Amos Cartwright descended from sharecroppers who barely survived the Flood of 1851. Fortunately for his forebears, Sampson and Blanche Cartwright, the owners of the land they worked did not survive. Through a convoluted web of bureaucratic wizardry, helped along no doubt through the intervention of a liberal legislator by the name of Baxter Chisholm, the land became theirs. Sampson and Blanche also were recipients of a substantial loan from the 30-year-old State of Missouri, permitting them to rebuild what had become their farm, including a large house, a number of outbuildings, and docking facilities on the Mississippi.
The Cartwright estate, for it truly had become an estate, then passed from Sampson and Blanche in 1884 to their son Raymond, who later married Marissa Lopez. Then, the land passed on to his youngest boy, Clarence, in 1924. Clarence farmed the land until 1942, when the war suddenly commanded much of the fuel and chemicals his crop-hands needed to keep the place productive.
No one could have prepared adequately for the dislocation that followed the government’s forced redistribution of output. But the bloodline that flowed from Sampson and Blanche Cartwright were better prepared than most. Fiercely materialistic, competitive, and physically unable to give up, these people grabbed the bull by the horns and built new enterprises.
Though, by that time, the land had become a valuable target for residential real estate development, the Cartwright clan stubbornly refused to sell to developers. The St. Louis Dragon Ranch was created in 1950, a direct response to an effort by a developer to pressure the state and the city of St. Louis to force the sale of the land. The Cartwrights succeeded in holding the developers at bay. During the next fifty years, the land’s agricultural use continued. That suited the Cartwrights well, because the agricultural valuation was far lower than residential valuation, saving them literally millions in taxes.
Over the years, the value of the land, three-hundred and twenty acres, multiplied many, many times over. Finally, in 2010, the agricultural tax exemptions came under the most severe pressure in the history of the Carthwright family’s ownership of the property. Well-financed developers, whose political clout with both Republicans and Democrats had been cultivated for years and fed a steady diet of campaign contributions, put immense pressure on legislators to force land-use restrictions on the Carthwrights. Their success would have catapulted pastoral, bucolic scenes from the 1940s, there in the shadow of the arch, into the frenzied life of the city.
But in 2012, Amos and his wife, Lucinda, to whom the now massive estate had passed, made a final, last-gasp effort to turn the tide. They began raising dragons. Raising dragons honored the name given to the acreage in the fifties but, more importantly, it was a roadblock the developers had never encountered before. Much like the short-lived but effective approach many farmers used in the 1980s, introducing ostriches and emus to their land, the tactic confused and confounded both the developers and the legislators in their pockets.
Aside from the herculean foes the Cartwrights faced by introducing dragons to the land, it was not easy to introduce a dragon population into an environment in which, previously, only horses, cattle, cotton, okra, and wheat had flourished. But the most challenging aspect of dragon husbandry in Missouri had to do with the herds the dragons replaced.
A few years earlier, many local farmers whose land had been threatened with unchecked development, started raising unicorns. The Cartwrights jumped on the bandwagon and quickly assembled one of the largest unicorn herds in North America. Those efforts, though, like the ostriches earlier, turned into just a delay, not a solution. It was the sheer number of unicorns that scuttled the effectiveness of their introduction. Had they maintained low numbers, the very scarcity of the mythical beasts might have permanently derailed the developers. But that was not to be.
After their large-scale introduction, and the failure of their introduction to stop the developers in their tracks, in 2007 the unicorns begun dying in large numbers. The sickness that befell them was unknown to the veterinarians in the area. The symptoms of the disease, which included vomiting rainbow-colored blood and cracks forming in the crystalline forelegs, were mysteries.
Thomas McClinchy, a noted veterinarian and lepidopterologist, suggested the problems might be traceable to the butterflies in the unicorns’ diets. McClinchy was on the Cartwrights’ payroll, but he was impossible to bribe and everyone knew it; he was a man with conviction and integrity and was as honest as the day is long; in short, he was the antithesis of the developers and legislators. But that is not the point here; the point is that the real problem with eating butterflies, as he said, had to do with their metaphysical structures.
“Though butterflies may look magical and simply ooze beauty and grace,” McClincy said, “they are not of the same dimension as unicorns. By ingesting foods of this realm, the unicorns’ metaphysical composure is put at great risk.”
Before he could finish his assessment of the unicorn problem, McClinchy became the first victim of the developers’ efforts to eradicate the dragon problem. Seamus Adams, a man employed by the Cartwrights to tend to the dragons and keep their notorious tempers in check, succumbed to the temptations posed by the developers by accepting a charge to dispatch McClinchy in return for a large cash outlay. Late one afternoon, when McClinchy was innoculating the dragons against rabies (an outbreak of which would have been nothing short of cataclysmic), Seamus Adams slipped in the dragon barn ahead of him and fed a young and incompletely tamed dragon a hallucinogenic pharmaceutical cocktail. By the time McClinchy arrived at the dragon’s stall, it was fully engaged in what has become known as dragonisticality, a monstrously dangerous fury in which dragons pulverize with their tails beings they perceive as threats, then eat the remains.
Now, you may think this is all nonsense. You may say this could not have happened. It is happening. It is happening now, today, in that very stall in which McClinchy was tormented and tortured by a creature about which he cared deeply. I am truly offended that you might question the veracity of what I am telling you.
All right, then, I’ll just stop.