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Slaughter Pen name pays tribute to history

by Melissa Gute | March 26, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.

Slaughter Pen Mountain Biking Park is becoming nationally known for its single-track trails, but for Gene Lovell and his family, it's a place where nostalgia clings for existence.

"It just don't look like it use to," Gene Lovell, 87, said with a soft laugh. "There's no way to go back."

The words "Lovell Custom Butchering" were displayed on the black ball cap he wore while recalling the days he and his family butchered livestock in the area now known as Slaughter Pen, going as far south as where Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is today.

He still carries business cards with the company name on them. The phone number has a 501 are code though the address is in Bentonville.

Gene started helping his father, Roy Lovell, at his family's slaughterhouse north of Park Street in Bentonville at age 5 and skinned his first hog at age 7.

He fondly reminisced about the moments he was hung on a hook by his overalls so he'd be out of the way when his dad or uncle knocked a bull dead.

"At that time, they didn't shoot 'em," Gene said with his aged, grandfather-like voice. "They knocked 'em in the head with a knockin' hammer... Sometimes they would have to hit a big bull in the head three, four, five times to get him down, then cut his throat to bleed him."

The trade changed as Gene grew and shooting the animal dead became protocol. Scalding and scraping hogs was the core of the family business.

There were six slaughter pens in the area that became known as Slaughter Pen Holler by the 1940s.

They were built near the creek that runs through the holler so the entrails of a slaughtered animal could be easily pushed into the water, Gene said.

"Possum hunting was good back in them days at the creek there," he said with a chuckle.

The work was hard -- slaughtering, cleaning and quartering livestock, hauling them to a processing plant where the farmer would then pick up their meat. Gene's yellow, brittle fingernails on his left had were testament to his pulling hides for more than 52 years. They stood in stark contrast to his healthy fingernails on his right hand, the hand that used the knife.

When people didn't want certain parts -- oftentimes the heart, liver or "butcher's piece" which was a piece of meat that hung just under the lungs -- they were saved and given to those in need, Gene recalled.

"That little slaughter pen that dad and I had on Park Street there, we fed the whole north end of town," he said.

Gene took over his father's business in the 1950s.

The slaughter pens began to shut down in the 1970s as the federal government created regulations regarding animal waste. Gene said his family's slaughter pen was the last one standing in the holler.

Gene equipped his pickup -- known as the Black Mule -- with a boom and traveled to farms throughout Benton and Washington counties as well as southwest Missouri to kill livestock on location. He eventually retired and went to work for the city.

While Slaughter Pen Holler was the site for his business, it was a place of adventure for his five children.

They'd have breakfast before going out to explore the nature that surrounded them. They'd wade in the creek, chase wildlife, build makeshift boats, recalled Jean Brooks, one of Gene's daughters.

"You didn't come in until dark or unless you heard a whistle," she affectionately reflected. "If you heard that whistle, you knew you were in trouble if you didn't come home."

Now it's developed and a different type of place of adventure for the millions who have visited Crystal Bridges and thousands who have enjoyed the more than 25 miles of Slaughter Pen trails.

The progress that's happened in Slaughter Pen holler isn't bad, Gene's daughters said, but its history should be remembered.

NW News on 03/26/2017

Print Headline: Slaughter Pen name pays tribute to history


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