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Shannon Bardwell: Prairie enterprise


Shannon Bardwell



Popping the top of the cooler, Sam showed off a mess of nice size crappie. Sam counts the number that he keeps and I count the number of fillets they will make. With his haul, he had something else, mahogany colored nuts; some still in a soft puffy shell.  


"Buckeyes," he said. "Don't eat them, I think they're poisonous." 


While Sam cleaned the fish, I twiddled with the buckeyes. The color was stunning, and the shells peeled off readily. I left most of the shells on so they could come out naturally. I put the buckeyes in a couple of wooden bowls and scattered them around the house. Sam warned again, "Don't put them where people might eat them, thinking they are nuts. They're poisonous." 


I was instantly reminded of the time I put dog biscuits that looked like miniature wrapped hotdogs in a bowl on the counter. I thought it was obvious they were dog biscuits, but apparently it wasn't as obvious to my guests. I'd keep a good eye on the buckeyes. Soon they all shed their shells, perhaps their season or the warmth of the house. 


A little research showed that the buckeye tree grows in the Mississippi Valley Region. The tree is known to get 30 to 50 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet in width, though Sam says the one he sees along the river are frail and small. The buckeye was once used to make furniture, crates, pallets and artificial limbs, but now its use is mostly confined to pulpwood. 


The deep brown color looks like the eye of a buck deer. The nut has a small cream-colored "eye," thus the name. Sam was right about being poisonous though the article said, "slightly poisonous." Native Americans would take the shell off, roast the nut and crush it, providing a nutritious meal. Heating the nut leeches the meat of its poisonous component. Folklore also says the nut is a good luck charm and brings relief from the pain of arthritis and rheumatism. 


I take pleasure in the thought of Sam taking time from his serious fishing to collect buckeyes and bring them home. No matter what anyone says, there's a bit of hunter-gatherer somewhere deep inside every man, and a home decorator not-so-deep inside every woman. 


Gen. Williams Henry Harrison, while on his 1840 presidential campaign, used a symbol of a log cabin decorated with raccoon skins and strings of buckeyes. It is said that is why Ohio chose to call itself the Buckeye State. 


The Ohio State football team later adopted the "Buckeyes," and many fans adorn themselves with strings of buckeyes on hats and around their neck. I'm thinking my acquisition of buckeyes might prompt a good little Prairie enterprise since 25 buckeyes will sell for $12.50 on  


"Sam," I called out, "I think we may be sitting on a goldmine with these buckeyes." 


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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