Volume IX, No. 4, Summer 1982
DOUG MAHNKEY IS STORYTELLING
Edited by Cherie Burns
My first law office was down in old Forsyth on the old square in Taney County. I had an office upstairs rented from Charles H. Groom at seven dollars and half a month. I had a little wood stove, two or three pieces of furniture and little cane bottom chairs made for me by Joe Cranfil for seventy-five cents apiece. I was the first door as you got to the end of this long stairway and the next was the beauty shop and the next was the surveyor's office. I hadn't had a case. I had been there about a month and nobody had come. So I'd hear somebody coming up the stairway and I think maybe I've got a client. But invariably it would be for the beauty shop or the surveyor's office.
One day, behold, there was an old lady came in and she said, "Are you a lawyer?"
And I said, "Yes, ma'am."
She said, "Well, they tell me I've got to have a quiet title suit on my land. What would be your fee for filing a quiet suit for me?"
I said, "Fifty dollars."
She said, "My goodness, I could get a good lawyer for that."
Down the stairs she went and I lost my first client.
I enjoy telling stories like this from my own experiences. I don't know how I got started telling so many stories. My stories are mostly true stories, but now some people tell big windies. Sometimes I've embossed on them a little bit and changed the locale and the name of the people. I have told my family that many of the fellows I grew up with have amassed considerable property, collecting lands, cattle, stock and bonds, but I guess I just collected stories. I have enjoyed it. A good story, like a good companion, stands one in good stead as old age approaches. Pondering of these tales of our youth helps to make each day brighter, even though one is most four score years.
I get a kick out of it. You must enjoy the story yourself and like to tell it. If you don't get a kick out of telling it yourself, it falls pretty flat. I think people who have heard me realize how much fun I have telling the stories.
There are several things to keep in mind when telling stories. You have to lay the ground work for it. Like if you're going to tell a story, you've got to know a little bit about the people and the country.
For instance, in the early days they didn't build big houses or big barns. They had a whole lot of little barns. In 1920 I lived with J.C. (Lum) Boothe on South Bee Creek in southern Taney County. Lum and I kept batch and I taught my first school. Lum's homestead resembled a small village clustered on the banks of Bee Creek. Lum had built, mostly with logs, a four room dwelling, chicken house, corn crib, haybarn, a shed for his buggy, blacksmith shop, a barn for his horses and mules, another for his cows and a shed for his molasses making equipment. You have to bring things like this in to lay the ground work.
In storytelling you've got to know your story. You have to see these people in your mind as you're telling. I do a little writing and I can see these things that I'm trying to tell about. They appear before me as in my imagination.
The story musn't be too long and you must give the location if you can and authenticate places and people. Storytellers of the Ozarks say, "If I didn't have a witness, I wouldn't tell this," or, "If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have believed it." Tell it for truth.
And then you have to have a punch line like every story has at the last.
The storyteller is important, too. The audience needs to know a bit about the storyteller to accept his tales. It helps if he is deep-rooted in the country. I am the third generation here.
I was born in 1902 on June the eighteenth, not six miles from where I've lived most of my life, on my grandfather's farm on Swan Creek. We didn't live there very long. When the railroad was built through western Taney County in 1906 my father got a job helping blast the tunnels near Omaha, Arkansas. I was three years old, and we lived in a tent near the site of the construction. Father saved his money and put in a general store at Kirbyville, and that's where I first went to school and spent most of my boyhood days.
A man from Minnesota once asked me, "How did you ever come to pick such a beautiful country as this to live in?" I thought that was pretty good coming from a man from Minnesota.
I said, "Well, I didn't have anything to do with it. My grandfolks picked it long before i was born."
I taught school six years and then I was elected county clerk. In 1926 I started studying law by correspondence. They weren't going to let me take the examination because they passed a rule that you had to go to a resident law school. So I wrote to the Supreme Court and asked them if I could have a chance to take it since I studied four years on it. They amended the rule and allowed me and two other boys to take it and I passed. And then I started practicing on December 7th, 1936.
Now let me begin with some of this background you need to know about the Ozark people.
The pioneer people were a hardy lot. I have come to know these people as I made campaigns in 1926 for office, and as
I visited them in their homes, and as I visited on the front porch of the old stores in trying cases and meeting the families.
The new people who come here, they see the nice homes and the nice bridges, and the roads and all, they can't imagine what the country was like when our people first came here. Now, these newcomers all wonder what quality about these pioneers enabled them to bear all these hardships, for here they were, in a way, hundreds of miles from civilization--no doctors, no hospitals, hardly any roads. They endured all kinds of hardships--drought and outlaws and war. They had a certain quality about them, a philosophy of life--they weren't aware of it but I think they did have that philosophy of life. They also had patience, endurance and independence. Ail of these are combined with the ability to make the best of any situation, a good sense of humor, natural resourcefulness and belief of God. These characteristics enabled them to endure all these things.
I want to illustrate this philosophy with some true stories that I picked up through the years.
One of my dear old characters that I love so well is Wilse Yandell. He and Aunt Sally lived on White River long before they built the Bull Shoals Dam, and he operated the ferry boat. They were really pioneer people. He liked his drink. He'd wait until one of the float trips ended up there at his ferryboat. He'd always meet them there to see if they had a can of beer or a drink or two for him. Anyway he told me this story.
"I was settin' on my porch one time, and I looked up the road to the north and saw a feller ridin' a fine horse and leading a string of good horses. He stopped at my place, and I drawed him a good drink of cold water from the well on the porch. He talked to me and he said he was from Kansas, and he was goin' to Arkansas and he was goin' to get rich tradin' with the hillbillies. Well, I didn't say nothin', and he just blowed and talked on and finally he rode off. So about six weeks after that I looked down the road to the south, and I see'd the same feller comin' a-foot and he sat down on the porch and I drawed him a good cold drink of water.
"I said, 'By the way, ain't you the same feller that came by here awhile back with that string of horses goin' down in Arkansas to get rich tradin' with the hillbillies?' He said, 'Yes, I'm the same feller. I'm plum wore out and I'm broke.' He said, 'Them hillbillies is ignorant, as ignorant as hell, but it won't do to trade with them!"
A few years back there was two little boys lost, but they finally found them. Earl Evans told me this story.
He said, "One time I was out in Oklahoma, they was a little boy lost. They was whoopin' and hollerin' and firin' guns and everything. There was an old Indian in the crowd and he says to me on the quiet, he says, 'Wait till they all get quiet and we'll still-hunt for him.' He said, 'They're scaring this kid to death!' After the rest of them all quieted down, the Indian just moved around real quiet and soon he heard a boy crying and they found him under a culvert."
So in later life when Earl was living in Ozark County near the Ridenour family--their daughter was visiting her parents and they had a little boy, three, four, five years old. It was spring and it rained a lot. The little creeks were up, and the boy was missing.
So word got out that he was missing, and all the neighbors came out to try to find him. They weren't having any luck. They didn't find him, and it came they were even wading the stream looking in the drifts.
Finally the rest of the crowd went to the house to get something to eat and Earl remembered what the Indian told him. He said to one of his friends, he said, "Now they're all quiet. Let's still-hunt for him. You go around this way." And pretty soon, like the old Indian said, they heard the little boy sobbing. They moved on towards him, and pretty soon he broke and ran right into this other man's arms.
When they built Bull Shoals Dam, Forsyth had to be moved. There was a lot of building going on. The first millionaire who hit the county was R. G. Smith from Chicago, and he built the most beautiful house Taney County had ever seen out on the bluff. Well, this George Blankenship had a little wrecker and a garage and a machine shop, and George didn't talk very plain. He had a lisp, but he's the best square dancer I ever saw. George was at his little station down there one morning and he got a call from this man, R. G. Smith. "I want you to get that wrecker up here and get my car out of the ditch. I got my car in the ditch."
George, like we mountain people do, said, "All right, I'll be up there in a wittle while."
Smith said, "I want you to come right now. You know who this is talking, don't you? This is R. G. Smith!"
George said, "Mr. Smith, that don't make no difference. It's a-gonna be a wittle while."
IF YOU WAS MY HUSBAND
Purd Hays was a fine gentleman, and a good lawyer, but he was the most vicious cross-examiner. That's what made him a good lawyer, I guess. He was cross-examining an elderly woman on the witness stand and he was going after her hammer and tongs. She was giving about as good as he could give, and pretty soon she said, "Purd Hays, if you was my husband, I'd give you pisen."
And Purd Hays stood up and said, "And yes, if I was your husband, I'd gladly take it."
We talk about the hillbilly independence. Now we have mountain independence.
There was a man by the name of Mac Smith--we always say Uncle Mac, you know. (My daughter-in-law, she's Puerto Rican, and she said, "All these people, are they all your uncles?" I said, "No, we just say that.")
So Uncle Mac Smith was trying a man for stealing some furs hides, pelts, and all them wild animals his son and Sant Smith had trapped and caught. They had a building out on the place where he put them waiting for the fur buyer to come along. Someone stole the furs.
They were trying this fellow and
Purd Hays, this vicious defender I told you about, was cross examining Uncle Mac. Now Mac was a large man. Purd said,
"Mac Smith, you didn't see this man steal these fur hides, did you?"
He said, "Hell no, Purd, if I'd see'd him we wouldn't be havin' no lawsuit.
AFRAID OF THE MAN
The same old Mac Smith came to see the prosecutor, Riley Adams, and he wanted to put a man under a peace bond. That isn't done anymore, but if a fellow continued to bother you in the old days, well, we would put him under what is called a peace bond. They would make a bond that they wouldn't molest you or bother you.
So Uncle Mac came down to get this peace bond made. Mr. Adams brought out his typewriter and started pecking away. Uncle Mac Smith said, "Riley, what are you a-doin'?"
"I'm typing up an affidavit!"
"Affidavit for what?"
He said, "Well, you have to swear you're afraid of this man."
"Heavens and hell no! I'm not no more afraid of him than I am that back house out there."
So that ended the affidavit there.
JUST GOT TO PLANT OUR TATERS
Some local boys here built a big house for these high powered northern people that came in. A carpenter and farmer by the name of Collins wanted to quit early, so he went to this man and said, "I need to take two days off."
The northerner said, "Well, what in the world are you gonna do? I want to get this house done."
He said, "I want to plant my taters." "Well, how many you gonna plant?" He said, "Oh, probably a bushel."
"Well, how many will you raise?" Collins told him.
He said, "Well, you're making so much an hour. Why, you could work one day and buy more potatoes than you'll raise."
Collins studied a minute and said, "Well, I guess you're right, but there comes a time in these hills when us old boys has just got to plant our taters."
NOBODY WANTED THAT MUCH
My father was a freighter. He went from Kirbyville to Springfield, and he told us the stories of camping out in bad weather and all that. Years later after mother passed away--father lived to be ninety-one. He lived alone, over in a little town, Powersite, but each weekend we'd go over and get him in the car. He'd have a meal with us. But he didn't want to stay all night, ever.
So one day I was taking him home. You go over this big hill to go out of town, and as I pulled the hill taking Father home, we came up behind a dump truck full of sand--beautiful new truck--and I slowed down and followed the truck up the hill.
I said to him, "Dad, see that big truck full of sand? Well, how many wagons would you boys had to have in those days to haul that much sand?"
"We got along all right. Nobody wanted that much sand in them days."
AS FER UP AS HILDY
We say that we mountain people make the best of any situation that comes up. The character I want to talk about is Windy Bill Wright.
There were three men by the name of Bill Wright over on the east side of the county. One of them was Kentucky Bill Wright, the other was Windy Bill Wright, and the other was just Bill Wright. Now Windy Bill was the mail carrier, and he carried the mail from Kissee Mills--not from where Kissee Mills is now, but from where it used to be, down on Beaver Creek where the big spring is. He carried the mail up Beaver Creek, riding horseback about six or seven miles to Hilda. The natives all say "Hildy."
He'd make it through somehow from Forsyth on and to Kissee Mills. He'd pick up the mail there and sometimes when he'd get up to Hilda and wait for the postmaster to get the mail put up, why they'd play poker down at the blacksmith's shop. Some of them people didn't like that, so they brought this before the grand jury and they indicted Windy Bill Wright for playing poker.
They brought him before Judge Moore and he pled guilty. John T. was a kindly old man, and in the bootlegging days he never sent a bootlegger or a moonshiner to the pen. He'd give those people a light jail sentence. Well, anyway, Windy Bill pled guilty and Judge Moore in his kindly way said, "Mr. Wright, didn't you know it was against the law to gamble?"
"Yeah, Judge, I know'd it was agin the law to play poker, but I didn't know the law reached as fer up as Hildy."
HOG LIVER AND FLIES
Then there was this story a lady told me about Windy Bill. During the hard times here in the hills, so many of the folks would go out to Kansas, or Nebraska, especially to Kansas, for the harvest. They had no cars those days, and they would ride the rails. Well, Windy Bill decided to go to Kansas for the wheat harvest.
He went down over there, and there was a big farm, and the harvest was in full swing and so they hired Windy Bill to help them. That morning they were working and these fellows said, "You're not a-goin' to like it here. They don't have any screens and they is flies up at the house. They killed a hog the other day and been having hog liver every meal."
Windy Bill said, "I'll take care of that!" Of course, he wasn't the least bit religious, but he said, "You tell this feller that I'm a minister of the gospel and that I'd like to ask the blessing at noon."
Sure enough there was the hog liver on the table and flies. The old farmer said, "Mr. Wright, they says you're a preacher of the gospel. You ask the blessing for the meal."
Windy Bill said, "Ail right, everybody bow your heads." He said, "Dear Lord, we are thankful for what we are about to receive, but if there's anything I do despise, it's hog liver and these God damned flies."
CHAMPEEN FIGHTER OF MISSOURI
One time many years ago, there lived at Blue Eye in Stone County, Missouri, a "scrapper" who had fought and whipped all the fighters and scrappers all over southwest Missouri. He declared himself to be the "Champeen Fighter of Missouri."
Now, along about this time there lived over by Alpena Pass in Carrol County, Arkansas, a man who claimed to be the champion fighter of Arkansas. He had met and defeated all comers for many years in the northwest part of Arkansas.
The Missouri champion on learning of this Champion of Arkansas decided in his own mind that he would go over and challenge him for a fight. (We are talking here about a fair fist fight.) So one bright spring morning he said to his wife, "Old woman, I have been a-hearin' of this Champeen Fighter of Arkansas that lives over by Alpena Pass. Now I've decided to go over and look him up and challenge him to a fight. I'll whip him, of course, and then I'll be Champeen of Missouri and Arkansas both."
The Missouri champion saddled his mule, waved goodbye to his wife who was standing at the yard gate and rode off into the morning dews and mists. He crossed little creeks and hollows and finally he came to a cabin near Alpena Pass which he decided in his own mind must be where the champion of Arkansas lived. Now he hollered at the gate as people do in the Ozarks because you never like to take the family by surprise. A woman came out to the gate wiping her hands on her apron, and he said to her, "Good mornin', Miss."
And she said, "Good mornin'."
Then the Missouri Champion said to the woman, "I'm looking for the Champeen Fighter of Arkansas and I thought this might be where he lived."
The woman at the gate replied, "Yes, this is where he lives all right, but he ain't here."
"Well, where might this Champeen of Arkansas be?"
The woman replied, "He's sowin' oats over across that holler in a little hill field and you just follow this little trail and cross the holler and up the hill and you can probably hear him a-cussin' before you get to the fields."
Well, the Missouri champion followed the trail, and before he reached the rail fence surrounding the little mountain field, he looked across the field. The largest man he had ever seen was sowing oats from a bedtick which he tied around his neck and had an A-harrow fastened to each ankle and was dragging the oats in as he sowed them. The man on the mule watched the sower cross the field. The huge man then turned around and came directly towards the Missouri champion, sowing his oats and dragging them in as he came.
He stopped at the fence and the man on the mule said, "Good mornin', sir,"
The Missourian said, "I have heard as how you claim to be Champeen Fighter of the State of Arkansas?"
The Arkansawer replied, "You heard rightly."
The Missouri champion then said, "Well, sir, I just rode over here this mornin' to tell you that you was also the Champeen of Missouri."
HAVE YOU HAD ANY CALLS FOR SILK?
Now, I want to tell you about Uncle John Hobbs. This is a true story. He operated a store over in Long Run in Ozark County. He had a general store, the mill, and finally he was able to get a post office.
There was a wholesale store in Springfield and sometimes their drummers would travel by in hacks and bring samples. Well, this young drummer from Keet and Rountree rode down, and in the old big stores there was a big counter down the middle. He laid his samples down all out on the counter. Mr. Hobbs, he looked them over and he said, "There's calico, I'll take a bolt of that, and gingham, and percale and muslin," and things like that.
This fellow he had two bolts of silk and Mr. Hobbs, he run his hand over that and he said, "That's pretty stuff, I'll take a bolt of that."
As the young man was writing the orders down he said, "Now, Mr. Hobbs," he said, "this is your store and this is your business, but have you had any calls for silk in this store?"
Mr. Hobbs said, "Why, hell no, but I didn't have any calls for mail till I put in the post office."
DO YOU MEAN AM I DRUNK?
There was a young man by the name of Chester Carnog when Judge Gideon was first elected judge. I was told this story. I wasn't in the court room, but I know this happened just this way. They called Chester as a witness and he was intoxicated. He staggered up to the stand and took the oath on unsteady feet and put his big black hat out on the floor. They asked him a few questions. Judge Gideon said--they knew each other, they grew up together--"Mr. Carnog, are you intoxicated?"
Chester said, "Judge, what did you say?"
"I said are you intoxicated?"
He said, "Judge, do you mean am I drunk?"
The judge said, "That's what I mean." He said, "Judge, that's the best damn decision you've made since you've been on the bench."
We were holding court down in the old courthouse one day and some people came in and complained that a man had blocked up the road with a gate or fence posts or something.
So the other two judges said, "Well, let's just send the sheriff out there and tear it all down.
And old man Haworth, the presiding judge, said, "Just a minute, boys, let's go have a talk with the man." He said, "You can tole a man furder with a piece of cold cornbread than you can drive him with a Winchester rifle." And they talked with the man and settled it.
WE CAN TAKE IT STUFF
Now, I know of a fellow named Dusty Matthews. He lived up Roark Creek above Branson. Roark Creek is what comes in right there by the hospital, and he lived up there by Garber. I was pretty sure that he and a couple of other fellows up there, Henry and Ben Thompson, were dabbling in moonshine. He was making baskets on the side--weaving them and selling them on the streets of Branson. He and these Thompson fellows got into it, and he opened up a double-barreled shotgun. He didn't hit them, but they had him arrested. I worked out a deal where he came and pled guilty and took a two year's parole.
Well, I thought he'd live up to it all right. But it wasn't very long till he and the Thompsons got into it again. And this time he sprinkled their legs with shot.
And so they were having a hearing on whether or not to revoke his parole. You see, a man's put on parole and he has to live up to it. If he doesn't why then, they revoke it and they have to give him a hearing.
So we were having this hearing, and the way Judge Moore was acting, and the questions he was asking, and what the witnesses were telling, I knew that Dusty was going to the penitentiary. Well, he was high strung and he was a dangerous sort of character, Matthew was, and so I knew what was about to happen. So I reached over and put my arm around him and patted him on the shoulder, and I said, "Now, Dusty, whatever he dishes out, we can take it. We can take it. You just be calm and quiet."
He did. Judge gave him two years. The sheriff took him to the pen, and when the sheriff came back from the trip to Jefferson City, he came over to my office. He had a grin on his face and said, "Doug, you know when I pulled up in front of that penitentiary, old Dusty saw those big high gray walls, he got out, and he stretched and looked up there at those high walls. He said, "Now where's that Doug Mahnkey and 'we can take it stuff'?"
WHAT THE OTHER BOYS GOT
Then one time after the court house was moved from old Forsyth to the present site on the hill, there were these three characters that, inevitably, every Saturday night would get drunk and land in jail. Anyway, there were two Smith boys and a fellow named Eb Jones.
Now the sheriff landed them in jail one Saturday and on Monday morning, the judge opened court. Clifford Crouch was the magistrate of the court. The judge told the sheriff, "Bring in Jim Smith." The sheriff led him in and Jim pled guilty to being drunk on the scene. The judge fined him ten dollars and ten days in jail and the sheriff took him back to jail.
Then he brought William Smith. He gave him the same. Now he said, "Bring in Mr. Jones."
Well, the sheriff was gone awhile, and he came back and he said, "Judge, old Eb ain't a-feelin' so good this morning, and he said, if it was all the same to you, he would stay where he was and take what the other boys got."
HIDE AND TALLOW
It was right after the Civil War and Uncle Billy Hinken was the county judge. They were having a shooting match up on Bear Creek. In those days they would shoot for a steer or an oxen, and some man would bring a live ox to the shooting.
The fellow that won the first prize would get the hind quarter, which is the best part of the meat, then second prize would get a hind quarter, and the third and fourth would get the front quarters. The fifth shot would get the hide and tallow, they called it.
There was a fellow who was an excellent shot by the name of Dave Titsworth. And he beat everyone there on everything but the hide and tallow. He had won the first four shots.
There was a covered wagon came by on the old trail from the north. It was filled with a bunch of people and was drawn by two skinny horses and an old man walking behind the wagon. They had the judge there and all. There was a big still right across from the shooting match. They were all drinking, and by that time they were all pretty well inebriated, so this Dave Titsworth began to banter this old man to enter the contest. He had to pay so much money to enter. Well, they teased him on, and they finally just kept on till he said all right.
So he reached under the spring seat and brought out a little bag of gold and paid his entry fee. He reached up under the wagon sheet and pulled out the longest old rifle they ever saw. And then he said, "Come here, Johnny." There was a boy about sixteen years old crawled out of the wagon. He pulled out this old muzzle-loading rifle and he laid down and shot off a log like they do. He fired and reloaded, and fired and reloaded. All he fired was five shots. He centered the bullseye with each shot, so the live ox was his with five shots. He tied the ox behind the wagon and drove on down into Arkansas.
AIN'T NO TURKEY SEASON IN MISSOURI
Andy had a cousin Henry Youngblood, a country lawyer, who lived down in Omaha. He came over into Taney County to collect a fee somebody owed him, and they had him arrested for disturbing the peace of the family. They claimed that he drove a T-model car right through the yard, frightened the children and frightened the chickens, almost ran over the dog and scared the cows. He had a woman with him in the car.
So he was tried by the Justice of Peace over in Hollister in the old depot. I said to Mr. Youngblood--now he was part Indian, dark-skinned, and he wore a big black hat--I said, "You're going to have to take the stand and explain this so the jury won't convict you. We've got good friends on the jury, but they'll convict you if you don't take the stand. And we'll straighten this all out."
He said, "All right." For a big man he talked high and light like a little boy, or a little man. So he took the oath and he just took charge there. He said, "Now gentlemen of the jury, I'm gonna tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth just like I swore I'd do. It's true I had a woman with me, but it was for the sole purpose of opening and shutting the gate." Then he said, "What I came over here to Missouri for was to get my Winchester. I loaned it to old man Thomas to go turkey hunting. Oh, Oh! I hadn't ought to have told that.
There ain't no turkey season in Missouri!
Well anyhow, this Winchester was a kind of a keepsake. It was the one my brother killed Ed Clevens with."
Well, I thought sure the jury would convict him on his own testimony but they didn't.
CHRISTIAN COUNTY POSSUMS
Another time they had a man charged up in Christian County with taking a bunch of possums alive before the season was open. He'd put them in a building and wait till the weather got cold and the fur got prime, and then he'd butcher out these possums and get a better price for them.
Well, Keith McCanse was one of the first game wardens we had in this part of the country. Now the story of the possums was that Keith McCanse took these live possums from this fellow's smokehouse, he sacked them up and took them down a certain road and set them free.
Purd Hays started cross-examining the warden. He said, "All right now, you found these possums in Christian County?"
"And you sacked them up?"
"And you took them in your car, and you went down... What road did you go down?" And he told him.
"How far did you go down this road?"
The witness answered, "About five miles."
Purd asked, "Well, now by that time
you were in Stone County, were you not?" The witness replied, "Yes."
Purd said, "Do you mean to tell this Christian County jury that you took our Christian County possums and turned them loose in Stone County?"
The jury wasn't long in deciding a verdict about this' "Not guilty."
Here is what I think is a dandy true story that I picked up just the other day. Taney County had just elected a new sheriff. He was a native of Kentucky and was well liked and a jolly good fellow. However, he lacked some of the attributes of a good sheriff. He named a fellow Kentuckian as deputy. This new deputy came to Forsyth to pick up his commission and star as his badge of authority. Duly sworn in, he asked the sheriff, "Now
Mr. Sheriff, if we get orders to capture a bad man, a real dangerous character, what shall we do?" Non-plused the goodhearted sheriff replied, "Jest be careful and don't overtake him."
HUNDRED DOLLAR SPEECH
Then I had a workmen's compensation case for Andy Youngblood. He was working in a canning factory for George Dogen over there in the edge of Stone County. He was driving a little old truck, ran off the road and broke the middle finger on his left hand. We had the hearing before Judge Newton who was the referee in workman's compensation. Judge Newton asked several questions. He said, "Are you right-handed or left-handed?"
Andy said, "I'm right-handed." The judge said, "Well, that's a minor finger on a minor hand. That's not too bad an injury." He figured it was a little bit stiff. And the lawyer from the insurance company said, "We'll pay you a hundred dollars."
I didn't know what to say and there wasn't much I could say. But Mr. Youngblood rose to the occasion. He said, "Judge, to most people that would be a minor finger on a minor hand. But you see, I'm a violinist, and that's my main notin' finger. I've been goin' to the fair down in Harrison and winnin' first prize, fifty dollars every time, and after this accident happened, all I ever won was a little old chocolate cake."
The insurance company lawyer said, "That was a hundred dollar speech. We'll give you two hundred dollars."
Grandpa Prather was a lieutenant in the Sixth Regiment of Indiana Volunteers. Long after the Civil War ended Grandpa and Tom Lowry, a Confederate veteran, would sit on the front porch and argue about the war and about who won this battle and who won that battle. (Mother told me this story.) Actually the southerners, as you know from history, won most of the battles.
Finally my grandfather said, "Well, Tom, what about Gettysburg? You'll have to admit we won that one."
And Tom said, "Colonel, you wouldn't have won that one if Pickett hadn't of run out of men. The terrible charge Picket made, he lost most of his men."
AND LOSE MY CHECKS
This is a true story and I'll tell you, it pretty well depicts the way some people take advantage of the government. This fellow was a veteran and he worked for a company in Springfield. He discovered something that they were doing wrong, and he blackmailed them into retiring him on a pretty good retirement. The result of all that he was getting about four checks on disability.
They were having a Pentecostal meeting, and one of the brethern approached this character. He said, "We're having this meeting down at the Mincy Schoolhouse. We're having a divine healer, and if you'll come down here to church and let him pray for you and lay hands on you, he can cure you."
This fellow said, "Now, that would be silly, wouldn't it? Mess around with you'uns, get cured and lose my checks,"
SANTA CLAUS SHERIFF
I won't vouch for this but they tell this story. They had a sheriff here who was a kind-hearted fellow. He had a warrant to arrest a fellow over in the tough part of the county, and he went over there looking for him just before Christmas. They were having a Christmas party like they do on the Friday before Christmas at the Johnson Schoolhouse.
The sheriff, he learned that this man was there at the schoolhouse, so he went with his warrant to the schoolhouse. They said, "Yes, he's here. He's out back putting on the Santa Claus suit." They said, "He's gonna play Santa Claus for the school kids."
Well, the sheriff went around there and said to him, "It would be all right with me if you go and play Santa Claus, and then I'll take you to Forsyth to jail." The man took off his Santa Claus suit, cussed around and said he wasn't going to play Santa Claus if he had to go to jail.
So Day, the sheriff, handcuffed him to a tree, put on the Santa Claus suit, went in and played Santa Claus for the kids, and then went back and took the man on to jail.
THEM THAT'S GOT
You know we had a neighbor who lost his best milk cow, and he came over to the store. The boys was talking about it and sympathized with him, and he said, "Well, all in all, a man can't help but make any difference. It's just like the man who had one shirt, and he'd go to bed when his wife had to wash that shirt. He'd just stay in bed till it got washed and dried. One day she came in and said, 'Paw, the cow's done and et your shirt.' He said, 'That's all right, old woman, them that's got has got to lose.' That's the way I was with my cow."
UNCLE JOHN SPEAR
When I was a lad going to grade school, there was an old man by the name of John Wesley Spear. He was a good man, and he was a Civil War veteran.
In those days the merchandise that came to the stores was packed in nice pine boxes--no cardboard at all. The merchants would save these pine box lids for Uncle John, and he would whittle out these little emblems in many different shapes and models. Flour used to come in muslin sacks that the ladies some times made clothes out of, and he had one of these bleached-out flour sacks. He would carry a stick of candy and one of these 'pretties," as he called them, for each child. There were forty children in school. There were forty sticks of candy and forty of these emblems.
Then he would make us a talk. The teacher would always say, "Put away your books." All the grades were in one room. Uncle Johnny would talk to us--give us a religious talk, sometimes it was a war story.
But, for instance, he would hold one of his emblems up. He'd say, "Now children, this represents the Godhead. These three holes represents the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Then he'd have another emblem that would have seven notches on either side. He'd say, "Now children," and he'd tell a story of Joseph, and he'd say, "This represents the seven years of plenty and seven years of famine."
I often say that of all those scholars, professors, and I've talked to a lot of the highest people, I think some of the things that meant the most to me was said by Uncle John Wesley Spear with his little pretties and telling us these stories. Then when he finished them he would give each one of us one of his pretties and a stick of candy, and then he would announce that he was going to preach that night at early candlelight.
I SAY, I SAY
There was one character in the early days here, John Hilcebezk. He had so many friends, but he was really so awful onery. He wouldn't work--he fished all the time.
In the late 1800 Uncle John Hilcebezk and his wife ran the North Side Hotel in Forsyth on the north side of the courthouse on the square. It was a busy place, 'cause in those days the railroad came as far as Chadwick. From Chadwick the travelers would ride the U.S. mail back to Forsyth. The drummers and a lot of people trying to locate land, a lot of people prospecting for lead and zinc, cattle buyers and all that, it was a busy place, lots of people there. We were in the same judicial circuit as Springfield, so when they'd have court, the judge from Springfield would stay at the hotel and have court. He was Judge Nevil. He and Uncle John got to be great buddies. They both liked to drink and fish.
A young school teacher lived at the hotel. He watched these two old men, Uncle John and the judge, and he composed this little verse. I want to give it to you. I don't know what it's worth. Now Mr. Hilcebezk had a way of expreeing himself. Everything was, "I say, I say!" "I say, I say, it's about to rain," or "I say, I say, I believe I'll go to the saloon." Anyway, I want to give you that verse.
When Uncle John Hilcebezk said,
"I say, I say,
The fish bite fine in Swan today,"
The judge well knew what his duty
In spite of the court and in spite
of the laws.
"I say, I say, I was down at dawn
To a quiet hole on the banks of Swan,
And the prettiest trout I ever did
Are a-waitin' there, Judge, for you
That settled the case, no more court
AsUncle John knew in his sly old way,
And something they take along, to
ward off chills
And cure snake bites and other ills.
As down through the trees they went
You'd hear faint echoes, "I say,
Occasional laughter, a shout, a song
Told where they fished the morning
And the fun they had you'll never
Unless you were there in that long
Unless you knew the Judge and John,
In those good old days on the banks
I'M MASTER OF MY OWN HOUSE
I found this little story off the record of John Hilcebezk. He was indicted for running a gambling house. Actually it was a two story building, a hotel, and they played poker upstairs. Those drummers and cattlemen played poker all the time. One time that he wanted to play poker, he said, "Boys,
I say, I say, I want to get in the game."
And they said "No, now, Mrs. Hilcebezk find you up there, and she'll wring our necks, all of us."
"I say, I say, I'm master of my own house. I'll play poker if I want to. Just deal me in."
So they dealt him in and they played a little bit. In a little while somebody rapped on the door and he hid his cards real quick. "I say, I say, that may be Mrs. Hilcebezk."
Anyway they had him indicted for running a gambling house. And I followed the index through and through and the case was continued by Judge Nevil. Finally in the judge's handwriting in this record. It says, "Comes now Colonel R.C. For who prosecutes on the behalf of the State of Missouri and dismisses the case against John Hilcebezk for the reason that no persons could be found who will testify that Uncle John was running a gambling house. He just put "Uncle John" in the records because everybody knew who Uncle John was.
THEY'LL JUST HAVE TO MOVE THE CHURCH
We had two saloons and nary a church at all in the early days of Forsyth so they finally got together and built the stone chapel that stood there serving the Forsyth community until it had to be torn down in 1950 because of Bull Shoals Lake.
Anyway, after they got the church built, why, some fellow was talking and he said, "Uncle John, Colonel Ford, the lawyer, has been looking into the law and the saloon's too close to the church." Of course, the saloon was there first.
Uncle John said, "I say, I say, they'll just have to move the church!"
I' D RATHER GO TO CHURCH
When Judge Gideon was on the bench there was a young man who broke into the Fofrnsford Stern Church. He pled guilty. The judge said, "Now, you got a family?" He said yes, he had a wife and two children. The judge said, "You go to church very often? .... No, I don't"
Judge said, "Well, now I'm gonna make you this proposition. If you'll take your wife and two children to church every Sunday for six months and behave yourself, I'll wipe this case off the record.
The young man stood just on one foot and said, "Well, Judge, I don't know if I can go to church for six months." The judge said, "I can give you six months in jail." "Just a minute, Judge, I'd rather go to church!"
AIN'T BEEN HERE FIVE MINUTES
I think I must tell a story about Hootie Jones. See back in 1920 when I got my certificate to teach, when you passed eighth grade and passed the test, you got a certificate to teach. Well, I went to the old state college in Springfield, then called State Teacher's College. I passed the examination and received a Third Grade Certificate to teach in the rural schools. I signed a contract to teach the country school at South Bee Creek next to the Arkansas border. The creek was just about the dividing line between the states. The oldest student was twenty-two and the youngest was five, I remember. Over in Arkansas, at the neighboring school, they didn't have as much school as we had. They had only six months and we had eight months. So sometimes when school was out over at Daberry, some of those kids would come over and join our kids and take lessons with us.
This was my first term of school.
I had never taught before. I was only seventeen. I looked down across the creek and saw three little boys walking the foot log carrying little dinner pails. They came on the school ground, and I rang the bell for books, as we called it, and everybody took their seat.
These boys took seats and I got the teacher's register out. That's a large book that you write down the name of the student and his age and his grade, and who his parents are. So I went to the first boy and I said, "What's your name ?"
He said, "Garland Jones."
I said, "How old are you, Garland?"
"Twelve years old."
"What grade are you in?"
"Sixth grade," I believe he said.
I went to the next boy and I said,
"What's your name?"
"How old are you?"
"Eight years old."
"What grade are you in?"
"I'm in the third grade."
The last boy, the youngest one, he was as fat a boy as I ever saw. He was just really heavy and as blond-headed as he could be. He had a voice like a man, but I didn't know it till I started talking to him.
I said, "What's your name?"
In a loud voice he replied, "Hootie Jones."
"Well, how old are you?"
"Five years old."
"Hootie, do you know your ABC's?"
"Why, Hell no! I ain't been here five minutes."
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.