Volume 4 , Number 1 , Fall 1970
An Early Historian of the Upper White River Valley By Elmo Ingenthron
Silas Claborn Turnbo wrote many interesting things about the early settlers of Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas. The major portion of his manuscripts were written about people living in the upper White River valley.
In the early 1900s a portion of his work was published in two paper-back volumes entitled Fireside Stories of the Early Days in the Ozarks which sold for fifty-cents a copy. These publications failed to carry the name of the publisher or the date of publication. Apparently the venture proved unprofitable, for the major portion of his manuscripts were never published. They were reportedly sold some years later to a Kansas publisher for a very small sum. In more recent times these unpublished manuscripts were acquired by persons or organizations interested in their preservation and are now in custody of the Springfield Art Museum.
Silas Claborn Turnbo
Clab Turnbo, as he was commonly called, wrote much about his friends and neighbors, but little about himself. As a result of this, a biographical sketch of the author is difficult to reconstruct. But from his writings we know that his father settled in the White River country during the winter of 1841-42. He constructed a log cabin near the river a few miles below Forsyth, Missouri, where Clab was born on May 26, 1844. That was the month and the year of the memorable flood that inundated Taney Countys new interim log courthouse at the mouth of Swan Creek.
In the sparsely settled wilderness of the White River country Clab Turnbo grew to manhood. In this rugged environment he had many opportunities to learn the skills of the woodsman, but few chances for a formal education. But somehow he managed to acquire the ordinary skills of communication which fitted him for his destiny as a small town newspaper man and writer of local events.
Young Turnbo was little more than seventeen years old when the Civil War broke out. Being of Southern sympathies he joined a regiment of Confederate soldiers being organized by Major Clifford. During his sojourn in the Rebel Army he served much of his time in Northwest Arkansas under commands of Major James R. Shaler and Major Beal Gaither. Clab managed to survive the ordeals of the Rebellion and after the war returned to the upper White River country and married Matilda Holt. According to legendary sources Clab and Matilda settled on a homestead near Turnbo Hollow which was probably named after Clab or his father. The general topography and terrain of the region around Turnbo Hollow was one of the most rugged portions of the upper White River valley. From this environmental setting came many of the wild animal stories related by him.
In time a sufficient number of people settled in the area adjacent to the Turnbos to organize a school which was known as the Turnbo School. The land upon which the schoolhouse was located was probably given to the new school district by Mr. Turnbo. It is
not beyond the realm of reason to suppose that Clab Turnbo may have taught some early terms of school there for he was undoubtedly one of the best qualified persons in the community for such a task at that time.
The old Turnbo home and school site are located about two miles south of the Missouri-Arkansas state line in Marion County, Arkansas. They lie north of White River between Buck Creek and Shoal Creek about five miles southeast of the old townsite of Protem, Missouri.
Mr. Turnbo was reportedly associated with several pioneer newspapers in the area including one at Gainesville, Missouri and Yellville, Arkansas. But the economics rewards for newspaper enterprises of that day were very meager and his ventures in that field were probably intermixed with farming.
Motivated by the hope of selling his writings or the innate desire to preserve the local events of his time, Mr. Turnbo spent much time in his later years riding the country roads and trails collecting from the old settlers the stories of the pioneering experiences of the region in which they lived. He especially sought adventure stories of hunting incidents involving panthers, bears, wolves, deer, elk, and wild turkeys. In recording these thrilling adventures he also included many historical facts which are of special interest today to historians and genealogists.
Some of the stories about the pioneers struggle with the wild beast of the forest seem exaggerated, but they were related by Mr. Turnbo as they were told to him.
Much has been written about the folk songs of the pioneers, their craftsmanship and social customs, but no one has equalled Clab Turnbo in depicting the struggles of the early settlers with the wild animals of their environment.
Clab Turnbo and his wife, Matilda, raised five children. They were Eliza, Fannie, Mary, George, and James (Jim). Soon their children, like those of their neighbors, reached adulthood and departed from the local scene. With the passing of time Clab and Matilda grew old and needed the loving care of their children. They left the White River country and moved to Broken Bow, Oklahoma, to be near their son, James. In time the grim reaper called for Matilda. She died in June 1922 and was buried in a cemetery near Broken Bow. In 1924 her husband, Silas Claborn Turnbo, answered the last summon from his creator and was laid to rest beside his wife.
Now all those brave and hardy pioneers, many of whom were veterans of the Mexican War and the Civil War, have passed from the scene, their voices have been silenced and they now rest in deep repose on some distant hill or in some verdant valley. But for the foresight and efforts of Silas Claborn Turnbo their names would have never been recorded in the annals of White River history and their story never would have been written.
The Board of Directors of the White River Valley Historical Society should consider the feasibility of erecting a suitable memorial to the memory of Silas Claborn Turnbo who did so much in preserving many genealogical and historical facets of the regions past. Perhaps a copper plaque at his grave site, a historical marker near his old home place, or a framed picture of him with an appropriate resume might be hung in the Ozarkiana Room of the School of the Ozarks Library.
This tentative biographical sketch is presented with the hope that persons having more knowledge of Mr. Turnbo might write the societys historian in order that a fuller and more accurate biography might be written.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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