LOUISIANA, Mo. | Brent Engel believes there's no end to Pike County stories.
The award-winning journalist, author and publicist offers a new batch of them in “They Call Us Pikers.” The 224-page non-fiction book features 56 stories of local history, plus 12 pages of clippings about Pike County from newspapers around the nation. It costs $40 and is scheduled to be available Dec. 11.
“There's drama, comedy, chicanery and frivolity,” said the 56-year-old Louisiana author. “There are tales that will anger and others that will inspire. Some will cause you to shake your head and others will make you laugh out loud. It's got something for every taste.”
Engel has published four other books. “They Call Us Pikers” is in the same vein as 2015's “One More Thing.” The stories feature people and events that have helped shape Pike County within and beyond its borders. A few have been published previously in area newspapers, but the majority are new.
“I love history, and I'm fascinated by the incredible amount of it found in Pike County,” Engel said. “At one time — and even today, I would argue — Pike County literally was known throughout America. From a packed Broadway theater in New York to a lonely campfire by a mountain stream in the Rockies, people had heard of Pikers.”
Engel points out that literary references abound. The inside and back covers of his book are filled with examples. One of the most famous is from Mark Twain's “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” In Chapter 20, Huck claims he's a Piker. The notation may have been Twain's way of acknowledging Pike County's 19th century influence.
“According to one definition, anyone who for any reason has at any time set foot in Pike County is a Piker, so Huck would have qualified,” Engel said. “A lot of real-life people did, too. Many did all they could to make their communities better.”
Some of the material is familiar, but Engel says new discoveries were made in his year of research and writing. Some chapters are based upon more obscure happenings, yet still have relevance.
There are stories about Bowling Green politician Champ Clark, the 1927-1928 construction of the Louisiana bridge and the Whiskey Ring federal tax fraud case. But others introduce readers to a man who survived a scalping, a trailblazing woman lawyer and a slave who tried a new tactic in seeking his freedom. A chapter on lynchings humanizes the victims of an inhumane act, and another highlights the last contemplative words of a convicted killer.
“My goal of looking into difficult subjects is to gain a better understanding,” Engel said. “We all benefit from a broader perspective.”
Of course, plenty of lighter moments can be found. There's the man who swore an ancient tribe of pygmies lived outside Bowling Green, the Frankford women who more than met an ill-advised male challenge and a drunken Louisiana rendezvous that may have just saved Missouri.
“You can't make this stuff up,” Engel said. “I am indebted to the many historians, publications and diary writers whose words have allowed me to create this book. I have credited them all.”
Engel hasn't ruled out additional Pike County books, and already has several stories in the works. The author also hopes people will use “They Call Us Pikers” as the starting point for their own research.
“I always tell people 'Never believe anyone who claims they don't like history,'” he said. “Because whether they like it or not or realize it or not, we all love history. Because whether we like it or not or realize it or not, we're all going to be history someday.”
More information about buying a book is available by calling Engel at 573-754-2022.