Camden, circa 1930

Camden is a sad whiff of a faded little town in Ray County in Western Missouri.  It was a river town back when such things mattered, one of hundreds of rugged little towns clinging to bluffs along the Missouri River like so much cedar and scrub oak.

In its day, Camden supported a school, sports teams, stores, two churches (Baptist and Methodist) and a bowling alley.  It survived fires, tornadoes, mayors, Rebel attacks, Union retaliations and the wretched Jayhawkers from Kansas.

Decades or so ago (maybe more), the river flooded it’s banks and when the waters receded, the river chose a new channel and abandoned Camden forever.  Camden was now a town without a reason for being …. once a stop along the way, now an embarrassment.  Hanging from it’s tiny bluff overlooking the now dry bottoms, the town slowly withered on the vine.

The Author's Grandmother and an unknown interloper, Camden circa 1920

Geographically speaking, “Bottoms” refers to an area of land lower than a body of water.  The Bottoms of Camden is an area of rich farmland, broken by mazes of creeks and thickets and trees.

The Bottoms contain the lost spirit of the river that once was …. the promise of commerce, the optimism of movement, the thrill of romance.  Tangled against the cottonwoods and sycamores are the ghosts of the rivers’ dark side as well …. the ruin of log jams, the wretched under-currents, the suffocating catfish, the misery of hangovers.

Camden old-timers avoid the bottoms as a general rule, the younger residents are not as wise.