Volume 37 , Number 3 , Winter 1998
1903 to 1913
Now things begin to change. Kennifick and Hammon were the main contractors on construction. They subled [sublet] it out to diferent contractors all along the line, and [work] was being done all along the line at the same time, camps all along [with] Austraing [Austriansi, Italians, negros. Most of the work along Roark and turkey creeks was rock and required drilling and heavy blasting. Most of the dirt was moved with teams, planes and two wheel scrapers. The dirt for the fill at Branson where they changed the creek chanel was moved with a ten horse maching [machine] that plowed up the dirt and elevated it into dump wagons. Steam drills were used for the heavy drilling, but there was lots of hand drilling finishing the drainage ditches. You could hear the hammers ringing all along the line. One man sitting holding the steel and two to three men striking.
It was dangerous to travel along these creeks on account of the blasting. They would blast off a hillside at one shot. If you were traveling along the line and heard some one yelling fire you had to get behind a tree to keep from getting showered with rock. All the material and supplies were hauled by wagon from Springfield by wagon. One freighter said he wouldent haul dynamite over those rough roads [as] he was afraid it would explode and kill his team.
B B Price of Forsyth bought a part of the Tom Berry farm and laid it out into town lots and changed the name of the post office to Lucia. Father bought one of the lots and built a small building for a butcher shop. The saloon was the first building built. We were putting the roof on our building the day the saloon opened. The steps in front were not yet built. There was a bunch of men playing poker on a lumber pile in front of the building. They got into a fight over the game [and] one man pulled a pistol and shot one of the men. The bulet struck a rib and glansed off not hurting very much. They took the gun from him and I never saw a man get such a beating as they gave him. He crawled under the building to get away from them and they dragged him out and beat him agan. We could see it all very well from the top of the building where we were working. Finaly the man came up to wher we were working and he was a neighbor of ours but we could hardly recognize him.
Yandell brothers [Charles and J. L. Yandall] had their camp at the old maddox farm barn. They used the barn for a commisary, large stable tents for the horses, large cook and dining tents, famely tents all around. It was a real rag town. Father had a contract to furnish beef for all the camp from the river to the tunnel at the head of Roark. I did the slaughtering and delivering. We dident deliver less than one quarter at a time. We killed one and two cattle per day. Bill Crowder did the buying. Each camp kept the beef hanging high in a tree. They pulled it up with a block and tackel.
There were men on the road all the time going from camp to camp, old Irshmen that had helped build other rail roads. They would talk about the different rail roads they had hiked over. They said on this job they were working for Hellen Gould. They had them hobo camps where they cooked and washed their clothes. They would work for a while and go to the saloon and blow in as they called it. They would give their check to the bartender and tell him to let them know when it was all gone. There was always a bunch of them at the saloon, some broke [and] some just arrived. When they bought drinks they bought for the house. When they were broke and had bum[m]ed all the drinks they could the bartender would give them a bottle of whiskey to sober up on and they would go back to camp. They would talk about all the different places all over the country
wher they had blowed in.
I slept in the butcher shop and at night before I went to bed I would walk down to the saloon and watch them. The house would be full, all happy with a bottle of beer in their hand, talking, dancing and singing. You could hardly get inside. Then late at night when the saloon closed some would go to camp [and] others to the jungle. Many times they would wake me to buy cheese and cracker and can[n]ed goods to eat. It was nothing strange to see a fight around the saloon. The sheriff at Forsyth was the only law we had for a long time, then we had a marshal. He was Jim Miles. We had no jail.
Jess Oliver and Charles Thompson owned the saloon. They also had another one on the old Springfield Harrison Road. The Missouri Arkansas line ran through the center of the building. Wes hudson and a bunch drove out from Harrison one day looking for Jess Oliver [but] he wasent there. They shot up the place [then] went out and started to leave. Wes said, "Wait, I am going back in there and kill that three fingered so and so." He walked back in [while] Henry Borchman was in the store room drawing a gallon of whiskey. He shot and killed him and they drove off. Borchman had some of the fingers off of one hand. The other bartender run a horse clear to Forsyth and never went back to tend bar. They got Jim Miles and Henry Sullenger to go there and run the saloon. It was quite some time when they caught Hudson. They found him in Florida. They brought him back and tried him at Galena and aquitted him.1
Major Hefflin had a [federally licensed] distillery west of Branson at the spring on cooper branch. There was another one at Kissee Mills where they made the famous Taney County corn. The government tax on whiskey was one dollar and ten cents per gallon and you could buy a gallon at one still for two dollars and fifty cents. The price at the saloon was fifty cents [and] a pint beer was ten cents per bottle. All the beer and ice were hauled by wagon for the saloons. Tim Galvin put in another saloon right near the one in Branson, and the saloon at Forsyth made four in the county.
Jim Hicks built the first residence in Branson. It was on the corner south of the assembly of God church.12 Father built one about three lots west; this was then a corn field. Bob Patterson put in a store just west of the old store. Charles Fulbright of springfield bought the Maddox farm and laid it out in town lots. He bought the Ben Price track [tract] and changed the name of the post office back from Lucia to Branson.3
H R Melton built a small building near the old store where he and High McFarland ran a drug store, barber shop and watch repair shop. They had the only telephone. Melton built a two story building just east of the saloon and they moved there where they added a pool hall. Melton and his family lived upstairs. W R Cox and C M Thompson bought lots from Fulbright and built a large store building and moved the post office in the back. W r Cox was then master. Patterson brothers built a large store across the street from the Cox and Thompson store. Doctor Mclntire built a large building by the side of the patterson brothers store. Chris wilson built a large building just south of the cox and Thompson store, which was used for a hotel. H. R. Melton built a building on the corner east of the Cox and Thompson store, and became post master. He had the post office in the front and his barber shop in the back.
Father bought the mattox barn and started a livery business, [with] two teams, a buggy and a two seated hack. Brock mcFarland had his black smith shop across the street from the barn. Frank Farbis was editor of The Branson echo; his office was also across the street from the barn. Charles Fulbright built the Branson hotel. It is still there. Dick Springer built a large store building where the albert parnell store is. Jiss Tollerton build the bank across the street from the springer store. We had a base ball field back of the springer store. John Felking built a large barn across the street from the cox and Thompson store.
A new road was opened up to Forsyth. A new ferry put in at the mouth of Roark. The road went up McGill hollow for a short ways then up the hill to the old Cap Kenney place, over the bald, down chapman hollow, another ferry and down the river to Forsyth.
When construction started on the rail road the people begin selling timber for cross ties, mining props, cedar posts, walnut logs and for other purposes. They begin leaving farming to work in the timber or on the rail road. Things had begin to change; we were becoming a part of the world that we had known but very little about.
Father sold the right of way through our narrow bottom field [at Gretna.] It was one fourth mile long where they put a pass track. He [received] seventy
five dollars for the right of way with a contract that the company would built a despot on the place. They built the despot but never put an agent there and they let it rot down. Dad figured he would have quite a town there, but was very much disapointed He laid out what land into lots that was level enough to build on.5 There was a post office established, a mail crane and you could flag the passenger train if you wanted to ride it. Other wise it did not stop. The fare to Branson was five cents. There were two stores and a tie and cedar post yard. There was a church built on the place, the first one in the neighborhood. The Dewey Grove school house was torn down and re erected on the old place.
I helped lay the track into Branson the summer of 1905. The work train carried a car of rails in front of the engine and cars behind loaded with ties. I helped carry ties and place them on the grade. Another bunch took the rails from the car and spiked them to the ties and the engine moved ahead. It was a hot summer day about mid after noon when we got to Branson. Where the section house is we were met by a large crowd and plenty of cold beer. A box car was set off for an office and Jack Klotz was the first agent.
They begin shipping material into Branson for the bridge across the River and the high wooden tressels up Turkey creek. The timbers for the tressels was yarded at Branson, cut and hauled by wagon to the bridges. Cement was shipped in and stored on the job for the bridge pears [piers]. I helped build those pears. The coffer dams were dug out by hand for the pear footings [and] all the concrete was mixed by hand. Pope and Gransty of Jefferson city were the contractors. It was a tough job for them; the river would get high and wash out the coffer dams. The concrete was mixed on a platform on the ground and shoveled on to scaffolds on the side of the forms and shoveled from one scaffold to another and into the top of the forms. I stood on one of those scaffolds
and shoveled concrete up over my head for ten hours a day for fifteen cent per hour. If I worked a six day week I got a check for nine dollars. That would be pretty small wages today but it was a lot more than we had been use to.
The state of Maine had a pine log building on exibition at the 1904 worlds fare. A bunch of St Louis business men bought it, shipped it to Branson, hauled it across the River to the powers farm and reerected it for a club house. It was called the Maine Club. Father and Bill Mattox attended the fair. They went from Forsyth by hack to Chadwick, and by train from there. When they got back to Forsyth they called me on the phone at meltons barbershop. That was the first time I had ever talked on a telephone. I was eighteen years old.
The passenger train started to come to Branson and a mail hack rout was established from Branson to Forsyth over the new road down Chapman hollow. We begin to get freight and express by rail and that ended the four day trips to Springfield with wagons. We are now beginning to improve right along. We could get our mail every day and we could get ice and many other things that we were not able to get before.
Father bought the barn from mr Felkins, and we carried the mail for eight years [1904-1912]. We also bought the barn at Forsyth. Out teams were at home at either end of the line. We kept about twenty horses. The mail hack left Forsyth at eight in the morning [and] arived at Branson at eleven. The train arived at eleven thirty. The driver met the train. Dad took passengers that came on the train to the hotel for dinner, then loaded the baggad [baggage] and express, picked up the mail and passengers, and left for Forsyth at one o clock, ariving back at Forsyth at four. Some times, especialy on circuit court week, we would use several teams to haul the pasengers. One of the pasengers would drive the extra teams. It required three hours to make the nine miles. The School of the Ozarks was established on top of the bluff east of Forsyth. We drove up to the school with passengers; that was a terable hill, for a tir[e]d team after pulling a load over the awful road from Branson. Doctor Dobins, one of the foundrs of the school and many other officials of the school traveled on the mail hack. Colonel [William] Standish, the first dam promoter, made many trips to Forsyth on the hack. He was promoting a dam and tunel through the hill just above the power site dam. Many people went to Forsyth to look up land they had bought sight unseen. And [one] man had a deed to the Jim Root farm just below the dam. When they looked up the title their deed was [a] worthless, spanish grant.
Traveling men traveled all over the country selling to little country stores. Some had their own teams [and] others hired teams and drivers from the livery barn. Those that had their own teams put them in the barn to be caired for. We curried them, watered and fed them, and when they were ready to leave they asked [to have] them hitched and driven to the hotel. We charged twenty five cent[s] per head per horse; one doller for over night. The traveling men paid three dollars per day and expenses [or] two dollars and fifty cents for [a] team without [a] driver.
In some instances the men selling different good[s] would ride togeather and drive them selves. Some carried large sample trunks of clothing and shoes. This required a trunk wagon. When we got to a town the driver took the team to the barn then unload ed the sample trunk, and spread the samples out where the merchant could make his selections. We would be gone for two or three weeks on some trips. Some very interesting experiences on some of them.
One was with a post office inspector. I believe he was the crankiest man I ever met. It was impossible to please him. We drove to Protem from Branson one day, stayed all night, started early the next morning [and] drove to Dit up on Big Creek, checked the office there, drove up over the mountain, [and] down Caney Creek to Hilda on the bank of Beaver Creek. I could never drive fas enough [and he was] always complaining. If we stopped too ask some one about the road [and] if they dident give him the information so he could understand it he would bawl them out.
We dident pass a single house along this road till we were going down Caney creek just a few miles from Hilda. There was a farm house there. I said, "I am going to feed the team here." The horses were tired and hungry. It was late in the afternoon. He wanted me to drive on to hilda and he could check the office while I fed the team. He said there will be horses when I am dead and gone, and I told him that these might be two of them. He got out of the buggy and said he would walk on.
I fed and drove on down the road. I found him sitting by the road. He was pretty angry by now and he dident have much on me. We drove on down to Beaver Creek. The creek had been on a rise and had
washed out a deep hole in the ford. It was still muddy. They had cut out a new road to a new ford farther down the creek, but they failed to block the old road, [and] I drove down the old road. When the team got to the water they hesitated to go into it. I cut them with the whip [and] they went into swimming water. There was quite a little current. I loosed the lines and they swam right down the creek to the new ford where the water was shallow. He grabbed his grip and started to jump out. I made him stay in the buggy; we stood up in the buggy and the water was waist deep. It was pretty cool weather and we were pretty wet.
We drove to the post office and store, bought some dry sockis] [and] poured the water out of our shoes. He checked the office and we headed for forsyth. We had to cross the creek wice [once] more. He was afraid we would get into deep water again. We made [it] to Forsyth after dark.
He intended to mak[e] Christian County the next day. I told him to get another team and driver that I wasent driving him any further. He said we [would] make it some other tim[e]. He dident want any one els[e] to drive him.
One trip we stayed all night at Taneyville. The hotel was full of traveling men. I went to bed before he did. He was late for breakfast; when he came down stairs the table was full. He was very angry and wouldent eat. He told the lady that he hadent slept much all night, the bed bugs kept him awak. She told him that I had took the room she intended for him. He said, "well I dont want my driver eaten up either." He told me to finish my breakfast, get him some oranges and get the team and we would go.
Most of the post offices were in the stores. Generaly there would be several loafing in the store, maby som [el behind the counter. He scattered them quick, then when he started checking the office he would scare the post master half to death because he had the money at the house. He would send him in a hurry for it. One post master got angry and told him to take it with him, that he dident want it any way.
I have drove one salesman over two counties introducing the mcKaskey registers. It was a system for keeping charge accounts. He sold almost all the merchants. Perhaps there are a few of them in use today. I went with salesman selling nothing but hopewell horse shoe nails. He had boxes of them made into finger rings. While he was calling on the merchant I was giving the rings to the kids. I drove drummer [s] selling tobacco. One was introducing country Gentlemen to compete with old hill side. They are both still on the market. While he was selling the store I was tacking up signs on the black smith shop on the side of building.
I had a very rough experience driving a stove wear salesman. We were driving from omaha, ark over the old springfield & Harrison road. It was a dry hot day. About twelve miles from Kirbyville we brok a front axel and [had] to walk and cary the grips and lead the team to Kirbyville where we could phone for another buggy. We had to haul the buggy in a wagon, which took all day. We drove revinue men over the county to the distillery to stamp whiskey out of the bond house. They carried the kiys. The disstillery man paid him one dollar and ten cents per gallon on a barrel. He would brand the barrel with his hammer, put a government stamp on it, and roll it out for the man to move to his sales room.
The young fellows would have all the buggies reserved for Sunday, to take their girls places. We had to have the buggies all cleaned up, clean lap robes [and] new buggy whip. Some would go horse back. When the road [s] were covered with ice we had the horses shoes sharpened so they wouldent slip on the ice. Horse shoes dident last very long on the rocks. It cost one dollar to show a horse all around (four shoes).
Harold Bell Wright came to the county about 1903 for his health. He pitched his tent near J K Rosses home, on top of the high mountain. While ther he was inspired to write a novel and he wrote the shephard of the hills. He claimed the caractors were all fitcious [fictitious] but some [locals] claimed to be the caractors. He undoubtedly had them in
mind. Not many of the people knew he was there at the time; I never heard of him till tourists, after reading the book, began to come from every where to see the country he had written about.
My aunt had a brown pony that she rode every where, some claimed she was sammy lane. We had the poney in the barn and photografers made post card pictures for souvineers to sell the tourists. All of them wanted to ride the pony and have their pictures taken on her. It was hard to understand why people were so worked up over our old rough country that they had made so much fun of as a back wood country, and its people hill Billies, Brush apes, scisor Bills, and various other names. I was always glad I dident live in arkansas but when I told them I lived in Taney county they would say oh: you live in the lap lands where Arkansas laps over in to Missouri. The people did not come to see something that man had made. It was natural [sicenery away from things that man had created.
The timber business was good for several years. Most every tree was made into Rail Road ties every where. Reed spring, where we used to camp when on the road to mill at Crane, was just a big spring out in the woods where cattle watered and lay in the shad[e] in the summer, [with] no houses near it. [It] became [a] lively town as a tie market. All timber both ties and cedar "was cut" and scratched out up the river and all its tribitaries [and] was rafted to branson.
The american pencil company, put in a pencil factory at branson. All the big cedar logs were sawed into pencil stock and shippe[d] out. Walnut logs were hewed and shipped to Germany for gun stocks. Wenches [Winch] put in a wagon spoke factory at Branson. Gretna and every little station along the Rail Road had a timber yard. There were tie makers camps all over the country and saw mills sawing lumber and ties.
Float trip [s] were established and equipped from Galena and Branson. People came from long distances to fish. They would float from Branson to Cotter, Ark which was a ten days float. Some floated from Galena to Branson [and] some went on to Cotter. It was only about eighty miles from Cotter bak to Branson by rail. I mad this trip many times as a guide. Talk about catching Bass[!] They were plentiful and it was a wonderful trip. Besides catching fish [in] the long deep holes under the high bluffs [there was] the swift rough showls, the beautiful [s]cenery, the large clean gravel bars to camp on. I meet old men too old to fish any more who enjoy talking about the trips they made. There were several short floats one could make in one day.
The business section of Branson was built on the street above where it is now for the reason [that] the lots were cheaper there. Finaly mr Fulbright realized he had made a mistake and traded the lots down on the other street for the ones above and the builings were all moved. The parnell brothers bought the store from Dick Springer, and left their store at Kirbyville and came to Branson. Uncle pat and Mose Whelchel buildt a large wodden store building and put in a stock of furniture, hard ware and coffins. All the buisness buldings burned at one time except the bank and the livery barn. More substantial buildings were built and they started again.
To be continued.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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