Volume VIII, No. 2, Winter 1980
by Mack Pamplin, Jr. Edited by Kathy Long
I am writing of happenings, dates, places and times as I knew them at the time and place where I lived in the Marshfield neighborhood. I have written these memoirs to preserve a record of the way people lived and made a living in the very early days.
I am Mack Gilbert, Jr., the youngest of the seven children. The birth, age and death of my parents and us seven children are listed in the Bible. I am the only one still living. I am now 92.
The night was dark, the air was cold, the snow was deep, (this was January 23, 1888) but someone, I will never know who, braved all of this, rode five miles horseback over dirt roads, mud and deep snow to call Dr. Jolley to come. He rode that same five miles there and five miles back. The night I came into this world was not one anyone would have chosen, but it was just the beginning of many obstacles that were to be overcome through all the ninety-two years I have lived. All this happened long before telephones, paved roads, automobiles and many other conveniences were known. Travel was by wagon, horseback or walk. I doubt if I ever fully paid all those who were responsible for my welfare. I had Mother, three brothers and three sisters. Father, having passed away three months previous, I expect my sisters helped mother a great deal with my care. It wasn't a very bright picture, but we never know what difficulties we can overcome if we really try and never say quit.
The house we lived in would have been very warm, if it had been finished, but it wasn't. It was two large log rooms with a kitchen attached. It had one brick chimney and in the kitchen a wood burning stove which was not nearly enough to heat the whole house. The house was one and one-half stories high with floors laid both upstairs and downstairs with one inch thick, six inch wide pine boards but had no ceiling upstairs or downstairs. The west log part had no foundation under it. It was just open. I am sure my father's life being cut short at the early age of thirty-eight was the reason.
My father must have been a prosperous man as he left mother with a hundred and twenty acre farm which he had accumulated in the short life he lived, but the farm still had to be planted and cultivated before it would produce. Things most surely would have looked dreary to most anyone, especially Mother with seven small children, the oldest only fourteen. It must have taken a lot of courage, which mother had.
Mother took on one more obligation when she bought forty more acres of land that fit in with the three forties we had and would make the farm one-half mile square. Much of the land we had was timber. Since we needed more land to cultivate, when this land came up for sale, Mother bought it. It also gave us an outlet to the mail road. We raised wheat to have milled for our bread and usually had enough to sell to make the payments on the new forty.
Mother was an excellent manager and seemed to know where every dollar she received should be spent. She kept a large number of sheep which we sheared, and she carded and spun the wool into thread from which she made most of our clothes, including our caps, gloves and hose. Boys wore dresses in those days until they were four or five years old. Mother never seemed to hurry but kept going from daylight into the night. It was truly surprising as to how much she accomplished.
All the carpets we had were those made from discarded clothing and any cloth that wasn't usable, torn into narrow strips and woven on a loom. This was all done at home. One of my uncles, a carpenter, made the loom and we all used it. All the window shades we ever had were made of newspapers pasted over the top part of the window.
Mother kept a flock of geese. They all went two and two--goose and gander and remained together for life. In the laying season, the goose sat on the eggs and the gander stood guard. He would attack a person if he came near. We picked the geese in the spring, just like we sheared the sheep. Just the right feathers were to be picked and the right feathers left. Mother gave each of the girls a feather bed when they married and gave each of the boys a colt. Mattress and springs were unknown. All beds had slats with straw and feather beds. Then they manufactured mattresses and springs and declared feather beds unhealthy. I don't know whether this is true or not, but I do know the feather beds were more comfortable. I still have a feather bed even though I don't use it. One bedstead we had was handmade and had no slats. Instead, it had ropes crossed side to side and end to end about six inches apart.
One spring, we had three turkey hens and a gobbler. Turkeys made their nests away from home, usually, in some thicket, and they were very shy about anyone knowing where their nests are. Mother gave me the job to find out. I had to keep out of sight as much as I could and still keep an eye on the turkey. Finally she would make a run for her nest. I would leave one egg in the nest and take the others out and she would never know something was going with her eggs. Mother put them under the hens to hatch. They .hatched forty turkeys and we raised them all. Turkeys in the country require very little feed. They catch grasshoppers and insects all they need. We sold them that fall. They brought one dollar each and we took it and paid our taxes.
When I was eight years old, we had eight little pigs but one came blind. The other pigs kept it crowded away from their mother, and we saw it was going to starve. Mother said I could have the blind pig if I thought I could get it to live. I said I would try. I am sure mother never thought of seeing a two hundred pound hog, but that is just what happened. I took it to the house and fed it milk from a bottle. It wasn't hard to teach it to eat and it was always hungry. I fed it in the house until I thought it was big enough to put out in the barn lot. It had learned to eat small grain and I took the feed to it in a bucket. I taught it that when I would beat on the bucket, it would come running. I had to stay with it till it finished eating or the other pigs would eat its feed. I guess I took disappointments lightly for I had planned to get it big enough that I could sell it and buy me a bicycle, but when Mother said we would not have enough meat without it, I understood and said okay and forgot about the bicycle.
Hog killing was always in the winter, as there was no refrigerators. It had to be done when the weather was cold. Some farmers chose the very coldest days but this was not necessary. It was not unusual to kill four or five hogs at one time. Maybe a neighbor would bring one to kill, while we had the water hot.
Mother had learned from someone how to make "summer sausage." When we killed hogs in the winter, she fried the sausage as usual, then placed them in fruit jars while still hot and covered them with the grease, sealed them and they kept just like fresh.
The farmers ate mostly pork and chicken. One reason was the pork could be cured and be kept through the summer months. Also, hogs brought very little on the market. At one time, I remember they sold for three cents per pound.
Mother, with all of her obligations, also had a sense of humor. One day she came in from where we had been plowing and said, "You will have to learn to plow deeper. Looks out there like pulling a turkey gobbler backward down the rows."
Almost everything we had both vegetables and meat, were raised on the farm, but I never knew a time when we did not have enough to eat. We had to buy very little elsewhere. Coffee came to the consumer just as it was picked off the tree. It was light green in color. It had to be roasted and ground. The first roasted coffee I remember came in paper bags. It was Lyon brand and Arbuckle brand. When the first ground coffee came on the market, some said they wouldn't buy it. They were afraid it was coffee that had been used once then dried and resold.
Back in the eighteen nineties fresh fruit was rather plentiful--apples, peaches, pears, plums and others. Nearly every farm had an orchard. We had one tame persimmon tree--the only one I have seen since. It was about twice as large as the wild ones and ripened before frost. I suppose Father had bought it along with the other fruit trees.
Nearly all the fruit was eaten fresh or dried, especially apples and peaches. We dried them by the bushel in the bright sunshine. There wasn't anything quite so good in our school lunch as fried dried peach pie made half size, full crust turned back over. I don't remember anything canned in glass jars that far back. I know we began to can tomatoes in glass jars a little later, but that is the first canning I remember, of anything. We, also, made apples into cider. We didn't have to worry about worms there weren't any worms. We didn't have to spray anything because sprayers were unknown.
There were many kinds of wild berries-strawberries, blackberries, dewberries, raspberries, huckleberries and many others. The blackberry is the only one that has survived. There were also snakes. The closest encounter I ever had with one was when I was just old enough to drive a team to the harrow in the field. It was a wooden harrow with iron spike teeth. When one tooth became loose, I stopped the team and stooped down at the edge of some tall weeds to get something to fix it with. A large spreading adder stuck his head up dangerously close to my face. I was so scared, I fell backward, and when I recovered enough to get up, the snake was gone. That was one I let get away. One other time, a whip snake chased my brother Will around a large rick of cordwood under which it had been hiding. I guess he was defending what he thought was his territory. They have all been killed off though and we never see one anymore.
Back in the very early days when nearly everything was done by hand, there were many chores for everyone. It was my job to turn the grindstone for my older brothers to grind their ax. This usually lasted one to two hours to get the ax real sharp. We boys did the work in the field and tended the livestock, as well as we knew how. We had no one to teach us and we just learned by experience, except what Mother taught us.
I learned when I was very young to help the older boys with most all kinds of work there was to do. In the cornfield there was always places that were rough. It was my job to cut the sprouts and weeds and keep it all cleaned out.
In the spring when we planted the corn, my older brothers laid off the rows both ways with a single shovel plow, three feet apart each way. It was my job to drop the corn where the row crossed. That way we could plow the corn both ways with a double shovel plow. There were some hills where the corn didn't come up. I went through the field and replanted those hills. We wanted two stalks in each hill. Sometimes there would be three stalks. I went through one row at a time, and pulled out the third stalk. All this ran into a lot of work especially if it was a ten acre field. In the fall, we cut the corn and put it in "shocks"--twelve hill square, 144 hills in each shock. We would take one long stalk and tie around the top to hold it together. Later we would take each shock apart and pull the ears off and throw them in one pile. We would tie the fodder in bundles. This would be fed to the cattle. It took lots of work to plow the ground, plant, cultivate and harvest a corn crop.
Work was continuous on the farm, both summer and winter. Much of the farm was still in timber. We usually quit school the first of March to clear more ground to have more land to cultivate. We also used the timber for firewood and that which was left, we cut into cordwood. We sawed the logs into four foot lengths, split, and hauled it two miles to the railroad station. We loaded it on a boxcar and shipped it to Springfield and received $2.00 a cord. (Four feet wide, four feet high and eight feet long, made a cord.) When I was small, the older boys cut the timber and I piled the limbs in large piles. Then, when the timber was all hauled away, we burned the trash all at one time, usually at night. By the first of April, it was time to plow for the spring and summer crops-mostly oats, wheat, hay and corn. We had to cultivate the corn to keep the grass and weeds out. The older boys did the plowing and when the corn was small, the plow sometimes covered it up. I followed and uncovered the corn. We also had a big garden. We planted a small field of cane each year for sorghum, maybe ten or fifteen gallons.
School began in the fall--first of September. We still had corn to cut and wheat to sow. This took September and October and left four months to attend school.
I remember before I was to start to school, mother and a neighbor were talking and the neighbor said, "He is too little to start to school." Mother said, "Maybe he can mark on the blackboard." I had never been in a schoolroom and I had ideas about what a blackboard would look like maybe a board hanging on the wall to mark on.
I had to get up early in the morning in order to do my chores and have time to get to school by nine o'clock. The path we made to Northview was two miles, as straight as we could make it, to school. We walked and crossed one creek, but somehow we always got there. I set traps in the winter and caught rabbit, possum, coon, mink and yes, skunk. I went to my traps first thing in the morning and got home about daylight, in time to feed the livestock, get in the firewood for the day, eat breakfast and get ready to go to school.
In those days our studies were not called in grades as they are now. Instead, they were first, second, third, fourth and fifth readers. Being the youngest in the family, by the time I was through the fifth reader the other children were all married or left home. That left me to make a living for Mother and myself and this prevented me from ever attending high school, but I have improved my education through many books and magazines I have read and studied since.
The second year I went to school, every student was supposed to have a slate. Only a very few of the oldest students used tablets. I didn't have a slate and didn't have money to buy one. I doubt if Mother had it to spare. Our teacher saw I didn't have one, so she gave me a dime and told me to go down to the store and buy me a slate. I held on to the dime till I arrived to the store and came back with the slate. I never forgot the teacher who gave it to me.
I never stayed out of school unnecessarily but one time. I could ice skate and my cousin couldn't. She asked me if I would go with her down to a large pond not far from the schoolhouse and help her to learn to skate. I said, "Yes." We were gone about one hour. The teacher never did ask me why I was late, but I did feel guilty and never did it again.
I remember one year we had a man teacher, six feet tall and red headed. However, he was a good teacher--good to us, when we were good to him. He taught us new games and helped us learn in every way he could. There was a deep railroad cut which passed the playground. We got the idea we could catch each other and try to shove the other down the cut, about thirty feet deep. We had been doing this two or three different times until this time. The teacher saw us and told us in no uncertain words what would happen if we did it again, and then he walked back to the schoolroom. We stood looking at each other a few moments, when one boy spoke up and said, "What did he say?" We all knew very well what he said. One day the teacher thought we were too noisy and he said, "If you boys don't settle down and get to work, I will have to use some other means," and he gave me the privilege to go out and bring him a switch. He didn't use it on anyone. He didn't need to, we settled down.
Mr. Turner taught our school three different school years. He told me later how he once had a large overgrown boy in school who had given him trouble. This time, when he had to correct him, the boy shook his fist in his face and said, "This is the real thing." He said he just took him under the chin and knocked him over a school desk and he never gave him any more trouble.
There was not much in the way of entertainment in those early days. At school, some of the games we played were town ball (much like baseball), black man and antie-over. Antie-over was one of my favorites. Two sides would choose up and the one that took the ball would throw it over to the other side of the house. If they didn't catch it, they would throw it back over the schoolhouse. If they did catch it, the one with the ball ran to the other side and if he hit one of the players, the one hit was out or went to the other side.
At home, when the ground was too wet to work in the field or anytime I had an hour or two to spare, there was nothing I liked better than to go fishing.
Our house sat on a hill just above the Pomme de Terre River. It, with a never failing spring, furnished us with fresh water year around. It was near the head of the river and was small but had many deep holes which all had fish.
If the water was muddy, I fished with a hook baited with worms, but if the water was clear, I fished with a copper wire loop and line. I would slip the loop over the fish's head just behind the gills, then give a quick jerk. The wire would slip tight around the fish and then I would pull him out. My brother Will was two years older and often we fished together. In fact, we were together most every day when we were younger. We liked mostly the same things, and I never would have thought our lives would have been so different when we grew up. He left home as soon as he thought he could get a job. He finally joined the Army and was sent to the Philippines, then to Germany in World War I. He never married and never came home again to live.
By 1900 Will and I had fished both up and down the creek a short distance, and we began to wonder where it came from and where it went. Mother told us it flowed into the Osage River, but she did not know where it began. We decided we would try to find out. So one morning we got up early, did the chores and put a half dozen eggs and some matches in our pockets and started out. It was very hard walking over gravel, drifts and brush, but when we had gone about two miles we built up a fire, roasted and ate our eggs. We started on and in about two more miles we came to a big spring out in the middle of the pasture. That was where it began, about one mile west of Marshfield. It was many miles down stream to where the creek flowed into the Osage. We never did try to follow it that way.
One other time Will and I were fishing a little further upstream. The water was muddy and we were fishing with hooks and worms. We didn't catch much and decided to quit. We walked up to Grandpa's barn. Our uncle, Dave Welch, was there. He said if we would gather up some sacks (the kind feed comes in) we would make a seine. We did by ripping them open at the seam and fastening them together with bailing wire. We fixed floats on the top and weights on the bottom. We fastened two small poles at each end and we were ready to go. We went to the same hole where we had been fishing. We pulled the seine downstream and found a smooth place to pull out. We had many nice fish and one soft shelled turtle, the first one we had ever seen.
I was fishing once just below Grandpa's place, the water was clear, and I was fishing with line and copper wire loop. There were two water holes. The one above was not as deep but had many big tree roots where a fish could hide. The one below which was clear and deep with no place to hide had one rather large trout. There was a space of about twenty-five yards of very swift shallow water between the holes. I had been trying for some time to loop the trout. It didn't seem to be afraid but kept dodging the loop. All at once it stopped and seemed to say, "I have had enough of this," and before I knew what was happening, it made a run for the swift shallow water upstream. I threw my pole down and thought it might get caught on the rocks, and I might catch it with my hands, but it went through the swift shallow water so fast I didn't even catch up with it. When it reached the hole above, it swam straight for the tree roots and out of sight. With the strategy it used, and the risk it took, I found my sympathy with the fish and was almost glad it got away. It seemed to know just where it was going and what it would take to get there.
When Bessie came along, I taught her to fish and to swim in the little river. I met Bessie Lee Holbert the first time when she and the family moved to a farm adjoining ours. She was nine years old. I guess it was "love at first sight." It continued sixty-nine years. We walked the two miles to school together. When we left the school ground to come home, I took her books to carry. The teacher saw this one day and said it was okay and said she thought it was very nice. During the summer months, although we lived only one-fourth mile apart, we decided we needed a post office. So we fixed one. I would write a letter and mail it and she would pick it up and write an answer. After two years, the family moved to their farm three miles away. We didn't see each other for two more years. Then I wrote her a letter and she answered and said could I meet her at the local church for Sunday School. I answered and said I would. After that, I saw her most every Sunday afternoon. I could stay only until ten o'clock. Sometimes it took longer than that to get started, but no one complained. Through the summer months there was an ice cream supper somewhere in the neighborhood each Saturday night. We attended most of them. We were married November 25, 1910. I was twenty-two. She was sixteen.
We kept four or five dairy cows which we milked and sold the cream. This gave us the first regular weekly income we had ever had. The cream separator had been invented and was being sold. We bought one which about doubled our cream check. We milked first thing in the morning before breakfast. Bessie had never milked a cow. When we were married she wanted to learn and it wasn't long till she could milk faster than I could.
Our baby girl came along October 29, 1911. We named her Agatha Alberty. She became the light of our lives. When she was three or four years old she would follow me when I worked near the house or barn. In the country, there were places where the ground was rough and often I would hear her say, "Wait Daddy, I faw down," but not one time did she cry. Usually when I asked her to do or not to do something, she would say, "All right, Daddy," but one time she said, "No." I got a little switch, not bigger than a straw. She ran and climbed to the top of a large pile of firewood nearby and sat down and looked at me. I said, "Come on down," and she did, and we forgot the whole thing but she didn't say no anymore.
We had no radio, television, or automobile yet, but we did have a telephone. We organized "Literaries" at the school and met every Friday night. We would debate different questions that were being discussed at that time.
We all went to preaching and Sunday School at Edward's Chapel. We also had protracted meetings, which lasted two full weeks, and sometimes over three Sundays. The last night was the largest crowd. We both became Christians in our teens and I still consider it the best decision and the greatest we ever made.
Many young ladies and their boy friends rode horseback to church. The ladies all rode sidesaddle. When they reached the church building, there was a platform built where the lady could dismount. If a young lady arrived alone, there was always young men ready to assist and take care of the horse. The ladies wore long black overskirts to protect their clothing. A lady would remove the skirt when she dismounted from the horse. The platform was built of two-inch oak boards, two and a half feet high with steps and was called a stile. During the church services, the men sat on one side and the women on the other. The church building was lit with coal oil lamps placed high on each side of the building.
Sunday was our only day to rest. We spent the other days working on the farm. My brother, Bob, and I in the year 1908 built a building, bought and installed a canning factory on the farm. My brother and I worked together for three years. Then he and his wife moved to Springfield. I continued to operate the factory for a total of twelve years. We employed about twenty persons. We canned mostly tomatoes. We sowed the seed in the very early spring, then transplanted to the field. We usually planted about three or four acres and contracted more from our neighbors, usually a total of fifteen or twenty acres. Canning began about August first and lasted until frost. We usually canned two to three boxcar loads in one season--a car held 500 cases or about 50,000 cans. The canning business was much hard work but usually paid a good profit. We bought and paid for eighty acres of land--half of the original homestead. It already had a dwelling, barn and well. We moved to it. We enjoyed both the canning business and farm work, but it was very hard work and we decided, as we would be getting older, we might find lighter work. In 1920 we moved to Springfield and I attended business college one year. In 1922 the grocery store and meat market in our neighborhood was for sale. We bought the grocery stock, fixtures, building and the dwelling next door. This again, was a pretty large undertaking. We took possession February first. Everything moved along fine as business began to grow. Then on July first all the Frisco shop men went out on strike. Two-thirds of our business was Frisco men. All the income the men had was the last two weeks they had worked. They expected to get back to work soon but didn't. The strike never was settled. This was quite a blow, as we lost them not only as customers, but also, some we continued to extend credit to. Finally, the Frisco asked all men who would to come back, just as it was when they went out. Some went back and some didn't. Those who didn't get work here moved to other cities. Some sent money back and some didn't. Thirty-five years later, I received a letter from a man who left and he said, "I owe you sixty-five dollars. Let me know if this is right. I have a good job and I am trying to live right and would like to pay." I answered that it was right and then I received a check for the full amount.
Many years later, the Frisco laid off a large number of men. Some of them were my customers and were never rehired. Some of them moved away. Two of them could not pay. Many years later the wife of one of them came in and said her husband had died but she had the money to pay. She paid in full. Two years ago, on my ninetieth birthday, my picture came out in the paper and I had a letter from the wife of another man. She said, "Lee said I owe that man and we must pay." They sent a check for $35.00, the full amount. After the strike, other men came in and took the vacant jobs and became our customers. Business again began to grow. The first year though we only made enough profit to pay the interest on the money we owed the man we bought out. The second year business was good and when we had enough to spare I would look the man up we owed and make a payment. He never came to me. Finally, he said, "I don't care about you making those payments. In fact, I would rather you wouldn't. I would rather trust you than the banks." That made me feel pretty good. We soon had him all paid off. Bessie worked with me continually and always had confidence that we could accomplish the thing we determined to do. This was a big help, indeed.
In the late twenties, the Arthur Stout family moved near the store. I called on them and asked them to trade with us and they did. Their youngest boy, Alan, applied for a job at the store and we hired him. He proved to be a gifted meat cutter. He knew and bought good meat, so we gave him the meat department. People came from other parts of the city to buy our meat, and our business soon outgrew the building. We rebuilt and made the store twice as large and made it self-service.
We no longer picked up all the customers' groceries. We only checked it out. This relieved us of a great amount of labor and saved much time. Agatha was then nineteen and she had finished high school and worked one year at the telephone office. Alan and Agatha were married November 30, 1930. Alan continued to work with us at the store for many years. But after nearly forty years, we decided we had worked long enough and retired. We sold our business.
We still had the farm and had bought the heirs' part of the other eighty. We then had the home place back together again. We had also begun stocking the farm with registered Angus cattle. This did not require much labor on our part, as we had a family on the farm who cared for the livestock when we were not there. We built a very convenient cabin on the farm, which we kept for our own use. Bessie and I spent much more time at the farm after retiring and enjoyed it very much.
Alan suddenly passed away November, 1966. Agatha came to live with us. Bessie soon passed away, too, following a prolonged illness. These two losses saddened our lives greatly. Agatha has continued to live with me. I cultivate a large garden each summer which gives me good exercise and provides fresh vegetables for most of the year.
Even though Mack Pamplin is well into his retirement years, it is evident that he is not willing to sit idly and wait for each day to pass. His time is spent enjoying the company of his daughter and caring for his garden. He realizes that he is experiencing the best of both worlds. After ninety-two years, he is still able to take pride in a hard day's work, and yet he still holds in his mind a wealth of memories from earlier days when he had to depend on strong will and determination. He said, "Only one time do I remember fearing the future. It happened when I was twelve years old. All of a sudden it seemed everything--tending the farm and making a living--was falling on myself and my brother just two years older. I just didn't believe we were ready to do so. I was really scared, but in just a few days everything cleared up and I was greatly relieved."
Now Mack Pamplin has fewer responsibilities and more time to reminisce. Even with less chores, he continues to make the most of each day.
Why do I get up at 5:30 each morning? Well, did you ever dress and step out into a world so calm, and all that can be heard is a mockingbird in the old elm tree? Or enjoy the cool breeze so common most every summer morning, or see a big bright sun rise so bright but yet not hot? Or enjoy the pure fresh air which the night has purified from the pollution of the day before? Or inhale the sweet scent of new mown hay, or see a full moon in the morning?
I wake to see the break of day.
I know the sun is on its way,
The quiet breeze, the fresh spring
I think most surely that God is
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