Volume 2, Number 6, Winter 1966
Incidents, Adventures and Reminiscences as told by some of the Old Settlers of Taney County, Missouri, 1915 White River Leader, Branson, Mo.
The Pioneers of a country are brave men and women. This is especially true of the pioneers in a country of mountains and forests. They are also sturdy, energetic people. The weak and the faint-hearted would not undertake to expel the wild animals, fell the forests, build the cabins, clear the ground, establish schools and churches, and organize law-abiding communities.
The pioneers of Taney County were fitted for their work. Most of them came from the mountains of Tennessee and Kentucky, and they knew what was before them. They were of pure American stock, from ancestors that had been in America since Colonial times. They were of the same stock that gave us Lincoln and Andrew Jackson.
We knew these men and women had stories to tell -- stories that would furnish the foundation for a future history of the community -- and we knew that if these stories were not gathered soon, some of them could never be obtained. Since the series was planned, several, whom we expected to call on for stories, have passed into the Beyond.
These stories appeared during the past year or more in the columns of the White River Leader, and are now presented in book form for better preservation.
Several stories that appeared in the Leader are not in this collection. They, with others yet to be obtained, will appear in a later volume.
E. J. and L. S. Hoenshel
VETERAN OF MEXICAN WAR
"Howdy do, howdy do; will you light and come in?" This was the greeting of Captain VanZandt of Kirbyville to a party of visitors. The Captain, or Uncle Jimmy, as he is affectionately called by the people of Kirbyville and Taney County, is ninety years young.
As we accepted his invitation to light, Uncle Jimmy came out and gave each some appropriate greeting. "So youre from Tennessee; youre mine then, for Im from Tennessee, too. A good many Tennesseeans here, and they all hang together." And the little lady from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was assisted from her horse by the Captain with all the gallantry of a Southern gentleman of twenty-five.
"Come right in; my wifes over to her son-in-laws, but we can talk in here. The other room is bigger than this, and more chairs, but I guess this will do all right." The Captain ushers us into his sanctum, a plain, clean, homey, old-fashioned room that was the setting for a big, old-fashioned frame portrait of a handsome man of about forty in the uniform of a Union soldier. "Yes, thats me, all right; only picture we have. Wouldnt think I ever looked like that, now, would you? I was five feet, eleven inches tall then, and weighed 195. I had a keen eye and asked nothing of any man. Ever wear glasses? did you say? Well, now," said the Captain sheepishly, "Ive got a pair, and just lately I have put the m on occasionally on a cloudy day when I want to read, but ordinarily I dont need them at all. Second sight, did you say, lady? No, just my first and only sight, just as the Good God gave it to me in the beginning. Like the face in the picture do you say? Well, I reckon I must have liked it pretty well myself, Ive been wearing it nearly ninety years. Well, well, it was a long time ago sure enough when that was taken, and that was my second war, too - I was in the Mexican War first, you know.
"I was born in Tennessee, six miles east of Chattanooga, with Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge only five miles away. The first time I went to mill, I went with my father out cross Missionary Ridge. I helped mold the bricks for the first brick house in Chattanooga, about 1832. Mother hired me and my brother to a brickyard man for a month, unbeknownst to us. We didnt like it very well, and told him we were going home when our time was up, but he slipped over our way and hired us from mother for another month; and we stayed, for mother always had her way.
"I cast my first vote for James K. Polk for President. Yes, Ive always been a Democrat -- You know there is no difference between a Democratic government and a Republican government -- all mean the same thing. I say our government is like a man with two heads, and thats a fact, too.
"Yes, I married my first wife back in Tennessee. Mother said one day, Jimmy, you ought to get married. I need somebody to help me with the work. I said, "All right, mother, just pick out
the one you want: I can get any of them. So mother picked out the girl, and I married her and brought her home. Have twelve children in the family, besides raising three grandchildren -- fifteen in all -- and never had a doctor in the house for any of us. Its always been my opinion if half the doctors were dead and the other half so sick they couldnt get out, thered be more of us folks alive. God Almighty is just, and He never placed us here without a remedy for every ill if we hunt for it. Yes, sir, out in the woods, sir, just out in the woods, a plant that will heal every kind of sickness, thats my idea. Well, well, we live and learn, and die and forget it all.
"Yes, this is a healthful country, the best Ive ever found, and Ive been in nineteen states. Ive noticed this, that when a country presents a smooth, pretty surface, it isnt a good place for man. I brag on not being in bed sick for over thirty years, all in the best of health. Ive cut fifteen cords of wood this fall. I dont need anyone to cut wood for me. Ive always been active; thats the reason Im so young at ninety. More people die of laziness than die of hard work. Im a criterion to go by. Sunday is my worst day. I just sit around and read all day, and eat a big dinner, and it takes most of Monday to get warmed up and muscles limbered, and in working order again. Yes sir, thats the situation exactly. A mans got to work and exercise to live a long life.
"Oh, yes; I often walk to Branson and back; less trouble to walk than to go over to the farm and saddle a horse. Yes, sir, Ive got a good farm right over there, good house, good barn, every-things there. Id be there now, but mother, and the children got it into their heads I couldnt do the work out there any longer, and moved us over here in to town. Just a notion of theirs, though Im good for a lot of work yet.
"Yes, always had good crops, never planted anything that wouldnt grow. It sure is rich soil down here. We know nothing about hard times, nor the high cost of living. I raise my stuff and eat it, and thats the whole problem in a nut shell. Id like you to see my smokehouse, but my wife has the key. Yes sir, Ive got one thousand pounds of meat in there - killed seven hogs got ham and bacon and sausages and all the lard we need for biscuits and corn bread. I use only salt and pepper in putting up meat, and I rub them in while the meat is still warm and the pores open. Ive been putting meat up for sixty years and I never lost a pound.
"And then weve a cellar full of fruit. Mother put up 500 quarts last season, and we raised most of it ourselves; and we have chickens and eggs and turkeys, and are milking three cows now; plenty of good rich milk and the best butter in the world; none of your creamery butter can touch it. And weve got bees and plenty of honey for sweetening. No, sir; no hard times for us."
"Have you been reading of the Mexican War, Captain?," somebody asked. "I reckon I have, and President Wilson is handling those Greasers just right; but it is awful, the accounts of women with
babies at the breast wading through rivers to escape their enemies. Thirteen thousand refugees crossed the border into our country and well have to take care of them. Yes, sir; the United States will just have to feed them and take care of them. We cannot go back on people in trouble.
"If I was fighting in Mexico now, Id kill everyone of them I could in battle, like an uncle of mine in the Revolutionary War, said he killed every Tory that he could, because nits make lice. And, mind me now, when this war is over, that land will belong to another country. They can t pay their debts, and they cant rule themselves. President Wilson will have to see that other nations get their rights, and will have to take hold of things down there. And its the richest country on earth. Yes, it takes me back to years ago, when I fought through the Mexican War. Started in 1848, and went all through the war. Was under General Scott, and went from Vera Cruz to Jalapa, Chapultepek, Molino del Rey, and on to the City of Mexico. When we stormed the fortress of Chapultepek we went like coons up a tree, and lots of Mexicans fired their guns and then threw themselves from the cliffs and killed themselves to keep from falling into our hands. They thought wed torture them like they did their prisoners.
"When we reached the City of Mexico we had had no water to drink for nearly three days, and we were about wild with thirst, and when we got there and saw the clear cold water in the streets, we didnt wait to be told we could have a drink, we just dropped down with our faces in the water and drank like Gideons army in the Holy Scriptures. I reckon the best water in the world is in the City of Mexico - comes down from the mountains of Popocatepetl, away up where the eternal snows are - and its running everywhere down there.
"When the war was over we came home in sailing vessels, all but about thirty miles of the way. There were the Squirrel, the Swallow, and the Victor, a three-mast schooner. I was on the Victor, and a terrific storm came up. We were driven before the wind, up and down on the waves, till we thought wed never see our friends again, and we were so seasick we didnt care much what happened to us. It stormed most all night, and when morning came we had blown one hundred miles out of our course, and were just about over the equator in a calm sea. We had to stay there some time; and my but it was hot! A breeze finally came up and we tracked back to our course, and reached the land through the Gulf of Mexico.
"I had learned to talk a little Spanish, and could count in Spanish and Cherokee Indian. And one time when we were coming through Louisiana we were near a girls school, and our men were ordered to take the horses, cattle and hogs down to a stream to water. Well, all the inmates of the school came out to see us. Everybody was anxious about the Mexicans in those days and I was pretty badly sunburned and pretty dark and the boys for a joke pointed me out and said, "Hes a Mexican." I thought Id carry out the joke, so I sputtered away all kinds of words in Spanish and Cherokee, for I knew they didnt know what I was saying, when the best looking girl in the crowd pushed her way through and looked closely at me. Lord Bless my soul, said she, hes nearly white. That was a great joke on me for the boys.
"I saw Stonewall Jackson in the Mexican War, and again in the Civil War.
"Yes, I came to Missouri from Tennessee in 53 - drove three yoke of cattle, and some horses. We started the 3rd of May and reached Springfield the 10th of June. We had good luck all the way; our children were with us, and nobody was sick during the whole time. When we reached Springfield, I heard of a man living a little way out by the name of VanZandt. All the VanZandts I knew were connected, so went into camp and belled the oxen, and started to find my new relations. I found their house, and the homeliest woman I ever saw met me at the door. When I told her who I was, she asked me in and called the old man who was working in a field back of the house. I was rocking away in the sitting room when he came. He was a big man, weighed about 240, and I knew he was a VanZandt the minute I laid eyes on him. Says she, Mr. VanZandt this is Mr. VanZandt and we shook hands. Says he, Where you going? Aint a going anywhere, says I, just sitting right here. Moving? says he. No, just sitting here, I told you. Says he, Where did you come from and how did you get here? Come from Tennessee, says I, and my folks are camped up the road a few miles. Well, says he, that wagon and all come here tonight. I reckon we are all cousins. My fathers name was Elijah VanZandt, and he must have been a cousin of your fathers, and, Cousin Jim, says he, Ive got plenty of bacon and everything to eat, and Ill just send the boys back with you to your camp, and get you all here before dark. And he did, and we stayed there four weeks and never had a better time in my life.
"I settled first in Webster County, and I lived in two counties there without moving." "That sounds like a conundrum, Captain," said one of our party. "Thats why I said it that way," said the Captain. "It is a conundrum, and can you answer it?" Nobody could of course, and so the Captain explained that Webster was divided into
two counties and then he was in Christian County.
"I went into the Union Army in 1861, in Company K, 24th Missouri Infantry. I organized the first company of Union soldiers that went out of Springfield. Lots of my friends went into the Southern army, but I said I had fought for this nation in one war, and couldnt go back on her now. We talked about what we would do if we should meet in battle and on different sides during the war and I said, "Boys, if I meet you in battle, Ill shoot you if I can, but if I take any of you prisoners, Ill treat you like my children." No brave man will ever mistreat a man who is in his power. I once said to a parcel of fellows that if I had a regiment of men and lots of prisoners, I could pick out every coward in twenty-four hours. They didnt see how that was possible unless we were in battle, and I said, Whenever I find a man trying to abuse a prisoner, hes a coward, and thats a fact, too. After the battle of Pea Ridge, I had 800 prisoners to take to Springfield, Illinois, to the Federal Prison. We went from Cassville to Springfield, Missouri and from there to Springfield, Illinois, and I treated those men just like I did myself; made friends of every one of them.
"Near the beginning of the war, a pontoon bridge of heavy canvass boats was sent to Batesville, Arkansas, to span the White River there, and seven engineers were sent along to put it up. They worked three weeks and didnt accomplish a thing. I happened to say to an English sergeant in my company, that I could put that bridge up in a day. What I said got to the ears of General Curtis, and he ordered me to do the work. I ran off the seven engineers, and my men and I had the bridge done in two hours. Then I was ordered to take charge of the bridges, and to permit nobody to go over it on horseback. I placed an Irishman on guard there, and meantime General Curtis went to St. Louis and a General Davidson came out. He was a West Point man and a kind of a fop, and the first thing he did was to get on a horse and gallop out to the bridge and was going to ride right across. Halt, halt, called my Irish guard. Im General Davidson, click, click, the Irishmans gun was ready. My Captains ordered me to let no man ride over this bridge, and no mans going to while Im here. I had just heard of this when an orderly rode up with orders from the general for me to report to headquarters. I was scared, didnt know what was coming. He was so inexperienced, and just out of college, I didnt know what kind of fool notions he might have in his head. He met me at the door of his tent; he had a fine tent, with sawdust floors and sawdust built up high to shed the water, and tables and chairs. He said, What in thunder is the matter anyway? That man of yours would not let me ride over that bridge. Thems the orders I gave him, I said. What for? said he. That was General Curtiss order to me, I said, land the order has never been recalled. Later on he called for me again. Sit down, said he. I want to ask you a question. Ill answer if I can. How does it come you have the best drilled men in the regiment? I said I had been in the Mexican War, and so had more experience than some. Later he gave me seven government wagons for my company, an order for a saddle and bridle, and gave me a pass to St. Louis, but I was back and reported to the General in a week. I didnt like hanging around the city.
"I helped recruit and drill for a time, and once in St. Louis I had a band of Irish that didnt want to go on board the boat - I couldnt coax them or drive them. I whipped six of them -had them all down in a pile - and they went on board all right; had no more trouble after that.
"There are two kinds of brave men. One is the foolhardy kind that rushes into any kind of danger, whether it is necessary or not; the other kind never shirks a duty, no matter how dangerous, but takes no unnecessary risks. Most men are brave in battle after the first fire is over, and some of the bravest are cowards till after that. I had one man in my company that we called Charley, and when we started on a charge, I always got Charley in front of me, and kept my gun pointed right at him and Id say, Now if you run, youll be the first man down; Ill shoot you like a dog, and as soon as the first fire was over, there was not a braver man in the regiment than Charley.
"We always knew when a battle was coming on, for we got only about half rations for a day or two before. Take a man when he is hungry, if you want him to fight. He goes into battle like a mad hog then.
"No, never was hurt; went all through the war without a scratch.
"Yes, there were some hard feelings through here for sometime after the war; but it has all died down. I never had any sympathy with such feelings myself. I recollect there were four brothers in one family went into the Southern army, and all were killed but one. One night at a meeting, this Sam Berner went to the mourners bench to be prayed for, and not a soul in the church stirred to go to him. I was so surprised at Sams going that I didnt sense what was up at first; then I jumped up and went and kneeled down by him and prayed with him, and stayed right with him till he professed religion. Yes sir; thats just what I did, and Ive loved myself for
it ever since, and Uncle Jimmy laughed heartily over this bit of self gratulation.
"We live in the best part of Taney County -- cant get anywhere without coming through Kirbyville. Those Branson people tried to leave us off the new road, but they just naturally had to come to it, and bring their road our way. The lay of the land drove them to it; and then we have the people here, the ones thats got to be catered to. Yes, sir, no doubt about that. The old Springfield and Harrison road had to take us in too, and the freighters used to stop in Kirbyville in the old days.
"What do I think of most in these later days? Well, I hold that the first impressions we get in life are with us when we die, and the first impressions are from our mothers. Mother lived with me always, and she was the head of our house as long as she lived. I never bought a new dress or pair of shoes for my wife without getting them for my mother, too. She was a lot of help with the children, too. She died in 1864 and I went to St. Louis to get a tombstone for her. I was selfish I guess, but I wouldnt let any of the other children help in getting the tombstone. I wanted to do everything for mother myself.
"We are just one big human family, with lots of trials and hardships and sorrows to face, but theres lots of joy in life, too. Thats my experience, and I aint no better than other people."
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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