Volume 5, Number 12, Summer 1976
The story of Theodosia must begin with the new. The new lies about 1/2 mile west of the Little North Fork arm of Bull Shoals Lake in Ozark County on highway 160. The original site of Theodosia was located where 160 now crosses the lake. Most of the townsite was covered by water when Bull Shoals dam was constructed and some of the citizens requested the town name of Lutie that lay about 1/2 mile west be changed to Theodosia. This was granted by the Post Office Department, but, some of the citizens of Lutie wanted to keep the name and today, the RV1 School District and the Lutie cemetery lie within the incorporated village of Theodosia.
Theodosia has a population of 132 residents. However, the city extends beyond these limits. Some of the present-day businesses are: Merrills Grocery & Station, Ledbetter Grocery & Station, Hill Country Market, Hill Country Cafe, Craft Shop, Fairview Garden Store, Party Pantry, Hill Country Construction, Graves Construction, Theodosia Hill Development, Theodosia Marina, Carte Motel, Shell Station, Sports Center, Mar Box Factory Outlet, Stylette Beauty Shop, Hill Country Realty, Willhoit Trailer Park. Theodosia also has a General Baptist Church and Methodist Church, Sampson Masonic Lodge 1900, and Order of Eastern Star Lodge #130.
Hollows run back from all creeks in the area and are named for early day pioneers of the area, such as: Willhoit, Ledbetter, Mahan, and Mill Hollow to name a few.
The area was settled by Osage Indians and the first white settlers settled there around 1817. Among them were Kessee, Graham, Risley, Friend, Hoodenpile, and Clarkson families.
In 1818, Nancy Graham, daughter of Elijah Graham, married Payton Keesee, son of Peter Kessee. Some of their descendants still live in the area. Linnie Kyle of Isabella, Glenna Johnson of Dugginsville, and Frank Johnson of Gainesville are descendants of this marriage and all are Postmasters of their respective towns.
The Graham and Friend families intermarried also and the Lutie cemetery is located on land donated by James and Jane Dillwood Friend for use by the public as a burial place. They were
among the first buried there. About 1 mile north of the old site of Theodosia is the site of the original Friend cemetery. It was covered by Bull Shoals Lake and moved to Isabella on land owned by Jesse Friend, grandson of James. Elijah Friend, father of Jesse, married #1 Nancy Graham, daughter of Sam Graham.
The Risley family settled south of old Theodosia on what was known as "Sandlands". It was rich soil and it is said that it would produce 100 bushel of corn to an acre. Kelsay Risley, is one who is remembered by citizens who wore his hair long and always carried a rifle. He married "Babe" Friend, a descendant of James Friend.
The Hoodenpile family left the area after the Civil War and moved to Arkansas. Mrs. Hoodenpile was a daughter of Martin and Ruth Herd who were ancestors of the late Walter Herd, a longtime merchant of Theodosia. Others who came later were the Ledbetter, Holt, Forrest, and Brown families. B. B. Brown, auther of "Son of Pioneers", was a descendant of the Original Brown, Mr. Berryman Brown.
Toll and Mary Haskins Johnson lived many years south of the site of old Theodosia. Mary was a faith healer and could cure such ailments as snake bite, burns, and headaches as well as other ailments. Their marriage was childless.
Clabe Turnbo, author of "Fireside Chat", mentioned that when white men settled at Theodosia, bear, buffalo, and deer were abundant in the area as well as panther. The grass was "belly high" to a horse.
Fishing and hunting were a necessity in those days, for the skin of animals was used for clothing and the meat was used for food. With salt being a scarce staple, the residents had no way of preserving the meat and regular hunts were necessary to have a supply of meat on the table.
Mr. Turnbo also wrote about Nancy Graham Keesee making cloth from the hair plucked from a young buffalo and of seeing Indian women wade out into deep water with their babies and submerging them until it seemed the infant would drown. Then the mothers would raise them out and while the babies would be coughing, the women would be laughing and talking. Later as
the children grew older, the women would throw them into deep water and let them swim out.
The first school in the area was a subscription school with Joshua Baker, a native of Tennessee, as teacher. Later a man from Massachusetts taught for 25 cents a day. It was not until after the Civil War that the government paid for education and in the beginning it was 60 cents per day.
Later a 2 story building was built for a schoolhouse by J. W. Futtrell, a noted carpenter and casket maker. The upper story was used for a two year High School, but this was short-lived as qualified teachers were hard to find. One of the High School students was Jessie Johnson of Gainesville, wife of Frank Johnson.
Little North Fork was fordable by wagons, but with the automobile, a wooden bridge was constructed that would be washed out at flood time and would need to be replaced. It had no sides or railings to it and one time the mail driver ran off the bridge. He had a passenger in the rear who was intoxicated, as well as some sacks of flour for a merchant. The spill bursted a sack of flour and it spilled on the passenger. Water mixed with flour created a coat of plaster that covered the passenger with the result of the man being plastered twice at the same time.
The area was one of great fear during the Civil War as many renegades roamed the area and many people who took no part in the conflict were killed for no reason. One of these was a Mr. Jim Clarkson who was taken from his cabin one morning by seven of these men and shot. He was buried in the Friend cemetery. Another was that of Henderson Sallee, a child of James Sallee, who was a Captain for Federal forces. The renegades came to his home and chased the boy across a field and there shot him. The boy was not yet 13, too young to serve his country. There are many other stories of senseless killings such as these during this time. Another story is of a reverse side is of a Dr. Stacy who settled at Isabella near Theodosia. He was a son of a Cherokee Indian woman, and one of the Indians forced to march on the "Trail of Tears" through Missouri. Dr. Stacy left the caravan at Springfield and moved to Isabella. While there he doctored Union Soldiers in spite of the treatment they had conflicted upon his mother and himself.
The only recorded beginning of the village began with the organizing of the Post Office in
1886 by Tully D. Kirby, the first Postmaster. There are different versions as to how it came to be named Theodosia as it is the name of an Indian Chief and also a Greek word meaning "Gods Gift." One version is that of Milton Kirby, a resident of Springfield, a grandson of the founder, who has a record of the founding and said it was named after the senior Tullys daughter, Theodosia, who had died as a three-year old girl about one year before the founding.
Another version is that it was named by a Mr. 01dm who had twins named Doshia and Theodosia.
Some of the Postmasters were: Tully Kirby, 1886; Wiliam McGee, 1888; Sam Farmer, 1892; William Wells, August 1893; Henry Zulaf, Oct. 1893; Mattie Herd, 1895; James Herd, 1900; Alex Crumley, 1909; Rufus Luna, 1918; Frank Grisham, 1923; Newt Martin, 1929; Cora Grisham, 1931; Maxine Johnson, 1933; Frank Johnson, 1934; and the last Postmaster was Eunice Herd McClellan, 1937 to 1951, when it was discontinued. Mrs. McClellan moved the Post Office from the original building that was erected by Wood and Reed to a newer building erected by John and Elmer Wray, that was located near the old building. Monroe Hampton is Postmaster today.
At one time Theodosia could boast of a cotton gin, but this was discontinued shortly after the turn of the century as cotton was no longer grown in the area. A canning factory was also built by "Babe" Herd, but was never put into use.
Although there is no record, there is indication of a grist mill being located there before Jim Herd built one around 1900. This dam was of wood and later when it was purchased by Frank Grisham, he constructed a rock dam that was in use at the time the mill was washed away in a flash flood in 1950s. A tragedy occurred at the mill when Sam Hargis was affixing a belt to a pully when his clothing became entangled in the machinery and claimed his life. According to an old edition of "Ozark County Times" the mill was paying 85 cents a bushel for wheat at one time.
About 1900, Jim Herd built a large home on the hill above the store that was the talk of the area residents. It was a large house of 12 rooms and, after the Herd family moved, it was usually the home of the town merchant as there was only one store until 1938. It also served as a rooming pace for drummers who traveled the area. Rufus Luna later built a smaller home between the store and the large house.
The large house is the only building still intact. It was purchased in 1945 by a Mr. Janian, A Turkish refugee for $3,000.00. He moved it about V4 mile south to its present location and used it as a hotel and restaurant. It is now owned by Theodosia Hills Development Co.
For many years the 4th of July was celebrated at Theodosia. This was started by Elijah Friend who held the celebration in his home until the crowds became too large; then it was moved to the Schoolhouse. The celebration was religious in nature and consisted of preaching in the morning and afternoon with dinner on the ground. Picnics were held every year also, but they were usually the opposite as it consisted of dancing, refreshments, and some white lightning being consumed with the result of some fistcuffs among some of the men who over indulged.
The only yearly gatherings held today is the cemetery decoration in May and Willhoit reunion each even year in June, and Wallace reunion the odd year in June. These two families have intermarried like many of the pioneer families of the area. The original pioneers of the two families had several boys and when the boys were young men, a feud developed between them and they had several fights. Later Janie Wallace married John Willhoit, who later was Probate Judge of Ozark County, and later the young men became reconciled and then became close friends. Ironically enough, George Willhoit later became a Baptist Minister and preached the funeral of some of his one-time foes.
Old Lutie was first located about one mile south of the present site of Theodosia and was moved to the present-day site when the highway was built, bypassing Lutie. Some of the pioneer families were Jones, Willhoit, Ledbetter, Friend, Herd, and Magee families. Lutie was originally known as Morning before a Post Office was established.
James Friend, being one of the firstsettlers, settled near a large Spring south of where the Schoolhouse is today. This spring was used by wagons traveling through the area as a watering place.
Lutie also had a Dr. at one time. He was Dr. Robert Small who had his office in his home where Weldon Jones lives today. Weldon is a descendant of B.B. Jones, one of the pioneer families. Mr. Jones tells of land being cheap in early days, the hill ground selling for 25 cents per acre and good bottom land for as much as $1.50 an acre. The hill land today will bring $300.00 per acre at times. In 1830s, the land, where the Theodosia Marina is at, was traded to a man for a flintlock rifle.
Mr. Jones also told that many would leave the country and their taxes would go unpaid. The Collector at times, would just add this ground to the adjoining property who were paying their taxes with the result being that often times a landowner would sell his parcel only to find his holdings were greater than he thought. One case was when Wm. Gladden sold his land of 40 acres to Sipe Jones in 1920 and moved to Oklahoma. When Mr. Jones had the deed brought up to date, he found that he had purchased 80 acres instead of the original 40 acres.
Verdon Johnson of Mansfield, told of the land being so cheap that Elijah Friend gave 40 acres to an old buddy, Jimmie Jones, for Mr. Jones help when they served in the Civil War together. Mr. Jones later operated a still on this property. At that time it was legal to operate this business.
Old Lutie, Old Theodosia, and New Theodosia have changed greatly in landscape and environment from pioneer days to the present. Has the good life gone? Or will someone later talk about this era of today as the good old days? Anyway we hope that Theodosia will live happily ever after.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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