When Charles Craver walks among his remaining horses they follow him around like the pied piper. Craver Farms began with Davenport Arabian horses in 1955. Starting with just handful of the horses Charles built the herd up to 170 horses and helped preserve this special line of Arabians.
Out of the Floodwaters, Country Folk Rise Again
From the time the land was purchased in 1955, Charles Craver kept very busy with his large herd of Davenport Arabian horses and farming 2,000 acres of rich Illinois bottomland. The “Flood of 1993" dramatically changed Charles and Jeanne Craver’s whole way of life. The flood didn’t, however, destroy their love for the horses and the country community they call home.
World-famous for his preservation and breeding of the Davenport Arabian horses, Charles will never forget the day the Illinois River topped the levee and not only covered their land, but also covered their home and stable with 20 feet of water. Dozens of horsemen responded to the need, coming from all parts of the country pulling horse trailers to help save the Craver’s horses, which numbered close to 170 head. Today their herd is one-tenth the size it once was.
"We are winding down our horse operation," Charlie Craver shared as he held an enormous, beautiful trophy cup, which was an award from Culver Horsemanship Hall of Fame. The cup is one of the many awards he has received over the years for Craver Farm’s breeding of more than 600 Davenport Arabian horses. “We are down to about 17 horses now. It just got to be too much at my age to keep up with 170 horses."
As Charles walked among his horses, there was a special love transmitted between the animals and their beloved owner. Six of his remaining horses were young stallions and they remained calm and attentive as they interacted in a warm exchange with their friend and master.
"We’re not quitting everything though," Jeanne Craver quickly chimed in as she made final arrangements for the appearance of Nashville’s multiple Grammy-nominated artist, David Frizzell, who would be performing at their November 3 Great River Road Opry. “These days we are focusing more on the music and our IDNR (Illinois Department of Natural Resources) approved four-wheeler trail. We call it Crooked Creek OHV Driving Area and the trails are great because they wind over the hill area of our property."
Charles Craver shows off the Great River Road Opry to a visitor. What he loves about the Opry is not just the music, but the buzz of voices, the sound of community and friends enjoying themselves. The Great River Road Opry has featured well-known Nashville entertainers John Conlee and Gene Watson. Crooked Trails and Great River Road Opry are located six miles South of Illinois 106 just west of Winchester or 18 miles north of Illinois Route 108 at Eldred. Information can be found on http://www.greatopry.com or by called Jessie at 217-370-3131 or Jeanne at 217-742-3415.
As Jeanne Craver multi-tasked in her kitchen, it began to fill with members of the Bugg family made up of keyboard player Brian Bugg, drummer Marty Bugg, MC and guitar player Everett Bugg and his wife and lead singer Jessie Bugg. Known as Jessie and the South, the band members had stopped by the Cravers to work out some details for their upcoming show. Jessie and the South is known as one of the finest groups in Country Western entertainment and Jessie Bugg’s singing ability far surpasses many of the big names in Nashville. Her 17 year old daughter is following in her foot steps. Each member of the Bugg family has a unique and professional music talent.
"With all tragedies, there are blessings," Charles said. “We were really fortunate to find this property so close to where we lived in the bottoms. The place had fences and pens already in place because the former owner had raised exotic breeds of animals and it worked well for the horses."
The flood had also destroyed the building where the Bugg family performed and they had been neighbors to the Cravers for years. Craver’s new property had an old seed corn processing building sitting vacant and the idea of starting the Opry was born.
The Buggs are not only musicians but are carpenters as well. Everett Bugg began tearing out the old seed corn bins and undertook a major renovation project. Jeanne said, “We now have a building where people can come for good wholesome family entertainment in a friendly atmosphere. We have a snack shop and we want to keep it for the family, so we don’t allow alcohol at the Opry or on the four-wheeler trails."
The Opry is not a get rich quick business. What Charles really wanted to create was a place with community spirit. His greatest joy is hearing the buzz of conversation before the show and during intermission. “People no longer talk to each other and I love hearing the sound of people visiting," Charles said.
The lives of the Cravers and the Buggs, like a lot of Illinois farm families, were forever changed by the flood of 1993, but the flood did not destroy their spirit.
© 2007 Illinois Country Living Magazine.