13th Century French Castle Slowly Rises In Arkansas

Tuesday, November 15th 2011, 11:44 pm
By: News On 6

Take a drive from Tulsa, less than three hours east, and you can find yourself in France, 13th century France in fact, where everything's done the hard way. Or is it the better way?

You might never guess by watching him split limestone in the afternoon sun, but Kurtis Willard believes destiny put him here, living his dream.

"I've had dreams about building castles. I've done this all my life and had several dreams and finally it's come true," Willard said.

A stonemason by trade, a dreamer by design, this big bear-of-a-man values the chance to work unhurried. To leave a legacy that tells the world he was here.

"That's the reason I'm here because it's a one-of-a-kind deal and you'll never see it again," Willard said

It's why they're all up here on this Ozark hilltop, for the chance to live in 13th century France and build a castle.

"When I first heard it, to be honest, it sounded pretty crazy," Said Brad Fire Cloud.

Still, Fire Cloud jumped at the chance to leave the ups-and-downs of residential construction and come here to perfect his stone cutting.

"Anything around a doorway or window, anywhere there's an opening in a wall, I'll do the framework around it," he said.

Working together, over the past two-and-a-half years, Fire Cloud and Kurtis have built most of the 6-foot thick walls.

"These are stones that not too long ago were buried in the ground, that we actually dug out of the ground. I shaped and formed them and we gave life to them. They're going to be here for 1000 years or more," Fire Cloud said.

At least that's the hope of the man behind all of this, Michel Guyot. He's a Frenchman who's devoted his life to preserving French castles.. in France.

When the French couple who own this Boone County hillside offered it for the project, investors were gathered, a Franco-Swiss-American board of directors formed, and Anthony McCutcheon showed up to split hickory into ax handles and live in the year 1226.

"We have to go back a few years and start all over again," McCutcheon said.

They quarry all the stone, move it around with draft animals, work without electricity and rely on blacksmiths like Luke Sorenson to make their tools with an old French bellows, a 3000 degree fire, and an 800-year old learning curve.

"Stone cutting chisels aren't something you usually make," Sorenson said. "I knew I was in trouble when I was walking down and there were 3 or 4 masons down here, and the one guy was holding a chisel. I was, ‘oh, this isn't good.'"

Every so often, French historians and archaeologists and preservationists show up to make sure everything's being done the old-fashioned way... the real old-fashioned way.

They built a medieval crane while they were at it. The locals call it the squirrel cage. With its simple pulleys and axle, they can do just like the Romans did and lift 10-times their body weight.

They're shooting for a 2030 ribbon-cutting, or stone-laying. Everyone hopes to still be working here, and to lay that final rock.

"We're building a monument, it's something that'll be here long after we're gone and to stand back as an old man and say I had a hand in building a castle would be quite good for the ego and your sense of accomplishment," said Jacob Adkins, Site Director.

You can come watch it all. See how Annette Horton shears the sheep and dyes the wool with black walnuts and marigolds and rosemary and spins it into yarn, giving her a new appreciation for dressing back in the 21st century.

They had to go back in time to live a life where patience is a virtue and craftsmanship can't be rushed. To build real muscles, and wipe away real sweat. To dream of building a castle, and watch dreams come true. Wondrous new discoveries 800 years in the making.

"I mean if you just have your heart and dedication you can create a castle out of rocks you find in the ground. I want people to realize they can do something great," Fire Cloud said.

Unlike the 13th century, work over in the Ozarks stops for the winter after next Wednesday. But they'll start up again in late March.

Find out more at: Ozark Medieval Fortress