Volume X, No. 4, Summer 1983
A VISIT WITH C. B. SHIPMAN
Edited by Suzanne Cotrel
Photography by Jeff Zander
I was hatched in 1886. I was my daddy's oldest kid. My mother died and left me when I was three years old. She took pneumonia after my little brother was born and she never was up. My little brother was just two weeks old and he died, too.
Then my daddy married again. I was jerked up with a stepmother. She was a good woman but I didn't like her. She never did whip me but she beat me a lot of times. I wasn't spoiled! She said she thought as much of me as she did her own but she didn't act it. Anyway when she passed away, I didn't bother any.
She and my dad had ten kids, five girls and five boys. I had a bunch of half breeds stringing off everywhere. I got along good with my half brothers and sisters, though. There was one come here to visit me the other day. She comes to see me every week or two.
I can remember when I was a little boy I carried water to my daddy in the field. I'd ride the cultivator and drive the horses when he was plowing. One time I took him a cup of water, and I got some dirt in it. When I handed it to him, he just turned around, throwed it out and said, "You go get me some clean water and wash that cup out. Don't you bring me another cup of water looking like that." I had to go back up around the holler to the old spring out in the woods. I don't blame him. I wouldn't have drank it, neither.
I started school when I was six years old. I went two years and then my father bought a farm on the holler at Linn Creek. We moved down there near Passover, Missouri, when I was eight years old. That was eighty-nine years ago.
I quit going to school in the fifth grade. My father had a big gang of them young ones, and I was as mean as the dickens. I'd fight, you know. I had to stay at home and work about half the time, and I finally just quit school and went to working.
My father was busy. He was a trader and he farmed, bought and shipped cattle. I went to trading with him doing lots of figuring and working in a store. I got more schooling than I ever did in school. I might got no sense, but I took care of everything all my life.
From the time I got big enough to get out and run cattle with my dad, he would buy stock and ship them to St. Louis. We would drive stock from down there at Linn Creek to Richland and Stoutland. And once in awhile we would drive cattle to Bagnell. We had to cross the Wet Glaize and ferry the Osage River to get there. But we couldn't take hogs or sheep because you couldn't swim them across the creek.
Me and my dad traded together all the time, and he told the cashier at the bank that when I gave a check with his name on it and mine, to cash it just the same as if it was his name. He told me if I saw a cow, a bunch of hogs or a bunch of sheep and there's a few dollars in them, buy them. We traded together that way until he got so old, he finally quit. He died when I was forty-five.
I started in trading in furs when I was going to school barefooted with my britches leg up. I bought hides from the other boys. They'd bring muskrat hides in their pocket that they'd trap and catch. The teacher couldn't let them bring them if she knew it. So at recess we'd go off to one side, and I'd buy the hides off of them for a little of nothing. I'd cram them down in my pocket, and then take them home and dress them up.
During my trading I bought every kind of fur there was in the country, beaver, mink, coon, red fox, and everything else. I bought about every season from the time I was eighteen years old until I was sixty-five and never missed a year.
Before I was married I bought furs all the time over there at my father's home. Then I built the fur house there down at Linn Creek. After I got married, me and my wife bought a place and moved down there.
Mine was the only fur house I know about down in our country because I bought them so high. I had a deal from across the water a-going, and nobody else on this side had anything like that. I had the state of England as my market. I don't know how big a place it is, I never was there. My partner's father come from England back years and years ago, and he was in the fur business there. I used to sell to the old man until he died. Then his boy took over everything, and he come down to talk to me. He said, "C.B., let's me and you try and get together! I've got all of Dad's papers from England from that fur company. I've got everything. We'll divide this territory. I'll buy south and east from Richland and you buy north and west. We'll ship them to England."
I said, "I've been doing business with you and your father for a long time. I never did have any difficulties any way in the world with him." He said, "We never did with you, neither. That's the reason I come down here to try to go in with you." We was partners for thirty-five years.
That company sent a man to St. Louis once a month and we'd meet him. If he'd get a load, he'd
take them back. We'd get a check for them and divide it. We kept a record of everything and split
the profits. We did that for thirty-five years.
When I was young, I used to make rounds buying my furs. I rode a little gray saddle mare when I first started out. An old man not too long ago said I used to come to his house riding that little mare with my saddle covered with furs hanging all over. I bought from Richland, back up to Jeff City and over to Buffalo. That was my route on that side and then back up to Richland, Stoutland and Lebanon. I bought furs at the stores, and I had farmers around the country that would pick them up when I made rounds. I'd just go to my fellers that I had picking them up. I don't know what they'd give for them, maybe steal them. I never asked them no questions. I'd just go and buy them.
Then I quit traveling. I just didn't travel no more. But I bought all the furs they could get me at home. They just hauled them to me from clear down on the Missouri River plumb back the other way around Buffalo.
The fur season starts in November and is over in February. It was something like November fifteenth before I ever opened the fur house door. After the season is over, I've got thirty days to clean them up and turn them in.
I bought coons by the thousands for two and a half to three dollars. Since I've quit buying them, there is one time them coons went to fifty dollars. My stepson trapped three big coons, and he got fifty dollars apiece for them, and he knowed I'd bought them just by pickup loads.
I didn't fool with rabbits. There wasn't nothing in it for me.
I've had people to come and dump coyotes out there and give them to me. They was hunting the day after the deer season closed, and they was afraid to fool with that coyote. So they just come by my house, dumped the durn coyote out for me and went on. I could call up the game warden and get fifteen dollars bounty on it. I said, "Do I have to cut its ears off or something and let you check it?" And he says, "Hell, no! You wouldn't tell me a damn lie for a coyote. I'll just write you a check and send it down to you."
Some of them brought their furs just like they skinned them off the animals, and some of them would dress the fat and have them cleaned and nice. But they would be hundreds of them that hadn't cleaned them or nothing, some of them without skinning them even. Some went hunting at night and would catch a bunch of them and dump them out right at the fur house. I'd have my oldest kid dressing. I always figured a little profit out of them when I had to do that. I didn't do all that for nothing.
One time a fellow brought me a couple of beavers he skinned wrong. You get a beaver and stretch the hide in a round circle. He said, "I didn't know nothing about it. Can't you get anything for them?" Something told me that I might heat them, stretch them around, and get by with it. I gave him a dollar a piece for them. "Well I'll take it. I just thought you put them up like a coon !"
Fur business, though, was just like stock market. It don't make a price if it comes a bad time or something like that. During the Depression the fur business wasn't too good. Any time things are booming, that helps the fur business along, too.
I continued to trade plumb on until I went down in 1965. I quit dealing in stock when I left the farm, but I handled the furs plumb on up till then when I had to go to Springfield hospital. I broadcast that I would not receive no more furs or cry no more sales--that I had closed the door.
I bought furs in the winter and built houses and auctioneered in the summer. I've auctioneered from the time I was in school. I've cried everything in the world you could think of. I've cried farm sales when somebody would sell out on the farm all their stock, all their household stuff and all their farm tools. They'd sell everything they had to get shet of it.
There was one old auctioneer there in the country that cried sales since I got big enough to go to a sale, and he died. The teacher had a pie supper advertised. She said, "Kids, what in the world will we do? The auctioneer died last night." "Well," I said, "We'll just go ahead and have a pie supper. I can sell them pies."
She called me to the door at recess and said, "Come in here, C.B. We're going to have a little sale." She and the kids had gathered up a lot of stuff. She said, "What would you do if you was going to have a sale? .... Well," I says, "I would call all you people to come up this away, and I would give you the terms of the sale. I'd thank everybody for coming and for their help." And I made my talk to just her and the kids.
She says, "Well, just start the sale." She handed up something, and I says, "Your price, what's it going to be? How much for it? A nickel, dime, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five, forty, forty-five, go five, go five, go five, sold! Give it to Ramsey Clark." She tried me three or four times that away at recess. She says, "You're pretty good. But you're going to have to learn to make a speech." So she had me making speeches.
When the time came for the pie supper, we had an awfully good crowd, and I popped up and made them a great big talk.
Then I tore loose on the pies. They sold extra good because all the old men there in the crowd was doing all they could to help me get started, too. And they just run them up to forty or fifty cents. Oh, that teacher was just tickled to death. So right on up until I went down in sixty-five, I was auctioneer over about four counties there.
I worked in everything else while I was auctioneering and buying furs. I built houses of a summer. I've done all kinds of carpentry and stone work. I didn't do carpentry working during the winter because I was busy all the time. I worked in stores. I was never no doctor, but somebody told me I'd have been the damdest lawyer that ever talked, but I said I guess I have done that, too. I served on lots of juries and was a deputy sheriff once.
One time the neighbors in my part of the country called me to the judge. There was some people that was bootlegging whiskey down there. The sheriff's deputy was a father to one of the bootleggers. The judge told the neighbors to pick some friend that they could trust to go down there and arrest these bootleggers. By golly, the first thing I knowed, here they drug me up there to the judge at the courthouse. I had knowed the men all the time, but I never fooled with that stuff myself. I didn't know who was a bootlegger and who wasn't. I never did drink it. I know my folks never did.
So the judge said I was chosen to go down and do some work for the people down in that neighborhood. "Well," I said, "I don't know that I'll go. I don't want to get in no trouble. These people down in there is all friends of mine, and I don't want to cause any trouble." He said, "You'll either go and do what the people is asking you to do or I'll fine you. "I says, "I'm not paying no fine."
So he give me some warrants, by golly, for two guys down there that they claimed was bootlegging whiskey.
I went out there to the first one's home. I said, "Now, Edgar, I've got a warrant for you. You're under arrest. I've got to take you to town and I've got a search warrant for your home."
His wife jumped up and said, "Oh, good God, don't touch that trunk! My dead baby's clothes is in there and I can't stand to look at them." "Well," I said, "leave the room, lady. I'm going to search it. I'm an officer of the law and I've got a search warrant."
And so I went back and took the lid off the trunk. There was some empty bottles and some of them had whiskey in them and some of them didn't. That was all I needed. I had the goods right there.
I did the same thing for his neighbor down the road half a mile. So I took them and turned them over to the judge. He said, "Take them down to the jail and lock them up." I took them down and locked them up and went back up there to the courthouse. He says to the sheriff, "Now you pay this man for the trip and all expenses." But they never did pay me a dime. And I told them then, "I won't be a deputy sheriff no more for nobody!"
I had my fur house and sales in Linn Creek. It was a big town with all them merchants and every Saturday evening they had a sale. After they built the Lake of the Ozarks, the people sold their buildings, moved them if they could or tore them up and burned them.
The big courthouse there in the town had to be tore up and destroyed. Lots of brick buildings there, people would tear them down and move them for the brick. You could give them anything they wanted if they'd take it, tie it up and get it out of there because they flooded the town. All they wanted to do was to get it where they could put the water over it. Water is twenty or thirty foot deep right now where the old courthouse set.
The lake lacked about a mile getting up to our place. All the people that had to move got a good price out of it. Some of them left and we never seen or heard of them anymore.
Now the country is covered with people from the cities, and they wouldn't give a dime for all the fur trade or trapping down there. They wouldn't know how. Chances are you couldn't buy a lot down there no place now. Back in them hills there it's just like a big city back for two or three miles clear back where we used to live.
If I could go back to any part of my life, I'd go up on my farm with my first wife. She was Ellen Byrd. I broke up the Byrd nest when I got her. I got the last bird in the nest. We raised seven children and she went down. They took two goiters out, and in a short time cancer formed there and that got her.
After awhile I married again. My second wife is a lot younger than me. I know she was born the second or third night after me and Ellen was married. She was born right close to our house. I played with her mother who was five years older than me. Us kids was out a-playing one Saturday and Ethel's mother and her boy friend had picked some cherries. She had a white apron on, and they'd got cherry juice all on that apron. I said, "Lady, how come you to get that blood all over you there?" She said, "We killed a man up there a while ago, and I wiped that blood out of his face." That scared us kids. We ran to the house and told on them.
After me and Ellen was married, Ethel's mother died in the hospital in Columbia, and the last time I ever talked to her, she laughed about that. Then I married her daughter sixty-five years later. We got married and now she's down there sick and I'm up here at the Care Center. I can't go to her and she ain't been able to see me. They took me to a family reunion, and I stopped down there when I came back. They brought her out to the truck. She stood there with her arms around my neck and talked to me about ten or fifteen minutes. I ain't saw her since. I talked to her on the telephone a time or two, but I can't hardly hear her. I can't hear, and I can't see nothing on paper. I'm a blind man.
We had a big stone house in Linn Creek. She sold it and bought her one up here in Camdenton right next to her daughter. I told her to will that to our foster boy, Joe.
We took in Joe when he was twelve. His father left his mother when she was bad sick with polio. She was about dead. We took her to Springfield to a specialist. When he was born, why me and mother took him the next morning out of the incubator. Joe is twenty-one years old now. He comes to see me here. The rest of my kids come to see me, too. One of them is seventy-three and another is sixty-eight, but they're still my babies.
Ellen and I had four girls and four boys. The last boy was born dead. Robert, the oldest boy, had paralysis, and he died. Earl died just this year. Hadley's the only boy left. There's also Molly, Ruby and Hazel, but my oldest daughter, Opal, died.
Before she died, she come and lived with me. Her husband died and she was living in Iowa with three little children --the oldest was eight years old. I just wrote her a letter to come home. Her mother, Ellen, was about dead, and she come home and lived there with me a year and a half. I took care of them kids till they got grown big enough to work. Now every two weeks one of them comes here to see me.
I've had a long rough life but it was a good one. I'm young still. I'm just ninety-seven. In all my life I never did tell anybody anything wrong that I know of.
I lived a life for Jesus for ninety-seven years. My folks was all Christian people. I never did help anybody in any meaness in any way.
If there's anything else you want to know about me, you can ask me anytime you want to as far as I'm concerned. They call me "Old Wind Jammer." When anybody asked, "Why are you so blabby?" I said I blabbed for a wife and seven kids. I had to learn to blab. When you cry sales for fifty or sixty years all over the country, you learn to blab.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.
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