known as Johnny Cash’s boyhood home, and a lot of his songs from childhood (such as “Five Feet High and Rising”) were written based on his experiences there. There’s a paved road off of exit 41 in the northbound lane of I55 heading out of Memphis, but Google Maps didn’t prefer that route, at least when we went. I pulled off of 36 and saw a gravel road laid out before me.

Well, I’m no stranger to gravel, so I headed on. I turned the corner Google Maps told me to take and saw a combine sitting in the road about a half mile up. Again, not an unusual sight for me, but I figure since it’s planting season, it’s probably best to find another route. I headed back to the paved frontage road, to find another route, also on gravel, which is how we got into Dyess.

The last reports I read put Dyess at about 500 something in population, and I think that may be higher than the actual number. The school is closed down, the post office closes at noon, and the store is barely a store. There just isn’t much there these days.

Back when it was a New Deal colony, the residents were paid in company scrip that was spent at the Commissary, but as the political winds are often as fickle as the winds that blow through the area, it didn’t last long. I still have yet to read up on the details, but the federal aspect of the colony ended in 1951. For 17 years, though, it provided hope to families like the Cash family.

The kids all go to a school down the road; the school in Dyess closed years prior. From what JR told me, there were no paved roads besides the colony center until the 1960s, and even now there is one main road that is paved.

It’s a worthwhile stop, and playing one of Johnny’s songs on his family’s old front porch was a pretty big moment. We headed out on the paved road, where we will probably head in the next time we are out that way.

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