Vol. VIII, No. 2, 1995



Reminiscence of J.W.A. Keithley, 1933




The following is excerpted from a longer account entitled "As Life Goes On in the Ozark Hills of Taney County." Manuscript provided courtesy of Thelma Keithley Bilyeu, granddaughter of the author.



One hundred and three years ago an old man from Tennessee wandered down the Indian trails into Taney County, the paradise of the White River Valley. That old man was my great grandfather. He made his camp in the forks of the two creeks at Walnut Shade [Bull Creek and Bear Creek], where there was an Indian camp, and smoked the pipe of peace with them as they were gravely leaving this country. Strange to say but he passed over all the fine prairie land, and down into the hills, where he found the paradise he had so long dreamed of.

So far as I have been able to find out, he was among the first white settlers here. He wandered on up the little creek to where my grandfather and father put in the Keithley water mill, known in later years as the Whacker Dam Mill ....

Well can I remember the day we drove up in front of the big log house with two ox wagons, sixty odd years ago .... I can see the folks as they unload the wagons. I see them unload the loom, the spinning wheel, the flax break, and the spool rack. Then the shaving horse, the wooden cane mill, winding blades, and mall and wedges. Next come the bull tongue plows and the old Carey turning plow with the wooden mole board. Next comes the big tall beds with the heavy railings which had holes for the bed cords. Other articles to be unloaded were the sugar troughs, cedar tubs, chums and piggins; battle block and sticks; soap, fat, and sugar gourds. There were reap hooks and wheat frails, and ironwood and dogwood pitch forks.

My what a big field back of the house. It ran all the way down to the old swimming hole. That was the biggest field I had ever seen. I guess there were about ten or twelve acres of it, but it looked like fifty or one hundred acres to me. It didn't seem to me that it could ever plowed be with old Carey plow and oxen.

I can hear mother telling the children to get out the tallow and candle molds and get to making candles for the night. "Yes, and you must carry water for the ash hopper tonight so we can have lye by tomorrow as we must make soap and hominy."

I can hear mother as she tells us to get out the chain that she had already spun, and the spools and put them on the spool rack, so she can warp the thread and get it in the loom. "You children put each threat through the gears and slay and I [sic] will fasten them on the little beam." Yes, I can hear the loom treadles as they go up and down, and the shuttle as it darts back and forth, and the breast beam as it pounds on the filling like a battering ram. I can see Sis as she draws the cords over her knee and lays the rolls across the spinning wheel. Then mother picks them up and runs a shuck on the spindle to start the broach. I can hear the roar of the wheel way into the night, like a car that was stalled and just pulling an inch at a time. The day before the cloth was to be cut out of the loom one of the boys said, "Mother, will there be enough cloth to make us boys all a suit?"
J. W.A. Keithley family. Thelma, front right. Next in order: Grandmother Belle, cousin Hazel, Grandfather Bill, cousin Pauline Melton, Charley, Tip. Rear, left to right: Luther, Edith, Father Elmer, Anna, Mother Mabel (Cupp), Guy, Glessie and Hugh Melton, Burl, Beulah. Guy and Burl wear World War I uniforms.
Photo ca. 1919.

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"No, honey, there won't be enough. When your father takes the wool to Springfield to Regan Wooling Mill to get it corded, he is going to swap wool for jeans and make your suits out of store jeans."

"Mother, it is awfully cold this morning. Can we put on our shoes?"

"No honey, you know it will get a good deal colder than this and you know your father can't get you any more this year."

I can remember mother and the big boys sheafing the sheep on the old board scaffold. I see the children carrying the wool to the little branch where they are Washing the wool. I see it spread out on the white gravel bar to dry

Another exciting time of my childhood was the preparation to go to town."Dad, what had we better put in first?"

"Put in two or three thousand of those shaved shingles first. Put the wool next, then the gensieng and sineca snake root [sic], golden seal, and jelico. Put the mutton and beef tallow, bees wax and maple sugar in one sack and the wolf and deer hides in another sack. Then put the beef hides on top, as we will have to make the beds on them at night."

"Mother says she wants to send a dozen pair of yam socks. She thinks they will bring twenty-five cents a pair."

"Now Billy, you yoke the oxen early in the morning.''

I just could raise one end of the big yoke and have the off steer to walk under. I just could raise the other end waist high and say, "Whoah, come under," and he would walk up and bow his head and turn it to one side as he would come under to keep his long horns from hitting me or to keep his horns from going in the ox ring. Then I would put the bow around his neck and the yoke and put in the bow peg. Then he would raise his head and walk over the big wagon tongue which I just could raise to the ox ring. Then I would hook the log chain hook in the ring and they were ready to go.

Me and my brother had broken the oxen from calves. The saddest day of my life was when my father sold them the next fall ....
Everett Craft and Tip Keithley leaving for Colorado (no date).
The Elmer Keithley family, ca. 1944.
From right to left: Thelma Keithley Bilyeu, mother Mabel Keithley, sister Anna Belle, Father Elmer Keithley, sister Betty. Photo at the Blansit place on Chestnut Ridge.

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Spokane, 1995. School (WPA, 1936), middle distance. House, left foreground, occupied by Mabel Keithley, Thelma's mother, in her later years. Robert Flanders photo.
Rockaway Beach, 1995, with 1920's cabins. Robert Flanders photo.

Winter baptizing, Bull Creek. Note flood-borne leaf debris in trees, left foreground and right background. Photo courtesy Bob Bilyeu.

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